17/5/1918 Sinn Féin leaders arrested as Britain strikes against “German plot” #1918Live

Ireland is in a tumult thanks to British plans to introduce conscription. Nationalist parties Sinn Féin and the Irish Parliamentary Party have joined forces with the Catholic Church and organised labour to oppose the measure.

Despite the opposition and warnings from senior figures in the local administration, London is determined to bring conscription to Ireland; such is the desperate need of new recruits to make good the losses suffered in the German spring offensives. Lord French (previously the British commander on the Western Front) has been appointed Lord Lieutenant in Ireland. A member of the Anglo-Irish gentry, French is convinced that firm measures will bring the lower orders to heel.

Some of the British suspect a German hand in the unrest in Ireland. Joseph Dowling, captured after a U-boat landed him in the west of Ireland, has spun a tall tale about Sinn Féin leaders being in league with Berlin and preparing for a German invasion of the Emerald Isle. Lord French himself is sceptical, as are others, but Dowling’s story finds a receptive audience in London. The British decide to nip this plot in the bud by rounding up the Sinn Féin leaders before they can get up to any further mischief.

Now the British strike. Ireland wakes up this morning to learn that more than 70 leading members of Sinn Féin have been arrested, including Éamon de Valera, Constance Markievicz and Arthur Griffith. The British hope that this bold step will decapitate the troublesome party and bring an end to the unrest in Ireland.

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Some of the arrested Sinn Féin leaders (Ireland’s Own: The German Plot)

19/12/1915 Western Front: Haig takes over from French

Sir John French has been obliged to tender his resignation as commander of the British Expeditionary Force in France and Belgium. Now he hands over command to his successor and former subordinate, General Douglas Haig.

French has been in ill health for some time. He has also been blamed by many for British failures at Loos and Neuve Chapelle. He has lost the confidence of Joffre, the French commander. Haig himself had been using his political connections at home to recommend French’s replacement.

French’s greatest weakness may not be his poor health or alleged failures of command. He has been shaken by the great losses taken by the British army since the start of the war. He thinks these losses are unsustainable and has been saying that the war must be ended before Britain suffers ruinous casualties. Haig, however, is determined that the war must be pursued to victory and so he is chosen to lead the British Expeditionary Force.

After handing over to Haig, French returns to England. He is being given the new job of commander-in-chief of British home forces. He is to prepare defences against a possible but highly unlikely German invasion. In his old headquarters Haig begins to think about the big Anglo-French offensive that is to take place next year.

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John French (The Battle of Gheluvelt)

Douglas Haig (ANZAC Centenary Victorian Government)

6/12/1915 Chantilly: Allied generals meet to plan for 1916

1915 has not been going too well for the Allies. The Western Front is deadlocked, the Eastern Front has seen a succession of victories for the enemy and the Gallipoli campaign against Turkey has proved a bloody failure. Italy’s entry into the war has not made any obvious difference to the balance of power and now Serbia is being wiped off the map thanks to the triple invasion of the Germans, Austro-Hungarians and Bulgarians.

Some kind of new thinking is clearly needed. France’s General Joffre summons Allied military leaders to his headquarters in Chantilly to discuss plans for combined operations in 1916. Joffre’s prestige is now riding high. He has triumphed over his rival, the war minister Joseph Gallieni, and has recently been appointed commander in chief of all French armies, save those in North Africa.

All the Allied nations are represented at Chantilly, even the embattled Serbs. Britain is represented by Sir John French, commander of British forces in France and Belgium. This will be one of French’s last official engagements. Failures at Loos and Neuve Chapelle have been blamed on him and he has been obliged to tender his resignation to his political masters.

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Council of War (Wikipedia; note, the illustration may be from an earlier conference)

26/9/1915 Champagne and Loos: Allied attacks falter, British generals fall out

The Allies continue their Western Front offensives. In Champagne, the French try to capitalise on their costly successes yesterday, but they are unable to break through the German reserve lines. The French begin to realise that the Germans had previously decided to make their stand here and now the French suffer heavy casualties as they face the concentrated machine guns and field artillery of the enemy.

In Artois the British try to continue the advance from Loos, which they captured yesterday. The British reserves have finally arrived and Haig sends them forward against the enemy. Unfortunately German reinforcements have also arrived and the British also endure great losses and are unable to make any further headway.

Haig blames French, the overall British commander on the Western Front, for the failure to exploit yesterday’s success. French had positioned the reserves so far to the rear and then released them so late that they did not arrive in time to attack yesterday. Haig is well connected politically. He now begins to insinuate that French is not up to the job of commanding the British Expeditionary Force and that it is time he was replaced… perhaps by a resourceful frontline commander like Haig himself.

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Sir John French (Wikipedia)

Douglas Haig (Wikipedia)

25/9/1915 Champagne and Loos: the Allies’ autumn offensive on the Western Front

Failures in Gallipoli are turning Allied attentions back to the Western Front. The British and French launch another offensive against the Germans, whose numbers have been reduced by Falkenhayn’s despatch of the reserves to the Eastern Front.

The British are attacking the Germans near Loos in the Artois sector. The attack is being commanded by General Douglas Haig, but General John French, the senior British commander on the Western Front, has retained personal control of the British reserves.
Back in April the Germans first used poison gas in their attacks in Ypres. The Allies were outraged by this barbaric new weapon but by now they have overcome their scruples. The British release their own clouds of chlorine on the Germans at Loos, in the hope of killing enough of them to effect a breakthrough. Unfortunately the wind blows the gas back to the British lines, where it causes much confusion but relatively few casualties.

The British are experimenting with a new tactic, deliberately keeping back some members of attacking units so that in the event of heavy casualties there remains a core of troops around which a shattered unit can be reconstituted. This is just as well as the British suffer ruinous losses attacking Loos from the Germans’ machine guns and field artillery. But they makes some progress nevertheless, overrunning enemy positions and capturing the village of Loos itself.

Haig wants the reserves released so that the successes can be exploited. French eventually agrees to send the reserves forward but they have been stationed so far behind the line that they do not arrive by the end of the day’s fighting.

The French are also attacking in Artois but they are making little progress. The main French effort is further to the south. Indeed, both French and British efforts in Artois are essentially diversions for the French offensive in the Champagne sector (also the scene of fighting earlier this year). Joffre has assembled considerable forces here and hopes to smash through the outnumbered Germans.

The French have some initial successes, overrunning forward German positions and capturing some 14,000 German prisoners, albeit at great cost. However, the Germans manage to hold their reserve trench line, denying Joffre the breakthrough that he craves.

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British troops advance through clouds of poison gas (Wikipedia)

Battle of Loos map (Wikipedia)

Fanciful 2nd Battle of Champagne image (St. Mihiel Trip Wire)

16/5/1915 Western Front: the Allies keep plugging away

In London the resignation of Admiral Fisher and newspaper reports on the army being dangerously short of shells have combined to create a political crisis. In France, however, British commander Sir John French is more satisfied with how things are going. The recent attack on Aubers Ridge was a disastrous failure, but better progress is experienced today in an attack near the village of Festubert, south of Neuve Chapelle.

Despite newspaper reports of a shell crisis, this time the British are able to blast the enemy for 60 continuous hours before attacking. The assault (which begins just before midnight) carries the German frontline. Over the course of the day further progress is made, though the attackers suffer considerable casualties.

The attack is limited in scope: there is no plan this time to break completely through the enemy lines or even to make major gains. Instead the aim is a minor local adjustment in favour of the British forces. Notwithstanding the great losses of the British forces deployed (many of whom are colonial troops from India), French is pleased to report that his men have advanced an average of 600 yards.

A bit further south the French army has been fighting the Germans in the Artois region. The initial successes of the 9th of May have been followed by German counterattacks in which much of the captured ground was lost, followed in their turn by more attacks and counter-attacks. Now the fighting is in a lull, as the exhausted French troops wait for bad weather to lift so that they can attack again.

4/5/1915 Ypres: the line shortens

Fighting at Ypres continues. The Germans have continued to deploy gas to devastating effect, killing many Allied soldiers but failing to make a breakthrough. Allied counter-attacks have tried to recapture lost ground but without much success. Many on the British side feel that the French are not pressing attacks in their part of the line with sufficient vigour. There may be some truth to this. Joffre is planning his own offensive in the Artois region and so is committing the bare minimum of forces to the Ypres sector. Foch, the local French commander, does not have the men to strike back hard at the Germans. But the British too are keeping troops back for their own planned offensive, so they should not be too judgemental.

German gains on the 22nd of May have left many of the British and Canadian forces in the Ypres salient in an exposed position. Smith-Dorrien, the British commander at Ypres, fears that a renewed German thrust could leave his men cut off. He proposes a withdrawal to a shorter and more defensible line. French, the senior British commander on the Western Front sees this as indicating a failure of nerve on Smith-Dorrien’s part. He relieves Smith-Dorrien of his command, replacing him with General Herbert Plumer. Plumer promptly orders a withdrawal to a shorter and more defensible line.

image source (Webmatters: Carte de Route)

13/3/1915 Neuve Chapelle: French calls a halt

Initial British successes at Neuve Chapelle on the morning of the 12th gave way to a disappointing afternoon as communications broke down under German artillery fire. Over the following days further advances have been attempted but strengthened German resistance was able to hold them off. Yesterday German troops under Crown Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria launched a determined counter-attack on British positions. The German attack failed, but the British artillery expended most of its ammunition repelling it.

There is no realistic prospect of a renewed British offensive pushing on to the Aubers Ridge. Rather than waste more lives, General French orders a halt to the attacks. The offensive is officially just being postponed, but the Battle of Neuve Chapelle is now effectively over.

The battle has not been a complete failure. The initial success of the British and Indian troops shows that the British army is capable of offensive operations. But the subsequent failures are worrying. How is an attacking army to be controlled in a battlefield swept by enemy artillery? More immediately disturbing is yesterday’s rapid depletion of shells. If British forces are to successfully operate in France and Belgium then the production of munitions at home will have to be greatly stepped up.

10/3/1915 Neuve Chapelle: Britain attacks

Up to now, British forces on the Western Front have fought mainly on the defensive. This has led to a certain scepticism on the part of the French as to whether their ally will ever make much contribution to driving out the German invader. Now, though, the British attack the Germans at Neuve Chapelle. As well as showing that his men are capable of offensive operations, British commander John French wants to support the ongoing French offensive in the Champagne region.

The British are attacking the village of Neuve Chapelle with the aim of taking it and then pushing on to the Aubers Ridge beyond. If things go really well they may even be able to recapture the important French industrial city of Lille.

The attackers are a combination of troops from Britain and ones recruited in India. Their early morning assault is preceded by a short artillery bombardment that successfully cuts through German barbed wire. The British and Indian soldiers then advance across No Man’s Land to overrun the first German positions and proceed on to capture the enemy’s support trenches. Neuve Chapelle itself is captured by 10.00 am.
Then things start to go wrong. German troops begin to counter-attack while other German strong points delay further advances by the British. German artillery bombardment disrupts British communications by severing telephone wires. British and Indian units become disorganised and General Haig, the local commander, is unable to direct operations. The attack runs out of steam with the Aubers Ridge remaining securely in German hands.

Indian troops charging German positions at Neuve Chapelle (Wikipedia)

13/10/1914 [Western Front] Lille falls to the Germans; the “race to the sea” continues

The Germans and French are still trying to outflank each other, largely without success. The two armies are leapfrogging towards the Channel. Soldiers are beginning to think of this as the “race to the sea”, believing that whichever side can get its forces to the coast first will gain a decisive advantage.

For the moment, the British are out of action. Sir John French has convinced Joffre that the British Expeditionary Force would be better deployed close to the coast. Now the British infantry are being moved there by train while the cavalry follow by road. The British force is small but Joffre hopes that the British will be able to use their cavalry to great advantage in the open country of the north west.

For all that neither side is making any great gains in their attempts to outflank the other, there are still victories being won. Today German troops attack the French city of Lille… and are surprised to find it undefended. They march into the town centre to find the trams still running, as though this was a city in a land at peace rather than at the front of a war.

The fall of Lille is a great blow to the French. The city is the administrative capital of the north west. It is also an important industrial centre whose loss will be keenly felt if the war becomes a long one.

image source (the War Poetry website)