by Tom B
1st Australian Division HQ Herzegovina 0035 hrs Easter Sunday April 4, 1915
There had been heavy rain starting in the late afternoon. General Birdwood’s arrival was delayed by his staff car getting stuck in the mud. General Bridges, the division commander was waiting for him. "I was thinking that we should postpone the attack on account of the weather, sir" he suggested.
"It is definitely not coming down as hard, now—little more than drizzle is all it is. It shouldn’t be a problem come dawn."
"Even if does let up no man’s land is going to be a soggy mess, sir, esp. where there is run off. And already I’ve received reports of flooding in a portion of the trenches near the attack sector."
"The weather is likely to get worse in the days ahead. We need to get our offensive moving again. If we do so quickly London thinks there is still a fighting chance of keeping Bulgaria neutral. I am no going to be completely rigid. If the rain does picks up again before dawn we may have to postpone the attack but otherwise I say go ahead. I think we stand a good chance today to catch the Austrians inadequately prepared on account of the holiday. On the other hand, if we wait Conrad is likely to be further reinforcing this sector now that he kicked the Russians where it hurts in Poland."
Bridges was not terribly pleased by that answer. "Do you still think it wise to fire off our entire stockpile of shells in the bombardment, sir?"
"I do. A goodly amount of shells have arrived at Durazzo. Some have already been loaded on trucks and are heading our way. More will be offloaded in the morning. It is vitally important that your men and the Frenchies break through the enemy lines in the morning."
------near Jozefow Poland 0405 hrs
It was a raw night with driving rain. A bridging detachment assigned to a Russian cavalry division worked feverishly throughout the night. There was a group of several thousand Russian soldiers which has escaped from the AustroGerman cauldron trapped on the other side. The erection of the pontoon bridge was made more difficult by the swollen state of the Vistula River. There was a sudden cheer. The bridge was ready. It included explosive charges in case either the Austrians or the Germans suddenly showed up in force. A squadron of horsemen crossed to the other side.
A regiment belonging to the Russian III Corps had barged its way through the Austrian lines. After that it traveled off road, abandoning its supply wagons. It soon encountered a company which had been separated and out of touch from another regiment in the division. It absorbed this company and trudged its way towards the Vistula. It ran into other Russian units wandering the Polish plain in confusion. One of them was an independent battalion of Territorial infantry. Another was a battalion belonging to XXV Corps, which had fled in panic from an Austrian attack. When the battalion commander finally succeeded in rally his troops they had fled so far back they were behind the swath of encircling Austro-Hungarian forces.
There were some other odds and ends the regiment absorbed such as 20 members of the ground crew from an aviation unit whose airfield had been overrun. Or the squadron of Cossack cavalry which had lost communication with their regiment. Their horses were now too weak from hunger to ride. The regimental commander kept this group together—though every night some men deserted. He brought them to the Vistula yesterday and discovered the bridges destroyed. He managed to signal the other bank with semaphores. In the late afternoon a troop of Austrian cavalry had discovered them and been driven off. The Russians realized that they would soon fetch a stronger force.
Altogether they numbered about 4,700 men, including more than 800 walking wounded. They had been on reduced rations for four days and were now completely out of food. They were down to their last few rounds of ammunition. They had managed to take 45 Austrian soldiers prisoners during their adventure. These soldiers were almost as emaciated as the Cossacks’ horses.
The regimental commander directed the orderly crossing of the pontoon bridge. He asked the men who had rescued him if they had heard on any other elements of III Corps reaching safety. They shook their heads and looked sad.
-------Prague 1430 hrs
Since Erzherzog Karl had been assigned to head the commission which investigated the innovations introduced by General von François at Przemysl, the Austro-Hungarian General Staff thought he was a good choice to report on the experimental division being form at Prague. The rest of commission would not arrive until late on Monday, but Karl went on ahead to celebrate Easter with the soldiers and their officers.
After Mass he met with the division commander, who proved to be something of a disappointment. After that he was allowed to meet a group of NCO’s and asked them their opinion of the Germans who were involved in their training.
"They are very strict, Your Excellency" answered one who looked decidedly unhappy.
"Strict in some ways, but in others they are less strict, Your Excellency" remarked another who was more cheerful looking.
"Could you elaborate that a little, please?" asked Karl.
"Well, Your Excellency. They give us more leeway to make decisions than our own officers do."
"And how do you like that, sergeant?"
"It takes some getting used to, Your Excellency, but I am starting to appreciate it."
After this Karl met with some randomly selected soldiers. There were 3 groups—the first coming from the predominantly Slovak regiment, the second from the predominantly Czech battalions and the last group from the Landsturm battalions trained at Przemysl. In the first two groups Karl discovered great interest in Kaiser Franz Josef’s proclamation about giving the Slavic peoples an equal status. However tempering the enthusiasm was some suspicion—politely phrased for the Erzherzog—that this might turn out to be mere window dressing. The third group was group was nearly half Hungarian. Some of the Magyars were very disturbed by others were more interested in the possibility that the new Prime Minister Andrassay, might bring about genuine electoral reform in Hungary. .
------near Perm 1210 hrs
"What do you like more, Adolf, the beatings or solitary confinement?" asked Paul.
"What does not destroy me, makes me stronger!" Hitler defiantly growled in response.
"That’s from Nietsche, isn’t it? He went insane, didn’t he? That you should tell what a load of shit that stuff is."
"I don’t see you looking any stronger, Adolf. To be frank about it you look downright sickly."
"Yes, that yellow complexion is not a good sign. And you are growing so thin. You should try to eat more—esp. today. The food was not quite as bad as usual on account of the holiday."
"I have no gratitude for the pathetic Orthodox piety of Slavic untermenschen!" growled Hitler
When Hitler first arrived at this prison camp in the Urals, he felt into a deep depression and for a few days he seriously considered taking his own life. This mood was eventually replaced with a willful spirit of defiance. He criticized his fellow prisoners for being too submissive and continually sought out a confrontation with the prison authorities. He was frequently punished.
Hitler also frequently made speeches. His favorite topic was the inferiority of Slavs, though some other nationalities included the Jews were sometimes denounced as well. The camp held more AustroHungarian prisoners than Germans. Some of those prisoners were Slavic. Not all of Hitler’s beatings came from the guards. Among the Germans and the Germanic Austrians Hitler was a controversial figure. A majority thought he has a pretentious lunatic—but a sizable minority idolized him. In the last few days word had come from some Hungarian prisoners captured in the Bukovina of Kaiser Franz Josef’s proclamation. Hitler had roundly condemned it and some of the Hungarian prisoners began to take a favorable interest in him.
Lately Hitler’s admirers had provided him with writing materials so that he could put down his thoughts. After writing a few pages to his satisfaction they would take it away for protection. They did this because they feared either the guards or the Slavic POW’s would seize and destroy Hitler’s journal. Hitler decided to ignore the soldiers harassing him and began to doing some more writing.
"The patriot joins the army with the dream of becoming a hero. War by its very nature is often cruel. The patriot finds that he becomes both a hero and a victim—a heroic victim. A good example of this is when a soldier performs an act of bravery but is maimed in the process. He becomes a heroic victim. But sometimes war makes men victims with allowing them to become heroes. There is no better example of this than the soldier who is taken prisoner by the enemy. If he surrenders of his own choosing he has lost all of his honor and deserves not a shred of sympathy. On the other hand if surrenders on the orders of a superior the situation is less clear cut. He still loses honor but on partially and is deserving of sympathy for his gutless superior has by his perfidy robbed the wretched prisoner of the glorious chance to become a hero. He can only be a victim. It is a form of spiritual castration."
------middle of nowhere Herzegovina 1605 hrs
The Australian attack had achieved only limited success at a steep cost. Their preliminary bombardment had consisted on mostly shrapnel shells and had done relatively limited damage to the trenches of the Kaiserjaegers. It tossed the enemy wire around rather than cutting it. One attacking battalion was broken up by enemy artillery and another was pinned down by enemy machine guns in front of uncut wire. Another resourceful battalion made skillful use of the available cover and with some luck found a path through the wire. It had reached the trenches and overpowered the defenders in savage hand to hand combat. But they found themselves unable to advance beyond this captured section of soggy trench. When a messenger returned from the brigade headquarters they learned that the divisional artillery had shot off the last of shells in the more and not yet been replenished.
------HQ Army Group Mackensen 1915 hrs
A exultant General Conrad von Hötzendorf paid a visit to General von Mackensen and his staff in the afternoon. He requested to Mackensen that the two of them dine together alone so that they might discuss certain subjects at leisure in private. Mackensen had wanted to share a special Easter dinner with his staff to show his appreciation for their hard work during Operation Whisper but Conrad’s request was not unreasonable and so he resultantly consented.
"So how many prisoners did we take? How many guns?" asked Conrad.
Mackensen had provided Conrad with periodic reports, so he knew Conrad was already familiar with the preliminary estimates. He answered, "So far we have taken 112,000 prisoners and about 470 guns in this operation. There is one sizable pocket of Grenadiers still holding out. As we scour the Polish countryside we find small groups of Russian soldiers from Fourth Army hiding here and there. General Pilsudski has been very helpful in pointing out likely hiding places to our men."
."Excellent! Wonderful! And our own losses?"
"The German Eleventh Army suffered roughly 19,000 casualties of which a little more than 7,000 were killed or missing. Imperial and Royal First Army’s casualties were roughly the same. Imperial and Royal Fourth Army’s losses are somewhat higher—about 24,000 of which nearly 9.000 were killed or missing. Our artillery losses are very small—less than 30--some due to enemy counter-battery fire others to misfires."
"Then by all possible measures the much maligned Imperial and Royal Army has won a greater victory of Tannenberg, has it not?" gloated Conrad.
Mackensen was not surprised this trend to the conversation. He kept his rising irritation under control. Conrad was not going to ruin this day for him! "Tannenberg Forest remains a great victory, General Conrad—both strategic and tactical. What the combined forces of our two countries have accomplished here is obviously a somewhat greater tactical victory. It’s full strategic significance has yet to be determined," he replied.
Conrad’s radiant smile dimmed. There were two disagreeable elements to Mackensen’s reply. He addressed the first, "My dear General von Mackensen, I was not overlooking the contribution of your Eleventh Army to this triumph. Your men fought well and should receive appropriate medals for their contributions. But neither you nor your superiors in Berlin can deny that most of the forces involved here were Austro-Hungarian! Nor can they deny that it was my genius that made this great victory possible."
This food is too good. I am not going to vomit! Mackensen ordered himself, "We should not forget the role of OKW—Generalfeldmarschal von Moltke, General von François, Oberst Hoffman and Oberst Bauer-- in making this victory possible."
"Well, they were helpful—even Moltke for a change. Oh, and I do hope you are not thinking that I was forgetting your contribution in this undertaking, General Mackensen."
Of course you were, you narcissistic twit!. thought Mackensen as he answered more diplomatically "Of course not, General Conrad. Don’t be silly."
"Yes, yes. Many people in both armies played a role in this victory. It is just the central vision was mine and I intend to get some acknowledgement! I have been denied the respect I am due for far too long."
Mackensen made no reply. He forced himself to maintain a pleasant expression and concentrated on his food. He was careful not to consume too much wine lest be become too candid.
Conrad continued, "As far as this victory’s strategic significance, you have a point. We must follow up immediately. Cross the Vistula and try to seize Ivanogorod by coup de main. If that fails encircle and besiege it."
Mackensen put down his fork and stared defiantly at Conrad, "Crossing the Vistula at this time is too risky. My troops are exhausted. The stockpile of shells is marginal. Ivanogorod is a powerful fortress and my intelligence that it has retained a sufficient garrison to rule out a coup de main. The lines of prisoners which we both find so gratifying has the downside of clogging the roads, which are inadequate even when then the weather was good. Today’s weather was definitely not good and this time of year bad weather is the norm. We need to consolidate before we try to cross the Vistula, which is swollen from the rains and melting snow."
"Yes, I realize there are problems. I am not a fool."
I do wonder sometimes thought Mackensen.
"But this opportunity is too great to pass up!" continued Conrad, "The enemy cannot prevent our crossing the river."
"The enemy is not completely helpless. Several battalions of his infantry penetrated a gap in our encirclement. They have reached Ivanogorod. We believe at least one infantry division has arrived by rail at the fortress. At least 2 cavalry divisions have come to guard the river bank. On the other hand OKW is reclaiming the XXXIX Reserve Corps."
"What! They have no right!"
"On the contrary they have every right. It was part of the agreement, General Conrad. Assigning that corps to your Fourth Army was only temporary. At the completion of Operation Whisper they are to be used in the Balkan operation, which they’ve codenamed Operation Tourniquet."
"And assigning Fourth Army to your command was also temporary," groused Conrad, "If OKW is going to take XXXIX Reserve Corps then I will remove Fourth Army from you command."
"That is fine with me, General Conrad! XXXIX Reserve Corps will entrain Wednesday morning!"
"Go ahead, go ahead!" snarled Conrad contemptuously, "I can achieve victory without them."
------southwest of Amiens 0600 hrs Monday April 5, 1915
The weather was wet and dreary. The local French commanders worried that it would degrade the effectiveness of the artillery bombardment. Some asked that the attack be postponed but were informed that General Joffre insisted that it go forward. It was decided to launch an early morning infantry assault without artillery support in the hope of taking the Germans by surprise. They did succeed in making it across most of no mans land before the German artillery opened up. The machine gunners were ready and waiting. The barbed wire was uncut and thicker than expected.
The attack faltered in front of the wire with the German Maxims firing furiously. The artillery soon joined in the slaughter.
------Prague 1100 hrs
Erzherzog Karl had spent several hours watching the soldiers going through their training. There was at least of one of the trainers he recognized when from when he visited Przemysl. He found some of the tactical drills intriguing. After that he went indoors and met with Oberst Max Bauer and Hauptmann Herman Rohr.
"My understanding is that you will only be here for one week, Oberst Bauer. Is that correct?"
"Yes, it is correct, Your Excellency," answered Bauer, "This is assignment is taking me away from other important duties at the General Staff—and OKW as well."
"I see. I head that you had a role in the recent offensive in Poland—which appears to be going extremely well I am happy to report."
Bauer nodded, "That is also correct, Your Excellency. I helped prepare the artillery in both the German and Austro-Hungarian armies involved."
"And did a very good job from all reports. And now you are helping this division with its artillery. Is it true that Italian artillery has been purchased and it will arm 6 batteries?"
"Yes, there is an Italian field gun the General von François and myself very interesting, Your Excellency. This division here at Prague is intended to be a testing ground for ideas that can prove useful to both our nations."
"Hmm. Interesting. I see that there are 2 batteries of Austrian 10.4cm howitzers but I heard there is to be another battery?"
"Yes, a 4 gun battery of the 10.4cm field gun has been ordered from Skoda and is expected to arrive in the middle of the month, Your Excellency. There will also be a company armed with German light mininwerfers."
"Excellent! One of the complaints I was sent to investigate was that OKW was taking too long to provide the promised weaponry. It now looks as if there was only a small delay—perfectly understandable."
"We are pleased to hear that, Your Excellency."
Karl turned now to Rohr, "Hauptmann Rohr, unlike Oberst Bauer, you are expected to remain a long time with this division, working with the infantry."
"That is correct, Your Excellency," answered Rohr.
"If you don’t mind my saying, it is an awfully big responsibility for someone of you rank."
Rohr looked a little embarrassed. Bauer tactfully answered for him, "With all due respect, Your Excellency, we do things somewhat differently in our army. Promising junior officers are frequently given challenging assignments."
"Apparently so. But Hauptmann Bauer, I must confess that I failed to recognize the rifle the soldiers were training with this morning."
"They are British Lee-Enfield rifles. We captured a goodly quantity of them early in the war—esp in Belgium. We have just enough of them to equip an entire division. Your men are lucky. It is a very sound weapon."
"Hopefully we will capture some more once the brazen British expedition to Albania is smashed."
"We have captured British Vickers machine guns and a light machine gun the Belgians used called the Lewis gun after its American inventor. General von François is very interested in the potential of light machine guns and has arranged for a limited production of them to resume at Liege recently."
"Hmm. Isn’t light machine gun something of an oxymoron?"
Bauer briefly chuckled. Rohr made an ambivalent facial expression and shrugged, "Yes and no, Your Excellency. Automatic weapons considerably lighter than Maxims—and therefore more mobile--could be a key element in some of the new tactics I am trying to develop"
"Yes, I heard that you are working on tactics to overcome trench lines. I will pray that you are successful in the endeavor. Which reminds me of something that occurred to me yesterday. Might I offer a suggestion about how to improve morale?"
"I would love to hear it, Your Excellency."
"In speaking with the soldiers I was strongly impressed by their religious ardor. I suppose I always had this Habsburg suspicion that all Czechs had a Hussite streak of heterodoxy lurking underneath. Yesterday opened my eyes. I think a cadre of well selected chaplains can help in the transformation you are trying to accomplish here."
------Kilmainham Jail, Dublin 1105 hrs
The Countess Constance Markieviscz had just been released from custody. She gave her barrister, John Morley, a brief peck on the cheek and said, "Thank you, John." Outside the jail there was a small group of reporters. Morley took this opportunity to make a statement, "His Majesty’s Government has come to its senses. They now acknowledge that my client, the Countess Markieviscz is guilty of anything then it be hospitality—that she allowed Mr. James Connolly to lodge at Dublin residence. And that she showed concern for the plight of the workingmen in Ireland. It took the magistrates a long time to realize that such virtue is no crime at all..."
He went on. Meanwhile the Countess tried her best to look innocent. It was not easy. Morley had instructed her not to speak with reporters. Out of gratitude she would respect those wishes. But it was not easy. Down deep she was disgusted with herself. She was not innocent. While James Connolly had not involved her in his plans—she wished wholeheartedly that he had. Now he was locked up in the Tower of London, while she was free to go. She had decided this was necessary, but still she felt shame and guilt. Deep in her heart she was just as rebellious as Connolly. There was going to be a revolution and she was going to be a part of it. That was the only reason she went along with this playing innocent routine.
"Countess, do you have anything to say?" asked one reporter, impatient with Morley’s endless speech.
"I most certainly do," she answered. At that Morley turned to her with a worried look. "But not right now."
------Hamburg 1400 hrs
Better later than never Grossadmiral von Tirpitz muttered to himself as he ignored the damp weather to eagerly watch the keel being finally laid down for the first vessel of a new class of battle cruiser at the Blohm & Voss shipyard. Initially this had been scheduled for the end of January. It was delayed by the repairs needed by the High Seas Fleet as a result of first Dogger Bank and then Utsire. Admiral Muller has suggested that if their current situation the entire class be postponed until after the way. He pointed out that in their current situation the Navy would be better served by finishing vessels already in the water was quickly as possible.
------Stavka 1615 hrs
"Just how bad is it?" Tsar Nicholas asking his uncle the question he wished he could avoid.
Grand Duke Nicholas took a deep breathe before making his reply, "Fourth Army is essentially destroyed, Your Majesty. Nearly 26,000 men have reached the sanctuary of Ivanogorod Fortress in the last 4 days. Mostly they are infantry from XVII Corps plus a cavalry brigade which slipped through a gap in the enemy encirclement, though a few are from disparate rear echelon units. They were forced to travel mostly off road in muddy conditions. Only 15 guns accompanied them. This is the only artillery we have been able to extricate from the cauldron—out of the approx. 500 guns Fourth Army had."
The Tsar’s eyes went wide. He had expected it to be bad, but not this bad. "Only 15 guns saved out of 500? And how many soldiers did we lose?" he asked in an anxious voice.
"When the enemy began their attack Fourth Army had a little more than 200,000 men—not counting the garrison at Ivanogorod, Your Majesty. We evacuated about 6,000 wounded during the early stage of the battle before the enemy captured Radom. In addition to the men who made it to Ivanogorod, another 7,000 or so have escaped."
"So, the Grenadier Corps is it completely gone?"
"Essentially, yes—though nearly half the evacuated wounded were Grenadiers. Perhaps enough will recover from their wounds to form a cadre for a new Grenadier Corps."
"Are you forming a new Fourth Army?"
"Yes, though a new commander has yet to be selected. Forming the headquarters staff is very problematic because the entire staff appears to have been captured at Radom. Competent staff officers are already in short supply."
"Can we hold the line along the Vistula?"
"I believe so, Your Majesty. The combined German and Austrian casualties must be at least 100,000 men and they have fired off nearly all of their stockpile of artillery shells. They are too weak to cross the Vistula, esp. in the river’s current state. We should be able to hold our current position but it will be more than month before we can attempt another offensive."
"Who is to blame for this mess, uncle?" asked the Tsar, "Everyone says it’s poor Ruszki’s fault—and maybe General Evert’s fault as well."
"General Evert should have ordered a withdrawal to the Vistula earlier. It would’ve saved at least half of Fourth Army, Your Majesty."
"Oh, then that really was a serious error, now wasn’t it? Is there any others you would care to blame?"
His nephew’s tone of voice made the Grand Duke uneasy. It hinted that Stavka was to blame. Grand Duke Nikolai knew well that Rasputin constantly tried to undermine his nephew’s confidence in him. "Southwestern Front is not blameless in this, Your Majesty" he answered.
"I see. If that is the case why then are you rewarding Alexeev by assigning him command of Northwestern Front?"
"I do not blame the chief of staff."
"Tsk, tsk, you simply do not like General Ivanov, uncle. That has been evident for some time, uncle. Let me make my position clear. You are not to remove him without my explicit approval. I have tried to give you a free hand in nearly all aspects of the war, now haven’t I? Admit it."
"Yes, you have, Your Majesty, and I am deeply grateful," the Grand Duke replied with only partial sincerity, "My low opinion of General Ivanov remains unchanged but I will, of course, respect your wishes."
------Ober Ost 1920 hrs
Hindenburg and Ludendorff were having dinner together. Their main topic of conversation was a message from the General Staff that arrived an hour ago, "I do not want to lose you, my friend," remarked Hindenburg glumly, "You make been my right hand since I arrived. I am not sure what I will do without you."
"It will not be easy, Feldmarschal." conceded Ludendorff.
"I have half a mind to fight this. If I threaten to resign the Kaiser will force them to rescind this appointment."
Hindenburg expected an immediate enthusiastic response from Ludendorff. Not for the first time his intrepid chief of staff surprised him, making no immediate response as he thought things over.
"Should I threaten to resign over this?" asked Hindenburg.
With a pained expression Ludendorff confessed, "No, Feldmarschal. I have come to the conclusion that I need to take this assignment."
"What? But, but why? What could be more important than what you are doing at this HQ?"
"Hear me out, Feldmarschal. Due to the insidious machinations of Moltke and his pet weasel, François, we find ourselves in a very awkward situation. A victory of some significance has occurred in Poland. I firmly believe that there is some shameless exaggeration of the magnitude of the victory—esp. an inflated count of enemy prisoners and possibly some deception about our own casualties. With this inflated victory they will now have an excuse to deny Ober Ost the reinforcements we need to finish off the Russians."
"Yes, you make a good point. But I still fail to understand why your going to the Balkans will help things."
"We have discussed this before, Feldmarschal. The Balkan campaign has some merit --unlike General Falkenhayn’s Western Front schemes. It is best that it succeed and succeed quickly, so that we can then receive the highest priority. So the first reason I must go is to ensure its rapid success. But the success will therefore be attributed to my effort. You should file a complaint about this reassignment but not threaten to resign. Instead you must insist that the reassignment be temporary and that I return to Ober Ost when it is over."
"Unless of course, I am in charge of the General Staff by then," added Hindenburg with a wry grin.
"We can certainly hope and pray for that day, Feldmarschal. But assuming that your are still here, my enhanced prestige from a successful Balkan campaign will again place us in the spotlight. We can demand more divisions! We can insist that Oberst Hoffman be returned to us!"
"I still do not like it. But I understand your logic. I will reluctantly ago along with this plan of yours."
"Don’t fret, Feldmarschal. I will quickly crush the Serbs and those impudent British colonials and return to your side," said Ludedorff with relish. He then sighed a little and added, "I just wonder what Prussian general Falkenhayn will choose to be the commander."
Addis Ababa 1030 hrs Tuesday April 6, 1915
"Of all the many peoples of the world I trust them the least!" Emperor Iyasu complained to his father, "How can you of all people fail to see this? You were there!"
"I most certainly have not forgotten, Your Majesty! The fact remains, though that we have embarked on a very dangerous path. We have made enemies of two very powerful empires. We need all the help we can get," answered Ras Mikael.
"We already have the Ottomans and the Germans!"
"And both of them tell us we should listen to the ambassador, my son."
"Ah yes, but while the Ottomans say we should listen, they also counsel caution—did they not?"
"Yes, they did, Your Majesty. The Ottomans have had more recent difficulties with them than we have. But despite those difficulties they still say that we should listen."
Iyasu bit his lip. "Oh, all right. I will stifle my hatred and listen to the words of this serpent." Then he commanded his servants, "Send in the Italian ambassador!"
------Herzegovina 1315 hrs
With the greatest possible relish, Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett uncorked the bottle of champagne. He was wearing a yellow silk dressing down with scarlet trim. He was a British war correspondent assigned to the CANZAC. Due to the delay since the last convoy from Malta he had –horror of horros--run out of champagne 10 days ago and was forced to imbibe less worthy elixirs. But just an hour ago a case of the precious fluid had been delivered. He now poured two glasses—one for himself and his guest, another war correspondent, Charles Bean from Australia. Meanwhile the Parisian chef Ashmead-Bartlett had brought with him to Albania was busy preparing a proper midday meal.
"Here’s to victory," Ashmead-Bartlett toasted. He downed the glass in 3 swallows then poured himself another.
Bean took his time with the wine. "I went to the trenches again first thing morning, Ellis. This current series of attacks—as you may already know the troops are calling it the Easter Offensive--is not going all that well. Nowhere have we advanced as much as a full mile. The Australian and French casualties have been very serious."
Ashmead-Bartlett made a brief frown, which disappeared when he finished the second glass of champagne. As he poured himself another he replied, "Tsk, tsk You’re always running off to the bloody trenches, Charles. One of these days you’ll get yourself shot if you keep doing that. Bloody damn snipers and all that."
"I need to see just what is going on, Ellis! I’ve learned not to trust what the generals tell me."
"Ah, I think it’s the weather that has you down. You’re not used to this sort of weather down in Australia but those of us raised in England certainly are." Outside the tent the rain was coming down heavy.
Bean took another sip of champagne and shook his head and made a fleeting grin, "I wish that were so, Ellis, that this stretch of dreary wet weather has merely spoiled my mood and everything is going just wonderful. But I don’t think so."
"Hmm. Oh, what the bloody Hell, Charles. Drink up and then things will start to look much better."
Bean finished his glass and said mockingly, "Doesn’t seem to be working, Ellis. The weather is still crap and the CANZAC’s are still inching forward crawling on their bellies in the mud."
"Don’t give up man! Here have another glass. That should do the trick."
Bean accepted the wine but continued to drink it slowly. "This whole campaign is not what people back home think it is! First we had trouble fighting effectively in the mountains. So General Birdwood finds an area not so rugged and for a while he manages to make decent progress, despite having poor roads. But it’s in the ass end of nowhere!! Moving towards any objective of real importance would soon take us back into the mountains."
"Heaven’s man! Haven’t you been reading my articles? It says that we’re eating the Austrian liver! Unfortunately it does not taste anywhere as delicious as goose liver."
"To be honest, Ellis, I think you often embellish things too much."
"Oh? What’s that? Embellishing things, you say? Moi? I share my champagne with you and in return you accuse me of being a liar?" Ashmead-Bartlett’s sarcastic tone was partially serious.
Bean thought there were indeed some things outright false in some of Ashmead-Bartlett’s reporting such as stories about wounded soldiers begging to be returned to the fighting. He tried to be diplomatic, "I didn’t say you were a liar. But it’s your great skill with words make things seem better than they really are. And there are several disturbing facts you deliberately omit."
"Oh, please Charles. Are you going to start in again about those problems you think the Canadians are having with their rifles?"
"If you spent more time with the men in the trenches, Ellis, you’d know that there is definitely something wrong with those Ross rifles."
"General Birdwood thinks it’s that the Ross Rifle is just a wee bit more delicate than the Lee Enfield and needs more frequent cleaning, that’s all."
"The problems with those rifles are more serious than that!"
"And what happens every time you’ve tried to mention that in one of your articles?"
"You know bloody well that the damn censors cut it out every time!"
"Well then, so even if these allegations of yours about the Ross Rifles were true it would make no difference if I tried to report them as well."
"It is a journalist’s duty to report the truth!"
"Truth is a weapon just like any other, Charles. You have to be careful where you aim it."
------OKW 1600 hrs
General Falkenhayn had selected Generalmajor Hans von Seeckt to be Ludendorff’s replacement at Ober Ost and instructed him to meet with OKW before proceeding to Ober Ost. He was now meeting with Generalfeldmarschal von Moltke, Grossadmiral von Tirptiz, General von François and Oberst Hoffman. Like many senior officers in the German Army Seeckt was mystified about where OKW fit in to the grand scheme of things. Initially they were led to believe that it was largely ceremonial then later learned it was managing strategic resources and was frequently blamed for shortages of munitions and replacement troops in the field.
"General von Seeckt, first off let me congratulate you on your recent promotion," said Moltke.
"Thank you, Feldmarschal."
"As General von Falkenhayn told you, General Ludendorff is being transferred to a special Army Group composed of both German and allied forces for a very important offensive operation in the Balkans. You have been selected to be his replacement at Ober-Ost."
"I consider it a great honor to be selected for that position, Feldmarschal."
"There are some things my staff and I want to go over with you before you assume your new position. The first is that there has been some tension between Ober Ost and this office over strategy and resources. This tension is likely to remain over the next few weeks. By the end of May we should be in a position to give the Eastern Front an emphasis close to what Feldmarschal von Hindenburg was long been demanding."
"But not before then," interrupted Tirpitz who was seated to Moltke’s immediate right.
"So we are warning you that this will like be making your assignment difficult."
"I understand, Feldmarschal. I thank you for the warning."
"Further complicating matters, General Conrad now wrongly believes he can simultaneously conduct an offensive against the Russians as well as the Balkan operation. Feldmarschal von Hindenburg may be tempted to stimulate those fantasies. We think it best if you were to discourage those impulses."
Seeckt frowned some more, "It will do what I can,. Feldmarschal."
"However to ease your situation, my staff was worked on a plan for an offensive operation of some strategic importance that Ober Ost could initiate before the end of the month. So it would not be that your command will be remaining completely on the defensive."
At that Moltke turned to General François seated to his left. "In the recent combined German and Austrian offensive in Poland, this office had recommended certain innovative tactics. In particular we advocated the use of motorized heavy artillery in conjunction with cavalry to exploit a breakthrough. Oberst Hoffman and myself have come to the conclusion that this tactic could work well in another sector," commented François with a nod of his head towards Hoffman seated to his left, "We have gone so far as to draw up preliminary plans with the codename of Operation Fulcrum. As currently envisioned it would involve 6 cavalry divisions, a special brigade of motorized heavy artillery, but only 2 infantry divisions."
"Infantry divisions are precious," added Moltke, "but given the nature of the current war, we have some cavalry to spare. Operation Fulcrum as far as I can see makes good use of our cavalry. We are not ordering you to force this plan upon Feldmarschal von Hindenburg, but merely suggest it as a way to go on a limited offensive before substantial reinforcements become available. When this meeting is over, General von François and Oberst Hoffman, will go over the details with you."
"This sounds most intriguing, Feldmarschal. I eagerly look forward to discussing these plans and tactics."
"If you should wish to present this idea as your own inspiration when you arrive at Ober Ost, no one at this office will feel slighted," added Tirpitz Seeckt noted that Hoffman looked very unhappy at the Admiral’s remark. For that reason he hesitated in making a reply.
"Speaking of Oberst Hoffman, Feldmarschal von Hindenburg will almost certainly be asking you frequently about his return. Just so you are aware, when General Ludendorff was appointed to Balkan Army Group, Feldmarschal Hindenburg protested. To appease him we agreed to Oberst Hoffman returning to Ober Ost. We fully intend to honor that commitment but not for another 3 weeks. There are certain projects going on here that require his special abilities."
"Do not spell this out esp. when you meet General Ludendorff Thursday morning. Simply say you were told that Hoffman is to return to Ober Ost soon."
Seeckt squirmed a little. The machinations of Moltke and Tirpitz were putting him in an awkward position. Without sarcasm but with little enthusiasm he answered, "I understand, Admiral. I have been informed that General Ludendorff will be coming here late Friday."
Moltke answered, "Yes. Coordination with allies is a proper function of this office. We have a preliminary plan for the Balkan campaign codenamed Operation Tourniquet we wish to go over with him and—"
"--and the army group commander," Tirpitz interrupted Moltke, laying a hand on the Feldmarschal’s right arm, "Unfortunately the selection of the army group commander is still being discussed, I’m afraid."
Moltke yanked his arm away and turned with annoyance to Tirpitz. The two of them exchanged sharp looks for nearly a minute then Moltke shrugged with disgust. Seeckt noticed what looked like smirks on the faces of François and Hoffman.
------St. Enda’s Dublin 1715 hrs
Eion MacNeill, the leader of the Irish Volunteers, paid a visit to Padraig Pearse and his school. "You’ve probably heard by now that Tom Clarke was arrested by the RIC yesterday," he staid.
"I heard a rumor to that effect. Is it official now? Has there been an announcement?"
"I received what appears to be official word a few hours ago.. It will be in the newspapers tomorrow. He is to go before a deportation hearing Thursday."
"The Unionists have for some time been talking about kicking us ‘trouble makers’ out of Ireland. Now they are finally doing something. I heard that Birrell was strongly opposed. Has he finally become irrelevant?"
"Only in part, Patrick. If he was completely out of the picture they would be deporting many others including yourself. They might even be so reckless to try to deport me which would surely cause a rising."
MacNeill’s implication that that his own deportation—but not Pearse’s—would cause Pearse some momentary irritation—until he realized it was almost certainly an accurate assessment. "Are there any others?" Pearse asked.
"Yes, Mallin is being deported as well. In his case, I reckon it’s better than being tried for treason along with Connolly."
"Only deported, eh? Might this suggest their case against Connolly is weaker than they’ve been telling everyone?’
"It might.. Releasing the Countess also suggests some weakness. Apparently they are not going to dry to deport her—at least for the time bring. But as far as Connolly goes they still plan to go ahead with his trial on Thursday."
"It pains me to say this, Eion, but Connolly’s martyrdom could well provide the spark that Ireland needs."
"That will take more than symbols, Padraig It will take both men and arms. Have you finished reorganizing Dublin Brigade into 6 battalions?"
"Yes, there are now 5 battalions within Dublin with the 6th battalion in County Meath."
"And how about Cork?"
"As you well know our growth in Cork has been very strong since the tragic events of St. Patrick’s Day. MacCurtain now has nearly 1,200 men in 6 companies within the city alone. He and I think it is time to split the city battalion into two. This will probably happen in the next week or two. In the rest of the county things are less clear. We are definitely experiencing strong growth there as well but there is a frustrating delay in getting an accurate count of the roster in the more remote areas."
------Paris 1030 hrs Wednesday April 6, 1915
Two men entered the hotel room—Luis Malvy, the French Minister of the Interior and his political mentor, Joseph Caillaux. Emile Vandervelde, the Belgian Socialist leader, greeted them.
"Ostensibly the main reason we are having this meeting is to discuss international Socialist reaction to this situation in Britain with this Socialist rebel, Connolly they are going to put on trial for treason tomorrow. This is a matter of some importance that we should discuss before we go, along with the related topic of General Sarrail’s dismissal. But there is something more important I would like to talk about first, Emile," said Malvy.
Vandervelde grinned slightly, "Let me guess. You are interested in what I am hearing about the possibility of a compromise peace?"
"More than ever," answered Caillaux, "You have contacts with the German Socialists. What are they saying?"
"It is complicated," sighed Vandervelde, "but then again most things are. They tell me that after the British naval disaster at Utsire, many in Germany thought the British would bow out of the war—or at least open secret negotiations with Germany."
Malvy nodded, "Many in our own Cabinet feared that they would do just that."
"But instead the British government lurches to the Right, forming a Tory dominated coalition government," added Caillaux.
"The Germans now see that the Entente is holding firm. The notion that they would get the British to make a separate peace and then overwhelm the Russians and yourselves is rapidly fading," replied Vandervelde.
"It is good that the British are not simply abandoning us," said Mavly, "but I had hoped the new British prime minister would speak to our government and the Tsar and tell them that a sincere negotiation with the enemy –possibly mediated by the Pope--is the best hope. Alas, Mr. Bonar Law makes pompous speeches about fighting on to victory."
"I was not surprised by this public posturing by the new government. However I was disappointed, when my king told me that in private conversations Mr. Bonar Law rules out any negotiations towards a compromise settlement," said Mavly.
"Is it that they are overly optimistic about their Albanian strategy? Last I heard it was stalled. Or is it the recent Russian offensives? The Russians have apparently suffered a serious reversal in the last few days."
"You referring to what happened in Poland? Our newspapers are downplaying it but from what I’ve heard it at the Cabinet meetings it could prove to be as bad as Tannenberg. Before this happened the British thought things were turning around on the Eastern Front and fantasized about quickly knocking Austria-Hungary out of the war. Now the British return to talk about overpowering the German a year from now with a greatly expanded BEF.".
"Meanwhile a generation of young Frenchmen is being consumed by in the furnace of that Moloch, General Joffre," added Caillaux, "The Abyssinians had taken advantage of our weakness to seize Djibouti."
"While Bulgaria looks to be joining the Central Powers soon, which could turn the Balkan expedition into an abattoir."
"Next year could well find us in worse shape. We need to find a way to end this accursed war soon."
"I agree. So does King Albert though he is cautious about what he says to his British hosts. Now may be a good time to try to get secret negotiations underway. In the days immediately after Utsire, the Germans—even some of their Socialists—were positively giddy with thoughts of what they deserved to gain from their great victory. Lately their opinion has adjusted itself in the direction of reality."
"That is reassuring," replied Mavly.
"Yes, but there is a development I find most remarkable. A very prominent German military leader has met with some of the German Socialists and the Catholic Center Party. He is strongly encouraging them to support moderate war aims and a negotiated peace."
"This is most interesting. It is risky for a German General to cultivate the Socialists and espouse such views. Are you able to tell us the name of this brave general?"
Vandervelde leaned forward and lowered his voice, "If I do this information must not leave this room."
Mavly and Caillaux glanced briefly at each other then nodded in unison, "We agree completely!"
Vandervelde grinned, "It is not a general. It is Grossadmiral von Ingenohl."
Mavly’s jaw dropped in astonished, "Admiral Ingenohl! The German Nelson? This is astounding. How can it be?"
"Despite his reputation it seems that Admiral Ingenohl remains something of a pessimist. He is well aware of the massive British naval construction program and feels that inevitably it will overpower his fleet. He feels that Germany must negotiate a just peace before that comes to pass."
"At first I was flabbergasted when you named Admiral Ingenohl," commented Caillaux, "but on reflection I think I understand the admiral’s position. What is especially intriguing is that with his current immense prestige it will be extremely difficult for the German military to chastise him for this activity."
------Djibouti 1105 hrs
Two of Sheik Hasan’s Dervishes arrived at Djibouti on riding on the back of frothing horses. They requested to speak immediately with Col. Rabadi. "Our agents in Berbera have reported that ships carrying dark skinned French colonial troops arrived there a few days ago. The next day some of them were seen marching west."
"How many men? Did they have artillery?" asked Rabadi.
"Estimates of size vary widely but all agree it was more than a thousand. One agent reported seeing a few small cannon."
"Are any British forces accompanying them?
"Our spies give conflicting reports concerning that question—except they agree that a fairly strong garrison remains in Berbera."
"Anything else you can report at this time?"
"No. That is all."
------Old Admiralty Building 1455 hrs
Accompanied by Childers Captain Hall burst into Admiral Oliver’s office and handed him a slip of paper. "Room 40 just decoded this, sir."
Oliver looked at the paper and smiled, "Well, then. It appears our old friends, the Second Torpedo Boat Flotilla miss our company and are moving to Dunkirk tomorrow night. I think Commodore Tyrwhitt is going to find this very interesting."
------German Sixth Army HQ 1635 hrs
General Max von Fabeck had arrived to relieve Crown Prince Rupprecht as the new commander. They were now meeting in private.
"I know the real reason, Falkenhayn is assigning me to this so called Operation Tourniquet in the Balkans is so he can use chlorine gas against the British! That must mean you are another German officer who has lost his moral compass."
Fabeck had been forewarned and had his lies ready for this, "Your Excellency, I must object. You dishonor General von Falkenhayn. He had great confidence in your ability and feels you are best suited for the difficult challenge of the Balkan campaign."
"Do not feed me that shit! You are not answering the real question! Are you ready to shame Germany before the entire world with this blatant violation of the established rules of warfare?"
Fabeck gulped before countering, "The treaty is not as clear as you are presuming, Your Excellency---"
"I knew it! You are only another of Falkenhayn’s whores. Next you will probably dare to question my patriotism. Go ahead! I dare you! No one loves Germany more than I do. No one! But I tell you in all honesty that Germany will have a lot to account for when this war is finally over."
Fabeck sighed and took a different tack, "Your position is duly noted, Your Excellency. My understanding though is that you are scheduled to leave for Berlin soon—"
"—and we don’t have much time so I should stop wasting my precious time trying to find your conscience because obviously you no longer have one."
------Nairobi 1705 hrs
The rain was coming down extremely hard. Captain Richard Meinertzhagen had been the intelligence officer attached to Indian Expeditionary Force ‘B’. After the debacle at Tanga for which some people regarded him as partially responsible, he became the chief intelligence officer for all of British East Africa. On account of his German name and his connection with Tanga, several officers nursed doubts about his reliability. The Captain worked hard to dispel those doubts. He had requested a meeting with Brigadier Wapshare.
"The Germans are up to something, sir" he reported, "I believe Lettow-Vorbeck knows about Ethiopia and may suspect that it has drained off a portion of our strength."
Just as the general was going to answer, a lightning bolt landed close by. "Listen to that will, ya? It’s the bloody rainy season, Captain," he answered, "He might make some hit and run raid with a very small force but I can’t believe he’d launch a full scale operation under these appalling conditions. How specific is your information?"
Meinertzhagen frowned slightly, "I have not yet learned what his objective is, sir. But he is clearly preparing for something major."
Wapshare rolled his eyes, unconvinced. He did not want to appear completely negative and so he ordered, "Submit a typed report on your intelligence in the next day or so. I will give your information due consideration."
"Yes, sir. I will have it on your desk first thing in the morning, sir—"
There was another very loud clap of thunder. The sound of the rain coming down grew even stronger. The general shook his head.
------Berbera 1750 hrs
The transports carrying Indian Expeditionary Force ‘E’ finally arrived at Berbera. They had departed Bombay with 3 battalions but en route they received news of Ottoman forces moving towards Aden. This caused one of the Indian battalions to be detached from the rest and diverted to Aden instead.
------Harlem (NY) 1835 hrs GMT
Corrnelius St. James was wearing better clothes as he gave his speech. Last Saturday two men with German accents approached him and offered what they described as contributions to "his cause." Cornelius was unsure if they were German agents or merely enthusiastic German Americans. He didn’t care either way.. It was not an enormous amount of money but it paid the bills. He didn’t see this as being very different from the nickels and dimes some listeners contributed at the end of his speeches.
He had now finished another speech about the need for the man of color to support the Abyssinians and their allies, the Central Powers. At the end he collected a little more than a dollar in change. A pudgy but well dressed black man approached him. With a warm smile he extended his hand and said in a Jamaican accent, "Mr. St. James, let me complement you on a most excellent. My name is Marcus Garvey."
"Pleased to meet you, Mr. Garvey. I am glad you enjoyed the speech."
"I am the head of the Universal Negro Improvement Association. Have you heard of it?"
"Can’t say that I have, Mr. Garvey. Is it something akin to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People? I have some acquaintance with Mr. DuBois, who is a prominent member of the NAACP."
Garvey looked disappointed and sighed, "I formed the UNIA in Jamaica. It has some similarities to the NAACP, but it is not dependent on the patronizing generosity of white folk. I arrived in your country just yesterday. I am moving UNIA’s headquarters to this city. It will do great things for Negroes everywhere."
"Good for you, Mr. Garvey," St. James answered cautiously as he sensed this might be a prelude to a request for money.
"As I said I was most impressed with your speech, Captain St. James---"
"Uh, sorry but I never made it past sergeant."
"What! A man of your talents should have been made an officer. See what I am saying about the way the white man treats the Negro?"
This made St. James feel very awkward. Becoming an officer had once been a dream of his. He had accepted that it was never going to happen a long time ago. "Uh, there is something to what you say, Mr. Garvey."
"You can call Marcus, if you like. There is a favor I must ask of you, though."
Here it comes. Cornelius’ expression grew cold. "What do you want, sir?"
"I want to give speeches supporting your cause. Sometimes with you, sometimes separate. UNIA will give you its full support."
St. James arched an eyebrow, "Oh, I think that is OK with me. Marcus. You can’t do anything to embarrass me—and I can’t afford to pay you if that’s what you’re thinking."
"I am not asking for money from you. And I most certainly do not intend to embarrass you. But I do think the two of us would make a good combination."
"OK, Marcus. Let’s have supper together and see how we’ll make this work."
------Rotterdam 2345 hrs
Even though the hotel bed was extremely comfortable compared to a prison cot, Captain Jack White was having trouble getting to sleep. Tuesday he had been abruptly dragged in front of a deportation hearing in London. He wasn’t sure but he suspected that the process had been streamlined—perhaps unlawfully—for his benefit. He had the distinct impression that they wanted very much to avoid publicity. When it was over he was given some options for how to leave the country. In order to get rid of him quickly, the government was willing to let him go into exile in the Netherlands. This morning he left England on a Dutch packet ship.
When the war started White thought it was a great human tragedy resulting from the greed of the upper classes. He enlisted as an ambulance driver to try to relieve some of the human suffering. He certainly had no sympathy for Germany ruled as they were by another bunch of capitalist exploiters. Even now he had no affection for the German leaders. But the events of the last few weeks had made him very, very upset with the British Empire.
The Navy Captain named Hall who had participated in his interrogation. He recalled the nervous tic that made the Captain blink continuously. He recalled being told him that Casement was in Germany and that they strongly suspected he was plotting something with the German leaders. Something concerning Ireland.
When White chose to go to the Netherlands instead of say, the United States he knew that he had chosen his mission. Tomorrow he would go to the German embassy in The Hague. If at all possible he would try to see Casement in Germany. That much he had decided and was perfectly clear. What he would do after he saw Casement was what was keeping him awake.