Erzincan | Haig & ANZACs | 25 Jul 1916

Battle of Erzincan

Erzincan has surrendered. A second overwhelming Russian victory in 1916 is now complete. Vehip Pasha’s Third Army has, for the second time in 1916, been scattered to the four winds. They’ve lost about 30,000 casualties, and most of the rest have deserted. Last time, there were divisions coming free from Gallipoli who could be used as reinforcements. This is the kind of loss that will take the Ottoman Army years to recover from, if it ever can. The priority for General Yudenich is now obvious; consolidate as quickly as possible and prepare to deal with Izzet Pasha’s brand new Second Army, which is now at full strength and on the move. More soon!

Battle of the Somme

Pozieres. Counter-attack. Germans. ANZACs. British Territorials too. Blood and guts. Heavy losses. Sergeant Preston:

The enemy came over the ridge like swarms of ants, rushing from shell hole to shell hole. Our men, full of fight and confidence, lined the parapet and emptied magazine after magazine into them. Some of the boys, anxious to get a shot at the Germans, pulled one another down from the firestep in the midst of the fight. Under this fire and that of our machine guns and the artillery, which tore great gaps in the advancing lines, the enemy attack withered. The survivors were later seen retiring beyond the ridge, which was barraged by our artillery.

General von Falkenhayn is absolutely livid at the failure to hold Pozieres, the failure of this counter-attack in particular, and the failure of counter-attacks in general. Army group commander General von Gallwitz blames general exhaustion among the men. Always important to remember this. The Germans do not think they are doing at all well here. They can’t see all the behind-the-scenes bungling on the other side of the hill. They don’t know just how favourable the casualty ratio is to them. All they know is that they keep getting kicked, hard.

The Chief’s diary

Meanwhile, General Haig is busy being patronising.

After lunch I visited HQ Reserve Army and HQ Australian Corps. … The situation seems all very new and strange to Australian HQ. The fighting here and shell fire is much more severe than anything experienced at Gallipoli! The German too is a different enemy to the Turk! … I spoke to Birdwood about his [artillery commander], General Cunliffe Owen. The latter had served with me at beginning of war, but soon left France and so had no experience of our present artillery or the methods which had developed during the war.

I therefore wished to give [Birdwood] an up to date [artillery commander]. He thanked me, and said he would take anyone I selected. … I also saw Cunliffe Owen and explained how sorry I was to have to move him, but in the present situation I would be failing in my duty to the country if I ran the risk of the Australians meeting with a check through faulty artillery arrangements.

Oh, get tae fuck. You saw them after they arrived in France! You could have kept them at Armentieres with Mademoiselle if you thought they needed more seasoning on the Western Front! And instead, he pisses in their pockets and has the meterological officer send them a note warning of rain. Can you imagine being Birdwood and having to listen to this lecture and not being able to just haul off and deck him? Right tae fuck.

Tanks

Chief of the Imperial General Staff Wully Robertson is beginning to get rather worried about a number of strategic matters. There’s a major debate in London on the question of when exactly the tanks should be used. General Haig has said more than once that he’s in favour of using them as quickly as possible to win a decisive victory on the Somme. There is a counter-argument gaining steam in London, though. Colonel Swinton has been telling anyone who’ll listten that it’s vitally important to instead hold them back until they can all be used en masse, and with fresh infantry support.

It’s got wide support in London, in the Cabinet and at the War Office. Swinton’s French counterpart Colonel Estienne has been lobbying his own and the British government to exactly the same effect. He’s dreaming of a joint attack in spring 1917, when the Schneider CA1 will be ready in large numbers. The Tank Supply Committee has just put their arguments to Robertson. With another large British construction order, there will be nearly 1,000 tanks in spring 1917, and their crews will have had six months of training.

It’s a powerful argument; we’ll be considering it, and Haig’s counter-arguments, in the days to come. Robertson writes to him today with a summary of the objections. However, he doesn’t explicitly support them, or order Haig not to use them. His final message is “In the meantime, every possible step is being taken to expedite the preparation of the tanks so that a small number may be available at the earliest possible date…” On the other hand, Lloyd George’s successor as Minister of Munitions, Edwin Montagu, is travelling to GHQ to put the arguments against using the tanks to Haig in person.

While all this is going on, the haggling has begun over future tank production. The initial run of 100 machines is approaching its end; continuity of production is important so that money, materials, and skilled workers can’t be re-allocated. After a little haggling over whether the extra machines should be of a substantially different design, Robertson will soon be approving 100 more machines with only minor design changes based on issues already identified. They’ll eventually become known as the Mark II and Mark III tanks. And, at Elveden, a section of six tanks and a field workshop is already preparing to leave for France…

Romania

Negotiations with Romania are really beginning to drag now. The Romanian Prime Minister, Ion Bratianu, is still trying to nail down the details of the attack out of Salonika. Entente military leaders are quite certain that only a limited offensive will be possible to keep the Bulgarian Army from responding to the Romanian declaration of war. Bratianu wants a full-scale invasion of Bulgaria, with the eventual object of a supply line being established from the Greek coast to Bucharest. This is, ahem, a slightly optimistic aim.

He’s also concerned that the Entente might leave him twisting in the wind. He wants a specific provision in the treaty along the lines of existing Franco/Russian/British agreements to not seek a separate peace. The fear is that Austria-Hungary might collapse, sue for peace, and cut a deal to take them out of the war before the Romanian Army can conquer all the territory they’ve been promised. He’s also after a commitment that Romania will have equal representation on any general peace deal, so their interests can’t get shuffled aside. Negotiations continue…

Henri Desagneaux

Captain Henri Desagneaux, as he now is, is going back up the line, only three weeks after leaving Verdun. He’s been sent south to Pont-a-Mousson, just north of Nancy, one of the quietest sectors on the front.

Things will soon hot up. This sector was guarded for 18 months by the same troops. Reservists, they had got into bad habits, and not intending to kill themselves, they even went as far as fraternising with the Boches. They passed cigarettes to each other in the trenches. They even sang songs together. Our division has orders to stop this and to harass the Boches. Our gunners don’t have to be asked twice and pound the enemy, who are not long in replying. Attacks follow, and the sector will become harder.

There has evidently been a hardening of hearts against the enemy after surviving Verdun.

Neil Fraser-Tytler

Lt-Col Fraser-Tytler is trying to go up to his observation post, but has to turn back. Apparently he doesn’t feel quite right after his narrow escape yesterday.

Walking over this country is not a very pleasant pastime, floundering continually up and down the sides of huge craters, and being tripped up at every step by half-hidden barbed wire. There was one exceptionally large crater which I measured; it had a circumference of 45 yards. I think that the daily dose of gas at the Trones Wood corner tends to rot one’s inside.

For a shell crater, that’s large enough to have come from a heavy howitzer. The ground here is completely dead and desolate.

Evelyn Southwell

Evelyn Southwell has just been ordered to move. His time to join the Battle of the Somme may be at hand.

I could not possibly do anything but send [my father] a copy of Rupert Brooke’s poems, called “1914 [& Other Poems]”, because there are poems about the soldier which seem to me to hit perhaps the very highest note that has ever been struck during the War. No one who has not been here knows, I think, how difficult those tremendous ideals are, but is the better, I think, out here for reading them. … I think “Safety” is the greatest thing of the War.

Things may be going to happen. There cannot be any more faltering over him. Surely, surely, if all the world is not wrong, I must think ‘All’s well with our Man’, after all. He knows too now, I most deeply believe, he has found at last his music, his art, and his loves And I think, through all my sorrows, of him reaching down to his faltering friend.

Not without many a prayer that I, too, may somehow find sight, to see which way it is written for me to go, and neither to doubt nor to complain any more at all.

Have you tried asking the Adjutant? Or the colonel? I’m sure he knows where it’s written for you to go.

Edward Mousley

Edward Mousley has now reached Cankiri on his latest journey, where Grigoris Balakian was interned until his deportation.

My wonder at these carts increases daily. Rattling and loosely bolted and wobbling, they appear to be on the point of breaking down every minute. Sometimes three of the tyres of our cart simultaneously were almost off, and the pole hung between the body of the cart and the tree often quite detached. If the wheel slips off they bash it on with a rock or lump of wood, and, like Turkey itself, it just goes on.

At 3 p.m. we reached the small town of Cankiri, the only place of any importance between Angora and Kastamuni. We were frightfully done, but luck ordained it that we were bivouacked by a stream and under some trees quite close to the town. It is a pleasant little town with ten mosques on the steep hillside, heights all round, and many green orchards all about. We got honey, apples, and apricots, fairly cheap. I saw the Angora goat at close quarters. He is a classy little fellow, small, and prettily shaped, with fine bright eyes and carrying the most spotless silken white fleece in the world.

He habitually uses the old spelling “Angora” for “Ankara”, which I usually swap out. Although maybe I shouldn’t, since the Angora goat does not grow Angora wool; it grows mohair (and looks like a curly-haired emo kid). Angora wool comes from rabbits.

Maximilian Mugge

Maximilian Mugge is still doing fatigues, as he will for the rest of the war unless something very serious happens.

If, as most of the elderly and more cynical sceptics have it, life is but a gamble, selection for a fatigue here in camp is more puzzling than the [WANKY GREEK WORD]. A certain generosity in the way of standing “pints”, etc., does, of course, enter into the transaction, but that alone explains it not. Every morning we are lined up higgledy-piggledy hundreds of us behind the dining-hall on the sandy desert of our “Square”. You choose any neighbour you like in this game of chance. Then you wait.

The Sergeant-Major counts, One, Two, Three, etc., and if you are happy enough to be number nine, you will be one of the fortunate Ten who go on ” wash-house fatigue.” If you are number eleven or twenty-two you will be on the “coal fatigue.” In the former case an elysian existence is yours for the day; twenty bowls are to be cleaned with water and sand by the ten lucky beggars, who after an hour’s pretence of work, dawdle through the morning somehow, smoking and yawning. The others, the poor coal fatigue men, have to slave all day and ” work their guts out.”

Still others get the dining-room fatigue, that smelly messy work that makes one wish to live in a period when all meals are taken as pills, or if that be impossible, when all crockery is made of papier mache, and may be burnt after having been used. Blessed are those that escape the fatigues altogether, for they are “swingin’ the bloody lead!”

Mugge’s date of death does not appear to be known by Mr Google, though he was apparently born in 1878. I would like to think he lived long enough to see the invention of disposable picnic cutlery, was duly amused by the concept, and spent the next few hours happily boring somebody about “during the war…”

Actions in Progress

Armenian Genocide
Battle of Verdun
Brusilov Offensive (Battle of Kowel)
Siege of Medina
Battle of the Somme
Battle of Erzincan

Further Reading

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The Daily Telegraph is republishing its archives from the war day-by-day. Worth a look. (If you find the olde-tyme style difficult to get along with, have a look at this reading guide

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