Battle of Arras

The First World War was an unprecedented catastrophe that shaped our modern world. Erik Sass is covering the events of the war exactly 100 years after they happened. This is the 147th installment in the series. 

October 1-6, 1914: Battle of Arras 

Following the Battles of Picardy and Albert in late September 1914, as October began German and French forces clashed again at the Battle of Arras, leading to yet another bloody stalemate in the “Race to the Sea.”

With the fighting around Albert grinding to a halt, German chief of the general staff Erich von Falkenhayn rushed reinforcements to the Sixth Army under Bavarian Crown Prince Rupprecht at the far right end of the German line, in hopes of outflanking the French Second Army under General Édouard de Castelnau from the north. Meanwhile, French chief of the general staff Joseph Joffre formed a new army subdivision with recently arrived troops (soon to be the new Tenth Army) under General Louis Maud’huy, standing in the way of the German Sixth Army at Arras. 

On October 1, Rupprecht, unaware of the extent of French reinforcements, ordered Sixth Army to advance west from near Douai, while Maud’huy, believing he faced no more than a thin screening force of German cavalry, ordered an attack in the opposite direction. The result of these simultaneous moves was another head-on collision. 

Over the next two days the German Sixth Army slowly pushed the French back towards Arras with assistance from the German First, Second, and Seventh Armies, but the Germans paid a heavy price for modest gains; on the afternoon of October 3, they gave up the direct assault on Arras and mounted a new attack from the north, without much more success. At the same time, the French attempted a flank attack from the north that also failed, while a German push for Vimy, north of Arras, made slow progress in the face of stiff opposition. Caught in the middle of all this, the town of Arras itself was soon battered into oblivion, with the loss of a number of historic medieval buildings.

 

On October 4, Joffre put the aggressive General Ferdinand Foch in command of a new northern army group including both Castelnau’s Second Army and Maud’huy’s Tenth Army, with instructions to hold off the Germans as new French reinforcements arrived to the north—repeating the now-familiar pattern of the Race to the Sea, which the French General Gallieni summed up with his judgment that “the Allies were always 24 hours and an Army Corps behind the Germans.” 

The Germans managed to make some further gains on October 4, finally occupying Vimy and taking control of part of a ridge offering good defensive positions to the south and west of the village—but once again they suffered heavy casualties for small advances. In the days to come Foch ordered the Tenth Army to counterattack but the French push soon ran out of steam in the face of German defenses. Both sides were digging in around Arras (top, German trenches) and the focal point was shifting north once again.

British Move to Flanders

As the Race to the Sea approached the Belgian border, Joffre and Foch sought additional reinforcements to hold the lengthening front and hopefully turn the German flank. With fewer French troops available for redeployment from the south, they turned to the British Expeditionary Force, still dug in along the Aisne but now freed up by the French Sixth Army, which took over the British trenches.

Beginning October 2 the BEF began boarding trains, trucks and buses to redeploy to the far left end of the Allied line, north of the new French Tenth Army—an area just south of the Belgian border near the villages of St. Omer and Hazebrouck. The British infantry started to assemble west of Lille on October 10, screened by two British cavalry divisions under General Edmund Allenby, and reinforced by fresh troops from England. 

However, at the same time, the German Sixth Army was also moving north towards Belgium, where it would clash with the British at the Battle of Messines beginning October 12. And unbeknownst to the Allies Falkenhayn was ordering the creation of a new German Fourth Army in western Belgium, setting the stage for one of the bloodiest battles in history—the inferno of Ypres. 

Belgian Government Flees Antwerp

To the north the noose was tightening around Antwerp, where German siege guns were obliterating outdated fortresses and shattering any hopes the Belgians had of withstanding a long siege. As Belgian resolve began to waver, the British rushed to shore up Antwerp’s defenses and implored King Albert to hang on as long as possible. But the British plan was a textbook example of “too little, too late.” 

In one of the stranger episodes of the war, on October 2 Foreign Secretary Grey and Secretary of State for War Kitchener agreed that First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill should visit Antwerp in person to convince King Albert to hold with promises of British help. Arriving in Antwerp the following day, Churchill managed to persuade the Belgian sovereign to stick it out for another week if possible, promising assistance from the British Royal Naval Division, an amphibious force composed of sailors and marines under the control of the Royal Navy.

As it turned out the Royal Naval Division wasn’t quite ready for service overseas: many of the troops were reservists and volunteers equipped with obsolete rifles, and the brigades lacked artillery or field ambulances. Nonetheless the first British units arrived in Antwerp on October 5, followed by a larger force of 22,000 British troops who arrived at Ostend on October 6—just as the Germans penetrated the first line of forts guarding Antwerp. That same day the Belgian government departed for Ostend, and King Albert prepared to order the Belgian Army to evacuate the city and retreat to safety while it still could. The final German assault was about to begin.

Turks Prepare to Join War 

In the years leading up the Great War, the rulers of the Ottoman Empire desperately sought a European ally to protect their troubled realm against the other Great Powers while they implemented badly needed reforms. However the Europeans hesitated to enter into a formal defensive pact that would oblige them to fight for the decaying medieval empire; most were more interested in picking up some new territories when it finally fell apart. 

All that changed with the outbreak of war, as both sides suddenly found new reasons to befriend the Turks. The French, British, and Russians hoped to at least keep the Ottoman Empire neutral in order to keep the strategic straits at Constantinople open, allowing the Western Allies to send critical supplies to Russia via the Black Sea.

Meanwhile the Germans hoped to recruit the Turks into active participation in the war; while Berlin had no great expectations for Turkish performance on the battlefield, the addition of the empire to the Central Powers would allow them to cut off Russia, threaten Britain’s Middle Eastern possessions including Egypt and the Suez Canal, and generally distract the Allies from the decisive theatre on the Western Front. 

In the end the Germans won Turkish favor with a promise to guarantee the Ottoman Empire’s borders with a long-term defensive alliance, along with financial assistance to the tune of five million Turkish gold pounds, and the alliance was secretly signed on August 2, 1914. The Germans further cemented the deal by giving the Turks two powerful warships, the Goeben and Breslau, which replaced two Turkish dreadnoughts confiscated by the British admiralty at the beginning of the war. However to the Germans’ chagrin Constantinople didn’t declare war immediately; instead the Turks pleaded for time, pointing out how long it took to mobilize their forces over the empire’s vast distances and backwards infrastructure. 

After two months the Turks were finally (almost) ready to join the Central Powers. On October 1, 1914, they revealed their intentions by announcing that they were abrogating the “capitulations”—the humiliating concessions that gave Europeans extraterritorial rights in Constantinople and the Turkish straits, impinging on Ottoman sovereignty. Their first act was to close the straits to international shipping, severing Russia’s supply line from the Western Allies.

This wasn’t the only place the Turks intended to roll back Western influence with German support. One of their main goals was to cancel the Yeniköy Agreement of February 8, 1914, which they correctly perceived as the first step in a Russian plan to undermine Turkish control of the Armenian provinces in eastern Anatolia. Fighting for the very existence of the Ottoman Empire, the Young Turk triumvirate of Enver Pasha, Djemal Pasha and Talaat Pasha believed that any measures were justified to settle the “Armenian question.” A horrific tragedy was about to unfold. 

See the previous installment or all entries.

10 Wireless Chargers Designed to Make Life Easier

La Lucia/Moshi
La Lucia/Moshi

While our smart devices and gadgets are necessary in our everyday life, the worst part is the clumsy collection of cords and chargers that go along with them. Thankfully, there are more streamlined ways to keep your phone, AirPods, Apple Watch, and other electronics powered-up. Check out these 10 wireless chargers that are designed to make your life convenient and connected.

1. Otto Q Wireless Fast Charging Pad; $40

Otto Q Wireless Fast Charging Pad
Moshi

Touted as one of the world's fastest chargers, this wireless model from Moshi is ideal for anyone looking to power-up their phone or AirPods in a hurry. It sports a soft, cushioned design and features a proprietary Q-coil module that allows it to charge through a case as thick as 5mm.

Buy it: Mental Floss Shop

2. Gotek Wireless Charging Music Station; $57

Gotek Wireless Charging Music Station
Rego Tech

Consolidate your bedside table with this clock, Bluetooth 5.0 speaker, and wireless charger, all in one. It comes with a built-in radio and glossy LED display with three levels of brightness to suit your style.

Buy it: Mental Floss Shop

3. BentoStack PowerHub 5000; $100 (37 percent off)

BentoStack PowerHub 5000
Function101

This compact Apple accessory organizer will wirelessly charge, port, and store your device accessories in one compact hub. It stacks to look neat and keep you from losing another small piece of equipment.

Buy it: Mental Floss Shop

4. Porto Q 5K Portable Battery with Built-in Wireless Charger; $85

Porto Q 5K Portable Battery with Built-in Wireless Charger
Moshi

This wireless charger doubles as a portable battery, so when your charge dies, the backup battery will double your device’s life. Your friends will love being able to borrow a charge, too, with the easy, non-slip hook-up.

Buy it: Mental Floss Shop

5. 4-in-1 Versatile Wireless Charger; $41 (31 percent off)

4-in-1 Versatile Wireless Charger
La Lucia

Put all of those tangled cords to rest with this single, temperature-controlled charging stand that can work on four devices at once. It even has a built-in safeguard to protect against overcharging.

Buy it: Mental Floss Shop

6. GRAVITIS™ Wireless Car Charger; $20 (31 percent off)

GRAVITIS™ Wireless Car Charger
Origaudio

If you need to charge your phone while also using it as a GPS, this wireless device hooks right into the car’s air vent for safe visibility. Your device will be fully charged within two to three hours, making it perfect for road trips.

Buy it: Mental Floss Shop

7. Futura X Wireless 15W Fast Charging Pad; $35 (30 percent off)

Futura X Wireless 15W Fast Charging Pad
Bezalel

This incredibly thin, tiny charger is designed for anyone looking to declutter their desk or nightstand. Using a USB-C cord for a power source, this wireless charger features a built-in cooling system and is simple to set up—once plugged in, you just have to rest your phone on top to get it working.

Buy it: Mental Floss Shop

8. Apple Watch Wireless Charger Keychain; $20 (59 percent off)

Apple Watch Wireless Charger Keychain
Go Gadgets

This Apple Watch charger is all about convenience on the go. Simply attach the charger to your keys or backpack and wrap your Apple Watch around its magnetic center ring. The whole thing is small enough to be easily carried with you wherever you're traveling, whether you're commuting or out on a day trip.

Buy it: Mental Floss Shop

9. Wireless Charger with 30W Power Delivery & 18W Fast Charger Ports; $55 (38 percent off)

Wireless Charger from TechSmarter
TechSmarter

Fuel up to three devices at once, including a laptop, with this single unit. It can wirelessly charge or hook up to USB and USB-C to consolidate your charging station.

Buy it: Mental Floss Shop

10. FurniQi Bamboo Wireless Charging Side Table; $150 (24 percent off)

FurniQi Bamboo Wireless Charging Side Table
FoneSalesman

This bamboo table is actually a wireless charger—all you have to do is set your device down on the designated charging spot and you're good to go. Easy to construct and completely discreet, this is a novel way to charge your device while entertaining guests or just enjoying your morning coffee.

Buy it: Mental Floss Shop

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10 Hardcore Facts About HBO's Oz

J.K. Simmons stars in HBO's Oz.
J.K. Simmons stars in HBO's Oz.
HBO

When HBO was looking to expand its programming to include hour-long dramas in the late 1990s, the network was intrigued by writer/producer Tom Fontana’s pitch about a maximum security prison and a specific area, dubbed Emerald City, where prisoners could have more leeway in the hopes it would allow for their rehabilitation. Fontana came up with the idea following his work on Homicide: Life on the Street, where murderers were sent away: He wanted to explore what happened next.

Before The Sopranos or The Wire, television’s golden age arguably began on HBO on July 12, 1997, when the premium network premiered Fontana's prison drama Oz. As HBO’s first attempt at an hour-long dramatic series, it laid the groundwork for the dozens of risk-taking, novel, and novelistic shows to follow. On the series' 20th anniversary, check out some facts on the cast, the gore, and the alternate series finale idea that was never filmed.

1. Oz's creator is the person you see getting tattooed in the intro.

A former playwright, Fontana got his big break in television with the 1980s NBC hospital drama St. Elsewhere. In an impressive display of commitment to Oz—especially since he didn’t know if the show would even last beyond a season—Fontana volunteered his arm to get an “Oz” tattoo for the opening credits montage. The tattoo artist kept retracing his needle work so the crew could get the best take. Eventually, the artist stopped, saying that he “can’t let this guy bleed anymore.”

2. Oz's Greek chorus monologues were a necessity.

Viewers who tuned in to Oz were in for a shock—the show featured the kind of graphic violence and casual nudity you’d find in an actual prison. But they were also sometimes puzzled by Fontana’s narrative habit of putting one of the prisoners, Augustus Hill (Harold Perrineau), in front of the camera for fourth-wall-breaking soliloquies. Fontana said he chose this approach because “in prison, guys aren’t that forthcoming about what they think and what they feel because that leaves them open and vulnerable to attack ... so my thought was just to let someone articulate what all this craziness meant.”

3. Oz was filmed in a cracker factory.

Ernie Hudson, Terry Kinney, Harold Perrineau, and Eamonn Walker in 'Oz'
Ernie Hudson, Terry Kinney, Harold Perrineau, and Eamonn Walker in Oz.
Max Aguillera-Hellweg/HBO

To house the sprawling, 60,000-square foot prison set, HBO commandeered an abandoned National Biscuit Company (a.k.a. Nabisco) factory in Manhattan. (The building had been the first to mass-produce Oreo cookies for the company.) The space was obtained after Fontana couldn’t find any empty prisons in which to shoot.

4. Playing a Neo-Nazi in Oz made J.K. Simmons feel depressed.

Oz is probably best remembered for its sprawling ensemble cast, with actors like Chris Meloni, J.K. Simmons, and Perrineau all going on to successful careers; others, like Ernie Hudson and Rita Moreno, were already well-established. At the time, Simmons appeared to be having particular trouble inhabiting the repugnant skin of Vern Schillinger, the head of the prison’s Aryan population. Simmons referred to Schillinger in the third person and told The New York Times in 1999 that he became “depressed” as a result of the role. In an interview with NPR, Simmons also shared that fans would occasionally stop him in the street to let him know they endorsed Schillinger’s viewpoints.

5. Real ex-cons worked on Oz.

For realism’s sake, Fontana instructed his casting director to hire ex-cons as extras whenever he could. Not all of them were relegated to the margins: Chuck Zito, who had a recurring role as Italian mafia heavy Chucky Pancamo, was a then-member of the Hells Angels and had served six years in prison for various offenses. More notably, he received press coverage for allegedly knocking out Jean-Claude Van Damme at a strip club in 1998.

6. Tom Fontana didn't want to kill Simon Adebesi in Oz.

Dean Winters and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje in 'Oz'
Dean Winters and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje in Oz.
HBO

From the first episode, Fontana made sure viewers didn’t grow too fond of any single character: One of the ostensible leads of the show, Dino Ortolani (Jon Seda), was murdered at the conclusion of the pilot episode, and the series picked prisoners off with regularity from that point on. But Fontana wasn’t trigger-happy when it came to killing off Simon Adebisi, the scheming, toothpick-munching inmate with a tiny hat sitting precipitously on the side of his head, who was played by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje. “I didn't want to kill that character, but it was a necessity due to the actor's wanting to move on,” Fontana told CNN in 2003, “rather than me saying, 'This is the end of the story.'”

7. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje exposed himself at random on the set of Oz.

Like many of the performers on Oz, Akinnuoye-Agbaje was expected to be comfortable with frontal male nudity—both his own and that of his castmates. According to Fontana, the actor didn’t appear to have many inhibitions about it. “If in a scene it said, ‘Adebisi takes out his penis,’ he would go, ‘I don’t take out my penis in this scene. There’s no reason for me to do that,’” Fontana told The Toast in 2015. “And I’d say ok, Adewale, don’t take out your penis. I don’t care. The next scene he’d take out the penis. It wasn’t scripted for that, but suddenly there was the penis.”

8. Oz predicted special musical episodes.

Remember the musical episode of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer? Or Scrubs? Oz did it first. With a cast taken in large part from the New York theater scene, the series was able to assemble an impressive all-song-and-dance episode in 2002. The highlight: Nazi Schillinger (Simmons) and nemesis Tobias Beecher (Lee Tergesen) in a duet.

9. There was a different ending planned for Oz.

After six seasons, Oz ended in 2003 with the surviving cast members being—spoiler alert—evacuated from Oswald State following a chemical attack. But Fontana originally wanted to do something else. He recalled reading about a prison town that once flooded, forcing inmates to work side-by-side with citizens to build sandbag barriers to protect the entire community. It was deemed too expensive to shoot.

10. Tom Fontana wouldn't let his mom watch Oz ... which was probably a good idea.

Despite her expressed desire to see her son’s work, Fontana told the press he was adamant that his then-75-year-old mother not watch Oz. “She said, 'I know a lot about what goes on in the world,’” Fontana said in 1997. “I said, 'You don't know about this.' This isn't a place I want my 75-year-old mother to go."