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History of the Great War of 1914 to 1918 (1915)

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Operations on the Eastern Front, 1915

At the beginning of the year, Warsaw was still the chief objective of the German movements. Their attacks upon the Russian positions in January and February in western Poland were generally unsuccessful. A great army was collected in East Prussia which began its advance on July 7, and drove the Russian forces across the Niemen. At the same time, a formidable Austro-German offensive started in the Carpathians with the purpose of relieving Przemysl. This force was beaten in a great battle near Halicz on March 11; Przemysl surrendered with its garrison of 120,000 men on March 22. The battle in the Carpathians continued until the middle of April when the roads became impassable by continuous rains. The German offensive was afterwards resumed by a skilful attack under the command of Field Marshal von Mackensen. After a terrific artillery preparation on May 2, the Germans succeeded in piercing the Russian positions at Gorlice and forced retreat to the line of the river San. Here the Russians were again attacked and, after a battle which lasted for two weeks, were forced to retire; and Przemysl was retaken. Another battle began for the possession of Lemberg, which was captured by the Austrians on June 22. In the middle of July, a gigantic offensive commenced all along the eastern front. The Germans forced the passage of the Narew, and advanced against Warsaw. Libau was taken on August 1; Ivangorod fell on August 4, and Warsaw was occupied on the 5th. The Russian armies were pursued with great energy, but succeeded in effecting their retreat without suffering a decisive overthrow. The remainder of their frontier fortresses were taken in rapid succession, or evacuated, and the remnant of their troops retired beyond the river Dvina where they were rallied and received strong reinforcements. In September, they once more assumed the offensive and gained a considerable success south of the Pripet marshes.

During the whole of this period, their well organized network of military railways enabled the Germans to concentrate large masses of troops at almost any point in the theatre of war. Whole armies were conveyed rapidly by this means from front to front and flank to flank.

The Italian Front, 1915

Italy declared war on Austria on May 23, 1915. Next day Italian troops invaded Austrian territory on all adjacent fronts. The cities of Trent and Trieste were their main objectives. The blockade of the Austro-Hungarian ports was taken over by the Italian navy. Owing to the great natural strength of the Austrian positions, and their careful fortification, the advance of the invaders was slow and costly. On July 25, they gained a foothold on the Carso plateau on the road to Trieste, but were subsequently obliged to retire by the overwhelming fire of the Austrian artillery. This year terminated without any further advance. The natural obstacles of a mountainous country proved well nigh insuperable and could only be overcome by immense exertions and great engineering skill. In many instances batteries, constructed at a height of nine or ten thousand feet above the sea level, were firing at targets above the clouds. An accumulation of water was usually as urgent as a supply of ammunition.

Conquest of Serbia, 1915

In the end of September, 1915, a large German army under the command of von Mackensen was concentrated on the northern frontier of Serbia. A week later the Bulgarians definitely entered into the war as allies of the central powers. The Austro-German armies crossed the frontier on October 6 in great force. Their advance was very slow but quite irresistible. The Serbian army was driven steadily before them, and the country overrun. By the beginning of December its remnants were driven into the mountains of Montenegro and Albania, where many perished from disease and privation. French and British troops had occupied the Greek port of Salonika on October 5, and moved northward along the railway into southern Serbia, where they occupied an extensive intrenched position. Here they were attacked by the Bulgarians on December 6, and after nine days severe fighting compelled to retire to Saloniki.

Campaign at the Dardanelles, 1915

After closely blockading the entrance to these straits for some months, a powerful British and French fleet was assembled for a naval attack in February, 1915. The coast defences had meanwhile been greatly strengthened, and a powerful army assembled for their protection under the direction of German officers. The bombardment began on February 19, and was continued at intervals until the evening of March 2. Several of the forts were silenced and greatly damaged. On March 20, the attack was renewed. Three battleships of the allied squadron were sunk during the day by mines or gun fire. This was a serious reverse.

A military expedition under the command of Sir Ian Hamilton had already been organized, to attack these defences in the rear. It consisted of a British, an Australian-New Zealand and a French army corps, numbering 120,000 men. A much larger force of Turkish troops, with a considerable number of German officers and soldiers had been assembled to oppose the invasion. A landing was effected on April 25, with serious losses. A limited foothold was secured on the peninsula but after most persistent efforts, the troops failed to carry the heights dominating their position. Siege operations were then undertaken, which continued in the face of insuperable difficulties until the end of the year, when the undertaking was reluctantly abandoned, and the allied troops were withdrawn, after months of incredible efforts in which they had displayed indomitable courage and tenacity.

Operations in Egypt and Mesopotamia, 1915

The British garrison in Egypt had been strongly reinforced the year before. The Suez Canal was fortified and guarded by strong garrisons. An advance of the Turks from Syria was repelled in the first week of February, 1915. Subsequent small raids were easily repulsed. In April the British-Indian force in Mesopotamia was reinforced by a second division, and General Sir John Nixon took command. The Turks were defeated at Shaiba on April 12, and again at Nasiriyeh on the Euphrates about ninety miles above on July 24. They were again defeated at Kut-el-Amara, on the Tigris on September 28, and closely pursued by a British division under General Townshend. They were driven from a fortified position in Ctesiphon, twenty miles from Bagdad, on November 22. Afterwards they were greatly reinforced and Townshend was obliged in turn to retire to Kut-el-Amara, where he was surrounded and besieged.

A formidable attempt of the Turks to invade Russian territory in the Caucasus was defeated. One Turkish army corps was forced to surrender and two others were entirely routed. The Russians gained ground slowly in Armenia and Persia.

Conquest of German Southwest Africa, 1915

The rebellion in South Africa terminated on February 3, with the surrender of the last rebel leader. The colonial forces under the command of General Louis Botha, the premier of the Union, under-took the invasion of German South West Africa. The principal port had already been occupied by a small British force. Two divisions of the colonial forces entered the colony and marched upon Windhoek, the capital, which was occupied on May 12. The German governor surrendered on July 9 with the remnant of his force.

Naval Warfare, 1915

At the beginning of the year only four German cruisers were still at sea. Two of these sought refuge at ports in the United States in the month of April and were interned. The Dresden, sole survivor of the battle at the Falkland Islands, was overtaken by a small squadron at Juan Fernandez, on March 14, and sunk. The Karlsruhe is stated to have been destroyed by accident. The Koenigsberg, blockaded in the Rufigi River in German East Africa, was destroyed by two British monitors on July 11. On January 24, a German squadron, apparently on its way to attack some British port, was encountered by a British squadron of superior force about thirty miles from the coast of England. In the action which followed, the German cruiser Blucher was sunk and the remainder driven off in a damaged condition. The British battle cruiser, Lion, and the destroyer, Meteor, were temporarily disabled, but the losses of the crews were small. On February 4, a proclamation was issued by the German Admiralty, declaring all the waters surrounding Great Britain and Ireland as a war zone after the 18th of that month, in which every hostile ship would be destroyed by their submarines. Many vessels were destroyed in pursuance of this policy, with the loss of thousands of lives. The sinking of the Cunard liner “Lusitania,” the largest British ship in the Atlantic service, on May 7, by which 1,153 persons perished, caused a tremendous outburst of indignation in all neutral countries, as well as among the allied nations. The submarine campaign, however, absolutely failed in interrupting commerce between the British Isles and the rest of the world, or in interfering materially with the transport of troops and supplies into the several theatres of war. British submarines on the other hand succeeded in entering the Baltic and the Sea of Marmora, where many hostile vessels were destroyed by them. Allied commerce on the high seas was protected and the commerce of their enemies completely stopped.

Participation in the War of the British Overseas Dominions and Colonies, 1915

The landing of the Canadian troops at St. Nazaire

The First Canadian Division had trained at Salisbury Plain during the fall and winter, and crossed to France toward the end of February, 1915. They were engaged with distinction at Ypres, Festubert, Givenchy and Neuve Chapelle. Sir John French reported that at Ypres, in April, 1915, they “held their ground with a magnificent display of tenacity and courage,” and that they “averted a disaster which might have been attended with the most serious consequences.” A second division arrived in England early in the summer, and in November a third division was organized. On September 14, a Canadian Corps of two divisions was formed in France with Lieut.-General E. H. Alderson in command. The total number of troops recruited for service in Canada by the end of the year was officially reported as amounting to 212,690. In a New Year's message published on the last day of the year, the Prime Minister stated that the military force contributed by Canada would be increased to half a million of men. Subscriptions to the various war funds were augmented by many millions of dollars.

Second Battle of Ypres, 1915

The support afforded by Australia was equally cordial both in troops and money. At the beginning of November, it was officially stated that 92,000 men from Australia had actually been despatched to the theatre of war. At the same time New Zealand had sent 25,000 men to the front, and the Union of South Africa, besides supplying large contingents of troops for service in South, West, East and Central Africa, had furnished 6,500 men for service in Europe. Newfoundland had supplied 1,600 men for service on land besides sending many men to the navy. The British colonies in the West Indies pent two thousand men, and smaller contingents were furnished by Ceylon and Fiji.

Economic Results of the War, 1915

Early in the year 1915 it became apparent that the German authorities were seriously alarmed by the tightening of the British blockade. The entire control of provisions and all military supplies was taken by the Imperial Government, and decrees were enacted for fixing prices. All stocks of certain metals were reserved for military use. Before the end of the year, it was confessed that the scarcity of food was bearing very heavily upon the poorer classes, for whom only a sufficient supply of grain and potatoes could be provided. This difficult situation had been alleviated to a certain extent by the occupation of Belgium and the great industrial districts of northern France and Poland, with their valuable mines of coal and iron, numerous blast furnaces and textile factories. Every effort was made to turn these to the best account. It was admitted that on several occasions, the German armies had been placed in a critical situation by a shortage of artillery ammunition late in the autumn of 1914, and again in the summer of 1915.

The chief object of the campaign against Serbia was to establish an overland communication with Turkey, and obtain supplies from that source. The importation of raw materials, food stuffs and certain manufactures, and the export of her own industrial products, had become vital conditions of the economic life of Germany. Consequently, the sinister effects of the blockade were felt more and more daily as the war continued. In Austria-Hungary, a general seizure of all grain and flour was decreed on February 26, and a system of per capita distribution inaugurated in the large cities next month. The prices of food rose enormously, and in the autumn entailed great suffering upon the working classes.

French commerce was seriously affected by the war. Exports were diminished by one half, while imports increased in value by ten per cent. Strong measures were adopted in June to increase the supply of munitions. Skilled mechanics taken from the factories on mobilization were recalled with that object. By the middle of the month 650,000 persons were engaged in producing munitions.

Imports into Great Britain greatly increased, but there was a considerable reduction in exports. A Ministry of Munitions was established in June, and a great campaign inaugurated to increase the output of shells and artillery. A Munitions Bill, which placed the government in nearly as complete control of the persons employed in work shops and ammunition factories as it had over the troops in the field, was quickly enacted.

A National Registration Bill was passed in July; in November the system of recruiting was re-organized, and before the end of the year the government reluctantly decided to adopt a modified form of conscription.