Year 1915

The situation at the fronts in 1915:

preparing a gas attack

German soldiers are preparing a gas attack.

Both sides made attempts to break through the Western Front but to little effect despite huge casualties. Not even the German chlorine and phosgene poison gas-cloud attacks (April and December) achieved any decisive result. British operations continued to be gravely hampered by lack of high-explosive shells and heavy guns. During the first winter of trench warfare (1914-15) BEF C-in-C Sir John French had repeatedly asked for more shells and vast increases in high-explosive output. He was told that he must economize. In spring 1915, the British guns were, with few exceptions, rationed to four shells per gun per day (‘not to be used unless necessary’!). Hand grenades were improvised from discarded bully beef and jam cans. War Minister Kitchener, when pressed by Prime Minister Asquith, denied that there was a shell shortage. But Colonel Charles Repington, military correspondent of The Times, after returning from the front, revealed that the British attacks at Festubert (April) had failed almost entirely because of lack of HE projectiles to dislodge the Germans from their strongpoints.

On 21 May 1915, a headline in the Daily Mail screamed ‘The Tragedy of the Shells’. The paper asserted that Kitchener ‘had starved the army in France of high explosive shells’. Kitchener claimed (perhaps with some justice) that his comments had been misinterpreted by Asquith. Be that as it may, drastic action was obviously called for. On 26 May, the British Government announced the creation of a Minis­try of Munitions with wide powers, to be headed by David Lloyd George. The Ministry began to function on 2 July 1915 and quickly achieved dramatic results. Four months later an inter-allied munitions organization was established by Lloyd George and his equally dynamic French counter­part, Albert Thomas. In spring 1916, Kitchener attempted to persuade a brilliant engineer, Herbert Hoover (later US President) to renounce his American citizenship and join the Ministry of Munitions as Lloyd George’s eventual successor. Nothing had been settled when Kitchener was drowned and Lloyd George took over the War Office (June 1916).

Kitchener had seen, with unusual clarity, that the war would last for at least three years and that Germany ‘will only give in when she is beaten to the ground’. He laid detailed plans for a ‘New Army’ of 70 divisions (1.2 million men) by 1917; all would-be volunteers unconnected with the Territorial system. As a young volunteer in the Franco­-Prussian War, Kitchener had noted with disgust how the French Territorials had decamped en masse from the hastily improvised Prussian Army of the Loire.

French left the BEF in December 1915 and was succeeded by Haig. A bitter argument over Allied grand strategy was now in full swing. Haig and the new Chief of Imperial General Staff, Robertson, belonged to the so-called ‘West­erner’ faction, which advocated total concentration of all fighting men and guns in France. The opposing ‘Easterners’ (including Lloyd George and Churchill) advocated decisive action against the weaker brethren among the Central Powers; Austria, Italy (the latter entered the war on the Allied side in May 1915) and Ottoman Turkey.

landing at Gallipoli

Allied troops landing on the beach at Gallipoli.

Turkey had entered the war in November 1914 but by early February 1915 had been defeated both in the Russian Caucasus and near the Suez Canal. The British had invaded and taken the Gulf end of Turkish-ruled Mesopotamia (modern Iraq), initially to protect their oil fields in Southwest Persia. A powerful Anglo-French fleet attacked the Dardanelles in February­-March 1915, and an Australian, New Zealand, British and French force began landing on the Gallipoli Peninsula south-west of Constantinople in April. If this operation had been launched sooner, Turkey might have been knocked out of the war, permitting unhindered communication with Russia through the Black Sea. But Allied procrastination and mismanagement merely reproduced all the features and senseless slaughter of the Western Front. And an over­optimistic British autumn dash up the Tigris for Baghdad, to offset the Gallipoli failure, ended down river in another entrenched stalemate at Kut.

Denied large-scale supplies of Allied munitions, the Rus­sians had to endure from April successive crushing German offensives in the south (Mackensen) and in the west (Hin­denburg) supported by overwhelming concentrations of heavy artillery. All Russian Poland, including Warsaw (4 August), was overrun by the Germans. The Eastern Front did not stabilize until late September 300 miles to the east by which time the Tsar’s armies had sustained over 2 million casualties, half of them prisoners, with the loss of nearly 3,000 guns. The Tsar himself had felt impelled to replace his uncle Grand Duke Nicholas as C-in-C (5 September) thus further divorcing himself from the vital events on the home front. No wonder Falkenhayn, the German Chief of Staff, felt he had achieved his spring aim of ‘the indefinite crip­pling of Russia’s offensive strength’. He withdrew victori­ous divisions across the Central Powers’ superb railway network to strike down Serbia which had ferociously resisted her Austrian attackers for over a year. In a little over six weeks (October-November), Mackensen’s veterans, aided by Bulgaria’s stab-in-the-back intervention, had overrun Serbia leaving her armies to make a memorable winter retreat to Albania and the sea. Franco-British land­ings at Salonika (Northern Greece) were too little and too late to affect the outcome.

Entente tried the Italian soldier

The Entente tried the Italian soldier – who is tied to the neutrality – to seduce with gifts (Trieste and other areas) to enter the war.

The four Central Powers now formed an unimpeded bloc. Furthermore, Austria’s initial two-front burden had been decisively eased and she was standing up well to Italy’s opportunistic attacks on the Isonzo and in the Alps (June onwards). The one foe that really united her polyglot army was the traditional Italian one it had humbled before in 1848-49 and 1866.
Falkenhayn felt he was now free to pursue his most cherished strategic aim to wear down the already sorely-tried French Army so that ‘breaking point would be reached and England’s best sword knocked out of her hand’ (December). The Entente should collapse before the new Kitchener armies could exert their million-strong pressure on the Western Front.

Only in remote African theatres did the Allies score clear­-cut 1915 military successes. Anglo-French colonial forces completed the hard-won conquest of the Cameroons (October 1915-February 1916) after Botha’s South Africans had triumphantly overrun German South-West Africa (February-July 1915) in a model campaign of desert logis­tics and Boer-mounted commando advances. Imperial forces were now available to invade German East Africa after a year on the defensive.

Diary December 11, 1915

Diary for Saturday, December 11, 1915: Home Fronts Britain: Recruiting rush last 2 days under age-group system. Western Front Artillery duels at different points. Belgian national ammunition factory in France at Le Havre blows up with heavy casualties. Champagne: Rifle-firing… learn more

Diary December 10, 1915

Diary for Friday, December 10, 1915: Southern Fronts Italian Front: Italians capture positions above Bezzecca basin (Carnic Alps). At Pless Conrad first proposes to Falkenhayn joint Trentino offensive to knock Italy out in spring 1916 with 16 divisions. Western Front… learn more

Diary December 9, 1915

Diary for Thursday, December 9, 1915: Sea War Dardanelles: Royal Navy E2 last Allied submarine to enter. Western Front ALLIED WAR COUNCIL IN PARIS. General Castelnau appointed French Chief off Staff. Artois: French artillery actions (Loos and Givenchy sectors) and… learn more

Diary December 8, 1915

Diary for Wednesday, December 8, 1915: Middle East Gallipoli – EVACUATION BEGINS: 83,048 troops; 186 guns; 1,718 vehicles; 4,695 horses and mules (until December 20). Half of them removed on last two nights. Southern Fronts Salonika: Bulgars attack Anglo-French retreat… learn more

Diary December 7, 1915

Diary for Tuesday, December 7, 1915: Southern Fronts Serbia: Austrian Third Army captures Pec and then links with Bulgar 3rd Division, as fighting peters out. Albania: Putnik in sick litter arrives at Scutari and resigns because of ill-health. Western Front… learn more

Diary December 6, 1915

Diary for Monday, December 6, 1915: African Fronts East Africa: 250 German troops retake Kasigao Hill. By December 31, 650 Germans pin down 5000 British south of Uganda Railway. Cameroons: French have advanced only c. 8 miles from Eseka, fighting… learn more

Diary December 5, 1915

Diary for Sunday, December 5, 1915: Middle East Mesopotamia – Siege of Kut begins. 7th Indian Division arrives at Basra. Western Front Flanders: French guns shell communication trenches near Het Sas. Artois: Franco-German artillery duel at double slagheap southwest of… learn more

Diary December 4, 1915

Diary for Saturday, December 4, 1915: Sea War Adriatic: Italian destroyer Intrepido sunk off Valona by mines from German U-boat UC14 North Sea: Harwich Force trial sortie with carrier Vindex, 2 aircraft wrecked in fog. Foul weather ruins sorties (13… learn more

Diary December 3, 1915

Diary for Friday, December 3, 1915: Sea War Sea of Marmora: British submarine E11 (Nasmith) sinks Turk destroyer Yarhisar (42 survivors) during record 48-day patrol sinking 46 vessels. Also takes presumed first-ever submarine periscope photo of Constantinople defences (December 13).… learn more

Diary December 2, 1915

Diary for Tuesday, December 2, 1915: Eastern Front Galicia: Austrians driven back to west bank of river Styr, repulsed again on December 17, attacks at several points beaten on December 3. Western Front German communique reports artillery duels and mining… learn more

Diary December 1, 1915

Diary for Wednesday, December 1915: Air War Germany: In December the maiden flight of Junkers J-1, world’s first all-metal (steel) Cantilever wing monoplane. Eastern Front: In December first Russian single-seat fighter units created with a few Sikorskys having forward-firing MGs… learn more

Diary November 30, 1915

Diary for Tuesday, November 30, 1915: Southern Fronts Serbia: Austrian 62nd Division occupies Plevlje in northwest Montenegro and secures bridgehead south of river Cehotina (until December 3), but too weak to interfere with Serb retreat. Middle East Gallipoli: 53rd (Welsh)… learn more

Diary November 29, 1915

Diary for Monday, November 29, 1915: Middle East Gallipoli – Anzac bridgehead: Turk shells cause 262 casulaties at Lone Pine. Western Front Kitchener in Paris. Sir J French in London sees Asquith but does not take hint to resign, fears… learn more

Diary November 28, 1915

Diary for Sunday, November 28, 1915: Air War North Sea: Royal Navy Air Service FBA flying boat routs 4 German seaplanes (1 shot down) off Ostend. Eastern Front Pripet: 900 Terek Cossacks (54 casualties) capture German 82nd Division staff (over… learn more

Diary November 27, 1915

Diary for Saturday, November 27, 1915: Air War Western Front: 21 RFC 1st Wing aircraft damage Don railway station (10 killed, 12 wounded; repeat December 2). Western Front Artois: Unsuccessful German trench raid north of ‘The Labyrinth’, French capture a… learn more

Diary November 26, 1915

Diary for Friday, November 26, 1915: Western Front ‘The night was quiet all along the Front’ (Friday afternoon official communique). Artillery duels at many points. Argonne: French artillery destroys German ammunition depot near La Fille Morte. Meuse­: German gas attack… learn more

Diary November 25, 1915

Diary for Thursday, November 25, 1915: Middle East Mesopotamia – Townshend begins retreat after air reconnaissance reports Turks returning. Gallipoli: Monro becomes C-in-C MEF, Birdwood GOC Dardanelles Army. Western Front Grenade fighting during night on some sectors in Artois and… learn more

Diary November 24, 1915

Diary for Wednesday, November 24, 1915: Western Front Artois: 50 German shells directed at Arras rail station. Meuse: Germans fire a few gas shells at Bois Brule (Woevre). Argonne: French mine destroys small German post in Boluntre sector. Eastern Front… learn more

Diary November 23, 1915

Diary for Tuesday, November 23, 1915: Southern Fronts Serbia: Fall of Mitrovica and Pristina drives Serbs west of Kossovo Plain. Germans claim 17,000 PoWs and captured 35 guns. 200,000 Serbs begin epic 100-mile retreat west and southwest into Albania across… learn more

Diary November 22, 1915

Diary for Monday, November 22, 1915: Middle East Mesopotamia – Battle of Ctesiphon (until November 24, 22 miles southeast of Baghdad): Townshend’s 13,756 men with 30 guns take 1,300 PoWs and Turk first line from Nureddin’s 18,000 soldiers (4 divisions)… learn more