Mimi and Toutou
The world’s most ridiculous military operation is at an end. The journey has been some 14,000-odd miles and four months long, from London on the River Thames to Lukuga on Lake Tanganyika by way of Cape Town. They’ve travelled by almost every means of transport known to man. The exception, appropriately, is the aeroplane. It would almost have been cheating for them to fly. They’ve walked, sailed, taken trains, ridden on motor-lorries, been hauled by traction engines. Now Lieutenant-Commander Spicer-Simson and chums are being welcomed and feted by the local Force Publique commander.
The real work can now begin, that of destroying the German steamer Goetzen and seizing control over the longest freshwater lake in the world. “More soon” barely covers it.
Speaking of ridiculous military operations! The Italians have been moving plenty of men up Mount Mrzli over the last few days since capturing the trincerone, the Big Trench. Now they’re going to have a crack at the summit.
This is, ahem, not easy. Mrzli is one of those places so high and steep that attacks can be defeated by the simple expedient of rolling heavy objects downhill. Entire platoons can be knocked off the mountainside to their deaths in this way. And they’ve had a month to investigate what, other than boulders, might be effectively used. Some of them have taken to rolling grenades. Some have been modifying anti-personnel mines or artillery shells. Some have been deliberately manufacturing avalanches.
By day’s end the Italians have managed to struggle their way round the side of the mountain, enfilading the positions that lead into the trincerone and then occupying them. The summit, however, remains serenely unthreatened.
Meanwhile, on Monte Sei Busi, the Italians are this morning unceremoniously evicted from the trenches that they captured yesterday, as so many times before in so many different places. Once the dust settles, their opponents offer an hour’s ceasefire to recover the dead and wounded, which is quickly accepted. And, on Mount San Michele, Hill 124 is attacked again by Colonel Viola’s regiment, and again they’re beaten back with heavy losses.
Negotin and Prahovo have not been captured. Negotin and Prahovo have been forced to surrender. The Serbian Army simply can’t resupply and reinforce the positions with the men and materiel that would be necessary for them to hold on. With this surrender assured, a German detachment heads towards Orsova; a Bulgarian First Army detachment also begins moving north from Prahovo. When they link up (and it will now be when, not if), the Serbian government at Nis is going to have to seriously think about moving house again.
We were assembled in a schoolroom. The general welcomed us with a big smile, all jolly and perky. This was no longer the terrible brawler who dreamed only of cuts and bruises, assaults and combats.
“Well,” he said with a twinkle in his eye, “you’re all good, sturdy fellows. With men like you we can get something done. I like the way you look and how you handle yourselves.” After this flattering preamble, the general told us, “You know that, this coming winter, we’re not going to let the Boches sit comfortably in their holes. We’re going to bother them all the time, and here’s how . . .”
And in front of a blackboard, chalk in hand, Niessel explained to us, for two whole hours, how to dig an approach trench to take a listening post or a trench, how to get close enough to the enemy to throw grenades, wham-bam-bam, and he concluded each sentence with the words, “It’ll be easy.” In fact, it looked easy, even too easy, child’s play. You’d hardly know that we were talking about killings, throat cuttings, massacres. Then Niessel deigned to thank us for our (required) attention and headed off to his château, persuaded no doubt that he had excited our warrior spirit and patriotic sentiments.
How wrong he was!
Indeed, General Niessel is one person who can truly answer “Yes” when he is asked “Am I as offensive as I might be?”
We’ve just got time to look quickly at the Middle East. With preparations for the Battle of Ctesiphon continuing, that’s far from the only thing the British Empire is doing to undermine the Ottoman Empire. Sir Henry McMahon is the British High Commissioner to Egypt, the man charged with overseeing British indirect rule of the country and ensuring that the Egyptian leadership does what London wants them to do. For the last few months, he’s been exchanging letters with Hussein bin Ali, the last man to have been appointed Sharif of Mecca by the Ottomans, and arguably the most powerful Arab in the Middle East. Hussein can well see which way the wind is blowing. The old empire is barely clinging on to its last European holdings. The Young Turks at the head of its government have sidelined the Sultan and have taken steps to reform the Empire as a secular, nationalistic Turkish state. It’s at war with the British, French and Russian Empires; and the British Empire is pushing them out of Mesopotamia. This is an opportunity.
So he’s been talking to Sir Henry McMahon They’ll continue corresponding into the new year, but probably the most important letter is being sent today, from Sir Henry. There’s a lot of hedging about Syria, and the need for Britain to respect French interests there, and the need for the Empire to retain control over the Empire’s Basra and Baghdad vilayets. However, all that aside, Sir Henry makes a very important statement in his letter.
Subject to the above modifications, Great Britain is prepared to recognize and support the independence of the Arabs within the territories in the limits and boundaries proposed by the Sherif of Mecca.
In other words, the British Empire is prepared to support Hussein bin Ali to launch a full-scale uprising against the Ottomans in the Middle East. There is absolutely no way that this could possibly end badly, right? This one’s going to run and run. Not least because Hussein is far from the only important Arab leader. The Empire is also in contact with, among others, one Abdulaziz ibn Saud…
Actions in Progress
Support the blog! Buy the book! 1914 is now available! 1915 to follow as long as y’all buy 1914!
(If you find the olde-tyme style difficult to get along with, have a look at this reading guide.)