30/12/1914 [Sarikamish] Enver insists that the attacks must continue

Yesterday the Turks attacked Sarikamish and were repelled. Furthermore, enemy artillery fire is exacting a terrible toll on Turkish forces. The Turkish army in contrast has struggled to bring its artillery through the snowy mountains to the front. Enver’s subordinates report to him that their forces are too depleted by the cold and enemy action to attack again, that in any case the men are too weakened by hunger to press home the assault. But the Turkish Minister of War is unmoved. Enver still sees Sarikamish as an opportunity for Turkey to win a decisive victory over the Russians, one that would be worth any cost to achieve. He issues his order: “The offensive is to go on at full strength”.

image source (Turkey in the First World War: Caucasus)

29/12/1914 The Kaiser’s war on dogs

The Germans are using large numbers of trained dogs in their armed forces. The animals fulfil a variety of roles, from assisting medical personnel to serving with sentries and patrols. Now a letter writer to the Times of London reports that that the German army has such a need for dogs that whenever an enemy town is captured, all suitable dogs are immediately pressed into the invader’s service. To avoid any of the remaining animals being used subsequently against them, the Germans are apparently destroying all dogs that they do not take into their service.

image source (a Tweet by @roadtowar1914)

29/12/1914 [Anatolia] Turkey finally assaults Sarikamish

Enver’s bold plan to drive the Russians from the Caucasus has come unstuck. His army have finally made it to the gates of Sarikamish, but the harsh weather, shortage of food and lack of winter equipment have greatly reduced their numbers. Now the depleted Turks assault Sarikamish, in places charging across waist deep fields of snow. But the Russians are in well-prepared positions and they repel the Turks, inflicting terrible casualties.

Russian defenders image source (Wikipedia)

November 1914

Britain suffers its first naval defeat in 100 years. Britain’s invasion of German East Africa fails. Germany and Russia lay into each other in Poland. Austria-Hungary has another go at invading Serbia. Germany loses its last Pacific possessions. Major fighting at Ypres comes to an end (for now).

1/11/1914

The Battle of Coronel: Spee smashes Britain’s South Atlantic Squadron

[Poland] The Germans lick their wounds

2/11/1914

War comes to East Africa

3/11/1914

Admiral Spee has a presentiment

German battlecruisers attack Yarmouth

Britain tightens its blockade of Germany

4/11/1914

East Africa: a British invasion force routed

5/11/1914

Britain’s Egyptian conundrum
[NOTE: Possible inaccuracy: events described in this post may actually have happened in December 1914]

Ypres: Falkenhayn orders more assaults

6/11/1914

Austria invades Serbia again

7/11/1914

The fall of Tsingtao

9/11/1914

The Emden’s luck runs out

[Galicia] Przemysl besieged once more

11/11/1914

A new German offensive in Poland

Ypres: Kindermord

14/11/1914

The Turkish Sultan declares Holy War

Australia seizes Nauru

17/11/1914

Ypres: the battle grinds to a halt

18/11/1914

Falkenhayn’s disturbing suggestion

Łódź: the Russians counter-attack

21/11/1914

The Austrian invasion of Serbia is still going well

22/11/1914

[Mesopotamia] Britain takes Basra

25/11/1914

Poland: the Germans escape a trap

See also:

Dramatis Personae

October 1914

Monthly Archives

26/12/1914 Turkey’s advance on Sarikamish runs into problems

Ismail Enver, Turkey’s Minister of War, is leading an attack on the Russian military base of Sarikamish in eastern Anatolia. The plan of attack is bold, calling for units to move at great speed to outflank the Russians. Things are unfortunately not going entirely to plan. Turkish forces are struggling to keep to the schedule set by Enver. By now they have outrun their supply lines and many Turkish soldiers are out of food. The cold of winter is exacting a terrible toll, not helped by Enver’s decision to speed the advance of the troops who have to go furthest by denying them winter coats and equipment. The Turks are dying of exposure in very large numbers.

And yet, the Russians are rattled by the Turkish advance. The overall commander has panicked and fled to the fortress city of Kars, ordering the rest of the Russian army to follow. But his subordinate, General Nikolai Yudenich, is more confident. He believes that Sarikamish can be held and a defeat inflicted on the Turks. He resolves to stand and fight.

image source (Wikipedia)

25/12/1914 German South West Africa: the clock is ticking

In Europe some soldiers may be putting aside their differences and enjoying temporary truces with the enemy but in Southern Africa the war continues as usual. Attempts by South African and British forces to invade Germany’s colony of South West Africa have thus far proved unsuccessful. In September the Germans defeated an invasion force at the Battle of Sandfontein.

South Africa has also been convulsed by the Maritz Rebellion: a revolt of pro-German Boers, named after its leader, Manie Maritz. The rebels want to remove South Africa from the British Empire and hope to do so with the aid of the Germans. The rebellion has distracted the British and South African loyalists, as they do not want to send forces into South West Africa and leave the rebels a free hand in their rear.

The rebellion continues but the authorities now have it largely under control. Maritz himself has fled to German territory. With the situation in South Africa no longer critical, attention is turned once more to South West Africa. South Africa has an enclave in the middle of German territory: the port of Walvis Bay (shown as Walfisch Bai on the map above). To put extra pressure on the Germans, a South African strike force lands here today. The plan is for this force to hit the enemy in the middle and north while another thrust is made across the border from the south.

image source (from On the Rand: a website devoted to the history of early South African mining related postcards, tokens & medals)

25/12/1914 Christmas Truces

Pope Benedict XV has urged the warring nations of Europe to cease their senseless slaughter for Christmas. The politicians and senior military commanders have not proved amenable to the Pope’s request, but ordinary soldiers are more sympathetic. On the Western Front, some British and German soldiers suspend hostilities and meet in the No Man’s Land between the trenches. They retrieve bodies of the dead and exchange pleasantries and gifts with their enemies. There are unconfirmed reports of football matches being played between the opposing sides. And it is not just rank and file soldiers who take part in the truces, as some officers go out to meet the enemy. General Walter Congreve writes home that he only decided against taking part himself out of fear that a general would prove too tempting a target for the Germans.

There are other impromptu ceasefires in sectors where the Belgians and French face the Germans. But the ceasefires are not universal. Skirmishing and shelling continue on many parts of the frontline.

Instances of fraternisation also occur between opposing soldiers on the Eastern Front. At besieged Przemysl, the Russians present Christmas trees to the besieged Austro-Hungarians. But there are no Christmas truces between the Austro-Hungarians and the Serbians, perhaps because of the bitterness and savagery of fighting between them.

The Christmas truces will long remain a popular subject for songwriters and supermarket advertising campaigns.

Image sources:

Drawing from Illustrated London News (Wikipedia)

Photograph Q 50719 from the Imperial War Museum (Wikipedia)

See also:

The real story behind the 1914 Christmas truce (Daily Telegraph, with General Congreve’s letter)

24/12/1914 Germany sends Britain an early Christmas present

It is Christmas Eve. In the English Channel port of Dover people go about their business, assuming that they have nothing to worry about from the conflict raging across Europe. But the town’s calm is about to be shattered. Just five years ago Louis Blériot was the first man to fly an aeroplane across the Channel. Now German pilot Alfred von Prondzynski repeats the feat, flying to Dover with less peaceful intent. Once he sees Dover Castle and the port below him, he throws a bomb down at the town below. It lands in a garden beside a church, blasting a crater several feet deep. A gardener falls out of a nearby tree he had been pruning but is not seriously hurt. He is the only casualty of the attack.

Alfred von Prondzynski image source (from A University Blog by Dr Ferdinand von Prondzynski, Alfred von Prondzynski’s grandson)

22/12/1914 Ismail Enver’s big idea

Although the Ottoman Empire is notionally an absolute monarchy, real power lies with the Committee of Union and Progress, the so-called Young Turks. The leading figure within the CUP is Ismail Enver, the Minister of War. Enver sees the war and alliance with Germany as a vehicle for the restoration of Turkey’s greatness. He plans a great offensive against the Russians in the Caucasus, aiming to attack and destroy Russian forces centred at Sarikamish. When this Russian army has been crushed, Enver will be able to bring Georgia and other Russian territories in the Caucasus back into the Ottoman Empire. After that, who knows? Perhaps he will lead his army on an overland march to attack the British in India.

Enver’s plan of attack is bold and Napoleonic in conception. He plans minor frontal assaults on the Russians to pin down their forces and disguise his main thrust: a strong outflanking force that will move swiftly and take the Russians in the rear, cutting off their line of retreat. Enver will personally command the operation.

Today the Turkish forces begin to advance. Winter grips the land and it is bitterly cold. To avoid having his men bogged down, Enver sends them to march on the highest pathways in the hope that the wind will have swept them clear of snow. The troops with the furthest to march will inevitably move far ahead of Turkey’s ability to keep them supplied; even before they start, many soldiers lack proper boots. Enver decides also to speed his soldiers on their way by having them march without their packs and winter coats.

In the Anatolian winter, temperatures can drop well below -31º C.

Ismail Enver image source (Wikipedia)

Ottoman Empire map source (Caucasus Front 1915, from Steven Schoenherr Home Page)