Hurricane on Gallipoli
There’s still just enough bullshit and uncertainty washing around about Gallipoli for nobody important to have taken a firm decision yet about evacuating the peninsula. Some draft plans are proceeding in a leisurely fashion, without much urgency, while the politicians argue vociferously about whys and wherefores. Meanwhile, the MEF’s quartermaster staff have quietly resumed the long-delayed landing of supplies for building winter shelters and are trying desperately to arrange more shipments of still-painfully-scarce winter clothes.
What we need here is something to really cut through the bullshit, and today, Mother Nature is going to oblige. The men at Suvla Bay are all looking skywards today. Lieutenant Norman King-Wilson of the RAMC:
The morning was overcast and the wind from the North-East steadily rising, and as the day wore on the cold increased, and by evening every tent was straining at its guy ropes, and men could be heard hammering pegs in all directions. A foreboding of evil seemed to come to all. For weeks we had heard rumours of the dreadful winters on Gallipoli and anxiously we watched the banked up clouds and the ships tugging at their anchors in the Bay.
It takes until 6pm for the rain to start. Lieutenant Clement Attlee, 6th South Lancashires:
I was just sitting in my dugout when it started raining and as the roof started leaking, I piled all my kit on a box and went up to HQ for refuge, thinking it to be an ordinary drop of rain. I dined there and the rain continuing we asked the lads in the kitchen how they were. They said, ‘It’s just up to our knees but we’ll manage the coffee!’
Looking down we saw the water spreading across the floor up to our boots. I went out to see how the men were and found the main communication trench a torrent in which I could hardly stand. It was rushing down from the higher ground. I found our trench and most of the dugouts flooded and collapsing.
Gallipoli is a mess of gullies, ravines and deres. Many of these are not dry canyons; they’re dried-out riverbeds. At ANZAC Cove and Cape Helles, they’ve mostly been able to dig their main trenches into high ground, with the natural ravines used only as communication and supply lines. At Suvla Bay, and up on the Anafarta Plain, they’re less fortunate. Many of the positions were established under the heaviest fire, and the units responsible felt that there was no sense lying out in the open to dig trenches when they could just turn the natural lie of the land into trenches.
At Azmak Dere, Captain Peter Ashton of the 1st Herefordshires is about to discover the gigantic flaw in this plan. The riverbed forms part of the Ottoman trenches, then takes a lurch out into No Man’s Land, and then changes course again, so that it can be appropriated by the Herefordshires.
Suddenly, without warning, a brown flood poured in. The water rose as you watched until it was about 3½ feet deep and then stopped. As I didn’t want to drown I struggled out of the trench, and met the CO emerging from next door where the same thing had happened. It was quite obvious what had occurred. The water had poured down from the high ground behind the Turks till it had got caught up behind their barricade. This, presumably, had held until there was a respectable weight of water behind it, when it collapsed and the whole tearing flood came rushing down at us.
It didn’t gather, or pause for the twinkling of an eye at our barricade, it simply swept it away as if it hadn’t been there, and swept on to the sea, a solid river, 20 yards wide and 8 or 9 feet deep. All our trenches opened out of the Dere, and though their floor level was higher than the bottom of the stream they were still deep enough to take in about four feet of water.
This is a genuine hurricane on Gallipoli, and as midnight ticks by, it shows absolutely no sign of leaving.
Today sees a massive attack at Gorizia, which fails so badly that by the afternoon the Austro-Hungarians counter-attack and retake several hundred metres’ worth of trenches at Podogra that they lost last week. With General Cadorna indifferent as to whether the battle continues or not, the army commanders are slowly becoming less enthusiastic about bashing their heads against a seemingly-impenetrable enemy line. Perhaps it might be better, they’re starting to think, if they knock things on the head for winter and come back in four months or so. More soon, but finally, not too much more.
Retreat from Ctesiphon
The Ottomans have a new toy, yet another result of the increased support that the German Empire can now provide with a secure supply line from Berlin to Constantinople. They’ve sent a Taube, some crew, and some mechanics down. When it makes its first flight today, the Ottomans will now benefit from aerial reconaissance, just as their opponents do. The retreat bumbles on towards Aziziya. More tomorrow.
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