Battle of Verdun
The wind and the rain. The wind and the rain; it raineth every day. Verdun is still quiet, if rather soggy. What we do have is another intelligence summary from the desk of General Herr. More deserters and a few trench raids have paid dividends. They now know that the enemy intends only to attack east of the River Meuse, although it’s not too comforting when it appears that the Germans are unbolting the kitchen sink in preparation to throw it at them.
General Joffre, meanwhile, is making some high-minded pronouncements to Wully Robertson about the viability of attacking out of Salonika. There’s some spurious arguments about how an offensive out of Salonika will help bring Romania into the war (the additional men to be British, or possibly Italian or Serbian, of course). Robertson, meanwhile, considers that Salonika is mostly there to avoid General Sarrail becoming a problem. He can’t work under Joffre, but his political supporters would throw a major fit if there wasn’t a job for him; so, Salonika.
The Erzurum Offensive is widening its spread. A detachment has been sent hundreds of miles south of Erzurum to attempt to grab Mus. As it happens, the town is entirely undefended; their next destination will be Bitlis. Meanwhile, up on the Black Sea coast, there’s another heavy naval bombardment, this time against Ottoman positions at Findikli. Again the defenders are forced to retreat east, this time to Atina, where they can anchor positions on the River Buyuk. Cracking these positions will need a little more than just naval hate.
Meanwhile, Russian aerial recon has spotted the impossible-to-disguise retreat from Erzurum. By tomorrow, the men in the mountains will be in position to fall on Erzurum from the north and wreak havoc on the retreating defenders…
The joint Austro-Hungarian/Bulgarian invasion of Albania has now degenerated into an undignified race towards Elbasan to see who can capture this important crossroads first. As it turns out, they both get there in about the same strength at about the same time. The Bulgarians are now happy with what they’ve already got and stand aside to allow the Austro-Hungarians to chase the remaining Italians back to Durazzo.
Speaking of whom. Recently I mentioned General Zupelli, who’s raised some common-sense objections to the conduct of the war. He happens to be the commander of the Italian 1st Army. This army has the unenviable job of holding a large and raggedy line between the Stelvio Pass in the north, on the three-way border with Austria and Switzerland, and the wide Asiago plateau to the south, which is just north of the upper Isonzo. Zupelli’s activities have been mostly limited to ineffectual poking in the mountains, and complaining about his boss.
Now he has some very worrying intelligence that General Cadorna is in no way interested in paying any attention to. Unlikely as it sounds, there appears to be an enemy build-up in his sector. And, with the Balkan campaign about to enter a holding phase after the final capture of Albania, there will be more men coming free, who might be sent to Italy…
He’s completely right. Buoyed by the winter successes in the Balkans, and not having embarrassed himself on the Eastern Front recently, Conrad von Hotzendorf is planning a major attack on the Italian Front. It’s already beginning to acquire the nickname “Strafexpedition”, which means exactly what it sounds like: “Punishment Expedition”. And, if nothing else, it’s surely the last thing that the Italians will be expecting…
E.S. Thompson and his entire battalion get a somewhat unfair bollocking today.
At the 9 o’clock parade today we were told that we were undisciplined and that we had to have some more training before we could advance. By that time the 3rd Brigade and General Smuts ought to be here and with him here things ought to go alright. We expect some burghers will come up with him. They would be useful. It was awfully hot and tiring work having drill in the bush and by the time we had finished I was in a dangerous mood.
Well, sure. But, ye gods, what the hell were you bunch of incompetents expecting from the South Africans? This is hardly the Brigade of Gurkhas. They’re a long way from being the Baluchis, too.
Clifford Wells, the imbecile son of a Montreal millionaire, has been given a rather odd batman.
My batman is John Ridd from Devonshire. He claims to be a descendant of John Ridd of Blackmore’s “Lorna Doone.” He says that his great-aunt was housekeeper for Blackmore, and told him the traditions about the famous Ridd which were woven into the novel. He says the descendants of the Doones occupy a small island in Bristol Channel called Lundy Island, and still have a very bad reputation for smuggling, and for plundering the numerous ships which are wrecked on the island each year. My Ridd is a very interesting fellow, and is much ashamed that he is not a giant like his ancestor.
One of the other batmen in this hut is a poet. He writes quite good verse. I shall send a sample some day, if I can obtain a copy. The last occupant of the room in which I sleep was a nephew of Rider Haggard. So you see I live in a very literary atmosphere.
I’m reliably informed that Lorna Doone is an important historical novel; and it seems certain that Private Ridd is telling furphies to his naive Canadian officer. Lundy was purchased in 1834 by one William Hudson Heaven with the money from his family’s sugar plantations, following a long line of variously dodgy owners buying the island from each other; in the 80 years since, its upkeep has wrecked the family finances, and they’ll sell up in late 1918.
Captain Edward Mouseley is still alive, and his bout of the squitters appears to have passed.
I am feeling somewhat better, thank goodness. I hear that the garrison gunner sub that came out from India with us is in hospital with dysentery. There is quite a deal of sniping. A bullet whinged off a limber a few minutes ago. My candles are finished and I don’t like sitting alone in a dug-out on a foggy evening without any sort of light. It suggests being buried alive.
Meanwhile, those horses who haven’t yet been eaten for food are beginning to fight amongst themselves. Mouseley is more than a little worried for his own horse, brought with him from India to battle, who’s taken to eating anything he can chew, including the tails of other horses. The Siege of Kut continues.