by Tom B
Carpathian Mountains 0100 hrs Sunday, November 29, 1914
Wolves howled in the distance. A cold piercing wind blew through the trees. Moonlight poked ominously though a gap in the clouds improving visibility just enough to spawn strange dark shadows, which accentuated the gloom of the harsh terrain. The men of the Russian XII Corps struggled their way down the snow covered slopes. The mood of the soldiers was glum and apprehensive. The Carpathians remained a bizarre and backwards portion of Europe. The terrain was rugged having few roads of any sort—none of them good in the best of weather much less late November. The scarce local population was mostly Ruthenes and therefore often friendly with the Russian soldiers, but they were even more superstitious than other peasants.
Their Austro-Hungarian adversaries were not the completely routed army that their officers had hoped to find. Indeed they had managed to pull off some clever tricks of mountain warfare in the last two weeks Now suddenly the Russians were retreating. It had begun the previous night. They withdrew about 10 versts and in the morning hurriedly erected defenses. The Austrians did not catch up to them until the afternoon, after which there was some sporadic fighting ending at nightfall.
Soon after last light the Russians began to move again. The men had gotten little sleep and starting with supper the rations had been cut in half. The men had many questions but the officers believed that it was their duty to the Tsar, Mother Russia and God to keep their men as ignorant as possible. More than one soldier who asked too many questions was beaten. The men could sense that the officers were worried as well. Draught horses that were even a little infirm were often shot and the carcass quickly butchered. Men who lagged behind were usually beaten.
Rumors spread through the ranks. Some of the more experienced men claimed that in addition to retreating the units were covering a wider area. Some of more panicky men claimed that Eighth Army was surrounded.
The howling of the wolves grew louder. They sounded hungry.
Wilhelmshaven 0900 hrs
At Tirpitz’s request Admiral Bachmann, the head of the Admiralstab had convened a meeting of the Admiralstab. He asked that Admiral Ingenohl and Admiral Hipper attend as well.
:"I do not intend this to be a lengthy meeting," announced Admiral Bachmann, "so I will get to the main point—in fact the only point—for this special session. Yesterday Grand Admiral Tirpitz and I received a report from our intelligence section. We now have good evidence that the British dreadnought, Audacious was sunk a month ago."
Hipper whistled. Ingenohl asked, "This had not been acknowledged by their government. What is the source of this information? How reliable is it?"
"The ocean liner Olympic attempted to assist the disabled battleship before it sank. There were American passengers on board the liner and our agents were eventually able to interrogate them. The incident occurred off the Irish coast in one of the areas where Berlin laid mines.
"So we believe that one of Berlin’s mines caused the loss of Audacious?" asked Hipper.
Tirpitz jumped into the conversation, "Yes. This is why this news is doubly important
One, because the British have lost one of their 13.5" armed dreadnoughts which they arrogantly claim are ‘superdreadnoughts’. But more importantly because this loss demonstrates that their dreadnoughts are more vulnerable to underwater weapons than our own. Helgoland and Moltke have been torpedoed and suffered only a small reduction in speed due to their torpedo bulkheads. Audacious on the other hand is sunk by a very small mine. The difference is striking."
"Then perhaps it is because the Audacious struck more than one mine, Grand Admiral?" speculated Ingenohl.
Tirpitz looked sharply at Ingenohl for a second then waved his hand, "Oh, all right. That is a possibility but I regard it as remote because Berlin sowed her mines diffusely. And even if it was two hits by these small mines designed to sink only merchantmen, it still illustrates a British vulnerability we can exploit."
Northwestern Front HQ, Siedlce 1015 hrs
Grand Duke Nicholas had summoned General Ivanov, commander of Southwestern Front, here to discuss with him and General Ruszki, the current overall situation. Ivanov had left Alexeev in charge in his absence, but sternly warned him against making drastic changes with notifying him first.
The Grand Duke did not look happy. "Tsar Nicholas is gravely concerned, " he announced, "more so than he has been since the days immediately after the debacle at Tanenberg. I share his concerns, my dear generals. Three weeks ago we had great expectations. The Austrians were reeling from a series of defeats. Southwestern Front was to pursue them relentlessly, investing Przemysl, capturing Cracow and the key Carpathian mountain passes. Meanwhile Northwestern Front would overwhelm the enemy and storm into the German industrial areas in Silesia. But in recent days nearly every dispatch I receive speaks of some new setback. So I am here to see if it is really that bad. General Ruszki, you can go first."
Ruszki gulped and after a quick glance at Invanov who he regarded as a rival rather than a comrade he began, "The Germans attacked First Army in force. This threat to my right flank needed to be removed before the invasion of Silesia could continue. I quickly redeployed Second and Fifth Armies to form a sound defensive position around our supply center at Lodz. There we halted the German attack for a while and even encircled a substantial German force for a while. But the Germans eventually overpowered my right flank while the encircled Germans managed to escape.. I attempted to counterattack with First Army against the German left flank. That attack enjoyed some initial success but the Germans have now halted the progress of First Army while their right wing continues to roll up Fifth Army. With great reluctance I was forced to abandon Lodz. Resuming the offensive into Silesia is clearly out of the question. The best we can do at this time is to entrench furiously and defend Warsaw."
The Grand Duke made a tent with his fingers. From what he knew already this summary was not surprising. "Can you hold? The loss of Warsaw would be a grave blow."
Ruszki bit his lip before answering, "With reinforcements and additional supplies, esp. the precious artillery shells which we now seem to exhaust nearly every day, we will be able to repel the enemy from Warsaw."
"Is that all you can accomplish—to merely hold the line at Warsaw? Is there no opportunity for a counterthrust?"
"I think not, Grand Duke, except maybe against East Prussia once the immediate crisis has passed."
"I will think so more on this situation. But now I must ask General Ivanov what his current situation is?"
"Grand Duke, while we have suffered some purely tactical reverses of late, I still remain confident that once we regroup Southwestern Front can regain the initiative. The Austrians are a defeated army. A handful of German divisions recently arrived from France and Belgium are the primary cause of our setbacks. But surely Moltke has sent all that he can. General Joffre should be very thankful for he must now have an opportunity for an offensive. Once I have regrouped I can still achieve decisive results if I receive reinforcements. As I have said before, the way to Berlin lies through Austria-Hungary."
"Hmm. Yes you have said it before. However I have been unable to get a sufficiently clear picture of your overall situation from your reports. I am particularly worried about the situation of Eighth Army. With the defeat of Eleventh Army at Przemysl, Eighth Army now appears to be isolated with its line of communication threatened."
"I realized that, Your Highness, and promptly ordered General Brusilov to rapidly withdraw to safer positions. That move is already underway."
The Grand Duke did not look reassured, "You sound remarkably nonchalant about this, Nikoloa Yudovich. This withdrawal is an exceedingly difficult operation. Eighth Army is engaged with the Austrian Second and Third Armies. It must break contact with the enemy and then retreat in difficult terrain and poor weather. The enemy forces at Przemysl are capable of cutting off their supplies maybe even blocking their retreat."
HQ Russian X Corps near Sanok 1140 hrs
The commander of the Russian Eight Army, General Alexei Brusilov arrived in person to confer with the commander of X Corps. When he had received the orders from Southwestern Front to retreat he had immediately dispatched his cavalry divisions to secure the crossings over the San. Of the 5 corps he had ordered an infantry division to be quickly withdrawn from 3 of them. These 3 divisions were rushed to the river crossing. All of these had reached the river with some of their rifle battalions before sunset yesterday.
This morning the northernmost of these divisions had found that their bridgehead over the San cordoned off by a mixture of infantry and cavalry—apparently German. The Russians made two attempts to break out and both had failed.
Brusilov calmly considered his options. The crossings to the south had no opposition. He could abandon this bridgehead and reroute X Corps to the south to cross the San near Lesko. He rejected this option for multiple reasons. One was the move to the south would bunch up divisions at Lesko. There would be more delays and that would allow the Austrian Third Army to pounce on them before they could complete their crossing. It would also allow the Austrians to cross the San themselves here and link with the Germans. Brusilov’s plan was to leave XII and VII Corps at the San River to keep the pursuing Austrian Second and Third Armies from crossing, while the rest of Eighth Army went on ahead to link up with the Eleventh Army and defeat the Austro-German forces at Przemysl. He could not afford to give Austrian Third Army and unimpeded river crossing.
Looking at the Corps commander Brusilov ordered, "Make no further attacks. We cannot afford to waste shells right now. Maintain this bridgehead but during the night form a new one to the north. Meanwhile I will order VIII Corps at Lesko to march north and attack the flank of the Germans. An hour before first light tomorrow you will launch a purely infantry assault. I am confident that this combination will neutralize the Germans, with a good chance of taking a serious bite out of our enemy."
Brusilov had learned that the enemy had captured Sambor late Friday afternoon, thereby cutting Eighth Army’s primary supply line. There were alternate supply routes but clearly they would not be adequate to supplying even half the needs of Eighth Army. It would also mean less supplies for the Dneistr Group, a loosely coordinated band of predominantly Cossack units dispersed in the regions to the east. That did not bother Brusilov—the Cossacks would have to make do by pillaging more of the Jewish estates so plentiful in the Bukovina.
Near Skara 1210 hrs
The last remaining pocket of the trapped Russian XIV Corps surrendered promptly at noon. General Winckler examined the rows of prisoners. The last few days had been hectic as the trapped Russians tried to break out while the rest of Ninth Army—esp. the Russian Guard Corps-- tried in vain to rescue their countrymen. The fighting had been continuous and frequently hellishly intense. At dusk yesterday the vanguard of the German Guard Reserve Division arrived to assist Winckler.. They were accompanied by Reserve Guard Corps HQ, which assumed command of Winckler’s division. The rest of Guard Reserve Division arrived before dawn, including the artillery. At first light the Russian Guard Corps made one final thrust and found itself checked by not one but two Prussian Guard divisions. Soon afterwards the trapped Russians began negotiating surrender terms.
Sombar 1235 hrs
General von François was determined to use the manpower available in Przemysl Fortress as thoroughly as possible. He sent 3 unattached cavalry squadrons to patrol to the north and a Lansturm brigade to form a weak stopline in that sector. After the German 4th Infantry Division captured the nearby communication center of Sambor which contained some Russian supply depots, he used many of the Austro-Hungarian units which had taken refuge in the fortress to erect a trench line extending from Przemysl to Sambor. He also began to fortify Sambor itself using some of Przemysl’s fortress batteries. This prompted additional complaints from General Kusmanek which François ignored.
Another airplane landed with a general as passenger. This time the trip and the landing were less uncomfortable. This time the ferried general did not look nauseous. .
"General Pflanzer-Baltin, so good of you to join us. I am General Herman von François, this is General Alexander von Linsingen, commander of II Army Corps, General Kusmanek, commander of Przemysl Fortress and Oberst Richard Hentsch who is here acting as General von Moltke’s liaison officer. Feldmarshalleutnant Arz von Straussenberg, commander of your VI Corps and Oberst Hell, my chief of staff shall be joining us anon. As we await their arrival can we get you something to eat?"
"Yes, this novel experience of air travel has left me famished. But even more than food I hunger to hear what is so important that you summoned me here by airplane?" He noticed Kusmanek gaping in amazement. But it was François who replied.
"That is a fair request. You are here to help us plan the destruction of the Russian Eighth Army."
OHL Valenciennes 1500 hrs
"So are you fully recovered, Helmuth?"
It was first time Moltke had met with Falkenhayn since he had been hospitalized. What should’ve been an innocent civility sounded threatening to Moltke. Falkenhayn stared at him like a vulture.
"My doctors are of mixed opinion." Moltke finally responded evasively.
"Hmm. Health is not a luxury one can do without. Their opinions should not be treated lightly."
"I appreciate your concern. Shall we get down to business? I have decided that all offensive action on the Eastern Front is to wind down within two weeks. This is not –I repeat not-- so we can resume offensive action on the Western Front. Instead my plan is to remain on the defensive for most of the winter on all fronts."
Contrary to Moltke’s expectation Falkenhayn did not immediately argue about an immediate offensive on the Western Front. Instead he merely asked, "And what do General Ludendorff and Conrad say about this?"
"As you can imagine. Conrad and Ludendorff have both recently told Hentsch they will need to conduct several winter offensives. As far Conrad I will make it clear that if he attempts to start a winter offensive, I will immediately recall all German divisions now serving under his command. If he is keen for further humiliation is what he wants for Christmas he will have to get it from the Serbs. As far as General Lundendorff he is already demanding 8 of the 9 new reserve divisions that will become available at the end December. He will let us keep the Bavarian division."
"So you will only give him seven?" sarcastically replied Falkenhayn.
Moltke went into this meeting determined that he would not let Falkenhayn rile him, "No. I am currently planning to send him two and make it clear that they are to be used only defensively. But only 3 will be going to the Western Front. I want to keep 4 of them in Germany as a strategic reserve."
Falkenhayn’s nostrils flared briefly. "That is an interesting idea, but can we afford to let 4 divisions sit idle on an extended Christmas holiday?"
"They will receive additional training. These new reserve divisions are being hustled into battle insufficiently trained and have suffered excessive casualties as a result."
"I see. And when will you allow Germany to resume offensive operations?"
"I think a limited operation on the Western Front in late February is desirable. It cannot expend too many artillery shells. It must be centered on a single key realistic objective. It will terminate at the end of March even if its objective is not realized. I am willing to entertain any reasonable suggestions that you have. In late April our major offensive of 1915 will commence on the Eastern Front. It will cause the Entente to realize their position is hopeless and begin negotiations leading to a satisfactory peace. This war will be over before it reaches its first anniversary."
"I too would like to believe that this war can be won in a single year," remarked Falkenhayn, "but I fear this grand strategy of yours will end with 1915 recapitulating 1812."
"We have been over this before. There is no need for us to take either St. Petersburg or Moscow. The Tsar will see reason before that is necessary. France will lose hope—"
"And what about the British? Are they not the center of the Entente? What will make them see a need to make peace."
"Our control of the Channel Ports along the demoralization of their allies will suffice."
"I remain unconvinced. Something stronger is needed."
Russian Eighth Army HQ 0910 hrs Monday November 30, 1914
General Brusilov trusted aircraft reconnaissance more than most Russian generals, esp. the so called cavalry mafia. This morning he asked to speak directly to two of the observers.
"You report a massive trench line has been dug between Sombar and Przemysl," said the general, "I must ask if you are certain of this?"
The aviator gulped. He made his answer, "General, it is as I reported. To be certain I had my pilot make a sudden dive. We came so low I could peer down into the trenches. We came under heavy rifle fire and were forced to fly off."
The general nodded, "Did you see barbed wire positioned near the trenches?"
"Yes, sir, there was barbed wire deployed."
"On what side was it? On our side, the side facing away or both?"
"On the side facing towards us, sir. I did not see any wire on the other side."
General Brusilov tapped his lips pensively. There had several developments he needed to ponder this morning. For one the German forces, which had cordoned off the original bridgehead of X Corps had melted away this morning. Was the intention of the enemy merely been to delay? As he was thinking he turned to the other airborne observer, "And you report columns of Austrian soldiers heading nearly due north from the Dukla Pass. Are you certain of the direction?"
"I checked my compass, general," answered the pilot.
"And you feel this was not simply a detour. Armies in mountains must frequently proceed by routs that seem torturous."
"General, I understand that but I saw our own men two days in the same area. They had proceeded along the easterly route. The Austrians I saw this morning were deliberately choosing to go north."
"How many do you estimate?"
"Hmm. It is not easy to judge numbers from the air, general. At least several hundred-- maybe as many as a thousand. There was another group to the west of roughly the same size which appeared to be heading in the same direction."
Brusilov quickly mulled this over, then he addressed both aviators, "As soon as possible I want you both to go up again, but this time I want to exchange your patrol routes. I want each of you to confirm the other’s discovery."
GQG Chantilly 1145 hrs
"Thank you very much for bringing these developments to our attention, General Zhilinski, "This is most useful information I can assure you."
General Zhilinski, the Russian liaison officer the French had just issued a report to General Joffre on recent developments on the Eastern Front. What it emphasized repeatedly was that the Germans had transferred at least a dozen infantry divisions to the East in the last month. To Joffre this meant that the major offensive he had planned for December was assured of success. The major French assault in Champagne was scheduled to begin on Dec 11, though preliminary action along the French held front would start on Dec 4. A British offensive in Picardy was tentatively scheduled to begin Dec 14.
When the Russian general had left, Joffre serenely gazed at his staff and ordered, "Move up the main Champage assault by one day to Dec 10."
Old Admiralty Building 1410 hrs
"I am increasingly concerned about having Burney in charge of Channel Fleet," remarked Admiral Fisher, the First Sea Lord, "He has managed to lose 3 battleships in less than a month."
Churchill nodded slightly as he snuffed out a half consumed cigar, "Yes, but you will recall that His Majesty said that he held himself responsible for both Exmouth and Implacable, and wished no one else blamed for their loss."
"That was a magnificent gesture by our sovereign—and it has helped to deflect our critics in Parliament and the press-- but we should not let it blind us. And now there is Bulwark."
"I would prefer to await the board of inquiry on that matter," mused Churchill, "I see no reason to destroy Admiral Burney’s career at this time."
"You are misunderstanding me, First Lord. I am not advocating relegating Cecil to oblivion. All I am suggesting is that he would be better off in some place requiring less initiative."
"I am thinking about First Battle Squadron. That way he would be underneath Admiral Jellicoe’s tight supervision."
"And what about Admiral Bayly?" asked Churchill referring to the current commander of First Battle Squadron.
"Why a clean swap, of course--let Lewis assume command of Channel Fleet. We both known he can be an insufferable pendant at times but he has the initiative that Cecil so obviously lacks."
Churchill sighed a little. Fisher had previously discussed making wholesale changes once Sturdee’s expedition eliminated Spee. Now it seemed that he was no willing to wait for Sturdee’s victory. Churchill did not reject the current proposal out of hand. The loss of Bulwark combined with the other bad news of late and increased the pressure in Commons.
"Give me some time to think this one over."
Russian Eighth Army HQ 0200 hrs Wednesday December 3, 1914
The big day was at hand. Suppressing a yawn, General Alexei Brusilov, the commander of the Eighth Army reviewed his battle plan. They were more complicated than he would’ve liked without greater time to prepare. But in his current situation time was more precious than artillery shells. The alternative supply routes had proven woefully inadequate. Tomorrow the food rations would be cut again. Horses were already showing the ill effects of inadequate fodder. The reserve of artillery shells was dangerously low. Morale was deteriorating. Desertions were increasing. The pursuing Austrian Third Army would soon cross the San.
Yet the shortage of time did not cause Brusilov to concentrate his effort with a massed assault on the enemy trenches, even though some of his staff preferred that plan. They pointed out that the trench line was over 30 km long. Brusilov in turn pointed out to them that nearly a third of the trench line was protected by the outer forts of Przemysl. He would let X Corps attack the center of the trenches but he intended that merely to pin Center Army and draw its reserves. The rest of his attack—XXIV Corps, VIII Corps and II Cavalry Corps would swing around to the southeast of Sambor. It would attack the southern flank of the forces moving against Eleventh Army at Lemberg and then proceed north to link up with Eleventh Army.
Center Army HQ Przemysl 0645 hrs
General von François studied the last reports and compared them against the map. His plan was defensive but not passive. Two days ago he had sent a force consisting of the Imperial and Royal VI Corps, 10th Cavalry Division and 3 independent brigades (two of them Lansturm) from Przemysl Fortress marching off at a leisurely pace in the general direction of Lemberg, hoping to deceive the Russians into thinking that was his objective. Last yesterday VI Corps and 10th Cavalry Division were redirected rapidly towards to the south.
"Today is when Brusilov makes his attack," François said thinking aloud. "I am certain of it."
Oberst Hell, his chief of staff, answered, "It does seem most likely, though it may not begin until the afternoon."
"Yes, I agree. When he attacks depends in part on the more important question of where. Will he attempt to breach the trenches or will he try to envelop us to the east? If the former I expect the attacks to begin in an hour or two. If he tries to envelop the confrontation will occur later."
"Last night you thought it likely he would do both. Do you still think so?"
"I still do—but in that case which one will be the stronger? One of them might only be a feint or both could be deadly serious."
Hell smiled, "Where would you prefer he concentrate, sir?"
"If his schwerpunkt is against our trench line and we can hold there it will be easier to surround and destroy him tomorrow. If he emphasizes the move to the east things will be much more complicated. In either case we are relying a great deal on Pflanzer-Baltin’s forces. Have any further wireless messages arrived from him while I was sleeping?"
"No, sir, there have not."
"Hmm. Then send him a brief message asking him to confirm that he is still on schedule. It is very important"
roughly midway between Przemysl and Sombar 0730 hrs
The artillery of the Russian X Corps commenced their preparatory bombardment. What little heavy artillery Eight Army had was assigned to X Corps. The bombardment did not last too long due to the shortage of shells. Soon the infantry battalions began their assault. Ahead of them were a few strands of barbed wire, a system of trench and the 23rd Honved Infantry Division.
German Ninth Army HQ Lodz 0915 hrs
"So what you are trying to tell me, Erich, is that our great offensive has come to a grinding halt. Is that it?" Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg asked his chief of Staff, General Ludendorff.
"It is all Moltke’s fault, sir! If he had sent us Winckler’s Division as we had been promised, or moved Eleventh Army north to assist us, or even had he given us adequate quantities of artillery shells then—"
"--Erich, please! I asked you simply what has happened, not why it has happened. Can you to manage to answer what I asked?"
A red faced Ludendorff answered, "Yes, Feldmarshal, it is as you have surmised. Our offensive has been completely frustrated by the Russian entrenched defenses in the last two days."
"I have reached my decision, Erich. Send a cable to General Falkenhayn asking him to come here as soon as possible. There are some details we need to work out."
Just north of Drohobych 1120 hrs
Covering the right flank of the Russian advance was their II Cavalry Corps. In the van was the Caucasian Native Cavalry Division. Considered an elite unit it had already earned the nickname of the "Savage Division". Its commander was none other than Grand Duke Mikhail Nikolaevich, the brother of Tsar Nicholas. When the war started he living in England, banished by the Tsar for his forbidden marriage to Natasha.
He had taken over the division in November. What fighting he had seen in the Carpathians had not given his horsemen sufficient opportunity to prove themselves. Today’s battle looked to be more to his liking.
Near Drohobych 1245 hrs
Elements of the KuK VI Corps moved forward to support the 10th Cavalry Division, which was being hard pressed by the Caucasian Native Cavalry Division. Meanwhile the Russian XXIV Corps lurched forward. Within the last hour the focus of the battle had begun to shift from the cavalry to the infantry.
The Russians had not expected enemy infantry this far south. At the last minute they had received word from their cavalry so they were not completely surprised. But they grossly underestimated the strength of the enemy and did not realize they were supported by artillery. The Russian infantry advanced. Both they and their Austro-Hungarian opponents had marched very hard in the last 24 hours. But the Russian infantry had been marching hard for nearly a week. They were exhausted, while their enemy was merely tired.
Columns of men barely half awake stumbled forward to attack. The officers of VI Corps were content to organize a defense. They were able to bring their artillery into action before the Russians could deploy their own.
Northwest of Sambor 1320 hrs
The German 3rd Infantry Division held the trench line in this sector. So far it had not come under attack. It made moved some of its artillery to support the Honved troops on it right. Now one of its regiments emerged from the trenches to attack the flank of Russian X Corps.
east of the San River 1410 hrs
In mid-November the Pflanzer-Baltin Group had been spread out on the far right flank of the Austro-Hungarian front line. It had extended all the way to the Rumanian border where it had on November taken the opposing Russian forces of Dniester Group by surprise at Czernowitz on November 15. In the last 10 days Pflanzer-Baltin had managed to concentrate more than half its strength in the western portion of its sector. These units now marched forward at a furious pace. Ahead of them was the rear of the Russian XII Corps, which was facing west in order to prevent the pursuing Austrian Second Army from crossing the San.
south of Sambor 1520 hrs
The Russian VIII Corps was another element of Brusilov’s right hook. It had not kept up with XXIV Corps but was now marching forward as rapidly as possible. It had been assigned dual objectives—both to support XXIV Corps guarding its flank and to attack Sambor from the west where it was expected to be more vulnerable. Awaiting the tired men assigned to attack Sambor was the entire German 4th Division. Augmenting its own field artillery brigade was the German foot artillery battalion as well as some of Przemysl’s own artillery that François had moved to Sambor. The artillery erupted in an intense combined shelling that quickly decimated the lead regiment. The German infantry then charged in a furious counterattack.
German II army Corps HQ Sambor 1910 hrs
"The 3rd Division was able to enfilade the right flank with artillery and eventually their machineguns as well, sir. Soon after that the Russians were forced to pull back," said a pleased General Linsingen, commander of II Corps to General von François, "I have ordered 3rd Division to pursue."
François stared at the tactical map and scratched his head, "Hmm. We need to careful. I would not presume that the Russians are routed. If you advance and 23rd Honved does not, your right flank will soon be exposed."
Linsingen grinned, "I was hoping you would order 23rd Honved to advance as well."
François gave the matter some thought before answering, "No, Alex, I am afraid not--there is too much risk of the formations overlapping at night. The Russians may attempt to renew their attack on the trench line at dawn but I am confident that we can hold there. I am more worried that they may get shifted now to reinforce the Russian right flank. We have the advantage of interior lines. Detach 5th Brigade and the howitzer battalion from 3rd Division and send them back to Sambor to reinforce 4th Division. The rest of 3rd Division can cautiously pursue the Russians up until midnight but then they must fall back to the trench line. At first light send out infantry patrols. If they find the immediate area has been evacuated then send out the dragoons to make contact."
Russian Eighth Army HQ 1950 hrs
"General Brusilov it appears that we have lost all communication with VII Corps."
This ominous development had been anticipated even expected by Brusilov ever since an airplane had belatedly reported columns of enemy troops marching up from the southeast. "Send a message to XII Corps immediately that they are to move south by forced march during the night to assist VII Corps," he ordered.
General Brusilov then stared again at another troubling message, which he held in his hands. It had come by wireless from General Selivanov at Eleventh Army HQ a few minutes earlier.
ELEVENTH ARMY REMAINS DEFENDING LEMBERG. WILL NOT ADVANCE IN YOUR DIRECTION WITHOUT APPROVAL FROM SOUTHWESTERN FRONT
Brusilov had sent a message to General Ivanov at Southwestern Front, requesting that Eleventh Army immediately march south to link up with Eighth Army. He had an intuition that nothing would come of this tonight. There had been no outright good news this day. Some reports like the attack on the rear of VII Corps were outright bad. The tactical situation of XXIV Corps was more ambiguous. Its advance had been halted but the enemy had failed to counterattack. Brusilov was certain that in this sector he had at least a small superiority in the number of guns and a more decisive margin of superiority in rifle battalions and cavalry squadrons.
"Send messages to both XXIV Corps and II Cavalry Corps that they are to turn the enemy’s left flank during the night."
Suippes, France 0600 Thursday December 4, 1914
A concentration of French 75mm field guns commenced their bombardment of the German trench lines to the immediate south of this important communications center .in Champagne. When the barrage lifted the valiant French infantry surged out of their own trenches to find glory. Instead they found shrapnel, machine guns and barbed wire.
Approx 180 nm ENE of Port Stanley 0710 hrs (GMT)
"Let me have them." The captain of the British whaling ship took the binoculars from the lookout. A warship had had just emerged from the mists and was steaming rapidly towards them. He chewed his tobacco harder than usual. His ship was an old vessel. It had little in the way on newfangled contraptions like wireless. Finally he turned to his crew and announced.
Southwestern Front HQ 0845 hrs
"I am starting to have some serious doubts about General Brusilov’s competence and even his character," declared General Ivanov, the commander of Southwestern Front to his chief of staff, General Alexeev, as he looked at the latest wireless message from Eighth Army, "He continues to blame his failure on what he calls the ‘lack on activity’ from Eleventh Army, even though we have told him Eleventh Army must protect Lemberg."
"And I find his complaints about how badly we are routing his supplies insulting bordering on insubordinate," answered Alexeev.
"That, too. He has no idea how difficult it is to run Southwestern Front. He thinks because he runs an army he knows what we should be doing better than we do."
"Yes indeed. We have other pressing problems besides his situation."
"We certainly do. General Brusilov should know that there is little that Eleventh Army can do because they suffered heavy losses at Przemysl."
"Well, maybe not—we never told him."
"Oh, are you sure?"
right flank Imperial and Royal VI Corps south of Dniester 0940 hrs
The Russian II Cavalry Corps had again overwhelmed the Austrian 10th Cavalry Division in the early morning and swung around the left flank of the KuK VI Corps. The marshy terrain of this area hardened by the frigid cold. One again the Savage Division was in the vanguard. South of the Dniester they encountered the Polish Legion, which was the only remaining flank guard of VI Corps.
They attempted to charge on horseback. They failed. They dismounted and tried again supported by their foot artillery. Grand Duke Michael personally led the assault. They failed again. The Dniester River prevented from trying to flank the Polish Legion to the north. Soon afterwards the lead squadron of the German 5th Cavalry Division arrived with the rest of the division not far behind. The Russian cavalry decided to wait for infantry before mounting another attack.
Russian Eighth Army HQ 1455 hrs
The ill news continued to outweigh the bad. Ivanov refused to order Eleventh Army to his rescue, finally telling Brusilov it had suffered heavy losses at Przemysl. The attempt to turn the enemy left flank had some early morning success but it now appeared to be faltering. XXIV and VIII Corps had shot off all of their artillery shells. The left flank of VIII Corps was withering under a powerful concentration of German artillery near Sombar. The intervention of XII Corps managed to free only a single regiment –and no artillery--of the trapped VII Corps from encirclement. Elements of the Austrian Second and Third Armies had crossed the San in force. Brusilov had tried to be optimistic during the morning but now it was clear that the battle was going badly and Eighth Army in grave peril. He was not going to be Samsonov.
"Listen up!" he shouted to his staff, "Our current battle plan has failed and is now rescinded. Our entire army is threatened with annihilation. We must put together a completely new plan in the next half hour. Eighth Army is going to withdraw to the southeast—into the Bukovina."
German Ninth Army HQ Lodz 2210 hrs
"And another thing—under no circumstances is François ever again to have a command higher than a corps," Ludendorff yelled at Falkenhayn.
"Preferably only a reserve corps," added Hindenburg in a less belligerent tone of voice.
Falkenhayn nodded, "Understood. I have no problem with that."
"Good! Oh, and another thing we must insist—" began Ludenorff only to be interrupted by Hindenburg placing his hand on his shoulder.
"—That’s enough demands, Erich," Hindneburg said to Ludendorff. He then addressed Falkenharn, "Well then, General von Falkenhayn. Have we reached an agreement? Do I have your word?"
Falkenhayn offered extended his hand, "You have my word, Feldmarshal."
Russian Eight Army HQ 0045 hrs Friday December 5, 1914
"How many of you know about the Battle of Heligoland Bight?" General Alexei Brusilov asked his staff.
Most remained silent but one major spoke up, "It was a British naval victory in late August—around the time of…". His voiced trailed off as he didn’t want to say ‘Tanenberg’.
"Yes, it around the time of General Samsonov’s calamity," General Brusilov finished the thought for him, "But why do you say it was a British victory?"
"Because that was what we were told at the time, General."
"Fair enough, Yuri Ivanovich, because that indeed was what the British told us at the time. But later certain details were revealed concerning the battle and it now appears that it was not a British victory after all."
His staff looked at him. None of them said anything but he could read it in their faces. "General, we are very tired and a little bit scared. Why then are you now talking to us about a naval battle?"
He answered their unasked question, "The reason I am bringing up this naval battle now is that during that encounter the British admiral found himself in a difficult situation like our own. He had powerful enemy forces converging on him. He saw an opportunity to escape destruction but one of his mighty warships had become lamed due to battle damage. In order for the rest of his fleet to escape and survive he was forced to abandon the stricken vessel."
Brusilov began to see heads nod. The look of bewilderment on their faces was replaced with dawning comprehension –and dismay.
"XII Corps will make one final effort at first light to rescue VII Corps. If it has not achieved success by 0900 it is to disengage promptly and completely, following the rest of Eighth Army into the Bukovina. I most certainly do not wish to abandon VII Corps but if I must I will. Just like the British admiral."
Dniester River 0140 hrs
Moonlight poked through a gap in the clouds. Sitting atop his stallion Grand Duke Michael watched impatiently as his men crossed the river over a narrow bridge. The horses did not look well. They had been fed less than adequately for a week. Neither had his men. It would have bothered him less if they were riding towards a real battle, and not just making an elaborate feint.
KuK VI Corps HQ 0700 hrs
"Brusilov has a limited number of options," said General von François to Feldmarshalleutnant Arz von Straussenberg, commander of VI Corps," One of them is to try again to free the units trapped between Pflanzer-Baltin and Second Army. He can try to do that with the same units that have failed so far or he can pull back to the south additional divisions to reinforce the operation."
Arz stared at the map, "Based on our best intelligence any substantial reinforcement would not be able to arrive there before dusk—or later. We know from the prisoners we have captured that his army is suffering from exhaustion."
"Yes, and inadequate supplies as well. So would he dare to move units away from his supply center under those circumstances?"
Arz shook his head, "I think not, general"
"Neither do I.. Making another attempt to free the trapped pocket with the forces he already has on the scene is more likely. But if he takes too long Third Army will pounce on him."
"Does General Pflanzer-Baltin remain confident that he can hold the encirclement?"
"Yes he is, though he and I are both disappointed more Russians have not surrendered so far. Moving on to consider another possible course of action, Brusilov may try to punch through the trench line. If he attempts that he needs to breakthrough very quickly as I have interior lines and can easily reinforce the trenches. If his advance is slow your Third Army will take him from the rear. I really wish this is going to be his plan because it makes his total destruction so much easier for us."
"From the tone of voice I gather that you think it unlikely. sir"
"I can hope. I can pray. But you are right, Artur, we need to consider two other much more likely possibilities. One is that he concentrates to the immediate southeast of Sambor and pushes north trying to exploit the boundary between you and Linsingen. The other is that he will send forces across the Dniester both to outflank us and make contact with Eleventh Army."
"So this is the reason why you had Linsingen extend his corps to the east?" speculated Arz.
"That is correct. If Brusilov concentrates his forces against where the boundary was yesterday he will find stronger than expected defenses. On the other hand if he appears to be trying to envelop your left flank I will order Linsingen to attack. If he can breakthrough and advance southeast while Pflanzer-Baltin heads north we can encircle the greater part of Eighth Army!"
St. Enda’s School, South Dublin 0950 hrs Friday December 5, 1914
Patrick Pearse would’ve preferred to be working on his latest drama, The Singer. He would’ve much preferred to be a teaching a class, instilling in young minds an enthusiasm for knowledge and understanding. But it was Pearse’s penance today to be denied such delights. Instead he was going St. Enda’s books. What he found troubled his soul. This school, which he had founded in an effort to reform an Irish educational system he perceived to little more than a cruel instrument of English oppression, was in precarious shape financially.
His telephone rang. He hesitated in answering lest it be yet another creditor inquiring about a tardy payment. But Pearse was a man of courage and answered anyway. His caller turned out to be a Professor of Early Irish History named Eoin MacNeill.
"The meeting is on for 10 o’clock sharp tomorrow morning."
German II Army Corps HQ 1020 hrs
"The Russians have departed completely from the area west of Sambor, general," announced General Linsingen, the Corps commander, "Our cavalry patrols have made contact and find the enemy to be heading east at a brisk march."
General François nodded, "And there has been no attacks today to the east of Sambor?"
Linsingen shrugged, "Some brief artillery fire around dawn. Then nothing. What is happening with Arz?"
"He reports that Russian cavalry have crossed the Dneister. It looks like Brusilov’s schwerpunkt today is aimed at turning his flank."
Linsingen nodded then grinned eagerly, "Well, is it time to my boys to launch their attack?"
François smiled as well, "Yes, Alex, it is time."
East of Sambor 1305 hrs
The night before General Brusilov had ordered each brigade in VIII Corps and XXIV Corps to detach one battalion to form a stop line while the rest of the corps withdrew to the southeast. However he had specified that half of the machine guns in the brigade were to be assigned to their battalion in the stop line. Furthermore. each division kept a single artillery battery covering the stop line. These guns made a brief demonstration at dawn and then followed the rest of the division on the march.
It was one of these battalions in the stop line that now bore the brunt of Linsingen’s assault. With the firepower of the machine guns it was able to stall the German advance. However lacking artillery, they could not hold out for too long. By sunset anyone who was not dead had been captured by the Germans—but the delay they had caused was sufficient for Brusilov’s purpose.
Teschen 1740 hrs
General Conrad von Hötzendorf studied the tactical maps with intense satisfaction. For months he had been envious of Hindenburg’s destruction of most of the Russian Second Army at Tanenberg. Conrad’s previous attempts to encircle and destroy a Russian army had all ended in humiliating failure. But now it was beginning to look like he had the Russian Eighth Army trapped. No longer would Lundendorff, Hindenburg and Moltke be able to belittle him! He will show them! They would no longer doubt his genius.
"General, you have an urgent phone call!"
No matter who it was Conrad felt more than ready to deal with them. If it was Hindenburg, Ludendorff, Falkenhayn, or Moltke, he would bask in the glory of his impending triumph and make damn sure the caller knew it! On the other hand if it was François, Pflanzer-Baltin or Hentsch, then he expected to hear details of the glorious victory he permitted them to be a part of.. So there was no one—no one—would could manage to ruin his good mood just now. No one.
"General, sir, it is Count Tisza on the line. He demands to speak with you immediately!"
Maybe there was an exception after all. Count Istvan Tisva de Boros-Jeno was the Hungarian Prime Minister. Conrad sighed deeply and steeled himself as he picked up the receiver.
"General Conrad von Hötzendorf speaking. How might I help you, Prime Minister?"
"General, I will get straight to the point. I have learned within the last hour that you have greatly reduced the forces in the Bukovina in the last week. How can you possibly fail to comprehend the seriousness of this situation? The Russians will be able to infiltrate Transylvania! They can instigate an insurrection amongst the local Rumanian elements. This poses a grave threat to the stability of great Hungarian Kingdom! It could well bring Rumania in the war against us—"
"—Prime Minister, please. You only see one aspect of the strategic situation. What you have not yet learned is that the Imperial and Royal Army is on the verge of a great victory. I needed some of Pflanzer-Baltin’s forces to help trap and destroy the Russian Eighth Army. A victory greater than Tanenberg is happening as we speak—"
"--Harrumph! This is not the first time I have heard you speak of your immanent triumph. They have never lived up to your prophecies. A few have attained limited success but others have been monumental failures. This time could prove to be our biggest disaster!"
"Prime Minister, you have my word. The Russian Eighth Army will be destroyed. After that we shall able to drive the Cossacks out of the Bukovina and liberate Lemberg. After that we can go on to drive the Russians out of our territory completely, pursuing them across the border so that—"
"—after this, after that, well it seems to have a splendid little campaign all planned out. It might interest you to know I have also heard rumors that General von Moltke has forbade any and all winter offensives."
"It is not for him to bid or forbid! I do not take orders from General Moltke!"
"Hah! That remains to be seen. If this time you really do manage to destroy Eighth Army then I will eat my hat and leave you alone. But if you once again fail to deliver, there will be serious consequence!"
Center Army HQ Przemysl 2105 hrs
"You look worried, sir, might I ask why?" inquired Oberst Hell, Center Army’s chief of staff, of his commander, General von François.
The general put a finger to his lips and stared again at the tactical map, "I guess I do. Frankly I am not sure why I feel this way either. The Russian attempt to outflank us has clearly failed. Their cavalry is back south of the Dneister. II Army Corps’ is progressing reasonably well with surprisingly light casualties. Eleventh Army remains transfixed. One disappointment is that the Russians trapped between Pflanzer-Baltin and the Austrian Second Army are holding out longer than I expected. This is preventing him from moving north to complete the encirclement."
"But he did fend off a Russian attempt to break the encirclement this morning."
"I agree and I do not mean to criticize him. It is just that this delay might allow one or two more Russian divisions to escape."
"It still looks like we are going to trap most of them though."
"That is certainly what General Conrad is expecting. I confess that Iam finding this General Brusilov’s tactics more than a little bit baffling. Why was there no infantry following behind the cavalry today? Is he one of those Russian generals who overvalues cavalry?"
Hell shrugged, "A possibility though that is not what our intelligence section has on him."
"Oh, that reminds me. Even though Brusilov has been scrupulous about encrypting his wireless transmissions, our intelligence people should continue monitoring as much as possible. One slip up might give us what we need."
Russian Eighth Army HQ 0020 hrs Saturday December 6, 1914
General Brusilov looked at the latest wireless message from Southwestern Front. Before going to bed Invanov, had belatedly decided bed to order Eighth Army to make one more attempt to rescue the trapped VII Corps. The last attempt had managed to extricate only a few hundred riflemen and not a single field gun. All day long Brusilov had been haunted by the famous picture of the capsized Princess Royal at the end of the Battle of Heligoland Bight. But not for an instant did he consider changing his orders. Beatty was right. He was right.
He crumpled the message and threw it into the wastebasket.
Dublin 1020 hrs
"How many men to do we have with us?" asked Thomas MacDonagh.
This was the first meeting of the General Council of the Irish Volunteers. They quickly formalized their complete break with Redmond’s National Volunteers. Key positions were chosen for the new organization. Eion MacNeill was selected for the head position, chief of staff. Patrick Pease became the Director of Organization, Joseph Plunkett the Director of Military Organization, Thomas MacDonagh the Director of Training, Michael O’Rahilly –usually referred to as "The O’Rahilly"—the Treasurer and Bulmer Hobson the Quartermaster-General. Pearse, along with Plunkett and MacDonagh belonged to a secret group called the Irish Republican Brotherhood, which was determined to see a rising start in Ireland before the current war was over. MacNeill, O’Rahilly and Hobson on the other hand, belonged to a moderate faction that regarded any attempt at armed rebellion as a disaster. They preferred to martial their strength for the confrontation, which they expected to come after the European war.
"Since Bonar-Law and Carson joined His Majesty’s government, we have seen some steady growth in membership," answered MacNeill, "We now have a wee bit over 15,000."
"And what is the situation in regards to weapons?"
"Here in Dublin, it’s not too scurvy, thanks to the rifles and ammunition the Germans sent us back in July. But in the western counties our men have merely a handful of 22’s, some shotguns and pistols. "
"Has Casement been able to make any progress forming the Irish Brigade?" asked Pearse.
"He has and he hasn’t," sighed MacDonagh.
."And just what does that mean?"
It was MacNeill who answered, "What Tom means is that the Germans segregated the Irish prisoners just as Casement had suggested. But when Sir Roger delivered his recruitment speech no one stepped forward to join him. Dunna surprise me one bit. This Irish Brigade business is just another of his damn fool ideas divorced from all reality."
"Well, Joe, what be the latest news of the war?" Tom MacDonagh asked Plunkett, who was regarded by the others as being the military strategist of the group.
"Ah, let me see. The Western Front has been amazingly quiet since the Germans finished off the Belgian pocket. It appears that both sides are stymied by the continuous line of fortifications. Most of the fighting of late has been on the Eastern Front. It looked for a while that the Austrians were falling apart. The Russians in their eagerness to advance allowed some big gaps to develop between their armies. The Germans sent the Austrians a handful of divisions as reinforcements and together they have been able to exploit the Russian weaknesses and turn things around. A German general von François has been—"
"Von François? Did I hear you correctly? What a queer name for a German general!"
"He must have some French ancestors. It is surprisingly common. Some of the major Russian generals have German names. But hewing back to the topic, this German general with the French name has won some very impressive victories in a short period of time, first at Tarnow and then at Pur, er, pur, ah it’s some fancy fortress with one of those Polish names with too many consonants in it, damn if I know how to pronounce it."
"Polish, you say, well then we should get that Countess who hangs around Connolly here to help you."
This comment elicited some chuckles.
"Well, I think it’s a waste having this François fellow beating the tar out of the poor Russians," remarked MacDonagh.
"Huh? And what da hell makes y’a say such a silly thing?" countered Plunkett.
"Because if he’s that bloody damn good, he should be fighting the British!"
Center Army HQ Przemysl 1055 hrs
"General, intelligence section has just intercepted an unencrypted wireless message from Southwestern Front. They believe you should see this immediately!"
General von François took the message.
"What is it, sir?" inquired Hell.
"Eighth Army has been withdrawing into the Bukovina."
near Stryy 1605 hrs
The men of the Russian XXIV Corps marched in a daze. Only vaguely could they recall there was a time when they had not been exhausted from endless marching. A time when they were not hungry They now barely noticed the bitter cold. They ignored the frequent beatings dished out by the officers—as long as it wasn’t they who were being beaten. They meandered on and on in a state of languid semi-consciousness.
In the vanguard of the corps the men barely noticed some cavalry approaching from the east. The riders were from a Cossack cavalry division belonging to what the Russians called Dneister Group. The men could sense this development pleased their officers. But not enough that they were allowed to stop marching.
Berlin 1630 hrs
"Your Majesty, it is so gracious of you to meet with me on such short notice," said General von Falkenhayn to Kaiser Wilhelm II.
"You are not one of those who say something requires my urgent attention when it does not. So what then is so important?" answered Kaiser.
"I am concerned about General von Moltke, Your Majesty. His devotion to duty is admirable but he has taken on too much decision making and that is ruining his health."
Wilhelm arched an eyebrow, "Your concern is commendable, general. Though I must admit that I find a little bit surprising—there have been times when I thought you did not like General von Moltke."
"As you know full well, Your Majesty, he and I have had professional disagreements. Nevertheless I have nothing but the greatest admiration for the general." Falkenhayn tried hard—extremely hard-- to sound sincere when he said that.
"It is very reassuring to hear you say that, Erich. Lately I have been hearing again and again the opinion that the Moltke Plan is but a pale shadow of the grand Schlieffen Plan. That instead of delivering a quick crushing victory we had expected, General Moltke has delivered merely a favorable negotiating position. Or that our navy is incapable of making effective use of the Channel Ports we captured."
Falkenhayn outwardly frowned and inwardly smiled. His minions had done their job very well. "Perhaps the Navy would do better if the Army could guide them? This matter has some bearing on the proposal that I feel requires your most urgent consideration. Let me start by saying that contrary to what certain people have whispered to you of late, General von Moltke has accomplished a great deal under the most trying of circumstances. It is for this reason, Your Majesty, that I strongly recommend that he should be promoted."