War Widens Dramatically; Ypres Crisis Deepens.
Special to The Great War Project
(26-29 October) The fierce struggle on the Western Front to control Ypres continues with no clear victor in these days at the end of October a century ago.
The fighting brings a series of terrible tragedies. The troops Britain transports from India mount their first attacks and see their first two hundred troops killed, according to historian Martin Gilbert.
In a village near Ypres many British troops are buried alive under artillery bombardment by their own units.
The British artillery men are unaware they are firing on their own.
The German side is also using artillery – mercilessly and endlessly – for 56 hours without a break.
After an afternoon tour of the battlefield, commanding General Sir Douglas Haig writes: “I rode out at about 3 pm to see what was going on and was astounded at the terror-stricken men who were coming back.” Haig also voices the mistaken observation that the Germans “were quite incapable of making any strong and sustained attack.”
That same day, Gilbert reports, “German troops drove a gap through the British line” near Ypres.
On October 28 a century ago, the Indian troops at a French village called Neuve Chapelle are thrown into the frontlines. There they meet “machine-gun fire directed by brilliant searchlights.”
Despite this, they break into the village “fighting house-by-house and hand-to-hand,” according to Gilbert.
But the Indians can’t hold the village and soon are driven out. In the battle for this village, more than 500 Indians are killed and 1500 wounded.
This same day, news arrives in London that the British battleship Audacious, one of the newest and most modern in the British fleet, hits a mine off the northern coast of Ireland and is sunk, Gilbert reports.
The British leadership in London decides to keep this news from the British public. The wife of Prime Minister Herbert Asquith writes in her diary: “News of the sinking, had it reached the Germans, would have cheered them up dangerously.”
And it most likely would have demoralized the public further, now becoming quite aware of the shortcomings of the Allied Forces.
Then early on the morning of October 29th, the Germans attack. The British acquire intelligence – they intercept wireless messages — that tells them of the impending attack, but shell shortages mean they can’t take advantage of the very valuable information.
Each artillery gun receives just a few pitiful shells each day.
Now dramatic events in Ottoman Turkey, threaten to widen the war into an entire new theater, making it truly a World War.
Months earlier, the Ottomans sign a secret agreement with Germany and Austria-Hungary that it would eventually enter the war on their side. Under the right circumstances.
By the end of October, the circumstances are right. Enver Pasha, the Ottoman Minister of War and leader of the war party in Constantinople, is looking for the right moment. On this day a century ago, he finds it.
Many expect him to attack Russia through the flat expanse of Ukraine. Enver makes his first move in the Caucasus Mountains east of the Black Sea, where he believes the predominantly Muslim inhabitants will favor the Ottoman cause.
In addition, Enver sends out Turkish warships to hit the Russian fleet wherever they find it. On October 28th one hundred years ago, in a surprise attack, Turkish warships cross the Black Sea and hit the Russian ports of Odessa, Sevastopol, and Novorossisk.
Now the next move will be Russia’s.