October 1914 opened with signs of change in the air. The North Atlantic was rough, presaging an autumn not yet arrived on land. French forces rebuilt one each infantry and cavalry cadre, almost as if there was any chance that the French army might mount another attack in this war. German forces rebuilt their first Bavarian cadre and also restocked one each Prussian division and brigade with riflemen. The French high command scrapped a trio of brigades and disbanded two others while rebuilding three machinegun and one artillery units and mobilizing the artillery of three fortresses.
In movement the chief achievement of the Entente in early October 1914 was the removal of the Belgians from the line. British forces covered that withdrawal and the weakening of the geographic situation by pulling forces forward and eastward, into three frontline and one second line positions. The Belgians backstopped the British in another position and the French covered the entire remainder of the Entente line. As a consequence of this stretching, French forces left four positions in their second line completely empty and a few more decidedly too weak while still maintaining some frontline positions with the meager defense of as little as two divisions or one division and two or three non-divisional units.
The remainder of the Entente turn passed quietly. As usual, the Entente could not seriously hope to attack any German positions. The Germans in their reaction proved equally quiet. Three German armies activated but none could control the entire attack force necessary at any point; a couple of 3:1 -1’s or -2’s did not attract serious interest. Entente exploitation happened, but only in the tiniest of senses.
Central Powers Turn
The beginning of the Central Powers initial phase in early October 1914 brought less hope of progress than had its Entente twin. French forces rebuilt two cadres while the Germans rebuilt three plus a remnant. German forces also replaced four cadres, three jaeger regiments, and a pair of field artillery brigades while mobilizing the artillery of three fortresses and scrapping a lowly static brigade. The expectation of attacking the British hung heavy in the air, but it was the expectation of pain rather than of sure victory.
The sunset came remorselessly earlier in the evening as summer waned, and the nights grew chill as the German high command made final revisions to their plans for the western front in 1914. No glimmer of the City of Lights remained to lure the gray columns on into the heart of France. The Ghent granary was a flat impossibility and even the Brussels granary flitted away like a waking dream; rationing would have to begin in the streets of Berlin in a very few months. Even the naval armament and railroad center of France, the fortress and city of Lille, lay beyond probable reach of German arms, though the outskirts of the metropolis lay only twenty miles distant from apparently permanent German fieldworks. To the south, from the Ardennes to Switzerland, while local gains might be achieved, no affordable concentration of force could produce a breakthrough for German arms. With the impossible ruled out, therefore, Kaiser Wilhelm II ordered his generals to conquer Antwerp while dr
iving to Oostende and then along the coast into France in the service of diplomatic gain and the naval war.
The high command could not obey the Kaiser’s orders without a massive redeployment of forces and immediately set that movement in progress. Gun crews and horse teams pulled siege cannons from gravelled gun pits around Maubeuge and onto roads leading northeast toward Antwerp. Two full corps of good quality rifle formations and foot artillery regiments left their nibbling attacks along the front from the Ardennes to Metz and entrained for the Brussels area. Shattered divisions from around Maubeuge slipped away from lines facing the French to thicken already stout forces confronting the British before Oostende at Brugge, to wage the only battle of the week.
The German drive for the English Channel met its next challenge at Brugge, where the heretofore unengaged British Expeditionary Force (BEF) made a stand against the gray tide. One corps of German forces, all that could deploy between The Netherlands and strong British forces dug in along the Scheldt River, made a gallant frontal attack with massive artillery support into rifle fire so intense that German intelligence believed the British to be deploying no less than a mind-boggling two machineguns per battalion. Despite massive ammunition expenditure on both sides, the British retreated deftly just before being decisively engaged by a successful German cavalry charge. Two German aerial reconnaissance attempts that failed to accurately map British retreat routes could be called the real culprits in the failure but the heart of the attacking corps commander was also not “in” his task of attacking the un-blooded British (leader influence failed). The 3:1 +1 attack resulted in a
DR which, for only the second time in the war, did not transform into an EX/HX. The Brugge Star medal would soon thereafter be awarded to the engaged members of the BEF who would go on to famously wear it through a hundred more horrible battles that newspapermen would not play up to nearly so large an extent.
The Entente reacted to the latest Central Powers attacks with characteristic passivity on the ground and characteristic aggressiveness in the air. Only one French army reacted at all, and it limited its activities to a slight shuffling rather than trying to achieve best-case 2:1 -1 attacks. British reaction was unusual, though still passive, as almost all the forces in the narrow salient at 0821 pulled back to the new main Entente line. Belgian forces, not for the first time, shifted positions to the new second-line, their last homes before the second-line shifts completely into France after any further German advance. In the air, French pilots took advantage of the movement of a machinegun unit away from the nearest German airship field and attacked the strip. Local ground fire tried but failed to drive off the repeatedly swooping French who caught several Zeppelins moored in the open and machine gunned numerous crewmen and several trucks, one of which caught fire and explo
ded two gasbags. This was the third consecutive combat phase without ground losses on either side and the first aerial loss of the war.
In obedience to the last details of their plans for 1914, German forces exploited together numerous formations due for conversion in the near future.