Langemarck | Auguste Jaeger | 13 Apr 1915

The French face up to failure at the Battle of Woevre, the Ottomans come on strongly at Shaiba, and a young German private called Auguste Jaeger deserts with an extremely explosive story.

Battle of Woevre

As the attacks at Maizeray quickly wither away into nothing, General Gerard distributes his report. It makes extremely unpleasant reading. He describes concrete-reinforced dugouts. Belts of barbed wire hundreds of metres deep, designed to funnel advancing infantry into the field of fire of well-emplaced machine guns. He’s extremely pessimistic about any chance of success. He also blames “six months of stagnation” on this front for affording the Germans an unmolested opportunity to fortify themselves.

A large row then blows up between Generals Joffre and Dubail. Joffre is practically spitting feathers, but after a frank exchange of views, Dubail prevails upon him to continue the offensive.

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Langemarck

Two weeks ago, a French trench raid near Langemarck captured a shell-shocked German private who simply couldn’t stop talking. Most of what he said had been dismissed out of hand by his interrogators and was never passed on. Now, however, his claims have been backed up. Private Jaeger belongs to a reserve regiment, and he’s extremely discomfited by what he’s apparently seen. So, he’s deserted and come across No Man’s Land shortly after nightfall.

Auguste Jaeger

When he arrives, he tells one of the most terrifying stories that his interrogators could have heard. He’s equipped with a bizarre head-covering mask. He willingly gives extremely precise details about an attack that’s due to start near the end of the month. He describes perfectly the large metal cylinders that are even now being secretly dug into the ground in front of the German trenches. He shows on a map precisely where they’re being put in. He talks about the special men who arriving in the trenches, quickly nicknamed Stinkpioneren. Nearly a metre and a half long, one every two metres.

And he describes precisely what the cylinders contain. The Germans are planning to attack with poison gas. The cylinders contain litre upon litre of deadly chlorine. The divisional commander takes him extremely seriously. By midnight, reports have been sent up the chain of command and directly to GQG. Soon after, more messengers are on their way to warn the Belgians, the Canadian Corps, and the rest of the BEF. The carefully-laid German plans to launch a second Battle of Ypres have just been blown wide open.

Battle of Shaiba

By everyone else’s standards, the Ottomans in Mesopotamia are showing an admirable lack of inclination to persist with tactics that patently aren’t working. This morning they send out a large cavalry force with the intent of trying to sneak entirely around Shaiba, and take the defenders of Basra by surprise. They also launch a couple of diversionary attacks on Shaiba that are soon beaten off, and then withdraw back to Barjisiyeh Wood. You can’t accuse them of lacking original thinking, at least.

Sir Ian Hamilton

I reproduce Sir Ian Hamilton’s diary entry in its entirety. I’d try to say something about it, but I don’t have a sick bucket handy.

Heavy squalls of rain and wind last night. Band-o-bast badly upset; boats also bottoms upwards and at dawn—here in harbour—we found ourselves clean cut off from the shore. What a ticklish affair the great landing is going to be! How much at the mercy of the winds and waves! Aeolus and Neptune have hardly lost power since Greeks and Trojans made history out yonder!

Have sent [Lord Kitchener] a [telegram] saying that the height of the Queen Elizabeth fire control station had enabled me to see the lie of the land better than on my previous reconnaissance, and that, given good luck, we hope to get ashore without too great a loss.

In the afternoon the wind moderated and I spent an hour or two watching practice landings by Senegalese. Our delay is loss, but yet not clear loss; that’s a sure thing. These niggy-wigs were as awkward as golly-wogs in the boats. Every extra hour’s practice will save some lives by teaching them how to make short work of the ugliest bit of their job.

Just in case you were in danger of feeling too sorry for the man, he’s dropping some casual racism on us. The Senegalese tirailleurs are of course a major part of the French Empire forces who will be joining Hamilton on Gallipoli.

Football

Football continues as normal. Chelsea have beaten Everton 2-0, and Sheffield United have won 2-1 against Bolton Wanderers, in the semi-finals of the FA Cup. (Meanwhile, three Army teams have significant Rugby Union fixtures, and last weekend also saw the quarter-finals of the Rugby League Challenge Cup, with Wigan, Rochdale, Huddersfield, and St Helens advancing.)

Actions in Progress

Battle of Woevre
Battle of Shaiba

Further Reading

I have a Twitter account, @makersley, which you can follow to be notified of updates and get all my retweets of weird and wonderful First World War things.

The Daily Telegraph is republishing its archives from the war day-by-day. Worth a look. I’m reading the paper every day, and it’s where the content for Our Advertising Feature comes from.

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

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