31/10/1914 Baulked at the Yser, Germany takes the high ground at Ypres

Since the Belgians opened the sluice gates on the 27th, the flood waters by the river Yser have been rising. Now at last the water level forces the Germans to halt their attacks on the Belgians. The battle of the Yser is over. The Belgians have held their end of the line.

Further south, Germany’s Falkenhayn continues to fling his men at the mainly British defenders of Ypres. Today, at great cost, they achieve an important victory. They manage to take the village of Messines, to the south of Ypres, and hold it against desperate counter-attacks. Messines is on a ridge over looking Ypres. From there they can pour artillery fire down on the British.

Yser floods image source (Wikipedia)

Ypres image source (Wikipedia)

29/10/1914 Turkey is brought into the war

Germany’s Admiral Souchon is now the commander-in-chief of the Turkish navy. The nucleus of that navy are his two ships, the Goeben and Breslau, now renamed as the Yavuz Sultan Selim and the Midilli respectively (for convenience their original names will continue to be used here). The two ships are still crewed by Germans, though they all have fancy new Turkish uniforms. The presence of the Goeben in the Black Sea changes the naval balance there; the Russians have nothing to match this modern battlecruiser.

Yet the Ottoman Empire has not yet joined the war. Until today. For now Souchon leads his two ships and some other vessels of the Turkish fleet to attack the Russian ports of Odessa, Sevastopol and Novorossiysk. The Turkish flagged vessels blast the ports, destroying Russian shipping and devastating shore targets.

Souchon may be acting on his own initiative. Or perhaps he is operating in collusion with Enver Pasha and other members of the Turkish government who favour entering the war.

Wilhelm Souchon image source (Wikipedia)

SMS Goeben image source (Wikipedia)

28/10/1914 Germany raids Penang

In August Karl von Müller detached his ship the Emden from the German East Asia Squadron of Admiral Spee. Müller took the Emden to the Indian Ocean and there has been preying on Allied merchant shipping. Today he pulls off a particularly bold stroke. Disguising his ship so that it looks like a British cruiser, he sails the Emden into the British port of Penang. There he sinks a Russian cruiser that happens to be in harbour and also sinks a French destroyer that attempts to block his escape. Müller takes onboard survivors from the French ship and sails off into the Indian Ocean.

image source (Wikipedia, originally New York Times)

28/10/1914 The return of Gavrilo Princip

Remember Gavrilo Princip? He was the Bosnian Serb who shot Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife on the 28th of June. The trial of Princip and his alleged conspirators began on the 12th of October and now the verdicts and sentences are announced. Princip is of course found guilty, but under Austro-Hungarian law he is too young for the death penalty and is sentenced to 20 years in prison. Nedjelko Chabrinovitch, who threw a bomb at Franz Ferdinand’s car, receives the same sentence as he is also too young. But other convicted conspirators are sentenced to hang, including Danilo Ilitch who had proved so cooperative under interrogation.

image source (Wikipedia)

27/10/1914 Britain loses a battleship

Britain’s control of the sea rests on its mighty fleet of battleships. It has more of these huge vessels than Germany and so can keep the German fleet bottled up in port, strangling the enemy’s maritime trade. But Germany has ways of striking back at the British fleet. U-boats are one threat to Britain’s maritime dominance, but for now a more significant threat is the mine. Today German mines laid off the north coast of Ireland claim the Audacious. The battleship hits a mine and sinks. The crew evacuate and are rescued by other British warships and by the ocean liner Olympic, sister ship of the famous Titanic.

The loss of the Audacious is considered so disturbing that all mention of it is banned from British newspapers.

image source (Wikipedia)

27/10/1914 Belgium enlists the sea

The Belgian army has been pushed back almost to the French border and is trying desperately to hold the Germans at the Yser river. But the Germans have managed to establish themselves on the west bank. The Belgian situation is desperate. If they do not retreat, the Germans will overwhelm them. But King Albert forbids any further withdrawal; the army will stay in Belgium and fight to the very end.

The times are desperate and they call for desperate measures. Albert enlists the aid of Neptune, ordering that the sluice gates at Nieuport are to be opened. The flood waters will defend what is left of free Belgium.

map image source (Wikipedia)

King Albert image source (Wikipedia)

[Interlude] Animals of the First World War

Earlier this year The Atlantic had an interesting photo story about animals in the First World War. These obviously included horses, used both by cavalrymen and as beasts of burden, but also dogs, pigeons, and other animals fulfilling a variety of roles.

One of the dogs of the Great War was Sergeant Stubby, a Boston Bull Terrier who served in the US military and was promoted to the rank of Sergeant. Initially a mascot, Stubby went on to help find wounded soldiers and warned his comrades of impending gas attacks.

You can see the whole article here. Like their human counterparts, the animals of the Great War suffered injury and death, and the pictures reflect this.

24/10/1914 [Flanders] Germany crosses the Yser

The Belgian army has been pushed back to a small corner of their country. With their backs to the French border, Belgian troops are trying to hold the Yser river line against determined German assaults. For the Germans, progress is slow and costly. As further south at Ypres, the Germans are suffering ruinous casualties for little gains.

But perhaps today things are swinging in Germany’s favour. German forces have managed to establish themselves in strength on the west bank of the Yser. This is not yet a breakthrough, as the Belgians are doing their best to contain the bridgehead. But with the Yser crossed, the situation looks worrying for the Belgians. The invaders are now poised to increase the pressure till the Belgian army breaks or is destroyed, leaving the Germans free to roll along the coast to the Channel ports.

image source (Wikipedia)

23/10/1914 [Ypres] The Allies counter-attack

The Germans are still trying to smash through the British and take Ypres before sweeping on to the Channel. The British are still holding on. Terrible casualties are being suffered.

But while the British are mainly striving to just hold their ground, their French allies decide that it is time to counter-attack. General Moussy leads his compatriots on a bold attempt to retake the village of Passchendaele. Unfortunately the attack is repulsed with heavy casualties.

21/10/1914 Ypres: the carnage continues

The German attacks on Ypres continue, with the British doing their best to hang on despite the enemy’s massive numerical advantage. And the British are not alone, as they have French forces anchoring their northern flank.

In some ways this is almost like the kind of battle seen in colonial warfare, with the Germans trying to break the British by assaults of massed infantry. The defending British are inflicting ruinous casualties with machine guns, field artillery and their fast and accurate rifle fire. The Germans are suffering almost as the Zulus did at Rorke’s Drift or the Dervishes at Omdurman.

But the British are suffering too. German rifle fire and artillery is thinning out the British ranks. Germany’s Falkenhayn knows that his men are being lacerated at Ypres, but he has more men to fling into the battle. He hopes that he will be able to keep feeding the guns when the British have no one left to hold their line.

image source (from Lightbobs, a website devoted to the Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry)