by Tom B
Off the French coast near Ft. Mahon Plage (north of the Somme) 0900 hrs Monday, 19 October, 1914
The main batteries of the four predreadnought battleships of First Division Fifth Battle Squadron commenced firing simultaneously. On the compass platform of the HMS Prince of Wales Admiral Cecil Burney, the commander of Channel Fleet, observed the bombardment. The visibility was acceptable but far from optimal with a slowly improving morning mist. The warships were in radio communication with an observation balloon. Their target zone was the trench line of the German 5th Cavalry Division, which extended to the coast.
Further offshore was the second division with three more battleships. They would be brought into action soon to shell the trench line and artillery positions of 6th Bavarian Infantry Division, which was further inland. Also present were an old light cruiser and a half dozen destroyers, which very anxiously patrolled the area looking for periscopes.
Berlin 0930 hrs
The Admiralstab was meeting. Grand Admiral von Tirpitz was speaking.
"In light of the promising developments on the Western Front, I strongly recommend that we place orders immediately for the following units: 30 of the small A-class torpedo boats, 20 of the small class UC mine-laying submarines and 20 of the class UB coastal submarines plus another two of that class to be built for the Austrians. These units will prove very useful once the Channel Ports are seized and turned into bases"
Admiral von Pohl replied cautiously, "This is an ambitious program you are proposing, Grand Admiral. Surely these expenditures will be criticized as excessive by the Army—"
"--on the contrary, the Army realizes quite well that we must have the ships needed to exploit the Channel Ports properly. We in turn should repay them for their consideration by doing everything in our power to see that they succeed in the capture of these bases."
Pohl darkened, "Reckless sorties by the major units are not warranted. They violate the Kaiser’s clear instructions."
"Hipper’s sortie was clearly within the freedom of initiative permitted by the Kaiser," countered Tirpitz.
The meeting degenerated into bickering.
East of Ft. Mahon Plage (on the coast) 1050 hrs
The advance of the leading battalions of I British I Army Corps encountered markedly different situations in different places. In some sectors the trenches and defending artillery had been effectively neutralized by the battleships’ 12" shells. The few dazed and wounded survivors were quickly overcome and taken prisoner. In other sectors though sufficient strength remained to inflict heavy losses on the attackers and the German barbed wire remained a serious obstacle in most places. The large craters left by the 12" shells also caused some problems for the advancing troops.. So the British infantry managed to advance but very unevenly. Some battalions easily obtained their initial objectives only to be forced to halt because the adjacent battalion was fighting a furious battle. When messengers returned to the brigade and divisional HQ’s, they painted a very confusing picture.
BEF HQ St. Valery 1735 hrs
Sir John French fumed. The important action today was the advance of Haig’s I Army Corps. It was hoped that the firepower of Channel Fleet would allow a clean breakthrough of the German trenches along the coast. I Army Corps along with Lahore Division on its right in Crecy Forest would turn the German flank with 2nd Division reaching and then crossing the Authie. Meanwhile the French cavalry brigade recently landed at Boulogne would harass the rear of the German defenses.
"Damn it, Archie, with each new report I get from Haig I become more and more confused."
"The tactical situation there is obviously very complicated, sir," answered Murray, his chief of staff.
"That goes without saying, Archie. A good commander though should be able to summarize a complex tactical situation into a comprehensible report. And that’s certainly not what we’re getting from I Army Corps. Unfortunately one thing that is becoming apparent that our progress is behind schedule."
"And casualties are proving to be more than anticipated," remarked Murray in a soft voice.
"Yeah, and that too. Oh, hell, we need to send a telegram to Foch telling him that we no longer anticipate having a crossing over the Authie ready for Conneau’s Cavalry Corps to use tomorrow morning."
"Should we notify Admiral Burney that we will require another naval bombardment tomorrow?"
"On the contrary, inform the admiral that his services will not be required.. Now that our troops are moving forward there is too great a risk they’ll shell our own men."
AOK Cracow 1920 hrs
Field Marshal Conrad von Hotzendorf was putting the finishing touches on his plan. During the last two weeks the Imperial and Royal First Army had tagged along on the right flank of the German advance. Luddendorf had hoped to capture Warsaw and Conrad in turn had fantasized about taking the huge fortress at Ivanogorod. Then just yesterday Luddendorf had informed him that the German Ninth Army would now be retreating because the concentration of Russian forces north of the Vistula had been discovered to be far stronger than anticipated.
Conrad was not content to order a simple retreat. Instead he devised what he thought was a clever plan. The Austro-Hungarian First Army would permit the Russians to start crossing the Vistula. When half of the enemy force had crossed the river Conrad’s First Army would attack their flank while preventing the other half from crossing. The German forces Moltke had sent him—the XXV Reserve Corps—had recently detrained at Cracow and was marching towards the Vistula where it would participate in the counterattack on the Russian flank.
German XXVII Reserve Corps HQ Montreuil 2125 hrs
General von Carlowitz was reviewing tomorrow’s plans with his staff and the commander of 53rd Reserve Division, when a motorcyclist arrived with an urgent message from Crown Prince Rupprecht.
The General read the message and frowned. He read it again and sighed.. "What is it?" was written on the faces on everyone around him. Before anyone dared to speak the question he answered it, "Gentlemen. Sixth Army has assumed command over us. Etaples and Boulogne will have to wait."
Outskirts of Calais 2305 hrs
"You see anything out there?" was a question asked over and over.
It was a very dark night –a new moon with overcast skies. The men of 2nd London Brigade had arrived in Calais three days ago and had quickly gone about establishing a defensive trench line around the city. They had also sent a battalion to the Aa Canal near Gravelines. Initially it had been assumed that this was the most likely direction for the Germans to advance. But then they had learned of German cavalry in strength near St. Omer. Late yesterday the aviators amended their reports to include a sizable mass of German infantry milling about St. Omer. Their estimates of the size of the infantry formation had varied wildly.
In the morning the yeomanry regiment, which had accompanied them had skirmished with German cavalry midway between St. Omer and Calais. The French hastily landed a single battery of 75mm field guns during the afternoon. The only other friendly artillery on the ground faced the sea and was useless against a landward assault. British warships including two battleships had been seen off the coast during the day.
In the early afternoon a German airship had cruised over Calais and then the Straits of Dover. When it got within two miles of Folkestone it turned back. On its return leg it hurriedly dropped a few small bombs on Calais.
The men huddled in their trenches and vigorously debated when the Germans would attack. No one doubted that they would attack. Some thought the attack would come during the night but a larger number including nearly all of the NCO’s thought that the enemy would wait until first light. The soldiers were nervous but determined. Some tried to get some sleep but very few succeeded. Cigarettes were consumed copiously. There was a rumor that additional French reinforcements would be landing in the morning.
Searchlights illuminated the area in front of the trenches, which lacked barbed wire. The brigade was supposed to have eight machine guns but only had six—and two of those were with the battalion sent off to Gravelines.
One of the company commanders suddenly yelled out to his soldier. "Everyone up! Wake up! Look to your weapons, men! Be sharp now!"
"What is it, Captain?" asked one of his platoon leaders.
"Report just come in. One of the French outposts is under attack."
BRITISH BATTLESHIPS TURN THE TIDE IN FRANCE
"British battleships bombarded German positions near the French coast yesterday. The intensity of this shelling allowed British infantry to regain the initiative in the critical Battle of the Somme. This is a remarkable turnaround in that just two days ago the Germans had seized the initiative in the Battle of the Somme with a determined counterattack. It convincingly demonstrates the growing advantage, which the vast firepower of the Royal Navy provides the Entente now that the key battles have moved to coastal regions. With command of the seas it is the British and their allies who can use their naval gunfire to devastate their enemies’ defenses and overrun their lines. The weaker German Navy is completely impotent to interfere or conduct their own bombardments—except for their force of submarines. It is this weapon alone, which gives the Royal Navy cause for concern.
For this reason the recent German capture of Dunkirk is an ominous development. If the German Navy can turn Dunkirk into a base, their submarines would be able to operate within the Straits of Dover and as far west as Beachy Head. The operations of the Royal Navy in these important waters would become much more hazardous. This is one of several reasons why the Battle of Somme is so important to the course of the war. A British breakthrough in this battle will allow Entente forces to move into Flanders. They could then remove the Germans from Dunkirk as well as rescue brave little Belgium, where heavy fighting continues in the city of Bruges."
New York Times Tuesday, 20 October, 1914
Perimeter outside Calais 0230 hrs
The German attacks had been repulsed but the cost was not trivial. The attackers were dismounted cavalry and a Jaeger battalion. Aided by the absence of barbed wire some of then had managed to reach the trenches. Fierce hand to hand combat ensued, garishly illuminated by the unnatural light of searchlights and flares. Bayonets stabbed and sabers slashed. Improvised blunt instruments were used as clubs. Flesh was cut. Blood was spilled. Men were maimed. Men were killed. Some with dreadful wounds to their stomach and intestines remained alive to howl and whimper away their last few wretched hours of life.
The attack was over. Or to be more accurate this attack was over. The wounded were given first aid. Those that could were sent walking back to Calais. The others were carried away in stretchers. The NCO’s counted their effectives and told their men to expect another assault—probably in the predawn twilight.
FS Intrepide off Calais 0955 hrs
Admiral Hood put down the telescope and addressed the two officers near him.
"Direct observation is completely useless. We will need to rely on chaps ashore to tell us where our shot is falling. Signal Irresistible to add a thousand yards to the range and fire a half salvo with main battery. After that they will reload and wait until we have word from the observers. Once Irresistible’s salvos are on target we will let Venerable join in."
Contrary to the defenders’ expectations the Germans did not resume the assault at dawn. Instead the German cavalrymen probed the flanks of their position on horseback. A small skirmish resulted when a troop of yeomanry challenged on these patrols but otherwise things were remarkably quiet. A morning recon patrol by two British airplanes from an airfield in Kent revealed a strong force of German infantry marched toward Calais. The current bombardment was aimed at what Hood was led to believe was one of their assembly points.
The 12" shells landed close enough to the German infantry of the 51st Reserve Division to disrupt their planned attack. Though the shell caused no casualties the ferocity of the explosions startled the green German troops, who quickly dispersed in near panic.
HQ German Sixth Army 1025 hrs
Crown Prince Rupprecht warily digested the latest news. There had been a skirmish between the 54th Reserve Division and some French cavalry near Montreuil. The engagement itself was one of those where neither side expected to find the other. A French cavalry squadron had been able to make a mounted attack on inexperienced and minimally trained German infantry. The French advantage was transitory and the Germans regrouped and drove of their attackers. The battle itself was little more than an embarrassing incident. It was the presence of French cavalry heading south near the coast that was disturbing Rupprecht. Could the French have shipped an entire cavalry division to either Etaples or Boulogne?
Late yesterday evening the Crown Prince had finally acknowledged that the British had succeeded in sealing the dangerous gap between their II and III Corps. The bombardment of the coast by the Royal Navy was unsettling though some reports indicated that the casualties caused by the low trajectory shells on the men in the trenches was fairly modest. Fortunately Moltke had been unusually sensible for a change and given him command of the XXVII Reserve Corps without an argument.
In the predawn hours Rupprecht had devised a new plan. The 3 cavalry and 2 Bavarian infantry divisions on his right flank would desist in their counterattacks and make an orderly withdrawal to the northeast, inflicting losses on the advancing British whenever they could. The British would be permitted to reach the Authie by dusk where they would find an intact bridge. Meanwhile the German IV Army Corps would swing up from the south through Crecy Forest, which Rupprecht hoped would hide them from airplanes. The XXVII Reserve Corps would move down from the north. Tomorrow morning when then 2 divisions of the British I Army Corps and the weak Indian division tried to resume their advance, they would be counterattacked by 6 infantry and 3 cavalry divisions.
The French cavalry was a complication. General von Carlowitz had detached a regiment from 54th Reserve Division to remain at Montreuil and guard his rear. It seemed like a prudent precaution. In fact if it was entire French cavalry division up there a regiment of August volunteers could prove inadequate. Rupprecht wondered how difficult it would be to get an air patrol up there.
There were some other complications to consider. One was the assault on Calais, which he only learned of in the last half hour. Moltke should have informed of that attack yesterday. But that sort of lapse was typical of Moltke. What was not typical and still mystified Crown Prince Rupprecht was the telegram that arrived late last night. It had suggested that as the heir to the Bavarian throne Rupprecht would be within his rights to inform the Kaiser of the disruption to his forces and plans cause by the Royal Navy and to insist that the German Navy do everything in its power to counter it. Rupprecht remained baffled by the telegram. He had heard the rumors—and helped to spread them—about Admiral Hipper having an undue influence on Moltke. How did this fit in? Rupprecht grudgingly admitted to himself that it was a tempting idea.
Yet another thought bothered Rupprecht. The recent attack into the British gap had yielded over a thousand prisoners. Yesterday Rupprecht had paid them a visit. About half of them had been wounded. He was struck by how even in captivity they demonstrated a resolute spirit. It impressed them as much as their combat skills. It had him wonder deeply what it would’ve been like if he had become their king.
Boulogne 1105 hrs
Upon confirmation of the German attack on Calais, the commander of the 87th Territorial Division, General Roy, had dispatched a single battalion to Calais and another to Cap Gris Nez. He had the day before sent the cavalry brigade south to disrupt the German rear areas. It was hoped that the cavalry would link with the British infantry today when the latter crossed the Authie. The general he had insufficient authorization to do any more. His orders were quite specific that his primary responsibility was safeguarding Boulogne.
But now a messenger brought him a decoded wireless message from Joffre himself. He wondered if would be ordered north to rescue Calais, east to attack the German communications at St. Omer or south to link up with the British. He looked at the message.
REMAIN AT BOULOGNE AND AWAIT FURTHER INSTRUCTIONS
Outside Calais 1400 hrs
German artillery commenced firing—three batteries of 77mm field guns and two of 105mm howitzers. The artillery had been carefully sited on the reverse slopes of hills looking down on Calais. Their initial salvo was not very accurate. Subsequent salvoes were corrected. The defenders began to take casualties esp. from the howitzers. The lone French battery of 75mm field guns unwisely attempted to duel with them.
The foot artillery that had been assigned to the corps were not yet ready for action. But they would be soon.
HQ BEF St. Valery 1430 hrs
"It looks like it’s going to work, Archie! I told you it was goin’ to, didn’t I? Oh, I grant that we’re a wee bit behind schedule. But I still think Rawlinson is being way too pessimistic about what’s going on in Belgium and those Terriers in Calais gave the Hun cavalry six of the best last night. So I tell you that the infernal hand wringing in Whitehall is just the damn politicians acting like schoolgirls. Why a month from now as we cross the German frontier the bloody politicians will be ashamed of how bloody awful fatuous they were during the Battle of the Somme. This time tomorrow it will be obvious even to the Cabinet what a great victory we’ve won."
Murray would’ve liked very much to mention a few things. Like how two days ago French had been firmly convinced that this whole plan—conceived by Haig and Hankey with some input from Churchill—was horribly doomed to failure. Or that a "wee bit behind schedule" was a whole day. Or that he thought Rawlinson’s gloomy assessment of the Belgian situation was probably quite accurate. Or that the latest intelligence had at least one German infantry division massing around Calais. These things Sir Archibald Murray dared not utter. But he did manage to say in a timid voice, "The casualty figures coming in from 1st Division and Lahore Division remain quite high, sir."
"High but acceptable, Archie. Ah, it’s the last futile gasp of those pesky Bavarians. Tonight most 2nd Division is going to cross the Authie. Tomorrow Meerut Division joins Lahore Division in Crecy Forest. The French cavalry gallops off to Boulogne. Late tomorrow that pretty boy Allenby will be on his way to Belgium. I tell you I can smell it. Don’t be such a whining spoilsport, Archie—victory is at hand! F’r Godsakes man, why can’t you see it?"
Buckingham Palace 2010 hrs
Prime Minister Herbert Asquith, Sir Winston Churchill and Lord Horatio Kitchener fidgeted anxiously. Churchill wanted very badly to light up a cigar but decided against it. The three of them had been summoned on short notice without being told why. They had assumed it was about Calais. The latest news they had was that heavy fighting was continuing. The Germans were in greater strength there than previously thought but were only progressing slowly.
Suddenly King George V was announced and entered the room.
"Ministers, you must be wondering why I summoned you here so abruptly. I have two urgent matters to discuss. This afternoon a most disturbing cable came to me directly from King Albert of Belgium. I shall read it to you now."
Churchill exchanged glances with Kitchener. King George produced the telegram and began to read.
"To His Majesty George, King of Great Britain. The plight of both my army and my country grow ever more desperate, and so I must bring it to your direct attention. Yesterday morning the Germans brought two new divisions into action against us.. We are sorely outnumbered and the enemy is wearing down our defenses. Despite the brave efforts of my soldiers, the key city of Bruges could fall tomorrow. If we do not receive at least two divisions of reinforcements from our allies we will be forced to surrender within a week. This would be a catastrophe not just for Belgium but for the Entente as well. I exhort you my fellow sovereign to do all in your power to prevent this disaster."
The king lowered the telegram and stared at his ministers. In his eyes there was a mixture of anger and sadness. Churchill felt ashamed. He sheepishly glanced at Kitchener, who seemed to feel nothing whatsoever. He also glanced at Asquith, who looked most uncomfortable.
"Prime Minister, what shall be our answer? What say you, sir?
"Your Majesty, we are completely aware that the situation in Belgium is most precarious. But, but, I am led to believe that our own army is—as we speak-- on the verge of a great victory. This victory will let us rescue the Belgians as well as Calais—"
The king’s expression grew even more somber at the mention of Calais, "Oh, yes, I said at the beginning there were two matters to discuss. Calais is the other situation that has us deeply disturbed. The loss of Dunkirk was unsettling but if our foe should take Calais—well that would be just, just unthinkable!"
"Quite right, Your Majesty, we cannot let Calais fall to the Germans."
"Correct me, if I’m wrong but wouldn’t the German artillery be able to shell Dover and Folkestone from Calais?"
"Lob a shell clear across the Channel? Oh, no, Your Majesty, I don’t think we need to worry ourselves over that. Am I right, Lord Kitchener?"
"Not exactly, Prime Minister. Most German artillery would not be able to fire across the Straits of Dover but some long barrel heavy pieces would."
"And those awful guns would be soon be manufactured and deployed in large numbers if Calais should fall," moaned the king, "oh, it is unspeakable!"
Churchill nodded grimly. The king had a point, but German control of Calais would have other dire consequences as well. He shuddered.
"Have no fear, Your Majesty, we will not let this happen," said Asquith. Churchill shuddered some more.
Perimeter outside Calais 2250 hrs
The night was cold and dank. The Seneghalese troops in the trenches shivered. Their battalion had been the only French reinforcements to arrive during the day. Shortly after sunset they had been rushed to this portion of the line, which was reported to be under attack. When they arrived they discovered that some French militiamen had panicked when a troop of yeomanry had patrolled nearby. Finding no combat they then made their supper. The British forces in Calais had graciously provided them with a rare delicacy from England called "bully beef".
This had filled their bellies but their robes, which were so functional is the hot dry climate of their native land offered scant protection from the nighttime chill. There discomfort grew worse as it began to drizzle. Nearby some French militiamen stared at the Colonial warriors and whispered amongst themselves. They told stories about how the Africans were fond of beheading. As the Frenchmen talked they continually glanced over at the Africans. On the one hand they found these Africans frightening but they also felt a reassuring primordial strength emanating from them.
Suddenly a messenger arrived on a bicycle. Excitedly he told them there was a new German assault on the British sector of the defensive line.
HQ British 2nd Division 0050 hrs Thursday 22 Oct, 1914
"I don’t suppose there is any way this attack could be postponed for one day, sir?" asked the commander of 2nd Division, General Sir Charles Monro.
The commander of I Army Corps, General Douglas Haig, shook his head and answered, "You know we don’t have the luxury of time to plan and prepare. Things are really balls up right now. Calais is being attacked. The Belgian Army is in grave peril. Kitchener is putting a great deal of pressure on French right now."
"I wouldn’t like to be in French’s shoes right now," remarked Monro. Haig looked like he was about to say something but remained silent. Monro noticed a strange wistful look in his eyes. Monro continued, "Can the attack at least wait until noon. It would give us time to digest the intelligence from the morning aircraft patrols?"
"No, Charles. It needs to be early morning. Conneau will be arriving with the lead regiment of the French cavalry at noon and French has told Foch that the pathway through the enemy line will be ready by then."
"Well in that case can I at least get my—"
—your two battalions back? I’m afraid not. Lomax was attacked by elements of three German infantry divisions and a cavalry division, during the afternoon. He went through some very grueling hours. I expect a resumption of full scale enemy attacks on 1st Division at dawn. For that reason, you are going to send two batteries as well off to 1st Division before noon. The Indian Corps is going to make an attack in Crecy Forest this morning to relieve some of the pressure. All you’re facing is a reserve division and some cavalry."
Monro sighed only slightly. Haig’s request was not unexpected. Yesterday morning most of his division had tried to move north from its bridgehead over the Authie. It drove off some German cavalry it had known about but soon after that his men ran into a large force of German infantry, which was not expected. The initial encounter was an exchange of rifle fire and the superiority of the British marksmanship was soon demonstrated.. The Germans withdrew to the north where they regrouped and with some support from their machineguns and artillery halted the British advance. Meanwhile Monro had received an urgent order from Haig to send two battalions immediately to reinforce the sorely pressed 1st Division.
"Jolly good. So what’s your plan for the morning assault?"
"At 0500 the Grenadier Guards will make a diversionary attack to the east. At 0700 there will be an artillery bombardment lasting 15 minutes. I would have liked to make it longer but our ration of artillery shells—"
"—is less than we would like, yes I am very much aware of that. Well are you aware that French has giving us about three fifths of what the entire BEF is receiving?"
"No, sir I was not."
"Well we are and we are getting ever single one of the pitiful handful of high explosive shells that are finally beginning to arrive. So I don’t really think we should be the ones to complain about the munitions situation, eh?"
Monro swallowed hard and continued, "I see your point, sir. As I was saying, there will be a short but sharp artillery bombardment after which 5th Brigade will attack. They will advance with two battalions abreast—one on each side of the main road here. The other two battalions of the brigade will follow close behind. Once the enemy position is penetrated, the brigade will spread out to both left and right to create the channel through which the French cavalry will use when they arrive. The cyclist company will then pedal their way up the road to the rear of the German position. They will ascertain if it is safe for the French cavalry to advance along the road."
Monro paused. Haig took a minute to evaluate the plan, "Given the short time frame to prepare, this is a sound plan. When the French cavalry pass through they will try to overrun the German communications and supply dumps as well as harrying the enemy’s retreat. It’s vitally important that they prevent the Germans from regrouping and forming a new defensive line further north. Before dark some of them will swing over to the left and capture Berck. This will sever the communications of the German right wing, trapping some of their battalions against the Channel."
"And when will Allenby be arriving with our own cavalry?"
"Hmm, French is expecting it to be around midnight but I regard that as overly optimistic. He thinks all three French cavalry divisions can make it through your formation by last light. It’s much more likely that only two of them make it through. Another complication is Allenby’s troopers will be needed to act as firemen if Lomax can’t stop the German assault this morning. So the earliest that I can see them being released is sunset and that’s only if 1st Division stops the German attacks cold."
"Sounds more like Friday morning—and when is French expecting them to reach St. Omer?"
Monro whistled, "Looks like I’m not the only one on a tight schedule."
Haig made a weak smile, "I have great confidence in you and your men. We have the finest infantry in the world."
"I most heartily concur, sir. Actually here is one thing that’s very reassuring. We took some prisoners from this 53rd Reserve Division we’re facing. Do you know when they started their training? In the beginning of August! Can you believe it? When I first heard that I thought they were just pulling our leg us but my intelligence staff says it’s true."
"Yes that is amazing. The Germans make mistakes but they seldom do anything that stupid. Training takes time. The first batch of New Army divisions is not expected to be ready for action until the spring. The combat skills of your opponents must be dreadful. I most certainly relieved. This morning’s assault can’t fail."
Monro nodded, "Yes their skills and tactics are rather poor, not like those wily devils of 6th Bavarian Division. Though they do seem to be very brave." But what he found more than a little disturbing and did not dare to say aloud was that for troops with so little training they weren’t as completely bad as one would expect. Instead he added after a pause, "You’ll never find us sending men so ill prepared into battle."
Haig frowned a bit at that, "Well it appears that we did, Charles--that bloody mess up at Passchendaele. Sure glad I had nothing to do with that one."
10 Downing Street 1105 hrs
"Northcliffe is going to print that the Germans are besieging Calais in the Daily Mail this afternoon," lamented Prime Minister Asquith. This immediately evoked angry muttering from the Cabinet.
"Prime Minster, how did Northcliffe possibly learn of this development? We have not announced this! Have the French?" asked John Allsebrook Simon, the Attorney General.
"The Germans announced it last night," answered Churchill, "and Northcliffe’s reporters have been interviewing some of the civilians who left Calais by ferry soon after the fighting started."
"We believe that reporters for the Times have done the same but held off printing the story nonetheless, " said Asquith, "They are going to be quite displeased with us when the Daily Mail gets the scoop."
"Parliament is going to be most unpleasant," remarked Lloyd-George. .
"It will be still more unpleasant if Calais should fall, Chancellor" countered Churchill
"With a doubt, you have a point there, Winston," said Asquith without relish, "Well, Lord Kitchener, shall I be reading about the Germans capturing Calais in tomorrow’s newspapers."
"The newspapers should only print what we tell them, Prime Minister," replied Kitchener. This caused a few nervous chuckles.
"That’s not what I’m asking, Horatio," chided the Prime Minister.
Kitchener took his time before he answered, "The German forces attacking Calais are stronger than we first thought."
That’s all he said. The ministers stared at him in vain expectation of something more. Finally in exasperation Asquith spoke, "Yes, yes, that is plain to see. What the Cabinet would like so very much to know is whether we can prevent its capture?"
"We are sending another Territorial Force battalion to Calais tonight," answered Kitchener in a voice cold with anger.
"Lord Kitchener, did I hear you correctly?" asked Lloyd-George, "that a mere battalion is being sent as reinforcements?"
Kitchener glared back at Lloyd-George. There was a period of uneasy silence and then Kitchener made his answer, "Chancellor, we have discussed this repeatedly over the last three weeks. The Territorial Force is only beginning to become ready for deployment to France—and not in whole divisions. French cavalry will be arriving at Calais shortly due to the great victory we are winning in France. Calais and Belgium have some importance but the Battle of the Somme can turn the entire war!"
"Yes, yes, we’ve heard for over a week now how the Battle of the Somme will win the war for us. Hopefully one day it will, but it seems to be taking longer than anticipated. Surely we are sending reinforcements to Belgium by sea as well. You were there when we spoke with His Majesty—" said Asquith with some agitation.
"Yes I was there, Prime Minister. The 4th London Brigade and two RGA batteries being readied and will sail for Belgium tomorrow afternoon. The French have also agreed to send a division to Belgium by sea tomorrow."
"R-G-A?" asked Asquith.
"Royal Garrison Artillery Prime Minister," answered Kitchener. Seeing that Asquith’s expression still remained puzzled he clarified, "they are heavy artillery batteries."
Churchill listened to this with a sense of dread and still worse what the French liked to call déjà vu. He recalled bitterly the loss of Antwerp. The latest intelligence was that the Germans had a dozen infantry divisions involved in the attack on Belgium. Are we sending too little too late?
Calais 1500 hrs
General von Hugel, the XXVI Corps Commander, watched as the German foot artillery opened fire. Previous artillery bombardments had been by the field artillery of his divisions. The foot artillery was now ready. With the German positions being periodically shelled by British warships including predreadnought battleships he had been careful in bringing the precious heavy artillery into action. They were now well sited on reverse slopes, which should protect them from low trajectory counter battery fire. The 21cm Morsers and the 15cm howitzers targeted the defenders’ trenches and strongpoints. The 13cm field guns aimed for the inner city. It was hoped the last would interfere with distribution of supplies.
The morning assaults had managed to make some small progress but at a heavy cost in casualties. A wireless message from Moltke had arrived less than two hours, strongly suggesting it was time to resolve the situation. After the bombardment both divisions would make a maximum assault at dusk.
There had been a very heavy bombardment by the British battleships just before noon. The observers he had sent to the coast at Sangatte reported that the troublesome battleships had apparently departed. A pair of monitors remained which intermittently shelled the German positions.
Bruges Belgium 1605 hrs
The German heavy artillery ceased their bombardment. Lines of weary faced Belgian prisoners were marched to their cages. Belgian civilians stared at the German soldiers with a mixture of expressions. A few showed hostility. Others looked fearful—there were stories of how the Germans had treated the Belgian people. Some of them were true. The greatest number of faces simply looked numb and tired.
The Belgian forces had retreated from the city, except for three trapped companies, which held out defiantly. The Germans merely cordoned them off. The last few days the Germans had found house to house fighting to be a disagreeable experience. They had learned some hard lessons, but most of all they had learned to do as little of it as possible.
The commander of the Tenth Army, General von Beseler inspected the scene. The Belgians had held out longer than he had expected. His Tenth Army had suffered more casualties than expected though they were not prohibitive. But the key city of Bruges had now fallen. It seemed to him that the end was finally in sight. His troops were very tired but Belgian resistance deteriorating this was not a time for rest. He issued orders. The Bavarian Cavalry Division and 1st Naval Division were ordered to follow the canal to the sea during the night. Additional units would follow in the morning when the mopping was completed here. Zeebrugge was to be seized as soon as possible.
HQ British 2nd Division 1635 hrs
"The latest news is not good, Marcel."
The French cavalry had sent a liaison officer fluent in English here in the late morning. His role was to coordinate the passage of the French horsemen through the formation. He was still waiting for the go ahead.
The Frenchmen looked disappointed but said nothing. The general continued., "The Germans brought up machineguns which are enfilading 5th Brigade. Our cyclist company was forced to pull back. The Germans are shifting their forces and it looks like the gap has sealed."
The morning attack had initially made encouraging progress.. The Germans had entrenched more than anticipated during the night but they had not put up any barbed wire. The leading battalions had managed to reach the German trenches where superior combat skills of the British regular soldiers prevailed.. The enemy was brave though and their morale held. The trench clearing took longer than anticipated. As the 5th Brigade tried to press on it soon became apparent that the enemy had two divisions in line not just one as previously thought. Two German strong points held up the advance of the forward battalions, while artillery fire pinned down the two following battalions. The enemy counterattacked. Support from their own artillery was hampered by communication problems. The British attack bogged down, holding on to the land taken but denied the clean breakthrough needed for the cavalry to pass through.
. An aide suddenly approached calling out, "General Monro, there is another telephone call from General Haig."
"Tell him I’ll be right there, Nigel," said Monro who then turned back to the French cavalry lieutenant, "I have an important telephone call, Marcel To be brief and blunt it’s not going to happen before nightfall. We will try to resume our advance then."
Wilhlemshaven 1930 hrs
"Admiral von Hipper, I would most interested in hearing your suggestions about how the Kaiserliche Marine can best help General von Moltke speedily accomplish his objectives." asked Grand Admiral von Tirpitz. He was meeting with Admiral von Hipper and Admiral von Ingenohl.
Hipper cast a cautious glance at Ingenohl, "Well, Grand Admiral, the situation in Belgium is the most amenable to our intervention. With the recent developments there I expect the British naval presence off the Belgian coast to become continuous. I suggest that First Scouting Group make another sortie. We would depart the Jade soon after dark and arrive off the Belgian coast in the early morning to attack the British warships."
"First Scouting Group would attack the British Fifth Battle Squadron?"
.Hipper squirmed a little, "Obviously if we found a battle squadron we would retreat. Our much greater speed would keep us from serious harm. But the British have employed an entire squadron just once and that was along the French coast. As long as the British must deal with the situation at Calais as well it is more likely I would find a single predreadnought and some light forces."
"You would attack a single predreadnought then?"
"Yes, I would. I am confident I can sink a single London class battleship with acceptable damage. though if it retreats I would be cautious in pursuit. I would want to have time to bombard Ostend."
Ingenohl now spoke up, "Ostend may now be defended by minefields, Franz"
"If so they are most likely to the northeast. I would approach form the west to bombard. And when I finished one of our cruisers would lay our own minefield."
"What if there are two predreadnoughts present? Or three?" asked Tirpitz.
"I would decline battle if there were three or more," answered Hipper then paused to reflect before continuing, "Against two I would see if I could use my speed to get a tactical advantage such as highly favorable visibility or crossing their bows. If that proves infeasible I would then decline battle."
"And you feel that you can ward off a torpedo attack by their destroyers?" asked Tirpitz.
"For one thing we believe that they are mostly obsolescent classes. And my two flotillas should outnumber them. Any attempted torpedo attack would merely hasten their destruction."
"You are leaving Zeebrugge unmolested?."
"It is very likely that our Tenth Army will soon be capturing Zeebrugge. Ostend would then become Belgium’s sole lifeline to their allies."
"Hmm, one again, Franz, you seem to have more up to date information than I about the current military situation. So, what about the possibility of the British battle cruisers intercepting you on the way home?"
"It is not likely, but the possibility is large enough that the High Seas Fleet should come out as far as Terschelling." Hipper looked warily at Ingenohl as he said this. Ingenohl made no immediate comment so Hipper continued, "If Beatty shows up we can inflict further loss maybe even his complete annihilation."
Ingenohl looked like he was going to speak when Tirpitz spoke his thoughts, "Provided the Grand Fleet is not close behind them."
Hipper nodded, "That is true, of course. But we know that there were no dreadnoughts when Beatty attacked at Heligoland Bight."
"Perhaps he’s learned his lesson," ventured Ingenohl.
"Our intelligence is that Beatty still has a brash temperament," countered Hipper testily, "and the slower speed of the Grand Fleet would greatly reduce his chances of intercepting First Scouting Group."
"Would it be disastrous if the Grand Fleet was following close behind?" Tirpitz speculated.
The other two admirals looked at him in astonishment. Tirpitz smiled and continued, "I think we can prevail if the battle is fought within 200 kilometers of the Bight, especially if late in the day. For one thing we can then use our short range torpedo craft in night attacks. And our damaged ships would have a shorter return journey than theirs. There are other advantages as well."
Hipper and Ingenohl remained dumbfounded. Tirpitz stared at Ingenohl, "Well, Frederich, this plan of Franz sounds very sensible to me. Moltke would be most grateful if we did it. I hereby invite you present it to the meeting of the Admiralstab tomorrow morning."
Ingenohl returned the Grand Admiral’s piercing gaze and tried desperately to make sense of what was happening. Tirpitz held a merely advisory seat on the Admiralstab. The final decision would be up to Admiral von Pohl and everyone in the room knew there was no way he would approve it. So what’s the purpose to all this? Ingenohl was deeply ambivalent about Hipper’s suggested sortie. There were very considerable risks involved.
Tirpitz grew impatient with Ingenohl’s silence. His smile was replaced with an ominous expression, "Well, Admiral, are you with us or against us?"
Why is this so important to him? Is he merely trying to annoy Admiral Pohl? "Uh, I was just pondering some of the details. Yes, it is a sound plan of action, provided airship reconnaissance is available. I will suggest it to the Admiralstab." Not that it will do any good!
Tirpitz smiled again, "Very good. Admiral Muller will be attending tomorrow’s meeting as well. The Kaiser has recently become gravely concerned about how well we support the Heer."
AOK Cracow 2245 hrs
Field Marshal Conrad von Hotzendorf carefully reviewed the latest reports from his First Army. This morning they had attacked flank of the Russian forces, which had crossed the Vistula south of Ivangorod. The initial attack failed. In the early afternoon the German XXIV Reserve Corps had joined in the offensive and by dusk it appeared they had tipped the battle. Conrad viewed these results with mixed emotions. The Imperial and Royal Army had again disappointed him. That it was the Germans who turned things around was not something we wished to dwell on. Still these were secondary considerations. What was important was that his plan now appeared to be working.
His relationship with von Moltke in the first two months of the war had become very bitter. Moltke had become contemptuous when the Austrian offensive against the Serbs had gone astray. Conrad in turn blamed his troubles on an excessive German preoccupation with the Western Front. It disturbed him greatly to learn from Ludendorff that Moltke’s likely successor, General von Falkenhayn, was even more fixated on the Western Front. Austria’s greatest enemy was Russia not France. The single corps of reinforcements were perhaps a sign that Moltke was starting to come to his senses. Conrad tried to feel some measure of gratitude.
HQ BEF I Army Corps 0105 hrs Saturday, October 24 1914
"Be honest with me, Douglas, can the 2nd Division do it?" rasped Sir John French over the telephone line.
General Haig knew that particular question was coming, yet still he hesitated. The 2nd Division had advances a good mile to the north yesterday. But it had suffered substantial losses and the enemy had simply regrouped to the north. The French cavalry still milled about in the midst of 2nd Division clogging the flow of supplies.
"Haig, you still there?" came French’s anxious voice.
"Yes, general, and my answer to your question is affirmative. If we receive the planned naval bombardment, I believe 2nd Division can create a complete breakthrough along the coast so we can deploy the cavalry in the afternoon."
"Well, I am going to be candid with you, Douglas. I am under a great deal of pressure right now. If we don’t win here and win here soon there are going to be some very unpleasant consequences. As you know, Indian Corps and III Army Corps will also be making attacks, but they are intended merely to keep the Germans from reinforcing your sector. All they are doing is supporting your attack. Everything is riding on the 2nd Division. Am I making myself clear?"
"Perfectly clear sir
Ostend, Belgium 0455 hrs
"Your Majesty," said the voice knocking on the door, "the ships with the French reinforcements have arrived"
Wearily King Albert of Belgium sat up on his cot. He had insisted that he be woken when the ships carrying the French 42nd Division from le Havre arrived at Ostend harbor. Even though he was tired he had not been able to sleep well.
"Thank you, Jacques," he answered. King Albert turned on the nearby lamp. He started at the clock. The ships had arrived more than a half hour later than expected. Well at least they’re here.
He went over to the sink and washed his face. He looked at his face in the mirror. Am I really this old?
In the last three days the Belgian Army had suffered casualties of nearly 8,000 men. What particularly disturbing was that over 3,000 of those were listed as missing—which usually meant they had either surrendered or deserted. There were increasing signs that the morale of his troops was deteriorating. The Belgian artillery was down to less than 100 shells left for each gun.
The Belgians had prevented the Germans from capturing Zeebrugge, but they had been unable to prevent the loss of the remaining land corridor to Holland. Goods had crossed over that border. The most important was food, which King Albert grimly realized would become a growing problem in the days ahead. The area around Ostend had become thick with impromptu camps of Belgian citizens who had abandoned their home to flee the fighting. He must secure from his allies a commitment to ship the necessary amount of food. Medicine might also become scarce soon.. He considered the possibility of evacuating his wounded by sea to Great Britain.
A British Territorial Force brigade and some heavy artillery had arrived yesterday. His experts told him that the 4.7" guns, which equipped the RGA batteries were obsolescent weapons. Joffre had taken his time sending reinforcements. Originally Joffre had wanted to send a Territorial division but pressure from the British and King Albert had persuaded him to send a line division. Once the division had unloaded he would send it immediately into action at Zeebrugge. King Albert was disappointed in the bombardment being provided by the Royal Navy. He realized that there were good reasons while the Admiralty was reluctant to use its dreadnoughts for this purpose. But it seemed to him that he was inadequate support from the older battleships. He heard the excuses from the liaison officers—about needing them to defend Calais as well and the serious risks posed by German submarines. With his country on the verge of collapse these excuses did not strike Albert as completely persuasive.
On his desk there was a proposal for trying to slow the Germans near Nieuport by flooding the countryside. Along with it was an analysis from his staff suggesting it would only make their defense perimeter moderately smaller. Still it might buy Belgium some precious time. Are we that desperate?
French coast north of the R. Authie 0800 hrs
The Prince of Wales and Agammenon commenced their bombardment together. A BEF observation balloon spotted for it relaying the results by wireless. Prince of Wales targeted the German trenches and Agamennon targeted the enemy artillery positions. When the salvoes of both these ships were judged to be on target the guns on the HMS Implacable joined in the shelling of the forward position. As before the results of the bombardment was mixed. The flat trajectory of the naval guns limited the damaged it could cause to trenches or artillery positioned behind hills. In some areas the ferocity of the explosions panicked the green German soldiers who ran shrieking from the trenches. More often the morale held though.
When it was over three battalions of British infantry stormed out of their own trenches. One of them was the 1st battalion Hertfordshire Regiment, a Territorial Force unit, which had joined the division the day before and was seeing combat for the first time. They found the enemy defenses only partially neutralized. The trenches were captured in some places while in others a combination of enemy fire and uncut wire halted the advance.
Etaples 1150 hrs
The German 247th Reserve Regiment had eliminated the small local garrison of militia. There had been about 30 British soldiers fighting alongside them. Etaples had served a secondary supply port for the BEF. The British soldiers turned out to be quartermasters tending the modest amount of stores that had been sitting in a warehouse since the Germans had captured Abbeville.
Yesterday the German 5th Cavalry Division had arrived at Montreuil and sent the French cavalry in the vicinity galloping back to Boulogne. The commander of the 247th had worried about British warships shelling his unit, but they had secured the coastal city unmolested. They captured a few trucks. The most valuable item in the warehouse was some fodder, which would be appreciated by the cavalry.
Belgian coast off Nieport 1250 hrs
A division of four Tribal class destroyers and a gunboat was busy shelling German positions. Two of the destroyers suddenly came under heavy return fire from German 15cm howitzers. The destroyers soon tried to retreat out to sea but a shell exploded in the boilers of the HMS Maori. Before it could get out of range the Maori was dead in the water. It returned fire against the entrenched howitzers as did the other destroyers. But the German guns concentrated on the doomed warship. The destroyer was soon ablaze. The German rate of fire decreased somewhat but it continued steadily. Half of her crew managed to escape before the Maori went down by the bow.
North of the Authie 1300 hrs
The 1st battalion Hertfordshire Regiment was in the van of the British advance. But it now ran into a series of strongpoints the enemy had prepared in advance. The Germans who had been ejected from the trenches halted their retreat. Two Maxims raked their formation. The Hertforshires bravely tried to press on--only to lose half their effective strength in front of the strongpoints. The more experienced regular troops in the advance proceeded more cautiously. They achieved little but their casualties were considerably lighter. Messengers were dispatched to try to get some additional artillery support.
Calais 1400 hrs
The Germans had penetrated into the city itself. Beginning at 0930 the HMS Irresistible and 2 gunboats sporadically shelled the German rear areas, but in the city itself the combatants were too close. The German artillery was now sited where it prevented supplies and reinforcements from landing during the day. Transports with two more French battalions and some very badly needed supplies would try to land after dark.
The British Territorial Force soldiers were better trained than their German opponents, but house to house fighting was proving a disconcerting experience to both sides. Additional German pioneer companies had arrived last night including one equipped with mortars.
HQ British 2nd Division 1740
General Monro glumly tried to digest the latest batch of bad news. The day had started well but in the afternoon things went steadily downhill. The main attack on the left had penetrated the trenches of the German 54th Reserve Division but had had been repulsed by the line of strongpoints to the north. In the early afternoon some German cavalry had arrived and dismounted to shore up the German defenses. Meanwhile on the right flank the German 53rd Reserve Division had mounted an afternoon counterattack after a bombardment by the dreaded "five-nines". Their subsequent infantry attack achieved some success. There was now some intelligence that elements of the 6th Bavarian Division had participated in that attack as well.
2nd Division was trying to mount an attack against not only two reserve divisions but also part of what they knew all too well to be a very dangerous line division. Further attacks were pointless. He issued orders for their immediate cessation. For the time being he would try to hold committing his reserves to countering the threat on his right, instead of supporting the attack on the left.
Then he called General Haig.
London 1955 hrs
The beef Wellington was excellent and the pudding most scrumptious. Now with a lit cigar in one hand and fine brandy in another, Andrew Bonar law, the leader of opposition Conservative Party, and Sir Edward Carson, the leader of the Irish Unionists conserved about what they hungered for more than food.
"Well yesterday was certainly something," remarked Bonar Law, "Parliament finally woke up as to how the war is going. A week ago there was this deluded presumption of ultimate victory. Oh. now and then a small misgiving was aired but nevertheless we were all so damn complacent. The Battle of the Somme was going to be Wilhelm’s Waterloo. The boys were going to be home for Christmas. How many times did we hear that rubbish! Now the scales are falling from people’s eyes."
"I couldn’t agree more, " answered Carson, "to which I might add, that there is a word afoot of His Majesty being increasingly displeased with the conduct of the war."
"Yes, His Majesty met with Asquith, Kitchener and Churchill earlier this week to express his growing concern."
"Ah, so you know more than I do on this matter. Any details you’d like to share?"
"Well, I have yet to learn the details but I do know that Asquith did not regard it as a pleasant experience."
"I would imagine so. By any chance did you happen to see yesterday’s edition of the Daily Mail? It described the Battle of the Somme as being the ‘Graveyard of the Old Contemptibles’"
"No I don’t usually read the Daily Mail, that is a clever but grim turn of phrase. Northcliffe is definitely more brazen in the Daily Mail than he is with the Times. He has alienated a good portion of his readers with his unrelenting hostility to Lord Kitchener, who despite all the recent crises remains extremely popular."
"That is my perception as well. His position is safe for at least the near future, even if Calais should fall. Others are not. For instance, I think they are getting ready to throw Battenberg to the wolves very soon."
"Yes, I am surprised that simpering twit has lasted this long."
"It’s only because God forsaken Churchill obfuscated what happened Heligoland Bight so well. If we had known immediately that it was in fact the worst defeat suffered by the Royal Navy in over a century, Prince Louis would have been gone within a week."
"Any chance that Churchill could get the sack as well?" asked Bonar Law.
"Very little, I’m afraid. The Navy is being lauded even by Northcliffe for its support of the BEF. My hope is that Fisher comes back. Unlike the whimpering German princeling, Fisher will be able to tell the First Dilettante, Sir Winston Churchill to sod off. It’s only a matter of time before that crazy loon does something incredibly foolish."
"Someone like yourself should be First Lord, Edward. You’d do a right proud smashing job."
"I will be frank and admit that I would very much to be First Lord of the Admiralty some day," answered Carson. He paused to imbibe more brandy then continued, "One curious thing in all this is that Lloyd-George of all people has become extremely civil to me in the last few days. Almost chummy. Have you noticed a change in him as well?"
Bonar Law arched an eyebrow then nodded, "Quite so and most unexpected. He’s gone out of his way to engage me in polite conversation, most of it unrelated to politics. I will confess the man baffles me."
"Not too long ago we thought he was a pacifist! I was sure he would join up with MacDonald. Now he acts like he’s the master strategist. He is a charmer, though. I can see now why is so successful with women."
"Someone who was uncharacteristically quiet the last few days was John Redmond."
"I’m not surprised. He’s sensing that the current crises will present us with opportunities. Especially in regards to that wretched compromise we reached back in July."
Bonar Law smiled broadly—something he seldom did since his wife had died.
"My sentiments exactly."
OHL Valenciennes 2040 hrs
"So it appears that Sixth Army is at least holding the BEF to a very limited advance along the coast." summarized General von Moltke, "Rupprecht was very resistant to the concept but my idea of having a string of strongpoints prepared well behind the forward position worked out."
"It is too early to tell for sure," replied General von Falkenhayn. To himself he admitted that it had been a good idea. In fact an improvement upon that concept would be to have the Germans dig a second line of trenches well behind the forward one all along the Western Front. This was their first meeting since Moltke had finally relented to the pressure that he move his HQ closer to the front lines. He decided to move on to the next topic. "First Army’s attacks of the last two days in Compiegne Forest have been a complete failure."
Moltke sighed slightly, "Yes, unfortunately that is true. And the attack was only supposed to be for only one day. Yet again von Kluck makes up feeble excuses for persisting in attacks. On the other hand, Second Army retook Fisme this morning!"
"That is good," acknowledged Falkenhayn without enthusiasm, "but can they hold? The latest reports are that the French are making heavy counterattacks."
"With very little artillery support. They are suffering very losses. This is precisely what we want. While there is some value in taking Fisme the main purpose of the attacks by First And Second Armies is to prevent Joffre from making further redeployments to the west or by sea to Belgium."
"Yes, I am very much aware of that, General," answered Falkenhayn testily. He paused and they exchanged glares. Falkenhayn continued, "I may return to your choices for these pinning attacks later. Let’s move on. As far as the Eastern Front, the latest reports from Ludendorff indicate that despite initial success the Battle of Ivangorod is now turning in the Russians’ favor."
Moltke’s expression darkened, "Yes, contrary to Conrad’s bold plan the Austrian First Army has been unable to prevent the Russians from bringing the rest of their forces across the Vistula. The Russians now have superiority in numbers and can threaten the Austrian flank."
"Ludendorff is apprehensive about the situation of XXIV Reserve Corps. He believes there is a real possibility of it being encircled. Imagine that—a German corps encircled by the Russians! Clearly it demonstrates how foolhardy it was to entrust our own men to Conrad."
Moltke decided not to let Falkenhayn bait him, "When we are done I am sending Conrad a telegram that control of XXIV Reserve Corps will pass to Hindenburg in 24 hours."
Falkenhayn snorted, "Isn’t it too late for that? And won’t it make the matter worse? XXIV Reserve Corps will need to work with the Austrians to make good its disengagement."
"If you are trying to get me to admit they should never have been sent in the first place, then I must disappoint you. Without their presence the Austrian First Army would be in worse shape. If they collapse the Russians could go on to take Cracow. After that they will march on Silesia. Despite his trying to put it in a good light I am unimpressed by Ludendorff’s recent Polish offensive. Back in September I had wanted him to form a small army to guard Silesia and prevent the Austrians from being outflanked. It was you who talked me into going along with his idea of with moving most of Eighth Army into Poland. What was the result? First there was that near disaster at Augustowo and now this mess! Before too long we must move additional divisions to the Eastern Front."
"You are making the same mistake you made back in August! The situation on the Eastern Front is not as nearly as bad as you present it. It can wait until the war is won in the West."
"I think not in Erich. We have at most a week. However I sincerely believe we can attain our objectives on the Western Front this week—well at least my objectives for you always seem to have a longer list. Calais would already have fallen but for the disruptive bombardments of the British battleships."
"Humph, your last remark brings up another unpleasant topic. In the last few days you have sent the Kaiser at least two complaints about our Navy not doing enough to support our operations. Then yesterday the Kaiser receives a telegram from the Crown Prince of Bavaria with a complaint that lack of assistance from the Navy is gravely impacting Sixth Army. My understanding of naval matters is limited but I do know they are seriously outnumbered by the British Navy. This places considerable limits on what operations that can undertake. I myself have started to hear more than a little resentment from certain admirals about what their perceive as our inconsiderate whining? Are you so desperate to make excuses for every setback? Surely you don’t want to draw the ire of Admiral Tirpitz?"
Falkenhayn had been reluctant to bring this topic up. If it had only been Moltke doing the complaining he would not have mentioned it. Let the damn fool get Tirpitz working against him—it will hasten his downfall! But the intervention of Rupprecht, which Falkenhayn suspected was at Moltke’s prompting, struck him as having too many implications to remain silent.
Falkehayn glared at Moltke. To his surprise Moltke grinned wolfishly.
"Don’t you worry, Erich. I can handle Admiral Tirpitz."