The final advance on Ctesiphon and Baghdad has now begun. General Townshend’s force is proceeding up the River Tigris in cautious leapfrogs. He has at his disposal 13,500 blokes (including engineers and hangers-on), thirty-five guns, and a new gunboat to go with the rest of his regatta. The first leapfrog away from Kut-al-Amara is to Kutuniya, and it’s gone off without a hitch. Advance guards are now heading off on the next leapfrog towards Zor (sadly, this is a completely different town to Der Zor in Syria, the Auschwitz of the Armenian Genocide).
Extensive artillery bombardments are becoming more and more appealing to the Italian generals on the Carso, south of Mount San Michele. Today sees by far the heaviest shelling yet seen, with enough weight of fire to completely destroy some of the Austro-Hungarian defenders’ deepest trenches and dugouts. It’s no good having a 30-metre deep shelter if the entrance or the walls have been blasted in.
The last fresh Italian reinforcements for this battle mingle freely with the remnants of shattered battalions, half-battalions, half-companies, half-platoons, hastily reconstituted and thrown back into the fight. For a while it seems as though Mount San Michele might just be in trouble, but the Italians are just about out of numbers and Austro-Hungarian morale is still plenty good enough to allow constant counter-attacks to pour in every time a trench is lost.
In the end, it’s been a bitter day, but a day much like yesterday. Relentlessly wet, with successes measured in tens of yards and individual trenches. The Austro-Hungarian defenders have lost a few positions on the swings, but regained a few more on the roundabouts. Importantly, most of the positions lost today could have been counter-attacked, but the damage to the trenches is such that they’ve been deemed not worth retaking. (Of course, by Italian trench-excavation standards, even a badly damaged enemy trench is downright palatial.)
And, with the day now over, the main phase of the battle on the Carso comes to an end. The Italians have been forced to call another halt to re-organise and decide whether it’s worth continuing. (Spoilers: it isn’t, but they probably aren’t going to realise that.) General Cadorna is, at least, going to consider making a change to his previous methods. Which I’m sure we’re all going to wholeheartedly approve of and say what a jolly good fellow he is. Right? Right?
In high dudgeon after it’s been made clear to him that his further services in terms of war strategy will not be required, Winston Churchill has resigned from his sinecure Government post as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. His next move will be both utterly bizarre and yet, entirely in character. We’ve got a stacked day today, so I’ll save it for a quieter moment.
Of course, as some men’s stars fall, other men’s stars rise. General Wully Robertson is still in London agitating for change, and today he’s writing a letter to General Haig. He’s so confident that he’s successfully politicked his way into becoming Chief of the Imperial General Staff that his letter includes the sentence “The first thing to do [when I take over] is to get you in command.” Sir John French is now effectively a dead man walking, despite his own extensive efforts to save his job and pin the blame for the Battle of Loos on Haig.
Lord Kitchener has finally got around to touring the Gallipoli theatre, after a lot of time sitting in nice warm rooms in Egypt and on Mudros, having extremely dull discussions about nothing of much interest. And boy, is there ever a welcoming committee being prepared for him. Not by the poor buggers in the trenches, mind you. This committee is being prepared by Mother Nature. One of the features of the fighting in Italy and in Serbia at the moment has been the utterly foul autumn/winter weather. So far on Gallipoli, they’ve been spared. The temperature has been dropping, and there’s been the occasional nasty gale out at sea, but the men’s health has been improving somewhat, the flies are finally starting to buzz off somewhere else, and it hasn’t been pissing with rain.
Cue Lieutenant George Hughes of the 5th Dorsets, at Suvla Bay.
About the 15th November the fine weather broke and a period of south-westerly squalls began. It was always quite uncertain what these would lead to. They were warm, terribly dry, shifty winds which blew straight into the shallow bay at Suvla, throwing up a tremendous ground swell, which made the landing of supplies impossible. No bread and half rations of water tomorrow was the inevitable outcome. Sometimes these squalls simply blew themselves out without rain; sometimes the ominous crack of thunder with forked lightning would foretell a hurricane.
Well, isn’t that just great?
Yesterday, some of Louis Barthas’s men attempted a spot of synchronised malingering with malice aforethought, and one of them followed through all the way, and refused to do any work that evening. This means trouble.
I was suspected of being one of the instigators of it, and they were looking for the first opportunity to get rid of me. Private X was hauled before the battalion’s two dictators, our captain [Cros-Mayrevielle] and Commandant Quinze-Grammes, who told him that they were going to make a good example of him and introduce him to the court-martial judges of our corps.
But the recalcitrant patient responded vigorously that, with the insufficient food we were being given, neither he nor his comrades could undertake such fatiguing work. The two partners, fearing that this business would end up bringing them bad luck, gave him only eight days of prison, a very light sentence, and spoke no further about this incident, which will never appear in any official history of the war.
A reminder here that “prison”, in the parlance of the moment, actually means being permanently assigned to the front-line trenches for a period of time when one’s battalion is back in reserve. Perhaps the commandant recognised that this incident might well reflect badly on himself and his cronies if the full story were told at court-martial.
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(If you find the olde-tyme style difficult to get along with, have a look at this reading guide.)