Flanders inches ever-closer to its fate. German advance guards arrive in Roulers and Menin. 7th Division gets its orders. German infantry engages the Belgians all along the Yser. They’re planning a vast counter-attack, all along the line from Nieuport to La Bassee. Their aim is to throw the BEF back into the sea and claim the Channel ports once and for all. And once again, the BEF is unknowingly right in the path of an entire German army.
Menin & Roulers
Orders finally come through for 7th Division. They are to advance and install themselves in Menin by tomorrow. The cavalry will keep up harassing operations against any Germans that might try to occupy Roulers until more men arrive to take it. The Germans at the Yser can then be cut off and summarily dealt with. British and French cavalry units duly make a joint operation against the town and see off a small number of Germans, who mostly flee before they can be put to the sword and the lance. The infantry sets off marching for Menin. They are all sure that the Germans have run out of men, and that now at last they can be outflanked and summarily removed from France.
The road from Ypres to Menin has now become known as the Menin Road. It will take the BEF a very long time indeed to finish their journey. The road is straight and true, and closely lined with poplar trees at precise intervals.
The gunnery around the Yser is ferocious. The British naval monitors in the Yser are proving absolutely priceless. They can easily move about, nullifying the Germans’ skill in counter-battery fire, and their powerful guns can be easily turned to fire anywhere along the line. The Germans are throwing men at the line without any concern for losses, and soon the advancing waves are stepping over piles of their dead and wounded comrades to advance, taking cover behind them.
On the Eastern Front, the Austro-Hungarians launch an effort to relieve Przemysl from the north, which will require crossing the River San. They have already attempted to send troops over the Carpathians, but most of them are now freezing their bits off in any number of high mountain passes, completely trapped by heavy snow. A journal-keeping Hungarian cavalryman called Pal Kelemen is one of them.
Their horses are beginning to disappear into the snowdrifts. Their rations are running out. They’re lucky, they’ve stopped in a tiny mountain settlement with a few buildings. The wounded and the weakened are pushed inside and covered with anything that comes to hand, usually filthy straw. Some of them will die of exposure before a path can be cleared. And, a hundred or so miles off, the attempt to cross the San is a complete failure. With the German retreat from the Vistula, the Russians will soon be able to renew the siege of Przemysl.
Attacks are seriously bogging down now at La Bassee & Armentieres. The men have slogged hard through awful weather and withering enemy fire, and now they’re finding the Germans turning and offering stiffer resistance than just rearguards. But that doesn’t matter. In fact, it’s a positively good sign. 7th Division can now advance to Menin and flank the Germans from the north.
Actions in Progress
The excellent tumblr Today in World War I features/talks about/discusses an event that happened today. The magazine is bullish about British prospects, not least because the Army has just released news of the operation to move the BEF from the Aisne. They’re also notably rather more circumspect about the Eastern Front than the Telegraph.
Where the Telegraph contents itself with reprinting Russian communiques as undisputed fact, the Spectator is prepared to point out that the situation is far more subtle. Again their analysis is a cut above the daily paper. They’ve correctly identified that the Russians are doing well against Austria-Hungary, and less well against Germany. (The analysis is of course leavened with overly-optimistic bullshit based on it, but I’m again impressed by how accurate their assessments of the current situation are.)