The last of the declarations of war were finally issued when Austria did it's diplomatic loose-end tying and declared war on Belgium. As the Belgians were already buttocks deep in Germans, I'm sure it was a huge shock. The next day, after a request from the British for help (which I'm sure was unnecessary given the circumstances), Japan declared war on Germany and began marching on Tsingchao in China (which of course was a precursor to later incursions in China).
(NOTE to those who pay attention: Supposedly "noble" incursion into China leads to Japan taking whatever it wanted and eventually attacking Pearl Harbor. If you don't read history and are thus doomed to repeat its mistakes, pay no attention to Russia and Ukraine.)
In the meantime, Germany was blasting it's way through Belgium and into France, driving back the valiant but outmatched Belgians, the brave but outmanned French, and the brave BEF being led by the bumbling idiot Sir John French.
Beloved by nobody in France, he was so worried about his own destruction he basically refused to cooperate even with the French army under Larenzac that guarded his flank, and soon would get a chewing out from Lord Kitchener for nearly destroying his allies with his retreat. The French retreat, much slower before the German onslaught, might have been slower still had it not been for French, and only the intervention of Winston Churchill saved the Belgians from being abandoned by the BEF.
Meanwhile, the Austrians did what they came to do- invade Serbia- and were sent reeling back across the border at the Battle of Cer. But the Serbs took a beating too, and nearly exhausted their ammunition in the victory. The pyrrhic nature of this victory was offset by the Austrians' woes in Galicia to the north. There, after an initial victory over the invading Russians, Brusilov so convincingly defeated them that the entire province fell in a fortnight and the fortress Przemysl was besieged.
Of course this only made up slightly for the fact that two Russian armies had stumbled into an East Prussian trap laid by a staff officer, Max Hoffman, after his commanding General Pritzwitz pulled a "French" and began to retreat. Even then afterhe was replaced by Ludendorf and Hindenburg, it took an alomst rogue action by Herman von Francois to start the ball rolling. Samsonov's army marched headlong into the jaws of the german trap, and Samsonov himself, muttering how can I ever face the Tsar, shot himself. Hoffman, seeing the historical significance, named the battle Tannenberg after a 1410 battle that occurred some 30 miles away.
|Aw, shucks, ant idiot coulda done it... sorry, Gen. Pritzwitz.|
In my musings about this post, I thought it would be fun to do a "power ranking" of the forces eventually involved in the war. So, here's the "top 12" of WWI:
12- Romania. Russia knew that getting them to join would just be that much more front for them to police, but their allies thought, "the more, the merrier." My understanding is some units went into battle armed with pitchforks and shovels. They were easily taken out by German third stringers.
11- Bulgaria. Would have made it a little higher, but 1916 was a little early to be fighting again after just being beaten by Greece, Serbia, Romania, and Turkey in 1912.
10- Austria. What did Germany, Britain, and France have that Austria didn't? How about loyalty to their nation, for one. The Slovenes did great against the hated Italians, and the Czech Legion was a powerhouse in Russia, but fight for the Emperor? Most of the reason they lost the Galician battles was that so many Slavic soldiers decided to fight for the Russians instead. Even the Serbs kicked their butts.
9- Serbia/Montenegro. Despite the same weaknesses as Bulgaria, despite being isolated from any allied help, they managed to hold off the Austrians until the Germans and Bulgarians joined in... and after total defeat, rose back up to contribute to the final victory.
8- Belgium. Only their size keeps them down this far. While the British sipped tea and the French dawdled in Alsace, Belgium bore the weight of the German onslaught for an entire week.
7- Japan. They didn't do all that much in WWI, but they were the ones whose land armies defeated the Russians in 1905.
6- Turkey. For "the sick man of Europe", they beat back the British in Kut and Gallipoli, held off far larger Russian forces in Armenia, and after their government collapsed, still managed to drive French and Greek troops out of their country in 1920.
5- Russia. There is no doubting the courage of well-led Russian troops, and some generals like Brusilov were among the finest in the war. But government corruption and all-out stupidity diminished their effectiveness until the only thing separating them from the Austrians were patriotism and size. Certainly they were almost as fragile as Austria.
4- USA. Hard to really judge in the short time they were there. At full strength, maybe a match for Germany. As it was, they contributed beyond their numbers.
3- France. I weighed this one mightily. If you make all the French jokes you want, one word puts them to shame- Verdun.
2- British Empire. The British troops themselves were extraordinary, but because of poor command decisions, I'd have dropped them to third (or even fourth) if not for the Dominion troops- the Anzacs, the Indians, the Canadians, that fought under their banner.
1- Germany. This entire nation was built for war- and it took an entire world to bring them down.
What do you think? Let me know!