LZ85 | Hill 304 | 5 May 1916


The big news for today is from somewhere else, but first, the Gardeners of Salonika have actually done something! Over the past few months, the Zeppelin LZ85 has been cruising around, merrily bombing whatever it feels like. Hermann Kuck was a machinist on board the airship.

We were again over the harbour installationss at about 3000 metres height. The searchlights got us at once. The defence fire grew stronger and the incendiary exploded all around our ship. We had dropped some of our bombs, Oberleutnant Scherzer took the ship around for another run. … Our ship was hit in the middle by a direct hit which destroyed at least half the gas cells. Immediately it broke in half and fell downwards. We plunged down without any control. Our fall lasted about five or six minutes.

The crew do their dutiful best to hide, but they’ve come down right in the middle of a marsh and are soon forced to surrender. They’ve done something! The defenders have done something!

Battle of Verdun

Anyway. We have news from the Battle of Verdun. I’ll go to the terrible MSPaint map. See if you can spot the change. It’s very small.

Tube map, not Ordnance Survey.
Tube map, not Ordnance Survey.

An unnamed French machine-gun sergeant has been trying to defend Hill 304.

The pounding was continuous and terrifying. We had never experienced its like during the whole campaign. The earth around us quaked, and we were lifted and tossed about. Shells of all calibres kept raining on our sector. The trench no longer existed, it had been filled with earth. We were crouching in shell-holes, where the mud thrown up by each new explosion covered us more and more. The air was unbreathable. Our blinded, wounded, crawling and shouting soldiers kept falling on top of us and died while splashing us with their blood.

It really was a living hell. How could one ever survive such moments? We were deafened, dizzy, and sick at heart. It is hard to imagine the torture we endured: our parched throats burned, we were thirsty, and the bombardment seemed endless.

And, after nearly two months of dogged resistance, finally the German attacks are too strong, and too quick. This time the inevitable local counter-attack fails. Hill 304 is in German hands. They’re crawling further and further up the Mort Homme, ten metres at a time. The French, of course, call for reinforcements.

Louis Barthas

Oh, fuck.

At 6 that evening we were eating our soup when some news went around, killing our appetites. The order had just been given for the regiment as well as the whole division to depart in auto transport at 7 pm. One hour later we piled into trucks which carried us off into the night. One time we had a stop. They turned off the headlights on the right, and a little farther along they turned off those on the left, and finally at the first glimmer of daylight they got us down from the trucks. We had arrived.

They’ve given so much praise to the truckers of Verdun who advanced so boldly toward the line of fire, but you’d be right to praise the cautious prudence of those who were transporting us. They dropped us near Clermont-en-Argonne, in the valley of the Aire, at least thirty kilometers from Hill 304.

He’s not wrong to point out that the Voie Sacree should be praised as a feat of logistics and organisation, not personal bravery. It didn’t even take very much artillery fire, or aerial bombing, during the battle. (More on that to follow.) Anyway. I would just like to remind everyone here that Louis Barthas has never been over the top, or been directly in the way of an enemy charge. He’s watched other people attack. He’s had orders to attack that were never carried out. He’s been shelled and shot at more times than I’d like to count. He’s sneaked out into No Man’s Land under cover of darkness or fog.

But he’s never yet been over the top in anger. His personal, private resolution never to kill or fire on a German has never been directly tested. This might be about to change. More soon, obviously.

Bernard Adams

Nothing of importance has occurred for Bernard Adams, but he too is dodging some German crumps. He’s the battalion sniping officer, but he appears to have provoked some unwanted attention.

“Swis-s-sh—bang. Swis-s-sh—bang.”
“That settles it,” said I, as I scrambled hastily down into the trench, preceded by the sniper I had with me that day as orderly. I more or less pushed him along for ten yards, then halted. We faced each other both very much out of breath and “blowy.” The whole place was reeking with the smell of powder, and the air full of sand-bag fluff.
“That settles it,” I repeated. “I always thought that was a rotten post; and I object to being whizz-banged. ‘A sniper’s job is to see and not be seen.’ Isn’t that right, Morris?”
“Yes, sir,” replied Morris, adding with a sad lack of humour “They must have seen us, sir!”

Adams quite sensibly resolves to move the post a safe distance up the trench, and goes into arse-numbing detail about how exactly a sniper’s post is built.

E.S. Thompson

E.S. Thompson has finally arrived at Arusha.

Had a shave and wash then had to run about town to find the Machine Gun Corps who were buying cigarettes. Had to wait a long time then went to draw rations and got mixed up badly. Arusha is a pretty town with a picturesque Fort or prison. There are primitive sort of gutters along the main streets. There are a fair number of Dutch people and German children and women still left in town. A South African Horse man told me that there were a good many Dutchmen fighting with the Germans against us.

After lunch the Major and Lieutenant Crothall left for the camp where the Regiment is 8 miles off.

“Dutch” in this context is almost certainly an Afrikaner, not a native of the Netherlands. And hey, at least there’s no reason for them to go anywhere else through the rainy season. Right? Right?

Actions in Progress

Armenian Genocide
Battle of Verdun

Further Reading

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The Daily Telegraph is republishing its archives from the war day-by-day. Worth a look. (If you find the olde-tyme style difficult to get along with, have a look at this reading guide

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