1915

 

GERMAN AIRSHIP

Length: 745 ft -  Diameter: 80 ft - Height: 90 ft - Max speed: 65 mph

 

 

 

 

In January 1915, there was military deadlock along every major battlefront throughout Europe. The western  front stretched 500 miles north from the Swiss frontier to the dunes of the North Sea were as the eastern front traversed the 1,000 miles south from the Baltic Sea to the borders of Romania.

It was during this stalemate that the Germans would invent and nurture a radical and terrifying new form of  warfare, the aerial bombing of civilian targets.

On the morning of January 19th, two German Zeppelin airships, the L3 and L4 each armed with 12 explosive and 25 incendiary bombs left Germany and crossed the English channel.

Once at the British coastline L4  turned north towards Kings Lynn and L3 south on Great Yarmouth were they each dropped their ordinance and successfully returned to Germany. A total of four people were killed and sixteen injured in the raid. Although their was minimal damage to property, the psychological effects on the population was immense.

Fear, panic and terror gripped the English countryside, for the next few days the people believed that a German  invasion was already underway and with the British army fighting in France they were left completely unarmed, alone and unprotected.

The German High Command now wanted to capitalize on the hysteria achieved by the Zeppelin attacks and  ordered a night operation on the British capital. On the evening of May 1st the  LZ 38 reached northeast London and dropped 90 high explosive bombs killing 7 and injuring 35.

The Zeppelin raids were virtually unstoppable, due mainly to the sole factor that their ceiling of operation was just over  13,000 feet, air force fighters and artillery guns of the period did not yet have the effective range to engage the Zeppelins at such heights.

It wasn't until May of 1916 that  a British Royal Flying Corps BE 2C fighter plane armed with incendiary bullets  shot down the first Zeppelin over Great Britain. Once the bullets pierced the outer skin, the Hydrogen gas within quickly ignited engulfing the entire airship, sending its hollow shell crashing into the ground.

The airship threat now slowly diminished after a number of failed missions were shot down without reaching  their intended targets, the final attack came on October 19th 1917 in which 33 people were killed. There were a total of 55 Zeppelin raids on Britain claiming the lives of more than 500 people, for the loss of 60 airships destroyed and  2,160 German crewman lost.

 

DOGGER BANK

 

In mid January German Naval Intelligence suspected the British fishing fleet of Dogger Bank positioned  midway between Germany and Great Britain, was providing England with information on German fleet movements. Admiral Hipper devised a plan to set sail with a  striking force and destroy this threat.

Admiral Hipper left German waters on January 23rd with a force comprising three Battle Cruisers, four light  Cruisers, eighteen Destroyers and one old Armoured Cruiser. However British code breakers had intercepted and decoded German wireless signals and knew of  Hipper's planned sortie.

British Vice Admiral Beatty was dispatched from the naval base of Rosyth one day previous with a force  comprising five Battle Cruisers, seven light Cruisers and thirty five Destroyer's to lay in wait and destroy Hipper's squadrons.

          

                                                  Admiral Beatty                         Admiral Hipper

     ADMIRAL BEATTY                                       ADMIRAL HIPPER

 

 

 

 

Sighting smoke at 08:52 Beatty's Battle Cruisers opened fire with their 13.5 inch main armaments. The German's  were unable to respond for a further nineteen minutes due to the shorter range  of their 12 inch guns. During the first British salvo's Beatty concentrated his fire power on only two of the German ships, Hipper's flagship S.M.S. Seydlitz at the head of the line and the Armoured Cruiser S.M.S. Blucher at the rear.

The first British salvo's straddled the Blucher which caused an ammunition fire in her rear turret and  heavily damaged the boiler room, Blucher was forced to reduce her speed to 17 knots and began to fall behind the main German force.

At 09:45 Seydlitz was struck by shells from Beatty's flagship H.M.S. Lion, which knocked out both her rear  turrets. In response S.M.S Derfflinger hit Lion with four 12 inch shells at 10:15 severally damaging the entire aft section of the ship. At 10:30 taking on water and listing to port, Lion lost all power and was dead in the water.

Ten minutes later Admiral Hipper made the difficult decision to break of the engagement leaving the crippled  Blucher to her fate and ordered the rest of his squadron to steam for home  waters. With Lion's electrical systems out of commission, Beatty ( using signal  flags ) ordered his second in command Rear Admiral Moore aboard the H.M.S New Zealand to take the fleet and pursue the retreating German vessels.

However Moore's ships were by now to far too accurately decipher Beatty's command's and misunderstood the order to pursue  as an order to finish of the Blucher.

For the next two hours despite insurmountable odds and being struck by nearly 70 large calibre shells and 5  torpedoes, Blucher still managed to heavily damage the Destroyer H.M.S. Meteor before being struck by 2 fatal torpedoes from the H.M.S. Aurora and sinking at 12:40.

The sacrifice of the Blucher had allowed Admiral Hipper to escape thus ending the battle. British casualties and losses numbered one Battle Cruiser and Destroyer out of action with 15 killed and 32 wounded in  comparison to German losses of one Armoured Cruiser sunk and one Battle Cruiser heavily damaged with 950 sailors killed, 80 wounded and 200 taken prisoner.

 

S.M.S. BLUCHER

 

 

 

 

Masurian Lakes

 

On the Eastern Front the Germans' had devised a plan for a diversionary attack by General Hoffman's Ninth Army which was  intended to (A) draw Russian forces away from the borders of East Prussia towards the Polish capital of Warsaw and (B) thin out a front line for the upcoming German attack on the Masurian Lakes.

The attack commenced at dawn on January 31st with Hoffman launching a series of attacks on the rail lines connecting the  cities of Lodz and Warsaw in and around the village of Bolimov.

In response the Russian Second Army under General Smirnov launched a massive counterattack to retake the  village. As the Russian's advanced, Hoffman simply ordered his forces to withdrawal and allow the well handled German Artillery to decimate the advancing enemy formations in well prepared killing zones.

Hoffman's feinting strategy of attack and withdrawal worked to perfection all throughout the day and into the  evening as Smirnov continually ordered Russian forces to occupy the German positions once they became vacant.

Although the destruction of Smirnov's army would continue, it was not the decisive German victory which makes this battle stand out but the fact that along with high explosive ordinance the Germans' also fired 20,000 shells filled with (benzyl bromide) a form of irritant tear gas.

This was to be the first recorded  event in which gas was used during the First World War. General Hoffman and the German High Command however were to be very disappointed in the performance of the new secret weapon were as upon impact, the shells, the clouds of gas never materialized, due to the extreme low temperatures the chemical froze.

Despite the failure of the gas  attack, the German offensive did achieve its main objective as Russian attention  would remain firmly around Warsaw until the main German assault was launched some seven days later. The one day battle of Bolimov would cost the Russian's  some 40,000 men were as the Germans' suffered 15,000 casualties.

On February 7th in a blinding snowstorm the Germans' launched what was to be the second battle of the Masurian  Lakes. The plan was for two German army's the Eighth and Tenth to attack and  effect a large scale pincer movement which would trap and annihilate the Russian Tenth Army under General Sievers' (the only allied force still occupying German  soil) 

General Von Below's 8th Army attacked the Russian left flank from the south, quickly overwhelming the  defenders. The next day 10th Army under General Von Eichhorn began their attack from the north. After four days of bitter fighting Von Below's army captured the  town of Lyck and Von Eichhorn had advanced some thirty five miles.

General Sievers' now saw his position untenable and ordered his Army to withdrawal into the Augustow forest  in a bid to confuse and delay the German pursuit. Sievers' then ordered his XX Corps to dig in and effect a fighting rearguard action to allow the rest of the Army to escape.

For the next ten days XX Corps fought a determined almost fanatical defence which kept the forest from being  surrounded, allowing some units of the Russian III Corps to cross the Niemen River, and III Siberian and XXVI Infantry Corps to reach the safety of Grodno.

On February 18th the Germans' completed the encirclement of the Augustow forest effectively trapping XX Corps. The Russian's would continue to bitterly contest their positions a further three days until their ammunition stocks ran out, the surviving 30,000 men surrendered on February 21st.

Although all four Russian Corps had suffered heavy casualties, remnants of three had escaped the German trap. The battle had been heralded as a great tactical victory with the Germans penetrating 70 miles into Russia territory along with 56,000 Russian dead and 100,000 taken prisoner in contrast to 20,000 German casualties.

 

Russian Soldiers WW 1

SOLDIERS OF RUSSIAN XX CORPS

 

 

Neuve - Chapelle

 

On the western front, the Allied High Command devised a plan to reduce the German salient south of Ypres by  capturing the village of Neuve - Chapelle. The attack was to be carried out by British General Sir Douglas Haig's 1st Army consisting of the 7th and 8th divisions' of IV Corps and the Meerut and Lahore divisions of the Indian Corps numbering 60,000 men and supported by 500 artillery pieces.

As luck would have it that sector of front would be defended by a mere 10,000 German light Infantry. On March 10th At 7:00 a.m. the Allied guns began the offensive. The bombardment, for weight of shells landing per yard of enemy front was the heaviest to be fired during all of 1915.

At 8:00 the guns fell silent and Haig ordered his Infantry forward. By 9:00 a.m. the British assault had created  a breach one mile wide in the northern sector of the German lines and were  advancing directly on the village. The Indian Corps on the southern edge of the salient however were advancing against German defences which were virtually untouched by the artillery barrage and were suffering heavy casualties.

By1:00 p.m. the flanks of the northern breach had been secured and the Indian Corps had occupied the German southern trenches. It is at this point in the battle that the advancing forces paused due to a complete communication breakdown between the front line troops and Haig's headquarters.

It would be a further six critical hours before new orders would reach the front, but the coming nightfall  had prevented Haig's officers from implementing his commands, the chance for an Allied breakthrough was gone. The only positive event was that through the day's confusion, the British IV Corps did manage to capture Neuve - Chapelle.

The German's now had the respite they needed, during the night they established and reinforced a new defensive line to the east of the village. On March 11th fog had prevented a renewed Allied attack on the new German lines. The German's then launched a pre dawn counterattack to retake the village on the 12th but were repulsed. Further  German attacks also failed, General Falkenhayn was forced to call a halt to offensive operations at 10:00 p.m.

On the morning of March 13th General Haig also called a halt to the operation and ordered the gains acquired  during the offensive be consolidated into the new Allied lines. The battle ended with the British in control of the village of Neuve - Chapelle but the German's held the surrounding high ground to the east.

The three day battle had cost the  Allies twelve thousand men 7,000 British and 5,000 Indian with German figures at 10,000. Neuve - Chapelle may have been a small tactical victory but its true significance marked the last offensive use of the Indian Corps on the Western Front, the remainder being transferred to the middle east to fight the Turks.

 

 INDIAN  TROOPS REACH THE GERMAN TRENCHES

 

 

Second Battle of Ypres

 

On the morning of  April 22nd the German's set the stage for the second battle of Ypres by releasing 5,700 cylinders containing 168,000 tons of deadly Chlorine gas upon a  four mile front. Each canister was opened by hand and relied solely on the  prevailing winds to carry the gas towards the enemy lines.

Within fifteen minutes 7,000 French soldiers had died with the remaining units abandoning their  positions en masse. Around the village of St. Julien however, Canadian troops held their positions and put up a stubborn defence by urinating into cloths and applying them to their faces to counter the effects of the gas.

After two days of failed frontal assaults, the German's released another Chlorine attack, this time  directly at the Canadian positions. The Allied countermeasures were ineffective and the Canadian's were forced to withdrawal allowing the German's to capture St. Julien.

The German's now spent the next two weeks concentrating a large force opposite the Frezenberg  ridge. On May 8th after a five hour Artillery barrage, three German Army Corps advanced up the summit. For two days the German attacks were repulsed by the British 27th and 28th Infantry Divisions.

On the third day the intensified German attacks were too much for the two lone Allied divisions to  withstand, the British lines broke and the German's occupied the ridge. On May 24th a heavy German assault south of Ypres against Hill 60, forced another Allied withdrawal.

The month long battle would now draw to a close as the German's were forced to call of the offensive due to serious supply problems. Although the German attacks had failed to capture Ypres, they had succeeded in reducing the Allied salient five miles wide by seven deep and were now in possession of the high ground surrounding the town.

Allied losses numbered seventy five thousand men, 60,000 British, 10,000 French and 5,000 Canadians. German casualties numbered 35,000.

 

German Gas Attack WW1

GERMAN GAS ATTACK

 

During the early stages of 2nd Ypres, Turkey closed the straights of Bosphorus and the Dardanelles connecting the Mediteranian and Black Sea’s, this would prevent Russia from exporting her vast amounts of wheat in exchange for armament  shipments from her western allies.

The British and  French sent in eighteen battleships to force a corridor and re - open the  waterway. Without adequate intelligence and planning the Allied fleet sailed into very strong coastal fortifications and suffered heavily, losing  three battleships sunk and four being severely damaged along with 800 sailors  killed. 

On April 25th,  Allied land forces under the command of British General Ian Hamilton attacked  the Gallipoli Peninsula. Turkish forces under German General Liman von Sanders  put up a formidable defence, the Allies made very little headway and could not occupy the  surrounding hills, thus being forced to dig in on the beaches and await  reinforcements, which would take several months to arrive from western Europe.

 

Isonzo River

 

On May 23rd Italy  sided with the Allies and declared war on the central powers, more precisely the  Austro - Hungarian Empire which would culminate in the battle of Isonzo.

Although nearly one  year removed from the devastating war in Europe, Italy was militarily weak,  still feeling the ill effects of the North African Libyan War of 1912. For the  upcoming offensive Italy fielded two armies, the Second and Third commanded  under the overall command of  General Luigi Cadorna. In all some 225,000 men supported by  700 field guns.

Opposing the  Italians' was General Svetozar Boroevic's Fifth Austro - Hungarian army numbering 115,000 men and 400 Artillery pieces. Although outnumbered  two-to-one, Boroevic's army commanded the high ground as well as the surrounding  mountain passes along the Isonzo River.

On June 23rd, the  Italians' began their offensive with a week long artillery bombardment after  which the main Infantry attack went forward on a 21 mile front. The lessons  learned on the Western Front were not reflected in the Italians' strategy as the  Infantry advanced straight forward into well entrenched positions  supported by heavy machine guns and artillery.

Very little progress  was achieved as a direct result of the poorly planned Infantry based assaults  except for a meagre one mile foothold on the eastern bank of the Isonzo near the  Carso Plateau. On July 2nd General Cadorna attempted to exploit the  small Italian gains by launching two fresh divisions to capture the Plateau.

Despite having a six-to-one numerical advantage on this section of front, the Italian attacks  failed to gain any further ground and the offensive petered out over the next  five days with the battle ending on July 7th.

This first battle of  the Isonzo River cost the Italians' 15,000 casualties and 2,000 men taken  prisoner. Austro - Hungarian losses numbered 8,000 dead.

 

                                                                                                          

                              GENERAL CADORNA                                         GENERAL BOROEVIC

 

Just eleven days  after the first battle, General Cadorna renewed offensive operations to occupy  the strategic Karst Plateau. The Italian Second and Third Armies had been  heavily reinforced to a fighting strength of 290,000 men and 1,000 heavy guns.  General Boroevics' Austro - Hungarian Fifth Army were re supplied with  ammunition and food stores only, Boroevic would find himself outnumbered three  to one for the upcoming battle, numbering a mere 100,000 men supported by 300  Artillery guns.

As the Italian  offensive began, the great breakthrough and capture of the Plateau in which  Cadorna had envisioned instead degenerated into a four day series of bloody  hand-to-hand fighting with swords, bayonets, knives and all forms of scrap metal  and debris that could be found was used in the horrific melee.

On July 22nd, Third  Army second in command Prince Emanuele Filibeto ( the Duke of Aosta) pleaded  with Cadorna to call of the attacks and change tactics, but was sternly rebuffed  then overruled in front of the Italian General staff.

Thus Cadorna's  strategy of massed Infantry assaults would continue, despite the Italian  offensive gaining not a single metre of ground. The battle would now wear on in  the same manner for the next twelve days until the Italian Artillery Corps  completely exhausted their shells, forcing Cadorna to call off operations on  August 3rd.

Loses on both sides  were quite high in comparison to the First battle of Isonzo, with the Italians  suffering 42,000 dead and the Austro - Hungarians' losing half their army with  47,000 men lost.

 

Gallipoli

 

On the Gallipoli Peninsula. Three fresh Allied Divisions' the 10th Irish, 54th Anglican and 53rd Welsh,  landed at Sulva Bay on the morning of August 7th with the objective of breaking  through the Turkish defences and capturing the strategic Chunuk Bair heights.

After two days hard  fighting the Allies broke off the beaches and suceded in capturing the heights, but  a massive counterattack by the Ottoman 5th Army under General Mustafa Kemal  recaptured and swept the three Allied divisions from the high ground, completely  annihilating the Lancashire and Wiltshire Regiments in the process.

Casualties figures  for this brief but bloody engagement numbered 6,000 British and 9,000 Ottomans.  With the Turks once again in possession of the heights surrounding the beach  head, the Allies once again found themselves occupying the same positions as they had  since April.

The Allies then  decided on yet another offensive too drive the Turks from the peninsula. On  August 21st the Australian 2nd Infantry division supported by the 5th Brigade  launched attacks aimed at capturing Hill 60 and Scimitar Ridge.

The Allied operation  however was not properly coordinated with offshore naval batteries nor land  based Artillery, therefore the troops were sent forward without adequate heavy gun support.  After  nine days of battle the Allies had failed to capture a single objective leaving  the Ottomans' in possession of the heights.

The Allied situation at Gallipoli would now become  completely  untenable with the October 7th invasion of Serbia by Germany and Austro -  Hungary coinciding with the entry of Bulgaria into the war on the side of the Central  Powers four days later.

In early December it  was decided to finally end the eight month battle and evacuate the Allied  forces. Of the 290,000 Allied casualties, 205,000 were British, 50,000 French  and 35,000 Australian and New Zealand troops. Turkish losses amounted to 240,000  men.

 

GENERAL MUSTAFA  KEMAL

 

In Europe the year  would end with two more horrifying battles between Italy and Austro - Hungary  known as the 3rd and 4th battles of Isonzo (October 18 - November 3) and  (November 10 - December 2) in which both combatants' had learned nothing from  their previous engagements and simply attacked and  counterattacked one another across rivers, deep ravines, steep ridges and  extremely mountainous terrain with neither side gaining an advantage over the  other. In the end Italian casualties numbered 117,000 men in comparison to  72,000 Austro - Hungarians'.

 

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