Admiral Scheer’s slow ramping up of operations in the North Sea continues, as he prepares for an important meeting with the Kaiser at Wilhelmshaven. This is simple, restrained. He’s going to send a large sortie of torpedo boats out into the Dogger Bank at night to look for trouble. They certainly find it when they go out, in the shape of five brand-new Arabis-class minesweepers who have been trying to clear a new channel in one of the many German minefields east of Dogger Bank. (Room 40 quickly detects the increased radio traffic and sends out a warning.)
For a few moments it seems as though the Germans might not attack; the new ships are unfamiliar to them and they’re mistaken for cruisers. But the torpedo boats have darkness and numbers on their side, and they attack anyway. The minesweepers turn and attempt to make a swift exit, but HMS Arabis herself is unlucky and is run to ground by the torpedo boats, who sink her. More tomorow; this incident is going to have a highly irritating sting in the tail for the Royal Navy.
Today Wully Robertson completes the process of consolidating all theatres of the war under the control of the Chief of the Imperial General Staff. After nearly 18 months of war, we can now point at one person in the British Empire and say “this person is running the war, this is where the buck stops, this is where strategic priorities get decided”. Hurrah.
Off to Crete now to check in with Flora Sandes and the Serbian Army. I hope they’re enjoying themselves and taking it easy!
Corfu may be a lovely climate and a health resort and everything else that is delightful at any other time in the year, but it was a bitter blow to us when it rained for about six weeks without stopping after our arrival, added to which there was no wood, and camp fires were forbidden, I suppose for fear that the men might take to cutting down the olive trees with which the island is covered.
There was no hay at first for us to sleep on, and the incessant wet, combined with the effects of bully beef, on men whose stomachs were absolutely destroyed by months of semi-starvation was largely responsible for the terrible amount of sickness and very high mortality among the troops during the first month of our stay there. This was especially the case among the boys and young recruits, who, less hardy than the trained soldiers, were completely broken down by their late hardships and died by thousands on the hospital island of Vido.
No. That is not what I wanted.
On Thursdays, the Royal Navy traditionally offers the toast “to a bloody war or a sickly season”, to which the sotto voce response is “…and a quick promotion!” Lieutenant Evelyn Southwell may be in the Army, but this is a very bloody war. He’s just come out of the trenches, and in fact it’s for the last time before they leave the Ypres salient for rest and then redeployment.
“Will I please”, says the Adjutant, “take over command of ‘C’ Company from now?”
The Officer Commanding “C” Company (Roberts, a great Cambridge cricketer, I think) was killed in what would have been probably his very last tour of inspection of his trenches, the foulest, most unspeakable and battle-scarred,I suppose, in the world: it is there that – oh well, I mustn’t put in horrors. This was two nights ago, and for thirty-six hours I have been in his shoes, with a feeling of something like remorse at the dreadful noiseless continuity, so typical of the Army, with which the place he leaves is (nominally) filled.
Companies are so scattered here that we see little of each other, and I knew him only slightly, but he was much liked and is terribly hard to follow. It would be silly to pretend that I am not pleased with this very unexpected lift up, however irreverent I may feel to my predecessor’s memory. It is a big opportunity, in its way, after all, and I only wish I were more equal to it. Having got what I often wanted, but saw no likelihood of getting, I can’t help feeling rather a worm!
If he doesn’t bollock this up, there’s every chance of earning his captaincy soon. Once again, note the quick self-censorship urge as he pivots away from details of Captain Roberts’s death.
We finish today with another new correspondent! This one, thank heavens, is a Frenchman, who before the war had been touring round Europe, Britain, and America; but returned to France on the first boat when the Army mobilised. After being wounded at Steinbach in January 1915 he spent most of 1915 taking NCO’s exams and officer’s exams and English interpreter’s exams, and going on various training courses, the most recent of which was spent at Saint-Maixent.
To speak only of the training received at Saint-Maixent, it is just to say that we were made to do certain things very well, but that we never had a chance to really learn how to command. The manoeuvres, by ourselves or one company against another, might be called attack of a wood, of a village, retreat, march under artillery fire, etc., they always were about the same thing.
We went to some village five or six or eight miles away, walking on the road, then we broke up into sections and marched on our objective taking as we went along less and less vulnerable formations until we finally scattered as “sharpshooters” and after shooting many blank cartridges, we stormed the positions in question very brilliantly [with bayonets fixed]. The officers did practically all the commanding.
He’s been made a sergeant, with the promise of being put forward for a sub-lieutenant’s commission if he does well at the front; which is where we find him now, having arrived at the start of the year. He’s currently somewhere in the Vosges mountains. There’s plenty of quiet sectors in the Vosges, but Pellissier is apparently unlucky.
Am writing at 3 P. M. by candlelight, being in a hole that is about ten feet below the level of the ground. I sleep in another hole about twenty-five feet below the level. We don’t do much. We watch and dig and get bombarded; they pour or rain shells on our hill for half an hour two or three times a day; the rest of the time is serene. In our holes we fear nothing only it is time we went back to some village. It’s over a month now since we have been in a town and we are in great need of getting next to civilization. We have seen this treeless hill enough.
Being acquainted with basic OPSEC, he doesn’t say exactly where he is. However, from his hints, I’m all but certain that he is in fact high on the Hartmannswillerkopf. Here the French and Germans have been squabbling bitterly for control of the 3,100ft high peak for the last year, a slow-motion sideshow that’s causing about 2,000 casualties a month on each side without anything to show for it.
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