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Thread: In the Age of Superpowers

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    Field Marshal TC Pilot's Avatar
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    In the Age of Superpowers: 1914 - 1964



    -----


    As far as assassination plots go, the attack upon the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne Franz Ferdinand would have gone down as one of the most farcical intrigues in history, if only it had not been successful. On June 28, 1914, a band of Serbian nationalists armed with pistols and time bombs took their positions in the streets of Sarajevo. As the touring Habsburg prince's motorcade passed by, the first two would-be assassins had second thoughts and failed to act. A third, lobbing an explosive, missed and managed only to disable a nearby car and wound several bystanders, before stumbling into a five-inch deep river and taking a cyanide capsule that only managed to induce vomiting. An angry mob severely beat the assassin before police arrested him.

    The attempt on Franz Ferdinand's life did not especially perturb the Austrian prince, and the tour of Sarajevo continued as planned. After an angry outburst at the town hall and a few brief references to the incident in a prepared speech, the event seemed to leave Ferdinand's mind. But, still fearing for his safety, the security detail decided to take an alternate route and avoid the city center. The driver of Ferdinand's car was not informed and took a wrong turn. Quickly realizing his mistake, the driver began to back up, but the car stalled in front of a cafe where one of the conspirators, Gavrilo Princip, had gone to lunch after the initial failed bombing. Drawing his pistol, Princip fired two shots. The Archduke and his wife were dead.

    The assassination was greeted with almost uniform condemnation from the governments of Europe. Many wondered if the tottering Habsburg empire might grasp upon the murder as a pretext to invade Serbia and continue its conquest of the Balkans. But the Austrians were slow to act and rumors of war faded. At least, until July 25, when Serbia was presented an ultimatum, threatening war if a series of punitive demands were not met within 48 hours. Austria-Hungary had already received assurances that Germany would honor its alliance obligations, and Serbia would soon received similar assurances from its ally Russia. Europe was now on a collision course. Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, Russia began to mobilize. Germany mobilized in response, and France in response to that.

    The series of events leading up to the outbreak of war had their origins in the previous forty years. Since 1870, Europe had experienced an unprecedented period without a major war which saw the continent ascend to new heights of power and influence over the rest of the globe. But it was a continent still divided against itself, divided by burning class struggles and national ambitions. The Great Powers maneuvered constantly for advantages, forming strategic alliances, grabbing up colonies thousands of miles away in distant lands, all while raising massive armies ready to march on a moment's notice.

    Now, the slide towards war seemed unavoidable, like a massive train barreling toward calamity. Mobilization by one nation necessitated mobilization by all the rest, or risk being caught unprepared by an attack. Germany, paranoid and insecure about its position between the two enemies France and Russia, had for years planned on a truly massive strike to the west that would knock France out of the war before Russia could bring its massive numbers to bear, the Schlieffen Plan. Thus, in a rather apt demonstration of the bizarre nature of events of 1914, Germany would direct the vast majority of its armed strength against France in order to protect Austria-Hungary from Russia, and it would do so by invading the tiny states of Belgium and Luxembourg.



    In the early morning hours of August 2, 1914, Germany declared war on France. German troops poured across the frontier into Belgium. The long peace was finally over. The Great War had begun. By the end, it would shake the world to its very foundations. It was the end of the Age of the Great Powers, and the beginning of the Age of the Superpowers.

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    Chapter I: The Great War - Part I

    Ever since the advent of the Franco-Russian alliance, Germany had been dogged by the nightmare scenario of a two-front war. Caught between the two powers, Germany's chances of triumphing in a war seemed bleak. Acutely aware of its geographical insecurity, German High Command believed that the best chance of success was to deliver a smashing, decisive blow against a single opponent, then direct its full military force against the remaining foe. All possible force was to be brought to bear for this preliminary attack, and time was of the essence. If France could not be defeated before the sheer weight of Russian numbers was thrown against eastern Germany, the chances of victory would all but evaporate.

    But in the fateful days on the eve of war, the Kaiser Wilhelm II very nearly undid the decades of military planning. Constantly fretting about the vulnerability of Prussia against a Russian invasion, Wilhelm very nearly ordered the German army to stand fast in the west and direct the bulk of the army against Russia. Ensconced in the fortresses and entrenchments along the Franco-German border in Alsace-Lorraine, the idea that a small German force could hold back a major French incursion was not without merit. Russia would quickly fold against the onslaught of Austria-Hungary and Germany combined, and France would be given no choice but to cease hostilities, or risk catastrophe. It was a tempting choice for Wilhelm to contemplate, but one he could ultimately never make. All plans, all contingencies, all the decades of planning revolved around the first strike against France. Who was he to undo all that?

    But the Kaiser's fears were enough to dilute the strength of the great offensive force. Thirty-one divisions were placed in eastern Germany to hold back the Russians, the majority of that force concentrated in East Prussia where the main thrust of the Russian offensive was expected. It would prove unnecessary. Russia was slow to gather its forces in Poland, and what force it had was directed principally against the Austrian forces in Galicia, where the Habsburg armies quickly crumbled and retreated. Without the Kaiser's interference, perhaps another fourteen divisions could have been brought west.

    Distractions to the east notwithstanding, the German army that marched into Belgium and Luxembourg represented more than half the entire German army, sixty-one divisions in total, while another 11 stood guard in Alsace-Lorraine. Wilhelm and General Staff believed, not without reason, that the Belgians, outnumbered almost ten to one, would immediately fold, or refrain from even blocking the German advance. But, as the bulk of the German invasion approached the city of Liege, they were quickly disabused of the notion. Liege was the first major obstacle in the path of the German advance. Straddling the Meuse River and covering the open plains between the largely-impassible Ardennes forest and the Dutch border, Liege and its ring of forts was in a position to ground the German offensive to a complete halt, but only if it could be sufficiently reinforced.

    Germany's declaration of war had caught Belgium by surprise, their armies only still in a state of partial mobilization as a precaution against the mounting tensions in Europe. Against the onslaught of the German invaders, the Belgians could only muster three understrength divisions: one of infantry, one of cavalry, and one comprised mostly of garrison troops. With German cavalry units swarming around the flanks and lines of artillery being rolled forward against them, the Belgian defenders held their ground as best they could, and did so for three full days. The defense of Liege raised immediate worries in Berlin. General von Moltke, Chief of the General Staff, was practically beside himself with terror that French reinforcements might be rushing north to relieve the defenders of Liege, that the war was already lost before it had really begun.


    Completely outnumbered and outgunned, the Belgians hold the line.


    Such hysterics were premature. By August 6, Liege was under German control, and the bulk of the army was still trailing behind on the road from Germany. The defense of Liege probably did little, if anything, to stall the German advance overall, but showed that even a country as badly outnumbered as Belgium could resist the onslaught of German arms.

    On August 10, with the army across the border and inside Belgium, the attack was renewed now against the city of Namur, where the remnants of the Liege defenders were now positioned. The German army began to fan out, toward Brussels to the west and Hasselt to the north, while on August 13 thirteen divisions began to push toward Arlon through recently-captured Luxembourg. There was little the Belgians could do to stop the Germans without French assistance, which seemed nowhere to be had. On August 12, Namur fell to the Germans, Arlon on the 13th, and Brussels on the 15th. With central Belgium under control, the German offensive pivoted southward into France. Cavalry divisions under Generals Ludendorff and von Falkenhayn raced ahead of the main body of the army as quickly as possible, scouting for a French army that was still nowhere to be seen. But signs of the French army's whereabouts soon trickled in. The first French forces were engaged just across the border outside Sedan where German divisions from Arlon were advancing on August 17. On the 18th, the extreme right of the German army engaged another French division under the command of General Ferdinand Foch. In both instances, the Germans faced only a single division, but it indicated that France was not oblivious to the danger of the invasion of Belgium.


    German divisions push into France against minimal resistance.


    The advance continued. On August 20, Foch was forced to retreat from Lille. On the 22nd, Ludendorff's cavalry reached Hirson, and a day later Reims fell. But despite the good progress, time was running out. Austrian forces were in full flight in Galicia, and Russian forces continued to amass in Poland, while in France, more and more enemy divisions continued to trickle in from the south. von Falkenhayn now reported at least seven French divisions forming up in the triangle formed by Paris-Reims-Troyes. In Amiens, too, where Foch was quickly reinforced by an additional five divisions, resistance was mounting, as were the defenders of Sedan.

    Against such mounting resistance, the vanguard of the German advance could not push forward. Precious days were spent waiting for the bulk of the German army to move forward. With fighting on both flanks at Sedan and Amiens, the German advance halted until September 7, by which time there were now thirty divisions between Reims and Laon. The renewed attack, twenty-three divisions under General von Bothmer and facing 7 French divisions, was directed against Chateau Thierry, situated halfway between Reims and Paris, and the last step between the German army and Paris. For five days, the full force of the German army was hurled against General Eydoux's defenders, forcing the French into retreat. The good news was added by word that Foch's bitter counterattack against Amiens had finally failed on September 11. The fall of Amiens, coupled with the seizure of Dunkirk days before, meant Foch and three divisions were trapped in Calais, backs against the sea. But German attention was directed primarily toward Paris. On September 13, cavalry scouts brought back news none of them wanted to hear.



    Somehow, the French had managed to bring thirteen divisions to block the German advance northeast of Paris, and more were certainly on the way. Along such a narrow front, even the most optimistic German commander would not be confident with such odds. It was now forty-two days into the invasion of France, by which time France was already supposed to have capitulated. But the capital of France was within sight. The war might yet still be won quickly...

  3. #3
    Field Marshal Gukpa's Avatar
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    GO KAISER,GO REICH!GO GERMANY! Good update

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    I'm so reading this. Go get the Froggies, and deprive them of their strategic snail resources!

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    Field Marshal Cybvep's Avatar

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    Great start, just wondering what are the plans if you win the war? Continue to play AAR even with the lack of events and mod what you want or jump to KR?
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    One of these days I will actually finish an AAR

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    Subscribed too! Look's good!

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    Looking forward with great interest.

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    For some reason I was expecting Super Heros...
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  11. #11
    Field Marshal TC Pilot's Avatar
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    Gukpa: Well, I think I can guess which side you're rooting for

    GulMacet: See, I was thinking of trying to deprive them of their iron ore mines in Longwy, but I think you're right. I'll be sure to shift priorities.

    Cybvep/warhell/Herbert West: Happy to have you aboard.

    Soulstrider: That's a very good question, and one I'm still putting a lot of thought into. I'm currently using the AAR mod, mostly in order to avoid excessive tinkering with the Kaiserreich scenario. Of course, I don't yet know how the war is going to turn out. Problems with divergent history aren't unmanageable, as I'm more than capable of writing up some of my own events. So, we'll see.

    cloneof: One of the things I try to do with my AARs is not get to far ahead in my game, so I don't yet know how this is going to end up.

    KaiserMuffin: I thought the same thing about 5 seconds after I posted. Though it's still not too late for Hindenburg and Ludendorff to be exposed to some radium beams and fight crime in the streets of Dusseldorf.

    -----


    Chapter I - The Great War - Part II

    Joseph Gallieni was the last man most Frenchmen expected to be commanding an army of thirteen divisions. Fewer still expected he would be commanding them at the gates of Paris barely a month after the outbreak of war. But the war was hardly going as French generals had planned. Like the German General Staff's obsession with the Schlieffen Plan and the grand knock-out blow it demanded, so too was France's high command enraptured by the prospect of liberating Alsace and Lorraine, the territories lost to the victorious German armies in the disastrous Franco-Prussian War of 1870. No lasting accommodation could be made with Germany until Alsace-Lorraine was returned to rightful French ownership. The shame of Sedan demanded vindication. To this end, Plan XVII was envisioned, a dramatic offensive straight into German-held Lorraine. Spurred on by an offensive spirit and a burning desire for revenge, French arms would surely prevail.

    It was a dramatic vision, and a romantic one, with soldiers in their bright red trousers, the cuirassiers in their glittering armored breastplates, but ultimately a doomed one. Elan proved little use against machine guns and heavy artillery. Plan XVII also left France ill-prepared to counter the onrush of German armies through Belgium. The British declaration of war against Germany on August 5, though a colossal blow to German hopes to a limited war, did little to mitigate the problem. With only five battle-ready divisions still languishing across the Channel, the British army was hardly in a position to halt the Schlieffen Plan.

    Still battering itself away in a hopeless effort to breach the German left flank, the French army did not become fully aware of the danger they were in until August 15, and General Ferdinand Foch, architect of the French war plan, was the first to raise the alarm. Largely as a consequence of the British failure to move its expeditionary forces into northern France, Foch managed to convince Marshal Joffre, commander-in-chief of the French army, to dispatch a small force to guard the route from Belgium. When the vanguard of the German right flank slammed into the defenses at Sedan on the 17th, and those of Lille on the 18th, the magnitude of the danger was immediately revealed. As city after city and town after town fell to the advancing Germans, a combination of panic and dread overcame French high command. The French government contemplated fleeing to Bordeaux on the Atlantic coast as had been done as it had done in 1870. Only Foch seemed to remain unphased by the army's misfortunes. His tenacity in defending Amiens brought renewed hope to French arms. And, called from his retirement to meet the national emergency, General Gallieni was charged with holding Paris. This responsibility, he vowed in a terse proclamation distributed throughout Paris, he would 'carry out to the end.' With Foch now trapped in Calais, Gallieni was the beating heart of French resistance.

    Just as they had done before the drive toward Chateau Thierry, the Germans paused their advance on September 13 to give the bulk of the army the chance to regroup and reorganize. Given the size of the French defense arrayed against them and with the struggle for Sedan still in the balance, General von Bothmer ruled out a direct assault on Gallieni's army as opening too dangerous a gap between the right and center of the German line. Instead, coordinating between the forces concentrated around Amiens and Chateau Thierry, the Germans would advance toward Compiegne, Dieppe, and Rouen, thereby opening the way for an attack on Paris along a wide front. The attack commenced on the 16th, 18 German divisions under General von Mackensen against 7 French. Progress was slow, the French falling back grudgingly. By September 26, ten days into the attack, Dieppe and Rouen were still in French hands, and, with whole divisions falling back from sheer exhaustion and disorganization, the General Staff accepted defeat; the attack would continue, but without expectation of any more significant gains. It was a small consolation that Sedan was at last taken. With the Schlieffen Plan seemingly a failure, the General Staff scrambled to develop contingency plans. A renewed attack in the center was directed against Longwy and its precious iron ore deposits, while in the east, to provide some relief for the Austrians, Field Marshal von Hindenburg launched his own offensive from East Prussia on October 3, directed against the city of Plock as prelude to a drive on Warsaw. The Russians could only field 5 divisions to von Hindenburg's 18.


    The battle for Dieppe appears lost, and Germany goes on the offensive in the east.


    But talk of defeat was premature. Overestimating the strength of the French defenders, the Germans were shocked when breakthroughs were at long last achieved at Dieppe, driving the French back into Normandy and toward Paris. The French counterattacked furiously, knowing that the next step in the German plan was the capital. But, as exhausted as German troops were, their French counterparts were not any better off. By October 19, the counterattack had ended in failure, while just two days earlier, Foch had at last surrendered Calais, freeing up an additional eight divisions for the attack of Paris. But the German army was now in no state to make this final push. With the window of opportunity for offensive operations in 1914 rapidly shutting, the Germans were not ready to mount their attack on Paris until October 29.



    Against a force of thirty-one German divisions attacking simultaneously from the northeast and northwest, Gallieni had assembled a force totaling twenty-one divisions. Using the same granted by Germany's delay to good effect, the Germans found themselves facing well-rested, well-entrenched enemy positions. But with Paris itself in sight, the Germans could not be easily dissuaded. Every possible soldier, everyone serviceable artillery battery, every reserve was thrown into the assault. Wave after wave of infantry surged forward, veritable rainstorms of shells turned verdant farmland and forests into blasted moonscape. But the Germans could not break through. The attack went nowhere. German casualties soared, and with it hopes of a quick victory were finally, completely dashed. General Gallieni had saved Paris. Despite all its meticulous planning and massive build-up of men and weapons, Germany had failed to defeat France with a single, knock-out blow.

    Of course, Germany would subsequently attempt attacks only other avenues before winter set in fully: the assault on Longwy was renewed, and a push was made against Troyes in the hopes of forming a dangerous wedge between Paris and Lorraine, and von Hidenburg pressed on toward Warsaw, but none of these attacks ultimately bore fruit. Pessimism gripped all the Great Powers; the much-desired short, decisive war had proven illusory - even little Serbia held firm against Austria-Hungary's offensives. The armies of Europe began to dig in, setting the groundwork for a series of defensive works that would soon extend from the Alps to the Atlantic, a great wall of machine guns and barbed wire.

    On December 24, in one sector of the Western Front, the French and German opponents came to an unofficial truce. It began as both sides decorated their trenches for Christmas and lit candles. Soon, Christmas carols were being sung back and forth across No Man's Land. Finally, men set aside their weapons and stepped up out of their trenches to greet their foreign counterparts, singing songs, exchanging gifts of food, cigarettes, alcohol, and souvenirs, and finally a joint funeral service was held for the fallen. Upon hearing news of the events, generals on both sides were furious at such 'dangerous fraternization' and in the future forbade and such 'friendly communication.'



    War had engulfed Europe, but at least for one night, bitter animosities between two great nations were forgotten amongst ordinary men.


    The Western Front at the end of 1914.

  12. #12
    Field Marshal Cybvep's Avatar

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    Exciting stuff. I think that you should try to encircle Paris or at least increase the number of controlled provinces near the French capital in order to be able to use more divs in the final attack. France should be your main priority in 1915, as fighting in the East leads nowhere ATM.

  13. #13
    Haha. Yes!
    Also, wot no Eastern Front?
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    Basileus Romaion Nikolai's Avatar
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    Good progress.
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    Field Marshal TC Pilot's Avatar
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    Cybvep: What would be quite risky. More than half the army's already in France, but it would be possible to send reinforcements from the east, though at the risk of provoking an attack there.

    KaiserMuffin: Nothing much has happened yet in the east. I took the province of Plock and failed in an attack on Warsaw. From a narrative position, I also may be giving disproportionate attention to specific areas. My attention was focused almost entirely on France at that point. Perhaps in 1915 it'll switch...

    -----


    Chapter I - The Great War - Part III

    Even before the ultimate failure of the German offensive in the West in 1914 became the grim reality, both the Entente and Central Powers were looking to acquire new allies and expand the war. Even if no single nation could quickly intervene in a decisive fashion, it might yet lay the groundwork for future victories. Nor were the neutral states passive spectators of the growing conflict. In a continent riddled so thoroughly by national rivalries, ambitions, and vendettas, it was only inevitable that the war should grow. War offered the chance to overturn four decades of the status quo, and whole generations of young men yearned for martial glory.

    Great Britain's entrance into the war on the side of France and Russia was yet another reason for Wilhelm to lament his decision to press ahead with the strike against France and the invasion of Belgium. Ever since signing the Entente Cordiale in 1904, Britain and France had drawn closer together, drawing up plans for joint military action in the event of a German attack. But the arrangements were little more than a gentleman's agreement, backed by no authoritative treaty. The bulk of France's naval forces were concentrated in the Mediterranean as a result of this informal understanding, which obligated Britain to intervene on France's behalf by virtue of honor. But despite this, the Liberal government wavered for several critical days, leaving the French in a state of indignation and suspense. But the invasion of Belgium obligated Britain to enter the war, a consequence of a treaty signed as far back as the 1830's. Failing to aid France would tarnish Britain's reputation, but failing to defend Belgium would destroy Britain's diplomatic integrity, and seriously jeopardize the Home Isles' security. One of the central pillars of British policy toward the Continent, no great power could be permitted to control the great ports of Rotterdam or Antwerp.

    Britain's declaration of war mattered little to Germany so long as the war could be won decisively in the first months of fighting. No major expeditionary force could be expected until at least 1915, though Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty, would push hard for a series of novel amphibious attacks along the Belgian coast in September and October of 1914. But with the offensive ground to a halt at the gates of Paris, Germany was faced not only with the prospect of British reinforcements to France, but a closure of its ports and the strangulation of its precious foreign trade as well. For all its economic might, Germany was dangerously reliant on imports of foreign raw materials. Indeed, with the imposition of a British blockade, were it not for the recently-discovered Haber process of nitrogen fertilization, Germany would have faced the unpleasant choice of picking between supplying its armies with ammunition or keeping its population fed. But ingenious technological breakthroughs would only stretch Germany's limited resources so far: sacrifices would have to be expected of the German people.

    Britain's declaration of war left portions of the German Imperial Navy out on patrol and colonial duties, for all intents and purposes, cut off from the homeland. Along with the outdated forces stationed at Qingdao were three new light cruisers, the Karlsruhe, Dresden, and Pillau stationed in the Caribbean, south Atlantic, and East Africa, and, most important of all, the battlecruiser Goeben and her cruiser escort Breslau stationed in the Austrian port of Pola. The thee light cruisers already abroad would each make their own intrepid journey back to home ports, and each would eventually return safely, but Breslau and Goeben, knowing passage through the western Mediterranean past Malta and then Gibraltar, would be all but suicidal. Instead, the two German warships turned east toward Constantinople, the capital of the Ottoman Empire.

    Of all the major powers of Europe, the Ottoman Empire was, without doubt, the weakest. Its glory days long since passed, the Turkish state had escaped dismemberment and submission to the Great Powers largely due to the whims of Britain. Attempts at modernization and revitalization had failed repeatedly, and even the efforts of the reformist 'Young Turks' proved incapable of raising the Ottoman state out of its debilitating miasma of corruption and backwardness. Naturally, in the pre-war years, Germany had seen fit to cultivate friendly relations with the not so Sublime Porte, in the process offending and raising suspicions in Russia and Great Britain.

    When Breslau and Goeben arrived in Constantinople on August 11 after succesfully evading the inept pursuit by the British Mediterranean Fleet, the so-called 'Three Pashas,' the de-facto rulers of the Ottoman state, were presented with new opportunities. Britain's failure to intercept the German squadron suggested the Royal Navy's supremacy was not quite what it seemed, and with all the major powers now committed to the war, Ottoman intervention was suddenly in high demand, and could be negotiated for a high price. With German armies pouring through Belgium and northern France, with Russia facing the united Germanic states, the empire could regain some of its former prestige, and lost territory in the process. Of course, the possibility of siding with the Entente was not out of the question, though with the capital now under the guns of a German battlecruiser, the allure of the option waned quickly. The Turkish government appeared to need little persuading to side with Germany and Austria-Hungary; Goeben and Breslau were officially transferred to the Ottoman navy, and their commander, Wilhelm Souchon, was made commander of the Turkish naval forces. The people of Constantinople cheered on their new naval force, and such was the growing enthusiasm for war that only Souchon's insistence on making no hasty decision kept the Ottomans from declaring war then and there. Indeed, while there was still yet a possibility of victory in the western front, the Kaiser and Foreign Minister von Jagow preferred the Turks to remain neutral. If their support could be counted on in a prolonged war, well enough, but if the war would be won in 1914, the fewer seats at the victor's table, the better. The Ottomans would not have to wait for very long, however. With the failure to take Paris only days old, Germany extended an offer of alliance on November 9. The fact they were being pulled into a protracted war against Russia and Britain together, a combination that would have certainly brought utter ruin to the empire in years past, seems to have gone unnoticed in Constantinople.


    The Ottoman Empire joins the Great War, starting a chain reaction that ended well for none...


    German and Austrian diplomatic moves largely ended with the Ottoman entrance into the war. The groundwork was laid for a possible alliance with Bulgaria, but Berlin passed the responsibility of negotiations on to Vienna, a responsibility the dithering Austrian government seemed too busy to follow up on. Instead, the initiative passed to the Entente. With its armies having virtually overrun Galicia, the Russian state hoped to deliver a final, killing blow to the Habsburg empire in the following year. To facilitate this, St. Petersburg hoped to enlist the cooperation of Romania. Like the Ottomans, the Romanians needed little persuasion. In spite of his dynastic ties with the Kaiser, King Ferdinand, who had only ascended to the throne in September 1914, wished to see the fulfillment of Romanian nationalist aspirations, namely the acquisition of Transylvania from Austria-Hungary. Even with the bulk of the Habsburg armies in full retreat against the Russians and Hungary itself in danger of invasion, an assault across the Carpathians with an army was small and ill-prepared as the Romanian force was a risky endeavor. But, like the Turks, the possibilities of success were too great to ignore, and Romania joined the Entente alliance on November 19.

    The Romanian declaration of war was a strategic nightmare for Austria-Hungary. Romanian forces were now pouring into a vast and completely undefended void between the armies in Serbia and those in Slovakia. Worse, the German General Staff appeared largely unconcerned, sending only token reinforcements to stem the tide now rising in Transylvania. But the Romanian advance was, not surprisingly, slow, hampered by the lack of proper infrastructure and poor terrain. The delay was long enough for Vienna to successfully conclude a pact with Bulgaria on February 2, 1915; just as Austria-Hungary had faced an invasion along an undefended frontier, now too the Romanians faced an invasion their armies were badly out of position to meet.

    Not to be outdone, the Entente would soon enough pull another country into the war. Before the outbreak of fighting, Italy had been tied in a defensive alliance to Germany and Austria-Hungary, an unwieldy arrangement that had few benefits for all parties involved. The fatal weakness of the alliance surfaced in the build-up to war in June and July, when Italy refused to support Austria against Serbia, Russia, and above all France and refused to honor its commitments. The betrayal caused a great deal of resentment in Central Europe, but few in Berlin or Vienna believed they had lost an integral supporter. But now, with Austria-Hungary already facing a war on three fronts, and losing in all of them, an Italian attack into the Tyrol might be the straw to break the camel’s back. Stymied in the rush for colonies, Italy now hoped to aggrandize itself with territorial expansion into Tyrol, in Dalmatia, even in Anatolia, illusions the allied powers did little to dispel. On February 12, Italy declared war on Austria-Hungary. Yet again, the fate of the Habsburg realm was teetering on the brink; had the Italian armies actually been in fully mobilized or in position in Veneto to capitalize on Austria's precarious state, the intervention might have proven decisive. It was not.

    In the span of just three months, the Ottoman Empire, Romania, Bulgaria, and Italy had all been drawn into the conflict. None of them had succeeded in dramatically altering the balance of forces on either side. In effect, the four new belligerents, when their military strength and geographic position was considered, cancelled each other out. Of the four additional countries, the biggest impact was made by the Turks, whose fortification and closure of the Dardanelles cut off the last avenue for French and British aid to Russia left the tsarist state to equip its armies solely from its own, meager industry. The ramifications of this added strain would be felt later, but in imminent renewal of offensive operations in the spring of 1915, the enlargement of the war served only to spread the destruction further.

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    Chapter I - The Great War - Part IV

    The failure of the western offensives in 1914 forced Germany to reappraise its strategic vision and alter the way it viewed the conduct of the war. Already, the combined effects of general mobilization and the British naval blockade were being felt. Government expenditures began to creep upwards, while manpower and resources quickly became scarce. For now, the German army was sufficient to fight a two-front war, but with the Entente powers mobilizing their industry and tapping their colonial assets, as well as the growing potential of the United States as a provider of military supplies, that balance could soon turn against Germany and her stumbling allies, if the country did not gear itself for war to a degree unprecedented in history. The Great War was to become the first total war.

    Kaiser Wilhelm and the General Staff concluded by the start of 1915 that a renewed offensive in the west was too risky to attempt. The specter of the Russian menace had always loomed in the back of the minds of military planners for decades, and now that menace was a reality. Slowly but steadily, the Tsarist empire was amassing a huge military machine drawn from the vast manpower reserves of the nation. But it was also an unsteady force. It had been only a decade since Russia had been shaken to its foundation by revolution. Its military was sorely lacking in equipment, its soldiers poorly trained and badly lead. With no small amount of racist undertones, German generals were confident that Teutonic arms would triumph over the Slavic horde in any fight. Russia, it was decided, would be the target of the next great offensives.

    Already in late 1914, the Germans had begun redeploying forces from west to east to aid the retreating Austro-Hungarian armies in Galicia and Slovakia. But with the Romanian and Italian declarations of war, Austria-Hungary's position had gone from bad to worse, with many in the Foreign Ministry predicting an imminent surrender. Overnight, Germany's priorities shifted from taking the offensive against Russia to propping up Vienna. Nine divisions, including three prime cavalry divisions, were redeployed to bolster the main Austrian line running through Slovakia into northeast Hungary, while another two divisions were rushed to the Tyrol, and another two took up positions between the Serbian and Romanian front lines. Despite these reinforcements, the Habsburg empire's position was highly precarious; Transylvania was all but undefended, and ominous reports trickled in of a Russian buildup under the Grand Duke Nikolai in southwest Poland, centered around the city of Krakow.

    General von Falkenhayn proposed to meet this mounting threat head-on. The Italian and Romanian interventions were unfortunate, but hardly fatal. Bulgaria's alliance with the Central Powers meant, short of a substantial Russian relief force that would in turn undercut any offensives from Krakow, Romania would be defeated, sooner or later, and Italy showed no signs of making substantial progress in the Tyrol. German arms were superior to their Russian counterparts. By driving straight at Warsaw and then Krakow, the Russians could be thrown out of Poland and forced to withdraw from Galicia. The plan was elegant only in its simplicity, and from the start met with strong opposition from the one place that mattered most: 8th Army headquarters.

    Paul von Hindenburg was already something of an anachronism when he came out of retirement to take command of the German 8th Army in East Prussia, still dressed in the blue Prussian general's uniform. A classic embodiment of the Junker aristocracy, he had fought in both wars of German reunification in 1866 and 1870, and earned an Iron Cross for his conduct at the Battle of Sedan. His easy victory in capturing the town of Plock was enough to convince the Kaiser that Hindenburg was the man to lead the eastern offensive. By March 1915, his command had ballooned to twenty-seven divisions, making it the single largest command in the German army. Working closely with a newly-arrived cavalry commander from the Western front, Erich Ludendorff, Hindenburg devised an alternative plan to the one presented by Falkenhayn, and set the stage for the partnership that was to dominate Germany.

    The great flaw with Falkenhayn's plan, Hindenburg argued, was that it did nothing to improve the overall situation. At its most ambitious, Falkenhayn's Warsaw offensive would serve only to distract Russian attention, giving Bulgaria time to knock Romania out of the war. Germany could not win the war by making such meager efforts that served only to alleviate the problems of allied powers, and it was folly to rely so heavily on what even weaker allies might be able to accomplish in the meantime. Worse, the reinforcements needed for any offensive to have a chance of success were all being drawn from the armies stationed in France. Though the defensive works being constructed in northern France were certainly impressive, it would only be a matter of time before France and Britain launched offensives of their own. Germany would need to knock Russia out of the war before the weight of men and material tipped the balance of war in their favor.

    What Hindenburg proposed instead was to concentrate as large a force in East Prussia as possible, leaving only the bare minimum required to hold the rest of the line against the Russians and Romanians, and launch a massive attack on the lightly-defended front between Lomza and Bialystok, followed by an arcing push through eastern Poland from north to south. After punching a hole in the Russian line, Hindenburg's offensive, spearheaded by General Ludendorff and his cavalry, would race south, not stopping until Lwow was retaken, a massive encirclement that would trap any enemy forces in Congress Poland. While such a move certainly offered greater rewards than Falkenhayn's plan, it was substantially more dangerous. Hindenburg's army would be required to cover approximately 450 kilometers while simultaneously fighting off any attempts to break through his lines from east and west, all while Grand Duke Nikolai was expected to be launching an offensive of his own. What distressed planners in the General Staff most of all was how much Hindenburg's proposal resembled the Schlieffen plan, a giant 'sickle-cut' designed to envelop the bulk of the enemy army; even the distances from the German-Belgian border to Paris were similar, only now, the enemy was ready, and the terrain far less accommodating.

    But the boldness of Hindenburg's plan, despite its risks, compared to Falkenhayn's proposal was enough to win the Kaiser's approval. The offensive began on March 23, the earliest that weather permitted. Against Hindenburg's twenty-four divisions, the Russian General Kalitin had only three. It was a stupendous failure of the Russian command staff to predict the German strike, a folly only compounded by the Grand Duke deciding to push ahead with his own offensive against Silesia and Moravia on April 1. The twenty-six divisions under Nikolai's command could have easily ground Hindenburg's offensive to a halt, but instead they were being diverted away in an attack that would serve only to leave them badly positioned to respond to the encirclement that now threatened.


    German and Russian advances in late April, early May

    Against the Russian forces arrayed against it, Hindenburg's army made good progress, but the advance was slowed by the poor state of the roads and railways. Bialystok fell on April 4. Two days later, the attack was renewed on Lomza, which changed hands on the 20th. It had taken nearly a month of fighting, but Hindenburg was confident of further success; Grand Duke Nikolai appeared oblivious to the danger his army group was now in. As of April 20, the only thing standing between Hindenburg's army and Lwow was a single division in Chelm and those divisions under General Kalitin retreating toward Siedlce. But the pressure was now mounting. The Grand Duke continued to press westward; Czestochawa, taken from the Russians in late 1914, came under heavy attack by twenty-six Russian divisions, while more began to pour into Moravia and Silesia completely unopposed. Worse, two divisions under General Litzman had been trapped in Transylvania, surrounded by five times their number and almost doomed to destruction. The drive on Chelm was renewed with all possible effort.



    Against the oncoming German attack stood General Shcherbachev, his one division of infantry reinforced by a contingent of cavalry that would prove little value against the German machine guns and artillery. But unlike the Grand Duke, Shcherbachev realized the enormous strategic importance of holding on to Chelm and determined to hold it to the last possible extremity and, with time fast running short, began to dig in with all haste. Worse for the Germans, when the Russian positions first came under attack on April 23, Hindenburg could only bring nine division to bear. The rest had either been left along the line of advance to protect the supply line or were straggling behind on the rain-soaked roads of the Polish countryside. Shcherbachev, his positions crumbling steadily against the onslaught, desperately called for reinforcements, but Nikolai remained undeterred, forcing local commanders to dispatch what they could of their own initiative. On May 8, Shcherbachev was pushed from his defensive positions north of Chelm and fell back into the town itself, saved only by the trickle of reinforcements flowing in from all sides.

    Hindenburg and Ludendorff, so close to the fulfillment of their grand plan, refused to let such a paltry force stand in the way of victory. Offensive efforts were redoubled; exhausted units were thrown back into battle, artillery rained down on Chelm constantly, until the town effectively ceases to exist. By now, fifteen divisions were pressing on the Russian defenses, which, combined with all the reinforcements, perhaps numbered two full divisions again. Days dragged on into weeks, and still the Russians hung on tenaciously. Casualty numbers skyrocketed. On May 23, Serbia surrendered on the face of a combined Austria-Bulgarian offensive, but still the defenders of Chelm held on. Bulgarian troops entered the Romanian capital and peace feelers were sent out, and still the Russians fought on. Finally, on May 30, the retreat was called; the defenders could hold on no longer. Chelm had fallen. It had taken Hindenburg's army more than a month to dislodge the Russians, and it had cost both sides dearly. The city German soldiers marched into was nothing but rubble now. But it was also the last obstacle between them and their ultimate goal, the city of Przemsyl and the only road through which supplies could be sent to the Grand Duke's armies in western Poland.

  17. #17
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    Every offensive cost dearly in the Great War, I'm glad I didn't live as a soldier back then. Good luck with them Ruskies!
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    It looks like the total defeat of the Russian Army will soon become the reality. I don't see many Russian reserves anywhere...

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    Looks like your reverse-Schlieffen plan is actually going to work... nice! What is happening on the Turkish fronts, Caucasus and Palestine? And is Greece in the war?

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    Nikolai : I agree. I would wager that World War I was probably one of the absolute worst wars to have fought in. Definitely in the top 5, I would imagine.

    Cybvep: Looks can be very decieving. That picture was taken in April, right before the attack on Chelm, meaning there was two months for the Russians to bring up reinforcements.

    GulMacet: I must confess I wasn't paying too much attention to what was happening with Turkey during the war. I was too focused on things happening in Poland and France. But, by the look of things, not much is really happening yet, mostly just both sides moving divisions up to the borders.

    -----


    Chapter I - The Great War - Part IV

    Grand Duke Nikolai continued to behave as if there was nothing wrong. From the vantage point of hindsight, one can scarcely imagine what thoughts were passing through his head. All while Hindenburg's army was striking deep into eastern Poland and cutting his supply lines one by one, the Grand Duke continued to press his westward offensive into Silesia and Moravia. Admittedly, the resistance his armies faced were comparatively negligible, perhaps no more than fourteen divisions along the front between Krakow and Posen against his twenty-six, and the numerical advantage was steadily beginning to show. But no army could continue to fight without food or ammunition. The Grand Duke, according to some accounts, declared that his soldiers could live off the land and pick clean their fallen enemies for guns and ammunition.

    The other Russian generals in Poland were not so sanguine about the overall situation as their commander. Despite the grueling fight for control of Chelm, the Germans were wasting no time in pressing onward to Przemysl. Attacked from both the north and south, the three Russian divisions covering the last supply route into Poland were rapidly giving ground. By June 11, the defenders were thrown back and German cavalry streamed into the breach. By the end of the 12th, Przemysl fell, and Hindenburg's encirclement had closed the trap on the Russian armies still in Poland. Now it remained to be seen if Hindenburg could keep it shut long enough to force the Grand Duke's surrender. Even before Przemysl was taken, Russian forces launched their own assault against Lomza, and in so doing threatened to encircle Hindenburg, while the advance guard in Przemysl found itself facing a massive counterattack of twenty divisions.

    The responsibility to retrieving the Russian armies from its disastrous predicament was Field Marshal Ivanov. Acting largely independent of the Grand Duke's own armies, Ivanov hurriedly began pulling divisions from other sectors to break through the German cordon separating Poland from the rest of the Russian army. With the clock ticking and his superiors largely oblivious to the danger, Ivanov moved with commendable effectiveness, amassing a force east and west of the cordon of considerable size. It was now a test of willpower between the Russian and German Field Marshals. Lomza, Chelm, and Przemysl were all attacked, almost simultaneously. What followed was a nerve-wracking dance, Hindenburg frantically shuffling divisions north and south to bolster cracks in his encircling armies and protect his own supply lines, all while new divisions fresh from training were rushed into the fray. On June 16, Przemysl was briefly retaken by Ivanonv's counterattack, only to be pushed back in turn.



    As time went on, desperation began to mount, and more and more divisions were committed to the fight, opening new gaps in the Russian lines, allowing German and Austrian units to pour through from the south; even Warsaw was abandoned. What followed was pandemonium, a series of marches and counter-marches too tedious for all but the most determined historian to recount. What mattered was that the German lines held. Hindenburg's encirclement was neither encircled nor broken through. On July 11, having dug in its heels for nearly a month, the German armies went on the offensive again. Their first target was Ivanov's headquarters at Nowy Sacz. Despite attacking with all of nine divisions against the Russian six, victory was won within days. Not only did the victory signal the fact that Russia's Polish armies were now out of supplies, it also secured the pocket once and for all.

    For the next three weeks, the noose around the Grand Duke's forces tightened as German armies went on the offensive from all directions. Having stood their ground and been forced to retreat so many times, the defenders of Silesia and Moravia became the attackers. The effect was catastrophic; Russian troops wer thrown into headlong flight. Some divisions, their ammunition stores completely exhausted, surrendered en masse. A sense of panic and horror gripped Petrograd, as massive protests gripped the capital on the day Warsaw fell and the enormity of the disaster had become apparent. To many, it appeared to be 1905 all over again. Tsar Nicholas II relieved the Grand Duke of his post and vowed to go to the front and take personal command. But there was little he could do to rescue his trapped soldiers. On August 4, the last, battered remnants of the Russian army under the command of General Scheidemann surrendered at Lublin, setting off renewed protests in Russia, as accusations of treason by these German-sounding commanders were cast about.

    So great was the chaos from so many battered, disorganized units mixed together, the Germans had scant idea just how many divisions they had succeeded in destroying. Ludendorff conservatively estimated at least thirty divisions had been captured, with some estimates ranging as high as forty or even more. But whatever number, the Hindenburg Offensive had been a complete success almost beyond the wildest hopes of military planners in the General Staff. A sense of joyous hysteria shot through the civilian populace. Hidenburg and Ludendorff, the architects of the offensive, were hailed as national heroes. The Kaiser, caught up in the general frenzy, exclaimed that the war was surely won now.

    The hope was not without reason. Russia had sustained a truly disastrous defeat, one it was liable not to recover from for many years. Austria-Hungary, just months prior on the very brink of defeat, had been saved. Since April, the situation on the Eastern Front had been completely changed; Serbia and Romania had been knocked out of the war, Galicia was recovered, and Poland was now under German control, with hundreds of thousands of prisoners of war to show for it. And, with several months still left to the campaign season, Germany did not intend to stop there.


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