Jasin | Landships | 18 Jan 1915

Colonel von Lettow-Vorbeck fights a pitched battle in Africa. In London, one W. Churchill is bored with the War Office’s lack of urgency around building landships.


The British situation regarding armoured vehicles at the moment is very odd. On the one hand, Colonel Ernest Swinton will soon come up with a description that will be the key to the entire problem. The key phrase is “armoured fighting vehicle”; implying a vehicle that’s a flexible fighting weapon in its own right. I do find it extremely interesting how resistant a lot of people seemed to be to interpreting the words “land battleship” and “landship” as literally as possible, as a thing that carries a crew to fire guns out of it.

There are many diffferent projects in the early stages of development. (Again interestingly, by comparison French investigations quickly zeroed in on the “armoured fighting vehicle” concept. They will soon begin encountering a million and one problems over the precise details, and with the prototyping processes.) Some of them are either specialised trench-smashing machines or barbed-wire destroyers. Most of the rest are armoured personnel carriers of some sort. They’ll be able to deliver fire at some point, but their primary purpose is to cross No Man’s Land and deliver men directly into the enemy trench. There are also a few concepts for a mobile artillery-hauling machine.

British efforts are still also struggling with traction. How will such heavy vehicles move? The caterpillar track is still a very new innovation, certainly an unproven one in the context of the extreme situations it will have to operate in. Many people are still advocating wheeled vehicles, including “big wheel” designs not entirely unlike the infamous Russian Tsar Tank, possibly the biggest manufactured crackpot idea of the war.

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Note the "Blend" in tiny letters.
Note the “Blend” in tiny letters.

Landships, continued

In addition, the effort to develop landships is being done incredibly piecemeal, with different designs being carried forward by different groups of people without reference to each other. It’s very important to note here that BEF field commanders are usually much more receptive to any and all concrete proposals that might help them attack. The military bureaucracy is not necessarily hostile to landships, but they frequently are more-than-healthily skeptical of trying new ideas that sound unusual.

And if there’s a better segue to Winston Churchill, a man who has recently requested that the Admiralty attempt to set fire to the River Rufiji in order to deal with Konigsberg, I don’t know what is. Churchill has been an enthusiastic supporter of any and all landship ideas, and he’s very frustrated with the relative lack of enthusiasm from the War Office. As First Lord of the Admiralty, he’s already ordered trials of an experimental trench-bridging machine that would sit across a trench, enfilade it with machine-guns, and then release infantry into it to follow up.

He’s now found a new idea that he likes the sound of, and he’s going to see it trialled. A small committee is given the job of bodging together a large steamroller that would cross No Man’s Land, and with sheer pressure of weight, smash in the walls of an enemy trench and bury them all underneath. It’s an idea that won’t be long for the world, but the important of the project is in the people it brings together. More soon…


The German Empire force launches the Battle of Jasin at dawn. There’s a two-pronged attack against the main garrison of British Empire men in Jasin’s fort, and also against a small detachment in a sisal factory a mile to the north. The men in the sisal factory mount a spirited defence despite being surrounded, and when their ammunition is exhausted, their subedar leads a bayonet-and-kukri charge and succeeds in breaking out with most of his men.

Progress against Jasin itself has been slower and bloodier. After an hour and ten minutes of serious fighting, four German officers are dead, a loss that will be virtually impossible to make good. The fort has called for reinforcements, but the victory at the sisal factory has allowed the opposing askari to take up well-planned positions on a nearby ridge overlooking the road to Jasin.

When reinforcements from the King’s African Rifles arrive, they soon find themselves pinned down by enemy fire. Some mountain artillery arrives, but is unable to find a good firing position. By mid-afternoon, the position is firmly stalemated. The fort can’t be relieved without considerable extra reinforcement, but their position is still strong enough to resist an attack. General Tighe is optimistic. As far as he knows, the fort has enough supplies to last a week. By tomorrow, HMS Weymouth will be able to provide gunnery support from the coast, and they can then launch a counter-attack.

However, while the food supplies are sufficient for a week, the ammunition stocks are far from it. By nightfall they’re running dangerously low, and when their one machine gun breaks down, the officers defending the fort can only surrender. It’s another considerable embarrassment for British Empire operations in Africa, and there will be fallout.

Actions in Progress

Siege of Przemysl
Battle of Ardahan

The Daily Telegraph is republishing its archives from the war day-by-day. In today’s paper: Rumblings in Italy continue on page 10; figures on cost of living increases on page 3; and German two tennis champions have been interned by Britain on page 14; but all my attention today is focused on Page 2, where my favourite headline takes a new and exciting twist.


Ahhh, that’s the stuff.

(If you find the olde-tyme style difficult to get along with, have a look at this reading guide.)

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