by Tom B
German Eighth Army HQ 0105 hrs Saturday March 6, 1915
General Otto von Below, commander of the Eighth Army reviewed the previous day’s intelligence with trepidation. The weather had not been particularly good of late but late Friday morning two planes reported a large concentration of infantry and some cavalry south of Friedischshof. This was disturbing because this area was a weak point in his defensive line. Before the war Russians had before the war razed most of the their border area to make it more difficult for Germany to use it in an invasion of Russian Poland. Because of the lack of roads Below thought it an unlikely avenue of attack—though some Russian cavalry did brush along the outskirts of Friedrichshof back in August. Only a Landsturm regiment, 2 squadrons of Landwehr cavalry and a single battery of 77mm guns guarded the front. There was trench around the town but on its flanks there was only a series of strong points.
The Eighth Army only had 8 infantry (3 of them Landwehr) and 3 cavalry divisions. The XX Army Corps, which formed the right flank of Eighth Army was deployed to the west to defend the approach to the important rail center at Ortelsburg. Just before dusk a Russian cavalry had probed the German defenses. After some prolonged skirmishing the cavalry were eventually driven off. Meanwhile the German 41st Infantry Division has marching hard from the west and 1st Cavalry Division galloped to the rescue from the north with a Jaeger battalion in support. A portion of the 11th Landwehr Division was detached was well.
------southeast of Gumbingen 0855 hrs
After a brief artillery bombardment elements of the III Siberian Corps made an attack on the German trenches. Opposing them was the 10th Landwehr Division defending a relatively long front. The German artillery had not been neutralized. Some of the attacking battalions turned back and others sought cover. One battalion tried to press on and was ravaged by machineguns.
The III Siberian Corps was part of the Russian Tenth Army. This attack was not the main effort.
Near Friedrichshof 1005 hrs
The commander of the Russian Twelfth Army was a German named Wenzel von Plehve. Despite having numerous health problems he had performed better than most Russian generals in command of the Fifth Army. He had been transferred to the command of new Twelfth Army. At the beginning of February he had been told to plan an invasion of East Prussia for the end of the month—though at the time he had only received 2 of the 6 corps he had been promised. The delays piled up causing Northwestern Front to put the operation on an indefinite hold. Then suddenly came word from STAVKA that the operation been approved and needed to start quickly. He still had only half the heavy artillery he had been promised and about 70% the supply of artillery shells. Bad weather had helped to hide the assembly of the assault forces but just before noon yesterday a pair of German reconnaissance planes flew over the staging area. He knew that whatever measure of surprise he once had was now gone.
Plehve had still hoped that cavalry might succeed in taking most of the German defense line by coup de main. When news of their failure finally filtered back to his HQ, the general decided it was too late to organize an effective night infantry attack, esp. since the horsemen overestimated the strength of the enemy defenders. He decided to attack in the morning with only 2 of 6 corps—the Guard and IV Siberian. These were both experienced first line formations and were not plagued with the shortage of rifles.
The artillery bombardment was intense but brief. This was in part because he had succeeded in moving less than half his limited stockpile of shells to the front line. The infantry attacked. A pair of German 77mm guns had not been neutralized. Soon there was some blood on the snow. But they were insufficient to halt the attack and neither were the handful of machineguns. Some of the German Landsturm panicked and ran off into Johannisburg Forest to the north. The rest resisted the Russian onslaught bravely but only briefly before being overwhelmed. Most were taken prisoner but few managed to escape into the forest as well. Only in the westernmost portion of the attack did the Russians experience serious difficulty—this was due to 5 rifle battalions of 41st Infantry Division, which had arrived during the night. They had a company of machineguns deployed but none of the division’s artillery was ready. Here the fighting went on much longer and the Russian Guards took heavy casualties. By noon the Russians had taken the initial set of strong points only to discover another set had been hurriedly organized by 41st Division, who now had some artillery available.
The IV Siberian Corps meanwhile probed cautiously into Johannisburg Forest. Like most of the forests around the Masurian Lakes it was a very primeval forest. There were even a few aurochs roaming around. The lack of leaves on the deciduous trees and the fact some of the bogs were frozen made the forest a little easier to penetrate. In the early afternoon they began to skirmish with the German 1st Cavalry Division.
------Old Admiralty Building 1025 hrs
Col Maurice Hankey, the Assistant Secretary for the Committee of Imperial Defense was granted a few minutes to speak with the First Lord.
"What is the purpose of this visit?" asked Carson.
"Have you had an opportunity to read that memorandum I wrote about landships, First Lord?"
"Hmm, landships? Something of oxymoron, eh? No, don’t think I have---oh, wait I now seem to vaguely recall something about motorized armored vehicles being used to overcome entrenchments. Is that what you’re referring to?"
"Yes, it is, sir. Might I ask what your reaction was?"
"Well, my main reaction was to ask what was it doing on my desk? It should be on Lord Kitchener’s. It is the prerogative of the army to see if there is any merit behind that idea."
"Oh." Hankey’s expression indicated he was disappointed but not surprised.
"Oh, what? Again I must point out that this is the Navy. We deal with water ships. Why in good Heaven did you route it to me?"
"Well, when Churchill was First Lord he took a strong interest in the idea. Thought it had great potential—"
"Churchill! Churchill is the bloody patron saint of dilettantes. Any idea that tickled his presumptive fancy is suspect in my books."
Hankey’s opinion was that some of Churchill’s pet ideas had merit. He could see that expressing that opinion to Carson would be counterproductive and remained silent.
"Speaking of Winston, did he ever get the Army command he wanted?" continued Carson, "I know Commons prevented French from making him a brigadier."
"Yes, he’s now a lieutenant colonel in command of 1/4th battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers. That is part of the Lowlands Division in the Territorial Force."
"Hmm. That is interesting. Though until the invasion panic is over I doubt we will be sending any more Terriers overseas."
"That is likely true, First Lord. Getting back to the landship idea if you take time to think it over you’ll see it is fundamentally sound. It would not require that much money to have a demonstration vehicle ready in a few months---"
"—what a damn minute, are you implying that I was too lazy to read your memo and think it through. You have a lot of nerve marching in here and—"
"—you misunderstand me, First Lord. I meant no disrespect. I know full well the demands being made on your time—"
"--If that’s an apology I accept it. I take it that you’ve run this idea past Lord Kitchener and probably Sir John French as well. What did they think of it?"
"Yes, I did sir. To be candid neither of them was enthusiastic."
"I am not surprised. Neither am I. You may leave now, colonel."
------Viceragal Lodge, Dublin 1940 hrs
Lord George Curzon, the Viceroy of Ireland, had returned late last night from a trip to London. He was again dining alone with Mary Spring-Rice, who was interested in the details of trip.
"I got to meet with Secretary Grey," he told her.
Mary knew that when Bonar Law became prime minister, Curzon had hoped he would take over as Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs—the position he had long coveted. "And how did it go. Were you able to talk long?"
"Not as long I would liked but we managed to cover a wide range of topics. He wanted to know about Ireland and I brought him up to speed. Then we moved on to other topics."
"Well, the most serious diplomatic concern at present is the neutrals. Is there any of them that would see if the recent disaster an invitation to turn on us?"
"Well, is there?"
"Hmm. Of well, I suppose there is no harm telling you, my dearest Mary, as it’s been discussed widely in the newspapers---Bulgaria is a cause for serious concern."
"Yes, I did see some speculation about them in the newspapers. Are they really so powerful as to be able to shift the entire war? I thought they were merely another backward country in the miserable Balkans."
"Hmm. There are degrees of backwardness. The important thing is their location gives them the ability to upset the strategic balance on the Eastern Front."
"If you say so my dear, after all are the expert on these things. I would think Italy or the United States would be of greater importance. But then I’m just a silly little woman so what do I know?"
Curzon rolled his eyes and shook his head. He was extremely fond of Mary—maybe even falling in love with her—but to his consternation she favored woman’s suffrage and tried repeatedly to show that she could keep up with him in a discussion of current affairs. He had to grudgingly admit that she was usually less ignorant than many men he had to deal with. He chose his words carefully, "You have a point, my dear—either of those nations could radically alter the war. But in both the change of mood is more subtle than it is in Bulgaria. Let’s start with the States. President Wilson remains is steadfast in his policy of supporting our Empire as much as possible while remaining neutral. The recent naval debacle has not altered that to any significant degree. What it has changed is the mood of the American bankers who extend us credits, which make purchasing supplies easier. Grey had just received a very troubling cable from your cousin that the American bankers are having a case of the vapors, so to speak. We hope it is only transitory. If it persists it will hamper our effectiveness."
"Very interesting, though not a complete surprising. The Yanks are overly preoccupied with money—esp. their upper classes. In time they should recover their nerve."
"Your cousin is very intelligent and energetic. We can rest our hopes on good grounds that this will pass. As far as Italy---their politics are often extremely complicated. They seldom understand it themselves. Their Socialists are very much opposed to entering the war on any side—except there is one newspaper which run by a prominent Socialist named Mussolini, which has been strongly advocating entry on our side. In all candor it would not surprise me if this Mussolini fellow is being paid by the French and perhaps ourselves as well. As far as Italy entering the war on our side, Grey did say there had been some promising developments—before Utsire."
:"And now? Is he concerned about them joining the Central Powers."
"Hmm. Salandra went to great lengths to marginalize the Italian politicians favoring entering the war with the Central Powers. It would be hard for him suddenly to turn about completely."
"But not impossible?"
"Hmm. Grey would not go into too details with me. And if he I did I would not be at liberty to discuss them."
Mary thought Curzon’s was a bit evasive. She decided to change topics, "Well, moving on to more germane topics, did you mention disarming all the Irish organizations when you met with the prime minister."
"Yes, I did."
His laconic answer strongly implied that the outcome was negative—as expected—but still Mary wanted to learn some details, "And what did the Prime Minster say?"
"Oh, that in light of the sacrifices they were making, it was grossly unfair to now ask the Ulster Volunteers to disarm. He said that he was planning to eventually disarm first MacNeill’s and then Redmond’s."
"And how did you answer that?"
"I said that a unilateral disarming would very likely trigger a rising. Andrew then said I was starting to sound like Birrell."
"How is Birrell holding up? His wife?"
"Is dying. She could pass away any day now. Poor fellow. Both the prime minister and myself are trying to postpone major policy changes until after she is buried."
"Yes, it’s very sad. My heart goes out to the poor man."
"When Birrell is back in the swing of things, the Prime Minister wants to deport some of the major rabble rousers. His list is longer than mine, but I have no objections to getting rid of Tom Clarke and that detestable Socialist toad, James Connolly."
------Ober Ost 1915 hrs
Generalfeldmarschal von Hindenburg, General Ludendorff and Oberst Max Hoffman, their Operations Officer were in conference. "Eighth Army reports the Russians continue to advance west towards Ortelsburg, Feldmarschal" announced a very agitated Ludendorff.
Hindenburg looked worried, but made no immediate reply. The Operations Officer, Oberst Max von Hoffman looked over the tactical map carefully then said, "If Otto can bring up artillery to the edge of Johannisburg Forest he can enfilade the flank the Russian thrust."
"The Russians are too strong for that tactic He risks losing his guns!" yelled Ludendorff.
"Not necessarily. If they are positioned carefully they can be quickly withdrawn if the Russians move into the forest in strength. Provoking the enemy to commit 2 or 3 infantry divisions into the forest will seriously weaken their schwerpunkt and make it easier for us to hold on to Ortelsburg until reinforcements arrive."
"When do we expect 5th Cavalry Division to reach Ortelsburg?" asked Hindenburg.
"Its lead squadron will arrive well after sunset tomorrow, feldmarschal"
"And the infantry divisions?"
"Most of the infantry of the Guard Reserve Division will detrain at Ortelsburg Tuesday afternoon. The artillery will not arrive before early Wednesday, though. The 3rd Guard Division is marching as fast as it can so as to join them on Wednesday. That is contingent on the weather, of course."
"Eighth Army must hold off this Russian Twelfth Army until then. The brunt of this will fall on XX Army Corps. Damn Falkenhayn and Moltke too. It’s all their fault we’re in this mess," whined Ludendorff.
------Berlin 2045 hrs
Grand Admiral von Ingenohl was attending yet another party. The wife of an influential member of the Bundesrat managed to get him alone. Ingenohl recalled being introduced to her once before the war. At that time she had been merely polite and respectful. Now she was different.
"Admiral Ingenohl, I cannot begin to tell you how grateful Germany is for what you have accomplished! I personally would like to express my deepest appreciation. Perhaps in private? Whatever you wish. Whatever you desire."
The admiral took another drink and hoped he wasn’t blushing. He shouldn’t be because this was not the first time this had happened—or the second. What was happening to the women of Germany?
The admiral did not know what to say. He hoped her husband was not nearby. Then Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg approached him. He took the admiral’s hand and shook it vigorously shouting in a loud voice, "Grand Admiral Friedrich von Ingenohl, you are Germany’s greatest hero! They call you the German Nelson but I say that Nelson pales in comparison!"
The crowd murmured and tittered in half drunken assent. Now Ingenohl was definitely blushing.
The chancellor moved closer to the admiral and spoke in a much softer voice, "Uh, Grand Admiral can I arrange to speak with you in private sometime this week, say Tuesday or Wednesday?"
Ingenohl was a tad surprised. He thought it over and shrugged, "I am returning to Wilhelmshaven Monday and will be too busy to come to Berlin."
"Understood. I would be more than willing to travel to Wilhelmshaven. Either Tuesday afternoon or any time Wednesday would work for me."
"I should be able to spare an hour Tuesday afternoon."
"Excellent! An hour should prove sufficient."
------OKW 0915 hrs Sunday March 7, 1915
Moltke was discussing the crisis on the Eastern Front with Falkenhayn over the telephone, "Ludendorff insists that immediate massive reinforcements are needed to prevent a catastrophe. He wants all 4 of the reserve divisions and at least 2 of the Landwehr divisions in OKW Reserve. Immediately, of course."
"I am not surprised. He has also demanded the entire Prussian Guard. I am thinking about sending him the Guard Cavalry Division as cavalry currently appears to be more useful in the East. But he is not getting the Guard Corps! What was your response? A pair of Landwehr Divisions should suffice. I will remind you that you promised me all of the reserve divisions for the Balkans campaign."
"I have not responded as yet but I feel that promptly sending 2 reserve and 2 Landwehr divisions is justified. My promise to you was based on not encouraging Ludendorff and Conrad to go on a premature offensive. This renewed threat by the Russians in East Prussia changes the matter radically. There are valid defensive needs to meet."
"Damn you, Helmuth! Once again, you are letting Ludendorf manipulate you. The cause of the current problem is that Ludendorff over concentrated in front of Warsaw. We do not know for sure just how big this Russian force is. My best guess at present is 6 or 7 infantry divisions and some cavalry. You can send Eighth Army 2 Landwehr divisions and I’ll send the Guard Cavalry. Ludendorff is sending 1 infantry division from Eleventh Army by rail and another infantry from Ninth Army by forced march.. That should solve the problem. Ludendorff is demanding more so he can go on the offensive in the aftermath. What you need to remember, my dear Helmuth is how vitally important the Balkan offensive is going to be towards achieving ultimate victory."
"Show some respect, general! I have certainly not forgotten the Balkan offensive. What you seem to be forgetting is that the Bulgarians have not yet signed the treaty. If the Russians are able to advance deep into East Prussia, Tsar Ferdinand will see it as weakness and is likely to rethink his commitment."
Falkenhayn took his time responding to Moltke, "Grrr. Yes, you have a point about the possibility of Bulgaria getting cold feet, feldmarschal. But I will need those divisions!"
"If we von Below can quickly defeat the Russians, these divisions should be available for use in the Balkans, though it may require a few days delay in the start of the Balkan operations. So let me be direct, Erich. What I need—what Germany needs-- right now is a halt to your current offensives in France. Von Mudra eats artillery shells like they were candy! I grant he has made some progress but it is not decisive."
Falkenhayn again took his time replying. When he did his tone of voice was less irritated, "For the time being I will state my position that that 2 Landwehr divisions will suffice. If your professional opinion differs I will respectfully stand aside, feldmarschal. But you did say only 2 Reserve divisions not all 4 are going to Hindenburg? Right?"
"That is correct, only 2 of the reserve divisions are going to Hindenburg."
"I want the Kaiser made aware of my disagreement, but I do not want a debilitating fight with you and Tirpitz over this. That would merely strengthen Ludendorff’s hand."
"I am glad to hear you say that, Erich. I have a suggestion for something to weaken Ludendorff further. I want Oberst von Hoffman transferred to OKW. You do have a commitment to provide us with staff officers."
"Ah, so you have become one of those who thinks Ludendorff is totally dependent on Hoffman. Hindenburg will object but I think we can arrange this. .Hindenburg will object but not too much if we pretend it is only a temporary assignment."
"Which eventually is made permanent, yes that would work nicely." Moltke gestured with a thumbs up to François.
"Hmm. This looks to be one of your better ideas, Helmuth. Still I would prefer an excuse to assign Ludendorff somewhere else."
The telephone conversation ended soon afterwards. Moltke turned to General von François had been sitting throughout the telephone call, "You were right, Hermann. He was not anywhere as as stubborn as I expected. Your point about Bulgaria seemed to carry some weight. But I feel more than a little ashamed and the reserve divisions. Doktor Steiner says that a lie is a murder in the spiritual world."
"But you did not lie, feldmarschal! I heard you say that only 2 of the reserve divisions were going to von Hindenburg. That is 100% correct. You said nothing about Conrad."
"That is true but I still feel uneasy. You do recall that the orders establishing this office do not grant us any command authority over operations."
"Orders are always subject to interpretation," replied François with a grin, "I seem to recall that someone in there we are empowered to coordinate with allies."
Moltke chuckled briefly at that, "I knew you would say that! But I am still unhappy with the whole concept of this Operation Whisper you came up with last night. My goal had been to remain completely on the defensive in the East until phase one of Operation Unicorn was complete."
"The Russian offensive is making it unlikely we can get Unicorn approved. We need a quick tactical victory on the Eastern Front to emasculate the immediate Russian threat, but one that does not bolster the wild fantasies of Ludendorff and Conrad. If Operation Whisper succeeds it will allow Falkenhayn to mount the attack on the BEF that both Plunkett and myself see as a necessary adjunct to Unicorn—and still go ahead with his Balkan campaign."
Moltke sighed. In the last few days Tirpitz had convinced him that the Britain was not dropping out and so the war must continue. Surprisingly Tirpitz had become cautiously favorable towards Operation Unicorn, though still expressing reservations over some of its details. Moltke wondered if the recent great naval victory had made them all a little bit mad. Never at the beginning of the war would Moltke have considered an operation like Unicorn—but the ante bellum period now seemed so very far removed--it was as if it was a different century. They had all changed so much since then.
"Falkenhayn will likely be calling me back when he finds out about what the Kaiser is going to recommend to the Bundesrat Tuesday."
"No doubt, he is going to be very unhappy, Feldmarschal. But it is a Godsend that Tirpitz was able to persuade the All-Highest to recommend. Moving the Field Railway Service under OKW is going to make it a lot easier to keep Falkenhayn in the dark until it is too late. And one reason I recommended moving Hoffman to OKW is that it with his help, Ober Ost interference is less likely."
"That is provided you are correct about his lingering resentment towards Ludendorff for taking credit for his plans at Tannenberg. And then there is Conrad’s role in this. You have only partially persuaded me that the Austrians are not as inept as I thought."
"That is what my experience with Center Army demonstrated to me."
"Yes, yes, you’ve said that before. Well I think I should try to arrange a telephone conversation with that insufferable bastard Conrad as soon as possible—even though my doctors have repeatedly warned me that it is dangerous for my heart. What is particularly galling is that if this plan of yours fails I will be blamed and this office will be reduced to a ceremonial role. But if it succeeds damn Conrad will be able to take most of the credit."
"Life isn’t always fair, Helmuth. Accept the word of one who knows."
------Dublin 1535 hrs
"So are we agreed? We’ll tell him Easter Sunday?" Padraig Pearse asked Tom Clarke as they approached the estate of the Countess Markeiwiscz in the affluent Rathmines section of Dublin.
"Agreed, but I want to clarify a few things with you afterward," answered Clarke.
Pearse rang the doorbell. Soon a maid appeared. "Good day. I am Padraig Pearse and this is Mr. Thomas Clarke. We wish to speak with James Connolly, if you please."
The maid recognized the pair of them as this was not the first time they had visited. She fetched the Countess, who greeted them warmly, "Patrick. Tom. Good to see you. James will be out in a moment. In the mean time, can I get you something? A spot of tea, perhaps?"
"Thank you very much, Countess, some tea would be greatly appreciated," answered Pearse.
When the tea was brought out she informed her guests "Yeats called me on the telephone yesterday. He has just finished a new poem celebrating that heroic American Fenian, Harry Calahan. He is given it a public reading this Saturday and has invited me to attend. I told him I would. Would either of you care to come with me to Sligo? I would be delighted to introduce you both to Ireland’s greatest living poet."
"Is James going to Sligo?" asked Clarke.
"No, he’s staying right here in Dublin," answered Connolly as he strode into the room. He did not look especially pleased to see his visitors, "there is too much that needs to be done—and done quickly."
Pearse and Clarke rose and shook hands.
"I told James if he needed help, I would be more than willing to forego the excursion," said the Countess.
"No, you go and have a good time. As long as you’re back by Sunday, I can do without you."
"Countess, would you mind if we have a word with James—alone if you please?"
She bit her lip and frowned. She knew this visit was not social, that it involved the Irish revolution she wanted so very much to be a part of. James did let her participate more than most men would have, but still he kept some things back from here. She had been given hints of an imminent rising but no specific commitment.
"Let’s go to my room," suggested Connolly.
Pearse and Clarke left their tea half consumed and followed Connolly to his room. They closed the door shut behind them. "Let’s get down to business, my darlings. You’ve come here to tell me to wait some more," Connolly said.
"We want the revolution as much as you do," answered Clarke.
"No, y’er do not! If you did you would be with me in this."
"Listen, James, if the Military Council commits itself to a rising on Easter Sunday, can we get you to promise not to do anything before then?" said Pearse.
"Easter Sunday? That’s four weeks from now, right? Being an eternally damned atheist and all, I am not all that concerned with Easter, you know"
"Yes, James it’s April 4th this year."
"Four weeks from today! There could be an armistice by then. The war could be over and our opportunity snatched away!" wailed Connolly. After a pause he continued in a more pensive voice, "Does this mean you’ve heard from Plunkett? Is the rascal back from Germany?"
"Uh, no he’s not—" answered Clarke.
"---but we expect him back any day now," interrupted Pearse.
"And if doesn’t show you are just going to sit around talkin’, eh? Oh crap, now you’re giving me that sweet angel look, Patrick. I think this is just a way for you to stall. But if Plunkett does show up this week, then the 3 of you can come over and if you promise that there’s going to be a rising Easter Day with German arms, then I will wait. But it has to be before midnight on Friday. After that I will put my own plans into action."
"I hear you, James, but if—" started Pearse.
"—but fuckin’ nothing, Patrick! I’ll be here Friday night waiting for you. Do what needs to be done."
------Addis Ababa 1705 hrs
Iyasu had returned to the capital. Most of the Shoan nobles had fled. He now called himself Emperor Iyasu V. He met now in private with his father.
"There are reports that the Shoans have begun to marshal their own men," said Ras Mikael, "but some are rallying around Ras Tafari while others support Zauditu."
"So then our enemies are divided? We should by able to defeat them piecemeal if that is the case."
Ras Mikael shook his head, "Possible but more likely they will work out an agreement and come against us united. Reaching this agreement will take some time though. It will give us enough time to succeed at Djbouti, Your Majesty."
"And how is that attack progressing, father?"
"By Wednesday afternoon l expect to have assembled about 14,000 men including at least 3,000 horsemen and a battery of the Russian mountain guns near the border of French Somaliland. During they night they will cross the border overpowering the local guards and capturing the crossroads town of Dikhill. From there most of the cavalry will dash off to the north of the Gulf of Tadjoura. It is expected that the most of the Afars in the area will assist us."
"The Afars in Abyssinia are as devoted to me as the Oromo! But why are you diverting forces to the north if Djbouti is our primary objective?"
"With the help of the Afars the narrow roads through the mountains in the area should not be an insuperable problem. The cavalry thrust to the north has two goals. First it will isolate the French forces in the north. But even more importantly the cavalry should be able to speedily capture the port of Obock. That is where our Ottoman allies will land their expedition."
"Meanwhile the infantry will be heading for Djibouti?"
"Yes, Your Majesty. A small portion of thee cavalry will remain with them to act as scouts. With some luck the French will give battle before we reach the city. They will be easier to defeat on the open field. If they wait for us in the city it will be more difficult and many of our men will die."
"Thursday morning another force of 2,000 Oromo horsemen will gallop out of Jijiga heading for British Somaliland. This force is too weak to threaten Berbera, but it should be enough to take Hargeisa. The cavalry will soon be reinforced with infantry and another mountain artillery battery. We will control the key mountain passes and block a British counter offensive into our country."
HQ Austro-Hungarian VI Corps 1710 hrs Monday March 8, 1915
After failing to retake Lemberg in December, the AustroGerman Center Army entrenched along a curved line nearly 60 kilometers east of Przemysl. In the early morning 4 divisions of the Russian Eleventh Army supported by some heavy artillery attacked the KuK 12th Division. The Russian bombardment neutralized less than half the Austrian batteries. The dense formation of Russian infantry that followed suffered grievous losses but most of them persisted and ejected the Austrians from their forward trench line and captured 8 guns. After that success the Russians continued to advance.
In mid-February Conrad had reinforced VI Corps with the 45th Schutzen Division in preparation for making another attempt to take Lemberg. Arz had placed this division in the line to relieve the battered 39th Honved Infantry Division. This meant he now had the 39th Honved Infantry Division available as a reserve. He had already ordered it to reinforce 12th Division. General von Linsingen, the commander of Center Army, had been promptly notified. The German II Corps had also come under attack but it was a much weaker assault obviously intended to pin the Germans making it difficult for them to rush to the aid of the beleaguered Austrians. Linsingen had dispatched both of Center Army’s cavalry divisions as stopgap reinforcements.
Arz now had a new idea which he now discussed with General Linsingen over the telephone. "I want all of the Landsturm battalions being trained at Przemysl sent to me as reinforcements. Might as well get the both of the cavalry squadrons while I’m at it."
Linsingen took his time replying, "Hmm. Do you really think they are ready for action, Artur? Is your situation that desperate?"
"I would answer ‘yes’ to both questions, general. And I have another idea as well. There are more than enough buses and taxicabs free in Przemysl to carry an entire battalion to the front in one load. It looks to be a cold clear night. Instead of sending all of the Landsturm marching out from the fortress immediately-- which is very likely to result in exposure casualties-- I would suggest that 4 of the battalions be moved using the buses and the other 10 battalions sent marching at first light. .
Even over the telephone Arz could hear Linsingen sigh, "Kusmanek is likely to cause difficulties, but I will be firm with him. If the weather is not what we expect—either snow or less likely a thaw the motor vehicles could become useless."
"That’s true, but only one battalion would in transit at a time. It can always be let off and proceed on foot."
-------NY Journal American 2105 hrs (GMT)
The Chief, William Randolph Hearst, had just arrived at the office. He had been notified by the news desk over the telephone that they had been informed by the US government that US Marines had landed in Haiti. There had been some small initial resistance but reports now indicated everything was under control.
"Hmm. The ultimate treason is to do the right thing for the wrong reason," sighed Hearst. He knew that Wilson expected the invasion of Haiti to get Hearst’s support. Wilson was right for once. Hearst was all in favor of this military action. What Hearst did not like was the antiGerman rationale Wilson affixed to this overdue operation. Hearst had expected Britain to make peace after the defeat at Usire, but now he was beginning to worry that reassurances from their cheerleader in the White House were causing them to persist in stupidity.
"How do you want us to handle this, Chief?"
"Obviously it is going to be our lead story. Make it sound like it’s the greatest thing to happen since San Juan Hill. But leave out the portion of the official statement that justifies it because the Germans using it as a base and how that violated both the Monroe Doctrine and the Hague Treaty. You can leave the other reasons listed—the concerns about internal stability and the payment of debts. I agree with those."
"Will do, Chief"
Hearst then snapped his fingers, "I just had an inspiration. Let’s mention the fact there was some Japanese warships in the area. Make it sound like the United States is worried about the damn Japs in the Caribbean."
"Uh, the official government statement makes no mention of the Japanese, Chief. And those Japanese warships left through the Canal nearly a week ago."
"F’r Chrisake, I am not telling you to misquote the government, if that’s what you’re asking! Make it sound like the American people are concerned about the Japanese warships. If I say that the American people are deeply concerned about something then they are because my newspapers tell them so."
RUSSIAN ARMY SAVES ENGLAND!
The Russian army has advanced in several powerful offensives against both the Austrians in the Bukovina and Germans in East Prussia. The controversial British expedition to Albania is also encountering success and is helping the Russians by siphoning off Austrian forces. The success of the Russian advance will force the Germans to commit the forces they had assembled for an invasion of England. The threat of a full scale invasion of our dear land has been lifted and this notion owes a debt of gratitude to our stalwart ally in coming to our assistance in these dire times. Only by committing ourselves to the cause of total victory over the German menace can we repay the Tsar and his brave people for this deliverance.
---Daily Mail Tuesday March 9, 1915
------German Eighth Army HQ 0735 hrs Tuesday March 9, 1915
When the Russian attack began General Otto von Below was unsure of several things. One was the size of the Russian Twelfth Army, which attacked him. Another was where was it was headed. The last two days had answered both questions. It was now known to be quite large with 7 infantry divisions in the front and more following as it headed for its objective, the railway junction at Ortelsburg. The Russians had not initially entered Johannisburg Forest in strength, merely some cavalry patrols which clashed with the German 1st Cavalry Division and a Landwehr regiment. When von Below had acted on a suggestion from Ober Ost and brought artillery into the forest to harass the Russian line of communication, the Russian commander reluctantly moved 2 infantry divisions into the forest.
The Russian Twelfth Army pursued 2 German divisions—the 37th and 41st of XX Army Corps with the 5th Cavalry Division guarding its flank. Below’s strategy was to fight a delaying action, always a tricky thing to do. He certainly did not like having to surrender German soil to the Russian invader but to do otherwise would result in disaster. So the Germans pulled back in a series of careful withdrawals, confounding the Russians with an empty battlefield where they found only artillery shells bursting in their midst.
In this situation enemy cavalry was source of worry. His chief of staff, Generalmajor Alfred von Bochmann briefed him on some cavalry engagements that had occurred late yesterday. "The 5th Cavalry Division sparred with some Russian cavalry. It had some initial difficulty but ultimately it turned back the enemy."
"Good. We do not want Russian cavalry cutting rail lines and ambushing supply columns in our rear. But I am even more concerned about the cavalry action off our left flank."
"The 8th Cavalry Division had a series of skirmishes with Russian cavalry in that area. It appears to be more of a probe by the enemy not an all out attack."
"Hmm. We now have a good idea how strong Russian Twelfth Army is. Unfortunately the current size of Russian Tenth Army remains unclear. Since one unimpressive infantry attack Saturday they have merely made desultory attempts at artillery duels and now this cavalry action probing our open flank. I feel reassured about my decision to pull I Army Corps from our left flank, even though it will leave only 3 Landwehr and 2 cavalry divisions defending the Angerupp Line. Is 1st Infantry Division entraining at Insterburg on schedule?"
"Yes, general, it started an hour before dawn and is proceeding smoothly. Are we continuing with our plan for 2nd Infantry Division?"
"Yes, it will make a bombardment this afternoon supported by the foot artillery. At last light they will withdraw along with the foot artillery into Eichwolder Forest, where Russian airplanes will not get a good look at them during the day. Provided Tenth Army remains inactive they will proceed to Intersburg tomorrow night where trains—"
A messenger approached, "Pardon me, General, but there is a telegram for you from General von Ludendorff."
Below took the message. He shook his head and sighed as he read it.
"What does it say, general?"
"Ludendorff wants us to hold on to Ortelsburg as long as possible. Sometimes I wonder if the man is sane. You know as well as I do, Alfred, that if von Scholz is too stubborn at Ortelsburg the Russians will overrun and destroy him. XX Corps’ orders are to inflict further losses on the enemy vanguard with artillery and to destroy the supply depots at Ortelsburg by noon then make a rapid but orderly withdrawal to the north heading for Bischofsburg. We have already informed the Railway Service, that Guard Reserve Division should detrain today at Allenstein not Ortelsburg. So ‘as long as possible’ will be at most 4 hours."
"Understood, general. I concur wholeheartedly."
"What is the status of 3rd Guard Division? Is it still behind schedule on its march?"
"Yes, but not too much. Its cavalry regiment should to arrive at Hohenstein within the hour but it will be nearly dusk before its infantry will reach there. Its field artillery brigade is several hours behind the infantry and the foot artillery battalion is several hours behind the field artillery."
"Hmm. Winter is not the best time for a forced march, yes? How about 3rd Reserve Division? Will it reach Seensburg before nightfall?"
"It’s a similar situation. The infantry should get there but the artillery is lagging several hours behind."
"And the trains with the divisions from OKW?"
"They should start to arrive at Bischofsburg with XL Reserve Corps early tomorrow afternoon, general. The station’s limited capacity creates a bottleneck on how fast they can detrain, though. Are we hoping to pull off a repeat of Tannenberg, general?"
"Uh, well that is one obvious parallel, but I am also thinking of another. How well have you studied American military history, Alfred?"
"Hmm. I studied their Civil War a little. Mostly Gettysburg. I do not see an obvious parallel to our current situation."
"I wasn’t thinking of their Civil War. I was thinking rather of San Jacinto."
------Teschen 0955 hrs
General Conrad von Hotzendorf thought again about von Moltke had offered Sunday. Conrad compared his situation to that of Faust. Moltke was clearly trying to use him to bypass both Falkenhayn and Hindenburg.
Conrad’s initial reaction had been politely negative. The reports from the front were forcing him to reconsider. The Russians had succeeded in advancing against Pflanzer-Baltin’s Seventh Army in the Bukovina. Czernowitz had fallen Sunday morning. This raised the possibility of the smothered revolt in Transylvania being reinvigorated. Then yesterday the Russians had attacked Center Amy with some initial success.
Most irritating of all the British colonials which previously accomplished little in the mountains had with some help from the Montenegrins had found a section of the front in Hercegovina weakly defended by mostly Landsturm. With a powerful artillery bombardment the CANZAC’s had punched their way through.. Australian and New Zealand cavalry were now conducting raids deep into Hercegovina. Conrad shook his head remembering how many people had been predicting that Britain would drop out of the war. Before the day was over he would berate the impotent jackass Admiral Haus again.
Conrad had already ordered one of his cavalry divisions to Hercegovina but he that was only a stopgap measure. He needed to take firm measures there lest it imperil the upcoming Balkan offensive which he hoped would put an end to Serbian menace. Conrad considered his options. He had hoped to retake Lemberg in mid-March The current crisis made it look unlikely that he would be able to do that until after the Balkan offensive. He now thought about one unit that was to have been involved in the Lemberg operation. It had been sorely depleted in the autumn battles but in last 2 months of inactivity had been replenished to nearly full strength.
Conrad got up from his desk and strode out of his office. "If I can have everyone’s attention, please. There is a confession I must make," he yelled to his staff in a loud voice. They turned to him in astonishment.
"My manners were not what they should be. Guests have come to visit our lovely country from halfway around the world and we have not prepared a proper welcome for them. I want XIV Corps entrained for Sarajevo immediately. The Kaiserjaeger will know how to greet our guests properly."
------Wilhelmshaven 1030 hrs
"Thank you for taking the time to meet with me, Grand Admiral," said Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg as he enthusiastically shook Ingenohl’s hand, "I can understand that your time must be precious."
Ingenohl smiled slightly and shrugged, "It is not too bad currently. Nearly all of the fleet is undergoing repairs. We are preparing for when our ships are once again ready for action, but frankly Mr. Chancellor, I think the war will be over before then."
The Chancellor smiled, "Interesting that you should say that, Admiral von Ingenohl, for that I want to discuss with you are the following. First, is the war likely to end very soon? Is it essentially won? Second, if it is going to end soon, what is the likely scenario? Third, and then what is the likely settlement? Fourth and final topic-- and if instead the war is going to continue, then what strategy and leaders are most likely to deliver victory?"
"The Kaiser believes the war is already won. Surely you must know that. I, myself, fully agree with our sovereign."
"I am glad to hear you say that Grand Admiral, because there are many I talk to who think that it is much likely that the war will go on."
"Are you referring to Grand Admiral von Tirpitz? Yes, I have heard him express such an opinion. I do not concur. Too many are taking the speeches of this new British prime minister too seriously. Britain will open negotiations before too long. I’ve been told that Feldmarschal von Moltke feels the same way as well."
"He did, but in the last few days he’s shifted to believing that the war will continue. I was unable to get in touch directly with Feldmarshal von Hindenburg but I did reach his chief of staff, General Ludendorff, who believes the war will continue and says Hindenburg feels the same way. General von Falkenhayn also believes the war will continue."
I do believe the war is ending, I really do! Ingenohl tried to convince himself But is this merely just a desperate hope? I too am beginning to have some doubts. "With all due respect the generals do not fully appreciate the importance of sea power to the British Empire. As for Admiral Tirpitz, I think he is merely taking prudent caution a notch too far," Ingenohl replied without much conviction.
"Hmm, well then let me move on to my next topic. How do you see the war ending?"
"The British Empire will secretly open negotiations with us through a neutral—probably the United States."
"And so they notify us they are going to make a peace with us in secret? Without telling the French or the Russians anything?"
"Uh, well uh, yes I suppose so."
"And so do we conclude merely an armistice agreement with them—or do we quickly reach a peace treaty."
Ingenohl frowned. He took some time to deliberate then answered with a shrug. "I don’t know. Frankly I have not given the matter much thought. Does it make a difference?"
"I think it might. If an armistice is reached with Britain we would require them to leave France and lift the blockade. But if France and Russia persevere and there is no peace treaty they could reenter the war later."
Ingenohl contemplated this possibility with great unease, "I had assumed their exit would make the French position untenable. They would quickly sue for peace as well."
"It may and then again it may not. But this ranges an interesting possibility that the Entente in unison enter into negotiations. Kaiser Wilhelm believes this is a possibility."
"Yes, now that I think about, I would agree. Is there a problem with that?"
"The problem would be what would be our terms for an armistice?"
"Hmm. Make them leave our territory—and the Austrians as well. Lift the blockade. Do not include Serbia in the armistice so the Austrians can finish her off."
"I suggested terms along those lines to the All-Highest but he regards them as inadequate. He says we should insist that the French surrender their border forts—Verdun, Toul, Epinal and Belfort and pull back behind them. In the East he wants to demand that the Russians to withdraw behind the Niemen and Bug Rivers."
Ingenohl thought this over and began to pale. He trembled slightly before he answered, "You are implying that the Entente would regard these terms as unacceptable and continue fighting?"
"Unless there is a major land victory I think that is a correct assessment."
Ingenohl was badly shaken. He was beginning to accept the possibility that the war was likely to continue despite his great victory. "Many Germans do not realize how dangerous prolonging this war would be."
"Well the German people believe that Hindenburg can be counted on to humiliate the Russians and yourself to do likewise to the British Navy."
"I am not an expert on the Eastern Front. But I know warships and I know full well that it is only a matter of time before the massive British naval construction program overwhelms the High Seas Fleet. It is beginning to scare me that people keep calling me the German Nelson and think I have some sort of magic that I work. The British Navy has demonstrated several unexpected weakness. At Dogger Bank they made one huge error and at Utsire a few small ones. This was why we prevailed-- not any great genius on my part. Those weaknesses are not going to last forever. Let me provide a concrete example. The Grand Fleet had an inadequate screen at Utsire which contributed to the success of our torpedo attacks but the British are currently building new destroyers at a feverish pace. Their screen will in the months ahead become much stronger and our torpedo boats will suffer heavier losses and achieve fewer hits. A fleet action just a few months for now could easily produce a reverse."
"Oh, dear and everyone now thinks our navy is invincible! In addition to the problem of our armistice terms there is the matter of war aims. Now I for one after some initial reluctance have come to support annexations in both the West and East. But some of what Kaiser Wilhelm was mentioning to me the other day—such as annexing Sedan, Lille and Dunkirk seem overly ambitious. As does turning the entire Ukraine into a puppet state with a German prince as ruler."
Ingenohl trembled, "Dunkirk! If we demand Dunkirk both the British and the French will ignore our naval victories and fight on. Ultimately the High Seas Fleet will be destroyed And unless there is miracle in the ground war, it will go on for years! We must seriously consider the morale of the populace if that comes to pass."
"Yes, I agree with that. A miracle in the ground war as you so aptly put it, may indeed be what is required. And that leads me to my final point. I think Feldmarschal von Hindenburg is the only one who deliver that miracle. General von Falkenhayn is in many ways a sound officer but he is fixated on what I am now convinced is the wrong strategy. The miracle our nation needs right now can only come from a massive victory against Russia. For that reason in the week ahead I intend to approach Kaiser Wilhelm and implore him to make Hindenburg, Chief of the General Staff."
There is a reason he came all the way to Wilhelmshaven to tell me this, thought Ingenohl. It was a disturbing thought and he made no response. After a minute of silence Bethmann Hollweg continued, "Surely you know how much the Kaiser is impressed with you. If you should find an opportunity in the days ahead to add your voice---"
"No, no! I am an admiral not a general, damn it! It seems the root problem here is an absurd inflation of German war aims, not the head of the General Staff. Germany does not need Lille, Dunkirk or control of the Ukraine. If the All-Highest mentions that topic then I will with the greatest humility and respect try my utmost to encourage prudence and moderation. Germany can secure peace and make just and reasonable gains. If it becomes crazed like a gambler who has just won a big pot it will suffer a similar ruination."
------Imperial Palace Berlin 1140 hrs
Kaiser Wilhelm had himself the first stirring of doubt about the British leaving the war this morning. If they really were going to drop out they should have already made some entreaty through a neutral. This disturbed him greatly for several reasons. For one it meant the day of Germany’s triumph was delayed. For another it meant the hardships his subjects were enduring—not the least of which the latest incursion of the Russian hordes into East Prussia--would be prolonged. But bad as that was, the absolute worst was the fact that his royal relatives—in particular the supremely obstinate George, continued to deny him the proper respect.
In the afternoon, Wilhelm was scheduled to sit down with the Bundesrat and ask for speedy approval of most of what Moltke and Tirpitz had requested for OKW. But now he received a cable from Feldmarschal von Hindenburg.
YOUR MAJESTY. SITUATION IN EAST PRUSSIA IS VERY GRAVE. IT IS FOR THIS REASON I MUST ASK YOU TO INTERCEDE. THIS CURRENT CISIS IS THE INEVITABLE RESULT OF LUDICROUS PRIORITIES AND IMBELIC STRATEGIES AT BOTH OHL AND OKW. ALL DIVISIONS IN OKW RESERVE MUST BE RELEASED TO US IMMEDIATELY TO AVERT CATASTROPHE FURTHERMORE THE REASSIGNMENT OF OBERST HOFFANN FROM MY STAFF ORDERED BY FALKENHAYN IS INTOLERABLE AND MUST BE RESCINDED
Kaiser Wilhelm was enraged. With a heroic effort he forced himself to remember what a pleasant person Feldmarschal von Hindenburg was in person. The Kaiser was sure this poisonous message was drafted by the vile Ludendorff and Hindenburg merely signed it after some coaxing. Falkenhayn had already explained that the current Russian success was because Ober Ost had concentrated too much on taking Warsaw. Tirpitz and Ingenohl had both made it clear that OKW had played a crucial role in making the victory at Utsire possible. How dare Hindenburg and Ludendorff cast aspersions! And if Hindenburg and Ludendorff were such geniuses why were they hot and bothered over the loss of a mere Oberst on their staff?
Earlier in the morning Kaiser Wilhelm had wondered if one or two items in the proposed new powers for OKW were excessive. Now he wondered if they did not go far enough.
------Paris 1430 hrs
The Russian offensive was not the hot item of discussion in the Chamber of Deputies. A member of the Radical-Socialist Party had the floor, "I was informed this morning of a most disturbing development. General Joffre has removed General Sarrail from command of the Third Army. The working men and woman of the Third Republic have given their full support to this war. There is no disputing that! Is this how they are repaid? Is the Sacred Union a hoax? The workers of France demand an explanation. They insist on justice!"
The shouting continued for the rest of the day.
------Pola naval base 1710 hrs
A U-boat approached the base on the surface. An Austrian patrol boat guided it through the minefields. With the British expedition in Albania the Admiralstab had decided to send 2 U-Boats to assist their ally. The Spanish secretly helped by sending a freighter with diesel to rendezvous with them. One of the freighters carried an unsuitable grade of diesel and the U-Boat returned to Germany. The other received the proper fuel and continued on through the Straits of Gibraltar. It narrowly missed having a shot at the British and French fleets that had covered the landing of the New Zealand and Australian Division.
------Ortelsburg (East Prussia) 2130 hrs
General Wenzel von Plehve had moved his HQ here. He had just returned from a quick inspection of the large town he had just captured. The Germans had done a thorough job of destroying their supply depots before they left. This was a serious disappointment as already Twelfth Army’s supply situation was troubling—esp. in proving fodder for the horses. This was one of the factors constraining his use of cavalry—though another was that even with just the infantry Plehve had too many divisions using too few roads and cavalry was even worse when it came to clogging up roads. The general had hoped capturing a sizable enemy depot would alleviate his own shortages.
The general had also hoped to encircle the German XX Army Corps here today. Since his offensive had begun they had harassed his advance but slipped out of his grasp every time he tried to grab them. He had hoped they might make a stand here at a railroad junction of some importance. But they had not even tried to entrench in the frozen earth. They had fled again—this time to the north.
The weather was cold with only some periods of light snow on Sunday—this was preferable to either a major snowfall or a sudden thaw creating mud but it was simply not a good time of year to begin an offensive esp. in an area with poor roads.
The pressing question was what to do next. Russian aviators had spotted a large formation of infantry approaching from the west—estimates ran from a brigade to an entire corps. Clearly these were units detached from Ninth Army, which was something Plehve had expected. One of his problems was that his army was now strategically isolated with lengthening flanks exposed on both sides. Early in the war when Plehve commanded the Fifth Army he had narrowly escaped encirclement at the Battle of Kamorow. That experience had made him appreciate the need to protect his flanks.
The question now was what to do next. One possibility was to let his infantry rest here at Ortelsburg while cavalry and airplanes scouted deep into East Prussia. Another would be to proceed west to threaten Allenstein and the left flank of the German Ninth Army. There was also the option to send a portion of his army to the northeast and attack the rear of the German forces facing Tenth Army. But there was however the option send most of his army north to try to overtake and destroy the German XX Army Corps which had had eluded and annoyed him so mightily the last 3 days.
"Our own XX Corps will guard left flank to the west of Ortelsburg.. Guard, XV and IV Siberian Corps will march out an hour before dawn and vigorously pursue the Germans to the north."
------White House 1605 hrs (GMT) Wednesday March 10, 1915
President Wilson was meeting with Secretary of War Lindley Garrison, Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels, Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan, Attorney General Tom Gregory and Col Ed House. The topic was Haiti.
"I still can’t believe Mr. Hearst omitted all mention of the Germans and tried to make it seem we were forestalling a Japanese invasion! Are you sure we can’t take any legal action, Tom?" he asked the Attorney General.
"Reporting the news selectively is not against the law, Mr. President He never said that this administration was concerned about the Japanese. He merely made one of his presumptuous remarks about the American people being concerned."
Wilson pounded his desk in frustration, "Well then let’s start by discussing what we intend to do with General Sam."
"It might be best if he were to meet with an unfortunate accident," suggested Gregory.
Bryan erupted at that remark, "I object most strenuously, Mr. President to that vile suggestion. It is contrary to Christian morality."
"I meant it as a joke, William."
"I want that wretched monkey deported," decided Wilson.
"Hmm. The Venezuelan ambassador has told they were willing to accept him," volunteered Bryan.
"What? Turn Sam over to that scoundrel, Gomez? I don’t trust him."
"Brazil, perhaps?" volunteered Daniels
"Don’t trust that German foreign minister of theirs. And I have problems with sending him to Mexico. Listen, the British and French both owe us favors. I know this won’t make them happy but we should try to get one of them to take the damn coon."