Indian Corps | 11 Oct 1914

The BEF comes back into the line, the Indian Corps comes up to the line, and the Battle of the Vistula develops.

La Bassee

The BEF’s II Corps is carried forward by a fleet of requisitioned London buses, and disembarks. The Germans are somewhere in the vicinity of La Bassee and Armentieres. This will not do. The orders are to advance alongside the French 10th Army, remove them, and then keep advancing until bored. As soon as the Belgian army finishes its retirement, this will be accompanied by a general northern attack that will surely give the enemy a thing or two to think about. There’s been far too much holding and defending going on of late. Something must be done about that.

Indian Corps

The first Indian troops are in France, in enough force to be named the Indian Corps, composed of men from Lahore and Meerut. This is as good a time as any to go over a bit of terminology that might be useful to know as the Indians go into action. An Indian private is known as a sepoy; a corporal is a naik, a sergeant is a havildar. Senior NCOs adopted similar titles to British ones; the senior sergeant-major in a battalion would be a Regimental Havildar-Major. Between the native NCOs and the white officers sat a small, curious group of people known as Viceroy’s Commissioned Officers. There were three ranks; jemadar, subedar, and subedar-major. They usually have a good level of education, and were invented to serve as liaisons and translators between the white officers and their men. On the other hand, they’re usually promoted from the ranks and (depending on the command style of the white officers) usually convey other people’s orders rather than coming up with any of their own. Somewhere between a subaltern and a batman.

The Indian Corps is currently being held in reserve so that the troops can acclimate. Flanders in early October is, ahem, slightly colder than Lahore. Don’t worry, even in 1914 the British Army believes in offering men equal opportunities to die for the King.


The Germans are fighting heavily on the line of the River Vistula, but casualties are reasonable and they’re still gaining good ground. von Falkenhayn is blissfully unaware that he’s just walked into a pin-and-trap plan, not entirely unlike the Marne. He’s heavily engaged with two Russian armies; two more are preparing a grand flanking movement. At least, that’s the theory.

Actions in Progress

Battle of the Vistula

Further Reading

No Daily Telegraph on Sundays. In its place, yesterday’s “News of the Week” editorial from The Spectator. They’re taking a break from their usual strict diet of optimism and bullshit, and now show considerable foresight in their analysis.

The piece observes that very soon, neither side will be able to outflank the other, and explains the ramifications of this in some detail.

Now will come the time for a military genius, for a commander who is able to take into his mind a vast series of facts and arrange and co-ordinate them in such a way that he will be able to defeat his enemy. Strange as it sounds, the commanders on both sides will have some difficulty in finding a true objective for their efforts. No doubt in the abstract it is right to say that the objective must always be the destruction of the enemy’s army, but that becomes rather an empty phrase when the conditions are those of to-day. The enemy’s field army is too big to be crashed as a whole, and the task of snipping off pieces of it and eating the artichoke leaf by leaf is almost impossible. The leaves all stick together.

I’m of the opinion that a major factor for the war dragging on as long as it did was for want of such a military genius. Anyway, it continues.

Commanders have to think not merely of piercing, but of what they are to do when they have pierced, a line. It is no good to break through the enemy’s line and then find yourself isolated from your own armies. Of course, if where the line makes an angle you can break through both on the right and left, you might, as it were, snip off a, piece of the enemy’s army ; but the enemy is quite as well aware of the danger of angles as you are, and takes his precautions accordingly. If we must hazard a forecast, we should imagine that what will happen is that for some weeks the two armies will grin at each other across their trenches, and it will seem to the watchers as if they would never be able to escape from the enchantment which holds them in their trenches and tunnels. And then on one side or the other, no man will quite know how—it may be by an unwise shifting of troops, it may be through disease having pounced upon a portion of one of the combatants—there will be a real weakening of the line somewhere, and suddenly the present configuration of the board will be changed and a rearrangement of the pieces be caused which may give somebody his chance.

The tone then becomes rather more familiarly optimistic and jingoistic, but for a brief, shining moment, the author has succinctly identified all the problems that the two sides on the Western Front will have to deal with.

The excellent tumblr Today in World War I works out exactly what’s happening on the Vistula.

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