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- A Short History of the Great War - 30/63 -


was overruled by Sir John Nixon and the Commander- in-chief in India.

Within a week from the fall of Kut the advance on Baghdad began, and at Azizie half-way between the two, the Turks were routed again as they had been at Kut. By 12 November, Townshend was in front of Ctesiphon, about twenty-four miles from Baghdad. Here the Turks were strongly entrenched. Their right was protected by the Mahmudiyeh Canal which ran from the Tigris to the Euphrates, and their main position consisted of two strongly fortified lines on the eastern bank of the Tigris. Townshend's attack on the 22nd resembled his attack on Kut, and after hard fighting the first line was carried. But the second was the real Turkish defence, and our wearied and smaller forces could not cope with the continuous stream of Turkish reinforcements. The Turks lost heavily in their counterattacks on the 23rd, but they could afford to do so, while we could only succeed by a speedy and inexpensive victory which the strength of the Turkish position and reinforcements forbade. The gamble had failed, and the only thing to do was to cut the loss and retreat as well as we could. No proper provision had been made for such an eventuality, and the horrors of that retirement reflected grave discredit on those responsible for the campaign. Hard pressed by the pursuing Turks, our diminished force was back at Kut on 3 December, where in a few days it was surrounded by the enemy now under the command of the German Marshal von der Goltz.

The Germans had not been idle on the flanks of this bid for Baghdad, and their intrigues in Persia led to a revolt of the gendarmerie, which was officered by Swedes, and to the seizure by the pro-German insurgents of Kum, Hamadan, and other towns in central Persia. Fortunately this move was countered by prompt action on the part of Russia. Teheran was occupied by Russian forces by the end of November, Kum and Hamadan by 11 December, and a pro-Entente Government was established. The German route through Persia towards Afghanistan was blocked for the time; but pro-German forces at Kermanshah impeded a Russian march to the relief of Kut, where a fresh Turkish division from Gallipoli arrived on 23 December and a vigorous effort was made to carry the place by assault. It failed, and the Turks sat down to a blockade, while farther south they constructed formidable obstacles to the advance of the relieving forces coming up the river. Their position was selected with considerable skill at Sanna-i-Yat on a narrow strip of land between the Suweicha marshes and the river, while between it and Kut there was established the strongly-fortified Es Sinn line. The depth of these defences was nearly twenty-five miles, and the task of carrying the successive lines would tax anything but a relieving force far greater than that which was attempting it.

Sir John Nixon had been succeeded by Sir Percy Lake, but the advancing force was under the immediate command of General Aylmer. On 21 January he failed to carry the first of the lines at Umm-el-Hanna, although it was announced in Parliament that British forces had reached the last position at Es Sinn; and it was not till 7-8 March that Aylmer made a bold attempt at once to turn the Sanna-i-Yat defences and relieve Kut by a surprise attack on the right bank of the river. Everything depended once more upon initial success, for length of communications and lack of supplies made continuous pressure impossible; and the Turks were ready and their defences strong. Aylmer was no more fortunate at Es Sinn than Townshend at Ctesiphon, and the command was taken by General Gorringe. He reverted on 5 April to the lines on the left bank at Umm-el-Hanna. They were carried, and twelve hours later the further line at Felahiyeh. Keary's Lahore division had been equally successful on the right bank; but a flood caused by the melting snows on the Armenian hills interposed to bar the way to the relief of Kut. A final attempt was made on the 23rd across the water-logged land in front of Sanna-i-Yat; but advance was impossible along the narrow causeway which alone gave foothold for the troops, and on the 29th Townshend's force in Kut, consisting of 2000 British and 6000 Indian troops, surrendered after a siege of nearly five months.

After Gallipoli, Mesopotamia. Until March 1918 our reverses in these two "side-shows" were counted our worst disasters in the war, and to the electorally-heated imagination of Mr. Lloyd George they appeared even later as the sum and substance of British achievement before he became Prime Minister. In the case of Kut the responsibility rested mainly with the Indian Government, to which also was due our brilliant recovery in the East when Lord Chelmsford, Sir Charles Monro, and Sir Stanley Maude--all appointed in 1916--had time to retrieve the mistakes of their predecessors in the Viceroyalty, Command-in-chief of the Indian Army, and command of the Mesopotamian forces. Meanwhile, it was fortunate for the prestige of the Entente in the East that Russia's collapse in Europe appeared to have no effect upon the vigour of her action in the middle East. The Grand Duke Nicholas, who had been transferred to the command in the Caucasus, found an admirable chief of staff in General Yudenitch, and between them they brought off a stroke against Turkey which was more sensational than the Turks' success at Kut and Gallipoli.

Erzerum was reckoned the strongest fortress in the Turkish Empire, but amid the distractions of the Dardanelles and Mesopotamian campaigns it had escaped proper attention from the Turks and their German experts, and the Grand Duke profited by the fact that Turkish troops, relieved from the pressure at Gallipoli, were sent to Kut and not to the Caucasus. Moreover, the ordinary line of communication with Erzerum by the sea and Trebizond had been cut by the Russian destruction of Turkish shipping, and transport by land was almost as difficult as it was between the head of the Persian Gulf and Kut. The Russian communications were better, but theirs was an adventurous enterprise across mountain passes under the arctic conditions of midwinter; and few people had any inkling of its inception when Yudenitch began to move on 11 January. By the 16th he was at Kuprikeui where the road crosses the Araxes, and in a two days' battle he broke the Turkish army, driving its remnants south towards Mush and clearing the way to Erzerum. Time was required to bring up the heavy guns, but early in February the forts on Deve Boyun were under bombardment, and another Russian army advancing from the north down the valley of the Kara Su defeated a Turkish division and captured Kara Gubek on the 12th and Tafta on the 14th. From the south the Russians were also crossing the Palantuken Dagh, and the fate of Erzerum was sealed. Its evacuation was completed early on the 16th, and a few hours later the Cossacks rode into the city. To the south the Russian left entered Mush and Bitlis, gaining the northern shores of Lake Van, while their right slowly pushed along the Black Sea coast in the direction of Trebizond. In Persia, too, the Russians occupied Kermanshah and descended the pass to Khanikin and the Mesopotamian plain; but it was an adventurous body of cavalry rather than a substantial military force which joined hands with the British on the Tigris some weeks after the fall of Kut. The Russians had to some extent redeemed their failure in Europe, but others they had not been able to save.

The Caucasus

In Europe their defence was materially assisted by the British and French attacks in Artois and Champagne and by the needs of Mackensen's offensive in the Balkans. To both areas troops were diverted from the German front in Russia, and the centre was especially denuded. No advantage was, however, taken of this weakness, partly because of Russia's general debility and partly because what efforts she could afford were required for the defence of the Dvina and for the sympathetic activity of Ivanov in Galicia, which was the nearest approach Russia could make to intervention in the Balkans. The German attack on the line of the Dvina was not merely intended to fend off a Russian attack in the centre; it had also the positive aim of securing Riga and comfortable winter quarters for the German army in the north. Riga, however, was not an easy nut to crack; its flank was defended by the sea, immediately south of it were marshes across which only causeways ran, and to the east stretched the formidable obstacle of the Dvina. Roads and rails for the most part crossed it at Dvinsk, and the southern approaches to Dvinsk itself lay through land and water as intricately mixed as in the Masurian mazes of East Prussia. But on Dvinsk the German attack was concentrated, and after a preliminary failure on 25 September a week's bombardment and assault began on 3 October. The siege guns which had been so fatal at Kovno and elsewhere were brought up against a minor fortress and failed. Ruszky was in command, and he took care to keep the howitzers out of range of the city by an arc of far-flung trenches which the numerous scattered lakes saved from outflanking. Illukst was at one time taken by the Germans but found of little value for the larger purpose; and German prisoners complained that Dvinsk, which they failed to take, had cost them more than all the greater fortresses they had captured. In the third week of October Hindenburg transferred his efforts back to Riga, where he met with little better success. He got as far as Olai on the direct route from Mitau, and even secured a foothold on Dahlen Island in the river south-east of Riga; but these successes profited him no more than the capture of Illukst. On 7 November the Russians recaptured Olai, and on the 10th, with the help of their fleet, drove back the Germans, who had advanced along the coast, beyond Shlock and Kemmern and Kish, extending their lines to Ragassem and Kalnzem. In the same month a similar Russian counter-offensive recaptured Illutsk and pushed the Germans farther away from Dvinsk (see Map, p. 274).

Far to the south below the Pripet marshes which divided the Russian front into two, the Germans and the Russians under Brussilov engaged in thrust and counter-thrust along the Styr which caused Czartorysk to change hands again and again, and earned for these operations the nickname of "the Poliesian quadrille"; and the fluctuations on the Strypa were equally indecisive. But the situation in the Balkans suggested the need for something less ambiguous nearer the Rumanian frontier if Rumanian neutrality was to be preserved; and the objective selected for Ivanov's new offensive was Czernowitz the capital of the Bukovina. The attack began on 24 December, and the struggle lasted for over three weeks. Containing battles were fought along the Strypa and the Styr, and Czartorysk passed once more into Russian hands and Kolki was added to their gains. But the main object was not attained. The Russians seized the heights between Toporoutz and Rarancze and threw some shells into Czernowitz, but they failed to capture the crucial point at Uscieczko on the Dniester. Mackensen and five divisions had, however, to be diverted from the Balkans, and Russia's offensive in the Bukovina helped to conceal her designs on Erzerum. Rumania was saved from descending on the wrong side of the fence; but her natural reluctance to abandon her perch prohibited that Russian attack on Bulgaria through Rumanian territory which might otherwise have been made, but would probably have failed and would in any case have come too late to relieve the Serbian disaster.

The winter of 1915-16 thus passed with little to relieve the gloom. Erzerum had balanced Kut, and the Cameroons had ceased to be a German land. But these were trifles compared to the gigantic clash of arms in Europe, and here the Germans had done more than in their first year's fighting. Russia had been dealt a far more staggering blow than France in 1914, and Serbia and Montenegro had fared worse than Belgium, while in both East and West our counter- offensives had been ineffectual. The Germans naturally thought they had won the war; they had merely reached the climax of their success, and that climax did not constitute a victory. The Allies' heads were "bloody but unbowed," and they were still the masters of their fate. The sea was theirs and all that therein lay; some of them were only in process of mobilizing their resources; and the moral factor in war which, like the mills of God grinds slowly but grinds exceeding small, required patience for its full development. Meanwhile the German military machine had done no more than establish a balance of power which was to be tilted in one direction by the Russian Revolution and then in the other by


A Short History of the Great War - 30/63

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