After its recent successful provincial shows, Mother, the first tank prototype, has come down to London for a sold-out run. The Conservative politician Lord Salisbury has allowed one of his family seats, Hatfield House, to be used for the official trials, and for the last little while, in great secrecy, the Army has been turning his Lordship’s private golf course into a replica battlefield. You’ll need more than a sand wedge and a determined attitude to get out of the new shell hole and swamp, to say nothing of the barbed wire and trenches.
In a performance that Colonel Swinton insisted on referring to as Operation Puddleduck, Mother has been taken to Hatfield and placed on the estate. The factory workers, as a parting gift, have stencilled “His Majesty’s Land Ship Centipede” on her side; the naval concept that individual tanks should have their own names will prove very resilient in British use. The first order of business is another private trial for all those directly involved with aiding the project, which also serves as a helpful dry run to make sure nothing’s going to go wrong in a few days when the official trial for the benefit of the great of the good takes place.
Indeed, nothing goes wrong. In a few days the tank gets its first chance to prove itself as a viable weapon of war. Meanwhile, French efforts are also moving forward again after a long period of inactivity. Perhaps this explains why the French Army, despite being invited, has declined to send anyone to watch the official trials. More soon.
Let’s examine things from the Ottoman side of the hill for a while. Despite the fall of Koprukoy, there’s still widespread optimism, not least because thirteen divisions from Gallipoli are now about to be deployed, and the Caucasus will be getting fully half of them. The Third Army chief, Mahmut Kamil, has finally arrived back in theatre. When the reinforcements arrive he’ll have plenty of men to garrison the Erzurum Fortress. There should even be enough men for a whole new army to be operating alongside Third Army, and then some of the recent Russian successes can be rolled back.
In theory. Hey, guess what L-word is about to rear its head? That’s right: logistics. Even on the Western Front, stuffed to the gills with railways, moving seven divisions from Belfort to Dixmude would be a major undertaking. They’d have to go about 400 miles; from Constantinople to Erzurum is at least 750 miles. And then there’s the minor complication that the Ottoman railway “network” doesn’t get anywhere near Erzurum.
There are two relatively high-capacity standard gauge lines out of Constantinople worth mentioning. The first runs only to Ankara, where a narrow-gauge extension takes over. This stops at Yozgat, about halfway between Constantinople and Erzurum. There’s also the possibility of sending men down the still-incomplete Baghdad railway (which currently ends somewhere between Diyarbakir and Mosul), which leaves “only” 200-odd miles of marching to get to Erzurum, or by sea to Trebizond or Samsun. It is easy to order a division sent somewhere, and difficult to actually take it there. The Ottomans have had a year and a half of war to improve their railway network; outside of Palestine, they’ve done next to nothing.
(Meanwhile, the Russians have been upgrading their Transcaucasus Railway to improve supply to Sarikamis. Plans are already in hand to build a narrow-gauge line forward to Koprukoy, and then to extend it further if the advance continues…)
Lt-Col Fraser-Tytler is unsurprised to hear that the Germans have captured Frise. So, very discreetly, he has a couple of his men start preparing their line of retreat, which is rather more complicated than it might be because the River Somme blocks a direct compass withdrawal. Fortunately there’s fog most of the morning, and they can work without distractions.
As soon as the fog lifted, things began to hum, lots of shells and gas on our position. Soon all our guns were at it. Thanks to the incessant work of our linesmen, phone communications kept good. By 2pm we were at one and the same time engaging four different targets; shooting by map under group orders onto the French front, and under the battery towards observers. Towards dusk, things started to look nasty on our front, so we had to stop helping the French.
It seems the Germans might be trying to attack again, so they spend the better part of the evening thumping the recently-captured new German front line. Of course, Fraser-Tytler knows exactly where this is, having registered all of the BEF’s own positions immediately they arrived in case of just such an eventuality, and they’re hard at work for a good long time before the danger passes.
All night long one was bombarded by queries on the phone, this sort of thing. “Had I seen the support for the Manchesters?” “Did I hear of an 18-pounder battery wandering in the neighbourhood?” “Was it my water-cart destroyed by a shell in Castle Road?” and other such tiresome conundrums.
The saga of Frise is far from over.
Bernard Adams has now come back from his week’s leave, and is rather gung-ho about the prospect of going straight back up the line.
As soon as I got back to Montagne I heard a ”move” was in the air, and I was delighted. I was fearfully keen to get back into the firing-line again. I was full of life, and in the mood for adventure. These moves always try the tempers of all concerned. O’Brien and Edwards are now on the rustle, collecting kit. We have accumulated rather a lot of papers, books, tins of ration, tobacco, etc.
Lewis (my servant) brought in a bucket of water this morning which contained 10% of mud. As the mud dribbled on to the green canvas of my bath during the end of the pouring, he saw it for the first time. Apparently the well is running dry. He managed to get some clean water at length and I had a great bath. Madame asked me as I went in to breakfast why I whistled getting up that morning. I tried to explain that I was in good spirits.
Madame is the lady who’s billeting the troops; no, she’s not Mademoiselle from Armentieres.
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