Lettow-schnapps | Half-pint | 31 Aug 1915


There’s time for a moment’s introspection in Africa as things begin to settle into stasis. General Tighe is not very optimistic about prospects for the rest of the year, to say the least. His ration strength is nearly 14,000; but nearly a quarter of those men are unfit for duty, most of them struck down by disease. Malaria and dysentry are particularly rife, and the hardest-pressed battalions (like the poor buggers of the 2nd Loyal North Lancs and the 13th Rajputs, surely both in the running for the “Shortest Straw of the War” competition) have so many men struck down that Tighe has been forced to declare the entire unit unfit.

These numbers, he estimates, are just about enough to continue playing the world’s biggest game of Whack-A-Mole against the enemy forces that are constantly raiding the Uganda Railway. Anything else is beyond his capabilities. He might be able to win a battle or two were he to attempt to invade German East Africa again, but would soon be outnumbered; and he’s not entirely confident of being able to stand up to an attack if Colonel von Lettow-Vorbeck throws his entire estimated strength into an invasion. Bottom line: they need more blokes, and healthier blokes; but they’re right at the bottom of the pile for reinforcements and supplies.

What they need is help, particularly from the Force Publique (boo, hiss) out of the Belgian Congo (boo, hiss); but of course, they can’t do anything while the Germans control Lake Tanganyika. And so they’re effectively stymied until Spicer-Simson’s ridiculous boat-hauling expedition can arrive. They’re currently slogging their way up and over an honest-to-God mountain range, the Mitumba Mountains. If they can just get through the mountains, it’ll be mostly downhill from there; but their water supplies are beginning to run low after a month and a half of marching through the bush. (Small comfort that at least it’s slightly cooler in the mountains than down on the flat, where the temperature regularly nudges 50 degrees Celsius in the shade.)

Meanwhile, Colonel von Lettow-Vorbeck is feeling rather punchy. He’s spent the last little while conducting a highly successful recruitment campaign to get more locals into the Schutztruppe. Their ration strength is somewhat smaller than the British Empire forces, but they’re doing much better against the danger of disease. They also have a considerable advantage in firepower. The weapons and ammunition salvaged from Konigsberg and Kronborg have been well supplemented by occasional small shipments that have managed to evade the Royal Navy.

Of course, the blockade of German East Africa is now beginning to bite hard after a full year; but Schnee, the Governor of German East Africa, has been doing something about that as well. Harnessing the enthusiasm stirred up by military victories both real and imagined, he’s created a comprehensive apparatus for creating ersatz substitutes. Candles from beeswax, soap from charcoal, oil from peanuts. A local salt-and-beef soup has been used as an effective anti-flea agent. Most importantly, they’ve manufactured a quinine substitute out of tree-bark. von Lettow-Vorbeck’s standing orders insist that it be taken regularly, and also that the men wear long-sleeved shirts and trousers to ward off mosquitoes, are doing a great deal to keep malaria under control.

For all that, von Lettow-Vorbeck isn’t getting carried away with things. He knows he’s in a good position. No sense throwing it away with unnecessary acts of derring-do. Back in Kenya, latrine rumours are circulating that the Germans are attempting to build their own home-made submarine. Ah, if only…

Louis Barthas

Back in Flanders, Louis Barthas has just encountered a genuine bete noire. They’re still on the march to God knows where. And they have a new officer.

At the head of our column marched our new commandant, named Leblanc. He was small, thin, and scrawny. A wag had baptized him Quinze-Grammes [en Anglais: fifteen grammes, or “half-pint”], which was an immediate success. He would never be called anything else by the irreverent soldiers. It was he who was leading us.

But the poor guy read his map like a carp reading a prayer book. Leaving the village we had just crossed, we should have turned left, but he had us go right. That was his big mistake. He should have gotten information from the ridiculous watchwoman. For once in her life she could have been of some use. But no doubt his dignity wouldn’t permit it. He would have had to admit that he couldn’t make sense of his map and compass.

As a result, in the middle of a rainstorm, around one in the morning, we found ourselves in a field where the road we were on ended. I heard the commandant admit, pitifully, “I think that we might be lost.” He was still not entirely convinced of it. He sent scouts out, left and right, to find a farm where he could seek refuge with his officers. As for us, he generously granted us the liberty of sleeping in a muddy field, to await the coming day.

“Like a carp reading a prayer book”. How can you not love this guy? Anyway, the blokes are, for some reason, not satisfied with the sleeping arrangements; tomorrow, we’ll consider what they did about it.

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One thought on “Lettow-schnapps | Half-pint | 31 Aug 1915

  1. I really enjoy your blog, I think you should stop with the (boo, hiss) after every mention of the Force Publique and the Belgian Congo. It’s not like they don’t deserve it, but it feels childish- you’re making them out to be cartoon villains, rather than people who committed crimes against humanity. You don’t attach a (boo, hiss) after mentions of Deir ez-Zor, for example.

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