October 1915

The Austro-Hungarian occupation of the Balkans

By Alessandro Salvador

“There is no doubt that no Serb will spontaneously express any appreciation of what our allies are doing here.”

(Message of the German Consul in Belgrade to Emperor Wilhelm II)

In October of 1915, a massive joint offensive of the Austro-Hungarian, Bulgarian and German forces, commanded by the German General von Mackensen, overwhelmed the Serbian army and completed the conquest of the Balkans. After more than a year of resistance, the Serbs had recover to the Greek island of Corfu, under the protection of the Allied forces. Austria, after having undergone ruinous defeats in that theatre of war, finally managed to get their hands on Serbia and had every intention to exploit to a maximum the productive and natural resources. The new conquest, however, also represented a political problem. The diverse expectations of the Austrians and Hungarians clashed. For Austria, it was a priority to completely annihilate Serbia, annexing it entirely to the monarchy. The Hungarians, instead, pushed for a soft annexation, keeping Serbia with limited autonomy, sufficient to limit constant risks of insurrection and revolt. At the same time, the Hungarians pushed for a massive immigration of Germans and Hungarians into the annexed territories to encourage the process of integration in the empire.

Although the Austrian line prevailed, a compromise was found, allowing Hungary to annex the Balkan territories, while Vienna counted on expanding northeast into Russia. These were reasonable plans at a time when the outbreak of war seemed to encourage central empires.

Serbia was also entrapped between the annexionism of the Austro-Hungarians and that of the Bulgarians who, as allies, had the right to a consistent slice of territory to occupy.

These territories were subjected immediately to a forced Bulgarization plan. Draconian measures regarding the civil population were applied, justified by questions of security and policies intended to eliminate Serbian culture were implemented, which also affected other minorities. Deportations and forced internments were applied against adult males. In the first period of the occupation forced transfers hid true mass executions. The middle class was weakened through decimations, restrictive property laws, and replacement of the local language with Bulgarian. With the time, the repressive measures also were extended to the working class and responded to a predetermined plan of de-nationalisation of the new territories.

If the Bulgarian occupiers were not concerned with hiding their actions, the Austro-Hungarians seemed to respond to a different logic. Despite the final goal always being the elimination of Serbian nationalist sentiment, imperial propaganda depicted the occupation policies as civilising actions. How forced this pretext was could be seen in the attitude of German authorities who criticised Austrian policies in the Balkans that aimed to eliminate any form of social life. All organizations, including cultural and sports, were dissolved. Males of recruiting age were interned, deported, or subjected to forced labour, and although there were no systematic massacres as in the Bulgarian area, public executions were used frequently with the goal of frightening the population and punishing even minimal violations of occupation laws.

The process of eliminating Serbian cultural history also involved closing newspapers, interning writers and journalists, and dissolving masonic lodges. The Serbian historic and cultural heritage was uprooted; important relics and works of art were removed from museums and libraries and Serbian history books and literary works in Serbian were confiscated.

Austrian occupation policies, perpetrated with systematic ferocity, showed those opposed to them, primarily the Hungarians, to be right. The Balkan territories were a thorn in Austria’s side, unstable and subject to guerrilla actions, until the final offensive that broke down the occupation force in the summer and autumn of 1918. 

La seconde bataille de Champagne a opposé les troupes françaises aux Allemands dans les plaines de la région entre la vallée de la Suippe et la lisière de la forêt d'Argonne du 25 septembre au 6 octobre 1915. Elle présente la dernière tentative du haut commandement français d'effectuer une percée décisive permettant de retourner à la guerre de mouvement.

La (seconde) Bataille de Champagne

By Helena Trnkova

Après les opérations initiales caractérisées par les mouvements rapides des unités – la bataille de la Marne ayant stoppé l'avancée fulgurante des Allemands et la course à la mer consécutive – le front occidental se stabilise avant Noël 1914. Les adversaires s'enterrent dans les tranchées défensives souvent très près l'un de l'autre, inaugurant ainsi un nouveau type de guerre, dit de position. En 1915, alors que la stratégie allemande est en principe défensive (avec l'exception de la Seconde bataille d'Ypres), les Français, toutefois, gardent la foi en l'esprit offensif. En effet, les généraux français restent persuadés qu'une attaque massive bien coordonnée devrait permettre de percer la défense retranchée allemande. Déjà au printemps 1915, avant le mois de mars, l'armée française tente plusieurs attaques en Champagne et près d'Arras, sans grand succès, alors que les Britanniques effectuent une attaque surprise à Neuve-Chapelle. Les pertes sont élevées  chez les deux adversaires. L'activité reprend en mai où les alliés français et britanniques se rejoignent en Artois pour relancer des opérations d'envergure. Arrêtée le 15 mai, la seconde bataille d'Artois coûte 100 000 hommes aux Français et 75 000 aux Allemands. Les Britanniques poursuivent les opérations entreprises jusqu'au 27 mai essuyant d'énormes pertes, eux aussi. La fatigue générale impose alors un intermezzo d'accalmie durant tout l'été 1915.

Malgré ces échecs, le commandant en chef français Joffre, garde son optimisme et projette une grande attaque alliée concentrée à nouveau en Artois et en Champagne pour l'automne. Son objectif est encore d'effectuer une percée décisive afin de retourner à la guerre de mouvement. Conjointement, la reprise de l'activité à l'ouest compte mobiliser les effectifs allemands et affaiblir ainsi leur position sur le front oriental pour répondre à l'appel à l'aide de l'allié russe. De surcroît, un succès pourrait convaincre certains pays restant neutres à se joindre aux Alliés.

L'attaque, repoussée à deux reprises, est finalement déclenchée le 25 septembre par les Français à trois endroits en Champagne alors que leurs alliés d'Outre-Manche s'engagent en Artois. Les Français visent un front plutôt restreint de vingt-cinq kilomètres environ entre Aubérive et Ville-sur-Tourbe. Persuadés que seule une attaque massive peut assurer le succès, ils déploient des moyens d'artillerie jusqu'à là inouïs. L’infanterie, elle aussi, dispose désormais d'une force de feu plus importante, incluant les mitrailleuses et grenades modernes. Toutefois, en vue de la percée, les corps de cavalerie ont été également mis au combat. C'était leurs dernière grande opération de la Première Guerre mondiale. En détail, les effectifs français englobent la 4e armée du général de Langle de Cary et la 2e armée du général Pétain, composée chacune de quatre corps armés (dont un colonial) et d'un corps de cavalerie (respectivement le 4e, le 32e le 7e, le 2e corps colonial et le 2e corps de cavalerie pour la 4e armée et le 14e, 11e, 30e, le 1er corps colonial et le 3e corps de cavalerie pour la 2e armée). Ils s'attaquent à la IIIe armée allemande du général von Einem comptant au total sept division et demie.

L'action de l'infanterie est précédée d'une préparation d'artillerie de trois jour, déployant du 22 au 25 septembre, 1 100 pièces. Bien qu'elle parvient à détruire les obstacles de la première ligne allemande, l'infanterie, mise en marche le 25 septembre progresse de façon assez inégale selon les secteurs. La percée la plus importante de 4 kilomètres environ est effectuée par le 7e corps. La première ligne ennemie est partiellement prise, avec les prisonniers et le matériel, pourtant les points de résistance majeurs subsistent. En effet, supposant l'offensive, les Allemands se sont retirés sur leur seconde ligne, profondément retranchée et défendue par un système élaboré d'obstacles barbelés. Ils exploitent le relief de la zone des combats à leur avantage. Le lendemain, la progression française s'étiole buttant sur cette seconde ligne de la défense allemande. Les Allemands retranchés déclenchent leur artillerie lourde sur les troupes françaises occupant leur première ligne déserte. Les jours suivants, les Français se concentrent désormais sur les points de résistance de leur ennemi qui, entre-temps, obtient des renforts. Le 1er octobre, le général Pétain suspend les combats en raison des pertes et d'une consommation de munition trop importantes. Bien que les Français aient réussi à percer la seconde ligne à un endroit, l'offensive, dans son ensemble, n'a pas été couronnée de succès. La bataille se stabilise avant d'être officiellement arrêtée le 6 octobre. Son bilan atteigne 143 000 pertes pour les Français et 113 000 chez les Allemands.

L'échec de la grande offensive française en Champagne, couplé avec celui des Britanniques plus au nord, d'effectuer une percée décisive a eu plusieurs conséquences. Tout d'abord, c'est l’essoufflement complet d'espoirs d'une guerre courte et d'une victoire rapide. La nécessité du passage à la guerre d'usure se forge alors son chemin dans les réflexions stratégiques. Aussi, cela montre le besoin de réorganiser la coordination du commandement chez les Alliés. En décembre 1915, la France, la Grande-Bretagne, la Russie et l'Italie se rencontrent lors d'une conférence inter-alliée pour améliorer leur coopération à l'avenir.

Links :

http://chtimiste.com/batailles1418/1915champagne2.htm

http://champagne1418.net/index/hindex.htm

https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bataille_de_Champagne_%281915%29

Bibliographie :

Les armées françaises dans la Grande guerre. Tome III. 3, Paris, Ministère de la guerre, état-major de l'armée, service historique, 1923, disponible en ligne sur Gallica : http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k6267170h

Valroger, Amaury de, Barbier-Bouvet, Camille (dir.), La Marne et la Champagne, Boulogne-Billancourt, Michelin, 2011.

Pastre, Jules-Louis-Gaston, Trois ans au front : Belgique, Aisne et Champagne, Verdun, Argonne, Lorraine : notes et impressions d’un artilleur, Nancy, PUN / Secrétariat d’État chargé des anciens combattants et des victimes de guerre, 1991.  

The Second Battle of Champagne pitted French troops against the Germans on the region’s plains between the Suippe Valley and the Argonne Forest, 25 September – 6 October, 1915 It was the last attempt by the French high command to make a decisive breakthrough in order to return to a war of movement.

The (Second) Battle of Champagne

By Helena Trnkova

After the initial operations, characterised by fast-moving units – the Battle of the Marne having stopped the Germans’ shocking advance and the consequent race to the sea – the Western Front was stabilised before Christmas 1914. The adversaries often dug their trenches in close proximity to one another, thereby creating a new type of war known was position warfare. In 1915, with the German strategy being primarily defensive (with the exception of the Second Battle of Ypres), the French continued to believe in the offensive spirit. Indeed, French generals were convinced that a well-coordinated mass attack would break through the German fortified defences. Starting in spring 1915, before the month of March, the French army tried several attacks in Champagne and near Arras, with no great success, whereas the British conducted a surprise attack at Neuve-Chapelle. Losses were high on both sides. Activity resumed in May when the French and British allies met in the Artois to resume large-scale operations. The Battle of Artois, which ended on 15 May, cost the lives of 100,000 Frenchmen and 75,000 Germans. The British continued the operations until 27 May, suffering enormous losses as well. A general fatigue set in during a quiet intermission lasting the entire summer of 1915.

Despite these failures, the French commander-in-chief, Joffre, remained optimistic and planned a large allied attack again focusing on the Artois and Champagne for the autumn. His objective was still to make a decisive breakthrough in order to get back to a war of movement. At the same time, the resumption of activity to the west sought to mobilise the German forces and thereby weaken their position on the Eastern Front in order to respond for a plea for help from the Russian ally. In addition, a success might convince certain countries remaining neutral to join the Allies.

The attack, twice pushed back, was finally unleashed on 25 September by the French at three places in Champagne, whereas their allies from the other side of the Channel engaged in the Artois. The French were targeting a more limited, twenty-five kilometre-long front between Aubérive and Ville-sur-Tourbe. Convinced that only a massive attack would bring success, they deployed artillery resources that were unheard of at the time. The infantry now also had greater firepower, including modern machine guns and grenades. However, with expectations of a breakthrough, the cavalry corps were also called up for combat. This was their last major operation in the First World War. Specifically, the French troops included the 4th Army of General de Langle de Cary and General Pétain’s 2nd Army, each consisting of four armed corps (including one colonial one) and a cavalry corps (respectively, the 4th, 32nd, 7th and 2nd colonial corps and the 2nd cavalry corps for the 4th Army and the 14th, 11th, 30th, 1st colonial corps and the 3rd cavalry corps for the 2nd army). They attacked the German 3rd army of General von Einem, with a total of 7.5 divisions.

The infantry action was preceded by three days of artillery preparation, deploying 1,100 pieces between 22 and 25 September. Although they managed to destroy obstacles on the German front line, the infantry, sent out on 25 September, made uneven progress from one sector to another. The biggest breakthrough, of around 4 kilometres, was made by the 7th corps. The enemy front line was partially taken, with prisoners and materiel, but major pockets of resistance remained. In fact, assuming an offensive was coming, the Germans fell back to their second line, deeply entrenched and defended by an elaborate system of barbed-wire barricades. They used the topography of the area of the fighting to their advantage. The next day, the French advance withered on this second line of German defences. The entrenched Germans unleashed their heavy artillery on the French troops occupying the deserted front line. On the following days the French focused on the enemy’s pockets of resistance which, in the meantime, had been reinforced. On 1 October, General Pétain suspended fighting because of the losses and the excessive ammunition consumption. Although the French succeeded in breaking through the second line at one place, the offensive as a whole did not meet with success. The battle stabilised before being officially halted on 6 October. In all, the French lost 143,000 men, and the Germans lost 113,000.

The failure of the great French offensive in Champagne coupled with that of the British farther north to make a decisive breakthrough had several consequences. First, hopes for a short war and a quick victory were completely dashed. The need for a switch to a war of attrition then cropped up in strategic discussions.  This shows the need to reorganise coordination of command among the Allies. In December 1915, France, Great Britain, Russia and Italy met at an Allied conference to improve cooperation in future.

Links:

http://chtimiste.com/batailles1418/1915champagne2.htm

http://champagne1418.net/index/hindex.htm

https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bataille_de_Champagne_%281915%29

Bibliographie:

Les armées françaises dans la Grande guerre. Vol. III. 3, Paris, Ministry of War, Army Headquarters, History Service, 1923, available online on Gallica: http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k6267170h

Valroger, Amaury de, Barbier-Bouvet, Camille (dir.), La Marne et la Champagne, Boulogne-Billancourt, Michelin, 2011.

Pastre, Jules-Louis-Gaston, Trois ans au front: Belgique, Aisne et Champagne, Verdun, Argonne, Lorraine: notes et impressions d’un artilleur, Nancy, PUN / Secrétariat d’État chargé des anciens combattants et des victimes de guerre, 1991.  

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