Indian engineers | HMS Campania | 12 Apr 1916

Africa

General van Deventer’s altitude is increasing as he and his horsemen ride through Tanzania. Today they’ve arrived at a boma, a fortified village with outlying farms and a stockade or fort in the middle. This boma is at Ufiome, and they’ve found it deserted. Somewhere off to the rear is the division’s infantry and its supply train, on the march to Kondoa, but this is no time to worry about practicalities. van Deventer is aiming to be at Kondoa Irangi in five days, and it’s uphill most of the way, the ground now rising thousands of miles above the Masai Steppe.

Meanwhile, off to the north-east, the Indian railway engineers have finished a staggering feat of logistics. There’s now a functioning narrow-gauge railway that connects the friendly-held parts of the Northern Railway to the Uganda Railway. It’s come not a moment too soon. E.S. Thompson is far from the only man to have spent time in hospital lately. Over 2,000 of his mates have been there at some point. They urgently need a volume of supplies that only the railway can bring them just to keep the occupying force on their feet.

And General Smuts is planning another advance down the Northern Railway towards Tanga. On paper he should have over 7,000 men for this operation. If they can stay healthy. If they can survive the rains.

E.S. Thompson

Speaking of our correspondent. His battalion has gone to Moshi, from there to move on to Arusha, and today he rejoins them. They were supposed to have left by now, but rather ominously, they’ve been unable to move on. The Germans have of course taken all the standard-gauge rolling stock down the railway with them, and the roads are far too muddy for marching. Thompson, being a vaguely invalid machine-gunner, also gets to travel in the battalion’s armoured car.

We resolved to go on to Moshi as we heard the Regiment was staying there on account of the bad state of the roads. Rum issued but spoilt by quinine. Legg got a kidney, so we had bacon, kidney and onion fried with bread for lunch.

[In the afternoon] two partridges walked across the road so Legg stopped the car and shot one. We were hoping to pot another one later but although we saw a good few more conditions were not suitable. I enjoyed the trip very much, although the roads were in a shocking state. Just before entering Moshi, I saw Nighty helping to get a motor lorry out of a mud drift.

Moshi is quite a respectably sized village with some decent houses about, but with decidedly German architecture.

Note the rather sniffy reference to the rum having been spoiled by quinine. Many of the South Africans are extremely offended by the (admittedly disgusting) bitter drug, and a sizeable proportion of them are disinclined to take it. In the middle of a malarial bush. Right as the rainy season is on the very cusp of beginning. It’s a wonder there’s any of them still walking. Bunch of twerps.

Battle of Verdun

With little to show for their recent efforts except a large heap of corpses, and possession over a full third of the Mort Homme, German infantry assaults are suspended again. A gigantic artillery duel immediately strikes up. General von Knobelsdorf immediately begins lobbying headquarters to be allowed to attack again. More on that to come.

Campania

To Scapa Flow! A spectacularly odd ship has just joined the Grand Fleet. She looks like what might have happened if Winston Churchill had been told to design a new weapon with the aid of a case of Pol Roger champagne and a Meccano set. She has a fat arse, and a big pointy nose, and Admiral Jellicoe is absolutely delighted to see her.

Navies all around the world have been trying to find a way of using air power to their advantage. HMS Campania is a creaky old North Atlantic passenger liner which had literally been pulled out of the breaker’s yard in July 1914 and requisitioned. While Campania carries a large shed at the back for launching seaplanes into the water and then retrieving them, there are plenty of odd-shaped seaplane carriers rattling around with various bits of the Navy.

What makes this ship particularly interesting is the stupid beaky nose. While being absolutely pathetic by today’s standards, Campania has something which, if you squint a bit and put your head on one side, looks like a flight deck from which a very brave pilot in a very light plane might be able to take off. Or possibly he might well just roll into the sea; it tilts downward at an alarming angle and looks as though it might snap off the ship in a stiff breeze, which are not unknown in the North Sea.

There’s a hold underneath it with four tiddly little planes, which are quite comfortable as long as nobody actually wants to use them. The flight deck itself has just been extended from 50 metres to 71 metres long, which has required a concerted bodging effort to move two of the ship’s three funnels out of the way. From such strange new experiments do entirely new ways of warfare spring…

Why is Admiral Jellicoe suffering the presence of this thing in his fleet? Zeppelins. German naval tactics are heavily based around exploiting their airships for scouting purposes. Jellicoe, not unreasonably, would like a similar capability. If you don’t have an airship, you need a big fat heavy seaplane with a big fat wireless radio set. They live at the back of the ship, and are launched and recovered by cranes. But that’s not all Jellicoe’s after. He also longs for a little miniature fighter that can be launched off the flight deck and sent off to attack the Zeppelins.

Experiments are even now being conducted into just what kind of planes can get into the air off the flight deck. (They still can’t land on it; they must deploy airbags and land in the sea, hopefully close enough to a friendly ship to be rescued before sinking.) The ship has also been equipped with an observation balloon, because why not? All in all it’s a significant box of tricks even if no planes ever take off, and will surely make itself useful if the Germans try any funny business. More to come!

Sir Roger Casement

Brief news. Not only is the German government supplying arms to the Easter Rising, they’re also supplying one Sir Roger Casement. He’s had enough of mostly-fruitless negotiations with German functionaries. Quite what he was trying to do by returning home is unclear. One of the men who sailed with him claimed he was trying to call the Rising off on the grounds that the German supplies were completely inadequate. In any case, he’s now preparing to board a submarine and head home.

Unfortunately for him, while the Admiralty’s codebreakers at Room 40 have missed the sailing of Libau, the same radio silence precautions haven’t been observed for U-19. The log shows how Room 40 knew today that she had orders to sail in the next few days to the West of Ireland on a mission of special importance.

Siege of Kut

Outside the Siege of Kut, General Gorringe’s men splash and squidge around under cover of darkness, forming up for their latest attack. There’s an outpost guarding the Ottoman flank at a location named by some imaginative cartographer (or bored Tommy) as the Twin Pimples. It needs to be taken before Bait Isa can be attacked, apparently. Conditions are ridiculously poor. In any other context they’d be written off as impassable, with waist-high floods over clinging, claggy mud. But this is not any old context.

Inside the siege, Edward Mousley is counting himself lucky. At 3pm today, the Ottoman guns begin a heavy barrage.

I had just finished the war diary, and was sitting up on my bed restlessly awake with stomach pains, and Square-Peg was fast asleep by the other wall, when a high-velocity shell crashed into the room and burst. I was completely dazed by the concussion, which drove me against the wall. In fact, I was half stunned, as I was directly in line for the back-lash of the burst. The room was so dark with dust and the dense yellow fumes that stank horribly that I couldn’t see an inch.

Square-Peg, who was groping about, assured me he wasn’t hit, and hurrahed when he heard I was alive. However, on trying to rise, I found myself partly paralysed in my back, my spine in severe pain, and I could hardly see at all. He helped me out of the yellow gases, for I couldn’t walk alone. I lay down in the mess, and after drinking some water felt better. But I am horribly shaken and suffer acute pain in whatever position I lie.

There is no luck like good luck. Tudway says it was an intended punishment for the affair of the fowl, which, nevertheless, we ate completely.

Somehow the shrapnel has missed both men. Mousley’s been hit on the spine by something solid, likely by a flying brick, and has only a spectacularly large bruise to show for it. There’s no telling how close he came to being permanently disabled. But he hasn’t been, and he now has a lot of time to fill, and he chews over the situation in great detail, much more than there’s room for here.

If it is necessary that Kut should be sacrificed to the military end, none of His Majesty’s forces could be more ready for sacrifice than the Sixth Division. But when one thinks of the past months and the neglect to face the obvious military situation after Ctesiphon, one feels that the sufferings of the troops in Kut and the heavy loss of life downstream could easily have been avoided.

General Hoghton, commanding the 17th Brigade, entered hospital yesterday suffering from acute enteritis and dysentery. Early this morning, to the universal sorrow of the garrison, he died. It is said that the wild green grass stuff was partly the cause, and also abstinence from horseflesh, which a digestion ravaged by the siege could not stand. He was a most genial and kind general, and always cheerful.

The last embers of hope are leaking away. He’s content, I suppose, with simply being able to walk around.

Actions in Progress

Armenian Genocide
Siege of Kut
Battle of Verdun
March to Kondoa

Further Reading

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