Barbed wire | 28 July 1915

Second Isonzo

Individual Italian units are still pecking at individual strong-points, but all pretence at a coordinated offensive has fallen away. Meanwhile, a fateful decision has just been taken by the Austro-Hungarian high command. First, all work on a fallback line several miles to the rear of the current positions has been stopped, now that it’s clear that the current line is eminently defensible. Second, and much more importantly, heavy-duty rock drills have been requisitioned and are being sent forward. With these, the Austro-Hungarian army will be able to dig proper trench systems instead of crouching behind stone breastworks and relying on natural potholes and camouflage for cover against artillery.

Theft of barbed wire

On Gallipoli, my focus has mostly been on the British and French Empire men at Cape Helles for the last couple of months. Helles is where all the attacks and counter-attacks have been. The Ottomans have quickly recognised that ANZAC Cove is a sideshow; the terrain that they’ve boxed the ANZACs into is so difficult that they can hold it easily with very few men. There’s been a flourishing and bitter campaign of mining. The two sides have been throwing artillery at each other, and the whole area is a sniper’s paradise.

The front-line trenches are also extremely close to each other in many places. And, in some of these areas, a strange camaraderie has built up between the Ottomans and the ANZACs. It can never be as close as, for instance, the extreme friendliness demonstrated in quiet sectors of the Western Front between French and Germans, and there’s almost no open fraternisation. For one thing, the language barrier is far higher; but not, as we’ll see, completely insurmountable. This is Private Carroll of the 21st Battalion, Australian Imperial Force.

You could touch a Turk on the head, the trenches were that close at Courtney’s Post. The Turks were good soldiers, you couldn’t deny that. And they were quite good types. Sometimes we’d be talking to each other, and we’d say “Got any weed?” Sometimes we ran out of tobacco, and when you were a smoker and had the feeling to smoke, it drove you mad. The Turks said “Oh, we’ve tons of tobacco. Have you got any meat?” They’d got no meat. We had a barter of Turkish tobacco for our bully beef. That’s how the war goes on. But it wouldn’t do to be getting too friendly with them.

This next part is very possibly my favourite soldier’s funny story from the entire war. I can still remember how hard I laughed the first time I read it. It’s absolutely wonderful.

We put barbed wire all the way along at night-time along our trenches. But, when we woke up in the morning, they’d trained grappling hooks, and they’d pulled all our barbed wire over in front of their trenches. All the trouble we went to to put our barbed wire all along. And then the Turks grabbed it over in front of theirs, and they thought that was a good joke! They were laughing, and waving their shovels.

It’s like something out of a cartoon, isn’t it?

Siege of Saisi

The Belgian Empire relief column arrives at Saisi today and immediately engages the besiegers. They don’t succeed in breaking through to the town, but they do force the Schutztruppe to look away from Saisi and use a lot of men and ammunition keeping them out. Let’s remember here that the German Empire force is hundreds of miles from home. They have no supply line. If they can’t force Saisi to surrender before running out of food, men, and/or ammunition, they’ll have to lift the siege and go back home.

Herbert Sulzbach

Our friend Bombardier Herbert Sulzbach is back with us! After being invalided home with a serious skin rash, he’s spent the last couple of months waiting for new orders. Now his new battery has been ordered to the Western Front. Almost the last thing he does before the orders arrive is to buy a small Goerz pocket camera, and his published diary contains some of his photographs.

Actions in Progress

Armenian Genocide
Battle of the Isonzo (Second Isonzo)
Siege of Saisi

Further Reading

I have a Twitter account, @makersley, which you can follow to be notified of updates and get all my retweets of weird and wonderful First World War things. If you prefer Tumblr, I’m also on Tumblr.

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.)

Leave a Reply