The British Official history notes that “The 7th November was misty and marked the definite commencement of winter weather. Henceforth, mud seriously interfered with operations, and cold at night made sleeping in the open difficult, if not impossible.” Which is a nice way of saying that if a bloke falls asleep while soaked through by the endless Flanders rain, he’s got a very good chance of not waking up again.
Ypres & Plugstreet
The shelling has become so intense that the French have had to retire slightly in the north part of the salient. The German infantry is starting to mass for the next attack; and both sides adopt similar artillery tactics, shelling mostly behind the front lines to break up troop movements and interfere with the reserves. This works considerably to the advantage of the Allies. Their strength is so weak that the German shells are almost entirely wasted. The men are either all in the line, or well clear of it at temporary rest camps; the shells are landing between them. The Germans, meanwhile, have more than enough manpower to occupy reserve lines, and the few, rationed British shells that land there inflict plenty of casualties.
When the push comes, again it falls against the Menin Road. The troops cling to their positions by their fingernails. The BEF is breaking down so completely that units are now being called “Wing’s division”, “Bulfin’s force”, “Fitzclarence’s brigade”, after the generals in charge. Any other nomenclature is useless. The original units are individually so weak that it’s completely misleading to refer to individual battalions, or even to companies.
There is another major German attack to the south of Messines, between Plugstreet and Armentieres. The men are forced back, take up new positions just inside Plugstreet Wood, and wait, desperately hoping for reinforcements of some sort. The village of Le Gheer is right on the corner. Counter-attacks are ordered. Counter-attacks are made. Counter-attacks do not succeed. But the line still holds. The Germans still seem unwilling to pick a spot and bring all their energies to bear at once against it. Instead they’re fighting a general battle, trying to wear the whole line out.
As night falls, the Engineers can’t do any digging, or put out any barbed wire. They’ve been given rifles again. A cyclist corps is in the line. Pioneer corps are in the line. The rear areas are being cleared of men. Anyone who can hold a rifle is being given one. This kind of relief is the only way that the infantry can hope to have any kind of rest. Still the shells come over. Incendiary shells hit Ypres and set parts of the town on fire.
It’s against this backdrop that Francis Orme arrives at a reinforcement-camp, early in the morning, and meets the captain in charge of the reserves. “I wonder”, he says politely, “if you could tell me where the 2nd Royal Welch Fusiliers are?”
The captain points at a group of about eighty grubby men resting in a small ditch. Orme gulps. “Right. And who is in command?”
“I rather suspect”, says the captain, “that you are.”
That evening, they go back up the line. There is a counter-attack that needs carrying out. Some machine-guns have to be taken care of. Orme leads his men into the attack. The machine-guns are put out of action, and there are yet more names to add to the battalion’s casualty list. And at their head is 2nd Lieutenant Francis Orme.
He will be officially “missing” until mid-March, until it can be conclusively established that he was not taken prisoner.
Meanwhile, in Anatolia, the Russians are mildly surprised when dawn breaks to find themselves entirely in possession of Koprukoy. The fighting had died down in the night, but they hadn’t expected their enemy to have retired entirely from the field. General Bergmann signals his success and waits for orders. When the orders reach him, instructing him to stand in place and seek authority before going any further, he decides that they are not to his liking. He detaches a large force and sends it north to press the attack further, up the Cakir Baba ridge. A small settlement in a particularly strategic location has become the local headquarters for one of the Turkish corps opposing him.
I’m struggling for some other way of describing this operation than “typically Russian”. Bergmann’s men attempt to advance; but the position is extremely well-defended, and benefits from a large amount of artillery. They’re well entrenched and have an excellent view of the Russians as they approach. The attack goes about as well as you’d expect, given such conditions.
For the past five days, the British ships keeping Konigsberg bottled up in the River Rufiji have been bombarding the German defences at the mouth of the delta. They can’t get close enough for the cruisers to fire on Konigsberg, so today they send in a small flotilla of torpedo-boats. Unfortunately, the shore defences are still in good condition, and easily repel the small craft with considerable losses. Meanwhile, all this has allowed Captain Looff the opportunity to shift his hiding-place further up-river, away from Salale, and now Konigsberg has gone so far that Chatham cannot safely get close enough to attack the ship again without his much deeper draft running aground somewhere. More thinking is called for.
The German garrison, after having been under some sort of attack for nearly two months, asks for terms. Another German colony falls to the Allies; Tsingtao’s eventual fate will continue destabilising the region for the next 30 years.
Actions in Progress
The Daily Telegraph is republishing its archives from the war day-by-day. In today’s paper: They finally admit that Coronel happened, and was a damn good kicking to boot (pages 8 and 9). Our Aeronautical Correspondent has an interesting feature on observation balloons on page 4, and page 8 also reports that preparations are ready for the State Opening of Parliament. Oh, and the house guide wants them to spell “Chile” as “Chili”, which is making me giggle and also making me hungry.