Siege of Kut
With the Ottoman presence around Kut steadily increasing, one of their mid-ranking officers officers has a Good Idea. In the absence of General von der Goltz, they launch a couple of highly speculative attacks against Kut. The state of the defences notwithstanding, the poorly-thought-out probes are easily repelled. Breaking the siege is going to take a little more effort than a couple of infantry assaults.
Yesterday we had a look at General Yudenich’s ambitious plan to assault Koprukoy and Erzurum over the mountains in mid-winter. Today, the other side of the hill. On paper the Ottoman Third Army is of comparable strength to their opponents, but they have a front to hold that runs some 300 miles from the Black Sea to Bitlis, and they have about 75,000 fighting men (and a sizeable tail of about 50,000 PONTIs) to do it with. (For comparison’s sake, the Western Front is being occupied by millions upon millions of men on each side, and it’s about 440 miles long.) The garrison also has a mild desertion problem to worry about; and some of the manpower holes are being plugged by Frontier Guards and Jandarma units instead of regular soldiers.
In addition to all that, they appear to have completely bought their opponents’ dummy. Both the commanding officer, Mahmut Kamil, and his German chief of staff, Lieutenant-Colonel Guse, are away. Kamil Pasha is enjoying a nice holiday in Constantinople, and Guse is at home in Germany, convalescing after contracting typhus. (Eagle-eyed readers may recall how, back in February, Mahmut Kamil took command of the army after its previous boss, Hafiz Hakki, died in the early stages of Third Army’s typhus epidemic.)
The army isn’t in the best of shape. It’s spent the last few months trying to scrape itself back together after the squabbling around Lake Van and Malazgirt. Like their opponents, their front is being given the lowest priority for reinforcements and supplies. However, unlike their opponents, they can’t concentrate their strength in any one location. All they can do is quietly hope for the front to stay quiet until such time as they can expect reinforcements. And here at least there might be some hope. Enver Pasha hasn’t given up on his dreams of a Caucasus offensive, although he has lost the urge to lead it personally. Once Gallipoli is settled…
Meanwhile it became more and more necessary that something be done, because the Mercier trench was disappearing into a virtual lake. In this period the situation of the front-line troops was truly lamentable. In certain places the trenches had completely disappeared under water. Almost all the dugouts had collapsed. Our section was lucky enough to have a dugout which was still intact and where, when our work was done, we could stretch out on the cold, damp ground.
But one night, when the rain came down in torrents, the tide invaded our dugout and cascaded down both sets of steps. At the height of the storm, some of the men had to devote all their efforts to building a dam, which the water then broke through at three or four places. We spent the rest of the night battling the floodwaters.
I’m struck by the irony of General Niessel recently giving orders for the construction of proper shelters for the blokes, only for the weather to reply “LOL no”.
It was bitterly cold, and every few yards we passed horrible looking corpses of bullocks, donkeys and ponies, with the hides and some of the flesh stripped from them; sometimes there were packs, ammunition and rifles thrown away by the roadside, but very, very few of the latter; a soldier is very far gone indeed before he will part with that.
Sometimes if Colonel Milic was not busy he used to show me the various positions on the map, and tell me where he was moving the men to. It was such a frightfully anxious time for him, he had to hold the threads of everything in his hands; everything depended on him, the lives and safety of all the men, and despatch riders and telephone calls gave him very little rest. … He made [the men] a long speech, cheering them up and telling them to stand fast now and not despair, as some day we would all march back into Serbia together.
The Albanian villages were a perfect picture of squalor and filth. I don’t know what the people subsist on, but they seem to live like animals. I had always pictured the Albanian peasants as a very fine picturesque race of men wearing spotless native costume, and slung about with fascinating looking daggers and curious weapons of all kinds, but the great majority of those I saw, more especially in the small towns, were a very degenerate looking race indeed.
Isn’t that nice.
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