It’s still bloody hot in and around Ypres. In a great example of the effects of fog of war, General Haig is now more worried than he’s ever been at any time during First Ypres. He doesn’t know that the Germans won’t attack again in similar strength to yesterday. He doesn’t know that in a few short days, German war policy will begin a major turn, to generally stand on the defensive in the west while they attempt a decisive victory against Russia. All he knows is that everyone’s in the line, and the new 8th Division is on the way – but it isn’t here yet.
Speaking of the Eastern Front. There is a tendency to think about the fighting here as being utterly different to that on the Western Front. It is of course true that the sheer amount of land made it unfeasible to dig a continuous trench line, and the character of battles remained one of open warfare and manoeuvre, rather than the tooth-and-nail scrap-for-every-inch nature of attacking a Western trench system. However, what interests me is the one basic similarity (although it manifests itself slightly differently).
That would be the problems around reinforcement, supply and communications. The situation now developing on the Eastern Front is quite predictable. One side advances, forcing the other side back tens or hundreds of miles, trying to inflict as many casualties as possible. However, before they can reach any geographical location, the capture of which might help end the war, they travel too far from their railheads to be properly resupplied and reinforced. They travel too far from their commanders for timely orders to be issued. They then get counter-attacked by an easily-supplied, easily-reinforced opponent, and we rinse and repeat travelling in the other direction, and leaving another large amount of bodies behind.
Added to this is the difficulty of achieving a truly decisive, crippling victory, due to both sides only being able to move at the same slow speed. Tannenberg and Masurian Lakes were made possible primarily by appalling leadership on the Russian side. On a number of occasions since then, armies have been in danger of encirclement, but have still had enough time to recognise the danger and GTFO. There isn’t nearly enough cavalry for the task, nor is the cavalry sufficiently resistant to machine-gun and artillery fire.
The Russian swing of the pendulum has crested. They pause for a moment to re-organise themselves, and are immediately hit with a German counter-attack west of Lodz. Poor intelligence sees them taken almost completely by surprise. Commanders had been expecting the Germans to stand on the defensive after their long retreat from the Vistula. The Russians make some local retirements, but the German strength is still being underestimated; they do call for reinforcements to the Lodz area.
The weather on all fronts is deteriorating fast. In this area of Poland, around Lodz, the mercury is already dipping below freezing. The wind and snow are about to become just as formidable an opponent as the enemy.
Again, men are becoming so exhausted that they are falling asleep even while under direct attack. There is still nobody to relieve them. Shells continue to rain down, today’s bombardment opening on the stroke of 10am. The mud is seriously impairing the flow of rations and ammunition to the front, and there are precious few to carry them. To the north of the salient, the French are forced back a few hundred yards towards Broodseinde. South of Dixmude, a French counter-attack improves their position by a few hundred yards.
The Bergmann Offensive turns into the Bergmann Defensive today, the Russians digging in to meet the Turkish advance against them. The Turks have had a hard time advancing, and no serious fighting occcurs while they bring their guns up across difficult roads.
Actions in Progress
The Daily Telegraph is republishing its archives from the war day-by-day. In today’s paper: Captain Muller of the Emden is alive! Page 9 is relieved. On Page 3 we get a funny story or two from the trenches (including the first of approximately 57,201 shooting competitions across No Man’s Land, with a target on a stick). Lots more on the State Opening of Parliament; and in the qualifying rounds of the FA Cup, Southport and Haslingdon play out a 3-3 draw (sadly, no mention of when the replay will be).
Also, the excellent blog Doing Our Bit reports on an initiative from the Canadian archives to digitise and make freely available a large number of service files from World War I soldiers. Now I know some of you reading this are from Canada, so what are you waiting for? Go check it out, eh.