Montenegro | Moewe | 6 Jan 1916

Montenegro

Still determined to prove that yes, Austria-Hungary can totally invade other countries on their own, Mummy, Conrad von Hotzendorf launches his attempt to invade Montenegro and Albania. There are actually a few vaguely decent reasons behind this; for one, if they move quickly enough, they might just be able to catch up with some of the Serbian Army as it waits to be evacuated from northern Albania. For another, there are a few Italian detachments in Albania who probably deserve a good kicking on principle; and Conrad is also worried about the presence of some Bulgarians in Albania, thinking their government might try to use them to enforce some kind of territorial claim later.

The first and most important thing to do is to capture Mount Lovcen, site of a highly annoying fortress that’s been intermittently interfering with Austro-Hungarian naval movements in the Adriatic Sea. It’s where most of the small, poorly-supplied Montenegrin army is, and is the only place where they might be able to make a decent stand. The mountain is some way past the Montenegrins’ border defences, and the attack today does make rather heavy weather of things, taking significant casualties and making only a minor advance. Surely they can’t cock this up as well?

Battle of Sheikh Sa’ad

The story so far: General Younghusband and about half the force that’s trying to relieve the Siege of Kut have been stopped by what appears to be a small Ottoman picket force at Sheikh Sa’ad. His boss, General Aylmer, wants him to be cautious; but he significantly outnumbers the estimate of the enemy’s strength, so why shouldn’t he grasp the nettle firmly and clear them out of the way? He even seems to have had a stroke of luck; there’s a thick mist lying over the battlefield as dawn breaks to conceal his advance.

And then the nicely-rounded plan of attack goes a bit pear-shaped. His 28th Brigade should be playing the key role, finding and turning the inland flank of the Ottomans’ positions on the right bank of the River Tigris. Just one minor problem. They can’t find it. They keep pushing left, but no matter how far they go, the enemy’s line is still there. And, just to make matters worse, the Ottomans evidently have far more guns than had been suspected. The fire isn’t particularly well-directed on account of their observers being blinded, but it’s there.

After several hours of this, Younghusband does the sensible thing and pulls back. His orders had called only for reconnaissance, after all; and that’s effectively what’s been achieved. Daddy won’t arrive until tomorrow morning, he’ll never know what Younghusband was really trying to do. No harm done. Right?

Robert Palmer

Meanwhile, Robert Palmer is on the move at last, one of the last men to leave Ali Gharbi. He’s got a round sixteen miles of desert marching ahead of him.

We paraded as soon as it was light, at 7.15 a.m., but owing to the transport delays, the column did not start till after 9.0. The transport consists of: (a) ships and barges; (b) carts, mules and camels. Each has its limitations. Ships tie you to the river-bank, so every column must have some land transport. Camels can hardly move after rain: they slip and split themselves. The carts are fearfully held up by the innumerable ditches which are for draining the floods back to the river. There are not nearly enough mules to go round and they only carry 160lbs each.

So you can imagine our transport difficulties. The country supplies neither food, fodder nor fuel. Our firewood comes from India. If you leave the river you must carry every drop of drinking water. So the transport line was three times as long as the column itself, and moved more slowly. About 2 p.m. we began to hear firing and see shrapnel in the distance, and it soon became clear that we were approaching a big battle.

Consequently we had to push on beyond our sixteen miles, and went on till Sunset. By this time we were all very footsore and exhausted. The men had had no food since the night before, the ration-cart having stuck in a ditch; and many of the inexperienced ones had brought nothing with them. My leg held out wonderfully well, and in fact has given me no trouble worth speaking of.

After dark, they get orders to retire a mile and stay the night there. There’s food, but no shelter.

To put the lid on it, a sharp shower of exceedingly frigid rain surprised us all in our beauty sleep, about 11 p.m. and soaked the men’s blankets and clothes. Luckily I had everything covered up, and I spread my overcoat over my head and slept on, breathing through the pocket-holes.

It’s all getting a bit unpleasant.

Royal Navy

It’s not been a good start to the year for the Royal Navy. A few days ago, the super-dreadnoughts HMS Barham and HMS Warspite were out of Scapa Flow on a training exercise in typically heavy seas and with poor visibility. Barham, leading her squadron in line, hoisted a signal flag ordering speed to 8 knots. Sadly, some twerp on Warspite instead read the signal as “18 knots”, and just as she came up right behind Barham, a large wave intervened.

Barham’s stern sank into a deep trough, and just as it did so Warspite’s bow was lifted in the air by the next crest, lifting her up and on top of Barham’s rear like a rutting horse. Sadly, this is not how you make new baby dreadnoughts. Barham’s topside damage was relatively minor; but Warspite has been removed from the Grand Fleet and sent south to the Devonport shipyards.

Things then get even better today; the pre-dreadnought King Edward VII is on her way round Cape Wrath to a refit in Belfast when there’s a mysterious explosion and she begins taking on water. Another ship had recently passed in the opposite direction without incident; submarines are suspected and a destroyer force heads out. After nine hours of trying to keep the ship afloat, the crew are taken off by destroyers without loss.

There is, however, no submarine. What we have here is a good old-fashioned commerce raider pulling double duty. The Moewe is a merchant ship converted into a mine-layer and raider. Slipping the British blockade, she’s spent the past few days laying mines all round the north of Scotland. She then set a course west of Ireland and is currently heading in the general direction of the Bay of Biscay. After a year of very little naval action since the Battle of the Falklands and the Battle of Dogger Bank, things seem to be picking up again.

Actions in Progress

Armenian Genocide
Siege of Kut
Battle of Sheikh Sa’ad

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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