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 November 21, 1915

Diary for Sunday, November 21, 1915: Air War Mesopotamia: Major Reilly Royal Flying Corps shot down by MG fire and captured near Ctesiphon before he can report crucial Turk reinforcements (51st Division); 4 still surviving aircraft help to cover Townshend’s… learn more

Diary November 20, 1915

Diary for Saturday, November 20, 1915: Western Front French artillery active at different points. Meuse: German set of mines exploded in Bois des Chevaliers (Meuse Heights). Southern Fronts Serbia: Bulgars force French south of river Crna. Politics Canada declares war… learn more

Diary November 19, 1915

Diary for Friday, November 19, 1915: Western Front Alsace: Lively fighting with artillery, trench mortars and grenades on Hartmannsweil­erkopf and on Uffholz plateau. Southern Fronts Serbia: Bulgarian troops reach Tetovo barring last route to Greece. Battle of Kossovo (­until November… learn more

Diary November 18, 1915

Diary for Thursday, November 18, 1915: Sea War Mediterranean and Adriatic: Full German Cattaro U-boat Flotilla formed. Pacific: Fuso, Japan’s first true dreadnought, completed. Three more by April 30, 1918. Western Front Flanders: Canadian trench raid southwest of Messines. Southern… learn more

Diary November 17, 1915

Diary for Wednesday, November 17, 1915: Southern Fronts Italian Front: Italians attack and take Oslavia and Hill 188 (latter kept). Salonika: Sarrail sees Kitchener who tells him Joffre will not spare more troops (now 120,000 for this new theatre); British… learn more

Diary November 16, 1915

Diary for Tuesday, November 16, 1915: Home Fronts Austria: Prime MInister writes ‘The English war of starvation, … three bad harvests … has brought us into the most difficult situation’. Italy – Late November: class of 1896, the 19-year-olds, called… learn more

Diary November 15, 1915

Diary for Monday, November 15, 1915: Middle East Gallipoli: Kitchener cables home evacuation might not be so costly. 52nd Division Helles bridgehead mining success near Krithia Vineyard. Persia: Central Powers’ Ambassadors leave Tehran for Kum with 3,000 Persian gendarmes, expecting… learn more

Diary November 14, 1915

Diary for Sunday, November 14, 1915: Sea War Black Sea: Battlecruiser Goeben missed off Bosphorus by 2 Russian submarine torpedoes but taken off coal convoy route. Dardanelles: ­Cruiser Chatham brings Kitchener to Mudros (from Marseilles), only general not seasick visiting… learn more

Diary November 13, 1915

Diary for Saturday, November 13, 1915: Western Front German official communiques of November 13 and 14 state nothing to report. Flanders: In Belgium effective bombardments silence German artillery batteries. Southern Fronts Serbia: Serbs retreat on Kossovo Plain and their new… learn more

Diary November 12, 1915

Diary for Friday, November 12, 1915: African Fronts Cameroons: c. 250 British soldiers occupy Gorori, cross Mban and take Bumbo (November 24). East Africa­: Whitehall recommends, ‘conquest of this German colony with as little delay as possible’. Brigade-General Northey made… learn more

Diary November 11, 1915

Diary for Thursday, November 11, 1915: Home Fronts Britain – War Council of Five appointed: Asquith, Bonar Law, Balfour, Lloyd George, McKenna. Churchill resigns from Cabinet (public November 13), farewell speech on November 15, joins BEF on November 18. Lord… learn more

Diary November 10, 1915

Diary for Wednesday, November 10, 1915: Southern Fronts Italian Front – Fourth Battle of the Isonzo (until December 3): Italian 5assa Brigade prominent in Carso fighting (until November 12) after 4-hour bitter intensive barrage. 28 Italian divisions against 15 Austrian… learn more

Diary November 9, 1915

Diary for Tuesday, November 9, 1915: Southern Fronts Serbia: Putnik attacks Bulgars east of Pristina with 5 divisions, his defence on Morava line ends having extricated Timok Army survivors from northeast. Mackensen prepares XXII Reserve Corps for transfer (Alpenkorps replaces… learn more

Diary November 8, 1915

Diary for Monday, November 8, 1915: Air War Turkey: 3 RNAS aircraft (2 x 112lb bombs each) from Imbros and Enos first attack Kuleli Burgas rail bridge and damage its installation, near Bulgar border (river Maritsa, raids repeated on this… learn more

Diary November 7, 1915

Diary for Sunday, November 7, 1915: Southern Fronts Serbia: Mackensen reaches Kragujevac and forces river Morava at Kraljevo. Bulgars capture Leskovac south of Nis. Italian Front: General Peppino Garibaldi‘s Italians storm Col di Lana (Venetian Alps), but lose it to… learn more

Diary November 6, 1915

Diary for Saturday, November 6, 1915: Sea War Dardanelles: British submarine E20 torpedoed and sunk by Geramn coastal-submarine UB14 (Heimburg) thanks to Allied submarine rendezvous code capture (see October 30, 1915), but E11 returns save. Western Front Champagne: Heavy-calibre shelling… learn more

Diary November 5, 1915

Diary for Friday, November 5, 1915: African Fronts Western Desert: c. 130 Turks and munitions, landed from U35 at Bardia, reinforce Senussi. Sea War Eastern Mediterranean: U35 sinks RN armed boarding steamer Tara and Egyptian coastguard vessel Abbas following day… learn more

Diary November 4, 1915

Diary for Thursday, November 4, 1915: Sea War Western Mediterranean: U38 sinks French transport Calvados (Sene­galese battalion aboard) with heavy loss of life, Algeria-Marseilles traffic suspended for 36 hours. North Sea: UC8 runs aground off Dutch Terschelling island, interned. Western… learn more

Diary November 3, 1915

Diary for Wednesday, November 3, 1915: Air War North Sea – Bristol Scout (pilot Towler) of Royal Navy Air Service takes off from seaplane carrier HMS Vindex: first carrier deck take off by wheeled aeroplane. Western Front Champagne: Germans storm… learn more

Diary November 2, 1915

Diary for Tuesday, November 2, 1915: Western Front Flanders: Ypres again heavily bombarded. France: ­Maunoury succeeds Gallieni as Paris Military Governor. Middle East Gallipoli: Monro estimates evacuation loss at 30-40%, visits Egypt until November 8. African Fronts East Africa: Tighe… learn more