by Tom B
Old Admiralty Building 0235 hrs Sunday Nov 1, 1914
Admiral Jackie Fisher tried to suppress a yawn but failed. He was not as young as he used to be and he had never been a night person. Arriving at the office very early was much more his style. Like most morning people had a suspicion that late risers were deficient in character. Unfortunately the First Lord of the Admiralty was the quintessential night owl. This was clearly going to cause some problems in the coming days but Fisher was utterly confident that he could surmount them and lead the God Blessed British Empire to victory.
Churchill noticed, "Admiral Fisher. If you want to get some sleep, that is perfectly acceptable. Now that most of Harwich Force has made it back to port, the crisis is plainly over. Doveton and I can handle things."
"If Moltke sinks this was a victory," said Fisher trying to ignore Churchill’s offer. The thought of Churchill and Sturdee making decisions while he slept made him queasy.
"Even if it does not, we still managed to sink a German battleship."
"First Lord, assuming that the two badly damaged stragglers make it back, Harwich Force has lost Aurora and 10 destroyers. Dover Patrol lost Foresight and 5 destroyers. Other than one very old battleship the only German warships we know sank are one large and two small destroyers. If you try to tell Parliament this was a victory, Carson will give you a dose of what he gave the Prime Minister Friday."
Churchill grimaced at the last remark. Friday morning Carson had been relentless in interrogating Asquith about whether the Cabinet had any plans to prevent the capture of Boulogne, now that Calais had fallen. It had been as intense as Carson’s famous cross examination of Oscar Wilde. In desperation Asquith had eventually stated that measures were indeed underway to prevent the fall of Boulogne, but state security prevented him from saying anything more. This was completely false—it had been glumly assumed that the Germans would snap up Boulogne in good time. Once Belgium fell German divisions would be freed up. If needed at least some of them would be diverted to Boulogne.
Carson had dug a pit and Asquith had obliged him by jumping in. Friday evening Asquith, Churchill, Fisher, Kitchener and Grey had met with King George, who was most unhappy with the fall of Calais and the evacuation of Belgium. He asked Asquith point blank if he really had a plan to save Boulogne. Asquith insisted that there was one. Some ideas which Kitchener had discussed with Churchill and which they had both rejected were now presented as the working plan. It included the use of predreadnoughts once again for bombardment. Fisher had warned about the possibility that this might result in the loss of a battleship to submarines. King George had never liked Fisher and had preferred that someone else replace Battenberg. Though Churchill had pressed for Fisher’s return nonetheless it warmed Winston’s heart when his sovereign chided the First Sea Lord, "If indeed a battleship is lost—not that I think it shall come to pass—then I personally shall bear the responsibility. What is imperative is that the Germans not capture Boulogne."
At this point not even Fisher was brazen enough to argue further. So a plan was drawn up in haste later that night. The BEF I Corps would again attack after a prolonged battleship bombardment. The plan this time was to use the entire Fifth Battle Squadron. The attack was scheduled for this morning.
Yesterday’s sortie by the Germans had disrupted those plans. The Fifth Battle Squadron was now anchored off Ostend to protect the evacuation. So yesterday the 5 Duncan class battleships of Sixth Battle Squadron were hurriedly dispatched from Reserve Fleet at Portsmouth to be used instead. A half dozen ‘E’ class destroyers from the Portsmouth local defense flotilla escorted them. Before first light they would arrive at the designated position off Etaples where they would anchor and deploy their torpedo nets.
What was surreal about this operation was that no one involved really thought it would work. Haig was deeply pessimistic about achieving the clean breakthrough that would allow the cavalry to reach Boulogne. He had told French and Kitchener that the best I Army Corps could hope to accomplish was to capture Etaples.
"If Moltke survives this was another defeat for the Royal Navy, First Lord, " said Fisher, "but what is even more disturbing is it could’ve ended up much worse from what I know so far. Tyrwhitt was trapped. The Germans had an opportunity to destroy Harwich Force, but they failed to do so."
Ostend docks 0615 hrs
General Henry Rawlinson, commander of the British IV Army Corps fumed in frustration. The schedule had been for the British 7th Division to be completely embarked by midnight last night. Instead it was just starting to load the field artillery. He understood that yesterday’s daring German naval sortie was partially to blame—but only partially. There were other problems are well. He strongly suspected that the desire to keep the evacuation secret was contributing to the bottlenecks.
He wondered if the Germans already knew or at least strongly suspected.
HMS Southampton off Borkum 0655 hrs
Despite the early morning mist the British 1st Light Cruiser Squadron had chanced upon SMS Arcona towing a disabled destroyer with another small destroyer limping alongside. Commodore Goodenough their commander sent a coded wireless report to Admiral Beatty and ordered an attack.
Scarcely had the first 6" shell had managed to hit the Arcona when Third Scouting Group emerged from the mist. Goodenough had no desire to engage 3 armored cruisers on the enemy’s doorsteps—esp. as it was likely that the remaining battleship were nearby-- and perhaps First Scouting Group as well. He ordered the squadron to retreat to northwest. Southampton suffered some light damage and Falmouth a little bit more before they were out of range but neither ship was seriously slowed. Another coded wireless message was transmitted to Admiral Beatty.
HMS Lion 53° 40’ N 3° 14’ E 0710 hrs
Admiral David Beatty recalled the ancient myth of Tantalus. It seemed a fitting metaphor for his current situation. Once again the desired fruit beckoned within his grasp. Once again it would be denied him. Third Scouting Group and probably the old battleship as well were off the east end of the Frisian Islands. Upon receiving Goodenough’s latest report Beatty ordered 1st Battle Cruiser Squadron to steam towards the area at 25 knots. Then he sent a message informing Admiral Jellicoe.
Oh, hell, what’s the bloody use? Even if I order flank speed—which will cause Invincible to fall behind the Germans are still likely to make it to the Ems minefields before I arrive. I could order Goodenough to try to harass them maybe he can slow them down. But you bloody well know that within the next 15 minutes a wireless message is going to arrive from Jellicoe that this action is too risky and ordering you back. Damn it all, Jellicoe sees a trap everywhere!
Beatty struggled to control his mounting fury. Down deep though he realized that Jellicoe was probably right.
U.21 off Etaples 0745 hrs
Kapitanleutnant Otto Hersing thought he must be dreaming as he gazed through the periscope. They were just sitting out there—a row of British battleships. He thought it likely they had their torpedo nets deployed. He decided he would test the effectiveness of those nets. The U.21 had been the first U-boat to use Dunkirk to refuel. He had spent the last three days in the eastern part of the Channel. His primary mission was to counter just what he has now seeing through the periscope.
The Sixth Battle Squadron was preparing for 0900 to arrive. That was the scheduled time for their bombardment to commence. They were anchored further out this time –in order to be out of range of the pesky German howitzers. Their target area this time was only to be the 3,000 yards stretch of German trenches on the coast. The hope was to thoroughly destroy the enemy trenches allowing the British 2nd Infantry Division to penetrate rapidly along the coast. Right now the battleships were their wireless link to the observation balloon.
Two torpedoes were fired. Both torpedoes penetrated Exmouth’s torpedo net. One exploded underneath the forward turret. The other flooded the port engine room. The HMS Exmouth capsized in 8 minutes.
Outside Boulogne 1015 hrs
The commander of the 2nd Cavalry Corps, General Georg von der Marwitz watched with satisfaction as the howitzers shelled the French trenches. Up until today his corps had consisted of 2nd and 7th Cavalry Divisions. It’s mission had been merely to cordon off the French forces at Boulogne—which his intelligence section had told him was a Territorial Division and a cavalry brigade. There had been some skirmishing for a while but in the last few days the French had dug and dug well. An impressive trench line along with a series of strongpoints now protected Boulogne. There was some barbed wire protecting the trenches. As of yesterday the Frenchmen began working on a second line of trenches behind the first.
With the fall of Calais he had been reinforced from XXVI Reserve Corps with the 52nd Reserve Division, a battery of 15cm howitzers and a medium minenwerfer company. Up until today the defenders of Boulogne had a modest superiority in artillery, though some of the French guns were obsolescent pieces not the dreaded 75’s. Marwitz now thought he had sufficient firepower to engage in an artillery duel.
But looking at the French defenses he knew he was still too weak to launch an infantry assault today.
Berlin 1105 hrs
"We lost a battleship," groaned Kaiser Wilhelm II.
For about 2 seconds Admiral Georg Muller was afraid his sovereign would actually cry. "Yes, indeed, Your Majesty, a most tragic loss. But I remind you that the Kaiser Barbarossa was quite old and no longer considered to be first line battleship. On the other hand our enemies lost at least one light cruiser and 13 destroyers yesterday. Besides Kaiser Barbarossa we only lost 3 destroyers and 2 of those were small and obsolescent."
"I am well aware of that, Georg. Nevertheless the plain fact is that I simply do not like losing a battleship."
Muller sighed. It was some relief to him though that it was not a certain sister ship of the Kaiser Barbarossa which had been sunk. This situation would be vexing for a day or two but Muller knew how to handle the Kaiser. Despite the loss of Kaiser Barabarossa, Muller was satisfied with the outcome of the mission. He had insisted upon several alterations to Hipper’s original plan. One of the alterations—sending a pair U-boats to arrive and patrol off Zeebrugge the day after the attack might still yield some additional fruit.
HQ German II Army Corps Roulers, Belgium 1425 hrs
General von Beseler, the commander of Tenth Army, had arrived by motorcar with General Linsingen, the commander of II Army Corps. He wasted no time in announcing the good news, "Our latest intelligence indicates that the British and French have realized their situation is hopeless and are withdrawing their forces from Belgium by sea."
Linsingen whistled, "This is most excellent news, sir. But are we completely certain about this? I have been bedeviled more than once by faulty intelligence."
"Hmm. Yes, when has there ever been a general who has campaigned and not had that experience sooner or later? But my confidence is this latest intelligence grows with every passing hour. The end is now in sight for this Belgian campaign."
"But not before my men get to play a part, I take it? You still want 3rd Division to attack tomorrow morning?"
"Yes I most certainly do. Now that our enemies are fleeing we have a brief opportunity to trap and destroy our enemies. It is a time for us to intensify our assault. The 1st Guard Division will attack tonight along the coast. This is intended as a diversion. Come dawn XIII Army Corps on your left and XXII Reserve Corps on your right will attack."
"By men and draught animals are coming off a forced march since detraining at Lille. They will not be ready for a dawn attack tomorrow."
Beseler nodded. Linsingen had a reputation for pushing his men to the utmost. If he said something was infeasible then it was, "That is not necessary. But I do expect you attack to begin no later than 1100 hrs."
"That is a realistic goal. Still difficult but I can meet it. However I will remind the general that 4th Division will not be ready for at least another day."
"Understood. But my intuition is this British held sector, which is to be tomorrow’s schwerpunkt and which previously we found to be the most difficult has now become so weakened by the evacuation as to offer the best chance of success."
"That is very logical thinking, General. On a slightly different matter, I have heard rumors that our Navy conducted a sortie to the Belgian coast yesterday. That is most heartening—if it’s true."
Beseler snorted contemptuously, "Oh it’s true all right. But I am unimpressed, though admittedly it is good for the morale of the troops. Before this sortie the British had withdrawn their battleships and used only light forces to shell our coast. Today their battleships have returned and inflicted serious casualties on 1st Guard Division this morning. This is one reason why I think your attack coming up from the south is more likely to reach Ostend than those coming along the coast. So I find that I cannot express any serious gratitude to the fleet."
Linsingen made a small ironic laugh, "Oh well, at least they tried to do something for a change."
HMS Prince of Wales off Ostend 1455 hrs
During the night Admiral Cecil Burney had anchored 4 of his battleships including his flagship Prince of Wales to west of Ostend and the other three--Queen, Irresistible and Implacable to the east. In the morning both battle divisions had shelled German positions. He had been most gratified to receive a report from General Rawlinson two hours ago that the bombardment to the west of Ostend had proven extremely useful in turning back an assault by the Prussian Guards.
However there had been then grim and disturbing news from Sixth Battle Squadron a German submarine had sunk Exmouth.
"Admiral Burney, Implacable reports that she has just been torpedoed!"
After a minute it suddenly dawned on Admiral Burney that their torpedo nets were not being very effective this day.
Wilhelmshaven 2005 hrs
Behind closed doors Grand Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz was meeting with Admiral Frederich von Ingenohl. They had started by going over the Battle of the Broad Fourteens in some detail. Ingenohl sensed that the Grand Admiral was not pleased. Initially he thought the displeasure was due to the loss of Kaiser Barbarossa. But it now he had the impression there was something else fouling Tirpitz’s mood.
"And what is the latest report on Moltke’s torpedo damage?" asked Tirpitz.
"Uh, it is really not that bad, sir. The bulkhead contained the flooding. Full repairs are expected to be completed in five weeks."
Tirpitz nodded his head but made no immediate reply. His eyes gazed intensely at Ingenohl and tapped his lips. Then he asked, "Admiral Ingenohl, do you want Germany to win this war?"
Ingenohl gulped before replying, "But of course, Grand Admiral! Why would you think to ask such a question?"
"I ask the question, Frederich because I greatly worry that you are more interested in keeping your warships unharmed than you are in German victory. Oh, you nod your head sometimes when Franz comes up with a good idea—I will grant you that. But yesterday we were on the verge of the near total destruction of Harwich Force. Moltke suffers a single torpedo hit and without determining the extent of the damage you order both First Scouting and Second Scouting Groups along with their torpedo flotillas to break off the attack. Now we are not even sure if we sank their flagship cruiser."
"Grand Admiral, please, my professional opinion was that after the torpedo hit on Moltke, the Kaiser’s policy clearly—"
"The Kaiser’s policy? How dare you blame the All Highest for your lack of spine! The former head of the Admiralstab made exactly the same mistake interpreting the Kaiser’s policy. The Kaiser remedied the problem at the Admiralstab. Does High Seas Fleet require a similar remedy?"
"No, sir," replied Ingenohl meekly.
"Frederich, let me make myself absolutely clear. If you ever again have the opportunity to destroy a significant portion of the Royal Navy, you will make the most of it and crush them. You will not turn back for fear of losing one or two major warships. Am I understood?"
"Completely, Grand Admiral."
OHL Valenciennes 2100 hrs
"What do you make of yesterday’s naval action, Helmuth?" asked General von Falkenhayn. He was meeting again with General von Moltke.
"Our intelligence did not realize until this morning that the British and French were evacuating Belgium. Our Navy launched that mission in order to disrupt the flow of troops and supplies into Belgium and sink the warships that have been shelling our coastal positions. Now we know that it was the evacuation that they disrupted. Nevertheless I think it is worthwhile. The more Entente soldiers and weapons we capture in Belgium the fewer we will face elsewhere."
"Yes, that is all true. But the disruption was merely for a few hours and they lost a battleship in the process. Beseler has sent a telegram to me that all the sortie accomplished was to bring back the British battleships. Perhaps you should forward this complaint to the Kaiser as well."
There was more than a hint of sarcastic irony in Falkenhayn’s voice. Moltke was not going to let it ruffle him, "No, but I will pass it on to Admiral Tirpitz. Do you have anything more important to discuss with me?"
Falkenhayn’s face darkened, "Ludendorff is extremely upset that you have decided against appointing Hindenburg Supreme Commander of the East."
"I imagine he is. Hindenburg is as well but he uses his Ludendorff to express his own dissatisfaction. Well, one of my mistakes as the beginning of the war was trying too hard to please the hard to please. Hindenburg will have to live with the authority I grant him."
Falkehnayn’s face lightened. He resisted the impulse to grin in satisfaction.
"So then what do you make of Ludendorff’s suggested plan?"
"I am more than a little bewildered. Back in September I had wanted a small army created to occupy the gap between the Austrians and Eighth Army. Instead I let you talk me into going along with Ludendoff’s plan of moving most of Eighth Army into Poland as Ninth Army and driving towards Warsaw. That plan went awry and so Luddendorf wants to move most of Ninth Army back into East Prussia to attack the Russian flank."
"Hmm. So you are going to disapprove his plan completely?"
"Hmm. No that would be excessive. Instead I will let him go ahead but with modification. He needs to keep more forces on the Austrian left. I think it is time for the small army I had wanted in September. I am going to create the Eleventh Army probably with Mackensen as the commander. It will consist of the Guard Reserve Corps, XXIV Reserve Corps and Landwehr Corps. In addition I am sending it Bavarian Cavalry Division and 6th Bavarian Reserve Division as reinforcements. They will both entrain tomorrow."
Falkenhayn hissed, "Ludendorff has made it abundantly clear that Hindenburg does not want Bavarian units on the Eastern Front. Furthermore I must protest yet again that sending further reinforcements to the East are unwarranted until we achieve victory in the West."
Moltke waved his hand derisively, "I am not sending them to Hindenburg, I will be sending them to Mackensen. The final phase of the Battle of Belgium is not suitable for cavalry. When Ostend falls I plan to send additional reinforcements to the East as well."
Old Admiralty Building 2205 hrs
Once again Churchill struggled to find some good news. He thought about the death of Admiral Hood—a very fine officer with considerable potential. He thought about Exmouth—nearly half its crew had managed to survive which he regarded as remarkable bordering on miraculous. Was that "good news"? His soul could not accept it as such, just as it would not accept the escape of Harwich Force from destruction as "good news".
He thought about Implacable. After being torpedoed it had managed to stay afloat for nearly three hours. For a while there had even been some hope it might survive. But it had not. No one had died, though. A few seaman had been injured --none seriously. Was that "good news"? No, no, and yet again NO!
He had conversed briefly with Hankey on the telephone. Sixth Battle Squadron had proceeded with the bombardment despite the loss of Exmouth. The attack of I Army Corps had made some progress but it failed to reach Etaples. Was this "good news"? Only in comparison and Hankey had said nothing about casualties.
He thought in shame and near despair about Belgium, where the disintegration was accelerating. Fifth Battle Squadron was returning to Sheerness during the night. Likewise Sixth Battle Squadron was headed back to Portsmouth. The evacuation transports would be very vulnerable tomorrow morning. Grand Fleet was holding station in the Dogger Bank but Jellicoe had made it clear that he must retire at noon to refuel his destroyer screen. Then the evacuation transports would become even more vulnerable.
He thought having to deal with Carson in Parliament tomorrow. He thought about the Ottoman Empire entering the war. Those were thoughts from the depths of hell. But wait here was something he had nearly forgotten, a possible ray of light to lead him out of the darkness. He turned to Sturdee and asked.
"Any word from Cradock?"
BRITAIN AND FRANCE ABANDON BELGIUM
"Yesterday afternoon the British and French governments admitted that they indeed were evacuating their forces by sea from Belgium. This comes after two days of vigorous denial that such an operation was even being considered. There are reports that Entente forces are collapsing in Belgium with the Germans capturing large number of prisoners. The key city of Ostend is likely to fall soon and that will spell disaster for the remaining Entente forces who would then be effectively encircled.
There has been no new significant naval action reported since the dramatic and shocking sinking of the battleships Exmouth and Implacable by German submarines."
--New York Journal, Tuesday November 3, 1914
HMS Meteor Ostend harbor 0020 hrs
King Albert once again ignored suggestions that he go below—the captain’s quarters were to be his for the duration of this voyage. In the chill damp night air he stood nearly silent on the deck and merely watched. He wanted very much to see what was going on. They had also wanted to leave earlier in the night but he had insisted not before midnight. He was not sure now just why he made that arbitrary stipulation but he had and stuck to it. Was it merely a romantic gesture in the face of total disaster? Perhaps but there aspects of the decision he doubted more.
Such was whether he should go. He had considered formally surrendering the Germans. But he decided to go along with the AngloFrench suggestions of carrying on the struggle from abroad. But he felt a profound sadness tinged with shame at leaving his entire country to German occupation so he could make grandiose statements at well catered public gatherings in England.
He could still hear the explosions from the German artillery—the shelling was more sporadic during the night than it had been in the afternoon. The Germans had driven to the outskirts of Ostend yesterday. King Albert soon noticed a demolished pier. In the late afternoon the German heavy artillery directed by observation balloons had singled it out for special attention. This was where the torpedo boats and submarines had berthed. Even in the moonlight dimmed by clouds the king could discern the wrecked hulks of at least 2 submarines and 3 torpedo boats.
The destroyer steamed out to sea. He could see some destroyers on patrol—both the British and French had reinforced Dover Patrol in the last two days. One old British destroyer had been sunk and two more damaged by German artillery yesterday. He had also been told that the 2nd Cruiser Squadron, which had been detached from Grand Fleet when it returned to base yesterday afternoon would provide distant cover during the night, but be withdrawn before dawn due the U-boat menace.
He could still hear the German shells exploding in Ostend. Before he had left he had seen the troopers of the British 3rd Cavalry Division boarding the rescue boats. He noticed the officers had pistols drawn. There had been incidents in the last day. Only the men were being evacuated. The guns of their horse artillery and all other forms of equipment were being left behind—with the more important items being destroyed. The horses, of course, were not going either. Rawlinson was confident though that the men of 3rd Cavalry Division would be loaded and on their way home before first light. Rawlinson and his immediate staff would be leaving aboard the Firedrake in another hour. The rest of the British forces—the 4th London Brigade and the remnants of the Royal Naval Division-- were desperately trying to hold back the relentless German onslaught with the aid of the 3rd Belgian Division and the French 89th Territorial Division.
Finally King Albert went down below to his quarters. He had his Bible in his pocket and this time turned to the Gospel of John.
"After this, Jesus, knowing that everything had been done to fulfill the Scriptures, said, ‘I am thirsty.’ A container full of vinegar was standing near. Then they filled a sponge with vinegar, fastened it to a cane, and held it up to His mouth. When Jesus had taken the vinegar, He said, ‘It is finished.’ ".
HQ German Tenth Army Bruges 1420 hrs
The commander of the Tenth Army, General Hans von Beseler hung up the telephone receiver and turned back to his visitor, General Helmuth von Moltke, and enthusiastically proclaimed, "That was General Linsingen. 3rd Division has captured the docks at Ostend! He is confident that it can be held against counterattack. There is still some pockets of resistance in other parts of Ostend but the Belgians are surrendering in droves."
"Fantastic! It appears that this campaign is now finally over. I know some of your forces are needed to complete the destruction of the trapped enemy forces. But I feel that I need two of your divisions to send to the East immediately. I am thinking II Bavarian Corps would be best. Unless you have an overwhelming reason for using a different corps then I must insist that one division be withdrawn this evening and the other along with the foot artillery before noon tomorrow. They are to be force marched to Ghent where trains will be waiting for them."
"Hmm, I take it you will not be sending these to General von Hindenburg?"
Moltke snorted as he nodded, "Your guess is correct they are going to General Mackensen’s Eleventh Army. I will be detaching other units in the next few days after you have mopped up. You will also be moving units to assist in the capture of Boulogne very soon."
Berlin 1930 hrs
Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz meeting with Admiral Gorg Muller. "So have you managed to convinced the Kaiser that Broad Fourteens was another German victory?" asked Tirptiz.
"But of course. The sinking of the two British battleships made it much easier. The All Highest was soon persuaded that Kaiser Barbarossa’s loss was merely bait to draw the Royal Navy into a trap."
"Which in regards to the battleship sunk off Belgium has some validity. But the one we sank off Etaples was merely a fortunate coincidence."
"Quite so. It was also helpful that the British admitted the loss of Aurora. And then came the news of von Spee’s victory. His Majesty now regards his Navy as invincible. He is now almost as amenable to your will as Gustav is."
Muller’s jibe elicited a momentary frown from Tirpitz, who decided to move on to another topic. He removed some folders from his valise., "Here are the reports about the Channel Port bases."
Muller took the folders. He examined them briefly and turned to Tirpitz, "I will study these thoroughly later. For now what’s the short version."
"Hmm. So far the only base we have established amongst the Channel Ports is at Dunkirk, and that is decidedly minimal. All it is doing right now is supply food and diesel fuel to U-Boats. It is gradually being upgraded. Inspection teams have been to both Calais and Zeebrugge. In both places destruction to the port facilities have greatly reduced their usefulness. Repair is possible but each will require a minimum of four weeks to complete once the necessary men and material are available which they are not at this time. As far as Etaples, British artillery are too close for it to be used during the day. It is being upgraded to allow submarines to refuel there at night."
"Hmm, so we are encountering problems and delays in making effective use of the ports we already have captured. Soon Ostend and Boulogne will be captured as well though I expect their immediate usefulness to be heavily degraded by demolition. Using these ports will require considerable resources. I think the most critical will end up being manpower."
Tirpitz held up the folders and replied, "That is one of the conclusion of these reports as well. We do not have adequate shore personnel, even if he abandon our plans for capturing and using Libau."
"What do you suggest, Alfred? Is the Moltke Plan going to flounder due to a lack of shore personnel?"
"We need to have more volunteers enter the navy. But these will take time to train. One stopgap measure is to reduce the size of 2nd Naval Division to a brigade."
"Hmm, I am sure General von Moltke will have no qualms with that suggestion especially since the Belgian campaign is nearly over. However we should explore other options as well," Muller paused to take a sip of water, "Changing subjects, how is the analysis of the latest battle coming along?"
"Ah, yes, a preliminary report for the Admiralstab should be done on Friday. Admiral Maas is not completely satisfied with the performance of the torpedo flotillas. He has already planned additional drills in night fighting tactics for conditions of bright moonlight and complete darkness."
GQG Beauvais 2010 hrs
Not for the first time General Joffre found himself doubting the sanity of his ally. Ostend had just fallen. Most of the German Tenth Army would be heading Boulogne. But he held in hand a message from Kitchener asking that Bouologne be reinforced by sea immediately. The British said that they intended to make one more attempt to rupture the German lines next Monday using their newly formed 8th Division. They also mentioned bringing their 7th Division, which had been evacuated to Kent, over to France once it had been freshened up. Kitchener also strongly requested that Foch make a series on pinning attack beginning on Sunday.
Joffre could understand the British desire not to lose Boulogne as well. His own navy had been similar noises during the least few days. But this latest British proposal was the equivalent of pumping more money into a bad investment. Au contraire, it was now time to leave. Now that Belgium was over, the sea transport should be used to evacuate Boulogne as well before Tenth Army arrived in force.
10 Downing Street 2105 hrs
Prime Minster Herbert Asquith glumly addressed his foe, "Andrew, I will come straight to the point. The reason I’ve asked to see you tonight is to offer to you and one other member of your party Cabinet positions. Since the war now looks to be longer and more difficult than first imagined it is best for the Empire if the parties put aside their differences and work together."
Asquith expected some hint of surprise in Andrew Bonar Law’s expression. He could discern none—just the same old humorless gaze. Bonar Law paused slightly then replied, "Very well, what position are you offering me?"
"Hmm, Secretary of State for the Colonies?"
Yesterday Asquith had been summoned again by King George, who stipulated that the Prime Minister come alone. After expressing once again his dissatisfaction with the course of .the war, King George informed Asquith in light of the current situation he thought it best if other parties were included in the Cabinet. This was why Bonar Law was sitting now in this office.
Bonar Law made a tent with his fingers and bit his lip. This development was not completely unexpected. There was a minute of uneasy silence. Finally he replied, "And what other member of my party do you have a position."
"Ah, well we were thinking of make Lord Curzon the Lord Privy Seal."
Bonar Law pondered the proposal. Lord Privy Seal was regarded as a sinecure and the position of Colonial Secretary was a rather modest. He suddenly asked, "I hope that you are not planning on giving a Cabinet post to the Labour Party."
Asquith fidgeted uneasily as he confessed, "Uh, Henderson has accepted Education."
Bonar Law’s nostril flared, "What! You treat with the treasonous Labour Party of MacDonald before you approach us? They gets a seat and we only get two? This is insufferable—"
"-please Andrew, Henderson has made it abundantly clear that he supports the war and that a large majority of his party stand behind—"
"Next you’ll be telling me that Redmond is getting a position as well."
"No, no, Sir John Redmond is not going to be in the Cabinet." Actually we had approached him but he declined.
"Well then is Carson going to get a seat?"
"No, for the same reason we didn’t find one for Redmond—"
"—Carson should be the First Lord Admiralty, not that vainglorious dilettante, Churchill."
"No, Andrew. Churchill is going to remain as First Lord. I am not going to negotiate you on that post."
"It’s only a bloody matter of time before Winston does something incredibly stupid."
"Please, Andrew, be sensible."
"I am being sensible. I tell you I want Carson in this Administration and not just as some feckless minister without portfolio. He can count as our second position—George won’t be too disappointed not being Lord Privy Seal."
Asquith rested his chin on his right fist and sighed deeply.. When Redmond turned down a Cabinet position he had made it clear that he did not want Carson in the Cabinet either. Still there was a good chance that if Bonar Law was not satisfied this afternoon His Majesty might get involved. It was best to resolve things now. Also there was a political advantage to Carson’s participation. Carson had been devastating in his oratory of late. If made a part of the Cabinet he would be neutralized.
"Listen Andrew, despite your belligerent tone of voice, I want very much for us to reach an amicable agreement her today—for the sake of the Empire in these trying times. If I can get your handshake now by making Carson Attorney General, then it’s a sacrifice I am willing to make. But there must be no further demands."
Bonar Law was far from happy with the arrangement, but he forced himself to cool down enough to see that it was as good as he was likely to get. He rose from his chair and extended his hand, "I will need to talk to Edward about this of course, but I see no reason why he would refuse. If he accepts I will make no further demand." For now.
Valparaiso, Chile Wednesday November 4, 1914
The cruisers were getting ready to leave this quaint South American port city. The had purchased coal and food. Admiral Maximilian Graf von Spee sniffed the flowers the woman had given him. He was about to say something one of his sailors ran up to him, yelling, "Admiral, Admiral, a message has just arrived for you from the Admiralstab."
The panting sailor handed the admiral a slip of paper.
ENEMY FORCES ARE EXPECTED TO CONCENTRATE OFF EAST COAST OF SOUTH AMERICA RAID THAT AREA ONLY BRIEFLY INSTEAD MOVE TO CENTRAL ATLANTIC AND PREPARE TO BREAK FOR HOME KEEP ADMIRALSTAB INFORMED SO WE CAN ASSIST YOUR RETURN
The Chilean woman was staring at him. Spee had forgotten what he was going to say and merely mumbled, ‘Gracias."
Boulogne harbor 0150 hrs Saturday November 7, 1914
With his pistol drawn a nervous French captain grimly supervised the procession of men loading aboard the steamer. The evacuation had begun two nights ago with the nonessential support personnel. In an attempt to confuse the Germans most of the loading had been done at night. During the day there was a ship, which would briefly disembark troops when a German aircraft was spotted. It was hoped that the Germans would be deceived into thinking the garrison was being reinforced not extracted. Yesterday the division’s 75’s had been removed. The older field guns would not be shipped out but destroyed tonight before dawn.
Now again there was the sound of incoming artillery. This time the detonations erupted close by. The loading queue halted as the men becoming apprehensive. The Germans evidently had a suspicion that something was happening. While they had not charged the trenches, they did sporadically shell the French positions during the night—something they had not done previously. Their targeting appeared to be random. Some shells would land near the trenches, others the areas behind the trenches and still others the city itself. This was causing a few casualties and more seriously was disrupting the withdrawal schedule.
"Keep on moving," ordered the captain.
Tonight was the point of maximum hazard for the remaining French forces were to be withdrawn. This captain had once read a translation of Dracula. He now recalled how it ended with the heroes racing the sunset. It seemed to him his countrymen were in a similar situation except that they were racing the sunrise.
HQ German 2nd Cavalry Corps outside Boulogne 0710 hrs
"General, a report has just come in from one of our dawn patrols. The French trenches appear to be abandoned!"
The Corps Commander, General Georg von der Marwitz, felt like kicking himself. Since an attempt to storm the French trenches Thursday morning had been repulsed with heavy losses he had become cautious. He used his steadily growing artillery strength—augmented by a company of medium minenwerfers yesterday morning—to bombard the French defenses. Otherwise he was content to await the arrival of General Fabeck with the XIII Army Corps hard marching from Belgium. They were expected to arrive tomorrow afternoon and Marwitz had planned a combined assault for Monday morning.
He received conflicting intelligence reports in the last 24 hours about what was going on in Boulogne. Evacuation was definitely one possibility but he did not think they would be finished so soon.
"All divisions to attack immediately in all sectors!" he ordered while continuing to berate himself.
London 0905 hrs
Field Marshal Horatio Kitchener had assembled the Imperial War Staff. "Gentlemen, last night the Prime Minister and I had the honor of another audience with His Majesty. Several topics were addressed but the most important of them is that His Majesty wants Calais liberated from the Germans before Christmas. Prime Minister Asquith assured His Majesty that we would resolutely this worthy objective. I considered the matter overnight."
The officers nodded but none look enthusiastic. Kitchener turned to the Chief of the Imperial War Staff, General J Wolff Murray and asked, "How soon can we have one of the Territorial Force Divisions ready for combat in France? Which one would be the best choice?"
General Murray sighed. "I would choose the North Midlands Division, sir, and it would take not less than 6 weeks to ready it."
Kitchener shook his head, "That is too long. We need it landed at Dieppe no later than December 12th."
"Sir, with all due respect, you are not thinking about using the Terriers in the assault?"
"No, the initial assault will be made by the 8th and 27th Divisions. But to exploit the breakthrough I plan to use one of the Territorial Force divisions as a local reserve. Also King Albert is confident that the Belgian 5th Division can be brought up to near full strength by using men drawn from his other units as reinforcements. It too will have a role in this offensive."
"So the offensive is still planned to begin December 14? Will the planned French big offensive be at the same time, sir?"
"Yes, Joffre has agreed to launch his attack in Champagne at the same time."
The Battle of the Somme had been declared officially ended on Thursday. Last night Kitchener had received the official report from Sir John French on casualties—they were nearly 49,000. They did not include the more than 4,000 men lost at Calais and Dunkirk. Assuming that all the men not evacuated from Belgium were going to be killed or captured, the British casualties for the Belgian campaign were anticipated to be around 26,000. Kitchener wondered if the BEF would be ready for another major offensive by mid December.
Boulogne harbor 1040 hrs
The cavalry arrived at the docks first. Once a path had been cleared from the thin French barbed wire they had galloped on ahead. As they reached the city they came under some brief fire by some destroyers and gunboats offshore. The warships were firing without any spotting and the German cavalry suffered light casualties. A few French stragglers—less than 4300 in all-- were caught and captured. The Germans found some demolished field guns but other equipment including motor vehicles, were captured either intact or in repairable condition. An appreciable amount of the French supplies were also captured. The cavalrymen had wine with their lunch.
OHL Valenciennes 1720 hrs
It was always so annoying dealing with Conrad. General Helmuth von Moltke was sure he was wracking up heaps of good karma for the ordeal he had just suffered negotiating with the leader of the Austro-Hungarian Army over the telephone. .
"So, you and I have now reached an agreement about the formation of this composite force—what we have been calling the South Army?" asked Moltke trying fervently to end this distasteful conversation. Please, say yes, Conrad. When there was no immediate response Moltke became deeply concerned that more wrangling was forthcoming.
"Hmm. I want to give proposal some further thought overnight. I will grant you preliminary approval now and will send telegrams confirming such within the hour. If I develop misgivings I will let you know before noon tomorrow. Will I be able to reach you tonight and tomorrow morning?"
"Yes I will make sure that I am available."
"That is wise. Have you already selected the German units which will be going into this South Army?"
"Yes I have. They will be II Army Corps, the 5th Cavalry Division and the 1st Bavarian Landwehr Brigade."
"And how soon can I expect their arrival?"
"The cavalry division and Landwehr brigade will be entraining tomorrow afternoon. II Army Corps be ready to start entraining Tuesday morning. Do you have an idea now about which of your own units you will be committing?"
A small pause and the Conrad’s voice said, "Hmmm. I reserve the right to change this tomorrow, but right now my choice is the Imperial and Royal VI Corps. Have you decided on a worthy commander for the South Army?"
It was Moltke’s growing fear that the Austro-Hungarian Army was on the verge of collapse that guided him to make this unusual proposal. He hoped that Eleventh Army under Mackensen would be sufficient to shore up Conrad’s left wing as well as halting the Russian advance before they reached Silesia. The latest news was that Mackensen was making a stand against the Russian Fifth Army at the Warta River. But Moltke worried that his ally’s right wing in the Carpathians could crumble as well, even though Conrad had so far been able to avoid moving his Second Army out of the Carpathians to defend Cracow.
After the bad experience with the XXIV Reserve Corps nearly being encircled near Ivangorod, Moltke had become averse to putting Germans under Austrian command. So as an alternative he came up with the idea of a combined Austro-German army with a German commander to be used to stiffen the Austrians in the Carpathians. Yesterday the last of the trapped Belgians had surrendered. There was still some British and French holding out but it was clearly time to move more pieces of Tenth Army to the Eastern Front.
"I am leaning towards appointing General Hermann von François. He is an officer with the rare and special qualities that this position will require." Like knowing when to disobey orders since he will be reporting to you!
The one thing that was making this negotiation with Conrad less torturous was the absence of Falkenhayn, who had suddenly decided to visit to Hindenburg’s headquarters. It was good time for him to be out of Moltke’s hair. Falkenhayn would certainly be adamantly opposed to the formation of South Army as he did not regard the situation in the Carpathians as ominously as Moltke.
Thorn (East Prussia) 1805 hrs
Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg extended his hand, "General von Falkenhayn, so very good of you to visit us out here in the East."
Falkenhayn firmly shook hands with Hindenburg, "It is an honor, Field Marshal. I must apologize that the War Ministry and General Staff have not paid you the attention you so rightfully deserve."
Hindenburg smiled warmly and nodded, "We are in agreement on that point, Erich." He tilted his head towards the other general in the room, "I believe you have already met General Ludendorff."
"Yes, we have met," Falkenhayn said to Hindenburg then advanced towards Ludendorff to shake his hand, "Erich, it is good to see you again. I must congratulate you for so ably assisting the Field Marshal in this difficult campaign."
As Ludendorff took Falkenhayn’s hand, "Yes it is good that someone able to talk directly to the Kaiser has finally come here. Grave mistakes—grave injustices—are being made that need to be brought to His Majesty’s attention!"
"Are you referring to the Field Marshal being denied overall command of the Eastern Front?"
Ludendorff shrugged, "Well, yes, that is the primary one--it is a grave insult to deny the Field Marshal this authority but there are others as well. Damn Moltke refuses to reinforce us adequately and what reinforcements he does send to this theatre are wasted with this Eleventh Army he insisted in creating despite our contrary recommendation. Of the 9 infantry and 3 cavalry divisions he’s committed to this front in the last month only 4 infantry and 2 cavalry divisions have being sent to Ninth Army.
"If it was up to me, Erich, all the infantry divisions sent to the Eastern Front would go to Ninth Army," answered Falkenhayn. What he chose not to add that that he would’ve sent only 2 infantry divisions to the East. The damn fool is probably committing additional elements of Tenth Army to the East while I’m here. Neither did he mention that he was skeptical about this massed attack against the Russian flank that Hindenburg was assembling here at Thorn.
Hindenburg and Ludendorff eyed Falkenhayn warily. Hindenburg radiated calm confidence while Ludendorff was edgy and ill tempered. Falkenhayn could see that to a certain extent they complemented each other, a marriage of opposites so to speak. He knew that they did not trust him much, that at most in their current pique they might regard see him as a temporary ally.
"And would you make the Field Marshal Supreme Commander for the Eastern Front?" asked Ludendorff pointedly.
"I most certainly would. I agree with that General Moltke is being outrageous."
"Your positions on these matters are both noted and appreciated," answered Hindenburg with a smile before Ludendorff could speak, "But other than mere griping is there anything substantive that we—and I mean the three of is—should be doing about this."
Falkenhayn took a deep breath. It was time to be bold, "Recent success on the Western Front will make it difficult to talk to the Kaiser of the man’s shortcomings. There is also some mysterious machination afoot between Moltke and Tirpitz.-- "
"-so just what is it that you are suggesting?" growled an annoyed Ludendorff.
"What I am suggesting, my dear Erich, is than instead of trying to bring down General Moltke, we should be finding a way for him to rise."
Old Admiralty Building 1920 hrs
"Have you had a chance to review the latest report from Admiral Jellicoe," Sir Winston Churchill asked as he discarded a half consumed cigar.
"Yes, I have, First Lord. Jellicoe made another attempt to dissuade me from sending Inflexible and Invincible to the South Atlantic. He failed. Again." answered Baron Fisher of Kilverstone.
"I did not find him persuasive on that topic either. As I said just yesterday the Royal Navy is in need of clear cut victory for the sake of its morale. With Moltke badly damaged—possibly sunk—I think the temporary weakening of First Battle Cruiser Squadron is acceptable. I am more concerned with some of his other points."
"Such as Grand Fleet only having 17 dreadnoughts which are currently ready for action and fully efficient by his standards—while the Germans could now have as many as 15?"
"That is one. It is rather obviously a disturbingly small margin of superiority. But I have no doubt that our superior firepower and seamanship would prove decisive. I am most concerned about the issue of Grand Fleet’s destroyer screen that Admiral Jellicoe raised. He is clearly upset with our decision to assign all the ‘M’ class to rebuilding Harwich Force. He feels that at least half of them should be apportioned to the Grand Fleet. He believes the High Seas Fleet could have a marked superiority in TBD’s in an engagement."
"If Jellicoe is looking for yet another excuse to refuse battle close to the Bight, then he has one. However, as far as the commitment of new destroyers the loss of the Channel Ports to the Germans makes Dover Patrol and Harwich Force our first line of defense. The loss of Exmouth and Implacable has demonstrated that Channel Fleet must be used with the greatest caution. Later next year some of the ‘M’ class can go to Grand Fleet, but for the time being Harwich Force is vital."
Churchill winced at the thought of the Grand Fleet declining battle, but he stoically Fisher’s logic. The loss of the HMS Audacious to a single underwater weapon—now thought to be a mine—caused Jellicoe to fret that British dreadnoughts were more vulnerable to mines and torpedoes than the Germans.
A pub somewhere in County Kerry 2205 hrs
"So tell me my darling friends, just what dost y’a make of these wee changes in the British Cabinet?" asked Peter O’Doyle as he started his second pint. He was seated at a table with three other men. They all belonged to the Irish Volunteers, the paramilitary organization that looked to Sir John Redmond for leadership. In their free hours they had trained together as a part of a local company. They had a weak arsenal of weapons—mostly 22 caliber rifles, shotguns and revolvers. They supported Home Rule and had trained for the day when they would fight the Orangemen who opposed it. Instead this other war had happened. Their leader, Sir John Redmond said repeatedly that was important to show their loyalty to the Crown and support the British cause. Their heads told them this made sense but deep in their hearts they felt it hard to cheer the Empire that had so long oppressed them.
"Well, if you ask me—" began Liam Donovan only to be interrupted by a truly magnificent fart. At this all four men began to hoot and holler uncontrollably, flailing at the table with their fists.
"Took the very words right out of my arse," said Liam when he could stop laughing long enough to speak. His levity caused the others to laugh even harder.
Liam waited for it to subside then he continued in a more serious voice, "Hey, all joking aside, it’s got me right worried. The two biggest bastards in all of the British Empire—Andrew Bugger Law and Edward Carson was now part of the bloody damn government. Is my yes failing me? ‘Cause when I looked and looked for the name of John Redmond in the list of positions in the new Cabinet, I didn’a see it."
"Yeah,. it certainly ain’t there, Liam. Dunna seem very fair, now don’t it? Looks to me that Bonar Law and Carson are being rewarded for them there Curragh Mutiny shenanigans, while Redmond who has been completely steadfast in his loyalty is being ostracized," commented Jim Clancy.
Liam drank a goodly portion of his mug then spoke in a softer voice than before, "I am telling you three that this is making me rethink some things."
Peter looked him in the eye, then swung his head around to see who else might be in earshot. He leaned close to Liam and when he spoke it was barely more than a whisper, "Are you thinkin’ what I’m thinkin’ you might be thinkin’?"
Liam emptied his mug and belched.
"That, Peter is exactly what I’m thinking."
On to Volume IX