Here’s one of the little-known facts that I love about this war. Did you know that, by some accounts, the French Army at Gallipoli lost more men than the ANZACs did? (This is actually a Matter of Some Debate; you can add the numbers up various ways, but more of them seem to add up to the French casualties being higher than the ANZAC numbers.) Either way, the point is made. We’ll look at the formation of their expeditionary force in just a moment.
Battle of Neuve Chapelle
The correspondence between Sir John French and General Joffre continues. 29th Division or no 29th Division, Sir John French has now entirely committed himself to attacking at Neuve Chapelle, on or around the 7th of March. He’ll keep trying to get Joffre to help, but because he can’t guarantee to take over the Ypres salient, the help will be restricted. The French to the south will lay down supporting artillery barrages and conduct simulated attacks in their sector, but no more.
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The French Army at Gallipoli
The French Army at Gallipoli is most certainly a neglected subject. General Joffre has flatly refused to allow any troops to leave his command, and he carries enough weight for his word on this to be law. Instead, the French Army at Gallipoli will be entirely composed of troops raised from the French Empire in Africa. White settlers will officer and fight alongside zouaves. A battalion of the Foreign Legion will also go to Gallipoli. They’ll be accompanied by plenty of field artillery batteries, all with healthy complements of the soixante-quinze gun.
The CEO (French for “Oriental Expeditionary Force”) will be led by General Albert d’Amade. However, just as on the Western Front, the BEF is restricted by French wishes, the French Army at Gallipoli will be junior partners to the British. We’ll see how they get along. At the moment, they’ve only just been constituted, and in any case they have no orders. The fleet is still being kept away from their bombardment by stormy weather, and until that resumes, there’s no prospect of ground troops going anywhere. The forcing of the Dardanelles remains on hold.
Meanwhile, in Italy. Salandra has been working hard on Giolotti, whose anti-war stance has earned him a gigantic monstering from the press. In private discussions, Salandra presents himself as a voice of reason, restraining his hawkish foreign minister Sonnino. Giolotti will eventually be persuaded that Salandra sees war as only a last resort, and urge his supporters to trust the Prime Minister. They will soon be presenting their price for entering the war to the Entente in London.
General Cadorna [INSERT PANTOMIME JEERING HERE] is attempting to prepare for war. Except he’s not allowed to mobilise the army, even discreetly, or take any other measures that might tip off Italy’s hand to Austria-Hungary. What he is able to do is stockpile munitions, and train his officers in proper doctrine. Over the past twenty years, he’s been revising and updating a document called “Frontal Attack and Tactical Training”. It’s a rather neat and pithy summary of Cadorna’s doctrine and theory.
It’s also a highly quixotic document. There are a few nuggets of good sense in there. Despite not having visited the Western Front, he’s managed to identify that there, the critical problem is not so much in achieving initial success as it is exploiting that success. He’s received on-the-ground reports from his military attaches in France about the new technologies in place. However, they completely fail to analyse the effects of machine guns, trenches, barbed wire, and indirect artillery fire.
Instead, Cadorna’s doctrine remains rigidly wedded to the power of frontal attacks and elan, in a form to satisfy the most dashing French theorist. The current attritional deadlock on the Western Front is a temporary aberration, and soon will come the great breakthrough offensive. It’s a shockingly naive thesis, and 25,000 copies of it are percolating through the entire Italian army.
This is not a promising situation.
Actions in Progress
The Daily Telegraph is republishing its archives from the war day-by-day. Quoth the custodian: “There are times where if you were so minded a regular reader could create a set of bingo-style cards on reports on the paper (latest story of German army atrocity, appalling German piracy, disgraceful German air raid, glorious Allied air raid, Russian heroism causing vast losses to the Germans, British gallantry, article on battle several months earlier from a new eyewitness report, hard times for German civilians) and see how many they can tick off.”
(If you find the olde-tyme style difficult to get along with, have a look at this reading guide.)