Corporal James Dalgleish Pollock performs actions that will win him the Victoria Cross

September 27th, 2015

The German Army, whose primary war strategy was to hold strategic high ground along the northern parts of France and allow the French and British Armies to wear themselves out attacking strong lines of defense, had constructed a number of redoubts, or fortified strongpoints along the trench lines.  The Hohenzollern Redoubt, named after the German Emperor's family name, was one such redoubt.  In late 1915 the forward edges of the redoubt were captured during a British offensive now called the battle of the Loos.  The British soldiers, suffering tens of thousands of dead, held a small portion of the redoubt after their main attacks, and were told to improve their positions and await rienforcements.

One unit, the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders, were under increasing machine gun fire and were essentially pinned down into their trenches when Germans counterattack.  A standard German tactic of the time was to lightly hold their front trenches, which were ill suited to defend their positions from the rear, and allow British units to gain footholds in a redoubt or trench line, then pin them in place with interlocking machine gun fire.  Once pinned infantry would work their way up communication trenches and assault the British from close quarters.

The main tool of this German tactic was the hand grenade carried by soldiers specially training in preparing and throwing these weapons.  Called grenadiers by the Germans or bombers by the British, an infantry unit pinned down by machine gun fire was extremely vulnerable to grenades.  The French had the previous year developed tactics to take on these attacks, but the British infantry were still mostly trained in bayonet fighting - and all of their tactics were settled on the aggressive charge.  In defense there was no doctrine in place to handle infiltrating bombers.

The British though were working on their own grenades, and a new model weapon known as the Mills Bomb was slowly reaching the front.  Cpl. Pollock though was likely not armed with this weapon.  Instead he had access to a a range of materials that he could use to make dangerous but effective explosives from.  Either having these already assembled, or assembling them at the time, he armed himself with a large number of these dangerous explosives.  

He then faced a problem.  It was impossible to attack the approach trench from his own.  He would be vulnerable to his own grenades as well as rifle fire from German grenadiers, and would be outnumbered by a large margin.  Taking a moment to assess the situation, he decided the machine gun fire against his trench that was pinning his comrads was not a sustained fire, but was instead harrassing fire from guns that did not command the entire trench line.  He thus felt the safest course of events was to leave the trench and face enemy machine gun fire.  

Pollock, grenades in hand, proceeded to leave the defensive position which protected him and braved machine gun fire, which proved to be inaccurate, to reach a point where he could throw grenades into the German communication trench while he was protected from return throws by the contours of the ground.  For an hour he then proceeded to throw bombs down onto German grenadiers, whose own bombs were innefective in response.  The grenadiers were forced to retire with casualties, while Pollock was able to hold up the German advance for an hour until a machine gun finally was able to wound him, forcing his withdrawal.

The First Tank Tested

September 6th, 2015

Little Willie, a prototype tank, is tested for the first time in Great Britian.

Czar Nicholas takes command of the Imperial Russian Army

September 5th, 2015

Serious setbacks in the war with Germany have created a nearly untenable situation for the Russian Army.  Once considered one of the most powerful forces in the world, the Russian military had been humbled in battle with the Japanese, and had serious problems maintaining cohesion even before the war.  Training in the army prior to 1914 ranged from good in a few line regiments, to non-existant for the average regiment destined to mostly be used in harvesting and transporting food.  Many regiments were further brittle after being used for years as muscle for local police forces.  Highly trained units such as the Cossacks were often squandered, and the very common sense that made these units valuable also meant they resisted the trenches and were subject to desertion when called upon to make major sacrifices.  Finally, the supply of ammunition and weapons in the field had not improved since the start of the war.  

Russia, then as now, was one of the most corrupt nations to hold status as a world power, with up to 90% of each Ruble spent on defense failing to reach military units on the front.  The Russian military was a huge aparatus, but units were largely staffed by illiterate peasants unable to handle logistics.  Trained and literate officers took a lack of serious oversight in logistics as a chance to simply take as much as they wanted from the supply chain, leading to units (usually in the rear) that had massive overages of supply, to units at the front where sharing rifles and distributing ammunition by the clip to soldiers was the norm.

By late 1915 the Czar had seen the Russian failures in the war as a personal insult, and felt the only way the war could be turned around would be his taking direct command of the military.  There was three problems with this.  The first was that he was completely untrained to run a major military campaign.  His father, feeling he was frivolous and too young, had denied Nicholas any serious training in adminstration or military science.  By the time Nicholas ascended the throne there no longer existed the infrastructure to train a sitting emperor, and even if their did Nicholas had an autocratic nature that made it impossible to accept correction from teachers.  Second, Nicholas lacked strong channels of information into the military.  Orders from him in the Kremlin were largely meaningless since they were made in response to information that rarely was truthful about conditions at the front.  Finally, the ruling council felt that if Nicolas made himself a military leader then setbacks at the front would result in revolution.  Nicholas ignored all of these issues and went ahead, taking command of the army with a letter to his uncle, its head during the first year of the war:

5 September 1915

At the beginning of the war I was unavoidably prevented from following the inclination of my soul to put myself at the head of the army.  That was why I entrusted you with the Commandership-in-Chief of all the land and sea forces.

Under the eyes of the whole of Russia your Imperial Highness has given proof during the war of steadfast bravery which caused a feeling of profound confidence, and called forth the sincere good wishes of all who followed your operations through the inevitable vicissitudes of fortune of war.

My duty to my country, which has been entrusted to me by God, impels me to-day, when the enemy has penetrated into the interior of the Empire, to take the supreme command of the active forces and to share with my army the fatigues of war, and to safeguard with it Russian soil from the attempts of the enemy.

The ways of Providence are inscrutable, but my duty and my desire determine me in my resolution for the good of the State.

The invasion of the enemy on the Western front necessitates the greatest possible concentration of the civil and military authorities, as well as the unification of the command in the field, and has turned our attention from the southern front.

At this moment I recognize the necessity of your assistance and counsels on our southern front, and I appoint you Viceroy of the Caucasus and Commander-in-Chief of the valiant Caucasian Army.

I express to your Imperial Highness my profound gratitude and that of the country for your labours during the war.

Germany suspends unrestricted submarine warfare

September 1st, 2015

Adolphe Pégoud, the war's first ace, is killed in action.

August 31st, 2015

Unteroffizier Walter Kandulski, a German who had taken classes from Pégoud before the war, shoots down his pre-war mentor Adolphe Pégoud.  When the death was revealed the German squadron that Kandulski belonged to flew a wreath over the funeral.