I’m sure that coordinated military action makes a lot of tactical sense, but it’s bloody annoying when you’re trying to do a day-by-day blog about a major war. And really, isn’t that truly what’s important here? If only they could just spread everything out over the next couple of months instead of piling it on all at once with a shovel! I ask you. Etc.
Ahem. Mobilisation orders have been sent out to the Bulgarian Army. It is of course quite impossible to disguise this, so the fallback is to a strategy of muddying the waters. The official government line is that they are concerned about various developments, so are merely switching from quiet neutrality to armed neutrality.
With the diplomatic situation as it is, this is about as convincing as a pig in a wig; but that’s all right, because there’s not really a whole lot the Entente can actually do. The Serbian government quickly appeals for alliance support so they can use their already-mobilised army to kick Bulgaria before they can be kicked back. Unfortunately, what with Gallipoli, and the war in the Caucasus, and the continuing retreat on the Eastern Front, and the utter failure on the Italian Front, this is impractical. An invasion of Bulgaria without support would only leave Serbia wide-open to Austria-Hungary.
More on the fallout tomorrow.
The preliminary bombardments continue for the Anglo-French autumn offensive. Time for some more variations on the theme of “Good Lord, it’s bloody loud around here!” Gunner Paul Toinet is in the bombardment for Second Champagne.
…A tremendous, unremitting thunder, peaking when all the batteries fired at once, sometimes diminishing in intensity, but never letting up. From high in our observation post it was a magnificent, tragic show. Lined up before us were the German trenches, mounds of earth like huge molehills. Now they pulsed with satanic life, they were crowned with a series of plumes continuously rising and falling. Occasionally a mine exploded; huge columns of black smoke formed a dense veil only slowly dispersed by the wind.
Meanwhile, Gunner Alan Watson of the Royal Garrison Artillery describes how the barrage for the Battle of Loos changes as his own heavy howitzers begin to fire in earnest.
It was like hundreds of railway trains going through the air. The big guns began in earnest at twelve. How it is going and what it is like with the Germans, goodness knows. They are dropping a few rounds here, but we are just reading and playing cards. Our relief is on the gun. All in great spirits.
I think we are getting seasoned to the war. Don’t seem to realise that at any moment, a shell could put paid to our account. If this could only be transferred [home] for half an hour, wouldn’t it open their eyes? It is worth enlisting for. A chap with the gift could write a book on the impressions this gives.
And, indeed, they have. Watson continues.
Everyone thinks it is the beginning of the end. But what if it is a failure, and if the Germans can stand this and what is to come, they will hold out for years yet.
Our battery fired about 160 rounds today. My gun, 72.
The gift is perhaps not necessary for a simple, ordinary piece of insight.
The strange case of General Willcocks
General Willcocks is one of General Haig’s immediate subordinates; he commands the Indian Corps on the Western Front. Willcocks has a lot to be aggrieved about. To begin with, he’d been deeply disappointed when his corps was put into First Army under Haig, instead of (as he’d hoped) Second Army under General Smith-Dorrien.
This was a singular piece of bad luck for the blokes. After having taken a terrible kicking at First Ypres, and then the subsequent action at Festubert, they’ve then been used extensively at the Battle of Neuve Chapelle and the Battle of Aubers Ridge. True, this is not a unique situation; everyone in First Army has suffered similarly, and at least it stopped them being under the gas at Second Ypres.
However, the Indian Corps has one rather obvious problem; it’s Indian. Its men have special dietary requirements, an integral condition of their service. When they lose men, they’re at the bottom of the pile even for Indian reinforcement-drafts; the meagre replacements naturally take many months to arrive. When they lose officers, their replacements are inexperienced and callow, few with any of the special skills usually required of an Indian army officer (like, for instance, being able to speak some of the men’s language). They may not have suffered much worse than any British corps, but the British corps are all far more resilient and better-equipped to cope with losses and hardship.
It’s not that surprising, therefore, that General Willcocks is rather unhappy with the situation. The exact order of things is extremely unclear, and the story never appears to have been told properly. What we do know is that shortly before his men were due to go into action once more, matters came to a head, and Willcocks either resigned in protest or was sacked by Haig. He’s just left France, hoping like hell that he’s wrong and that his blokes can do the impossible.
The gas cylinders have now been brought up to the front at Loos. Much colourful language follows as they now must attempt to remove the gas canisters’ domed heads without the aid of the long-handled spanners that the design envisaged. More men are sweating and swearing to install new Vermorel anti-gas sprayers, in case the wind should change or the Germans should counter with their own gas release.
Have had 4 days passing blood and mucus and nothing to eat except milk. Stancliffe gets my things packed. I am not going to let them out of my sight this time. Captain Williamson and I have whole motor to ourselves. Our luggage we send ahead on a cart. There is quite a rattle of musketry and lot of gun firing. I wonder what it can mean. No attack likely to be made – it is a case of mining and countermining. Our Sappers are first going to mine for defence and then for attack. After all that labour they will surely not take up new firing line. Get to clearing station at 4 p.m. and sit about waiting.
See Dearsley who like a silly ass has lost my Maori songs. We are not going on 5 pm boat – so go to bed. Have a 12 hours night disturbed considerably by having to get up frequently. All of the officers are sick cases. I had an injection which seemed to relieve the griping considerably.
This is how his campaign ends, not with a bang but…you get the idea.
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