Over by Christmas? 5 Military Developments of December 1914 | History Hit

Over by Christmas? 5 Military Developments of December 1914

New Zealand Army Mounted Rifles marching through the city of Cairo in December 1914.

By December 1914, it was becoming increasingly clear that the Great War wouldn’t be over by Christmas, as optimists on both sides had once hoped. Instead, reality was setting in that this would be a long and bloody conflict.

This was truly an important month for the war though, and despite scenes like the Christmas Truce on the Western Front, war still ravaged Europe and the wider world. Here are five key developments of December 1914.

1. German victory at Łódź

On the Eastern Front, the Germans had before made an attempt to secure Łódź. Ludendorff’s initial attack failed to secure the city, so a second attack was launched on Russian controlled Łódź. The Germans were successful this time and secured control the important transport and supply centre.

The German Army in Łódź ,December 1914.

Image Credit: Bundesarchiv Bild / CC

However, the Germans were unable to drive the Russians further back as they had dug trenches 50 km outside the city, leading the action at the centre of the Eastern Front to grind to a halt. The Eastern Front would become frozen like this until the summer of 1915.

2. Serbia proclaims victory

Despite taking Belgrade earlier in the month, the Austrians were fleeing from Serbian territory by mid-December. The Austrians in Belgrade held out longer than those on open ground but by 15 December 1914, the Serbian high command announced victory.

A building in Belgrade damaged in the bombardment in 1914.

Image Credit: Public Domain

In the process nearly 100,000 Serbians had died in mere weeks. During the war, nearly 60% of Serbian men between the age of 15 and 55 were killed. After the Austrian defeat, Serbia’s only link to the outside world was a train to neutral Greece. Supply shortages became problematic, and many died from hunger or disease as a result.

Austrian General Oskar Potiorek was dismissed for his failure in Serbia, a campaign in which he sustained 300,000 casualties out of a total force of 450,000. Despite the ravaging of Serbia’s resources, their victory as underdogs would inspire the support of much of Allied Europe, ensuring the continuation of their campaign against Austria-Hungary.

3. Battle of the Falklands

The fleet of German Admiral Maximillian von Spee had given Britain its first naval defeat in over a century at the Battle of Coronel in November 1914: unsurprisingly, Britain was out for revenge, and hunted von Spee’s fleet across the Indian and Atlantic Oceans.

On 8 December 1915, von Spree’s fleet arrived at Port Stanley in the Falklands Islands, where the British cruisers Invincible and Inflexible were waiting. Over 2,200 Germans perished in the ensuing Battle of the Falklands, including von Spree himself.

This marked the end of German naval presence on the open ocean and during the next 4 years of war, naval warfare was confined to landlocked seas like the Adriatic and the Baltic. The pre-war naval race had seemingly been finally won by the British.

William Wyllie’s 1918 painting of the Battle of the Falkland Islands.

Image Credit: Public Domain

4. Indian victory at Qurna

Indian soldiers in the service of the British Empire seized the Ottoman town of Qurna. The Ottomans had been retreated to Qurna after defeats at Fao Fortress and Basra, and in December 1914, British Indian forces seized Qurna. The town was important was it gave Britain a secure front line in Southern Mesopotamia, keeping the city of Basra and the oil refineries of Abadan safe and secure.

Qurna, however, did not provide a good military base as communications were limited to points accessible on the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. Combined with poor sanitation and high winds, living conditions were often difficult.  Regardless of who controlled this area, this would make for a truly unpleasant campaign.

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5. Red Cross report on prisoners of war

The Red Cross found that German, French and British armies were treating prisoners humanely by this point in the war. However, this was not the case in every country in Europe.

The Austrian army in particular was found to have been habitually using brutality and terror to subdue the population, both military and civilian, in Serbia. Humanitarian activists across the world were prolific in their condemnation of these Austrian atrocities.

Sarah Roller