Defence of Van
Relief for Van is finally in sight. The Russians have taken important action to isolate the region with a successful advance south of Erzurum. Now their troops have reached Van Province, ejecting an Ottoman picket force from Ardjish, near the northern border. They’re only a week’s further march from Van, and in far greater numbers than the Ottomans can hope to resist. (They do also have some Armenian volunteers with them, but it’s not as though the presence of the Armenians was vital to tip the balance of any of the fighting.)
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There’s a piece of original thinking today on Gallipoli. After forcing a withdrawal from Y Beach on day 2 of the landings, the Ottomans have kept a watch on Y Beach without fortifying it down to the sea. Today the 1/6th Gurkhas show them what an oversight this was. Under cover of darkness they land on the beach, and then instead of climbing straight up the cliffs for a frontal attack, they take long, looping marches to the north and south. They manage to escape observation and then fall on the surprised Ottomans from both sides.
The defenders fall back in disarray. By the end of the night word has been got back to the toe of the peninsula, and the Gurkhas’ positions are connected up with the main body of men. Here’s the map.
Unsurprisingly, the high ground they’ve captured quickly becomes known as Gurkha Bluff.
Go off to forward supply base. Place inundated. Find a dug-out only half-full of water and sleep there behind 5th East Lancs supplies. Drew blanket and waterproof from 4th East Lancs next door.
Turkish officer taken, says to try to take [Achi Baba] is madness. Is this bluff? Those who have tried suggest it’s true. The naval landings gave warning and preparation for defence. It is said that naval brigade when first landed got right to top of hill with no opposition. Now 100,000 men cannot get halfway up. Thousands of lives have been sacrificed. Looks like serious blunder. Mystery of Dardanelles. Surely there will be an enquiry as truth and casualties come out.
What wonderful stories we heard of British success when we were in Egypt. It looked like a walkover. Does England think it is a picnic? The Regulars say that the Retreat from Mons was less terrible than this.
That’s a pretty high bar to beat, and Gallipoli has hurdled it with ease.
While all these fun and games are going on, those rotten sneaky Ottomans have a scheme of their own during the night. A torpedo boat sneaks out through the Narrows and goes looking for trouble. Presently, it locates HMS Goliath, who’s lost the ippy-dippy and is providing heavy artillery support to the French Empire troops from just inside the Dardanelles. Midshipman Wolstan Weld-Forester takes up the story.
CRASH! Bang! Cr-r-r-ash! I woke with a start and sitting up in my hammock gazed around to see what had so suddenly roused me. Some of the midshipmen were already standing on the deck in their pyjamas. Others, like me, were sitting up half-dazed with sleep. A party of ship’s boys crowded up the ladder from the gun-room flat, followed by three officers. One of these, a Sub-Lieutenant, called out: “Keep calm and you’ll all be saved!”
Weld-Forester barely makes it on deck in time, and is forced to dive into the sea. (Meanwhile, the torpedo-boat quietly exits, stage left.)
Just before I struck the water my face hit the side of the ship. It was a horrid feeling sliding on my face down the slimy side, and a second later I splashed in with tremendous force, having dived about 30 feet. Just as I was rising to the surface again a heavy body came down on top of me. I fought clear and rose rather breathless and bruised. I swam about 50 yards away, to get clear of the suction when the ship went down. Then, turning round and treading water, I watched her last moments. The noise of crashing furniture and smashing crockery was continuous.
After some hours fighting the current, Wold-Forester is fished out by a small cutter. Some of his friends are not so lucky. Instead of escaping, they went to their action stations. Their action stations were in the ship’s torpedo room. Another midshipman, Christopher Tennant, speculates on their eventual fate.
Perhaps they did not hear the clang of the shutting of the bulkhead hatches and doors, or the bugle sounds of “Abandon Ship!” as she foundered and the lights went out. They were trapped in the torpedo room alone and in the dark. Soon it must have been all so quiet and still as the ship came to rest on the bottom of the sea some 100 feet below. Three days later we heard that one of them, MacLeod, had been picked up dead, but with air still in his lungs.
It might, I think, have been just possible to enter the torpedo tube while the outer door was closed and then the inner door could be opened, using the manual controls. As the outer door opened, the water would rush in with tremendous force but perhaps MacLeod could have struggled out. If so, how did they decide who should have the chance? How long did they wait in silence and the dark before the attempt was made?
The fates of men aboard a sinking ship are often overlooked when people talk about the horrors of war.
The Russian retreat continues, as they flee in considerable disorder across the River San. With the gaping hole in the centre, the other Russian armies are now upping sticks and heading backwards to avoid the ultimate humiliation of being surrounded and captured by Austro-Hungarians.
Actions in Progress
(If you find the olde-tyme style difficult to get along with, have a look at this reading guide.)