by Tom B
I am going to post some fragments from Operation Unicorn. If I ever do develop this into a full fledged novel, the style would be more expansive. Finalized sections of the novel will not be posted on Bulletin Boards. This is just some preliminary anchor points for the plot line.
This is the primary POD of Operation Unicorn.
Wilhelmshaven August 22, 1914
Admiral Franz von Hipper was thinking about the defenses of Heligoland Bight for which he was responsible. Suddenly a thought entered his mind. The sandbar at the mouth of the Jade Bay could only be safely crossed by the German capital ships near high tide. If the Royal Navy dared to raid the Bight with battle cruisers there could be embarrassing delays if the tides were wrong. This deficiency needed to be remedied.
August 28, 1914 1305 hrs (Battle of Heligoland Bight)
The Ariadne was ablaze. Admiral David Beatty from County Wexford was pleased.. Suddenly a report came in which incinerated his pleasure. German dreadnaughts on a southwesterly course had just been spotted emerging from a fog bank 9,500 yards NNW.
Beatty’s nemesis were the four Helgoland class dreadnaughts accompanied by seven destroyers. They had been stationed outside the Jade Bar and so did not have to wait for the tide. Ostfriesland and Thuringen commenced firing in unison.
For more than an hour Beatty fought desperately to escape. He was certain that they were the vanguard of the High Seas Fleet and that the rest were close behind. While Beatty had a marked speed advantage the German battleships were cutting across his line of retreat. He could and did run to the south but soon he would be trapped by the Frisian Islands. The Princess Royal had been seriously slowed by damage inflicted by the German battleships. Queen Mary lost a turret to a dud and Invincible suffered considerable damage to its superstructure, causing substantial casualties and two small fires. Coordinating assistance from Harwich Force was impeded by the severe damage Tyrwhitt’s flagship, Arethusa, had suffered earlier in the battle. Nonetheless a series of hastily improvised torpedo attacks were mounted by the First Destroyer Flotilla and the First Light Cruiser Squadron. They succeeded in scoring a single torpedo hit on the Oldenburg but more importantly they allowed Beatty to circle around to the northeast. But they a paid a heavy price in doing so.
It was at this point that Hipper arrived with First Scouting Group and a torpedo flotilla. Visibility had gradually improved a little but was still poor. Fortunately for Beatty Seydlitz took heavy damage early on. Both her aft turrets were knocked out and there were two serious fires—one of them in a damaged turret and a still more spectacular one in the mainmast. With some measure of satisfaction Beatty thought it likely Seydlitz’s fires would ultimately prove fatal. But Queen Mary lost another turret and Princess Royal suffered additional damage, which further reduced her speed. FSG deliberately slithered back into the mist while Seydlitz’s damage control parties frantically fought the raging fires.
It was decision time for Admiral Beatty. The latest damage report from Princess Royal was very ominous. There was no immediate danger of capsizing, but her starboard water feed tank had been contaminated and her engines would probably be shutting down before long. Beatty ordered his other battle cruisers to turn towards Hipper.
A report from the Goodenough’s 1st Light Cruiser Squadron indicated that the Helgoland class dreadnaughts would be returning sooner than expected. His Irish temper rising, Beatty remembered what he had said earlier this day to his flag captain, Ernle Chatfield, "I ought to go support Tyrwhitt but if I lose one of these valuable ships the country will not forgive me." He blamed himself for this predicament—well he tried—but only a little. David Beatty wasn’t very good at blaming himself for anything. Chatfield had said he should go. Blame Chatfield—that’s the ticket!
The torpedo flotilla that had arrived with First Scouting Group were very obviously positioning themselves for a torpedo attack. The rest of the High Seas Fleet would be showing up before much longer. The decision was as clear as it was distasteful.
He clenched his fists in rage. "…lose one of these valuable ships the country will not forgive me."
Old Admiralty Building 2255 hrs
"Besides Princess Royal what are our losses," asked Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty. Seating in front of him were the First Sea Lord, Prince Louis of Battenberg and Rear Admiral Henry Oliver, the Director of Naval Intelligence.
The admirals exchanged glances. Prince Louis answered, "Liverpool, Fearless and five destroyers were sunk. Queen Mary and Invincible both suffered moderate damage. Lion’s damage seems to have been rather light. Arethusa, Birmingham and two of our destroyers were very badly damaged and required towing. Southampton and three more destroyers were lightly damaged. We won’t have casualty numbers for a few more hours."
"I’ll stick around until you do. And I’ll want some details on the nature of the damage and estimates on how long repairs will take--but first a much more important question. What did the Germans lose in this encounter?"
Glancing briefly towards Oliver, Battenberg replied, "We believe the Germans lost Seydlitz, three light cruisers and three destroyers. Also two of their battleships were badly damaged—one of them being torpedoed. From what Beatty has told us we believe there is a good chance we sank at least one of them as well."
"You believe? Well. belief is a wonderful thing, Louis--but just tell Winston here straight up-what bloody German ships did we see sink today?"
Batternberg swallowed uneasily before answering, "A light cruiser which we think was the Mainz and two destroyers."
"Do you have an intelligence, Henry, that would shed any additional light on this question of which German ships survived?"
Oliver shook his head, "Unfortunately not, sir. The Germans are very fond of their wireless, but they are careful to transmit most important matters in codes we have not yet broken. As far as our other sources of information, nothing so far. It could be a week before we get anything even remotely useful."
"When you do let the Prince here, Jellicoe and myself know immediately, but otherwise keep it under wraps. Understood?"
"Extremely well, sir."
Churchill frowned deeply. An awkward silence ensued. Winston eventually lit a cigar. Used to his ways, the admirals saw this development as encouraging sign.
"If Seydlitz or one of the dreadnaughts sank, then this battle is essentially a draw," mused Churchill, "and if we were really fortunate and our foe lost two capital ships it’s a clear victory." The admirals merely nodded cautiously
After a good puff Churchill continued, "Given our superiority in numbers attrition works in His Majesty’s favor. An equal exchange enhances our margin of superiority. So in that sense it is a victory."
He paused again. The admirals could plainly see that Churchill hadn’t convinced himself by what he had just said.
Churchill continued thinking out loud, "The question is what will we see when we read tomorrow’s newspapers."
He thought and he smoked, "Clearly Beatty is a hero! He personifies the spirit of Nelson! When Tyrwhitt was in peril he boldly sailed into the enemy’s home waters and administered a proper thrashing. Finding himself in a difficult situation he made a masterful escape and returns his fleet to safe harbor, having done his duty and done it well. And there’s a silver lining to the losses we suffered today. People won’t be spouting off anymore that it’s only the British Army that’s bleeding in this war."
Battenberg started to say something but thought better of it. Oliver realized that they were seeing Churchill the politician right now. He wondered if the First Sea Lord saw that as well. Prince Louis’ political acumen was often surprisingly insensitive for one in his position.
"If Admiral Beatty believes Seydlitz’s damage was fatal then by Jove it’s good enough for me. And if somehow she did make it home she’s either too badly burnt to be worth repairing or else in dry dock for a very long time. War’s probably going to be over ere she shows herself again. Even if it’s not when she does appear today’s events will be have faded from people’s minds."
Battenberg relaxed a notch, "So you feel, sir, that we’ve won a victory of sorts. A strategic victory at least."
Churchill choked a bit, "Strategic victory –yes, that’s one way to put. The bottom line, my dear admirals, is we won a victory today—" He stopped to take two good puffs of smoke.
"Even if we didn’t."
Wilhelmshaven August 29, 1914 1500 hrs
"You are being much too modest, Admiral von Hipper," chided Kaiser Wilhelm II, "you understate both the magnitude of your victory and your role in it. When Paris falls the British will not think they can intimidate us with their naval power because of what happened yesterday. They had forgotten what it’s like to lose a sea battle. Now they know. They will make peace with us on our terms because of what you’ve done."
Gathered in the room with the Kaiser were six admirals. The one with his right arm in a sling was the commander of First Scouting Group, Rear Admiral Franz Ritter von Hipper. The commander of Second Scouting Group, Admiral Maas was unfortunately not present—he had suffered more severe injuries requiring hospitalization but expected to eventually return to duty. The other admirals present were the Secretary of State of the Navy Department, Grand Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz, the Chief of the Admiralty Staff, Admiral Hugo von Pohl, the Chief of the Kaiser’s Naval Cabinet, Admiral Georg Muller, the commander of the High Seas Fleet. Admiral Friedrich von Ingenohl, and the commander of the First Squadron, Vice Admiral Wilhelm von Lans. It was Admiral Lans, who had commanded the battleships involved in the battle. Though so far the Kaiser had mostly slobbered over Hipper.
. Unlike the Heer the Kaiserlich Marine did not have a single unequivocal leader. This situation had already caused some confusion and friction. The admirals here shared a mutual intuition that the prior’s day’s events would add to both.
Hipper smiled, "I am deeply touched by your most gracious praise, Your Majesty. We did indeed sink the Princess Royal, one of enemy’s newest battle cruisers. The British were overly bold and paid a price. Our own fleet, however, paid a price as well."
"Admiral, please! Mainz, Ariadne and two destroyers in exchange for a battle cruiser as well as two maybe three cruisers and at least four destroyers! I must admit I most certainly do not like to see my precious warships destroyed, but in this case it was a price well worth paying." The Kaiser thrust the photograph he was holding in his good hand into Hipper’s face. It showed British seamen like insects scampering over the capsized hull of the Princess Royal. When the Kaiser had arrived at Wilhelmshaven the staff had presented it to him and he was enraptured. Every few minutes he felt compelled to wave it in someone’s face. It evoked a mixed response in Hipper—part pride but also empathy for the poor British sailors. He would like very much not to look at it again that day, thank you very much.
"But of course Your Majesty, this is most—er—gratifying. You are quite correct, but it is also necessary to consider the ships that were damaged as well as those that were sunk. Seydlitz and Köln both suffered severe damage. Ostfriesland lost two turrets and Oldenburg was torpedoed—both will be out of action for more than two months for repairs."
"Of course, admiral, there is something to that," Wilhelm II conceded reluctantly, "but don’t the British also have ships that will need extensive repair as well. It is still a great victory!"
Hipper did not respond. It was very strange having to downplay one’s own accomplishments, so he decided it was better to have more credit than he was due rather than less.
A small pause ensued. The other admirals were feeling neglected, but only Tirpitz had enough temerity to jump into the conversation, "Your Highness, this encounter has shown that our fleet can under the proper circumstances engage the British with success. Surely it is time to reconsider the role of the fleet in this war and the possibility of a more active role."
There was disapproval on the faces of Lans and Pohl, though no one in the room was particularly surprised. Kaiser Wilhelm hesitated with uncertainty before responding, "My policy only needs reiteration and clarification-- not alteration, Grand Admiral! The High Seas Fleet is primarily a political instrument. It must be preserved. This fact has not changed. Yet cautious and prudent operations such as occurred yesterday are most certainly approved—indeed they are heartily recommended. Was there ever any confusion on that point?"
There most certainly was, but no admiral dared to say so. After a rhetorical pause the Kaiser continued, "Well it’s good that I made that as clear as can be. Anyway I am certain that the war will be over soon. There is extremely good news coming from General Hindenburg on the Eastern Front. He is winning a great victory there as we speak. The Russian offensive into East Prussia was the Entente’s only real hope. Now that the Russians have been defeated, our ultimate success is assured. In France everything is right on schedule. The French Army and the pitiful handful of British interlopers are thoroughly routed. There are piles of corpses six feet high. It is most wonderful!"
The admirals were all disgusted by the last remark but took care not to show it. Those who dealt with the Kaiser on a regular basis usually became accustomed to his quirks, though this went beyond his usual mercurial norm.
"Today General von Moltke has relocated his headquarters to Luxembourg. Initially I had planned to go with him, but when I heard of this great naval victory I decided to come here first. But tomorrow we are going to—" Kaiser Wilhelm’s voice suddenly trailed off and a strange look appeared on his face.
Admiral Muller grew concerned, "Are you feeling well, Your Majesty?"
"I feel splendid, admiral. It’s just I was experiencing a sudden inspiration." answered the Kaiser looking first at Muller then turning to Hipper once more, "Admiral von Hipper. It is my wish that you accompany Admiral Muller and myself to Luxembourg tomorrow. In this final phase of the war I think it is important that General Moltke have a clear understanding of the navy’s concerns. In turn the navy might see ways it can assist the army. Also with your bandaged arm you would show them that naval officers are no less willing to make sacrifices than army officers. You would be a great inspiration to them!"
Hipper was momentarily stunned then managed a reply, "As you wish, All Highest, I will gladly accompany you. It is a great honor."
Except for von Ingenhol the other admirals were becoming deeply envious of Hipper—even von Muller who was also accompanying the Kaiser to Luxembourg. Ingenohl was not one to compete with his subordinates. He had too much on his mind to resent Hipper’s moment of glory. Was the war really in its final weeks? Was the Kaiser’s "clarified" policy giving him more freedom of action? What did Heligoland Bight tell him about how the High Seas Fleet would fare against the Grand Fleet? The near fatal catastrophe aboard the Seydlitz was disturbing. An inquiry would have to be made to find ways reduce the possibility of magazine explosions. On the other hand the damage to Ostfriesland and Oldenburg had not been as severe as first thought. Ostfriesland had taken on a substantial list for a while during the engagement due to some errors in damage control. That would need to be addressed as well. However the surprisingly limited damage the torpedo had caused Oldenburg—she lost only a single knot of speed—was reassuring. That the torpedo defense system worked so well partially compensated for the performance of the 8.8cm tertiary armament on the battleships during the torpedo attacks They needed some reappraisal as well. There was also a report that a British torpedo had run right underneath Helgoland. Was that mere luck or a sign that the enemy was having torpedo problems? There were also many reported instances of British shells breaking up against armor they should have easily penetrated at the short ranges of yesterday’s battle.
Despite the victory, Hipper had spoken to him this morning of the need to further strengthen the Bight’s defenses. There were also many periscope sightings during the battle and on one occasion a surfaced British submarine had been spotted. Additional minefields were definitely in order. Reconnaissance patrols by aircraft should be explored. Increased patrols of the outer perimeter by U-Boats seemed a good idea as well—when they were available—they were still very limited in number and prone to breakdowns.
This is what I call the secondary POD for Operation Unicorn (it has a moderate causal connection to the primary and for that reason I call it a secondary POD)
Luxembourg September 7, 1914 1355 hrs
Deep in his heart, General Helmuth von Moltke had never really thought it would work. There was just too many problems. The tight six week schedule. The Belgian forts. The vulnerability of Alsace-Lorraine and East Prussia. Whether or not to go through Holland—and the consequences if you did. The problem of whether to swing to the west of Paris or to the east. And most of all the logistics. In the core of his being, General von Moltke never really believed in the Schlieffen Plan.
Unfortunately it had been presented to him as an article of faith, an almost religious doctrine he was expected to live by. Essentially he had been given Hobson’s choice. And so he did his very best, his very, very best, to try and make the infernal thing work. And for a while in the last week of August, he almost believed it was going to work.
But in the depths of his soul he knew better. The thought that haunted him was that it was the only game in town—that there was no alternative that did not ultimately end in a Germany being crushed between Russia and France.
Then something happened to give him some hint of an alternative. At the end of August the Kaiser had arrived at OHL bringing in tow two admirals, Georg von Muller, the head of his Naval Cabinet and Franz von Hipper, the commander of First Scouting Group. The Kaiser soon departed with Muller but Hipper, recovering from an injury sustained in a recent naval battle, had remained. Many of the generals were uncomfortable with Hipper’s presence but Moltke was above petty interservice rivalry. Moltke took the Kaiser’s recommendation to heart and therefore seriously tried to take the naval point of view into consideration.
"When you march in France, let the last man on the right, brush the Channel with his sleeve."
Alfred von Schieffen had said that. That saying was firmly etched into Moltke’s mind. He thought he had understood what Schlieffen was trying to say. He understood it mean that the Germans should swing wide. With Hipper’s aid he now thought it had another meaning. Schlieffen was also trying to say it was a good idea to seize the Channel Ports, Dunkirk, Calais and Boulogne. Hipper in the last week had driven home to him how important they were—something Moltke had not previously comprehended.
In that comprehension the seeds of an alternative plan took shape in Moltke’s troubled mind. It would not defeat the Entente as quickly nor as completely as the Schlieffen Plan would have. Instead it offered the real possibility of Germany being able to eventually negotiate a favorable peace. He developed this plan without telling anyone, except for a few vague hints he let slip to Admiral Hipper.
The news of the last two days were all varying degrees of bad—even though von Kluck always tried to make dangers and setbacks sound like opportunities. No matter how First Amy handled the attack on its right flank, it ruined the precious six week schedule and proved the French were not as depleted as he had been led to believe from earlier reports. And it was not just the right wing that was a problem. The attempt to pinch off Verdun, which once looked so promising, now appeared to be faltering. French soldiers were putting up a fierce resistance from the rubble of Fort Troyon, inflicting heavy casualties and preventing the Meuse from being crossed. Likewise it appeared that Joffre had managed to close the Gap of Revigny. Moltke had actually hoped the threat of encirclement would suffice to force Sarrail to abandon Verdun, but alas that had not happened. Another costly failure so far was Sixth Army’s attack on Nancy.
General Moltke had worked out the major details of his alternative plan last night. He had made a few minor modifications during the morning based on developments. He now secluded himself for 15 minutes with strict orders not to be disturbed. When he was alone he opened his copy of Knowledge of Higher Worlds and Its Attainment. He selected a meditation exercise that emphasized "right thinking". He considered it to be appropriate. He removed all thoughts of brigades, terrain and supplies from his mind. Well he tried—and eventually partially succeeded. Towards the end of his meditation he was rewarded with an unusual Imagination. He felt strongly the presence of Alfred von Schlieffen. These meditation exercises almost always yielded what he regarded as disappointing results. However here today in Luxembourg he felt he had somehow crossed the Threshold.
He ended the meditation to concentrate once again on the war. Suddenly a flood of tears flowed from his eyes. He cried profusely and somehow he felt Schlieffen was crying with him. He suppressed a sob. After three and a half minutes the crying ended. He wiped the tears away with a handkerchief. If someone was to see him crying, it would add to his troubles.
He felt better. He did not feel good—but he could honestly say he felt better. He briefly thought about his wife, Eliza. She was more ardent in her anthroposophy than he was. Would she believe a general had communicated to him from the spiritual world? It was a discussion he looked forward to.
However there were things he needed to do first. One last time he thought about his plan. His mind was now even clearer. He would do it.
The Schlieffen Plan was over. It was time for the Moltke Plan.
He returned to his staff and immediately issued orders. The entire Western Front was ordered to cease all offensive action and retire to a defensive line. The II Cavalry Corps was to cross the Oise and guard the west bank of that river as far south as Creil, destroying all bridges in that sector. First Army was to occupy a position stretching from Compiegne to Soissons. All bridges across the Marne west of Chateau Thierry were to be destroyed. Fourth Army’s defensive position was to stretch from Suippes to Ste Menehould. Fifth Army was to occupy a line stretching east from Ste Menehould. Second and Third Army were to fill the gap between First and Fourth Army. The authority to determine the exact boundary between those two armies he temporarily delegated to von Bulow. However early tomorrow morning Moltke would travel by motorcar to Second Army HQ to confer.. He wanted to make sure the high ground of the Montagne du Rheims was used to the best advantage. Sixth Army was firmly ordered to desist in its attack on Nancy and fall back to a defensible position.
"When these positions are reached, the armies are to fortify and defend." He commanded. He ordered General von Stein, his Quartermaster-in-Chief, to expedite the shipment of "entrenchment stores" to the front. He looked at the map, ignoring the stares he was garnring from his staff. There was one other item that was very important.
"The 10th Landwehr Brigade is to force march to Amiens immediately."
Author’s commentary: Usually WI’s involving the Battle of the Marne and von Moltke have him being more upbeat and aggressive than he was. Here I am playing with the WI of him being more negative—at least as far as the Schlieffen Plan is concerned. Sometimes negativity is a good thing.
Berlin 0930 hrs September 15, 1914
It’s not easy being Kaiser Wilhelm II. It’s not easy being the guardian of the world’s most advanced culture, seeking to find its rightful place in the sun. People just don’t understand the immense weight that rests upon your shoulders and yours alone.
The Kaiser had returned by train from a troubling visit to General von Moltke in Luxembourg last evening. Admiral von Tirpitz had asked to speak with him this morning. The Kaiser reluctantly agreed even though he would have preferred to concentrate his attention on the hard decision he faced concerning leadership of the army.
Admiral von Muller attended the meeting as well. Kaiser Wilhelm was convinced the two admirals planned to gang up on him. He was both surprised and grateful that they didn’t bring Admiral von Pohl along as well. After some exchange of pleasantries Tirpitz came to the point, "Your Majesty, we who serve in the navy have heard recently heard news that the Army has suffered some reverses and as a result has abandoned the Schlieffen Plan."
Kaiser Wilhelm eyed Tirpitz warily. He took his time responding, "That rumor is unfortunately true, Alfred. We shall still prevail against the hordes, which seek our ruination, but the victory will take longer than had been planned. As you know I visited OHL two days ago. It is perfectly clear that the stories appearing in the British and French newspapers are a mixture of exaggeration and outright lies—as they usually are just more so—what with all this blather about a ‘Miracle of the Marne’. Their citizenry must be morons to believe such drivel"
The Kaiser paused to ponder. Muller was openinghis mouth to say something when the Kaiser continued, "So well now, the Schlieffen Plan no longer exists. Truth be told at long last, I had my own doubts about it from time to time. Now we have a new plan, a Moltke Plan. Now I’ve heard something that I’m sure will amuse you two. There are those in the Army who insinuate that it was Admiral Hipper that ruined the Schlieffen Plan. I am not joking! They claim Hipper’s influence persuaded General Moltke to call at halt to the offensive just when it was on the eve of the decisive victory. They whisper this to me as proof that Moltke is incompetent! They suggest I should relieve him for listening to an admiral. The way they say they make it sound like treason."
Tirpitz and Muller exchanged glances. They had both heard variations on the same story. It was usually admixed with observations about Moltke being ill suited in body and mind to lead the German Army.
"Of course, your are quite right, Your Majesty. Such talk merely dishonors the officers who spread it. Still because it generates misconceptions and ill feeling—no matter how baseless—I believe it is best if Admiral von Hipper were to return immediately to Wilhlemshaven."
The Kaiser looked at Admiral Muller, "Do you agree, Georg?"
Muller nodded, "Yes, Your Majesty, I concur."
Kaiser Wilhelm grinned, "Can’t wait to get your wonder boy back home I see. Well, so be it. See that he returns on the next available train. What’s our next topic?"
Tirpitz and Muller exchanged some more glances, "Kaiser, since the war is now likely to go on much longer than originally anticipated, we feel that the role of the navy in this conflict needs to be reconsidered."
"I do not, I mean, that is what I want to say, the standing policy is," Kaiser Wilhelm shut his mouth to avoid blathering. He thought for about a minute then answered warily, "I don’t see the need for any major changes in policy. Is there something in particular you wish to suggest, Admiral Tirpitz?"
Tirpitz leaned forward, "In a short war, Your Majesty, the British distant blockade would be no more than a passing nuisance. If the war proves to be a lengthy one, then this blockade will increasingly take its toll on the people and industries of our great nation. So far all we have done is protest its illegality. Likewise there is the British Army in France—currently a force very limited in quantity though reputedly excellent in quality. That force will be growing rapidly in the months to come—that is, unless something is done to cut their lines of communication."
Kaiser Wilhelm reflexively repeated a favorite phrase, "The fleet must be preserved as a political instrument."
Tirpitz just barely repressed a scowl, "That goes without saying, Your Majesty. However there are circumstances when our fleet can engage the British and win. This has been demonstrated not too long ago by Admiral von Hipper."
"Indeed it has—but just what’s your point, Alfred?"
"The point is, Your Majesty, is that Admiral Hipper rightfully seized upon an obvious opportunity to harm our greatest foe. The result was an impressive victory with acceptable losses. So what I am saying is that we should encourage Admiral von Ingenohl as well to be ready to take advantage of similar opportunities."
Kaiser Wilhelm pondered this logic uneasily. He looked at Muller, "What do you say, Georg?
"Admiral von Ingenohl is brave but not reckless Your Majesty. I think a further clarification of his freedom of initiative is all that is needed."
"Yes, yes, extremely well put—all that is required is further clarification along those lines. We concur. Now that is settled, what is the next topic of discussion, admiral?"
Tirpitz stared at Muller and was about to say something further about a more aggressive use of the High Seas Fleet but Muller spoke first, "Yes, Kaiser. Admiral von Tirpitz and I feel it is time to bring up the allocation of wartime resources to the navy."
Old Admiralty Building 1108 hrs
"Sir, a report came in this morning from one of our agents. It appears that Seydlitz is being repaired."
Winston Churchill removed the cigar from his mouth. He sighed a little. He frowned a little. He looked at the cigar and flicked its ash into a tray.
"That is unfortunate," commented Churchill. He paused before continuing, "Is the source of this information completely reliable? Has it been confirmed by another source of intelligence?"
"It is unconfirmed, sir, but the source is considered reliable."
Churchill returned his cigar to its proper place. For a moment he recalled the disgusting picture of the capsized Princess Royal, which the Huns were so fond of printing in their newspapers and magazine. He put that unpleasant thought aside.
"Have you told Battenberg, yet?"
"Yes, sir, I have"
"Tell no one else. We’ll wait until the conference at Loch Ewe to inform Admiral Jellicoe." Churchill’s fertile mind was too busy with other more important thoughts to rehash the events of August 28th. For one thing he looked forward the conference to be held aboard the Iron Duke in two days where his plan for seizing Helgoland was to be a key topic. He was very keen on that proposal. Another pressing issue was Belgium. The Royal Marine Brigade had recently landed at Dunkirk to assist the Belgians. Churchill saw Belgium as being the vital theater of the war now that the German threat to Paris had been parried.
Beatty had become a national hero in the aftermath of Heligoland Bight—to the admiral’s surprise. Churchill hoped that his boldness would at least be an example for the Admiralty, which he regarded as too cautious and conservative in its strategy. In the last few days there was an immensely optimistic mood. Everyone was talking about the Miracle of the Marne and how the Entente would be marching into Berlin in six or seven weeks. Churchill thought that this war would not be that simple.
Luxembourg 1955 hrs
General Helmuth von Moltke stared at the map again. From the reports that had managed to reach his headquarters it had been a remarkably quiet day. He went over in his mind the events of the last week.
He began by recalling a difficult meeting he had with the Crown Prince and his chief of staff on the 9th. They had protested vigorously that it would be impossible to defend the line Moltke have commanded with the anchor of their right flank at Ste Menehould. They insisted on a line further north with their right flank deep in the Argonne Forest where the rough terrain would afford considerable measure of protection from large scale attacks. The argument grew very heated and eventually they worked out a compromise where the line ran through the Argonne but not as far north as the Crown Prince wanted, with Moltke insisting that Fifth Army retain possession of the high ground at Vauquois. News had arrived late that day of some success on the Eastern Front with I Army Corps under General von François turning the Russian flank at the Masurian Lakes.
The morning of the 10th, Conneau’s cavalry had tried to exploit a small gap between the German Second Army and Third Army but von Bulow quickly sealed it. Around noon on the 10th the French Ninth Army had attacked Third Army’s positions in the Montagne de Rheims without much success, except it did evoke a complaint from von Hausen that Third Army’s sector of the front was too large to be defended. On the 11th the French Fifth Army launched heavy attacks against Second Army beginning at first light and continuing well into the afternoon. They were soundly defeated. Meanwhile the French Sixth Army at heavy cost had managed to cross the Aisne late in the day but von Kluck quickly cordoned off this bridgehead.
Except for an unsuccessful attempt by Sixth Army to expand its bridgehead over the Aisne, the French mounted no major attacks on the 12th. Because the advance of the BEF had been slowed by the need to erect bridges over the Marne on the 9th they did not enter the battle until the afternoon of the 12th and their initial attempts to establish bridgeheads over the Aisne and the Vesle failed.
The 13th was to be Moltke’s day of crisis. The French Fifth Army again launched a full scale assault at first light and quickly succeeded in capturing Fisme while the BEF tried again to cross the Vesle. Bulow immediately ordered First Amy to takeover some of Second Army’s front by extending to the east along the Aisne. The news coming from von Bulow during the morning was largely negative causing Moltke to fear that the defensive line of Second Army would break completely. For a while he thought his nerves would break as well. As was always the case communication from the battlefield was spotty and incomplete, seriously delayed and sometimes wildly inaccurate. The French Ninth Army under Foch had launched a pinning attack prompting another lamentation from General von Hausen about his front being too wide to be defended. Just before noon Kaiser Wilhelm had arrived at Moltke’s headquarters.
Bulow again proved very skillful in his defense. He quickly plugged any gap in the line-- even using 5th and Guard Cavalry Divisions are firemen. In the early afternoon the VIII Army Corps, which Moltke had removed from Fourth Army began to arrive on the battlefield after a long hard march. The attacks of the French Fifth Army had already begun to peter out and the arrival of these reinforcements halted them completely. It even permitted a few limited counterattacks at dusk.
Not long after these encouraging reports arrived at Moltke’s HQ though there arrived ominous messages about another development. Kluck had taken his time responding to Bulow’s order to cover the portion of the Aisne riverbank which Second Army had abandoned The result was that the British III Army Corps had been able to establish a bridgehead before elements of First Army finally arrived. Thankfully the commander of III Army Corps had been overly cautious allowing von Kluck to contain the bridgehead. By the time he had supper with the Kaiser the situation all along the line was stable and Moltke was feeling much better. The latest reports spoke of massive French casualties, of a battlefield covered in corpses. That news cheered up Kaiser Wilhelm who nonetheless kept suggesting that the Germans should immediately go on the offensive. Moltke deflected the suggestion and the Kaiser departed for Berlin soon afterwards.
The prior day, the 14th, was much less intense. The most significant action was a series of attacks and counterattacks between First Army and the enemy bridgeheads over the Aisne. The BEF managed to expand theirs a little but otherwise these fights proved inconclusive. Kluck kept asking for permission to erect his own bridges over the Aisne in order to attack Sixth Army but was repeatedly and sternly refused.
Today the 15th was even more subdued. Kluck still wanted to attack and Hausen still wanted a shorter line to defend. Moltke stared at the map. The Seventh Army was now in place with VII Reserve Corps at Amiens, IX Reserve Corps along the banks of the Avre south of Amiens and XV Army Corps deployed north of Royes A report had come in just a few minutes ago that an aviator had spotted French cavalry in considerable numbers on the west bank of Oise south of Creil
That report made Helmuth von Moltke smile.