March to Kondoa
Yesterday we left the situation in Africa with General van Deventer riding out of Arusha, secure in the knowledge that Lolkisale (or Lol Kissale) Mountain was only being garrisoned by 500 Schutztruppe with no artillery support. I also took a moment to remind everybody that the track record for British Empire intelligence in Africa has, so far, been mostly bloody awful.
This morning, the sun rises over the garrison and falls on Captain Paul Rothert, the local Schutztruppe commander. Indeed, he’s only got 500 men with him and no artillery. (They do have two machine guns.) Under cover of darkness, van Deventer has run a squadron all the way round behind the mountain to cut off Rothert’s line of retreat back to Kondoa Irangi. Very soon after that, the rest of the South African Horse turns up, with a healthy amount of arse hortillery in tow. By 9:30am, the fight for the mountain is on.
Which is where things get complicated. Once again, we’ve got men attacking uphill through heavy bush against well-designed enemy positions. Let’s now add the complication complication. The temperature is licking around the 50 degrees Celsius range, conditions that no 21st-century human should have to endure without the aid of a large gin and tonic. The South Africans have no gin and tonics, and probably wouldn’t want them if they were offered. However, they don’t have any water either. The Schuztruppe have rather inconveniently dug their trenches round all the mountain’s water sources.
And, at nightfall, that’s how the situation remains. This is a designed, calculated risk from Smuts and van Deventer. The entire march to Kondoa rests on being able to capture the mountain before the attackers (not to mention their horses) all die of thirst.
Meanwhile, E.S. Thompson is not dying of thirst.
Taken to the Indian Hospital on a stretcher. Put in a tent on the ground. Given no food.
A large part of fighting wars in Africa is in keeping the blokes healthy. This is a rare theatre of the First World War which maintains the old tradition of disease causing the most casualties, instead of deferring to artillery fire. There’s life in the old dog yet; but not in plenty of young private soldiers.
Battle of the Somme
Let us now have a rousing game of “Spot the difference”. Here is one General D. Haig, speaking to his diary on the 18th of January this year.
The principles which we must apply are:
1. Employ sufficient force to wear down the enemy and cause him to use up his Reserves.
2. Then, and not till then, throw in a mass of troops (at some point where the enemy has shown himself to be weak) to break through and win victory.
Here is that very same General Haig, speaking to his diary today.
I studied Sir Henry Rawlinson’s proposals for attack. His intention is merely to take the enemy’s first and second system of trenches and ‘kill Germans’. He looks upon the gaining of three or four kilometres more or less of ground immaterial. I think we can do better than this by aiming at getting as large a combined force of French and British across the Somme and fighting the enemy in the open!
So what happened to wearing the enemy down and causing him to use up his reserves, you clot? Ye gods. How can he possibly think that this is a good idea? It’s completely arse forwards. According to his own expressed principles, he’s doing things in the wrong order. We’re going to have to return to this in the days to come, and try to unpack the reasoning a little. Great. More thinking about generals.
Time for a palate cleanser.
Private Louis Barthas has spent the last few days marching around the seaside for no very good reason. He’s now returned to Lamotte-Buleux, and he’s ready to get even with Captain Cros-Mayrevielle and Commandant Quinze-Grammes. You go, comrade! Stick it to the Man! Get back those corporal’s stripes that you don’t want and never asked for! Screw the war; this is the battle that really matters. I wonder what he’s going to do to show his disdain for the whole thing?
I took advantage of our stay in Lamotte to try to see the colonel about my punishment. I submitted my request for a hearing at my company’s office.
…and then he waits, patiently, for the request to be processed by the adjutant. This revolution has been brought to you by the People’s Front of Minervois. (Not the Minervois People’s Front, or the Campaign for a Free Languedoc. Splitters.)
Siege of Kut
Good news! Promising news, even. I think Edward Mousley’s earned the right to tell it, don’t you?
A heavy bombardment downstream continued for hours this morning. The rain has ceased and the soaken earth is steaming under a bright hot sun.
The rain has stopped. Now General Gorringe is finally swinging ponderously into action at the Hanna chokepoint. With the River Tigris flooding freely, any hope of another flanking movement against or around the chokepoint is gone. The only tactic left to them is yet another frontal assault. All the relief force can do is give the enemy trenches a jolly good bombarding today. And then, tomorrow at dawn, they will stiffen their sinews, summon up the blood, cry “God for Harry, England, and Saint George” (or Indian equivalent), and hope for a miracle.
Meanwhile, Mousley has more immediate concerns.
Reports from the hospital are to the effect that Cockie’s temperament “has increased, is increasing, and ought to be diminished.” His delusions include a notion that he still commands the ammunition column. To dispel the latter delusion, it is necessary for one to cancel quite a number of his orders.
Poor sod. By the way, we must note at this point that there’s a new Viceroy of India. Lord Chelmsford has taken over from Lord Hardinge in time to see this final act of the independent Indian Army in Mesopotamia.
Grigoris Balakian and his caravan waste most of the day waiting to cross a flooded river on the world’s most rickety ferry, and they hustle to reach Osmaniye before dark.
Being extremely tired and thirsty, we found a well. The Jandarma did not want us to drink the water, but some bribes secured their permission. A wooden bucket on an iron chain hung from a beam, and it took an hour for all of us in turn to satisfy our burning thirst.
Some time after sunset, we reached Osmaniye. The government officials had all gone home and nobody wanted to deal with us. A Jandarma sergeant told us we could spend the night on the stones in the courtyard of the government building. No-one among us dared to complain or show dissatisfaction. Still, we could derive no other benefit from the exceptional honour of being admitted to the town. They did not allow us to buy bread or anything else.
There’s a railway station in Osmaniye. That means Germans. Faint hope it may provide, but the important one of those words is “hope”.
Malcolm White’s leave is over; he returns to the Army tomorrow. He got his leave just before his battalion was due to go up the line for the first time, and before he sees the trenches, he takes a moment to consider why he’s going there. This was originally a truly hideous run-on sentence. I’ve swapped some of the punctuation about to make it flow better.
There are many motives which have driven men to fight in this war. The violation of Belgian neutrality, for a very few. For more, the love of country. For some, the hatred of militarism. I think my motives are not uncommon:
The feeling that one’s friends have been through this test and that I must. And a kind of personal challenge to oneself, which is the strongest thing in my morality and leads so often to irrational results, which says, “You dare not do this thing; therefore you must”.
He’s trying to do insightful. That counts for a lot. So I am trying very hard, and failing, to not point out that “hatred of militarism” is a rather odd reason to join the Army. Even though I know full well I’m being unfair, and he’s just shortening “hatred of Prussian militarism” because of course his diary knows what he means. Sharks swim, bears fertilise the forests, the Army fucks up its procurement, and I poke a mild amount of fun at the idea of someone joining the Army because they hate militarism. Immutable laws.
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