Kondoa Irangi | Rawlinson & Haig | 8 Apr 1916

March to Kondoa

The South Africans’ march to Kondoa continues with all speed possible, but Colonel von Lettow-Vorbeck has been thinking hard, and his own plan is now well underway. Let’s have a look at the map again and see the approximate positions.

I say as always, this is a Tube map, not an Ordnance Survey map
I say as always, this is a Tube map, not an Ordnance Survey map

General Smuts seems rather to have discounted the possiblity that his enemy might do something to counter his plans. So now, von Lettow-Vorbeck is apparently trying to pull off something not entirely unlike the great Eastern Front victories at the Battle of Tannenberg and First Masurian Lakes. He’s seen that the 2nd Division is taking a huge risk, and that their horsemen must surely be operating far ahead of their infantry. The rainy season is fast approaching, and his own local men are much better suited to doing anything other than sheltering from it.

So he’s left only a skeleton force under Major Kraut at the Northern Railway, and pulled all the men he can spare from every possible garrison in the country. He’s going to counter van Deventer’s risk with his own risk, taking the chance that he might just be able to pull off a spectacular victory and entirely destroy a whole enemy division. Even now men are marching across the steppes at double-quick speed, directly to Kondoa Irangi, showing mobility beyond the expectations of their opponents.

Major Kraut, in the meantime (it’s still funny), is preparing the Northern Railway for a fighting retreat with a skeleton guard. And still it doesn’t rain. A lot of people are about to begin living in interesting times.

Siege of Kut

Another pre-dawn attack against Sannaiyat fails miserably. General Gorringe is no shrinking violet when it comes to casualties, but he’s now about out of options. If he keeps bashing his head against the Sannaiyat trenches, it’ll split open. But if he attempts to sap slowly forward to under the enemy’s nose for a short-range assault of 100 yards or so, that’ll take about a week, and by then the siege of Kut will have run out of food.

Some heated conversation then follows over the next few days between commander-in-chief General Lake, and General Townshend in Kut. By the time it’s all over, Townshend will have extended his deadline, somehow, to the 21st of April and then to the 29th of April. Of course, if he’d taken the precaution of cutting rations, or done a proper stock-taking, earlier in proceedings…

Edward Mousley

…then perhaps Edward Mousley would already have starved to death, I guess. He’s getting all the news, but on a highly annoying delay.

A quiet day! Some few shells wandered into the town and a steady stream of sniping indicated that the enemy had probably withdrawn many men for reinforcements downstream. From my old observation post today, which I climbed with great difficulty, I looked on a very changed scene. The whole country is a series of huge lakes with tiny green patches between. In front of our first line tiny waves on this tiny ocean lap against our preserving bunds. In fact, Kut is an island!

Gorringe has wired to say “all’s well.” “Advance continues!” Once more with Micawber it is permitted to us to hope.

Rawlinson and Haig

Back in France, General Rawlinson has a more intellectual problem. He’s neither a fool nor an idiot, and he’s in a very difficult position. About now, he’s received General Haig’s preferred plans for attack. Let’s have two MSPaint maps today, why not?

Rawlinson's first-day objectives in gold, Haig's in pink.
Rawlinson’s first-day objectives in gold, Haig’s in pink.

Where Rawlinson’s plan wanted to do not much more on day 1 than capture the German First Line system and make ready to advance against the Second Line shortly after, Haig is dreaming of far more. He wants to push all the way up the Albert-Bapaume road to Pozieres, and capture the whole Second Line from there north to Serre.

Now, the culture of the British Army for all ranks is quite clear. You have absolute discretion to do the job given you by your boss; but at no time may you act outwith your orders. If the boss says you can do it, you can do it, and it is extremely bad form not to at least try. We saw this in painful and bloody detail on Gallipoli, as Sir Ian Hamilton demonstrated.

Rawlinson isn’t going to go down without a fight, and he’s sent Haig a message laying out his objections in no uncertain terms. However, as he admits privately:

It still seems to the that an attempt to gain more distant objectives, that is to say the enemy’s Second Line system … involves considerable risks. I, however, fully realise that it may be necessary to incur these risks in view of the importance of the object to be attained. This will, no doubt, be decided by the Commander in Chief, and definite instructions be sent me in due course.

At this point he has two options. Resign, and end his career; or try somehow to make Haig’s ideas work. Of course he’ll choose the second option. That’s what doing one’s duty is all about. And so the great re-planning process begins. We’ll come back to it and evaluate it in a bit more detail as the plan matures. For now, let’s just observe that the one thing they aren’t really considering right now is the intentions of the French.

In theory, the British effort at the Somme is to be only one-third’s worth of the total offensive effort, with most of the manpower and most of the front being taken by General Foch’s army group. However, he’s still busy being cynical about whether any kind of attack near the Somme can succeed. He knows that unless the Germans at Verdun suddenly disappear, there’s no way they’ll have enough men for the planned size of the attack.

Word of this has, as things do, leaked across to the BEF. Long before getting official confirmation, they’re already planning to take the leading role in an offensive for the first time in the war. Perhaps if Foch had been in command of two-thirds of the men, he might have been able to persuade Haig to use bite and hold methods to allow for a uniform pace of advance? Who knows. This is just a piece of aimless speculation, mind. Man cannot live on bald facts alone.

Joffre and Nivelle

Over at Chantilly, it’s time for your regular dose of irony. Wouldn’t want anyone to become irony-deficient. Here we find, once more, General Joffre attempting to nudge Petain into attacking something. This time he’s specifically flagging up the efforts of one Robert Nivelle, now a corps commander with 2nd Army, to maintain an aggressive attitude and to continue attacking things rather than focussing on the defensive. Can’t have General Petain looking too good, can we? He might be a threat to Joffre’s job if that happens!

Grigoris Balakian

Islahiye, where Grigoris Balakian now finds himself, is a major railway junction. From here, surviving Armenians are pushed on to Aleppo, and from there to their final destinations in the wide Syrian desert. For most it’s Der Zor and death. Disease and starvation run wildly through the makeshift camps of deportees.

The land stretching before us seemed like a battlefield. The plain was covered with innumerable mounds of earth. These were the graves of Armenians, buried fifty or a hundred at a time. Winter had passed, but the mounds had kept their shape, and alas, some were veritable hills. When we were seized by the thought that these were human hills…

The Jandarma who had brought us this far handed our caravan over to the Islahiye Jandarma. All of us, despite the 48-day journey, had managed, miraculously, to reach Islahiye; if not healthy, at least alive. This caught the attention of the officer overseeing the transfer operation. “What a fortunate group this is! How is it that not one of them was lost? You didn’t grasp the orders given to you.”

What he meant was, how is it possible for a caravan of a hundred Armenians to make it here after walking for seven weeks and travelling the bloodiest route?

A little luck, a lot of money, and the clothes off their backs. Since he asked.

Maximilian Mugge

Maximilian Mugge is graciously prepared to admit that some of these people might just be human beings after all. That’s big of him.

The men are quite alright, once you know them. Underneath a veneer of crudeness and covered up by the indescribable filth of their language, in most cases a good and kindly personality will readily respond to a carefully guarded appeal. If one sits together with a chap, nobody else being present, and smokes with him for half an hour, leading him on imperceptibly but determinedly, human sympathy is aroused and Rousseau does not seem to be such a fool after all.

That dreadful veneer of coarse language is the result of environment and upbringing. Perhaps very often a protective armour. Housing and education must be improved before there is any hope. Nature has not enough chance without nurture.

“Chum” is the usual mode of address, when asking for the time or for one of those valuable matches. Really “chummy” however, are only the people within the same hut.

Here Mugge shows us something rather interesting; he’s finding it hard to understand why the bond between hut-mates should be stronger than any of the others. I think it’s pretty safe to theorise, not knowing his biography, that he must have come to England as an adult. If he’d been to public school, he’d know.

Malcolm White

Time for Malcolm White to get himself up the line with the 1st Rifle Brigade.

At the same time, within a radius of 200 yards, a Band and a 9.2-inch howitzer battery played together to an audience of Tommies with bow legs leading horses, fluttering pigeons and an austere grey church steeple, and me. Then, in the evening, the Transport officer and I rode up to Battalion Headquarters (dug-outs all along a road, like low shops in a mediaeval town), and an orderly led me out along a lane and a communication trench, under a wonderful sky of stars. In ten minutes I reached the Company HQ dugout, where I had a cheerful reception from the other officers, who were conveniently at dinner.

I wonder if those bored Transport men and that bored Transport officer knew how excited I was. Or the orderly who led me along a deep, star-roofed communication trench, did he know that that walk thrilled me as little else has done?

Just you wait for the strafing to start, bucko. It seems that his battalion is in the reserve trenches, not the fire trenches, just at this precise moment.

Actions in Progress

Armenian Genocide
Siege of Kut
Battle of Verdun
March to Kondoa

Further Reading

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