In this edition of the ‘Great War’, we learn about the conflict on the Eastern Front and how Germany loosens its rules of war and with harrowing consequences.
War in Egypt
Egypt represented a vital strategic point to both the Ottoman and British Empires. The British required the Suez Canal to access their other colonies and both empires saw Egypt as important for expanding their influence in the Middle East. Consequently the British had made Egypt a protectorate on 18 December 1914 and appointed Hussein Kamel as its head of state.
The Ottomans had begun planning an invasion long in advance of this however and in early February 1915 made a 200 km advance across the Sinai Desert using wells dug in advance.
On 3 February Turkish troops, under the command of a German general, arrived at the 50m-wide canal and attempted to cross with pontoon bridges. The defenders, mostly Indian and Egyptian, repelled the attack, inflicting 1,500 casualties on the Ottoman invaders, including capturing 700, while suffering fewer than 200 casualties themselves.
The victory is partly attributable to aerial reconnaissance which had revealed the Ottoman plans before they arrived and so undermined the advantage they hoped to gain with a surprise attack.
War at Sea
On 30 January 1915 a German submarine sank 4 merchant ships off Britain’s eastern coast. The British responded by advising their merchant vessels to sail under the flags of neutral nations.
Partly in response to that British tactic, Kaiser Wilhem authorised the German Navy to engage in unrestricted submarine warfare. Consequently thousands of civilians would die at sea during the war.
The Russian Front
By early February the Austrian Carpathian offensive had collapsed, barely lasting two weeks. It had started with promising gains against the Russians but the Austro-Hungarian commanders’ failure to equip their men appropriately meant that these were soon reversed. Many died of cold, hunger and exhaustion, not only men, but much needed horses, thus worsening Austria-Hungary’s already poor transport situation.
The eastern front saw gas used for the first time on 31 January 1915 at the Battle of Bolimov. The Germans launched 18,000 shells of xylo-bromide, a tear gas, but the fluid in the shells did not evaporate and their planned attack was cancelled. The Russians attempted a counter-attack after this, but were unsuccessful, losing 40,000 men in the attempt.
Young Bosnia members Velijko Cubrilovic, Misko Jovanovic and Danilo Ilic were executed in February 1915 in Austria for their participation in the assassination of Franz Ferdinand.
The member who actually killed the Archduke, Gavrilo Princip, did not receive the death penalty as he was under 20 and so under Austro-Hungarian law could not be executed. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison. He died after only 3 as a result of tuberculosis.