Lukuga | Greece | 2 Dec 1915

Quick note: the gap back to the 28th should be filled in by tomorrow. It’s been a busy week. Anyway.


Back to Lake Tanganyika! When last we checked in here, Lieutenant-Commander Spicer-Simson’s ridiculous expedition was just settling into their new home at Lukuga, trying to keep a low profile. Unfortunately, you can only keep so low a profile when hundreds of men are hauling two boats across Africa, and Captain Zimmer (a naval captain), the local German commander, is deeply suspicious that something is going off. He’s not sure what it is, so has been trying to find out. His biggest concern is that this might be where the Belgians are assembling their own IKEA flat-pack steamer, Baron Dhanis, to challenge Goetzen for control of the lake.

For the past few days, one Lieutenant Rosenthal, late of the Konigsberg, has been going above and beyond the call of duty. Rosenthal has been nosing around the area in a small boat, trying to sneak up close enough to find out what’s going on. On one occasion he and a seaman attempted to disguise themselves as Africans in order to infiltrate the Belgian camp, an episode about which details are tragically hard to find. On another he captured an unfortunate African member of the Force Publique and a small patrol boat. Just yesterday he took a camera to within 200 yards of Lukuga and by dawn’s light captured several photographs of an under-construction slipway, before beating a hasty retreat as the large Belgian guns opened fire on his ship.

This is not quite good enough for Rosenthal or Zimmer. It’s still not clear exactly what’s going on there, so today Rosenthal goes back. Under cover of darkness, he swims out from the gunboat Hedwig von Wissmann and, dodging the occasional crocodile, makes it to within sixty yards of the slipway. He spends quite a lot of time there, and before too long he’s worked out more or less exactly what’s going on here. He turns to leave, but then finds he’s completely lost his bearings in the dark and doesn’t know which way to swim to get back to his ship…

Gallipoli and Greece

Admiral de Roebeck has just arrived in London, and today faces extensive questioning from the Dardanelles Committee about the situation. This is followed immediately by a Cabinet meeting to take a decision about what to do next. They’re also discussing the situation in Serbia and Greece, and it’s both impossible and unhelpful if we try to consider Gallipoli apart from Greece at this point.

The Cabinet is extremely skeptical about Salonika. The Serbian Army is beaten and will have to be rescued if it can escape to the coast. General Sarrail is retreating to Salonika and the British component of his force is going with him. On top of this, the Greek political situation remains extremely unstable and has now developed into a full-blown constitutional crisis. King Constantine I (no pun intended) has now called for fresh elections in an attempt to stop Eleftherios Venizelos from using his parliamentary majority to pass votes of no confidence in the governments Constantine is appointing. Constantine is clearly no longer acting as a constitutional monarch, as the Greek system requires him to be. Venizelos has now decided to boycott the elections and deny their legitimacy, since he won his majority only in May and is convinced that he still has a mandate to lead. More on that soon.

Intervention in Serbia was a French scheme. It’s never been popular with the Cabinet. If the men currently heading back to Salonika were in fact withdrawn and sent to Gallipoli instead, that would surely be enough manpower to do something useful there at some ill-defined point in the future. (The likelihood of success remains laughable unless a vast amount of British artillery suddenly materialises out of the ether, but that’s neither here nor there for the moment.) So the Cabinet decides that discussions with France about Salonika will be held as quickly as possible, and in the meantime to plan an offensive at Suvla Bay using the men currently in Greece. Ye gods.

General Joffre

General Joffre’s appointment as commander-in-chief of all French forces is made official today. It’s an important month for Anglo-French high command as it renews itself after 1915. This, combined with the imminent rise of Wully Robertson and General Haig in Britain, is making one thing very clear: both governments will be receiving unequivocal military advice to focus their efforts on the Western Front. If the politicians want to put any emphasis anywhere else, they’re going to have to overcome a lot of military opposition to do so.

Retreat from Ctesiphon

General Townshend’s leading elements are now at Shumran, about half a day’s march from Kut-al-Amara, where some thoughtful quartermaster has set up a station for the men to be properly fed before they finish the retreat from Ctesiphon. If only this were the end of things for a while. Meanwhile, General Nixon is well on the way back to Basra, from where he can preside over future events in safety and comfort.

Louis Barthas

On the Western Front, the weather continues getting steadily more foul. I wonder if Louis Barthas might have some anecdote that reflects how difficult it is to keep the trenches in any kind of repair about now?

My friend Ventresque and I benefited from the hospitality of a neighboring shelter, occupied by telephone operators. One evening, we were already dozing off when they came to take us for a work detail. Two hours later, when we came back, we saw with horror that an enormous mound of earth had collapsed onto the very spot where we had earlier been lying. If not for this work detail, we would have been buried alive. They wouldn’t have needed a grave digger to bury us.

A big shell had fallen onto the shelter a few days earlier, leaving a big crater which filled up with rainwater, which seeped into the ground, causing the landslide. Now the water was rushing into the shelter in multiple streams, and we had to struggle for several hours to dig out our blankets, our weapons, all our gear, and to seek out a slightly drier spot. Another landslide might occur. But where else could we get out of the rain?

Thanks, mate. That’s just what I was looking for.

Actions in Progress

Armenian Genocide
Battle of Krivolak
Retreat from Ctesiphon

Further Reading

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