We open today in the Caucasus. You may recall that General Yudenich, the Russian commander, has been planning an audacious attack on eastern Anatolia. He’s taken Enver Pasha’s battle-plan for the Battle of Sarikamis, reasoned that it’s a good idea if only it were done properly, and decided to use it in reverse against the Ottomans. By advancing over the Cakir Baba and then the Top Yol, he can launch sneak attacks on the two chief towns in the area, Koprukoy and Erzurum. This will allow him to bypass the Lines of Koprukoy, strong defensive positions in the Ayas Valley, south of the Cakir Baba, that the Ottomans have spent the best part of a year digging out in front of Koprukoy itself.
Yudenich also has a rather cunning supplement to the plan. The Erzurum Offensive begins tomorrow on the Cakir Baba, but he’s not expecting immediate results. A couple of days after that, there will be an attack in the Aras Valley against the Lines of Koprukoy. Yudenich is hoping that his enemy will consider the Cakir Baba fighting a diversion and use his reserves in the Aras Valley. Only after a few more days of fighting will he then commit his full force to a heavy push all across the Cakir Baba, break through, and attempt to
And, for the last few days, his men have been on the march through the mountains. The weather conditions may be utterly miserable, but Yudenich and his staff have prepared for that. Food caches are waiting for the men as they go. They’ve been issued proper heavy clothing to allow them to survive the harsh conditions. We’ve seen more than enough awful, despicable, depressing mountain fighting so far in this war. Can Yudenich prove it can be done, as long as it’s done properly?
Battle of Sheikh Sa’ad
Our correspondent Robert Palmer and his mates have been torrentially rained on from midnight to 8am. The phrase “fed up, fucked up, and far from home” springs to mind. And then…
About 8.30 the mist cleared a little, and we looked in vain for our tormentors. Our cavalry reconnoitred and, to our joy, we saw them ride clean over the place where the enemy’s line had been the evening before. They had gone in the night. A cold but drying wind sprang up and the sun came out for a short time, and we managed to get our things dry.
Don’t worry, it rains again in the afternoon and everyone gets wet all over again. Yes, the Battle of Sheikh Sa’ad is over; cause for relief more than celebration. One-third casualties is in no way a sustainable ratio, even if the relief force doesn’t have to fight again before reaching the Siege of Kut. (Spoilers: It does.)
We left Gallipoli at midnight, with heavy rain, howling winds, and high seas; and some berk on W Beach trying to blow everyone up with a lit candle in an ammunition dump. The last few hours of the evacuation were, unsurprisingly, extremely tense. The Ottomans have spent the last nine months ranging their guns all over Cape Helles, including the beaches. Men there have absolutely no protection, and the beaches are completely exposed. Ordinarily, one regular shell that catches men in the open can kill ten, fifteen, twenty at a time. If the beaches were to take accurate fire tonight, they might take hundreds out at a time, and throw the entire evacuation into chaos…
And yet they don’t. There’s some desultory and inaccurate fire, but once again, and this time against absolutely all the odds, the last phase of the evacuation goes just about as well as could be expected. Pontoons and piers are constantly patched up through the night, and somehow they just about stay together long enough to get everyone out. As the last boat leaves from W Beach, the fire finally spreads to some heavy ordnance. Lieutenant Owen Steele:
A great volume of flame shot hundreds of feet into the air, debris of all kinds went everywhere, and as we were only a hundred yards away from it some came our way. It did no damage beyond breaking one man’s arm in three places. The second explosion came when we were less than 50 yards off the wharf and flame, noise and everything was greater though nothing reached us. By now there were fires everywhere, and it was really a wonderful sight.
And then the enemy barrage finally comes, pouring into empty trenches, onto empty beaches, and fast-emptying seas. Several of the Navy’s ships give Achi Baba one last salvo on their way out; but nothing will wake the men strewn all over their decks. At dawn the Ottomans move up and confirm that the enemy is gone. I suppose we’re due one final analysis of the fallout from the campaign; that will come once things elsewhere quieten down a bit. For now: the Gallipoli Campaign is, at last, over.
The war, of course, continues unabated. The Gallipoli evacuees are now, by and large, being taken to Egypt for rest and re-training. This will vastly swell the number of men in the theatre far beyond the existing military structure. In November it had been thought that this could be covered by General Monro and his staff, but now things have been caught up in the general command reshuffle coming from London. The former Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Archibald Murray, needs a job. So now Monro will come home with his reputation very much enhanced, and Murray has just arrived in Alexandria with a new staff contingent.
In theory, Maxwell is to stay on and to maintain Egypt’s internal security, while Murray takes over responsibility for improving the defences of the Suez Canal. You may remember Maxwell from his early-1915 jockeying with Sir Ian Hamilton over how many men and munitions should go to Gallipoli (not many). I wonder how he will get on with having to share command with Murray?
One evening, coming back from the drill field, I learned that I was to depart on home leave that very night. This news, while long awaited, stunned me. I became completely pale, I couldn’t swallow a mouthful of supper, and I feverishly prepared my departure. Finally I was going to see my loved ones, my home, my village, after having given up this joyful prospect so many times as death brushed so close to me.
That’s exactly what it is. He’s been given a week of leave, for the first time since mobilisation, 14 months ago. And, speaking of leave…
Bernard Adams is returning to his unit, ears ringing and head stuffed full of all kinds of exciting new ways to do war better. And then, almost as soon as he gets back…
Leaving Lewis with my valise, we walked in the moonlight up to Montagne, where I got the transport officer to send a limber for my valise. “O’Brien on leave” was the first thing I grasped, as I tried to acclimatize myself to my surroundings. Leave! My three months was up, so I ought to get leave myself in a week or so; in a few days in fact. My first leave! The next week was rosy from the prospect.
Three whole months without leave? My heart bleeds.
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