Over by Christmas? 5 Military Developments of December 1914

History Hit

3 mins

24 Dec 2018

By December 1914, it was becoming increasingly clear that The Great War wouldn’t be over by Christmas, as optimists on both sides may have 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.

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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. (Creative Commons, credit: Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-2007-0153 / Jakubowski)

The were unable to drive the Russians further back however as they had dug trenches 50 km outside the city leading the action in 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 at Belgrade held out longer than those on open ground but by 15 December the Serbian high command announced victory.

Despite being reclaimed, Belgrade was still subject to Austrian bombardment throughout the winter of 1914.

In the process close to 100,000 Serbians had died in merely weeks. During the war, nearly 60% of Serbian men aged 15-55 were killed. After the Austrian defeat Serbia’s only link to the outside world was a train to neutral Greece and supply shortages became problematic and caused many deaths by hunger and disease.

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3. Battle of the Falklands

On 8 December at the Battle of the Falklands Admiral Maximillian von Spee was killed after his fleet arrived at Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands, where British Cruisers Invincible and Inflexible were waiting.

Having given the British their first naval defeat for a century earlier in the war, von Spee was a wanted man and was being hunted all across the Indian and Atlantic Oceans. This hunt would finally come to its conclusion as von Spee was defeated and 2,200 Germans perished including the Admiral.

The Battle of the Falkland Islands (William Lionel Wyllie, 1918).

This marked the end of German naval presence on the open ocean and during the next four 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.

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, showing the success of the Indian armies policy of an aggressive defence.

A Holt caterpillar tractor hauling a 6 inch howitzer and crew. Infrastructure was certainly limited around the base of Qurna.

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

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. In Austria and Russia however this was not the case. The Austrian army particularly was found to have been habitually using brutality and terror to subdue the population in Serbia both military and civilian.

Humanitarian activists across the world were prolific in their condemnation of these Austrian atrocities.