by Tom B
Wilhemshaven 0800 hrs Wednesday November 18, 1914
Admiral Frederich von Ingenohl, commander of the High Seas Fleet, was meeting with Admiral von Hipper, and the three commanders of the battle squadrons. Ingenohl handed Admiral Wilhelm von Lans, the commander of First Squadron a sheet of paper, saying, "Everyone will take a look at this report from our intelligence division. Over the last 3 days they have intercepted unencrypted wireless transmissions from two British battle cruisers, the Invincible and the Inflexible. Our analysts have concluded that these two vessels are heading for the South Atlantic to eliminate the Asiatic Squadron."
"Has Admiral von Spee been warned?" asked Hipper.
"Yes, a message was sent yesterday morning to Valparaiso in order to be relayed to him, but it is uncertain if he is still in range to receive it. However Admiral von Spee’s situation is not my primary concern at this moment. I am more interested about how this development impacts the balance of forces in the North Sea."
"The Grand Fleet has at most 3 operational battle cruisers. I am not counting Tiger because while she may have been completed, she is definitely not ready for battle."
"Well then, it is most unfortunate that Moltke is being repaired for its torpedo damage, Franz," remarked Lans, with more than a hint of sarcasm, "or else you would taking us all on another of your clever sorties when Seydlitz finally returns from its repairs this weekend."
Hipper bristled. Lans was firmly convinced that it was suicide for the High Seas Fleet to engage the Grand Fleet outside the Bight. In the last two weeks he made it clear to all in High Seas Fleet that he thought Admiral von Pohl had been correct in his conservative policies and that Tirpitz would soon be sending them all into the arms of Jellicoe and a watery grave.
"Admiral von Ingenohl, I must protest. This diversion of British strength, presents us with an opportunity. We should be looking at ways to exploit it."
German Eleventh Army HQ north of Czestochowa (Galicia) 0915 hrs
The commander of the Eleventh army, General von Mackensen reviewed the reports from the field.. A week ago he was busily engaged in what was now being called the Battle of the Warta. On the instructions of General Moltke he had entrenched and fortified as much as possible as well as using the Warta River as a water obstacle. These were not the sort of tactics preferred by Hindenburg and Ludendorff, but Mackensen was not under their command and followed Moltke’s guidelines. Eighth Army had gotten into serious trouble during the Battle of Augustowo because it had failed to entrench. Mackensen did not repeat that mistake.
Elements of the Russian Fifth and Fourth Armies had hurled themselves in vain against his defenses for four days. The attacks of the two Russian armies were not very well coordinated. On one occasion the Russian Fourth Army did manage to capture section of trench only to lose it to a counterattack a few hours later. Otherwise the Russian attacks had been stopped cold. Mackensen had worried about his exposed left flank especially when le learned on the Russian Second Army advancing in that direction.
Then two days ago he began to receive consistent reports from his aviators that both Second and Fifth Army were marching rapidly to the north. This development apparently had something to do with the massive attack now underway by General Hindenburg’s Ninth Army about which he knew only the basic plan and a few paltry details. The Russian Fourth Army had made one more ineffectual attack yesterday morning, which quickly petered out.
Mackensen believed it was now time to go over to the attack. He ordered a dawn reconnaissance in force. This produced the reports now filtering back to his HQ, which he was now reviewing. They indicated that --as he had suspected-- the right flank of Russian Fourth Army was now vulnerable.
An hour ago a telegram had arrived from OHL. Moltke had given approval counterattack but urged caution. He also ordered him to immediately send the 2nd Bavarian Jaeger Battalion and his only motorized battery of 21cm Morsers to reinforce the newly formed Center Army. Mackensen regretted losing the powerful Morsers but was confident that his attack would succeed without them.
Northeast of Tarnow (Galicia) 1140 hrs
The Russian infantry were fleeing to the north in disarray—except for those killed or captured. The German II Corps and the Imperial and Royal VI Army Corps had simultaneously attacked the exposed left flank of the Russian Third Army this morning. They had taken the Russians by surprise and were now rolling up the flank. Artillery positions had been overrun and their guns captured—often intact. Supply dumps, motor vehicles and draught animals had been captured and the Russian communication lines cut.
Reports of the great victory filtered back to the headquarters of General von François who had quickly perceived and exploited the gap between the Russian Third Army and their Eighth Army in the Carpathians to the southeast. He was pleased with the results. He had been warned by Moltke not to expect much from the Austro-Hungarian divisions but their commander, Feldmarshalleutnant Artur Arz von Straussenberg, struck him as a capable and resourceful officer and so far their troops had been performing almost as well as their German counterparts.
"Send messages to both corps they are to pursue relentlessly. Enemy strongpoints that cannot be speedily dealt with are to be bypassed. Send a message to 5th Cavalry Division that it is to join in the pursuit on the left flank of II Army Corps."
Ghent, Belgium 1405 hrs
General von Beseler, the commander of the Tenth Army had come here to wish General Winckler and his temporary composite division of Prussian Guards farewell. At the beginning of month Tenth Army had been the most heavily engaged force on either the Western or Eastern Front. But since the surrender of the 4th London Brigade a week ago, Tenth Army had become the least active. He had thought that the capture of Boulogne would prove a worthy project but the French had spoiled that project with their surprisingly rapid and effective evacuation.
So the Tenth Army had become an army without a mission. Oh, there was a threat that the British with their command of the seas might land in strength somewhere on the Flemish coast. This was a legitimate mission but it did not require 14 infantry divisions. So in the last fortnight he had stoically watched OHL reassign his divisions. First, II Bavarian Corps was shipped off to Mackensen’s Eleventh Army, then III Reserve Corps was sent to Hindenburg’s Ninth Army, then II Bavarian Corps to something called Center Army, a joint Austrian and German army led by François. About a week ago the XXIII Reserve Corps had departed by train for Ninth Army while the 4th Ersatz Division got to march all the way to Army Group Strantz in Lorraine.
The Guard Corps had been depleted when it had arrived in Belgium. It had gone on to suffer heavy losses as it learned some bitter lessons in the art of combat at the hands of the British 7th Division. Moltke had initially decided the Guard Corps was too weakened to reassign until it had a lengthy period of recovery to absorb and integrate replacements. He did accept a proposal to form a composite Prussian Guard division using the strongest brigade from each division and moving some of the men from the other 2 Guard brigades as replacements. General Winckler, the commander of the 2nd Guard Division was assigned command of this temporary division. The regiments not used in Winckler’s division would remain with Tenth Army to recover their strength as replacement levies became available.
This division had assembled here in Ghent had less than an hour ago started to board the trains that would speed them to Ninth Army in the East. Except General Beseler held in his hand a message from General von Falkenhayn, postponing the reassignment. Apparently Falkenhayn had been outraged and interceded with the Kaiser to deploy Winckler’s Guard Division in the West rather than the East. Kaiser Wilhelm had postponed the move until he had sufficient time to deliberate.
Beseler sighed then snorted cynically. He knew full well that there was intense politicking going at the highest levels of the Army—and from what he heard in the Navy as well. He wondered if Moltke was going to disband Tenth Army soon. There had been some discussion that a small army guarding the Flemish coast could be used to rotate badly depleted divisions out of the front in France as well as serving as a strategic reserve for the entire Western Front.
Old Admiralty Building 1120 hrs Thursday November 19, 1914
"One of Dover Patrol’s destroyers, Greyhound was lightly damaged by German coastal artillery off Cape Gris Nez yesterday evening. Two seamen were injured. Both are expected to return to duty eventually," reported Admiral Oliver.
Churchill had just arrived and was meeting with Admiral Fisher, Admiral Oliver, the new chief of the naval war staff, and Captain William Reginald Hall, who had recently taken over the Naval Intelligence Division from Oliver. Hall had captained the Queen Mary at Heligoland Bight, where his ship had suffered considerable damage. Afterwards Beatty had been vaguely critical of Hall’s actions during the battle, but in reviewing the facts of the battle, neither Churchill, Prince Louis, Sturdee and now Fisher could find any demonstrable fault in his performance. Churchill harbored a suspicion that Beatty still felt guilty about abandoning Princess Royal and desperately wanted to blame anyone but himself for her loss. This was not the first character flaw in Beatty to come to Churchill’s attention, though previously the most severe had involved the wives of fellow officers. Churchill appreciated Beatty’s fighting sprit despite his moral failings. Likewise Churchill appreciated Hall’s resourcefulness. He had been more than competent commanding Queen Mary but Churchill saw him as better utilized at Naval Intelligence Division.
There was at least one obvious flaw with Captain Hall. His face with afflicted with nervous tic that made it twitch. Churchill could not recall ever seeing a man blink so much.
"Damn it! This is the third destroyer of Dover Patrol to be damaged by German artillery in the last week," snarled Fisher, "So far none has been seriously hurt and I know full well these are not our newest ships, but still Admiral Bacon should be exercising more caution."
"I will again express our concern to Admiral Bacon," commented Oliver, "but in his defense I will point out that he is conducting patrols near the coast trying to ambush U-boats on the surface at dusk and dawn. This tactic sometimes brings his destroyers under fire from coastal batteries."
Fisher glared at Oliver, "Dover Patrol has not even come close to sinking a U-Boat. The recent losses to our destroyer flotillas are a serious matter. This notion that the older destroyers are expendable---"
Having witnessed too many arguments between Fisher and Sturdee in the brief time they worked together—if can you call it that—Winston Churchill did not relish Oliver quickly falling into the same pattern. For that reason he thought it best to change the subject," –Captain Hall, how are things progressing in the code breaking business."
Hall blinked, nodded, blinked a few more times than spoke, "Since the NID has received the supplemental key that the Australians managed to capture on board a German freighter, we are now able to read most the encrypted messages that we intercept."
"Splendid, simply splendid! A triumph of inestimable value!" Churchill gloated, "even though I must confess that the esoteric aspects of this undertaking lie far beyond my feeble comprehension. What I do know is the value of information in warfare. Mark my words, this development will lead to the decisive battle with the High Seas Fleet for which we have so ardently desired."
Ghent, Belgium 1850 hrs
General von Beseler looked at the latest telegram from Berlin. Kaiser Wilhelm had reached his decision. Winckler’s Guard Division would go to the Eastern Front but only temporarily. The Kaiser stipulated that it was to be returned to the Western Front before Christmas. Beseler shook his head yet smiled nevertheless. This decision would displease Moltke, Flakenhayn and Hindenburg. So be it. He immediately issued orders for the Prussian Guards to finally start boarding.
OHL Valenciennes 2010 hrs
General Helmuth von Moltke felt tired. He had been experiencing fatigue in the last two days. He hoped now that the Western Front was quiet he could get sleep and that would solve the problem. The latest reports from the Eastern Front seemed most encouraging. General von François’ Center Army—despite being half Austrian—had achieved a remarkable victory over the Russian Third Army. The immediate Russian threat to Cracow was eliminated. There was even a telegram from Conrad expressing some remotely akin to gratitude. Conrad mentioned that he was promptly reinforcing François with a cavalry division and the Polish Legion. Likewise Mackensen’s Eleventh Army was achieving some measure of success against the Russian Fourth Army. In the Carpathians the AustroHungarian Third and Second Armies appeared to be holding off the Russian Eighth Army.
Somewhat disappointing though was the performance of Hindenburg’s Ninth Army. After smashing a Siberian Corps with a concentration of artillery at the beginning of their offensive it had looked like Ninth Army would easily scoop up the key Russian supply center at Lodz and then continue on to take Warsaw. However when they had arrived at Lodz Nith Army found the Russians had skillfully regrouped, bringing up their Second Army and a portion of Fifth Army as reinforcements. The subsequent German attacks had all failed, except now there was a telegram from Ludendorff that the XXV Reserve Corps had slipped through a gap in the center of the Russian line and penetrated into Lodz. So even there the recent frustration appeared to be over.
Wilhlemshaven 0905 hrs Friday November 20, 1914
Admiral von Ingenohl was having another meeting with Hipper and his squadron commanders. This time Admiral Reinhard Scheer, the commander of Second Squadron, circulated a memorandum he had composed. As he gave it to Ingenohl he .remarked, "These are my own thoughts in response to the memorandum, Korvettekapitan Bauer submitted in early October."
Bauer was the head of U-boats. His memo of October 6 contained an ambitious proposal to use the U-Boats to conduct a blockade of Great Britain. Admiral Lans had supported Bauer’s position and Admiral Pohl had expressed a serious interest in it before his dismissal. Admiral Ingenohl had also expressed some enthusiasm for the proposal. During the controversies of late October the Bauer memo on submarine warfare had receded to the background.
When all had a chance to review the memo, Lans was the first to speak, "Hmm. An interesting and thoughtful response to Korvettekapitan Bauer’s memo, Reinhard. We have been negligent in not pursuing further Bauer’s bold plan, while fantasies of somehow defeating the Grand Fleet waste our breath. But this latest memo strays from the original purity of the concept. If I am reading this correctly, you seem to be saying the submarine campaign will force the Royal Navy to take more direct action close to our bases and thereby make itself more vulnerable—and that this is more important than the disruption of commerce?"
"Yes, Wilhelm, that is what I meant to say," answered Scheer defensively, "obviously you disagree."
"Yes, I certainly do. The submarine campaign by itself can pressure the British into leaving war without risking High Seas Fleet."
"Our submarines are better used to ambush capital ships than in a role which is well outside the established norms of cruiser warfare," interjected Hipper, "I will remind everyone that they recently sank two enemy battleships."
"Bah! They were only predreadnoughts—and for that reason their loss does little to alter the true balance of power," Lans gazed contemptuously at Scheer while he answered Hipper. The Second Squadron, which Scheer commanded, was composed of predreadnoughts.
Ingenohl sensed this discussion was getting out of hand—again. "Before this goes too far I should let everyone know that Admiral Tirpitz and Admiral Muller are in agreement that we have insufficient submarines to successfully wage such a campaign at this time. They have told Admiral Bachmann and myself that further study of the matter is in order. So the original memorandum is definitely not being overlooked."
AustroGerman Center Army HQ NE of Tarnow 0940 hrs
"General von François, there is an urgent call from General Conrad von Hotzendorf. He demands to speak with you immediately!"
It was the dreaded telephone call François knew would come inevitably. He recalled one more time the suggestions FMLt Arz had suggested to him for dealing with Conrad last night. It was most unfortunate that the Chief of the AustroHungarian General Staff was not someone more like Arz. He steeled his nerves as he picked up the receiver.
"General von François, speaking."
"General! I gave clear orders last night that you were to continue your attack on Third Army. Why am I holding in my hands a report that not are not you not pursuing Third Army—that incredibly you are retiring to the southeast! Is this how you teach you to obey orders in the German Army?"
"General, please, let me explain the situation—"
"The situation is that I gave an order and you deliberately disobeyed it—"
"--General von Hotzendorf! When I done explaining if you still want me to attack Third Army, I will gladly lead the attack personally armed only with my sword."
"What? Grrr. Oh, go ahead you Prussian piece of---"
"General! The Third Army has successfully regrouped and has withdrawn completely across the Vistula," shouted François, choosing not to add that there were still a few isolated pockets of Russian infantry south of the Vistula, "Instead of trying to pursue Third Army across a water obstacle there is a brief opportunity for Center Army to achieve a much more valuable objective."
Conrad waited before answering. When he did his snarl was noticeably less intense and there was even a hint of genuine curiosity, "And what might that be?"
OHL Valenciennes 1105 hrs
General von Moltke was on the telephone, "Yes, one infantry division—an elite one—can be provided very quickly. But only one. Is that sufficient? It is? Well then we seem to be in agreement. What? Yes, I will speak to him about his attitude. I assure you that no insult was in any way intended. Is there anything else? Good. Auf wiederhoren."
Moltke put down the receiver none too gently and stood up. There was a tremor in his hands as he did so. He turned to his staff and asked, "Have the trains carrying the Guard division reached Berlin yet?"
In a few seconds came the response, "Not yet, General."
"Good. When they reach Berlin their destination is to be changed."
"Are they going to Sixth Army or Army Group Strantz, General?" Those had been Falkenhayn’s two suggestions for where the Prussian Guards would be best deployed.
"Neither, they are—" answered Moltke in a weakening voice. His heart pounded furiously and he could feel sweat breaking out on his brow. He tried not to think too much about Falkenhayn, Hindenburg and most of all Conrad. He managed to wheeze a reply, "The trains will be going to Cracow."
He did not faint—though afterwards some would say that he had—but he swayed and slumped back down in his chair.
"Fetch a physician, quick! The general is ill."
The Chancellor of German Reich, Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg, authorized the proclamation of statement drafted by Sir Roger Casement. It acknowledged Casement had arrived in Berlin and been received by the German Foreign Office. Part of the statement read:.
"Should the fortunes of this great war ever bring in its course German troops to the shores of Ireland, they would land there, not as a an army of invaders to pillage and destroy, but as the forces of a government that is inspired by goodwill towards a country and a people for whom Germany desires only national prosperity and national freedom."
German Ninth Army HQ 0105 hrs Sunday November 22, 1914
It was another very cold night—and it was only November. Feldmarshal Paul von Hindenburg was fortunate to have his chief of staff, General Ludendorff to warm him up with his boundless enthusiasm. In the morning Ninth Army overpowered the Russian XIX Corps, which anchored their left flank. The XIX Corps was now retreating to the east. This had come after several days of frustration.
"This is it, Field Marshal! Fifth Army is running and soon Second Army will join them," gloated Ludendorff, " we will be in Warsaw before the month is over!"
Hindenburg smiled but only in moderation, "I agree it looks most favorable, Erich. Yet I must counsel against overconfidence. A week ago we also thought we would soon destroy most of Second Army and then stroll into Warsaw. Instead the Russians regrouped and cut our communication to 5 of our divisions."
"General Scheffer’s situation is now no longer a problem! Indeed it now works for us as his position cuts the enemy’s line of retreat from Lodz. We should order him to stand fast."
Hindenburg frowned slightly, "There is still some risk there, Erich. Our information so far is that only XIX Corps is retreating. They may be completely routed, but we cannot be sure. Quite possibly they will try to fight a delaying action until General Scheffer is forced to surrender. I would prefer to give Scheffer freedom of initiative to attempt an escape."
"Feldmarshal, I must protest and ask you to reconsider!"
Hindenburg shrugged, "I will think about this some more after I have had some sleep. In the mean time you will not issue on orders to General Scheffer—understood?"
Ludendorff fumed but prudently decided against further disputation, "Understood, Herr Feldmarshal.. On another matter, should I try again in the morning to get General Moltke to order General Mackensen to curtail his attack on Fourth Army and come to our assistance?"
"Yes, though Moltke may still be in the hospital. Furthermore it appears our battle may well be won by the time Eleventh Army could get here."
"That is true, sir," Ludendorff conceded, "Had Moltke given his approval two days we would have trapped Fifth Army and at least half of Second Army. Instead he lets General Mackensen support the Austrians in attacking Fourth Army—clearly a less important objective. We have been denied a great victory—quite possibly a war winning victory-- here at Lodz because he stubbornly refused to grant us control of the entire front. Then to add insult to injury he dishonors his commitment to us and sends Winckler’s Guard Division to Conrad’s Fourth Army instead."
Hindenburg nodded and sighed, "It is as you say, unfortunately. I therefore find myself becoming increasingly sympathetic to General Falkenhayn’s bold suggestion."
Ludendorff shook his head, "Be careful, sir! I for one, do not trust General Falkenhayn. Despite his blandishments we know he continues to persist in the erroneous notion that the war can be won in France first. It is you, sir, who should be running the General Staff."
Hindenburg shrugged slightly and his smile broadened, "With the so called Moltke Plan having finally achieved its major objectives it will be difficult to persuade the Kaiser of that. What did Voltaire say? ‘Perfection is the enemy of the Good?’ I do not trust General Falkenhayn either but his plan offers an improvement over our present unacceptable situation."
OHL Valenciennes 0900 hrs
The Army physicians could not agree about General von Moltke’s medical condition. One thought it was a weak heart aggravated by a nervous condition, another suspected the liver and a third thought it was probably just stress and exhaustion. They kept him the hospital for a day and then reluctantly permitted him to resume limited duty.
His staff tried not to stare at him but they did so anyway. Wondering if their general is going to collapse, maybe even die, before their very eyes. He wanted very much to yell at them saying, "Don’t you have anything better to do?" But instead he merely asked, "What is the latest information from Ninth Army regarding XXV Reserve Corps?"
"Nothing has changed, sir, they are still cut off from the rest of Ninth Army."
Moltke merely nodded. He was sorely disappointed with Hindenburg and Ludendorff that they had let this happen. He tried to follow the advice of his physicians and not get too excited He was then handed a telegram.
"This came in from General Ludendorff a few minutes ago, sir"
Moltke looked at the message. Once again Ludendorff was strongly recommending—almost insisting-- that Eleventh Army move immediately to the north to assist Ninth Army.
"Is the coordinated attack of Eleventh Army and the Austrian First Army against the Russian Fourth Army still making good progress?" asked Moltke.
"Yes, General, the latest report from General Mackensen is very favorable. He believes the enemy formation is losing cohesion."
"Then now is not the time for letting up! Is his cavalry division patrolling in the gap between himself and Hindenburg?"
Moltke handed back the telegram from Ludendorff, "File this with the other unimportant messages."
Center Army HQ 1255 hrs
Heavy turbulence buffeted the airplane violently as it descended through the cloud cover. When it broke through it circled around to find its landing strip. The airplane banked and made its approach, wobbling and swaying as it fought the erratic wind. It weaved as it touched down on the makeshift landing strip. The ground was hard and airplane a bit too fast, making for a rough landing. Before it came to a stop it hit a patch of ice and spun around. The pilot did not mind it personally but quickly dismounted and checked that his landing gear was undamaged. After finding no readily visible damage he suddenly recalled the rank of the officer in the observer seat and helped him get down.
The general vomited on the pilot. He didn’t mean to, but his perfunctory apology was not very strong either. The general produced a handkerchief and hurriedly cleaned his face. A welcoming party was approaching.
"General Kusmanek, I am General Hermann von François, it is so good of you to join us,. I do hope you had a pleasant flight."
General Hermann Kusmanek von Burgneusttaten, the commander of Przemysl Fortress, tried to maintain his dignity. He briefly muttered something inaudible, then answered in a stronger voice, "It was uh, an experience. I am here now, that is what is important."
Francois went ahead with some introductions, "General Hermann Kusmanek, this is General Alexander von Linsingen, commander of the German II Army Corps and Feldmarshalleutnant Artur Arz von Strauusenberg, commander of your VI Corps—he says that he recalls meeting your previously."
"Yes, I recall it as well. It was during an exercise."
François pointed to a small valise Kusmanek cradled, "Are you carrying all your maps and intelligence reports or is there additional material still on board the airplane?"
"No, this is all I brought."
"Good. Oh, I almost forgot—have you eaten? We can fetch you something to eat—"
Kusmanek shook his head and waved his hand, "That will not be necessary. I am not hungry. I think it best if we started immediately."
"Yes, I agree since we cannot afford to let you stay too long. We need to get you back to Przemysl before nightfall."
General Kusmanek cringed at the thought of the return flight.
German Ninth Army HQ 1215 hrs Monday November 23, 1914
"Well, what does General Morgen say?" a deeply concerned Feldmarshal von Hindenburg asked General Ludendorff.
The two of them had believed the Russian First Army had been too badly weakened at the beginning of their November offensive to offer any threat to their left flank. This morning had come reports that it was mounting a major counterattack. The sole flank guard for the Germans was the I Reserve Corps. A message had just come in from the Corps commander, General Morgen.
"General Morgen reports that he is forced to fall back," answered an upset Ludendorff.
Przemysl Fortress 1300 hrs
The perimeter forts northwest of the main fortress began to shell the Russian forward positions. The cannons –some of which were obsolescent models--fired for 15 minutes. This was followed by sortie against the Russian positions by the 86th Schutzen Brigade.
Wilhemshaven 2005 hrs
Admiral von Hipper frowned deeply and sighed as he read the preliminary report of Von der Tann’s chief engineer. Yesterday afternoon he had taken First Scouting Group out for quick patrol of the Bight with his flag once again aboard the repaired Seydlitz. It had initially been an exhilarating experience despite a periscope sighting. But towards the end of the sweep Von der Tann experienced serious trouble with her engines.
"So you strongly recommend an overhaul?" asked the admiral.
"Yes, I do, Admiral."
"And in your judgment how long would you expect this overhaul to take?"
"At least two weeks. I might add that this would be a good opportunity to implement the improvements in barbette armor and anti-flash protection that were recommended in the final report on Heligoland Bight."
This would be another excuse for Admiral Ingenohl to postpone a sortie. It would give flag officers like Lans more ammunition to attack the idea of using High Seas Fleet aggressively. Hipper was too professional to take out his frustration on the messenger of bad news.
"I am well aware of that report, thank you. If Von der Tann requires repairs then I want them started as soon as possible."
Northern perimeter of Przemysl Fortress 0105 hrs Tuesday 24 November, 1914
The 39th Honved Infantry Division struck first. General von François had selected them to make the first assault because its men would be the most likely to be familiar with the local area. With a night attack the units getting lost was a frequent problem. As it was there was still some problems finding its way in the dark and its attack hit the Russians perimeter more than an hour later than planned.
The Russians were taken by surprise, not expecting an attack from their rear. Their outposts were quickly captured. The Hungarian infantry pressed on and overran several Russian artillery batteries.
As this was going on the KuK 10th Cavalry Division well to the east managed to get its planned 0200 assault underway by 0315. The Russian forces in their vicinity had just a few minutes earlier received some vague warning from Eleventh Army HQ. This warning was insufficient to prevent the cavalry charging through their weakly manned outer perimeter.
A little to the west the German 5th Cavalry Division and 2nd Bavarian Jaeger Battalion got their planned 0400 attack underway at 0650 They were meant to attack to the immediate west of the AutroHungarian cavalry but one of its brigades overlapped causing some confusion and disruption to its ally. However this snafu was soon rectified and they were able to make some progress.
The German 4th Infantry Division was also scheduled at 0400 but it had gotten so lost in the dark that it did not get underway until after sunrise. Some of their rifle battalions were soon pinned down by Russian artillery fire. Their divisional artillery was still several hours away. Before it could be brought into action the motorized battery of 21cm Morsers were brought into action. Their shelling combined with the continued advance of the 39th Honved Division broke the already weakened morale of the Russians defenders. The situation became a textbook case of hammer and anvil with the perimeter forts of Przemysl serving as the anvil.
At 0900 the KuK 12th Infantry Division began its attack coming due south roughly midway between the 39th Honved Infantry Division and the cavalry attack to the east. At first it advanced to the south against weak opposition but soon it detached a regiment to assist the cavalry to the east.
Breziniyi (east of Lodz) 0915 hrs
The cold air helped keep him awake. The commander of the XXV Reserve Corps, General Reinhard von Scheffer-Boyadel had gone nearly three days without sleep. He had heard that people deprived of sleep often start to hallucinate. He was wondering if that was what was happening to him. His men who had been cut off for three days had stormed strong enemy positions along a train embrankment—and miraculously prevailed. The key town on Breiniye had been retaken.
There now appeared to be a way out. Was it real?
The general was too tired to further self-doubt. He had faith in his sanity, faith in what he was seeing. But there was still work to do as he hustled his troops—but the nearly 16,000 Russian prisoners to the north and the rest of Ninth Army.
HQ Russian Eleventh Army south of Przemysl 1005 hrs
The commander of the Russian Eleventh Army, General Selivanov digested the latest batch of bad news. His army consisted of a mere 4 infantry divisions. It was barely enough to prevent a breakout. After costly unsuccessful assaults during Przemysl’s first siege, the commander of Southwestern Front, General Nikolai Ivanov now thought the best strategy was to starve the fortress into submission.
Selivanov had stationed division one each in the northwest, northeast, southwest and southeast corner of the perimeter. The two northern divisions had been attacked in the predawn hours. The division in the northwest was appeared to be in an extremely grave situation. It was almost certain that the attackers in that sector would soon link up with the defenders of Przemysl. The situation to the northeast was only better in comparison.
The general ordered the division covering the southeast corner to move north immediately. The division in the southwest corner would assume responsibility for the entire southern perimeter.
Outside of Skara (north of Cracow) 1520 hrs
Winckler’s Guard Division had been assigned to the Austro-Hungarian Fourth Army north of Cracow. The KuK IV Corps had been hurriedly moved to guard Tarnow lest the Russian Third Army cross over the Vistula again. This move had weakened Fourth Army and it withdrew a little to the southwest as it reformed its line. General Winckler had been hurriedly marched north to fill the biggest gap remaining in the Austrian line. Yesterday evening he had skirmished with elements of the elite Russian Guard Corps, which were in the van of the Ninth Army.
During the night he entrenched as best he could in the frozen ground. The Germans did have a modest amount of barbed wire, which they put to good use. The Russian attacks had begun at dawn and continued through the day. The rifle battalions as well as the cavalry regiment were at barely two-thirds strength but the machine gun companies and artillery batteries were fully equipped. The British 7th Division had taught the Prussian Guards some hard lessons in Belgium. They now put those lessons to good use in Poland.
The morning had witnesses the full blown confrontation of Prussian Guard and Russian Guard. Neither side had a large reserve of shells and that restricted the early morning artillery duel. Next came the infantry assaults—the Guard Corps having 32 rifle battalions while Winckler had a mere dozen. But the Russian battalions were far from full strength after the heavy Galician fighting.
The Russian attacks in the morning had failed. In the early afternoon they began to achieve some success as a few strongpoints and a stretch of the trench line fell after brutally intense hand to hand combat. However a convoy of trucks had just arrived from Cracow with a shipment of artillery shells. The Russians had shot off nearly all of the stockpile in the morning artillery duels. Winckler began to feel more confident that he could off the Russians.
Przemysl 1735 hrs
"General Kusmanek, it is so good to see you again!" shouted General von François as he triumphantly strode forward to meet the commander of the fortress. The second siege of Przemysl had lasted only 16 days.
Kusmanek shook his hand energetically, "Yes, indeed it is most wonderful. We have won a great victory."
François had quickly developed a decidedly mixed opinion of the fortress commander. Kusmanek’s sorties had been competent enough but he seemed bereft of long term plans. François had been shocked to learn that there not 50,000 troops inside the fortress but over 120,000. In addition to the garrison isolated units and stragglers in droves had taken refuge in Przemysl in early September and again in late October. Kusmanek lacked a clear plan for what to do with them, regarding them only as a additional drain on his stores and a potential discipline problem.
"This battle is not yet over, general. We must discuss certain details quickly. In particular, the German 4th Infantry Division will need to pass through the heart of the fortress as quickly as possible."
Wilhelmshaven 1950 hrs
Admiral von Ingenohl was meeting alone with Admiral von Hipper. He held up a folder and said, "I have read this ambitious proposal of yours, Franz. Sending all of First Scouting Group out into the Atlantic to disrupt the commerce of the Entente, esp. the British Empire, is a daring idea. However after careful consideration, I have decided to disapprove the proposal."
Hipper was disappointed but not surprised. He answered, "Is your misgivings over the question of providing the ships with coal? I did address those concerns in my memorandum, sir"
"Yes, I did read the entire document," countered Ingenohl with a hint of sarcasm, "but your suggested remedies remain unconvincing. Blistering the battle cruisers to increase the coal bunkers will yield only a modest gain and will require each ship to spend considerable time in the shipyard. These modifications may impair sea keeping and speed. As far as refueling in neutral ports, the Admiralstab have received reports from our Etappen officers that they are encountering steadily increasing difficulty. The British use political pressure, preemptive purchasing and bribery to counter their efforts. If you should make it to the United States, there is the unfriendly Wilson government to deal with. For these same reasons our conversion of large fast liners into AMC’s has yielded disappointing results. Lastly there is your suggestion that First Scouting Group should be able to seize and exploit a British or French port by force of arms. I find this highly speculative."
. Hipper sighed deeply. Ingenohl’s arguments were not unexpected. Coal. It was the big problem. Hipper had not even completely convinced himself on this point when he had drafted the memo. He tried to think of something to say to defend his position when Ingenohl continued.
"Coal is the biggest stumbling block to your plan, but it is not the only one. You know as well as I do that Grand Admiral Tirpitz believes that the High Seas Fleet can prevail in a fleet action under the right circumstances. While I readily confess to having serious doubts in the past I now find myself becoming more optimistic. However for us to have any chance whatsoever in a fleet action it is imperative that we have First Scouting Group."
An awkward silence ensued. Hipper finally spoke in a hesitant voice as if uncertain he should be bringing up this topic at all, "Admiral, there are those like Admiral Pohl and Admiral Lans who believe that a fleet action would result in the destruction of the High Seas Fleet. I on the other hand share Admiral von Tirpitz’s optimism. But here now is my concern. Imagine if you will that you engage the Grand Fleet under favorable conditions. When the battle is ended the Grand Fleet has lost four of their dreadnoughts while we have lost only two. Is this a victory?"
Ingenohl was both puzzled and annoyed, "Why, yes, most certainly. Just what is your point, Franz?"
"My point, sir, is my next question. Having brought our damaged ships home to port from our great victory—how has the course of the war been materially effected? Other than some prestige just what has changed?"
"Hmm. Well, we would have, uh, shifted the balance of forces in the North Sea."
"Yes, sir, that is true. But has it shifted them enough to make a real difference? Would such a victory compel the British to seek peace? Does it break the distant blockade?"
Ingenohl indulged himself with Hipper’s thought experiment. He imagined the Kaiser personally pinning a Pour le Merite on him. He imagined history books describing in awe how he was able to defeat a superior force. Damn you, Franz! I have not even won this victory and you are already raining on my parade.
Ingenohl did not know how best to answer. He even momentarily thought about quoting Voltaire. Finally he answered testily, "This is all very abstract, Franz. I prefer to deal in the concrete. I remained opposed to your latest proposal. As of now I believe that the best course of action is for First Scouting Group to raid British coastal cities once Moltke and Von der Tann have been repaired."
Hipper sighed again. He saw little to be gained by such a raid. Killing mostly civilians would supply the British propagandists with more ammunition. Not wishing to rile Ingenohl any further he merely inquired in a calm voice, "Yes, you have mentioned this possibility in passing previously. Have you specific targets in mind."
"Yes. I have narrowed it down to two possibilities. One set is Yarmouth and Lowestoft. The other is Hartlepool and Scarborough."
Hipper thought it over. He didn’t like the idea much and looked for ways to improve it. Finally an idea struck him, "One thing I might suggest is laying mines in the area after the bombardment. There is a good chance that the raid might draw the Grand Fleet to area and into the minefield. I would think this to be more likely if we raid Hartlepool and Scarborough, since Grand Fleet is apparently reluctant to come to far south due to our submarines."
Ingenohl smiled broadly, "Excellent, Franz! Now that is a wonderful idea!"
Near Skara 0040 hrs Wednesday November 25, 1915
The Russian Guard Corps continued to attack Winckler’s Guard Division through the night. Their advantage in infantry—they had 32 rifle battalions to Winckler’s 12 began to tell in the night action though the first two attacks had been stymied by the German barbed wire. The latest Russian attack managed to slip past the wire into the trenches. Brutal hand to hand fighting ensued with bayonets and improvised clubs.
Two reserve companies of Prussian Guards rushed to the threatened sector of trench. Star shell lit up the sky and a brief round of shelling disrupted the Russian attempt to reinforce their breach. General Winckler was present to urge on the counterattack.
A messenger approached him and saluted, "General Winckler, sir, a message has just come through for you from Archduke Josef Ferdinand."
The archduke had been given command of the Austro-Hungarian Fourth Army at the beginning of October. Winckler had been placed under his command. He took the message and read it by flashlight.
FALL BACK TO SOUTHWEST BUT MAINTAIN CONTACT WITH ENEMY. TRUCK CONVOY WITH 1800 SHELLS WILL ARRIVE BEFORE DAWN
Pilica River north of Cracow 0105 hrs
The Pilica was shallow in this area. Still men and draught animals crossed over the bridges because they did trust the thickness of the ice. When they reached the other side they marched on stoically through the drifting snow. The moon had risen a few minutes ago. Clouds dominated the sky and the night remained dark and very cold.
The combined attack of the German Eleventh Army under General Mackensen and most of the Austro-Hungarian First Army under General Dankl had forced the Russian Fourth Army to fall back across the Pilica further to the north. Meanwhile the Russian Ninth Army had continued to advance to the southwest in an attempt to capture Cracow.
A considerable gap therefore had opened up between the Russian Fourth and Ninth Armies, inadequately guarded by a single cavalry division. Mackensen, Conrad and Dankl agreed it could—and should-- be exploited. During the night the KuK V and X Corps moved into the gap—the former to attack the left flank of Fourth Army while X Corps attacked the vulnerable right flank of Ninth Army.
General von Moltke had been advised of the plan as well. It looked good "on paper" to him but he had serious reservations about the ability of his ally. He had ordered General Mackensen to reinforce the Austrian X Corps with one his divisions. Mackensen had selected the 6th Bavarian Reserve Division. Some of Bavarian officers were less than thrilled to be placed under a Austro-Hungarian commander. But none of them of was as outraged as was a certain Austrian.
"It is abomination! Utter complete abomination!" shouted one of the battalion dispatch messengers. He had just delivered an important message from the battalion HQ to one of the rifle companies. The company had paused in its marching due to some confusion about the route. Some of them recognized the messenger and asked his opinion about their division’s sudden reassignment.
"Shhh, Adolf! You don’t have to shout! The Russians might hear you," admonished one of the privates—though actually he was more concerned an officer or a senior NCO might hear.
"Hey, Adolf, why the big stink? You are an Austrian, after all. You should be grateful that you are fighting alongside your countrymen," chided another.
"Bah! I spit on them!" replied Pvt. Hitler actually spitting on the ground, "Long ago it was the vehicle for Aryan greatness, but now it has become nothing more than a degenerate conglomeration of nations and cultures, masquerading as so called ‘Empire’. What a sick joke! Oh, Vienna is still beautiful to behold but look inside and you will find that it is rotten to the core. It is to Berlin not Vienna that the German race must look for leadership. Which is why putting a German division underneath an Austrian commander is disgraceful. It is insane."
"Well, Adolf, I will tell you what is really insane," remarked another of the soldiers who appeared to shiver more than the rest in the cold, "and that is launching a major attack at night in weather like this!"
"Ah, but don’t you realize this attack is happening only because of the Austrians?" said Hitler, "A German could never be so stupid as to order an attack on the Eastern Front this late in the year."
Northwestern Front HQ Siedlice 1015 hrs
General Nikolai Ruzski, the commander of Russian Northwestern Front digested the latest reports. According to General von Rennenkampf, commander of the First Army, the German Ninth Army had managed to reposition their divisions so that his attack against their left flank was no longer advancing. The report from General von Plehve, the commander of Fifth Army was that he he had managed to slow but not stop the advance of Ninth Army’s right wing.
Ruszki thought of chess. His kingside attack was floundering while the enemy’s queenside attack was progressing methodically. He had never really been very optimistic about the invasion of Silesia. Now it should evident even to Stavka that it was infeasible. Ruzski had persisted in the battle only in the hope that the German divisions trapped east of Lodz would be forced to surrender. Danilov had sent him train cars with cages to haul the expected prisoners. The trapped Germans had fought their way out yesterday, though Ruzski had only been informed this morning.
He made what thought was the obvious decision, regretting only not reaching it sooner. "Immediately transmit the following message to Second Army HQ!" he ordered ‘Begin orderly withdrawal to the east. Abandon Lodz before nightfall."
South of Przemysl Fortress 1300 hrs
The long Russian division guarding the south had become to skirmish with the German 3rd Infantry Division, which had crossed the San to the west of the fortress, then headed southeast. At this time bombardment using the perimeter forts commenced. When it was finished the German 4th Infantry Division, which had marched straight through the fortresses during the night, attacked to south along with the 23rd Honved Infantry Division, which belonged to the fortress garrison. The Russian infantry division defending the entire southern perimeter was soon overwhelmed. Its field artillery abandoned the infantry as soon as it saw itself in danger of being overrun.
Once the division to the south was routed the 23rd Honved Infantry Division quickly advanced to the northeast to attack from behind the remaining concentration of Russian Eleventh Army.
Near Skara 1640 hrs
The Russian Guard Corps had vigorously pursued Winckler’s Guard Division. In the early morning the Prussian Guards halted their withdrawal and stood their ground supported by their machineguns and artillery. The Russians tried to continue their advance without artillery support and failed. These attacks petered out around noon. The afternoon had been strangely quiet. The Prussian Guards used the respite to begin digging new trenches.
Winckler thought the Russians were merely husbanding their strength in preparation for a renewed assault. He was more than a little surprised by the latest message from the archduke.
THERE ARE SIGNS THAT GUARD CORPS IS BEGINNING TO WITHDRAW TO NORTH. THIS MOVEMENT SHOULD ACCELERATE DURING THE NIGHT. BEFORE MIDNIGHT CONDUCT INTENSIVE RECONNAISSANCE TO FIND BOUNDARY BETWEEN GUARD AND XIV CORPS. ADVANCE RAPIDLY INTO THAT BOUNDARY AT FIRST LIGHT
Techen 1920 hrs
"General von François is deceitful, obstinate and disrespectful. We would never let anyone so difficult to work with rise above major in our army," remarked Conrad to Oberstleutnant Richard Hentsch, Moltke’s liaison officer, "Yet I must admit the man does seem to possess some degree of cleverness at the purely tactical level. I wisely chose to ignore his willfulness and he has proved to be an able instrument in my grand strategic plan."
When Moltke had been hospitalized he dispatched Col. Hentsch to the Eastern Front with considerable authority. Moltke did not trust Ludendorff as much he had previously and he simply did not trust Conrad at all. Hentsch was given authority to immediately remove ant German divisions from Austro-Hungarian command if they were being used incompetently. He was also given authority to coordinate the actions of the German armies on the Eastern Front.
Moltke had told Hentsch on more than one occasion of his belief in reincarnation. He had described how events in this life are often the results of deeds we committed in a previous life. Several times in the last few days Hentsch wondered what awful crimes he had committed. His first stop had been Ninth Army HQ. There he talked little with an aloof Hindenburg and way too much with an irate Ludendorff. It was completely unacceptable to Ludendorff that Moltke had granted authority to a mere Oberstleutant that he denied Feldmarshal von Hindenburg. He berated Hentsch mercilessly, who found it difficult to determine the true tactical situation through all the hectoring. He did pick up some personal animosity of Ludendorff towards François. There was also some disturbing talk about the need for a winter offensive on the Eastern Front. This was something he knew General Moltke ardently wanted to avoid.
His next stop was to Eleventh Army where he met with General Mackensen and his chief of staff. This visit was much more productive. Mackensen did complain about having insufficient heavy artillery but Hentsch regarded this position as justified. After that Hentsch was driven to the Austro-Hungarian First Army HQ to treat with its commander, Gen. Dankl. He arrived there with very low expectations based on what both Moltke and Ludendorff had told him. Things were not that bad as he expected but neither were they were good. Their army staff frequently looked confused and he noticed tell tale signs of deteriorating morale.
And now he was here enjoying Conrad’s hospitality and charm. Conrad was incensed as Ludendorff that so junior an officer had been granted so much authority. He had treated Hentsch shabbily since his arrival. He alternated insults and rants with hollow boasts of his own achievements. Conrad as well talked about continuing the forward momentum though the winter months.
Sheerness Naval Base 0735 hrs Thursday November 26, 1914
The HMS Bulwark belonging to the Fifth Battle Squadron was moored at Buoy #17. Most of the crew were below decks having breakfast. Above some members of the ship’s band were practicing. Suddenly there a huge explosion, which was heard up to 20 miles away. A towering column of greenish smoke arose from where the battleship had been moored. When the smoke cleared only a small remnant of the warship was visible poking up through the water. Rescue teams pulled two survivors from the chill waters.
Przemysl Fortress 0950 hrs
"We apparently failed to encircle the Russians as completely I had hoped but still we have won an impressive victory. We have captured at least 23,000 men and 70 guns. What is left of the Eleventh Army is fleeing in disorder towards Lemberg," declared General von François.
"Are we going to pursue, sir?" asked an eager General Linsingen.
"Our two cavalry divisions will harass their retreat but they must exercise caution. Too many cavalry units in this war have carelessly exposed themselves to artillery fire and suffered the consequences. I am not sending the infantry in pursuit. Center Army defeated Third Army near Tarnow, then marched hard to get here and immediately was thrown into combat. Our soldiers are exhausted. They need to rest. Our supply wagons have lagged behind and only began to arrive late yesterday."
Linsingen looked disappointed but made no protest. They were all very tired.
"General Kusmanek, I am still trying to sort out all the different units inside Przemysl. It is proving to be an exceedingly complicated matter. Some of the men here are from remnants of lost units and others are just plain stragglers."
"That is correct, general," answered Kusmanek.
"I am going to assign you the task of finding 1,000 replacement infantrymen suitable for 39th Honved Infantry Division. I expect this to be done before dusk tomorrow."
Kusmanek sighed deeply, "General François, I am most indebted to you for rescuing Przemysl from encirclement. But the situation with all the different units that took refuge here is extremely complicated and to simply reassign men from one division to another is—"
"-exactly what you are going to do before the sun sets tomorrow!" ordered François, "I have been granted temporary command authority over this fortress—and all personnel residing here. These are my orders!"
Kusmanek grimaced and looked to Arz for support, but found his countryman’s expression ambivalent. He replied, "I am not questioning your authority—except to point out it is indeed only temporary and what you are doing amounts to making permanent changes and therefore needs to be coordinated with the appropriate chain of command. Maybe they do things differently in the German—"
"—Irrelevant. What is relevant is that you will do as I have ordered! I will have these orders typed up so the responsibility will fall on my shoulders. I am not arguing this matter any further as there is a more important topic I need to bring up. My understanding is that the Landsturm battalions consist of those that are assigned to your garrison and more than a dozen other battalions that have merely taken refuge her that is correct?"
"Yes, that is correct."
"Good. What I am ordering is that you work with Feldmarshalleutnant Arz and select twelve of these Landsturm battalions. What we are going to do with these battalions is to given them three weeks of intensive supplemental training beginning at first light next Tuesday morning."
Kusmanek was nonplussed. Before he could grumble François turned to Arz, "Artur I am giving you the daunting assignment of managing this training program. I am well aware that the garrison has insufficient instructors available. What we are going to do is take those men who are recovering from wounds—including the German wounded—and find those whose wounds are too severe to allow an early return to their unit but would still be able to function as instructors. Obviously you will give consideration to matters like language. However do not be reluctant to mix Germans with Austro-Hungarians—in fact I think such an admixing would prove fructifying. Make the important decisions quickly. Your divisions may need to march again in two days."
Kusmanek stared at François in shock. Linsingen and Center Army’s chief of staff, Oberst Hell were equally bewildered. Arz contemplated the matter. His expression changed from deeply troubled to cautiously enthusiastic, "A most challenging assignment, general. I am curious however about what you are planning to do with these men once they have completed this supplemental training."
François smiled broadly, "I am going to form them into a temporary division, this is going to be my Christmas gift to your Kaiser."
Kusmanek hissed and interrupted, "What-- this is most irregular! For one thing, where are you going to get the artillery for a new division?"
"Look around you. There is more than a 1,000 guns in this fortress. We will find some you can spare to arm the division. There are also some cavalry squadrons, sapper companies and support units not assigned to your garrison. While the training is proceeding we can work out—"
"-What! You are planning to remove guns from a fortress to arm a field division—"
"Yes, precisely. We have done exactly that with the major German fortresses. Several temporary divisions were created in this manner to reinforce Gener—oops, I mean Feldmarshal von Hindenburg—"
"—This is not, I repeat not, the German Army!--"
"General Kusmanek please," interrupted Arz, "General François is, I assure you, well aware that there are many differences between our army and his. I share your concerns about how irregular this plan is. But I will respectfully remind you that we are in the midst of a massive conflict that has proven to be far different from our expectations. Our cherished traditions are important but victory is much more important. On reflection this plan has obvious advantages. As long as we clear this with…" His voice suddenly trailed off and he turned anxiously to François.
"You are planning to inform General Conrad of this plan?" he asked anxiously..
"I will, Artur. Well, eventually."
HQ Southwestern Front 2010 hrs
"Well, what does General Lechistski have to say?" General Ivanov, the commander of Southwestern Front, asked his chief of staff, General Mikhail Alexeev, who had just received a wireless message from Ninth Army. Ivanov did not like the look of Alexeev’s face.
"He has lost all contact with XIV Corps and fears that they have been encircled," answered Alexeev.
"Eternal damnation! How have we come to this? Two weeks ago we thought the Austrians were collapsing and Cracow would soon fall. We also hoped to take the key passes in the Carpathians and march on Budapest. The only obstacle we could see was the German Eleventh Army on our far right and we expected Northwestern Front’s Silesian offensive to take care of that.
What has happened since? First, we are taken by surprise at Czernowitz, but we tell ourselves it is a pinprick in a remote area. Northwestern Front has problems to the north so it cannot smash the German Eleventh Army, which then proceeds to attack Fourth Army. Third Army is attacked on its exposed left flank and must pull back north of the Vistula. In the last two days things gets much worse. The Eleventh Army is soundly defeated at Przemysl while Ninth Army is now suffering disaster on its right flank. By the saints in heaven, how has this come to pass, Mikhail? Tell me, please."
Alexeev thought Invanov was at least partially responsible for the setbacks but he didn’t dare say that. Instead he answered, "We should not assume the worst about XIV Corps. It is far from certain that it has been encircled—and even if it has there is a good chance it can escape."
Ivanov put his head in his hands and made a weary groan, "Arrgh. Even if they do escape, things are far from good. It is now clear that Ninth Army cannot take Cracow. Lechistski will need to withdraw once XIV Corps is rescued."
"Most certainly so," agreed Alexeev, "but I am also concerned about the threat posed by the enemy forces at Przemysl."
"Yes, yes, didn’t we discuss this after lunch and reach an agreement? Selimanov must take what’s left of Eleventh Army and guard Lemberg. We will reinforce him very soon with cavalry and eventually some infantry divisions."
"Yes, but these Austro-German forces at Przemysl pose a threat to more than Lemberg. I now believe that Eighth Army is in grave danger and should be ordered to retire to the east immediately."
Przemysl Fortress 2100 hrs
"General von François, you asked to see me?" asked the commander of the Polish Legion, Yosef Pilsudski standing in the doorway.
"Yes, I did, please come in and be seated," answered the general in a tone of voice more cordial than formal. The Polish Legion had been assigned to Center Army as reinforcements by Conrad. They had not seen much action under his command so far. François had used them to deliver Russian prisoners captured during Tarnow and after that to guard his line of communication.
"Would you care for some brandy?" asked François.
Pilsudski looked at the Prussian general warily but shrugged and said, "Yes, I would. Thank you."
François poured a drink and walked over to hand it over to the Polish leader, saying, "This is a fairly decent brandy. I think you will enjoy it."
Pilsudski accepted the brandy and began to sip it.
"I am curious, Oberst Pilsudski about this unit of yours, the Polish Legion," remarked François, "As I understand it you tried to stir up a general insurrection in Russian Poland at the beginning of the war."
"Yes, that is correct. And someone has probably told you as well that we failed. That person is correct as well," answered Pilsudski with evident bitterness.
"That is a very candid answer. Why do you think the insurrection failed?"
Pilsudski’s nostrils flared as he answered, "A day does not go by and I do not ask myself that very question at least a hundred times. Too many people have grown soft under the Tsar’s rule. Too many Poles have forgotten what it means to be Polish."
"Hmm, those are harsh words. Are you not also a socialist?"
"Yes, I am a friend of the workingman in their struggle for justice. What of it"
Like most German officers François distrusted socialists, though he gladly accepted the support that the majority of German socialists had given the war. The more extreme socialists talked ominously of letting the capitalist nations wear themselves out fighting amongst themselves and then launch a revolution. He found Pilsudski interesting because he seemed to be combining nationalism with socialism.
"So you see harmony rather a conflict between the two struggles?"
Pilsudski tapped his lip with a finger eventually replying cautiously, "Some people see a tension between the two objectives. Poland cannot achieve socialism as long as it is ruled by the Tsar. I am willing to wait until our victory is closer—much closer—before I worry too much about abstract conflicts."
The general nodded thoughtfully. He was having this discussion precisely to get a measure of how much Pilsudksi and the Polish Legion could be relied on and how best to manipulate them. Was he a staunch all or a loose cannon? He asked, "This is most interesting. My superiors in Germany are most interested in this sort of thing—wherever it occurs."
"You seek to exploit the weaknesses of your enemy. I understand that all too well, " replied Pilsudski with a smile that did not seem friendly.
"Yes, and since we share a common interest in overcoming a mutual foe, you willingly place yourselves under our command."
Pilsudski sighed. He took more than a sip of his brandy pondering his reply. Finally he gave his answer, "That is one way to put it. However it is best general if you understand something. We serve neither Tsar nor Kaiser but Poland."
On to Volume X