MAY 1915

The 2nd May 1915 saw the commencement of the Gorlice in the Carpathian Mountains and Artois, France offensive by the Central powers of Germany and Austria/Hungary. Included in the summer offensive was the sinking of the American Tanker “Gulflight” by a German U-Boat in the Mediterranean Sea near Sicily on the 1st May 1915.

 

2nd/4th May 1915, on the Eastern Front a combined German and Austro-Hungarian offensive began against the Russian Army at Gorlice and Tarnow in Galicia. The defences of the weakened Russian Army were broken down by a massive 700,000-shell bombardment. With the Russians suffering from a shortage of artillery shells and rifles, German and Austro-Hungarian forces broke through the Russian lines on the 4th May 1915. The Russian Army began a disorganised retreat.

 

The German submarine U-20 was patrolling the southern entrance to the Irish coast off Kinslade Old Head. On the 7th May 1915, the submarine Commander Schweigher sighted the Cunard Liner “Lusitania” on her final leg of her passage to Liverpool from New York.

Three months prior to the sighting of “Lusitania”, Germany had declared all waters around the British Isles a “war zone”.

Approximately 2.10pm the submarine fired two torpedoes at the “Lusitania”. The first torpedo struck the “Lusitania” causing a massive explosion. Within 20 minutes, the liner had keeled over and sunk. Aboard the “Lusitania” were approximately 2,000 passengers. Of the 1,198 that perished were 291 women and 94 children. Neutral America protested strongly at the death of 128 American citizens. An inquest was carried out after the victims bodies had drifted into Kinslade. The coroner’s court of Ireland (then part of the United Kingdom) gave a verdict of wilful murder against the German Kaiser.

Both combatant and neutral states were now aware of the deadly and ugly nature of modern warfare. The sinking of the “Lusitania” was the first of a number of reasons, which started to sway the American resolve toward the Allied cause.

 

On the 9th May 1915, the first divisions of the British Expeditionary Force New Army departed for France. When war was declared on the 4th August 1914 Field Marshall Earl Horatio Herbert Kitchener, Secretary of State for War, was almost alone in believing the conflict would last longer than the general response that the “war would be over by Christmas”. Anticipating a longer campaign Kitchener was in a position to do something about it. He received authorisation from Parliament to raise a new army of 100,000 men and on the 7th August 1914, he appealed to the nation for volunteers to boost the 150,000 regular troops of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF).  Within 3 weeks, Kitchener received his 100,000 volunteers. By early October 1914 over 760,000 young men had volunteered and before the end of the year the one millionth volunteer had been achieved.

In 1914, the army was short of officers and NCOs to train the New Army. They were also short of arms, equipment, accommodation, uniforms, food and supplies. These difficulties were slowly overcome and the first divisions of the British New Army began arriving in France in early May 1915.

 

Chief of French General Staff Joseph Joffre was one of the most experienced soldiers of France. On the 9th May 1915 Joffre launched an offensive in the Artois region. The offensive was centred on Vimy Ridge, which began with an artillery bombardment of 1,200 guns. The French were able to advance 4km (2.1 miles) to overlook the Douai Plain.

With French reinforcements 11.2 km (7 miles) away, the Germans were able to stabilize their line, the French having lost the opportunity to capitalise on their advance. The battle ended in mid June 1915 with little success on both sides. The overall losses were horrendous with the French sustaining 100,000 casualties and the Germans 75,000 casualties.

After the Vimy Ridge encounter the French realised they needed to reappraise their offensive tactics, the same way the British had modified their tactics after the Battle of Aubers Ridge.

 

On the 9th May 1915, in an effort to take Aubers Ridge, the BEF attacked over the same Neuve Chappelle battlefield of March 1915. Since the battle of Neuve Chappelle the Germans had improved and strengthened their front lines. Dug-outs were added to shelter the troops and trenches had been re-inforced. German barbed wire had been increased in depth, and their heavy guns were adequately positioned to repel any Allied attack. Because the German’s were aware of an imminent attack, reserves of ammunition were increased.

On the 9th May 1915 at 5.00am, the British guns began their bombardment and at 5.40am, the infantry advanced. The bombardment had been insufficient to destroy German machine guns and consequently the BEF sustained huge losses. The BEF consisted of British and Indian troops. By the evening of 9th May 1915, the BEF had gained some positions in the German front line trenches. The BEF did not have sufficient troops to exploit the successes. This was due to the heavy casualties taken together with the lack of artillery fire owing to the shortage of ammunition.

 

The battle of Aubers Ridge was abandoned at 20.00 hours on the 10th May 1915.

 

On the 15th May 1915, the Battle of Festubert began with the fifth, sixth and Garhwal (Indian) brigades attacking 1,700 yards of German trenches. Longer and systematic artillery bombardment began on the 13th May 1915 and continued for 36 hours. The Battle of Aubers Ridge, a few days before, had taught the BEF a valuable lesson. The attack was to be realistic and not too ambitious with orders to advance 1000 yards. The German front line trenches were 300 yards behind a 12-foot ditch away allowing the Allies to capture German held rear area. Although there was a shortage of heavy artillery, considerable success was obtained. The attack began at 11.30pm on the 15th May 1915 with the sixth brigade reaching the German front line and capturing ground behind the enemy trenches, without a shot having been fired.

North of the sixth brigade attack, the element of surprise was lost. When the fifth and Garhwal brigades advanced, the Germans lit up “No Mans Land” and bombarded the advancing troops with shells, machine gun and rifle fire. Only half of one battalion reached the German front line trench close to the left of the sixth brigade, leaving its flanks exposed.

Attacks and counter-attacks continued until the 25th May 1915 when the order given to abandon the offensive operation of the British First Army.

 

On the 22nd May 1915, Italian General Luigi Cadorna was officially appointed Commander in Chief of the Italian army, although from June 1914, he was Chief of the Italian General Staff. Italy declared war on Austro-Hungary on the 23rd May 1915 after having mobilised the Italian army the day before on 22nd May 1915. A new 600 km Front line opened up with the Italian declaration of war. The border between Italy and Austria is mostly mountainous. Although Italy was able to mobilise 1.2 million men they were only able to equip 732,000 men, because they were not a fully industrialised power.

After declaring war, the Italians advanced into the South Tyrol  region and onto the Isonzo River. Austria-Hungary resisted the Italian advance with their defensive tactics learnt from nearly twelve months of fighting against Russia. Treacherous and snow clad mountains made the region unsuited for offensive operations. Despite several quick Italian successes, the whole operation settled into a stalemate, similar to that on the Western Front.

 

On the 25th May 1915, Liberal Prime Minister Herbert Henry Asquith formed a coalition government with the Conservative opposition party. A political crisis was developing in the British Government. The major reasons for the coalition were the “shell scandal” together with the lack of success in the Dardanelles and Gallipoli peninsular. Kitchener had been tasked to raise and equip a new army of one million men to bolster the “Old Contemptables” of the professional BEF, as well as being Minister for the supply of artillery shells.

Field Marshall Sir John French – Commander of the BEF complained bitterly at the lack of artillery shells, which impeded his forces on the Western Front. The lack of progress at Gallipoli helped the government to become impatient with Kitchener. Liberal David Lloyd George was appointed Minister of Munitions under the new coalition government. This appointment resulted in Kitchener having his ministerial powers reduced. As the new Minister of Munitions, Lloyd George was successful in persuading the unions to drop their restrictive practises for the duration of the war. Lloyd George also gave the militant Suffragettes the right to work. Many Suffragettes were brought into the shell factories and many more were enlisted to perform tasks that were previously male dominated employment.

 

Also on the 25th May 1915, Japan loyally entered the war as Great Britain’s ally, annexing Shantung. She was able to profit by turning the whole of China into a colony of her own.  This colony was the beginning of the creation of the Japanese Empire that ultimately encouraged Japan to attack America in Hawaii during the Second World War.

 

German Kaiser Wilhelm II, on the 12th February 1915, expressed a wish that war in the air should be carried out against England.The 31st May 1915 saw the first German airship raid on London. The German High Command responded by authorising raids on England but they were to be confined only to military bases and barracks. The London docks and fuel, ammunition, and military stores were also to be a target for the raids. Royal residences and residential areas were not to be included in the list of military targets.

The German fleet of airships was available owing to the vulnerability of the airships over the Western Front from anti-aircraft fire.

The initial raid on London saw residential areas being bombed instead of military or dockland areas. This was the result of a navigational error coupled with the airship flying too high. Twenty-eight people lost their lives and many were injured during the raid.

 

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