The Chronograph of the Great War 1914–1918 The First Year: 1914. 100 years ago

October 27

During the attack of Neuve Chapelle at the Western Front Germany used chemical weapons – for the first time in the World War I.

It was the so-called “Shell No. 2” (10.5-cm shrapnel with the gunpowder replaced with dianisidine sulfate), 3,000 shells were fired. Though its irritating effect proved to be minor, and then it was removed from the operational status but, according to the German data, its application facilitated the taking of Neuve Chapelle. Therefore, combat chemicals’ wide-scale application was initiated by Germany.

Immediately after the declaration of the war Germany launched experiments at the Institute for Physics and Chemistry and Kaiser Wilhelm II Institute. Then, Military Gas School was opened in Berlin. Besides, A-10 special chemical inspection attached to the military ministry was established. Its activities were focused on chemical war issues. Leverkusen became the combat chemicals’ production centre; in this city a large amount of materials was manufactured and in 1915 Military Chemical School employing 1500 technical and command officers and several thousand workers was transferred to Leverkusen from Berlin. In its laboratory in Güst 300 chemical scientists worked non-stop. The orders for the toxic agents were distributed among different plants.

The first result of this large-scale work was the famous Battle of Ypres which started on April 22, 1915 and gave the name to the gas, yperite. According to the UK sources, Germany’s exclusive idea of the battle itself was combat test of the new weapons. However, the first attempt of the chemicals’ combat application dates back to the Crimean War (1854-1855). The British engineer D’Endonald who was studying sulfur smelting suggested 1855 that the Anglo-French command should take Sevastopol by poisoning the garrison with sulfur gas. On August 7, 1855 the project was approved by the British government but the allies’ forces assault carrying of Malakoff-Kurgan ridge and the fall of Sevastopol left the project unimplemented. Lord D’Endonald willed that his project was to be opened up only if Britain were endangered.

Sad but true, the attack of October 27, 1914 resulted in the fact that the combat chemicals’ application became a must in virtually every major operation of the World War I, both by the Germans and by the Allies’ Coalition.

October 29

German-Turkish Navy made a raid on the Russian ships and bases in the Black Sea.

The enemy’s combined fleet was centered around the German battle-cruisers Göben and Breslau which in October 1914 were enlisted into the Turkish Navy.

This provoking raid on the Russian ports before the Turkey’s declaration of war was initiated by the German Rear-Admiral Wilhelm Souchon who headed the German-Turkish Navy.

During the thwart of the attack which, in effect, was the onset of the military activities in the Black Sea after which Turkey’s involvement into the war became inevitable, Russian Black Sea Fleet Air Force acquired the first combat application experience.

After the enemy’s first shots on Sevastopol, at about 7.00 am midshipman B. D. Svetukhin took off with reconnaissance mission, soon he reported that he saw Göben battle-cruiser which was moored in range of the Inkerman Beacons on the beam of the Chersonesos Beacon. In its wake several torpedo boats were sailing. After midshipman B. D. Svetukhin lieutenant A. A. Tyufyayev took off who conformed Göben’s presence in our waters.

On the same day reconnaissance missions were completed by the navy aviators V. R. Kachinski, E. E. Kovedyayev, V. V. Uthof, B. R. Miklashevski etc. All in all 16 sorties were performed.

The experience acquired during the first combat missions played a great part in the further development of the Black Sea Fleet Air Force as the power on the Black Sea combat theatre.

November 2

In response to the shelling of the Russian Black Sea ports of Odessa and Sevastopol on October 29, 1914 (without the official declaration of war – author’s remark) and Turkey’s closure of the Dardanelles for the navigation (October 1, 1914) Russia declared the war to Turkey, an ally of Germany in the Quadruple Alliance.

The Emperor Nicholas II addressed his nation with a manifesto, “...The Turkish Navy led by the Germans dared to perfidiously attack our Black Sea coast... Together with the entire nation we uncompromisingly believe that the present reckless interference of Turkey with the military actions will only accelerate the course of events which is fateful for it and open up the way for Russia to solve the historic tasks set to her by the ancestors on the Black Sea coast”.

Three days later, on November 5, 1914 France and Great Britain declared the war to Turkey.

Although as far back as in mid-August Russia, upon consent of the French and British governments made a proposal to the Ottoman government stating that if Turkey kept neutrality: 1) Russia, France and England guaranteed it the inviolability of its territory; 2) in case of victory, Russia, France and England agreed to include in the peace treaty the article which would relieve Turkey from the oppressive trusteeship imposed on it by Germany in terms of economy and finance. The latter provision would establish, for example, the procedure for termination of the treaties related to Baghdad Railway and other Germany’s enterprises not entirely profitable for Turkey.

November 24

German troops completed their offensive operation in the Russian-German front near Łódź.

During the 1914 Łódź Operation the enemy succeeded in disrupting the Russian plan (overall offensive into the Germany’s boundaries) but its intention to encircle the 2nd and 5th Russian Armies (commanded by S. M. Scheidemann and P. A. Plehve, respectively) near Łódź were a failure, and the German troops were forced to retreat with great losses. Simultaneously the Russian troops during the Częstochowa-Krakow Operation in the South-Western Front defeated Austro-Hungarian troops approaching the outskirts of Krakow and Częstochowa.

Having exhausted their potentials the opponents passed on to the defensive and gained foothold on the banks of the Bzura, Rawka and Nida Rivers.

December 13

The Breslau fast-speed German-Turkish battle-cruiser that was pirating in the Black Sea tried to approach and bomb Sevastopol but it was met and attacked by the squad of seven Russian hydroplanes.

Russian aviators bombed the enemy’s ship. Each flying boat carried two 40-pound bombs. Together they forced the enemy’s battle-cruiser to retreat back into the sea. This is what the Russian Invalid magazine wrote about this battle:

“…Therefore, we have the first in this war case of hydroplanes fighting a combat ship, and the honour of this battle belongs to our flyers. Until now English and French hydroplanes’ missions were only reconnaissance and targeting their ships’ shooting on the coast as it was during the attack of the German coastline batteries near Newport, Ostend and Zeebrugge and during the Dardanelles bombing… But until the present time hydroplanes had not dealt with the combat ships… The honour of the first encounter belongs to the Russian air fleet…”.

December 21

Reviewing the results of the World War I initial battles the German General Hans von Seeckt who in the future (from 1920 – author’s remark) would head the Reichswehr and be a stubborn supporter of the Germany-Russia alliance, wrote, “The following issue is crucial: which nation could be our best ally in the fight against England? The answer, in my opinion, will be of the radical meaning in the conduct of our policy in the future... France should be welcome as the ally and from the geographical point of view the choice is simple. But France anyway will be a weak ally. Thus, we can consider only Russia as a potential ally. It has what we do not have.”

And for the time being 1914 became the year of vain expectations for everybody. State figures of the belligerents nearly lost control over the war conduct in the late 1914 having yielded decision-making rights to the career military officers. At a vast distance (nearly 800 km) – from the borderline of Switzerland in the south to Ostend in the north – trenches were dug out in the autumn of 1914. The troops concentration became unprecedented – one soldier per each 12 cm of the front. The troops’ mobility had disappeared for a long time. From then on, for more than four years huge armies opposed each other applying toxic gases, using machine-guns at the mass scale, increasing airplane armadas and burying themselves into the trenches.

December 23

100th anniversary of the Russian heavy aviation! On that day the Emperor Nicholas II gave the Highest consent to the proposal of the Head Administration of the Central Command of the Russian Ministry of War of the formation of the Air Vessel Squadron Command for the time of war (on May 13, 1915 according to the Executive Order of the Supreme Commander-in-Chief the Command was renamed the Air Vessel Squadron).

In the dedicated explanation the Head Administration of the Central Command explained to the August Active Army Aviation Commander (the Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich – author’s remark) that the new formation was not included into the list of the front-line aviation squads subordinate to him. From that time the Russian aviation is divided into “heavy” directly subordinate to the Supreme Commander-in-Chief Head-Quarter and “light” included into the military formations and subordinate directly to the Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich.

Mikhail Vladimirovich Shidlovski, a member of the Council of the Ministry of Finance, state councillor in deed, was appointed the commander, or as it was called then, the chief of the Squadron. Mikhail Shidlovski was renamed Major-General and enlisted into the engineering troops, thus, he became the first air force general in Russia.

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