French strategy | 21 Mar 1915

General Joffre is called to a meeting of the Council of Ministers to discuss French strategy, and two old friends meet again.

Watch the Birdie

“Birdie” is General Birdwood, commanding the ANZACs. He’s just arrived for a conference to work out what to do next, and his old friend Sir Ian Hamilton is delighted to see him. He spends most of the day talking with Birdwood, Admiral Wemyss, and the French General d’Amade in varying combinations.

For the most part, generals bore me, but Birdwood tends to bore me slightly less than others. Mostly this is because of his relationship with the Australians that he commanded. They were often distrusted and denigrated by British Empire brass hats (of which more later). Birdwood did neither, and that’s interesting. He was also extremely popular with the men, no mean feat where Australians are concerned.

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French strategy

Confidence in General Joffre’s ability to develop French strategy is beginning to suffer somewhat after four months of attacking to very little effect. Unlike the position of Sir John French, there’s also an obvious candidate to replace him if necessary in the shape of General Gallieni. The Council of Ministers has been discussing the French Chief recently, and has invited him to today’s meeting to speak for himself.

President Poincare recalls Joffre being on top form at the meeting, successfully deflecting many of the criticisms being aimed at him. He speaks at length on the necessity of keeping the Germans under as much pressure as possible to stop them transferring men east to fight Russia. He leaves the meeting with his position reasonably secure. For the time being.

Siege of Przemysl

The great guns of Przemysl let out a great barrage today to fire off the last of their ammunition, and the gunners set about disabling them to deny them to the enemy. The siege is about to end. The fortress has held out all through the winter, but the story’s coming to an end, and something else is going to take over at the top of the “Actions in Progress” list.

With the artillery

In the BEF sector of the Western Front, life is returning to normal. Lt John Capron of the Royal Field Artillery describes life in an observation post, and the importance of cups of tea in all phases of the soldier’s life.

Most of the night there would be minor flashes and flickering up and down No Man’s Land, rifle or machine-gun. Now and again the night would be pierced by a soaring Very light, fired by a nervous outpost hearing noises in the undergrowth. The light would hang for a minute, throwing its cold white radiance all over the broken landscape, before falling and fluttering, to leave the blackness blacker still. It was eerie watching through the night and around 2am a dreadful drowsiness would steal over you. Now was the value of your companions, the telephonist, and a mug of strong and tinny tea.

And gradually there came a thinning of the gloom, faint signs of life coming down, and at last a pale streak of light showed low over the eastern horizon. A thistle head suddenly visible in the pallid light confirmed another day was born. Daylight brought greater activity as the early mist lifted over the red tiles and broken brickwork of a German-held village. Then a wisp of blue smoke escaping from a broken cottage roof catches your eye. A shame to spoil someone’s early morning cup of tea – but you order your signaller to pass the word. “Battery, ACTION!”

When they respond, you decide that one gun will do. “No 1 gun, 3,500 [range in yards], 5 minutes [elevation], 1 degree 25 minutes left of zero, corrector 150, one round – FIRE!” This should ensure an airburst over the target – the point being that by bursting in air, observation is easier than if the shell landed and burst in the confused rubble in the village. If the burst is well and tuly over the cup of tea (unlikely first shot), you can go on at once to sending over a salvo to burst on impact.

You hear your guns fire a faint crack away behind you, and the shells whistle overhead. Your eyes are glued on that wisp of smoke, and the red tiles round it. Over they go. Then, oh joy, three plumes and jets of ruddy black dust. Tiles fly up, gloriously close it seems, to that little blue twist. You MUST have upset the teapot!

Presumably he doesn’t know that Zee Germans prefer to drink coffee when they can get it. We’ll not contradict him now, though.

Actions in Progress

Siege of Przemysl
Forcing of the Dardanelles

Further Reading

The Daily Telegraph is republishing its archives from the war day-by-day. Worth a look. I’m reading the paper every day, and it’s where the content for Our Advertising Feature comes from.

(If you find the olde-tyme style difficult to get along with, have a look at this reading guide.)

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