by Tom B
Russian Eighth Army HQ Gorlich, 0045 hrs Tuesday, December 8, 1914
The reports from XII Corps were not good but General Brusilov tried to comfort himself with the notion that they could be worse. After a sluggish start the Austrian pursuit had become more determined in the afternoon. It was now readily apparent that most of the trapped VII Corps had surrendered freeing up the Austrian units, which had encircled them. They were now pressing the retreating Russians of XII Corps, whose cohesion had become decidedly ragged. This was his greatest worry. Otherwise the retreat was going as well as could be reasonably expected. An attempt by two enemy cavalry divisions—one of them German—to harass the retreat of the VIII Corps had been efficiently countered by his own II Cavalry Corps.
The flow of supplies was getting better though it was still inadequate. The arrival of the Cossack units of Dniester Group helped to shore up the dangerously low morale of Eighth Army. Brusilov no longer thought it was necessary to withdraw all the way to the Bukovina. It should be sufficient to stop the retreat and regroup near its borders.
bridge HMS Cochrane Kingston naval base 0740 hrs
Rear Admiral Somerset Gough-Calthorpe, commander of the RN 2nd Cruiser Squadron, had just finished his breakfast and now from the bridge of his flagship cruiser gazed at the ships now under his command. These included the armored cruisers, Achilles and Natal. They had been part of his squadron when he had been detached from the Grand Fleet and ordered to Kingston to guard against Spee entering the Caribbean through the Panama Canal. The fourth cruiser in the squadron, HMS Shannon, was unfortunately in the docks refitting at the time. The old battleship, Glory was moved down from Halifax and placed under his command to provide additional firepower, along with two more armored cruisers, Lancaster and Berwick. A pair of old French cruisers was also under command but they were not based at Kingston.
After Coronel there had been some discussion in the Admiralty about sending New Zealand to guard against Spee using the Panama Canal. Admiral Jellicoe already livid over losing Inflexible and Invincible, was doggedly opposed to losing yet another battle cruiser. Sending the 2nd Cruiser Squadron was viewed as an acceptable substitute. Before leaving England both Churchill and Fisher had impressed upon Gough-Calthorpe the importance of avoiding another defeat.
Southwestern Front HQ 1015 hrs
"The insubordination of Brusilov is intolerable. I should remove him from command immediately and place the bastard before a court martial" said General Ivanov, commander of Southwestern Front.
"Hmm, while I am displeased as well with his panicky abandonment of VII Corps contravening our explicit orders," answered General Alexeev, his chief of staff, "I must counsel against doing anything precipitous. Eighth Army still remains in a dangerous situation. It would not be wise for us to change horses midstream."
Ivanov snorted contemptuously, "Bah, if we wait too long then Stavka will tell us it is all water under the bridge."
"That is likely to be true, sir, but if—God forbid-- disaster should befall Eighth Army soon after we relieved its commander, our judgment will be sorely questioned. Then our own positions would be placed in jeopardy."
"Well that is yet another cheery thought. And I still think Brusilov should have continued his attack one more day before starting to withdraw. The man gave up too soon."
"Hmm, I will continue to withhold judgment on that matter until we learn more details about what happened. Previously he had not given us cause to question his determination."
"Maybe, but I most certainly question it now. Ah, enough about that coward! How are our other armies doing? Have they finally halted their retreat? Just how far back did we decide to pull them anyway?"
"Fourth and Ninth Armies have returned to roughly where they were 5 weeks ago. They have been ordered to stop retreating and hold those positions. So far it looks they are succeeding. Third Army is taking up positions with their left flank anchored at Jaroslav. This deployment should be completed this afternoon. Eleventh Army remains guarding Lemberg."
"What is imperative at this point is that we need reinforcements! What is the latest word from Stavka?" asked Ivanov scratching his beard.
"The have agreed to transfer two 2nd line infantry and one cavalry divisions from Northwestern Front to us immediately. In addition a 2nd line infantry division arrived at Lemberg late yesterday to reinforce Eleventh Army."
"General Ruszki must be hollering up a storm. This is promising news for us though. While we could use still more this should be enough for us to at least hold the line. What I fail to understand is why Stavka refuses to release one of the divisions in the Caucasian mountains?"
"Hmm, my understanding is that they feel that the Turks pose too much of a threat at this time."
"Hah! Now that’s just plain stupid. It’s too late in the year for anyone in his right mind to make a serious move in Caucasia."
OHL Valenciennes 1100 hrs
"The British remain inactive except for those trench raids they are inexplicably so fond of. However, there has been an increased number of attacks by the French in the last few days," conceded General von Moltke to General von Falkenhayn, "It began around Suippes but there have also been medium sized attacks near Montdidier, Fisme and Verdun. Nowhere have the French advanced as much as a kilometer. And everywhere they suffer a heavy cost in casualties."
"That is reassuring, but nevertheless it is also a cause for concern. Would it not be prudent to now move one or two divisions back from the East?"
"How did I know you were going to say, Erich?" asked Molkte with a slight grin.
Falkenhayn returned a more enthusiastic smile, "It must be that you have finally become clairvoyant from all those meditation exercises you faithfully perform. Doctor Steiner will be so proud of you!"
Moltke eyed Falkenhayn cautiously. His involvement with the anthroposophy was regarded by some of his fellow generals as being as sign that he was not fully grounded in reality. While this was nothing new, in the last week he had begun to hear secondhand that the whispering on this topic—and others—had apparently intensified. The insinuation that Steiner had hypnotized him and was thereby exerting a baneful occult influence over the Heer was readily believed by some who should know better. Moltke resisted the urge to justify anthroposophy to Falkenhayn. This was a situation where it was best to remember what the Christ Being had said about pearls and swine.
"I wish it was true," he admitted with an pale semblance of a chuckle, "then I could see what Joffre is up to. But alas it is not and at this time I am disinclined to move any significant forces in either direction."
"The threat to Germany now lies in the West, Helmuth. Why do you refuse to see that? Your Eastern front fears of 3 weeks ago have all been put to rest. The Russians have been turned back from Silesia, Cracow and the Carpathian mountain passes. The siege of Przemysl has been lifted. In fact it appears that most of the Russian Eighth Army has been encircled."
Moltke shook his head and sighed, "Alas that is what I had hoped. However yesterday afternoon I received a wireless message from General von François that only a small portion of the Eighth Army—at most a single corps-- was encircled and the rest is escaping towards the Bukovina with some cohesiveness."
"I see. General Conrad will be disappointed."
More sighs and a pained grimace emanated from Moltke, "That is putting it mildly. I was on the telephone with him about an hour ago. He is very disappointment that Eighth Army has escaped. He has the temerity to blame François for the Russians escaping—he claims that had François obeyed his commands precisely the trap was foolproof."
Falkenhayn recalled a promise he had made and foresaw problems in the future. "Hmm, Conrad on occasion does make a valid point."
"Huh? Just what are you getting at, Erich? Is this another jest?"
It was Falkenhayn’s turn to sigh, "All I am trying to say, Helmuth, is that I am not as enthralled by General François as you have become. I have talked in private with the other Eastern Front generals and they have serious concerns about him. His willful propensity to disregard orders makes him something of a loose cannon."
"I do not believe this rubbish. Next you will be telling it’s your fair haired boy General von Linsingen that has been winning all these victories—and this current Battle of Sambor is a victory despite Conrad’s dashed expectations?"
"Yes, in fact I do think General Linsingen is a fine officer and his performance leading II Army Corps contributed to our recent successes. Oh, listen, I will readily concede François can demonstrate some tactical skill now and then. But from what I know it appears that Conrad had a good plan this time, and there was more than just Center Army involved in—"
"--What! In order to deprecate François you are willing to sing the praises of Conrad? Oh, this is too much! Please tell me that you are not serious."
An increasingly uncomfortable Falkenhayn decided it was best to shift the conversation as he had only half believed what he was saying about François, "I would like to move on to other topics. Are you still opposed to winter offensives on all fronts?"
"Yes, I am. We had this discussion the last time we met. I want all offensive operations on all fronts halted in the next week. In February--if the weather permits-- we will make a limited attack on the Western Front. Its main purpose is to demoralize the French by seizing a significant amount of their ‘sacred soil’. In late April or May we will mount a major offensive in the East, which I firmly believe will cause the Entente to open negotiations and end the war. I know that you do not like this plan; that you continue to believe the war must be won in the West. I did say the last time we met that I was open to any suggestions about where to attack in the West during February. Do you have any ideas you wish to share at this time?"
Falkenhayn glowered at Moltke. If things go according to plan this whole discussion will become irrelevant. However I must not give this fool a reason to suspect. "Yes and no. There are some very preliminary ideas I am developing with my staff but they are not worked out sufficiently to discuss at this time. The next time we meet I will have some concrete plans to offer."
"Good. At least you not arguing that we must do something earlier. There is most incredible lack of comprehension about climate by senior generals who should know better. Ludendorff and Conrad are both advocating major winter offensives. But crazier still are our new allies, the Ottomans. General Schellendorf tells me that Enver Pasha is adamant about continuing offensive operations in the Caucasian Mountains. Unbelievable! The man is more Conrad than Conrad. I would not have thought that possible. Not even Conrad would be so stupid as to launch a winter offensive in the mountains."
Off Boulogne 1250 hrs
A force from Dover Patrol consisting of the 3 monitors, 4 Tribal class destroyers and 2 gunboats were engaged in shelling Boulogne, where they were increasing signs that the Germans were using it as a naval base for both submarine and small torpedo boats. The German coastal artillery gave them a hot time, badly damaging HMS Humber. Just as the bombardment was ending a pair of German airplanes arrived and attempted to bomb the British destroyers. This attack was unsuccessful as the Maxim’s on the destroyers drove off the airplanes, lightly wounding one of the pilots. While the destroyers were distracted by the air strike a nearby U-boat made its attack. A. torpedo detonated in the fireroom of the HMS Zulu. She sank in 5 minutes with only 4 survivors.
HQ German II Army Corps 2105 hrs
"It has been a disappointing day, sir," confessed General von Linsingen, the Corps Commander to General von François, "our men advance as fast as their legs can move. They find only a few stragglers—mostly sick and wounded and those who were probably trying to desert. Some dead horses and a few abandoned supply wagons, usually empty. We captured two badly jammed Maxims. Not a single damn artillery piece. "
François sighed slightly. The news was disappointing but not surprising. "It looks like Eighth Army has made good its escape. The Russian cavalry has skillfully checked our own cavalry’s attempt to pursue. Soon our supply lines will be become a problem while our enemy’s situation steadily improves. Furthermore I am becoming worried about the Eleventh Army, which our intelligence section believes has been reinforced in the last day or so. Some of their cavalry evoked a panic in one of our Landsturm battalions yesterday. Austrian VI Corps is now badly stretched trying to cover our flank and pursue as well."
"You are calling off the pursuit, then?" asked Linsingen with a disappointed look.
Port Stanley 0500 hrs Wednesday, December 9, 1914
Having completed their coaling the British squadron under the supremely confident command of Admiral Doveton Sturdee steamed out of the harbor to hunt for Admiral von Spee’s Asiatic Squadron and avenge Cradock. They headed for the Straits of Magellan.
HQ British Second Army 1100 hrs
General French had just arrived at the HQ of the newly formed Second Army to confer with it commander, General Smith-Dorrien. He briefly inspected the facility, finding two minor irregularities to criticize. After that passing pleasure he got down to more serious business.
"Well, Horace shall we go over the plan again?"
Pointing at one of the maps Smith-Dorrien answered, "Yes, sir, as you wish. Tonight and tomorrow there will be a series of trench raids all along our perimeter. Their primary purpose will be to capture prisoners that can be interrogated, providing the type of intelligence that escapes air patrols. After that these raids will decrease lest we rouse German suspicion. Next Monday morning IV Army Corps will conduct a lengthy bombardment followed by attack with both 7th and 8th Divisions in this sector of the southeastern portion of Crecy Forest. It’s objective is to break through the enemy trench. The Belgian 5th Division is under General Rawlinson’s direct command and will act as his immediate reserve. Their iinitial objective is to push out of the forest and take the town of Crecy. Following behind them to exploit the breakthrough will be the newly formed V Army Corps, which consists of both the 27th Division, currently landing at Dieppe, and the North Midlands Division, still in England. Is it still on schedule to begin landing at Dieppe early Friday morning, sir?"
French grimaced uncomfortably, "No, there has been some blasted last minute delays that Lord Kitchener has not seen fit to explain in any detail. It is now expected at arrive at Dieppe around early afternoon on Saturday."
"F’r Chrisake! Saturday afternoon!" yelled Smith-Dorrien, "If we do achieve a quick and decisive breach of the enemy trenches we will need to exploit it promptly or we’ll just find ourselves staring at more of the damned barbed wire and newly dug trenches after advancing two or three miles—with German reserves flooding into the area. This is yet another reason why the attack should be pushed back."
"Lower your voice, general! It’s not my fault the transit has been pushed back but nevertheless I am not—I repeat not-- postponing the attack! The availability of North Midlands Division is not crucial to your plan. You have more than adequate reserves to exploit the initial breakthrough. I am under intense pressure from the highest level. This offensive can and will go ahead on schedule!"
"With all due respect, sir," said Smith-Dorrien through clenched teeth trying to control is temper, "it is my duty as an officer to point out that there are some very strong reasons for postponing the attack. For one it is clear now that I will not have sufficient artillery shells by Monday. For another the 7th Division is still badly understrength from the losses it suffered in Belgium, only a fraction of which have been replaced. And for another, General Rawlinson does not believe the Belgians are ready to operate effective---"
"—that is enough from you, Horace. The Germans have not made good their losses from the Battle of the Somme. I know full well that the 7th Division has not been brought to anywhere near full strength but it’s now as battle hardened a unit as a general could ever hope for. Hell, it beat the pants off the bloody Prussian Guards when it was in Belgium! Speaking of which, Rawlinson must surely have learned how to coordinate with the Belgians while he was there. As far as not having enough shells, you will be attacking in a wooded area so artillery is not all important and good old fashioned steel in the belly still means something."
:"Understood, sir but we are close to the edge of the forest and with any success soon advancing into clear terrain."
"You have sufficient men and shells to pull this off, Horace. I am not postponing our assault. I have told Lord Kitchener and General Joffre than we are attacking Monday and by God Almighty that is when Second Army is going to attack."
Simth-Dorrien’s face contorted and flustered. To keep from exploding he shifted the topic, "Is the major French offensive still going ahead on Friday, sir?"
"Huh, well I guess that nobody’s told you but General Joffre has moved it ahead one day. The big assault in Champagne happens tomorrow. He is very optimistic about its chances. Even if it achieves only limited success it should still be more than enough to draw the available German reinforcements far away from Crecy Forest. It’s another good reason to stop worrying about lacking sufficient reserves."
Berlin 2025 hrs
"Your Majesty, I came as quickly as I could. Is something wrong?" General von Falkenhayn asked Kaiser Wilhelm as he closed the door.. Falkenhayn had known Wilhelm since they were children. He knew well that despite all his usual bluster Wilhelm periodically sunk into deep melancholia. He noticed a piece of crumpled paper in the Kaiser’s good hand.
"Erich, Erich. I did as you had suggested and asked Feldmarshal von Hindenburg to comment on your proposal."
Falkenhayn suddenly worried less about his monarch and more about himself. Has General Hindenburg betrayed him? Was this the cause of the Kaiser’s ill humor? "I see, Youe Majesty, and what was the Feldmarshal’s response?"
Kaiser Wilhelm thrust the message he was holding into Falkenhayn’s face, "This is his response. Not only is he in favor of your proposal; he goes on to make it clear that he regards the present situation intolerable."
Falkenhayn realized now that what he was seeing in the Kaiser’s face was an admixture of anxiety and irritation.
Wilhelm shoved the crumpled message into Falkenhayn’s hands, then resumed speaking, "In fact his displeasure is so intense he has threatened to resign."
GQG Chantilly 0845 hrs Friday December 11, 1914
General Joffre calmly worked his way through the reports. Yesterday had been the first day of his all out assault in Champagne concentrated in the vicinity of Suippes. The attacks had failed achieve a clean breakthrough. They had suffered heavy casualties and only taken a handful of prisoners. They had advanced nearly a kilometer reaching the important communication center of Suippes, where there was now house to house fighting going on. Joffre regarded this development as a cause for optimism. The attacks would continue including smaller attacks in other sectors such as the one planned for tomorrow in the Argonne.
Russian Eighth Army HQ Stanislav, 1025 hrs
General Brusilov reviewed the most current casualty figures prepared by his staff for the Battle of Sambor. Nearly 34,000 of his men were either killed or missing—most of the latter were presumed to have been taken prisoner. More than 9,000 of his soldiers had been wounded in action. There were also 58,000 men listed as sick from exhaustion, malnutrition and exposure to the cold. The Eighth Army had lost 130 artillery pieces and 56 machineguns. It had also lost nearly a third of its horses and many of those still alive were in poor condition.
The retreat was nearly over. Tomorrow morning some of his units would stop marching and begin digging. With the several of Cossack units of Dniester Group reinforcing him and an improved flow of supplies he felt confident he could now fight off his Austrian pursuers. On the other hand it would be a while before he could once again mount an offensive. This afternoon 5,500 replacement troops were expected to arrive from Southwestern Front. He noticed that they had only 3,500 rifles. Brusilov wondered if this a clerical error.
Teschen 1105 hrs
General Conrad von Hotzendorf likewise reviewed his latest figures from the Battle of Sambor. General von François’ Germans had just under 600 men killed or missing, and another 1,300 wounded. More than a third of these casualties had been sustained by the Fifth Cavalry Division. The Austro-Hungarian elements of Center Army (incl. the Polish Legion) had incurred losses of about 1,800 men killed/missing and 3,400 wounded. The other Austro-Hungarian forces involved in the battle—Second Army, Third Army and Pflanzer-Baltin Group had lost about 2,300 men killed/missing and about 5,100 wounded. However when the Russian VII Corps surrendered 800 of his soldiers who had been taken prisoner were released. Only 19 guns were destroyed during the battle
Conrad knew the Russian losses had been more severe—nearly 24,000 had been taken prisoner. Deep down at the pure rational level he knew it was a victory. But the sense that he had been deprived of a great victory remained tainted the sweetness of this victory with a bitter aftertaste. One day the Russian Eighth Army was trapped in his claws and the next day it had disappeared. How did this happen? He tried to pinpoint the culprit. Was it himself? Don’t be silly! No it had to be someone else—François, Moltke and Hentsch were all suspects in this regard.
Count Tiszva had called late yesterday afternoon. Conrad had tried to obfuscate the situation as best he could, trying to make it sound that the battle was still in progress but the Hungarian prime minister knew him too well and ended the conversation with a strong suspicion of what the facts really were. He was not happy, repeating several times about the possibility of insurrection in Transylvania and Rumania joining the Entente.
"General, Oberst Hentsch is here now to see you."
"Send him in. And see if you can General von Moltke on the telephone."
Puerto Santa Elena, Argentina 1150 hrs (GMT)
Captain Augustus Moller, the German naval attaché for Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil had just arrived by motor car. He now carefully inspected the three colliers, being loaded with coal from a nearby mine run by the German company of Deustches Kohlendepot of Buenos Aires. So far everything seemed to be going smoothly. He regretted only being not being able to scrounge up more than three vessels.
Tomorrow they would be full with coal and heading for the ocean.
Przemysl Fortress 1415 hrs
Accompanied by FMLt Arz General von François performed a casual inspection of the training of Landsturm Division Przemysl. During the battle of Sambor there had been a contingency plan to use if the Russians had made a move towards the fortress, but the general was glad that had not proved necessary. He saw one armed and one legged men spiritedly instructing their recruits in combat skills. He was pleased to see that Arz had done a good job of interleaving German and Austro-Hungarian instructors.
"Have there been many problems with my countrymen working alongside yours?" he asked.
Arz shrugged and grinned slightly, "There were some in the first three days. Not as bad as I had expected. Your ways and our ways are different, but not totally different. Decisions were made and satisfactory compromises have been reached. The most persistent problem has been with language. Some of the trainees speak only the most rudimentary German."
"I see quite a lot of rifle practice and instruction on how best to dig trenches. There is some fairly vigorous bayonet work. I see very little formation drill marching, though."
Arz nodded, "That is an accurate impression. When I was putting together this course I realized that it was necessary to concentrate on those skills most important for a soldier in actual combat. When this war is over others can come and teach these men how to parade. While the war is on I will be satisfied if what they do best is kill Russians. The fighting so far has convinced me that tight marching formations are suicidal, even though some of my fellow generals do not like to believe that."
"I probably make a suggestion or two later but so far I agree with your overall concept. I want a more detailed written report on your program. We are conducting an important experiment here on how to very quickly train men with little or no prior training to become effective soldiers when time does not permit us the luxury of a full course. I believe what we learn in the creation of this division can be put to use elsewhere."
Arz nodded pensively then after a pause asked, "Has the High Command learned of this division yet?"
François grimaced uncomfortably, "Spoilsport. Well no--quite frankly I have not told them yet. General Conrad is still upset that we did not destroy Eighth Army and apparently he blames me. So I do not think this is a good time to bring up this matter. An inspection team is coming here tomorrow afternoon. I am sure General Kusmanek will find an opportunity to tell them."
Arz nodded and sighed, "Yes, I think he will."
"I am not going to let that worry me. We have the Eleventh Army to finish off and Lemberg to capture. Maybe that will get me out of General Conrad’s doghouse."
Berlin 1510 hrs
"I have reached a decision, General von Falkenhayn, about your controversial proposal," announced Kaiser Wilhelm, "While I am dismayed that Feldmarshal von Hindenburg would resort to threatening resignation at a time when his nation is fighting for its very survival and would like very much to call his bluff, I cannot as a responsible sovereign dare to take that risk."
Outwardly Falkenhayn allowed himself to smile a little. Inwardly he grinned from ear to ear. "And what decision have you reached, Your Majesty?"
"We have decided to accept your bold suggestions."
"Very good, Your Majesty. I am happy to hear that. It is best for Germany."
"Yes, a monarch must think first of his people, especially in a time of war. But it was not a decision I made easily, you must understand."
"I fully understand that, Your Majesty"
"Oh you do, do you? Well, maybe you think you do. And knowing me as long as you have, you probably have an inkling or two--I will grant you that. But I tell you, Erich, not even you knows the half of it—what I go through every day. The awesome responsibilities I must bear and bear alone."
"I apologize if I sounded presumptuous, Your Majesty. Might I ask how soon do you plan to implement these changes? I would counsel that it would be best if this was done as quickly as possible."
"Yes, I agree but I want a meeting where the more important details can be hashed out."
Falkenhayn smile dimmed. This development was not a complete surprise but he was had preferred implementation could be accomplished without confrontation. He decided it was best not to argue against the meeting, "Yes, but of course, Your Majesty. Whom do you wish invited to this meeting and just importantly when do you want it held?"
"Early Monday afternoon would be best. I think Moltke, Ludendorff and yourself should be sufficient. Feldmarshal von Hindenburg should not be forced to travel away from the front at this critical time, so his chief of staff must come in his stead, even though I find that man, Ludendorff insufferable at times. Notify them immediately that I have summoned them."
"It shall be done, Your Majesty,"
"Uh, good, but now it occurs to me we should add Admirals Tirpitz and Muller to the list since they will be effected as well."
SSW of the Plate Estuary 0920 hrs Saturday, December 12, 1914
The Glory of Cornwall was an old freighter out of Puerto Madryn carrying a cargo of Argentine beef back to England. It had in the last 15 minutes noticed a warship rapidly approaching them. At first they thought to be British, but as it drew closer the crew realized it was a German cruiser. The freighter unfortunately lacked wireless equipment.
Center Army HQ Sambor 1030 hrs
"This meeting is to lay out our plans for our attack on the Russian forces defending Lemberg, which we believe to be merely the same Eleventh Army we defeated outside Przemysl," declared General François to his staff plus General Linsingen and FMLt Arz. Oberst Hentsch was also there as well, having just returned from Teschen, where he had endured another dose of Conrad’s bile.
"Well, not completely the same, sir. We have fairly good intelligence that they have been reinforced since we thrashed them. Definitely some cavalry and probably some infantry as well. They also have at least two airplanes now which they lacked at Przemysl," Oberst Hell, the chief of staff, interjected.
"Those are good points," conceded François, "our enemy has had time to regroup and recover. On the other hand, we have sustained further losses. In particular our cavalry is sorely depleted. Nevertheless I believe we still have sufficient strength to achieve victory. The key to this plan is to use the forces from Przemysl to feint towards the Russian right flank while II Army Ccorps circles around and takes Lemberg by coup de main from the southeast—"
Oberst Hentsch interrupted,"—General von François, before this goes too far, I feel that I relate some disturbing information regarding your situation. When I was at Teschen there was a series of angry telephone between General von Moltke and General Conrad. General von Moltke wants to curtail all further offensive operations on the Eastern Front until the spring. On the other hand, Conrad--despite his palpably unfair criticism of your handling of the Battle of Sambor-- is all in favor of your plans to retake Lemberg. The arguments between the two became even fiercer than usual. So much so I began to worry that General Moltke couldt end up back in the hospital This is precisely what his doctors said should be avoided."
"So are you accusing me of ruining General von Moltke’s health, Richard?" said François testily. Hentsch looked sheepish and was at a loss for words. François sighed deeply and continued in a softer voice, "That was unfair. Please forget that I said it. This is a difficult situation for all of us. Do you have anything more to add?"
Hentsch glumly nodded, "Yes, sir, General von Moltke has threatened to disband Center Army and bring all its German units back to Germany if Conrad tries to go ahead with your plan."
Off Dieppe 2135 hrs
In the moonless dark the steamers carrying the artillery of the North Midlands Division steamed towards Dieppe where they would offload their cargoes of guns, artillerists, shells and draught horses. The loading at Folkestone had been hurried almost frantic but voyage itself had been uneventful when without any warning there was a explosion aboard one of the freighters. It was followed soon afterwards by a series of louder explosions as the ammunition aboard the torpedoed freighter exploded. One explosion was the loudest of all and lit up the sky so men on the other ships could see debris flung into the air.
A division of 4 old ‘B’ class destroyers had been assigned to escort them across the Channel. Belatedly their searchlights now came on. There was a brief exchange of gunfire. Then there was nothing.
Berlin 1100 hrs Monday December 14, 1914
"Distinguished generals and admirals! The reason I have summoned youhere today is to make certain critical changes in the command of our armed forces," announced Kaiser Wilhelm II. He looked at their faces. General von Moltke looked particularly anxious. The Kaiser turned to him and said, "Helmuth, why the long face? Change is not always bad you know!"
Moltke forced a weak smile, "That is quite true, Your Majesty."
"That’s better! I can see that this dreadful war has taken a toll on your spirit. I know full well how hard you have labored. And I fully appreciate what you have accomplished."
Moltke relaxed a bit, "I am most honored, Your Majesty." Looking out of the corner of his eye he could see both Ludendorff and Falkenhayn. The former was his usual fidgety self, struggling to behave in the presence of the All-Highest. Falkenhayn was calm and professional but with a glint in his eyes that made Moltke uneasy.
"Yes, but you deserve it. For this reason I am promoting you to Generalfeldmarshal!"
This completed surprised Moltke and his jaw dropped. As he recovered his composure Molte noticed that Admiral Tirpitz and Admiral Muller seemed surprised as well—but Falkenhayn and Ludendorff did not. .
"I, I do not know what to say, You Majesty, except I am most grateful" replied Moltke in a meek voice.
"And that is only the first beneficence I am bestowing--there is more! I am creating a new –and still higher--position for you."
Moltke’s smile evaporated. He glanced out the corner of his eyes at Falkenhayn and Ludendorff. The former was pure professional calm but there was a smirk on Ludendorff’s fat face. When the Kaiser did not continue Moltke asked the obvious question, "And what might I ask is my new position within the Reich, Your Majesty?"
"We are creating a new office, called the Defense High Command. Hmm, or maybe something else, I may think of better name. It will have authority over both the Army and the Navy In this way those nettlesome issues about coordination of the two services, which we had in the prior months, can be avoided. You are to be the head of this new office."
Moltke now glanced at Tirpitz and Muller out of the corner of his eye. Tirpitz was enraged and glared at Muller who shook his head and shrugged. Tirpitz looked liked he was about to speak when Muller put a hand on his forearm and raised a cautionary finger.
Moltke was beginning to suspect what was really going on. He measured his words very carefully before speaking, "Again I must offer thanks and say I am honored, Your Majesty. But does this promotion mean I shall no long head the General Staff of the Army?"
Tirpitz remained flustered, while Muller leaned forward scratching his chin and stared very inquisitively at Falkenhayn—who momentarily fidgeted. Ludendorff continued to smirk unabashedly.
Kaiser Wilhelm paused before replying, "Yes, General Falkenhayn will replace you as head of the General Staff. In this complicated war that position alone is more work than one man can handle, even one in better…"
Wilhelm’s voice suddenly trailed off and he did not finish the thought. Moltke knew what he was saying. Even one in better physical condition.
After an awkward pause Kaiser Wilhelm resumed, "Uh, what I mean to say, is that your current position as Chief of the General Staff is too much for any one person. There is simply too much going on to manage it all. This has become perfectly clear to me. For that reason, overall command of the entire Eastern Front will be assigned to Generalfeldmarshal von Hindenburg. This will allow General Falkenhayn to concentrate on the Western Front."
"Pardon me, Your Majesty, what exactly will be my relationship with the Heer?"
The Kaiser glanced briefly in the direction of Falkenhayn. It had seemed very clear to him when Falkenhayn had explained it. But now when he had to explain it himself, it seemed rather nebulous.
Tirpitz could no longer constrain himself and rose from his seat saying, "If I might interject, Your Majesty, I might ask the very same question about his relationship to the Navy."
Wilhelm sighed, "Well, uh, let’s see. This new office will define broad strategies for both the Army and the Navy. It will directly manage any joint operation "
Falkenhayn smiled as the Kaiser had just parroted his exact words he had drilled into him earlier.
"Will this office have any operational responsibilities, Your Majesty—other than joint operations of the Army and Navy?" asked Moltke trying very hard not to sound testy.
"Actual operations will be left to the General Staff—or in the case of the Navy the Admiralstab."
Moltke was crestfallen. Meanwhile Muller yanked on Tirpitz’s sleeve. The Grand Admiral leaned forward and Muller whispered something in his ear. Tirpitz’s facial expression changed from irate to ambivalent. A new angle to the situation suddenly dawned on Tirpitz, which he promptly expressed, "Your Majesty, just how much operational responsibility is involved in this new position clearly needs to be worked out. However I would point out that this new office will obviously need officers from the Navy as well as the Army to function properly."
"Why, of course, Grand Admiral, that goes without saying. Is your concern that qualified officers are not readily available?"
"Hmm, I do not feel that will be a problem, Your Majesty, as long as we accept the concept that for some of the senior naval officers their responsibilities in this new high command will be in addition to their current responsibilities in the Navy. If I might give an example, I myself would be more than happy to serve as General—or should I say Feldmarshal—von Moltke’s chief assistant, despite the demanding requirements of current position."
Falkenhayn ground his teeth. He had expected Tirpitz to be upset—extremely upset. The whole concept was to tie Moltke to a colorful balloon and send him off into the clouds so Falkenhayn could take over the General Staff and win the war. Giving him some largely meaningless control over the Navy as well was primarily a way to make the OKW sound terribly important to Kaiser Wilhelm—though Falkenhayn did think setting a precedent for the Navy being subservient to a general had some merit. Still Falkenhayn’s hope was that Tirpitz would be irritated but unable to scrap the whole idea. Then Tirpitz would become Moltke’s intractable enemy.
Muller rolled his eyes and shook his head. The Grand Admiral’s knack for political improvisation never ceased to amaze him. Ludendorff was for once disinterested—he saw little significance in Tirpitz’s desire to participate in Moltke’s sinecure.
"Are you sure about this generous offer, Grand Admiral, I know full well how busy you are?" asked Wilhelm.
"We all must make sacrifices in a time of war, Your Majesty, I will make the necessary time. You can count on that!"
"Very well then. It is done."
Muller decided to speak up, "Might I ask when will these changes be implemented?"
Falkenhayn and Ludendorff both leaned forward. Moltke remained in a state ofshock.
Kaiser Wilhelm frowned, "As far as Generalfeldmarshal von Hindenburg assuming command of the entire Eastern Front, I see no reason to wait too long. General Ludendorff, do you think noon tomorrow is realistic. Or do you think more time will be needed to arrange for the necessary staff and such?"
Ludendorff wanted very much to say that this change could be implemented immediately, but he more prudently responded, "Noon tomorrow is perfect, Your Majesty."
"Excellent! Now on the other hand, the changeover at the General Staff and the arranging for the necessary staff for the new office is a more daunting prospect. I guess I should ask the Feldmarshal how much time he will need to get his new staff together."
Ludendorff was momentarily confused. He could not realize why the Kaiser would want to consult with Hindenburg on that topic—and then he disgustedly realized "Feldmarshal" referred to Moltke. Ludendorff fumed—he seriously doubted if he would ever get used to that unwarranted title. Falkenhayn had not been confused but he was deeply distressed that the Kaiser had just given his enemy an opportunity to stall. He had tried to impress on Wilhelm that the preparation could be accomplished in a mere 48 hours but evidently than discussion had failed to take root.
Moltke though was thoroughly dispirited at the moment. He saw no point in trying to delay the inevitable. He considered the matter carefully almost abstractly as if it was some other officer being reassigned and the post really did mean something. In a diffident tone he answered the question.
"A week should be more than sufficient, Your Majesty."
German Sixth Army HQ 1405 hrs
Crown Prince Rupprecht digested the latest reports from the front. It was not good. General von Moltke had strongly suggested he construct a second trench line well behind the first. Rupprecht had not liked that idea. He thought the existence of the second trench line would make it more tempting for the troops to retreat from the forward trench instead of holding their ground. During the Battle of the Somme he had erected a line of strongpoints behind the trench line and that had worked well in the critical late phases of that bitter struggle. Moltke had suggested but not ordered that he do that over his entire sector, but Rupprecht did it only in the sector closest to the sea. It was there that he expected the British had made their most determined attack during the Battle of the Somme, and it was there that he expected they would try again.
Instead the British attack had erupted this morning in Crecy Forest. Sixth Army’s intelligence section had given no warning. The trees of Crecy Forest had masked the concentration of British forces from air patrols. There had been an intense bombardment at dawn. About a quarter of its shells were high explosive; the rest were shrapnel. It caused some casualties and disruption to the German trenches and their supporting artillery but by no means had obliterated it. It also carved out a few erratic lanes through the barbed wire, which was not too thick in any case. The subsequent British infantry assault outnumbered the defenders by four to one. The German artillery and machine guns took a serious toll and remaining barbed wire funneled the attacked but by noon the British infantry had eliminated German resistance in several sizable pieces of the trench and now it was achieving some success in moving forward.
So Rupprecht was frantically trying round up units to reinforce the area around Crecy. He had sent telegrams to OHL but had received no response. Damn Moltke, what the hell is he doing?
Scapa Flow 2130 hrs
Admiral Jellicoe read the cable that had just arrived for him from the Admiralty.
GOOD INFORMATION JUST RECEIVED SHOWS THAT THE GERMAN FIRST CRUISER SQUADRON WITH DESTROYERS LEAVE JADE RIVER ON TUESDAY MORNING EARLY AND RETURN ON WEDNESDAY NIGHT. IT IS APPARENT FROM INFORMATION THAT BATTLESHIPS ARE VERY UNLIKELY TO COME OUT. THE ENEMY FORCES WILL HAVE TIME TO REACH OUR COASTS. SEND AT ONCE, LEAVING TONIGHT, THE BATTLE SQUADRON AND LIGHT CRUISER SQUADRON SUPPORTED BY A BATTLE SQUADRON, PREFERABLY THE SECOND. AT DAYLIGHT WEDNESDAY THEY SHOULD BE AT SOME POINT WHERE THEY CAN MAKE SURE OF INTERCEPTING THE ENEMY DURING HIS RETURN. TYRWHITT. WITH TWO LIGHT CRUISERS AND HIS DESTROYERS WILL TRY TO GET IN TOUCH WITH THE ENEMY OFF THE BRITISH COAST AND SHADOW HIM, KEEPING THE ADMIRAL INFORMED. FROM OUR INFORMATION FIRST CRUISER SQUADRON CONSISTS of FOUR BATTLE CRUISERS AND THERE WILL PROBABLY BE THREE FLOTILLAS OF DESTROYERS.
He read it again to make sure he understood it correctly. No it wasn’t a hallucination. He could smell Churchill in this.
"I need to speak with either Admiral Fisher or Admiral Oliver by telephone as soon as possible!"
Off Dieppe 2205 hrs
The Germans sent another force of 3 small obsolete torpedo boats out from Boulogne to make another night raid on the British lines of communication. This time Dover Patrol was better prepared with 11 of its destroyers guarding the Straits. The German torpedo boats were intercepted. One of them was caught in the searchlights of the British destroyers. It had only a single inadequately small cannon and was sunk without doing any real harm to its enemy. However the other two German torpedo boats managed to escape into the darkness with only light damage.
Jade Bay 0200 hrs Tuesday, December 15, 1914
Derfflinger, Seydlitz, Moltke, Von der Tann and Blucher steamed out to sea. Accompanying them was the 5 light cruisers of Second Scouting Group and 17 destroyers belonging to the 1st and 9th Torpedo Boat Flotillas.
Old Admiralty Building 0745 hrs
Admiral Oliver was briefing the First Sea Lord about the skirmish in the Straits of Dover. "Damn it, we should have bagged all three of the bloody Germans!" was Fisher’s immediate comment when Oliver finished.
"Yes, sir, it is disappointing that we managed to get only one. However it was a very dark night and Admiral Bacon says if we had provided him with the division of ‘L’ class destroyers from Harwich—"
"--I don’t give a tart’s fart what his excuse is! Should have bagged the lot I tell you! Besides you know as well as I do that Harwich Force has a more important mission right now."
"Yes, I know that full well. And I am not trying to make excuses. Still the Germans are not likely to try this type of raid on the Straits in the near future."
"Are they? I am unconvinced. The rewards still outweigh the hazards for them. And it’s not just these torpedo boats coming out at night. We have their submarines to worry about. I don’t think we can use Folkestone and Dieppe any more. All our sea traffic will have to go into Le Havre. Even our coastal traffic passing through the Downs is vulnerable, esp. if the Germans add minelaying to their bag of tricks."
"A most disturbing thought, sir, and a reason to reinforce Dover Patrol still further."
"Yes, we need to think this one through. May need to ask the French for more of their destroyers. Not something I am looking forward to. Well, Henry, any other information you have that you haven’t passed on. You do have a tendency to hold to your intelligence too tight at times. I have noticed that about you."
Admiral Oliver bristled at Fisher’s criticism. He thought the business of intelligence was too precious to share unless absolutely necessary. "Well there is one report from South America. An Argentine trawler claims it spotted a German cruiser not far from the Plate Estuary. If it’s true—"
"—Christ Almighty!. Oh that’s wonderful! Bloody fuckin’ wonderful! Your predecessor, Doveton the Great is in the wrong fuckin’ ocean!"
Bucharest 1050 hrs
"I have just come from a very interesting meeting with the Russian ambassador, Your Majesty, "remarked the Rumanian Prime Minster, Ion Bratianu, to King Ferdinand.
"Let me guess—it was about the war," replied the King sarcastically.
The prime minister knew this was not going to be an easy conversation but felt it was his duty nonetheless. "Your guess is correct, Your Majesty. It most certainly was about the war. It appears that a priceless opportunity is at hand."
"I take it from your tone of voice you mean a priceless opportunity if our nation enters the war on the side of the Entente."
"Another excellent guess, Your Majesty! A situation has arisen—"
"—where the Russians are retreating before the Central Powers! If there is an argument to be made for Rumania to enter this war it as my uncle had wanted.!"
"Please, hear me out, Your Majesty. The Austrians were routed no that long ago and the Russians were a little too bold in their exploiting their success. The Germans were forced to transfer a large force to the East to prevent the Habsburg’s from being knocked out of the war. It is these massive German reinforcements as well as overrunning their supply lines and the unexpected Turkish attack that precipitated the recent Russian withdrawal. Oh that and one other thing. The Austrians have greatly reduced their forces in the Bukovina. This had allowed Cossack cavalry to make forays into Transylvania. The ambassador believes they can stir up a revolt amongst the Rumanian people there. Therein lies our great opportunity!"
"Hmm, I sense too much wishful thinking in all this. As long as the Russians are retreating I remain skeptical and cautious."
"The Russians tell me their retreat is over. Their lines are now stable and soon they will regain the initiative. Meanwhile the French launched a massive offensive a few days ago and already have attained a key objective. And just yesterday the British made their own attack with some success. The Germans are now hard pressed in the West and must soon move back the divisions they used to bail out Conrad. Furthermore the situation in Serbia---"
"--supposition and speculation, Ion! If there is an opportunity than I will take it, Ion. But I will wait until things become clear on all fronts in this war."
HMS Arethusa Harwich 1400 hrs
Commodore Tyrwhitt had returned to the command of Harwich Force a week earlier after recovering from the wounds he had sustained at the Battle of the Broad Fourteens. He had to choose between the newly commissioned Galatea or the Arethusa, which had been repaired from the heavy damage taken at Heligoland Bight. At Broad Fourteens he had some teething problems with the Aurora and this had made him cool to the Admiralty’s policy of committing ships to action after a very minimal shakedown period. For that reason he hoisted his flag once again aboard the Arethusa.
Harwich Force remained weak from the losses it had suffered at Heligoland Bight, Texel Island and the Broad Fourteens. In addition to the 2 light cruisers Tyrwhitt had only 13 destroyers. His orders from the Admiralty were to be positioned off Yarmouth dawn tomorrow. A strong request by Admiral Jellicoe that Harwich rendezvous with Admiral Warrender’s force at the Dogger Bank had been rejected.
10 Downing Street 1430 hrs
"The most recent news from France is certainly encouraging," announced Prime Minister Asquith, "is it not, Lord Kitchener."
"It is, Prime Minister," answered Kitchener, "For one thing the French were able to eject the Germans completely from the important communication center of Suippes yesterday. But more importantly the BEF’s newly formed Second Army was able to capture a piece of the German trenches, and hold them against the German counterattacks. Latest word that we have is that they have managed to continue their advance albeit slowly and their commander, General Smith-Dorrien, expects to take the town of Crecy either today or early tomorrow."
"Assuming that they do indeed take Crecy, Lord Kitchener, then what?" asked Bonar Law.
"Our immediate objective is to expand the breach. After that we will roll up the line of the German Sixth Army all the way to the coast. This will lead to a resumption of open warfare and the liberation of the Channel Ports starting with Etaples."
"I sense some uncertainty in your tone of voice, Field Marshal," remarked Bonar Law, "Just how confident are you about capturing at least Boulogne before Christmas, which is what His Majesty so ardently desires?"
Kitchener remained silent and gave Bonar Law an icy stare.
"Mr. Bonar Law has asked a very good question, Lord Kitchener, and it deserves a proper answer," said Lloyd-George in a chiding tone.
"Our boys will do their bloody best to serve their King!" answered Kitchener tartly.
Lloyd-George and Bonar Law exchanged glances, both shaking their heads. They had become better acquainted since Bonar Law had joined the Cabinet. Lloyd-George in private had expressed his grave misgivings about the conduct of the war with the Conservative leader.
German II Army Corps HQ 1520 hrs
"General, there is a telephone call for you from General von François."
General Linsingen picked up the receiver, "General Linsingen speaking."
"Alex, this is Hermann. As you know Generalfeldmarshal von Hindenburg was given command of all German forces in the East as of noon today. I have just received a cable from him."
There was some static on the telephone but Linsingen could sense something deeply troubled in François’ voice. Now there was only the static on the line.
"Hello, general are you still there? Are you well? What was in the telegram?"
"Yes, Alex I am on the line. I will be direct. Feldmarshal Hindenburg has relieved me of my command. You are to assume command of Center Army effective immediately."
Berlin 1625 hrs
Sir Roger Casement was meeting once again with the German military, trying to persuade them to mount an expedition to free Ireland. As usual they expressed a vague sympathy for the plight of the Irish but promised only to "look into the matter". Finally one of them was more candid than usual. In good English but with a pronounced accent the major remarked, "Sir Casement, there is one fact that you appear oblivious to. Despite some impressive victories by the German Navy, the British retain overall control of the seas. As long as that is the case, what you are suggesting is clearly out of the question."
HMS Lion north sea 2340 hrs
Admiral David Beatty knew he would get little sleep that night. Since the humiliation he endured at Heligoland Bight, a day did not pass without him thinking long and hard about retribution. Now there was an opportunity to trap the German battle cruisers and destroy them. He could practically see the German battle cruisers in front of him as in a vision. He found it ironic that Captain Hall, one of the people he thought responsible for the prior defeat, would now be so instrumental in effectuating his revenge. He just might forgive the blinking bastard when this was over.