Italy and Asiago
High drama in the recalled Italian parliament today. There’s been a series of fiery debates over whether the government or the army is to blame for the Battle of Asiago going so badly. Turns out that General Cadorna, while he may be a murdering bastard and a terrible general, is apparently a rather good politician. Deputy after deputy lines up to stand behind the army. Soon enough there will be a vote of no confidence in the government, and in eight days Salandra will be yesterday’s man, chewed up and spat out by the war he started. His replacement will be the elderly non-entity Paolo Boselli, which will of course suit Cadorna down to the ground and free him from political interference for the forseeable future.
The Battle of Asiago continues slowly congealing. Though to Emilio Lussu and his comrades the situation must look desperate, it’s quite clear on the other side of the hill that the advances can’t go much further without reinforcements. And in fact the reverse is happening; men are being sent away to oppose the Brusilov Offensive.
Time for the British Empire to strike an official proxy blow against the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East, just about the only kind of blow they’re capable of striking right now. Hussein bin Ali, the Sharif of Mecca, has stayed true to his word. Over the last few days, with the assistance of British weapons, and both British and French military missions, the revolt has been chugging into action in ungainly fashion.
The opening stages of the revolt were to have had two components. While Hussein himself was to overthrow the Ottoman Army garrison in Mecca, his sons Emir Ali and Emir Faisal were to do the same thing in Medina. This would be not only a pair of important strategic victories, but Mecca and Medina are both holy cities in Islam. With Hussein’s public justification for the uprising resting strongly on religious grounds, controlling the two cities would be a vital propaganda coup.
It hasn’t started well. The attempt to take control of Medina has been summarily repelled. Short of weapons, Ali and Faisal have led their men out of the city and are now attempting to cut it off from the rest of the Ottoman Empire. This will soon develop into a proper siege, the Siege of Medina. In Mecca, the garrison commander might be outnumbered five to one, but he has plenty of weapons and ammunition. The day quickly devolves into running street battles as the army fends the rebels off from various key points in the city. More to come.
The situation in Salonika is now being resolved, for a certain value of “resolved”. For the last four days there’s been a French fleet sitting outside Athens. The King, of course, has given in and agreed to all the Entente’s demands. Greece is now effectively in the war, even though they’re not going to declare and won’t actually have an army for much longer. To celebrate, the French have occupied an island opposite Kavala, one of the eastern seaports that the Bulgarians seem interested in pinching. Meanwhile, General Sarrail himself is busy putting down a series of worrying disturbances in Salonika.
By the end of the month the Greek Army will have been de-mobilised, and there’ll be a new government under former prime minister Zaimis which is prepared to roll over for France while keeping Eleftherios Venizelos out of power. The situation, for the moment, is about to be resolved for the next little while as the world’s attention turns away. For the soldiers already here? There’s the malaria. And the summer heat.
A footnote now from Africa. Commandant de Bueger, in command of four Belgian-piloted British seaplanes at Lake Tanganyika, has not only succeeded in getting the planes afloat, but one of them has managed to fly over to Kigoma, where the German steamer Goetzen still maintains an ever-more-tenuous hold over the lake. Not only that, but the observer has even dropped two large rifle grenades. I can’t find an account that specifies how accurate they were (so a fair guess would be “not very”), but it’s still a welcome development for the man whose name I’m still pronouncing “de Bugger”.
Amusingly, all this is even more pointless than you might think after a cursory glance. Turns out that Captain Zimmer has long since removed Goetzen’s large Konigsberg gun and sent it east to Colonel von Lettow-Vorbeck at Kondoa Irangi. He’s prudently had it replaced with an extremely convincing wooden model, but the practical effect of this is that Zimmer no longer intends to fight if challenged, since he’s not got any guns left worth the name.
Only a short note from Henri Desagneaux, but this one’s important.
At one in the morning, orders for departure at 4am. We are to march in the direction of Verdun. That gives us an extra day of life! We are billeted at Rosieres near Bar.
Yeah, now is really not a good time to be one of my correspondents and marching towards a major battle.
Our Brigade moved into the trenches which would be occupied by us in the event of an attack; these consisted of a series of barbed wire entanglements and an intricate system of trenches with occasional strong posts. The artificial inundations from the Canal completed the defences north and south. The idea in those days was that we should hold out until all other troops and materiel had been removed across the Canal.
Some of us rode out to a post known as Hill 40, where the Australian Light Horse and some Scottish regiments were stationed. The flamingos on the edge of the inundation were most picturesque.
Can’t you just imagine those flamingos looking curiously at all these extremely silly people who have just turned up to make the place untidy?
Malcolm White is still on working-parties almost every night, but trying to keep his mind off what the working parties mean by day.
I am reviving my interest again in the European problem. I believe that, if we win, the best solution will be almost the status quo, because it would only be the status quo materially, not spiritually. For the Germans would not be humiliated, and the large better element among them (I don’t believe it doesn’t exist) would probably ‘rapproche’ with the good elements among the Allies, and that would be the basis for a European understanding and a determination on all our parts to behave better in future, seeing how little the War would have brought to all of us.
The greatest victory that could be won in this War would be, not the particular gain of one or a few nations, but the tragic realisation by all nations that nobody has gained anything; statement! As for ‘The War after the War’, and Mr Hughes, and all that disastrous sort of idea, what are we to do about it?
You could start with not dying, my friend. Still, no shell has landed on him yet. Both “the war after the war” and “Mr Hughes” are common enough to defeat Google, although it could possibly be Billy Hughes, who has recently replaced Andrew Fisher as Prime Minister of Australia.
Yes, we’ve just successfully got rid of two correspondents, so it must be time to start another. And it’s another officer, too. The rule now for new correspondents, let’s remember, is “must give us a perspective that we wouldn’t get otherwise”. So this guy’s gimmick is that he started the war in the artillery, but has now transferred to the Royal Flying Corps. Better than that, while he harbours dreams of being a pilot, for now he’s only qualified as an observation officer. He’s currently back in England, but as we join him, there is Important News.
All units of the army have known it, the serio-comedy of waiting for embarkation orders. After months of training the battalion, battery, or squadron is almost ready for a plunge into active service. Then comes, from a source which cannot be trailed, a mysterious Date. The orderly-room whispers “June the fifteenth”; the senior officers’ quarters murmur “France on June the fifteenth”; the mess echoes to the tidings spread by the subaltern-who-knows “We’re for it on June the fifteenth, me lad”; through the men’s hutments the word is spread “It’s good-bye to this blinking hole on June the fifteenth”; the Home receives a letter and confides to other homes “Reginald’s lot are going to the war on June the fifteenth “.
Finally, if we are to believe Mr William le Queux, the Military Intelligence Department of the German Empire dockets a report: “[Cod German to the effect of ‘the 70th Squadron is leaving for France on the 15th of June’.]” Except for the mobilisation stores everything is complete by June 10.
At last, a publisher who lets his books use the Oxford comma! I might just get along with this. Bott, by the way, wrote under the pseudonym “Contact” and is referring to the “Umptyieth” and “Twelveteenth” squadrons. We can probably assume that all names have been changed also, which we’ll sort out as they come up. Oh, and he also spent a little time as a journalist before and immediately after the outbreak of war, which just makes the cheap shot at Le Queux all the more delightful.
(Le Quex is a waste of oxygen, an enthusiastic purveyor of sensational stories in which the Germans invade Britain and force everyone to wear lederhosen and eat sauerkraut until the Army rallies to save the day. He’s done plenty to create a public appetite for war with Germany in the first place.)
Maximilian Mugge is giving vent to some idle thoughts.
Often before the War, when on several occasions I stayed in France, when I lived in Holland, when I wandered through Italy, has the thought occurred to me. Gradually it has become a conviction: Language has nothing to do with one’s individuality. It does not matter an itinerant whitesmith’s malediction in what language one expresses oneself. Language may be a garment, a vessel, a route but it is not of the Essence of the Spirit. Not until this tribal conceit about the “language of one’s fathers” has disappeared will a [wanky Latin coming roughly to “better/utopian future”] be possible.
At present men are still prepared to die for the exclusive possession of this glorious national inheritance, the language of their “Immortal Poets.” Whilst the poet lived they let him starve! Underneath all these grandiloquent phrases lies, of course, the accursed inertia of our species, that almost monopolizes laziness. And the tribal tin-gods know how to trade on this tribal vanity!
For a man who fancies himself a linguist, this is an interesting line of thinking.
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