Belgrade is liberated today. There’s very little else about this latest Serbian campaign that I haven’t already said. Humiliation, huge casualties on both sides, shockwaves through establishment, Austro-Hungarian military reputation seriously damaged, heads rolling, etc and anon. All this has certainly drawn the attention of Italy, with irredentist eyes fixed firmly on territory currently held by Austria-Hungary.
Since August, the Italian general staff under Luigi Cadorna has been planning for war. Their firebrand Prime Minister, Antonio Salandra, has been ramping up his rhetoric. The crushing military defeat in Serbia can only add to the perception that there will be easy pickings for Italian armies in an Austrian campaign. And the opening of another front against the Central Powers can surely only be good news for the Allies…
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We’ve got major events afoot. The German Navy is looking to follow up on last month’s Yarmouth raid. Now they’re planning a much larger demonstration, with a major battlecruiser raid against the English coastal towns of Scarborough, Hartlepool, and Whitby. The entire High Seas Fleet will also sortie in support of the raid. Their hope is that they can tempt only a portion of the numerically superior Grand Fleet out of port to drive off the raid, which can then be taken on and destroyed.
The Germans are, of course, unaware that after recent actions, the Admiralty is in possession of a full set of German codebooks, and is aware that something’s about to happen. However, in a classic example of building a calamity on top of a cock-up, the orders only seem to indicate a strong battlecruiser raid. They’re completely unaware that the entire High Seas Fleet will be along for the ride.
Accordingly, orders are issued for the Grand Fleet to detach a battlecruiser squadron, a dreadnought squadron, and a cruiser squadron to join with a few other forces, and ambush the raiders. They’ve taken what in theory should have been a positive (being able to read German communications) and turned it into a gigantic negative. They’ve played directly into the Germans’ hands. If the detached force should encounter the High Seas Fleet, it will be seriously outgunned, and the Germans will have an excellent chance to equalise the balance of naval power.
The forces set sail today. It’s not an exaggeration to say that tomorrow could be one of the most important days of the war. The entire British strategic conception of the war is based on undisputed control of the North Sea. If they were to have only naval parity with (and not superiority over) the High Seas Fleet, then the ripples would come to affect the whole Allied war strategy.
Actions in Progress
The Daily Telegraph is republishing its archives from the war day-by-day. In today’s paper: As you’d expect, plenty about B-11’s exploits in the Dardanelles (page 9). Not a moment too soon, the Home Office is issuing instructions to the population in case of a German raid (page 10).
Meanwhile, Page 4 has a piece on “Thwackings for the Kaiser” courtesy of Mr Punch in Parisian guignol shows, and a small note at the bottom of Page 8 points out that some 64 NCOs have been made officers. Before the war, if five men were commissioned from the ranks, that would have been considered a lot. The demands of war have pushed such niceties aside for the moment.
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