Deception for the Somme | Hill 304 | 6 May 1916

Deception for the Somme

As the French continue throwing in more and more men at Verdun, preparations for the summer offensive continue to, ahem, continue. Rome wasn’t built in a day, after all. And it especially wasn’t done while they were also trying to pretend that actually they were building a capital city at Naples instead. Er, apologies. That got a bit twisted. Anyway. The scale of the BEF’s deception plan is staggering. All four of the British armies currently in the field are preparing to attack.

The 4th Army is, of course, preparing for the actual Battle of the Somme. Just to their north, the 3rd Army is planning attacks or demonstrations at Gommecourt, Monchy-au-Bois, Ficheux, and Rodincourt. About now it’s also been decided that at Gommecourt, where the Germans hold a small but extremely well-fortified salient, the 3rd Army will actually launch a full-on diversionary attack. Further north, the 1st Army is planning similar operations at Hulluch and Aubers Ridge. And the 2nd Army is planning their own local attacks at the Bois Grenier, Armentieres, Messines, Hooge, and Boesinghe.

Three separate German armies are being targeted by this enormous deception. All armies other than the 4th have also been specifically ordered to make their preparations as obvious as possible. Nobody is under any illusions that the 4th Army can possibly conduct all their preparations without being seen. Too many men, too many railways being built, too many guns being shipped in, too many new supply depots. All they’re trying to do is muddy the waters, and make German intelligence’s job as difficult as possible.

It’s working, too. The Germans have three armies opposite the BEF; the Second on the Somme, the Fourth in the Ypres salient, and the Sixth between them. All of their intelligence departments are currently producing assessments along the lines of “We expect a major enemy attack in our sector at some point over the summer.” Of course, it’s extremely unlikely that this might work as well as the deception campaign for the Normandy landings in 1944, which froze some Nazi forces for months.

But, according to General Haig and his carefully-nursed optimism, it doesn’t have to. All it needs to do is freeze and misdirect whatever general and army-level reserves that the Germans might have at their disposal for a few days. By then, he’s thinking, his infantry will have punched right through the German Third Line, and the cavalry will be riding merrily past Bapaume

Louis Barthas

And now, back to the reason they’re planning all this. Louis Barthas is marching towards Hill 304, captured yesterday by the Germans. They’re still holding out on the southern slopes of the hill. He’s not within range of the guns, yet. But it is raining in the village of Jubecourt, where he’s billeted.

We learned that the 114th and 125th Regiments were ahead of us, and had the assignment of retaking Hill 304. We had to await the call to go to their rescue. By 8 in the evening, no such order having arrived, we were authorized to bed down. With no better billet at hand, I set myself up rather badly in the corner of a stable, where I was sheltered from the rain but not from the kicks of a bad-tempered mare who was nursing her young colt and whose horseshoes nearly dislocated my knee.

A few pieces of bread which I offered earned her good graces, and I could lie down with no further problems and even sleep peacefully, despite this sword of Damocles suspended over my head. A comrade who approached imprudently without the proper olive branch of peace in his hand—that’s to say, without a few pieces of bread—was kicked in the ribs and had to be evacuated, which he wasn’t sorry about, despite all the glory that we would grab without him.

“Captain Blackadder was marvellous. He joked and joked. ‘You lucky lucky lucky bastard!’ he cried. Then he lay on his back, stuck his foot over the top of the trench, and shouted, ‘Over here, Fritz! What about me? What about me?'”

E.S. Thompson

E.S. Thompson has finally rejoined the rest of the 7th South African Infantry outside Arusha.

Owing to the 2 days’ fine weather the road was quite hard though still bad in parts. We had gone about 3 miles when it began to pour and having no overcoat I was soaked through and through. It rained for about an hour but we kept on marching and it was the best thing too as it kept us warm. After about 3 hours marching we got to the camp. The section were very glad to see us back and the officers were very glad to see the cases of whiskey. An extra big tent was pitched for Rose and I.

Yeah, there’s a reason they issue those things, you idiot. Still, brownie points with the officers can’t be a bad thing.

Edward Mousley

As war experiences go, Edward Mousley’s had it just about as bad as an English officer can possibly have it.

I am lying in a very shaky condition in the overcrowded officers’ hospital in Kut. This is due to temperature of a 104° from malaria, also dysentery, and mild enteritis, apart from my bruise. Some stores and letters have gone upstream from down below, but so far nothing has arrived for the lonely hospital here filled with wounded and sick and dying. Nothing, except for a few gifts Major Aylen brought us from the hospital ship and a few cigars from the padre.

Negotiations continue about what to do with the seriously ill and wounded. The Ottomans are not averse to some kind of exchange; the British negotiators want to exchange officers; the Ottomans would prefer to exchange Indian soldiers. I’m with the Turks here. Sod the officers.

Oswin Creighton

Right, you lot, let’s welcome a new correspondent! I do wish I’d known about him earlier, or I’d have been merrily quoting him for a year and a half already. Better late than never. The Reverend Oswin Creighton is an Anglican of impeccable breeding. He’s the son of the late Right Rev Mandell Creighton, who died aged 57 while Bishop of London, widely tipped as a future Archbishop of Canterbury. And his son apparently never wanted to be anything other than a clergyman.

Before ordination he spent time at a Christian missionary school in Syria, then (not entirely unlike Kenneth Best) was a parish priest for a few years, then (entirely unlike Kenneth Best) went to Canada, where he was until war broke out. He took ship as soon as possible and first saw war (like Best) on Gallipoli, most notably with the Lancashire Fusiliers at the landings at Suvla; soon after, he contracted diptheria and spent the rest of 1915 at Mudros in the hospitals. Since January he’s been in England, and we find him now as chaplain of an army camp at Romsey, near Portsmouth, not a million miles from either Maximilian Mugge (still waiting for his date with the Travelling Medical Board) or Clifford Wells.

On Tuesday night I had a little meeting of about ten soldiers and four civilians to discuss “What can the Laity do to rescue the Church?” They really spoke very well. Then I went to the Vicarage and discussed the Church and life till nearly midnight. I want to understand the really nice, humble, sincere Catholic point of view. But as I walked back I felt the terrible danger one gets into of anticipating the Judgment Day and separating sheep from goats.

I think I feel more and more the vital necessity of loving as best one can every single person one meets, and absolutely refusing to label them as indifferent, slack, etc, etc. Labelling them can do no good and may do much harm,’ as it is so easy to put a wrong label on.

Last night I took a few men over the Abbey Church, and then gave a lecture, with the Major in the chair, on the Dardanelles. I am always surprised how interested people are in this lecture. To-night I lecture again at the Baptist Church.

This is his life for the next few months. Don’t worry, he’s going to get back to the war in good time. And, after his experiences on Gallipoli, he will not be inclined to spare the rod when describing what he sees.

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Armenian Genocide
Battle of Verdun

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