In the wake of capturing Kut-al-Amara, General Nixon would dearly love to push on towards Baghdad as soon as possible. General Townshend has already outlined a plan. His ships are having extreme trouble navigating the River Tigris above Kut; the river has quickly turned against him, full of difficult shoals and mud-banks. They can’t simply sail on up the river, so instead Townshend proposes sailing as far as is possible (this will prove to be Aziziya, 60 miles above Kut) and then marching another 60 miles. This will bring them to the ruins of the ancient Mesopotamian city Ctesiphon, reputedly once the biggest city in the world. Captured prisoners and other intelligence have told them that this is where the Ottomans will make their major defensive stand.
Townshend will, after the war, claim that he was beginning to have second thoughts about the advisability of this latest phase of operations. It is kind of hard to have any other reaction to that than “Well, you would say that now, wouldn’t you?” But that aside, it is certainly true that there are several things that should have worried anyone with half a brain.
To begin with, let’s consider the supply line, singular. They’re now about 500 miles above Basra. There is no other way to get supplies up to them than by taking them by river, on a journey that could take weeks or months. The only medical facility worth the name in the entire theatre is a single hospital ship, which has been kept back at Basra. The Battle of Es Sinn caused less than 100 dead, but over 1,000 wounded. There simply aren’t enough boats to take them back down the river. This is, to gravely understate the situation, not good for morale.
And now, a familiar problem. The Ottomans have, of course, throughout this entire campaign been falling back closer to their heartlands, their supply centres, their sources of reinforcement. They’ll soon have a new commander; the former governor of Belgium, Colmar Freiherr von der Goltz, has been knocking around Constantinople for the last little while, annoying both Liman von Sanders and Enver Pasha in equal measure. Earlier in his career, von der Goltz served twelve years with the Ottoman Army, charged with reorganising and modernising it, and his name is well and fondly remembered among many officers who are now in mid-ranking or senior positions. Enver now has an excellent excuse to get rid of this pain in his arse, and has put him in command of the defence of Baghdad.
And he’s sent more than just one man. The existing commander, Nureddin, has been expecting two divisions’ worth of reinforcements for some time. (They’re still on the march from Van Province, but now only a month or so away.) He’s also used all the local Jandarma he can scrape together to raise an extra division, which has been training at Baghdad for the last few months.
The Ottomans aren’t the only ones expecting reinforcements, but all that Townshend can expect immediately is two hastily-formed brigades from India. Nixon is now raising the possibility of getting the Indian Corps out of the Western Front; once Kitchener’s Army begins arriving in greater numbers after the end of the Battle of Loos, this idea will be looked at more seriously. But the fact remains that the Ottomans are bringing far more men into the theatre than the British Empire.
This doesn’t necessarily worry General Nixon, though. After all, hasn’t the enemy fled at almost every previous turn? Why should they not do so again? There are plenty of promising signs that, with a little massaging, can form the basis of his latest round of cables to the Colonial Office and to the Viceroy. More soon.
With General Bailloud and the French Empire troops now gone to Salonika, Sir Ian Hamilton might be forgiven for feeling a little lonely. He’s just received a deeply ominous telegram from Lord Kitchener. Kitchener speaks darkly of a flow of unofficial reports washing around London about the campaign. He talks in his usual roundabout way, but it comes to something very simple. The campaign’s reputation has been badly damaged. A sacrifice is required. Kitchener therefore suggests recalling General Braithwaite, Sir Ian’s chief of staff, and replacing him with Launcelot Kiggell, of whom more soon. The implication to the implication is obvious; if it’s not to be Braithwaite, there is only one other senior head to be taken off.
I am grateful to old K. He is trying to save me. He picked out Braithwaite himself. Not so long ago he cabled me in his eagerness to promote him to Major-General; he would not suggest substituting the industrious Kiggell if he didn’t fear for me and for the whole of this enterprise.
Hold that thought about Kiggell. Lord Kitchener has just effectively sent Sir Ian Hamilton a death warrant for General Braithwaite, and the Chief has responded by erasing Braithwaite’s name and inserting his own.
Sir John French is now asking for another delay past the 6th before he’ll be ready to attack with the French. The problem is the Hohenzollern Redoubt. It must be retaken before they can do anything else; any large force moving up to the front near Hulluch can and will be easily spotted. And this, of course, will not be easy, with artillery shell stocks starting to run low (and not having been fantastically useful to begin with). They’re going to bring up more gas to support the attacks, but of course that creates further delays as the cylinders are installed and fresh gas-masks are issued…
Meanwhile, at Second Champagne, the preliminary bombardment for the last push towards Somme-Py has begun. Once again the weather has worked against the French, turning foul at the wrong time and seriously interfering with artillery spotting and aerial reconaissance.
The German mortars tried hard to find us, but without great success. The paltry fir trees of Champagne, whose vegetation we had often mocked, were sufficient to conceal us. The only victims of our sojourn were the numerous rabbits which our men had ferreted out.
There were a series of officers’ huts luxuriously arranged. Messieurs le Boches were as skilled in creating comfortable quarters as they were in razing a village! The rooms had parquet floors, ceilings, well-appointed with perfectly made furniture, armchairs, angled sofas, or rocking-chairs. At the back of the main room, a sliding door exposed a staircase of twelve to fifteen steps leading to an underground shelter allocated to each hut. Outside, some kiosks allowed us to enjoy the cool night air.
I’m sure that Louis Barthas would want us to shake the good captain firmly by the lapels and yell “yes, but what about the poilus? In how much luxury do they live, you enormous clot?”
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