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On This day in World War 1


  • 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015 '14 Customizer '13 '12 '11 '10

    On 21 November 1918, the German High Seas Fleet surrendered to the British Grand Fleet, as described in detail below.  The meeting of the two fleets was the greatest gathering of warships the world had ever witnessed.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-30128199


  • 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015 '14 '13 Moderator

    Wonderful piece, Marc. Thank you; I had no idea.


  • 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015 '14 Customizer '13 '12 '11 '10

    Glad you enjoyed it.  I once briefly visited Orkney, where the High Seas Fleets was interned and later scuttled.  I got to see a little museum in Kirkwall that displays, among other things, salvaged relics from the German ships – brass machinery dials with German lettering and so forth, plus part of the torpedo that sank the Royal Oak in WWII.  That alone was worth the trip up from Edinburgh.


  • 2019 2018 2017

    I’ll try to catch up by summarizing the main developments in the various theaters of World War I during the period from late September to early November, 1914 - though I can’t promise to stay on track, as life gets in the way.

    The French and the British won the First Battle of the Marne. This crucial victory stopped the rapid German advance and saved Paris from being cptured. If this bat t- though I can’t prole would have ended with a German victory, it could well have meant the defeat of France.
    But now that the Germans had been turned back, the Allies tried to follow up on their success and started a flanking maneuver in an attempt to envelop the right flank of the German army in what would become the First Battle of the Aisne. The Aisne, like the Marne, runs east-west, but is some 25 miles further to the north.
    The Germans countered this by sending troops south from Belgium. And during the weeks that followed this game of flanking and countering continued, resulting in the inconclusive battles of Picardy, Albert and Arras. As the focus of the fighting gradually moved north, this stage of the war has been dubbed the “Race to the Sea”, though neither party actually intended to reach the sea - it was just the direction that the respective maneuvers followed. This period also saw the beginning of the entrenchments that would become so characteristic of the Western Front.
    In early October, the Belgians were still holding on to their fortress of Antwerp, where the king and the government resided after the loss of Brussels. Antwerp was defended by two circles of forts, an inner line immediately near the city, and an outer line some 5-10 miles away. The Germans kept advancing slowly but steadily, and they captured several of the outer forts after heavy artillery bombardments. A problem began to form further south, where the Germans were starting to threaten Ghent, thereby separating the Belgian forces at Antwerp from the Allied front further to the South. Despite British and French aid, the Belgian position became untenable, especially when the Germans gained enough ground to bring their heavy artillery within range. Antwerp surrendered on October 10. The majority of what remained of the Belgian army had retreated to fight another day, but some 30,000 were captured by the Germans, and even more fled north to the Netherlands, where they were interned. During the war, the Dutch interned all soldiers found on their soil: mostly Belgians, but also a British force that had been cut off at Antwerp, a few thousand Germans, and a few French and American pilots.
    After the fall of Antwerp, the Germans continued to push westward, capturing Ghent a few days later. The Belgian army fell back behind the river Yser, almost the last natural line of defence that was actually in Belgium. German pressure was intense, and the Belgians, now joined by French and British forces, were gradually forced back. To stop this, the Belgian inundated a large part of the area toward the end of October, and this indeed worked: the terrain became almost impossible to traverse, and at the end of what became known as the First Battle of the Yser, the Belgians were still holding on to a small part of their country. King Albert I would continue leading his army in that area for four more years.

    On the Eastern front, the Russian attempt to capture East Prussia had been crushed at the Battle of Tannenberg. Soon after, they suffered another major defeat, when the Russian First Army was soundly beaten at the Battle of the Masurian Lakes. The Russians were much more successful against Austria-Hungary, however. The Battle of Rawa was a major Russian victory, and the Russian third army laid siege to the fortress of Przemysl. Lemberg, the capital of the province of Galicia, had already fallen of September 3, and by the end of the month, the Austro-Hungarian army was in full retreat towards the Carpathian mountains. The situation alarmed Germany, that saw its key industrial area of Silesia threatened as Austrian resistance in neighboring Galicia collapsed. Von Hindenburg therefore started to advance southward from Eastern Prussia, but this time he was unsuccessful. On the other hand, a genuine Russian threat to Silesia never materialized.

    In the South, the Serbians actually launched a limited offensive into Austro-Hungarian territory in September, but were soon confronted with a massive counterattack from their numerically superior opponent. The ensuing Battle of the Drina River lasted until early October and was inconclusive, but the Austrians could better afford the losses. Moreover, the ensuing trench warfare didn’t go well for the Serbians, who were seriously short of heavy artillery and suffered many casualties from Austrian bombardments. Eventually, they had to retreat and established a new position on the Kolubara river, where a lengthy and costly battle began on November 16.
    Russia declared war on the Ottoman Empire on November 2, and launched a campaign in the Caucasus. Their attack was repulsed a few weeks later, however.

    In Africa, the Germans were rapidly losing ground in their Kamerun colony. The major city of Douala had fallen on September 27, and aided by their naval superiority, the British and French took the eniter coastal area. In East Africa, it was a different story however. The famous German commander Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck, leading a combined force of Germans and native Askari’s, defeated a British naval invasion attempt at Tanga in early November, despite being heavily outnumbered. The parallel land invasion was also defeated at the Kilimanjaro, where the Germans were actually being led by a  major actually named Georg K raut (I had to put the space in to make the forum show the man’s name!). Finally, the anticipated South African invasion into German Southwest Africa (present-day Namibia), was thwarted by a rebellion among South African soldiers of Boer descent. The Boers, who were of Dutch origin and had been defeated by the British in their own independence war a little over a decade earlier, were not at all eager to fight for the British cause. But the South Africans still captured Luderitz, and all in all, the German prospects here were looking bleak in the face of the South African numerical superiority.

    Germany’s Kiautschou Bay Concession in China had been under attack by the Japanese since September. The Japanese military had been strengthened considerable during the pre-World War I period, and they were eager to capitalize on their power by extending Japan’s influence. A British request for assistance against the German colonies gave Japan a welcome opportunity, and they sent an overwhelming force against Kiautschou. The attack culminated in the siege of Tsingtao, which capitulated on November 7 after heavy bombardments. By then, the Japanese had already captured Germany’s Pacific islands, that Germany itself had bought from Spain some 15-20 years earlier. German New Guinea had been captured by Australian troops in September. Lieutenant Hermann Detzner and a few of his men would hold out in the jungle for the remainder of the war, however.

    Various naval engagements that took place during these months have already been covered by AB Worsham an Wittmann (thanks, gentlemen!), but we might add SMS Emden, a German cruiser that sank a Russian cruiser and a French destroyer at the battle of Penang in late October, but had to be beached in the Cocos Islands when HMAS Sydney proved too strong an opponent on November 9.



  • Emden, what a ship!



  • A few days ago a hundred years ago, December 8, 1914 the Battle of the Falkland Islands was fought. This battle ended the threat of the elite German Far East Fleet.


  • 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015 '14 Customizer '13 '12 '11 '10

    On the morning of 16 December 1914, the shipping town of Hartlepool in north-east England was bombarded by the German Navy during its first attack on the UK’s home front during World War One.

    During the 40-minute attack, 1,150 shells were fired, devastating large areas of the town. It left 130 people dead and hundreds more injured.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-tees-30484951



  • A hundred years ago today saw the Christmas Truce between German and British troops.

    Amazing story.


  • 2019 2018 2017

    During late 1914 and the beginning of 1915, the situation on the western front stabilized. But before it stabilized, there was one more major battle with a lot of bloodshed: the First Battle of Ypres, which started in October 1914 and continued until late November. As the name suggests, the strategic aim of this battle was the city of Ypres in southwest Belgium, which was the last major stronghold on Belgian territory, and probably also the last obstacle to keep the German advance from the ports of Dunkirk, Calais and Boulogne, which were of course important in British supply line.
    The Germans almost made it, and pushed ahead to the north and to the south of Ypres, but in the end, they were unable to capture the fortified city itself. Or rather, the German command decided to call off the attack at some point in time, having reached the conclusion that they couldn’t win the battle. The (mainly) British were at the verge of collapse when that happened, and whether or not Ypres would have fallen if the Germans had pressed on despite heavy losses, is within the realm of speculation. But it’s safe to say that the decision not to do so, was a crucial one. After the battle, there was considerable disagreement within the German high command on what to do next. Von Falkenhayn even proposed to seek a diplomatic solution, but he was opposed by other senior commanders and diplomats.
    The front as it was at the end of the First Battle of Ypres, would run across approximately the same line for the remainder of the war, almost until its end in 1918. There would be many smaller and greater battles, and the loss of young lives on either side would be horrific, but little more ground was gained by either side. I often go to England on vacation, and the sheer number of names on war memorials in small villages are a grim reminder of what the Great War did to Europe’s families.

    Of course, the dramatic fights of these months created many peculiar stories. AB Worsham already reminded us of the famous Christmas Truce between the fighting men - a moment of peace which did not find agreement with their commanders, who made sure that it wouldn’t be repeated. Another curious incident seems to have happened in late October. Sergeant Henry Tandy saw a wounded German soldier wandering into his line of fire, and decided not to shoot the unthreatening man, who nodded in gratitude before retreating. The name of that soldier, a volunteer in the Bavarian Army, was Adolf Hitler.

    In the east, while the Germans had successfully repulsed the Russian invasion of East Prussia, they didn’t capitalize on that victory by gaining additional territory. It seemed that in the east, the central powers were primarily fighting a defensive war. Austria-Hungary remained under strong Russian pressure for some time to come, and it was only at the battle of Limanowa, fought under harsh conditions in the Carpathian Mountains in early December, that they finally stopped the Russian advance, preventing a breakthrough that could otherwise have reached Hungary. But Galicia was lost and remained in Russian hands.

    The Serbians achieved an important success by winning the Battle of the Kolubara River against the Austrians, and even recaptured Belgrade after that city had been lost. But their overall situation was deteriorating, especially after Bulgaria entered the fight on the side of Austria-Hungary, and launched an invasion as well.


  • 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015 '14 Customizer '13 '12 '11 '10

    Here’s an odd one.  It sounds like these guys flunked basic geography in high school.

    –------

    Today marks the 100th anniversary of the bombing of a train bridge on the Maine-New Brunswick border during the First World War.

    In the early-morning hours of Feb. 2, 1915, German agent Werner Horn and his Irish accomplice planted a large satchel of explosives on the CPR train bridge between Vanceboro, Maine, and St. Croix, N.B., says Brent Wilson, director of the New Brunswick Military Heritage project at the University of New Brunswick’s Gregg Centre for the Study of War and Society.

    They thought they could take out a strategic supply line to the Canadian war effort, says Wilson.

    Japan had recently entered the war and the conspirators misguidedly thought a Japanese army might soon be using the rail line to get to the Western Front.

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/new-brunswick/werner-horn-s-st-croix-bridge-bombing-in-ww-i-happened-100-years-ago-today-1.2940299



  • @CWO:

    Here’s an odd one.  It sounds like these guys flunked basic geography in high school.

    –------

    Today marks the 100th anniversary of the bombing of a train bridge on the Maine-New Brunswick border during the First World War.

    In the early-morning hours of Feb. 2, 1915, German agent Werner Horn and his Irish accomplice planted a large satchel of explosives on the CPR train bridge between Vanceboro, Maine, and St. Croix, N.B., says Brent Wilson, director of the New Brunswick Military Heritage project at the University of New Brunswick’s Gregg Centre for the Study of War and Society.

    They thought they could take out a strategic supply line to the Canadian war effort, says Wilson.

    Japan had recently entered the war and the conspirators misguidedly thought a Japanese army might soon be using the rail line to get to the Western Front.

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/new-brunswick/werner-horn-s-st-croix-bridge-bombing-in-ww-i-happened-100-years-ago-today-1.2940299

    . Great story.


  • 2019 2018 2017

    The western front had dug in by this time in 1915, but there were some developments in the east, where the Germans had pushed the Russians back into central Poland (which was Russian-owned in 1914), while conversely, the Russians had gained ground against the Austrians. At the battle of Bolimov, the Germans first used poison gas, but it turned out to be ineffective due to the low temperatures. February 7 saw the beginning of a major German attack in the north, in what would become the second battle of the Masurian Lakes.

    The Ottoman Empire had actively entered the war on the side of the Central Powers by now, but they fared poorly against the Russians in the Caucasus, where they had lost the battle of Sarikamish in December-January, and also against the British, when a raid on the Suez Canal was defeated in January-February.
    Still, the Ottomans caused the Allies quite some trouble at the time, because the Sultan’s envoys managed to incite various uprisings in their North African colonies. Such battles in the Sahara are traditionally associated with the famous French Foreign Legion, but in reality, they were mostly active in Europe during World War I, and the protracted warfare in areas such as Morocco and Niger were fought by other colonial troops. Religion was definitely a factor here: jihad is not a modern word.

    In South Africa, the Maritz Rebellion, a Boer uprising, had been suppressed in early February. South African forces were now preparing to resume their invasion of German South West Africa.
    Not too much happened in East Africa, because the British refrained from further attempts after their 1914 defeats at the battles of Kilimanjaro and Tanga. SMS Konigsberg. under the command of Captain Max Looff, had been successful in the Indian Ocean in 1914, but had been forced to seek refuge in the Rufiji delta, and was blocked by the British.

    After the fall of Tsingtao and the Pacific colonies to the Japanese and the British, German presence in East Asia and the Pacific was very limited. SMS Dresden had survived the battle of the Falkland Islands and returned to the Pacific, but wouldn’t last long.


  • 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015 '14 Customizer '13 '12 '11 '10

    May 31, 2016: 100th anniversary of the start of the Battle of Jutland, the largest naval battle of WWI, and history’s only full-scale engagement between fleets of dreadnought battleships and battlecruisers (even though the battleship groups were only in sight of each other for a brief amount of time overall).


  • 2019 2018 2017 2016

    As our naval expert, Marc, who would you say won at Jutland? Germany because of the greater damage and loss of life inflicted? Or Britain because the German fleet retreated (and never ventured out again)?

    Of course Britain only needed not to lose. The blockade was maintained and so some say Jutland was the battle that won the war.

    I imagine that the allied armies would disagree with that, especially given the furious German onslaught early in 1918 and the series of victories subsequently, with the deployment of various advances in tactics and equipment, such as the tank and rolling artillery barrage.


  • 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015 '14 '13 Moderator

    It was definitely a British victory, for the reasons you mentioned. Strategy was all that mattered, not at the tactical level.  The German fleet never sailed again and Britain never lost control of the seas.


  • 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015 '14 Customizer '13 '12 '11 '10

    @Private:

    As our naval expert, Marc, who would you say won at Jutland? Germany because of the greater damage and loss of life inflicted? Or Britain because the German fleet retreated (and never ventured out again)?

    Jutland was a tactical victory for the Germans because they sank more enemy ship tonnage than they themselves lost, and a strategic victory for the British because the High Seas Fleet never made another major attempt to break the Royal Navy’s control of the North Sea.  I agree with Wittmann that the strategic importance of Jutland overrides its tactical significance – but I do think that the tactical element shouldn’t be brushed off lightly.  Jutland was a hard blow to the prestige of the Royal Navy, and by extention to the “Britannia rules the waves” self-assurance that Britain had taken for granted since the time of Nelson.  A case in point: the first official communique about the results of Jutland which the British government released to the British press was, to its great credit, a pretty accurate picture that correctly reflected the best information which the Admiralty had at the time.  It was duly published, and the British press (and the British public) responded with howls of outrage at the notion that Britain’s ship and personnel losses had been significantly greater than those of Germany.  Whitehall hasily issued a revised communique, in which all the German ships previously listed as “severely damaged” were reclassed as “sunk”, and all the Germans ships previously listed as “damaged” were reclassed as “severely damaged” or “probably sunk.”  In this new estimate, the British score came out slightly ahead of German score.  It was duly published, and this paper victory was greeted with relief by the British press (and the British public), who were reassured that Britain’s naval supremacy was once more secure.

    Behind the scenes, however, nobody at the Admiralty was laughing.  The reputation of Jellicoe, who commanded the Grand Fleet at Jutland, took a bit of a beating and he was ultimately “kicked upstairs” to a desk job.  (His naval command was handed over to Beatty, who at Jutland had famously commented that “there seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today.”)  Jutland had also revealed some major deficiencies in Britain’s pride and joy, its very expensive dreadnought battleships and battlecruisers.  There were quality-control problems with the big gun shells, some of which had failed to detonate properly.  The shell hoists lacked proper anti-flash shutters, a factor which contributed to the loss of some of the British battlecruisers.  (Ironically, the Admiralty ended up overcompensating.  The anti-flash shutters fitted in the WWII-era King George V class battleships were so elaborate that they tended to jam, a problem which hampered Prince of Wales while she was fighting Bismarck in 1941.)  And the whole battlecruiser concept (“eggshells armed with hammers”) came close to being discredited; the construction of Hood, which in 1916 was in its early stages, was halted so that the design of the ship could be significantly revised, with a major increase in armour protection.

    Jutland also made the embarrassing point – as the Bismarck operation did in WWII – that German capital ships appeared to be harder to sink than British capital ships, even when one is comparing battleships versus battleships as opposed to battleships versus battlecruisers.  And there was actually a good reason for this.  The capital ships of the High Seas Fleet were designed for short-duration, short-range excursions into the Baltic and the North Sea; as such they didn’t need to provide anything more than austere living facilities for their crews (who, in port, lived in barracks rather than aboard ship).  Therefore, German designers could allocate more tonnage to armour.  British ships, by contrast, were designed for long-range, long-duration operations (due to Britain’s dependence on maritime trade and due to its vast imperial holdings), so their designers had to allocate more tonnage to crew quarters and related facilities.

    German designers also, in a general sense, made the most of the fact that Germany could never hope to outbuild Britain in terms of quantity; they opted instead for quality.  For instance, the main guns of German capital ships often had longer barrels (in terms of caliber length) than British guns of the same caliber.  This gave them a higher muzzle velocity.  The disadvantage was that it increased their barrel wear (and thus decreased their service life), but the advantage was that it allowed them to deliver harder-hitting shells travelling on flatter trajectories.  Because the force delivered by a shell equals its mass times the square of its velocity, the increase in velocity given by a longer barrel is in some circumstances a much better bargain than than the increase in mass given by a larger gun caliber.

    In terms of the big picture, however, the fundamental outcome of Jutland was that the British blockade of the North Sea remained unaffected – and as far as the ultimate outcome of the war was concerned, that was what mattered.


  • 2017 2016

    Great rundown, and all conclusions spot-on… for a Reader’s Digest version of Jutland here you go:

    Germany, Tactical Win, Strategic Loss
    Sank/Killed more British Ships/Lives, but did nothing with the win.
    May as well have had the entire German fleet sunk at Jutland for all the difference the tactical win made, because Germany never ventured out again, making the entire battle pointless for Germany and Britain maintained her command of the Sea, despite the tactical loss.


  • 2019 2018 2017 2016

    Thanks Marc and witt.

    I watched an interesting documentary the other night that argued that the higher loss of British ships was caused by shortcuts taken to deliver shells to the gun turrets more quickly, with doors propped open, allowing exploding gun turrets to propel the explosion down into the weapons stores below.

    A lesser suggestion was that Beatty’s gung-ho bellicosity and poor communications (i.e. relying on signal flags in poor visibility across miles of ocean) resulted in his force being outgunned for much of the battle.

    Any thoughts on those points?

    Cheers
    PP


  • 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015 '14 Customizer '13 '12 '11 '10

    @Private:

    I watched an interesting documentary the other night that argued that the higher loss of British ships was caused by shortcuts taken to deliver shells to the gun turrets more quickly, with doors propped open, allowing exploding gun turrets to propel the explosion down into the weapons stores below.

    A lesser suggestion was that Beatty’s gung-ho bellicosity and poor communications (i.e. relying on signal flags in poor visibility across miles of ocean) resulted in his force being outgunned for much of the battle.

    Any thoughts on those points?

    The part you mentioned about shell delivery in the turrets is what I was talking about when I mentioned the lack of proper anti-flash shutters.  Such shutters slow down the delivery of shells, but they offer protection against one of the biggest dangers that big-gun ships face: having an enemy shell burst inside a main gun turret at the same moment when an unprotected (meaning non-shuttered) shell hoist is open, thus allowing the flash of the exploding shell to travel all the way down into the powder magazines, whose detonation can blow a battleship apart.  Proper anti-flash shutters can limit the damage to the struck turret; its crew will be killed, but the ship will survive.  The 1989 Turret 2 explosion on the USS Iowa is a sad but dramatic example: the turret crew was lost, but the anti-flash shutters saved the ship itself from being destroyed, which is exactly what they were designed to do.

    I’m not familiar with the Beatty element you mentioned, so I can’t really comment on its specifics.  However, the German and British battlecruiser forces at Jutland (the latter commanded by Beatty) were each trying to lure tne opposite force towards their main body of battleships (which they both did successfully), so I’m not sure it’s correct to say that Beatty was outgunned for most of the engagement.


  • 2019 2018 2017 2016

    Thanks again Marc.

    Apparently Beatty lost contact with a significant part of his own force which could not see his signals, which resulted in his having fewer ships to hand when he met the German battlecruisers. He ignored the more modern communication means at his disposal.

    But I am always wary of TV documentaries, which can be too keen to have something new or significant to say.


  • 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015 '14 Customizer '13 '12 '11 '10

    @Private:

    Apparently Beatty lost contact with a significant part of his own force which could not see his signals, which resulted in his having fewer ships to hand when he met the German battlecruisers. He ignored the more modern communication means at his disposal.

    I assume that the “more modern means of communication” mentioned by the documentary is a reference to wireless telegraphy, since Beatty’s ships seem to have used both blinker lights and flags for communication.  W/T in WWI was a mixed blessing in combat, so Beatty may have had valid reservations about using it.  Automatic devices allowing messages to be encrypted and decrypted instantaneously didn’t exist at the time of WWI (nor even in WWII, as far as I know; the Enigma machine was painfully slow), so in a fast-moving tactical situation in which information is very time-sensitive messages would have had to be sent in the clear, because encyphering by the sender and decyphering by the receiver is too time-consuming.  And the problem with sending any kind of radio (or in this case radio-telegraphy) messages is that the enemy will be able to pick them up too.  W/T sent in the clear therefore potentially informs the enemy of your position (through direction-finding) and intentions (by analysis of the content of the message).  You could make life more complicated for the enemy by sending uncyphered messages whose content consists of coded instructions taken from code books (like, to invent an example, “Perform maneuver X-12 immediately”), but there’s always a risk that the other side’s intelligence services have acquired or reconstructed your codes.

    At any rate, part of the problem which Beatty apparently had at Jutland was that his force included a squadron that normally operated with Jellicoe’s battleships rather than Beatty’s battlecruisers, and whose commander wasn’t informed that Beatty’s standing orders on what to do in such-and-such a situation weren’t the same as Jellicoe’s standing orders.  As a result, that squadron seems at one point to have done something different than what Beatty was expecting it to do, which resulted in Beatty temporarily losing the concentration of ships which he had had up to that point.


  • 2019 2018 2017 2016

    Yes - wireless. There was no mention of communication security, nor of blinker lights.

    Thanks Marc, for sharing your knowledge.


  • 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015 '14 Customizer '13 '12 '11 '10

    One hundred years ago today, William Leefe Robinson became the first person to shoot down a German airship over the UK.  This success in the skies above London, which saw him awarded the Victoria Cross just 48 hours later, was due to a mixture of the 21-year-old’s own bravery, an improved defence strategy and a revolutionary flammable bullet designed to ignite the hydrogen gas used to fill the 620ft-long (190m) long balloon.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-tees-37164689


  • 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015 '14 '13 Moderator

    Great read, Marc. Thanks.


  • 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015 '14 Customizer '13 '12 '11 '10

    @wittmann:

    Great read, Marc. Thanks.

    The BBC has a good track record of picking up all sorts of interesting news stories related to the two World Wars, sometimes on quite obscure subjects, so they deserve a lot of credit for their interest in history.


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