Battle of Achi Baba Nullah | July 12 1915

Mbyuni

On the Kenya/German East Africa border, there’s a small village called Mbyuni. It makes an excellent outpost for raids against the Uganda Railway, and the Germans are making arrangement to support it by building a new railway line forward. It’s nearly arrived at Mbyuni, and General Tighe, belligerent as ever, will not suffer this. He orders an attack on Mbyuni, as soon as possible.

Battle of Achi Baba Nullah

Let’s go to the MSPaint map again and see what they’re trying to accomplish here. There’s another wrinkle that they’re trying out today. The British left is going to hold back until the afternoon, so that the artillery can lay down two concentrated bombardments.

As ever, think of this like a Tube map, not an Ordnance Survey map.
As ever, think of this like a Tube map, not an Ordnance Survey map.

When they go over, they succeed in catching the Ottomans in the middle of a major command reorganisation. All well and good, except it’s still as hard as ever to advance further than one or two trenches. The battle will therefore mostly stay in the hands of the officers in immediate contact with it.

The attacks aren’t helped by extremely poor information. Recon has failed to identify which depressions in the ground are Ottoman trenches, and which are just natural dips. Once the men go past the first line they find themselves trapped in a maze. They have no idea where they are and where they’re supposed to be going. Corporal Tom Richardson of the 1/4th King’s Own Scottish Borderers describes the process.

About 150 yards away, we could see the parapet of what looked like another trench. Accordingly, we doubled across in that direction, and on getting up to this third trench we found it to be untenanted and only a couple of feet deep. However, it afforded us some cover, and in we scrambled – the order immediately coming along for every man to fill his two sand bags and build up the parapet.

After about half an hour, during which time we suffered numerous casualties, word was passed along to extend towards [a nearby] wood. I got out and doubled across the open until I came to a very comfortable-looking shell hole, into which I very contentedly jumped. Very shortly after I heard shouts of, ‘Retire! Retire!’ I got back safely, crawling most of the way, as a shell burst very close and I found I had lost the power of one of my legs.

The afternoon attacks go no better. High command has very little idea of what’s going on. Almost no messages have arrived back. But neither have retreating men, and that’s enough. A medical officer recalls a chance meeting in the mess with General Hunter-Weston just after 5pm.

General Hunter-Weston entered in a few minutes, and sitting opposite me said, ‘What an extraordinary thing war is!’ The progress of the day had greatly satisfied him, I could see, and he was in great glee. ‘Yes!’ I said. ‘But I wish to goodness it was all over!’ ‘My dear sir,’ he replied, ‘we’ll have years of it yet!’ I asked if he thought there was any possibility of its ending this year. ‘Absolutely none!’

Nice man.

By the end of the day the situation is depressingly familiar; a short advance, heavy casualties, and counter-attacks seemingly imminent.

Artois & Champagne

General Joffre, surprise surprise, has approved of GQG’s latest strategic assessment, tailored as it was to appeal to his sensibilities. Today he issues an outline for a major offensive in autumn, with a Third Artois and a Second Champagne going off at the same time. Third Artois will be overseen by General Foch, Second Champagne by General Castelnau. He also begins leaning on Sir John French once more to take over more of his line. With the first hundred thousand Kitchener’s Army men arriving in France, it won’t take too long for the BEF commander to agree.

Joffre also carefully abides by his own messaging. He’s seeking “ruptures” of the enemy front rather than a breakthrough, looking to destroy enemy positions, render them untenable, and thereby force a retreat. He’s no longer looking simply to drive a hole in the German line and shove a few armies through it.

Actions in Progress

Gorlice-Tarnow Offensive
Armenian Genocide
Battle of Malazgirt
Battle of Achi Baba Nullah

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