Evacuation of Gallipoli
Yes, you read that right. Sing Hallelujah and ring the church bells. The British Cabinet has a meeting today, where it’s faced with a stark choice. Either they have to start a public spat with the French by withdrawing from Salonika without an agreement, or evacuate Gallipoli. Colonel Hankey later suggested that going against the French might have toppled Aristide Briand’s government, which smells a bit whiffy to me. More practically, it would have meant also disagreeing with all Britain’s other Entente allies, who are standing foursquare behind whatever General Joffre says is a good idea at the moment.
And so, finally, no fewer than five weeks since General Monro’s report, the Cabinet agrees to the evacuation of Suvla Bay and ANZAC Cove, as quickly as possible. They’re still hanging onto Lord Kitchener’s last crumb of belief that something might be achieved by staying at Cape Helles for the moment, but don’t worry, they’ll soon change their minds on that.
On the ground
Meanwhile, the ANZACs are starting to get a preview of how untenable life might have been under Austro-Hungarian mortar bombs, had they stayed. Private Scott, 4th NSW Battalion:
We were resting in Victoria Gully, till then untouched by Turkish shellfire, when I was called away to watch a ‘Two-up’ game and maybe hoping to try my luck as well! Suddenly a newly arrived howitzer battery (Austrian, it was said) dropped one amongst the five or six I had just left. All died; amongst them I found Sergeant Jack Herbert just alive. Before he died he whispered, ‘They’ve got me downstairs, Scottie – no more fun for me!’ So they had.
There’s really not much more to be said. They’d been consistently out-gunned even before the opening of the Berlin-Constantinople supply route. More soon, when we can finally turn to the evacuation arrangements.
The conference continues with, once the topic of conversation moves away from Salonika, everyone now wholeheartedly with everything General Joffre says. His suggested plan for 1916 is simple; to launch in the three principal theatres (France, Russia, Italy) coordinated, simultaneous mass offensives on a scale never before seen. This will put Germany and Austria-Hungary under maximum possible pressure and prevent either of them shuffling men between fronts to meet the various threats.
He’s also calling for caution when judging the prospects of each individual offensive. He’s now expecting them all to be primarily attritional battles. If we think of the combined Central Powers as a large bridge, Joffre intends to repeatedly attack the legs of the bridge. It’ll take a while and be relatively costly; but, eventually, the legs will somewhere be damaged enough that the entire span of the bridge (representing the armies on a particular front) will collapse somewhere and result in a chance at a war-winning victory.
This plan of action is unanimously agreed by all present, and the timescale is set for as soon as possible after next March. This will allow for proper planning and preparation (which, as we all know, prevents piss-poor performance), and also allow the winter weather time to clear. It’s all very nice, heart-warming, common-sense stuff. The devil will be in the details, of course. And we won’t have to wait long to find out what they are. The first item on General Joffre’s to-do list after the end of the conference (after lunch, naturally) is to review his army-group commanders’ suggestions and determine a location for the Western Front offensive.
Sir John French
The Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith, has finally lost patience with Sir John French’s attempts to haggle over the exact nature of his bribe for resigning as commander-in-chief of the BEF. Sir John has been told in no uncertain terms to resign or be sacked; and he’s chosen to resign, recommending Wully Robertson to succeed him. The resignation will become effective on the 18th.
Siege of Kut
And there’s just time for us to mention that today the Ottoman main body has arrived at Kut and surrounded the town. General Townshend’s belated cold feet have now been entirely overtaken by events. The Siege of Kut is underway, and it’s unlikely to be lifted until and unless the Indian Corps can be removed from the Western Front (not a problem with more and more divisions of Kitchener’s Army becoming available as replacements) and sent to Mesopotamia. More to follow.
With his officers prudently belting up to avoid being fragged, Louis Barthas now attempts to lead his men forward through flooded trenches to their designated position.
With a shovel in one hand and my electric lamp in the other, I launched myself ahead, into the sewer. My comrades let me go about ten paces ahead, then some of them risked following me. I was an old veteran of the trenches, because this was the second winter that I was slogging through the mud. Except for the rationer Terrisse, who had stayed back with the field kitchens, the squad was made up of reinforcements who had spent the first winter safe at home.
I led my comrades with the advice that my experience had taught me. “Walk with your legs spread as wide apart as possible. Walk on your toes, not flat-footed. Take small steps. Don’t stop!” I called out to them. Finally I heard voices—not celestial ones, but human. I could see a light. We were saved. Here was the Mercier shelter. Barely half the section reached the shelter. It was only the next day that the laggards rejoined us. Out of fear of drowning or sinking, they had preferred to spend the night, an interminable December night, in the trench!
And again we had to go back to rescue some, especially those whose legs were too short. Some left their shoes in the mud. Others had wrenched hernias for themselves. The strange thing was, not one of us came down with a cold.
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