A new year dawns on the war, what are they going to do now?
Hello everyone and welcome to History of the Great War Episode 19, our first episode of 2015 and hence our first episode about 1915. It has been a long road up to this point for the participants in the war so this episode we will take a step back from our chronicle of events to take a look at the situation of the 5 major participants in the war at this point France, Britain, Germany, Russia, and Austria-Hungary. Their situations would directly cause them to adopt certain plans and objectives for 2015 which we will examine for each country. Many of the plans and ideas we talk about today will foreshadow most of the episodes for this entire year. Well, let’s get started.
None of the nations that entered the war in 1914 thought that it would go into 1915. There were members of every nation’s leadership group that thought the war would drag on for a while, but the consensus in every country was that the war would be quick and decisive. In the January 1915 they faced the beginning of another year of war that nobody had prepared for. Both sides had thrown everything into opening assaults that they thought would win the war and it hadn’t worked, for anybody. This makes the beginning of 1915 so interesting because every country was off of the their pre-war map, and they were trying to make decisions that would drastically change the fate of their nation over the next year. All sides were committed to renewing offensives as soon as the weather allowed it and the real question became when and where. There were also factions in every country, except for maybe Serbia, that argued for peace. They even went so far as to say that peace should be sought even if it resulted in negative political consequences for their country, stopped the destruction of men and material was worth it. It was very difficult for any of these factions to gain any traction in their arguments if the end result was the other side gaining benefit from peace. To quote Catastrophe 1914, which I think sums it up pretty well “Could any responsible allied government have negotiated with Germany and Austria such a peace as the Kaiser, together with his generals and ministers, sought and continued to seek? Nations which have paid the huge moral, political and financial price for entering a conflict are seldom interested in quitting it as long as they think they might win.”
Even though the military leaders of France, Germany, and Britain all agreed that their nations had to attack there was still disagreements on the specifics. Sir John French, the leader of the BEF, and Joseph Joffre, the leader of the French military, both thought that just one or two more really big, really powerful, offensives would be all that was needed to win the war. Men such as Falkenhayn, the German Chief of the General Staff, and Kitchener, the British Minister of War, both saw the war for the long, terrible struggle that it would become. The biggest problem for France, and to a lesser extent Britain was that in fall 1914 Germany had seized most of Belgium and a good chunk of France. This meant that they were almost forced to launch offensives to recapture the areas under German control. The Germans would wind up, in a rather roundabout way, that we will discuss here in a bit, in having no offensive plans on the western front, so they just dug in deep and waited for the Allies to attack. All of the military conditions on the western front would favor the Germans and their defensive strategy, as is often the case the effort by the attackers had to be greater than the defenders. The Allies also didn’t fully understand the strength of the German defenses. On both sides there was a continuous line of trenches, 475 miles long that stretched from the North Sea to Switzerland. They continued to launch small, almost ad-hoc, frontal attacks in an attempt to achieve a strategic breakthrough. Without proper planning and preparation this type of breakthrough was impossible. They also used these offensives to keep the initiative, which they thought was an essential piece in their strategy to win the war. The final reason for these offensives was to apply pressure to hopefully relieve some of the pressure on Russia. This is a theme of the Allies launching ill-fated attacks in the hopes that it will help their allies on the other front will run throughout all of 1915 and the war. One of the ironclad facts about this point in time was that everybody was experiencing supply exhaustion. On the Allied side they attributed the stalemate of late 1914 and early 1915 to this shortage of supplies and they believed as new men, munitions, and better weather came around in the spring their attacks would begin to work. Every side was experiencing supply shortages during this time, they just weren’t prepared for a war that would last longer than a few months. One particular need was artillery shells, something that most of the nations would struggle with providing in quantity for years. Keegan says in his book First World War “The experience of the French in Alsace and Lorraine in August, of the British in the Aisne in September, of the Germans in Flanders in October and November had persuaded even the most bellicose commanders that offensives unsupported by preponderant artillery would not overcome and, for the meanwhile, the artillery of all armies was short of guns and almost wholly without ammunition;” I have an entire episode planned in a few months that will have us looking a bit closer at why every nation was having such trouble meeting the demand of artillery shells, as is often the case the short answer is “for a lot of different reasons.”
The first nation we could to in our examination of what each country planned to do is France. They were in maybe the easiest place in terms of figuring out what to do in 1915. They plans were almost dictated to them by how much of France was under German control. They were almost required by national pride, prestige, and economic necessity to push the Germans out of France. Of the 80 French Departments not under German command or near the front most were agricultural. The 10 German occupied departments contained most of French industry especially in some key industries like steel, iron, and coal. These 10 departments contained 14 percent of the nations industrial workforce, 2/3rd of the steel production, 80 percent of the iron mines, 40 percent of the sugar refineries, and substantial pieces of the coal, wool, and chemical production. Those are obviously pretty important industries. France was lucky enough to have Britain on their side, the vast colonial swaths of both empires, and control of the oceans that made up for some of these deficiencies but especially early in the war shortages in the areas like steel, iron, and coal were a problem. The need for French attacks was also necessitated by morale both of soldiers and citizens. By contrast the Germans would adopt a defensive stance in the west and felt that they could give ground if necessary, after all it was just a bit of France. Because of these reasons the plans of France didn’t change that much from their plans in 1914, launch large attacks against the Germans to push them back and into Germany. Joffre hoped that this would be in conjuncture with Russian and British attacks, and this may sound a bit familiar from our prewar episodes, the combined pressure of these three attacks would require Germany to spread their troops thin and hopefully too thin.
To achieve the goal of staying on the offensive with the resources available the plan was to split the French front into passive and active sectors. The active sectors would have strongpoints placed to cover the ground in front and on the flanks of the sector while the passive sectors would be sparsely populated with only some lookouts and lots of wire. The passive sectors would also be partially held from the strongpoints in the active sectors as well as by artillery. By stripping the passive sectors of most of their troops the French were able to create attacking forces to use in the active sectors. There would have been a reasonably uniform appearance to the front throughout the sectors with a front line of trenches, eventually backed by a second line. There was, of course, barbed wire everywhere with two long belts of it about 20 yards part and up to 10 yards deep. In January Joffre sent a letter ordering his commanders to construct a second line of trenches to be much like the first line, only 2 miles to the rear. Joffre also wanted his commanders to hold the front with as few troops as possible. The more troops that were in the front line the more the troops were effected by artillery fire and other slow wasteage of strength that the French could ill afford if they wanted to keep their offensive striking ability. Joffre also advised against pushing outposts too close to the German lines for the same reasons. Both of these changes in French organization are indicative of Joffre knowing that to get the offensives that he wanted to launch, and give them enough men to actually succeed he needed to husband his strength as much as possible. This is the complete opposite of the developing British treatment of the front lines where they sought to dominate no man’s land with a lot of men in the front line trenches and constant trench raiding. So, how did they decide which sectors were active and which were passive? With most of that was dictated by geographical realities. Some areas of the front were just better for the French if they wished to achieve a breakthrough. The French needed a place where large numbers of infantry and artillery could be massed in preparation for large scale attacks that would then breakthrough into open country without many natural defensive barriers. One of the most passive sectors in the entire front was south of Verdun where they wasn’t any large scale action between September 1914 and September 1918. This was mostly due to the hilly and mountainous topography in most areas. The Argonne forest was another very passive area due to the fact that it was, well, a forest. In the far north near the sea there also weren’t a lot of active areas due to flooding and the presence of a large number of lakes and rivers, which would slow any offensive down. The two active areas, and the ones we will be discussing several time this year were Artois in the north and Champagne in the south. These two areas were on both sides of the German salient that spanned the distance between the two and protruded towards Paris. There will be several battles in 1915 in these two specific areas so I have put a map on the website in the show notes to this episode pointing out these two areas. We will actually discuss the first of these battles next week.
Joffre was still in command in France to begin 1915 and there were very few, or at least far less than in Germany and Britain, thoughts about replacing him as the commander of the French armies. He was perhaps benefited in this by his tendency to keep more information from the political leaders of France then other Army leaders did. When asked to share information with his government by the War Minister Alexandre Millerand “Any time the government or yourself no longer has complete confidence in what I am doing, I am completely ready to be relieved of the responsibilities you have confided in me.” At this stage Joffre was still seen by many as the hero of the Marne, so it was politically impossible for the French government to replace him, even if they wanted to. Joffre also liked replacing generals, as we have discussed before. My November 1916 only 2 of the original 93 generals from August 1914 would still have their commands. While this number sounds pretty crazy, I would say that all of these removals were not bad, or not just on a whim, there were many generals who were experiencing their first wartime commands in decades who just weren’t prepared for the modern battlefield. In late 1914, to simplify the command structure, Joffre added two new positions a commander of the northern half of the front, General Foch, and a commander of the southern half General Dubail. This allowed for a more organized management of these areas without as much reliance on Joffre and his staff for all decisions. As I mentioned earlier even with all of the casualties suffered by the French, and the current supply shortages, Joffre planned to go on the offensive. According to Keegain “Joffre had one thought: to drive the invader from the national territory.” He preferred his generals to keep up small attacks in the active sectors to “maintain an aggressive attitude.” In a letter to his generals he told them he wanted to maintain these attacks to “maintain the spirit of the offensive among our troops and not let them lapse into inaction under the pretense that the enemy will not attack.” These attacks weren’t a complete failure and in several instances allowed the French to gain small pieces of tactical advantage in some areas, however the gains did not even come close to outweighing the cost. In late 1914 Joffre paused large offensives to stockpile artillery and ammunition and in November and Early December he used some of this stockpile in a few medium sized offensives. After these attacks Joffre, even in his desire to attack until there was a breakthrough, came around to the idea that maybe the French were not set up to do accomplish such a breakthrough in the current environment. They didn’t have enough artillery or men. In the awesome book Pyrrhic Victory: French Strategy and Operations in the Great War by Robert Doughty, Joffre is quoted as saying “before undertaking new operations, and after an uninterrupted battle of three months, it was necessary to proceed with the constitution of new reserves, the rebuilding of [the numbers of ] our personnel, and the provision of munitions. It was equally necessary to develop the special equipment demanded by operations in siege warfare that we, from the first, were obliged to conduct before the mobile war began again.” The French plans for 1915 would be finalized by the French Operations Staff in Chantilly, near Paris during meetings late in 1914. The main driver for the choice of areas to attack was the disrupting of the German rail network that was behind the front. There were two critical railways systems needed by the German troops that were holding the front between Verdun and Flanders if either of them could be reached the Germans would be forced to retreat. The French hoped that if they could get this retreat to happen their troops would gain momentum and keep the front from settling down again. To achieve this goal the French would launch the aforementioned attacks in the Artois and Champagne sectors. The Artois attacks had the objective of the railways in the Douai plain behind Vimy Ridge and the Champagne attacks sought the Mezieres-Hirson rail line.
The idea of attacking somewhere other than the Western Front was discussed in France, just like it would be and to a great extent in Britain, but it didn’t have the same widespread support in France. General Franchet d’Esperey led the group of Frenchman who believed that attacking somewhere else was a good idea and his proposal was to send 8 divisions to the Greek port of Salonika and onto Serbia to help in their fight against Austria-Hungary. He proposed this idea to the political leadership and they thought it was an interesting proposition but Joffre was completely against it. He was convinced that the war would be won or lost on the Western front and was concerned that if the troops were sent to Salonika it would reduce his offensive capability in France. He also had other, more tangible concerns about the operation. He believed that 8 divisions were enough to have the impact necessary to justify sending any and it would be very difficult to keep them supplied. This was a very real problem, something that the British and French would learn late in 1915. For now, Joffre would end up winning the argument and no French troops were sent to Salonika, for now.
Britain was France’s ally across the channel and their situation was very different than that of the French. Their homeland was virtually invulnerable to invasion and they didn’t have any territory under German control. In early 1915 troops began to arrive from around the British empire. These were a mix of colonial divisions made up of natives of that particular colony and the last remnants of the old professional army. These remnants were long term garrisons and other forces that were slowly being replaced by British territorial units, which were sort of like modern day reserve forces. The territorials were not originally designed for use outside the home isles but they very quickly came to be used as garrisons in the colonies and on the battlefields of Europe. By the time all the troops from around the empire arrived the British would have around 300,000 troops in Europe. The questions began to arise about what to do with these troops, and the new recruits that were currently starting their training in England. One thing that would have to be taken into account was that the British had agreed to take over some of the Western Front from the French. The British occupied only a small piece of the front around Ypres and the plan was for that piece to expand to the north and the south to free up French soldiers for other operations. There were also questions about what to do with the blockade of Germany. Some members of the government wanted a tighter blockade that would risk losing ships while some members wanted to abandon it entirely due to the negative effect it was having diplomatically on countries around the globe. This question would remain for some time, but in the end the Germans would solve it for the British when the German U-Boats became a far large problem for neutral countries around the globe than the British blockade.
On the topic of what should be done with the new British troops, Sir John French, the commander of the British forces in France felt very strongly that every available man should be sent to his forces. He was optimistic about the chances of the British in attacking the Germans on the Western Front and much like Joffre believed that it was only on the Western front that the war could be won. He did not believe that the horrors of the late 1914 battles like at Ypres would continue into the new year, he attributed the late 1914 battles to the lack of material and the exhaustion of the men and with proper rest and supplies the British would be able to breakthrough. French however did not have as much influence on the government as Joffre did, and in fact Kitchener was not nearly as optimistic about the chances of a British breakthrough in the West. In January a new planning committee was created in London called the War Council and in January French went to London to meet with the group. Most of the discussion of this council revolved around the hunt for somewhere, anywhere, other than the Western Front to send troops. There were several operations considered by this group. One option was an offensive along the coast to recapture the Belgian Channel ports. This had the support of Churchill and the Navy. Capturing these ports would prevent Germany from using them as staging areas for naval operations and it might induce Holland to join the war on the side of the Entente. The navy was also stewing over a plan to attack the German Baltic coast and hoped that an attack in Belgium would draw German troops and ships away from the Baltic. The navy had already started building motor barges to be used in the plan, they also planned to use Russian troops in the operation of course nobody had told the Russians anything about it. The plan was eventually shot down as being too risky, Kitchener was categorically opposed to it. Kitchener lobbied for keeping the newly created divisions on the home isles until the French and Germans had exhausted each other. He talked about this idea openly, to the consternation I am sure of any Frenchmen who heard about it. He told Sir John French “The German armies in France my be looked upon as a fortress that cannot be carried by assault.” His goal was to hold the British line with the minimal number of resources so that as much as possible could be held at home or sent on other operations. One of the options brought up by the council was the landing of troops in Salonika, just like d’Esperey had suggested to the French leaders. Kitchner and Lloyd George liked this idea to some extent. David Lloyd George was in late 1914 the chancellor of the exchequor and was strongly in favor of any operation that would prevent the army from taking the heavy casualties that was all but guaranteed in any operations on the Western Front. He believed that in using some imagination, and the power of the Royal Navy, the British could strike against Germany in a way that would end the war quickly and at a lower cost than operations in the West. Asquith, the British Prime minister, also approved of the Salonika expedition. He believed that attacking Austria-Hungary was the proper course of action being quoted as saying “There seems to be some solid reason for thinking that Austria would like to make peace on her own account.” There was also the fact that Italy was leaning strongly toward joining the Entente early in 1915 and having British and French troops in the area might help sway them closer to alliance with Britain, France, and Russia. The challenges we already discussed were the downfall of the Salonika operation. The difficulty to supply the troops and the distance between Salonika and Serbia being the primary reasons. We will revisit the Salonika problems in great detail later this year when British and French troops end up landing in the Greek port.
There was one final idea about where the British could attack in 1915, the Dardanelles. The Dardanelles is the straight from the Aegean Sea leading into the sea of Marmara that then leads to the city of many names Constantinople, Istanbul, on in millennia past Byzantium, the capital of modern day Turkey and in 1914 the capital of the Ottoman Empire. The War Council discussed the possibilities of the Dardanelles operation and decided on a strictly naval attack on the area. The goal was for a naval force to punch their way through the straight and into the sea of Marmara from there they could bombard Constantinople, maybe taking the Ottomans out of the war. This might in turn open the Black Sea ports of Russia, a warm water port that would allow for year round shipments to Russia something that the cold weather port of Archangel did not allow. The operation would also secure British interests in the Middle East and the Suez Canal both very important to the British war effort. To find out the feasibility of the operations Churchill sent a telegram to the commander of the British fleet in the area asking if taking the Dardanelles was possible to which he replied “by extended operations with a large number of ships.” It is important to note that at this moment the War Council saw the Dardanelles campaign as 100% naval, there were no planned ground operations. It is only important because later, of course, the campaign will be known for its ground operations. The Dardanelle campaign, morphing into an attempt to take Gallipoli by land, would become one of the most storied British military campaigns ever, and it all will happen in 1915. I will talk more than you may ever want to hear about Gallipoli this year, so I should probably stop talking about it now.
In his book The Great War A Combat History of the First World War Peter Hart says “For the Germans, 1915 was a year of war that should not have been: their whole strategy had been based on a quick war.” The Schlieffen Plan had been all about quickly knocking the French out of the war so that focus could be shifted east, but it didn’t work. The Germans found themselves in a precarious strategic position in 1915 with enemies on all sides and only once ally, Austria-Hungary who wasn’t exactly carrying their weight. The German war leader Falkenhayn was to the point where he was questioning whether or not Germany could beat all of the forces arrayed against them at one time and proposed a radical plan to seek a separate truce with Russia. He thought that if Germany offered the Russians peace terms that involved some monetary reparations to Germany, but not territorial losses they might accept, allowing Germany to focus on France and Britain. With Germany focusing all of their strength in the west Falkenhayn hoped that France would soon collapse. When he proposed this separate peace to Bethmann-Hollweg he was shot down immediately. Bethmann-Hollweg saw the Russians as the primary enemy of Germany and he rejected any proposal that sought to end the war without Russia undefeated. He also pointed out an agreement made between Russia and her allies in 1914 that strictly forbid any of them from seeking a separate peace. Even with this denial Falkenhayn did not believe that the war could not be won, or that it couldn’t be won soon, but he did begin to take a more realistic view on situation. Germany, France, and Austria-Hungary continued to raise troops, and more were being called up every month, but the absolute limit of manpower was within site for all three of the nations. All nations would soon start lowering the bar to enter military service, and also conscript men from older cohorts of the population, even with these measures all three would at some point be restricted to the groups of men entering military service age every year for replacements. Russia, with its vast manpower pool, and Britain with its lesser involvement early in the war were not yet feeling this pinch as bad as the other three.
There was disagreement in the German high command about exactly where Germany should spend its strength in 1915. This disagreement would go on to cause problems for the Germans at the highest level as the players used their influence in the government and military to try to sway enough opinion to their side. One of the reasons for these problems was that Falkenhayn wasn’t the supreme commander, that was technically the Kaiser, but he also didn’t technically report to the Kaiser, since between them was the Military Cabinet. This was a copy that had no real power, but it had a lot of influence on all of the other pieces of the German government. During the winter of 1914 to 1915 the Kaiser complained heavily that he was being excluded from strategic decision making and that the General Staff told him nothing. This meant he had no role in leading the armies that he was technically the commander of, if there was one thing that Falkenhayn, Ludendorff, and Hindenburg could agree on it was that the Kaiser not having any real power in military matters was exactly how they wanted it. After being shot down by Bethmann-Hollweg on his idea to get a separate peace with Russia Falkenhayn created a plan for 1915 that hinged on offensives in the west and defense in the east with the longer term goal of getting that separate peace with Russia. He wanted to focus all of his power on the French since he considered them the primary enemy. While Falkenhayn wanted to put this plan into place he didn’t have the power necessary to get everybody to go along with it. There was a group of dissenters coalescing around Hindenburg and Ludendorff who believed all German effort should go into defeating Russia in 1915. The successes in the east during 1914 had shot the popularity of Hindenburg through the roof and he and Ludendorff began working against Falkenhayn through the Military Council. Ludendorff incluenced Hindenburg to speak out opening against Falkenhayn and his ability to command. Hindenburg also used all of his political connections and influence at court to have them do the same. Falkenhayn wasn’t helping himself with his belief that the war would be longer and costly, Hindenburg and Ludendorff were pitching a strategy that they said would result in a nice, quick, short, easy war. It is pretty easy, given those two options, to see why support would lean toward the pair. Falkenhayn did use his influence to work against the pair, but to less success. Falkenhayn also appealed to the Kaiser, the fact that this was happening in the Prussian army was a bit shocking it went against all of its traditions and standards. One of the primary reasons that Falkenhayn stayed in command throughout all of these disagreements is that the Kaiser 100% supported him. Without this support it is likely that Falkenhayn would not have been the commander of the German armies as long as he was. When the confrontation came to a head Falkenhayn decided not to threaten to resign if his plans were changed and instead worked with Hindenburg and Ludendorff to reach an agreement that would work for both parties. By this point Hindenburg had determined that he didn’t yet have enough influence to get Falkenhayn replaced so he went along with the agreement. Part of the agreement was for 4 new corps, or more than 100,000 men were transferred to the East. A portion of these men went south to help Austria-Hungary in their coming offenses and Falkenhayn named General Alexander von Linsingen to command them. Linsingen was a protégé of Falkenhayn’s and Falkenhayn knew he could trust him to follow his orders. As part of this transfer, in what some people listening my call a “cheeky” move Falkenhayn named Ludendorff as Linsingen’s Chief of Staff. He claimed that Linsingen would need Ludendorff’s genius in the south, but really he just wanted to try to separate him from Hindenburg. Before Ludendorff left Hindenburg wrote a passionate note to the Kaiser protesting the change in one part of the letter he would say “He has become to me a true helper and friend, irreplaceable by any other, one on whom I bestow my fullest confidence. Your majesty knows from the history of war how important such a happy relationship is for the conduct of affairs and the well-being of the troops.” and in another the letter would state “I venture most respectfully to beg that my war comrade may graciously be restored to me as soon as the operation in the south is under way.” Ludendorff would later say “I can only love and hate, and I hate General Falkenhayn, it is impossible for me to work together with him.”Later when Falkenhayn would meet with Hindenburg, Ludendorff, and their Chief of Staff Hoffmann at Posen Hindenburg would say, to Falkenhayn’s face, that he didn’t have the confidence of the men under his command and should resign. Upon hearing of this the Kaiser threatened to have both Hindenburg and Ludendorff court martialed. The disagreements between these three men aren’t even close to over, and they will be a recurring them all the way through 1916. In his book A World Undone The Story of the Great War G. J. Meyer would write “No mechanism existed by which Germany’s competing strategists could discuss their differences in any systematic way A crisis was inevitable. But instead of experiencing a leadership crisis, the high command went through a series of such crises that lasted a year and a half.”
The fact that all of these men had their own views and thoughts on where Germany should spend its strength in the second year of the war is indicative of one thing, Germany didn’t have a lot of good options. They were constantly having to balance the risks and dangers on all of the fronts with the limited resources that they possessed. They were not helped at all by the fact that Austria-Hungary began to the year in crisis mode and it was made worse by offensive failures early in the year and then the entry of Italy into the war. When the move of the 4 corps of the German army to the east it became in that region, against Russia, that victory would have to be achieved, if it was even possible for the Germans in 1915.
The target for the German efforts, the Russians were in a bit of a pickle when it came to what to do in 1915. With the Ottoman entry into the war they were facing 3 enemies with Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman’s in the Caucuses. Their grand objective was to hurt Germany as much as possible but there was disagreement on how to make it happen. Remember back a few episodes we talked about how Russian front was divided into two pieces, the Northwest and Southwest front. These two front commanders were constantly fighting for resources. It didn’t help that the Russian General staff was also very divided on what should be done. There were 3 main options for the Russians all with supporters. The first thought was to attack into East Prussia again. This had the same benefit that it did in 1914. It was a short area to the heart of Prussia. The second option was to go straight through Poland and into the heart of Germany. This was the quickest way to get into Germany but it would present two flanks for the Germans and Austrians to attack making it also very risky. Finally there was the option of attacking over the Carpathian mountains and into Hungary. The Russians had seen their only success in the south against the armies of the Austro-Hungarian empire, they had even captured all of Galicia, however standing in front of them was the Carpathian mountains, any offensive actions over the mountains was going to be difficult. Without firm leadership from Grand Duke Nicholas, who also couldn’t count on much support or guidance from the Czar, the Russians chose the one thing that made success in any area doubtful, they chose to attack in all three areas. The Russians had the men for this, they still have the largest army in Europe, however it was the logistical and supply problems that would be the downfall of such a massive offensive. Just like everybody else the Russians were having severe supply shortages of artillery ammunition however the Russians were also suffering severe shortages of simply supplies like rifles. There were situations where units were sent to the front with less than 2/5ths of the men having rifles. Hindsight is indeed 20/20 but it seems likely that if Grand Duke Nicholas and the Russians had chosen to apply all of their strength to either of the three objectives presented to them, they would have had far more success.
The Austro-Hungarian empire was in a very tight spot, almost to the point of desperation. Serbia remained unbeaten to their south, Russia had taken over Galicia and was posed to attack through the Carpathians and into the Hungarian heartland, there was a very good chance that Italy would soon be entering into the war. They were also having trouble making their armies whole again after they had suffered so many casualties. Austria-Hungary had a third of Russia’s population but was fighting Russia, and Serbia, and Italy. There are few ways in which the first 5 months of the war would have went worse for the Austrians. The first priority was always to keep the Russians on the other side of Carpathians. Conrad, the Austrian commander, in what was becoming his signature style chose to attack against the Russians instead of staying on the defensive. He hoped to push the Russians away from the Carpathians and maybe out of Galicia with the side goal of relieving the siege of Przemsyl where over 100,000 troops were trapped by the Russians. This was a very bold plan and it would prove to be too bold. When we talk about it in a few weeks we will talk about some of the worst fighting conditions I have ever heard of and what would rival any of battle in the war. Austria’s only ally, Germany, didn’t think that they were capable of doing anything by themselves and as we discussed earlier, sending help to the Austrians would be a priority for the Germans early in the year. It would be the German handicap in both world wars, in both cases be it Austria-Hungary or Italy, the Germans would have to begin propping up their allies soon after the war started.
So what will happen with all of these plans? Will France be successful in their offensives against the Germans? Will Britain force the Dardanelles with their Navy while also beating back the Germans in Belgium? Will the Germans and Hindenburg and Ludendorff deal Russia a knock out blow? Will the Russian steam roller finally activate its true power and roll over all of Europe? Will Austria Hungary survive? I will answer these questions and many many more over the coming weeks. My one final quote for this episode comes from The Great War and the Making of the Modern World by Jeremy Black and I think it does a good job of summarizing many of the events in 1915 “It was not generally appreciated by the Allies, nor among all German generals, that stalemate and trench warfare reflected the nature of modern industrial war once both sides had committed large numbers of troops and lacked the ability to accomplish a breakthrough.” Everybody had learned many lessons from the fighting in 1914, but they still had a lot to learn about the war they were fighting.
Speaking of lessons, wow have I learned a lot about podcasting in the last few months. I have most of the episodes planned out, and I will be taking a few more breaks to allow myself to have a bit of a break and to also catch up on research and writing. For those who wish to learn a bit more about what I have learned about podcasting over the first 18 episodes of these series I have posted a blog post at historyofthegreatwar.com detailing some of it, warning it is very “inside baseball.” I would like to thank everybody who listens to the podcast and especially everyone who had liked the podcast on Facebook at facebook.com/historyofthegreatwar, everybody who follows the podcast on twitter at twitter.com/historygreatwar, and everybody who has left a review on iTunes, interacting with listeners is one of the great joys of making the show and you guys are awesome.