Saturday, 15 August 2015

August 15th 1915

For Britain, 1915 was a year dominated by Gallipoli, and to a lesser extent by its actions on the Western Front at Ypres, Neuve Chapelle and Loos. In general, it was the year that the conflicts contained within the Western (Belgium and France) and Eastern (Prussia, Galicia and Russian Poland) theatres of 1914 became global, and every continent became involved. Even the USA, whose resolve to remain neutral would hold until 1917, was a hotbed of diplomatic activity, covert actions and subterfuge.
What follows is a snapshot of events around the world exactly one hundred years ago, just over twelve months after the outbreak.

Sir Ian Hamilton's final assault on the peninsula had begun at Suvla Bay on 6th, and the 15th marked the closure of attempts to continue with landing of forces and equipment. Action on land continued with an attempt to push the Turks back on Kiretch Tepe ridge to the north of Suvla Bay - another 2,000 casualties were incurred in this particular lost cause. Furthermore by mid August huge numbers of soldiers had been  evacuated on health grounds - for example nearly 50% of the South Australian 10th Battalion with diarrhoeal illnesses. There was to be one final battle on 21st August before the Gallipoli campaign began to move towards its dismal end - withdrawal.

Predictably, the Balkan peninsula remained a region of instability, mistrust and ethnic tensions. Bulgaria was a key player, and was tending to view German overtures regarding territories in Macedonia and Serbia more attractive than her natural affinity with Russia.
At this stage, Serbia was looking more vulnerable than at any point in the war so far. Success on the Russian front enabled Germany to plan invasion in force, and annihilate Serbia as a military entity. All the other Balkan states observed this scenario through the lens of their self-interest.

Middle East
The Mesopotamia campaign had been unfolding for several months. Its strategic purpose was to protect British interests in Persia against the expansionist ambitions of Germany in that region,   typified by the Berlin to Baghdad railroad plan, and increasing since the entry of Turkey to the war. British forces (mainly comprised of Indian troops) led by Townshend had landed in the south and were making their advance via Basra in the south through difficult terrain towards Baghdad in the north - sound familiar?

Western Front 
Learning little from the high costs of failed attempts in Neuve Chapelle in March, and in Champagne and Artois, the allies - led by Joffre - were preparing for their next assaults in the same area. Joffre was under pressure to release troops for the middle east, but insisted on the primacy of Western Front requirements. The autumn battles of Champagne and Loos would follow, with........ no significant gains.

Eastern Front.
The need for the Russian centre armies to retreat eastwards became inevitable with the loss of Warsaw on 5th August. Both northern and southern flanks of their front were being pushed back rapidly, particularly in the south following Mackensen's triumph at Gorlice-Tarnow. By 15th, a skilful retreat had been conducted as far as Brest-Litovsk (later to be the site of Russo-German peace treaty in 1917). To the north, the great fortress of Kovno (today Kaunas in Lithuania) had all but fallen by the 15th opening the main routes to Petrograd for the Germans.

Baltic Sea
SMS Nassau in 1915
Apart from submarine campaigns, the relative inactivity of the German Fleet made them itchy to achieve success comparable to the armies of the east. As Hindenburg's northern flank pushed deeper and deeper into today's Baltic states, the possibility arose of a naval action via the Gulf of Riga that would enable a landing of further German forces to link with them, thereby strangling Russian communications with Petrograd. Several attempts were made by the Germans with their most powerful 'Nassau' battleships to establish dominance over the Gulf, by forcing the southernmost entrance. These were indecisive, and the landings did not happen.

Home Front
The National Registration Act had been passed by Parliament in July, and was enacted on this day. It was an enabler for conscription, which would come in the following year, but also was there to assist manpower and other planning. The act required that all men and women between the ages of 15 and 65years register at their residential location on 15th August 1915.

The oafish Austrian
charge d'affaires in New York,
Konstantin Dumba
Tensions over USA neutrality had been growing steadily since German submarine warfare had been declared, and particularly since the sinking of the Lusitania. From mid August onwards the public became increasingly aware of undercover and nefarious German moves to damage American security and industrial productivity.
The 'Dumba Affair' at this time, a risible prototype for a James Bond movie, exposed German and Austrian diplomats fomenting civil unrest and industrial action in order to undermine American stability. Matters were smoothed over by diplomatic resignations, including the hapless Dumba, but a significant shift took place in American public opinion with respect to America's stance in the war.

Africa. The huge continent suffered modest casualties compared to the scale of the main theatres (although more men were lost to infectious diseases), but saw major strategic campaigns across great distances. Allied forces had captured Windhoek, capital of German SW Africa by late July, and German-provoked actions to attack Egypt from both east and west had been rebuffed. At this point in August, British and French forces were preparing for a major action against German held areas in the Cameroon in West Africa. There was an ongoing German guerrilla style campaign in East Africa, attempting to divert allied resources away from the Western Front.

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