Albatros | Nieuport | SPAD | 13 Aug 1916

Battle of Bitlis

About a week too late, Mustafa Kemal’s corps has finally been given permission to get into the Endres Valley. Having done so, they’ve blundered straight into an enemy rifle division, fresh from some rather dull garrison duty in Erzurum. The Third Army’s advance is about to come to an extremely undignified halt. Like many things in the Caucasus theatre, this was not in the Ottomans’ plan. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Unfortunately, the Russians weren’t in on that meeting.

Delivery, sign here please

There’s a lot of new aircraft about on the Western Front. The Germans have finally introduced an aeroplane to match (and, indeed, exceed) the performance of Nieuport’s Bebe, and it makes the Royal Flying Corps’s Airco DH.2 fleet look like Morris Minors next to a Porsche. Its manoeuvrability isn’t anything special, but the Albatros D.I is both lighter and stronger than any other fighter currently flying. It’s not only faster than anything the Entente can field, it can be faster while being armed with twin machine-guns, a first. And it’s made out of plywood. Plywood! They were all totally mad.

The only reason there aren’t about 150 flying over the Somme right now is that the first pilots to get one have been complaining about a lack of upward vision. So the D.I, already outclassing every other fighter, is about to be slightly redesigned into the D.II, and by the end of September there’ll be 150 Albatros fighters of both types on the Western Front. This could get painful if there’s no response. But wait, what’s this from France? The Nieuport firm hasn’t been standing still, for one thing. They’ve recently started production runs for a number of different models, all an advance on the Bebe; the most important is the Nieuport 17.

And, not just that. Top French ace Armand Pinsard is just about to begin testing a prototype SPAD VII, the first aircraft to use that Hispano-Suiza engine about which there were such ructions earlier in the war. It’s all a big game of rock-paper-scissors, of course. If most of the Nieuport 17s go to Verdun, and the Albatros fighters go to the Somme, it won’t be much consolation to the RFC in their DH.2 pushers that there are more Nieuport 17s in existence than there are Albatroses…

Meanwhile, some aggressive destroyer patrolling has ended the recent submarine scares in the Channel. The tanks are heading for Le Havre again. It’s all but impossible that General Haig will have 150 tanks to throw into another push in mid-September, though. 25, almost certainly. Maybe 50, if he’s a good boy and eats up all his Shredded Wheat without complaining.

Louis Barthas

Louis Barthas has been yanked out of reserve. He’s managed to dodge going over the top for a year and a half, but it seems that his luck might just have run out. Someone far above his pay grade has decided to have a diversionary attack to improve the tactical position.

The wind was in our favour. They were going to launch against the Boches the famous poison gas, for which we had been preparing for so long. Nobody within my hearing was particularly happy about this operation. There was going to be a big bombardment, on both sides, and from what the patrols told us we might have to occupy certain enemy positions. While waiting, our section was going to occupy a jumping-off point in a part of the trench with no shelter at all in which to protect ourselves from the likely bombardment.

Soon we learned that the time was set for midnight, the hour of crime. But you could say that the wind was guilty of collusion with the enemy: at ten minutes to midnight, the wind was blowing too hard. They postponed the business to two in the morning. But by that time the wind had stopped blowing altogether, to the point where it wouldn’t have moved a candle’s flame. The order came down to go back to our dugouts. A reprieve of 24 hours was granted to the Kaiser’s subjects who were swarming throughout Champagne.

Over the next week, the wind continues changing; the attack will never come. Another fortunate escape.

Max Plowman

Max Plowman is nearly at the Somme.

The sun is setting over Albert.

I have wandered out alone to the top of this hill, learning that a view of the battle-front may be had from this spot. Nearly all the rough ground hereabouts is taken over by some department of the army; dumps and camps are littered about everywhere like a child’s toys strewn over the nursery floor. But here, for a few hundred yards, where the scrub is clear, poppies and cornflowers stud the ground about my feet and glow bright as jewels in the evening light. …

I turn from them to look out over the east.

The sky is purple dark and all along the horizon gun-flashes quiver as if some fearful aurora borealis were continually appearing. Every now and then huge explosions send up pillars of smoke, as though the internal fires of the earth had broken through. Nearer, the darkness is pricked by lesser lights that rise to fall and fade successively, like matches thrown into the air; and to all these ominous illuminations there comes the continual accompaniment of roll and roar: the grind and belch of guns and the shock of countless explosions.

It is an inferno. Can anything live in that? Heaven on one side : hell on the other. One should not hope to come out of that alive. It is a continuous earthquake. Well, life must end somewhere. One wouldn’t have chosen it there.

And this on a day when it seems that “nothing of importance” is occurring.

E.S. Thompson

Architectural expert E.S. Thompson is exploring Dodoma.

Mealie-meal and tea for breakfast, after which looked round the place a bit. Station quite a neat but foreign-looking one. Saw [a Reo Speedwagon] with flanged wheels running, also a Ford car. Quite neat houses near. The water tank had been knocked over and destroyed. Had tea and porridge for lunch during which John arrived with a sow. After lunch cleared out a place for a kitchen and got some stones from a cemetery nearby. Rose and Bibby brought some sweet potatoes back. Motor Cycle Corps left for Kilossa making a great noise.

Ali and the other Mohammedan boys much disgusted with the pig. George stuck it for us and it died quite calmly. Skinned and cleaned it. Fried the steak with which we had sweet potatoes for dinner. Mouth very sore. Got into bed early. Had to do an hour’s guard each.

So what you’re saying to me is that the Germans have different looking architecture??? Cor blimey, slap me vitals, and other unconvincing expressions of disbelief.

Maximilian Mugge

Maximilian Mugge has been gathering information about his new home, the political concentration camp for soldiers too dangerously German to remain in fighting units. He begins with a description of how the 30th Middlesex was formed; I’m leaving his original names in rather than trying to translate them.

I hear that this Battalion was formed on 12-7-16 as the 33rd (I.W.) Bn. Midshire Regiment, at Balmy Camp, Sussex; Captain P. L. Thornly 10th East Lancers Regiment assuming temporary command. The majority of the men are conscripts and were recruited under Army Council Instruction 1209; they are of enemy (German, Austrian, Hungarian, Turkish and Bulgarian) Alien parentage.

On the 13th July 1916 Headquarters and 300 men of this Unit proceeded to Peas Pudding Camp, Reptum, as an advance party; on the twentieth Colonel Byle took over command of the Battalion, and seven days later the remainder of the battalion arrived. On the 3rd August, 1916 200 men of A. Company under 2nd Lieut. Singleway proceeded to Fodderham and were attached to the Guards for Trench Digging at the Bombing School.

I would love to know if anyone could track down the true identity of either “Captain Thornly” of the “10th East Lancers” or “Colonel Byle”; Mugge is fond of puns (“Peas Pudding” for “Pease Pottage”, for instance), so it wouldn’t be completely hopeless. Beyond my resources at the moment, though.

The boys here call themselves “Bing Boys,” I believe after some London Revue. They are a quite superior lot as far as I can judge. Almost one-fifth seem to be clerks and city people. A very considerable number of Jews are amongst them and with the usual shrewdness of their race all the more comfortable billets like staff sergeants and quartermasters’ jobs have of course been appropriated by their financial magnates, stockbrokers and others. The cooking is excellent as only to be expected, our cook being a former chef of the Metropole.

There is in my tent a poor creature, cannot walk at all: rheumatic gout; had to be carted here. Born in England. Before Appeal Board; chairman, on being pointed out utter inability of man, alleged to have said “O ! they will find some work for him and he will be amongst his brother Huns.” The boy is in law and in fact English. Another boy with two gold stripes arrived today. Another “bloody Hun” who fought for England and was wounded for the cause of liberty.

Uncomfortable shifting at this anti-Semitism from a man of German parentage. The Metropole is a grand hotel in London that’s been requisitioned as Government offices; and a gold stripe is worn on a man’s sleeve to indicate that he was wounded on active service, one per wound.

We’ve also run into references to the Bing Boys a few times before. The revue is so popular that the name “Bing Boys” is being self-applied to units of dubious fighting value or extreme disorganisation. This is in much the same way that in 1914 and 1915 it was popular to call the Kitchener recruits “Fred Karno’s Army”, after the pioneering slapstick comedian who popularised throwing custard pies at people.

Actions in Progress

Armenian Genocide
Battle of Verdun
Brusilov Offensive
Siege of Medina
Battle of the Somme
Battle of Bitlis
Battle of the Isonzo (Sixth Isonzo)
Battle of Doiran (First Doiran)

Further Reading

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