Battle of Verdun
General de Langle has been inspecting the state of Verdun’s defences now that the region is under his army group, and his first priority is apparently to make his predecessor look bad. His memoirs contain plenty of invective aimed at General Dubail’s shortcomings in putting the defences into proper order. And the record does show that he immediately provided Verdun with more men for working-parties, and continued visiting the trenches on numerous occasions. He and his staff have also been re-educated by General Petain on the benefits of defence in depth, and they’re also doing their best to see that these principles are percolating down through the ranks.
Meanwhile, General Castelnau has reported to General Joffre that work is nearly complete, except for three small sections of front which de Langle is now attending to. For better or for worse, GQG will very soon be considering Verdun adequately defended. Tomorrow: the German plan of attack. They plan to begin in nine days’ time. If the defences aren’t ready now-ish, they never will be.
Options for training the raw, inexperienced South African battalions in East Africa are in short supply. The Brains Trust has decided that the best (and, indeed, only) thing to do is to get them, carefully supervised by adults, into the field as soon as possible. There’s soon going to be an advance from Mbyuni to Salaita Hill, where a suspected Schutztruppe garrison is blocking the road forward to Taveta. Here’s the map again.
Today the 2nd Loyal North Lancashires, the 2nd Rhodesians, and the 130th Baluchis (which sounds like the start of a mildly racist joke) are going off to find out who, if anyone, is on top of Salaita Hill. To do this, they’ll be using a simple but effective tactic that militaries generally prefer to call “reconaissance by fire” and a civilian observer might call “shooting where you think the enemy is to see if anyone shoots back”. The 5th and 6th South Africans have also gone along for the ride.
Nothing goes wrong, except perhaps the intelligence gained. The conclusion is that Salaita Hill is being held “in considerable strength”, but we’ll soon see what that’s turned into by the time it reaches the General. More soon.
Saw an aeroplane start off to the German lines to the south of Kilimanjaro. Another aeroplane rose about 10 minutes after and after flying round in a large circle suddenly swooped down. The propellers hit the ground and broke and the plane swerved round and then turned completely over. Neither of the 2 airmen were hurt: This is the second plane we have lost this week. Took photo of aeroplane about 2 minutes before it smashed up.
Bibby and I bought some Eno’s fruit salts, potted meat, preserved pineapple, chocolates, unsweetened lime juice, and stood ourselves some cake and soda water as it is his birthday tomorrow. Invited Dick Heard to lunch and enjoyed ourselves.
He’ll get his turn soon enough.
Doctors came round and every man was medically examined to see if he was fit for the march, as those who were not were to be embarked at Durazzo. We had heard that the road to Valona was very bad, and in some places knee-deep in mud and water. Nobody was very anxious for the march if he could go from Durazzo, so one and all declared that they had rheumatism or else sore feet. Eventually only a small percentage, among them sixty men from the Fourth Company, and about half a dozen officers, from the regiment were declared to be unfit.
I was perfectly fit, but, as I was told I might do whichever I liked, I thought I might as well embark at Durazzo with those from my own company; so we left our camp and went into Durazzo to wait for the steamer, as it was uncertain which day she would sail.
Anyone who was surprised by the mass outbreak of lead-swinging, raise your hand. No, me neither. They’ve just had a brutal retreat through the very teeth of winter, they’re entitled to a little malingering now.
Bernard Adams continues to be annoyingly chipper.
Slept quite well, despite rats overhead. O’Brien and Dixon awfully dull and heavy; can’t think why. Everything outside is full of life; there is a crispness in the air…
He continues in this vein for a long while.
Dixon’s snores make me bucked with life; so, too, this same clumsiness of the servants. Lewis came in just now. “Why are you waiting, Lewis?” I asked. “I thought Watson was waiting to-day.” (This after a great strafing of servants for general stupidity and incompetence. ) “None of the others dared come in, sir,” he replied, in his high piping voice, and a broad grin on his face. Oh! they are good fellows! Why be fed up with life! Why long faces? Long faces, these are the bad things of life, the things to fight against…
Now he continues burbling on and on and on. Not even seeing two wounded men, covered in blood, being carried back to the aid post, can dent his enthusiasm. Seeing the stars at night leads to an endless meditation on how he now appreciates Homer’s (the poet, not the cartoon character) stories of the Siege of Troy in a new light. Finally he returns to earth.
Must go to bed. Damn these scuffling rats.
That’s more like it.
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