Siege of Saisi
The Siege of Saisi continues, with infantry raids now supporting the artillery duel. A 320-strong relief force is on its way, most of them Belgian-officered askaris of the Force Publique (boo, hiss). They’re coming from Abercorn via the north road where the Germans have their main camp, and they’ll arrive tomorrow.
3rd Army has now fought itself to a standstill at the summit of Mount San Michele, but they’re still poking at some of the subsidiary heights nearby, often more in hope than expectation. Meanwhile, the northern area of the front, in front of Caporetto, is rumbling nastily. The conditions here are just as horrific as those we looked at yesterday, on the Carso, but in completely different ways. The summit of Mount San Michele is barely a thousand feet high. Off to the north, they’re fighting right in the middle of the Alps. Mount Krn is 7,300 feet high. Here men are obliged to live at elevations of 6,000 feet or higher, for weeks and months at a time.
They don’t want to move around too much. Going anywhere means not just travelling under cover of darkness, and against freezing winds but doing so along narrow, treacherous paths that would make the native ibex goats think twice. Alpine war has a few other dangers all of its own. Height is even more critical than usual. The art of throwing or rolling boulders downhill into inconvenient places is being continually refined. There are stories of platoons sheltering from artillery fire under a cliff face, only for a shell to hit and collapse the cliff above them, which then falls on their heads and pitches them headlong off the mountainside.
Battle of Malazgirt
The Russians are in full-scale retreat from Ottoman Armenia. Malazgirt itself is being given up. The Van garrison is preparing to depart, along with most of the Armenian population. Between this and the full-scale retreat on the Eastern Front, this is arguably the Russian Army’s lowest point in the war until the revolutions of 1917.
After considering the matter for about three weeks, Lord Hardinge, the Viceroy of India, is now fully on board with General Nixon’s scheme to advance to Kut-al-Amara. There’s just one problem; between battle casualties and disease casualties (and much more of the latter), Indian Expeditionary Force “D” is in need of reinforcements. Lord Hardinge has his eyes on an infantry brigade that’s currently at Aden, on its way to Egypt to replace the men who’ve gone to Gallipoli. He just wants to borrow it for a few weeks…
Lord Kitchener doesn’t much like that idea, but this is an Indian Army matter and therefore nothing to do with him. (Why should it be? He’s only the man who was appointed back in 1914 to run the war.) The responsible member of the Cabinet is Austen Chamberlain, who’s just had the whole matter land back on his desk for approval.
Spicer-Simson wastes no time in dispensing with John R Lee’s services as a complete liability. He’s packed off to Cape Town, allegedly suffering from sunstroke and fever. (The expedition does retain his sidekick Frank Magee, and Magee’s pet monkey Josephine.) Lee’s indiscretions are as may be, but he’s done his job well. The expedition proceeds on by rail to Fungurume, but there the railway ends. Lee has personally reconnoitred a mildly ridiculous 150-mile overland route to the River Luluaba. It’s reasonably straight, only goes over the top of one mountain range, and is providing much local employment building the 150 new bridges that Spicer-Simson’s party will need to cross. More soon from these most ridiculous of adventurers.
Actions in Progress
The Daily Telegraph is republishing its archives from the war day-by-day. Worth a look. I’m reading the paper every day, and it’s where the content for Our Advertising Feature comes from.
(If you find the olde-tyme style difficult to get along with, have a look at this reading guide.)