Siege of Kut
Today sees the final, desperate throw of the dice for relieving the Siege of Kut. A large paddle steamer, the Julna, has been loaded with medical supplies and rations for another month or two, heavily armoured, and sent on a death-or-glory charge up the River Tigris.
It’s a wonderfully buccaneering idea, but despite the relief column’s best attempts at a distraction, she’s soon spotted and heavily shelled. The Ottomans have also strung a large and sturdy cable across the river, just below Kut, in case of just such an eventuality. Edward Mousley reports on the ship’s fate.
Her officers were killed, Lieutenant Cowley captured, and she was taken within sight of our men waiting to unload her by the Fort, and of the sad little group of the garrison who beheld her from the roof-tops of Kut. She lies there now. It appears that this tragic but obvious end of so glorious an enterprise is a last hope. We have scarcely rations for to-morrow.
I have been compelled to abandon keeping my diary owing to excruciating pain in my spine from the shell contusion. What is wrong I can’t make out, but sometimes the tiniest movement sends a sharp thrill of keenest pain through one’s whole being. After lying in one position for any little time this particular spot in my spine aches with a most ravaging pulsation of neuralgia, and I find it difficult to sit upright for many minutes. On these occasions if I lie still my arms and legs shoot out at intervals with a sort of reflex action, and sometimes repeat the performance several times.
I have even walked a little with a stick, and the twitching is much less violent and less often. My eyes, however, are still dim, and I find it difficult to see very distinctly. To complete the list of my infirmities of the flesh the enteritis, which has continued in a mild form for three weeks, has got worse, and I find emmatine the only thing that has done any good.
There is precious little glory to be had in this war, for those who believe in such things. There was, I think, some during the Battle of the Marne. Perhaps there is just a little here, as well; but after the manner of the Light Brigade at Balaclava. C’est magnifique, mais ce n’est pas la guerre. C’est de la folie.
Well, they’re not really ready for it, and not all their leaders are committed to it. Indeed, as soon as he heard of the capture of Libau and the loss of its arms shipment, key rebel Eoin MacNeill and his associates have spent most of their time in the last few days trying to stop the whole thing. Orders and countermands and counter-countermands have been flying around, and as it turned out, the number of rebels who’ve answered the call to arms have been rather smaller than hoped for.
On the other hand, those who have risen up number in the thousands, and they have secured a number of important locations in central Dublin by mid-afternoon. Headquarters is quickly established in the General Post Office, and barricades are set up on the streets. Despite ample warning, both the British government and the Army have been caught almost entirely by surprise. There’s very little shooting while everyone tries to work out what to do next.
Outside Dublin there are several pockets of rebels, but most of them get caught between inadequate armament and a lack of orders, and consequently achieve very little; we’ll be concentrating on Dublin in the next few days.
From the North Sea, the story so far. The Grand Fleet went to sea a few days ago in response to reports that the High Seas Fleet had gone out. They wandered around aimlessly near the mouth of the Skagerrak for a while, and then started crashing into each other in the dark, so went back to Scapa Flow to refuel. Almost as soon as they arrived back, they heard that the High Seas Fleet was totally really for reals out at sea this time. But of course they needed to finish coaling before they could put to sea again…
So now we find the fleet trying manfully to make headway in extremely rough seas. The weather’s so unfriendly that their destroyers have had to return to port. With Admiral Beatty’s Battle Cruiser Squadron further out in front of the fleet than usual, they spend an unhappy night and morning sailing south.
Meanwhile, at the business end of things, the High Seas Fleet is heading full speed for the south coast of England. This is right back to 1914 in terms of tactics. Admiral Scheer is hoping to draw out a smaller British force that can be outnumbered and destroyed by his fleet, and so change the entire balance of power in the North Sea. The raid has also been carefully timed to coincide with the Easter Rising. And, with the Grand Fleet still nowhere useful, the only Royal Navy ships in the area are the light cruisers and destroyers of the Harwich Force.
When they interrupt the detached German battlecruisers who are bombarding Lowestoft and Yarmouth, this is surely an opportunity to achieve something. Sure, it’s not nearly as good as directly taking on some element of the main British Fleet. However, the Harwich Force is a vital component of British efforts to interfere with German minelayers and submarines, and to protect their own mine-laying efforts. If it had taken serious losses, that would surely have been a major political embarrassment for the Admiralty, never mind its operational consequences.
And yet, the German Admiral Bodicker showed absolutely no interest in chasing the force down. As soon as it’s obvious that the enemy is adopting the time-honoured (and entirely sensible) military tactic of running away very quickly, the German battlecruisers turn and rejoin the High Seas Fleet. In turn, Scheer has just heard that the Grand Fleet is on its way to intercept, and he orders a prudent return to port. Another chance missed; and when Scheer returns home and starts working out what exactly just happened, he will not be a happy bunny.
German submarine warfare
Back in Berlin, Kaiser Wilhelm II has come to a decision on the question of submarine warfare; in short, “knock it off already”. They’re back on Prize Regulations; submarines may no longer sink ships without warning, but must first stop them and take the crew off. Since this effectively nerfs their usefulness, Admiral Scheer will quickly recall them to port for a tactical rethink. It actually fits in rather well with his mindset, anyway; the U-boats can now be used in support of the grand, war-changing action he’s still planning to fight against the Grand Fleet.
Sergeant Robert Pelissier of the French Army has been detached from his unit to do a training course at some headquarters or other. It leaves him plenty of time to read the papers, and to have opinions on politics in general and the position of the Americans in particular. He writes a letter to his brother.
I am studying new things and I hear other things which I have heard a great many times, but on the whole the work is interesting and well supervised by people who know their business. Moreover, I enjoy my three meals and my beautiful room in a way which might lead the casual observer to believe that your brother has sunk into a deep-rooted and remorseless materialism. The truth is that I am making up for lost opportunities and I distrust the future more than I can tell.
Now, this excellent [President Wilson] seems to be speaking plainly and firmly. Perhaps it is high time he should do it, but, of course, he has had and he still has on his hands a very complicated situation. It is what I am doing my best to explain to our country-people who, in spite of Red Cross ambulances, hospitals and even volunteers from far beyond the sea are tempted to believe that in the United States there is an overwhelming feeling in favor of the Teutons. “C’est tout boche,” a judgment which is rather summary.
As someone who spent some years teaching in America before the war, it’s probably not much of a reach to suggest that he might have been asked for his opinion more than once by various interested parties.
Maximilian Mugge’s light duties continue to afford him plenty of time for voluminous complaint. Easter festivities have afforded the lads plenty of time for their favoured form of recreation.
What inveterate gamblers soldiers are! Yesterday, there were no parades and the boys played “Brag” from 10am till “lights out.” You should see the flushed faces of these children. Some of them have nothing but their three or six shillings weekly pay. Meals are either skimped or gobbled down. The Hut-corporal plays; sergeants come and play. A boy not yet nineteen cleared about £1 14s yesterday. “Not a bad day’s work!” he remarked as he dropped into bed.
And the Army Authorities frame lovely rules! There is an outpost, of course, to warn the gamblers should anybody above the rank of a sergeant be seen anywhere within a radius of half a mile.
The young lad is, of course, too young to go to France just yet. He may have been accepted on the grounds that he soon will have his birthday, or he might just have lied about his age at the recruiting-office. Three-card brag is an old working-class gambling game, an ancestor of poker. If you’ve seen Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, that’s the card game they play.
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