Piraeus | Sugar | 15 Jan 1916

Piraeus

We begin the day in Greece. Piraeus is a large port city seven miles from the centre of Athens. The Greek government has issued an understandably bad-tempered protest about General Sarrail having arrested diplomatic personnel from the Central Powers in Salonika. Today, just to show the Greek government how much their neutrality means these days, a very large fleet sails into Piraeus and lands a few knots of men, just because they can. I’d like to imagine that they then loomed threateningly in the background while Sarrail walked the streets with King Constantine I. “Eeet ees a vairy nice port you ‘ave ‘ere, Yoeur Majesti. Eet wood be a shame eef anytheeng ‘appened to it, non?”

Erzurum Offensive

It’s a long, hard day of fighting for the Russians. By the end of it, the Don Foot Brigade is on top of the Kozican-dag with its opponents melting away before it, and the Caucasian Rifles are heading down towards the Lines of Koprukoy’s rear areas. It now seems that the Siberian Cossacks are too far behind to get to the battle in time, so they’re stopped and held back for later use. We now have a straightforward race. Can the Caucasian Rifles get down into the valley before enough information dribbles back to headquarters for the Ottomans to order a retreat and save their army?

U-boats

General von Falkenhayn has recently re-ignited the German navy’s internal debate about what submarines are for by asking for a major submarine offensive against British merchant shipping to complement the Battle of Verdun. Old arguments are being dragged out, new numbers are being drawn up. Still firmly opposed is the Chancellor. Bethmann-Hollweg has rather receded from view since July 1914, as more and more decisions are being seen as purely military matters, and nothing to do with him. However, this involves foreign policy, and diplomacy, and dealing with the Americans, so back he wafts into the story like a bad smell.

He’s been thoroughly opposed to restarting a campaign of unrestricted submarine warfare, or indeed anything that might smell like one. The risk of bringing the Americans in is simply too great. And even if it wasn’t, he’s far from convinced that the submarines could sink anything like the amount of shipping that he’s being told is possible. And even if they could (it goes on and on like this), the damned English are simply too stubborn to admit defeat at sea, where Britannia supposedly rules the waves.

Every point has a counterpoint, every argument a corollary. And, being a naval matter, you have to get the Kaiser to say yes before you can play with his train set. Admiral von Muller, who as Chief of the Naval Cabinet spends rather a lot of time listening to the arguments and also listening to Wilhelm II (a thankless job if ever there was one), is having trouble working out who, if anyone, is right. Both sides are convinced they’re right and can deploy convincing arguments. This one’s going to run and run.

Robert Palmer

Robert Palmer is turning taciturn in Mesopotamia.

Rained all the morning on and off. Afternoon grey and cold. Nothing doing and no news. Sniping at night.

The Brains Trust continues meanwhile to ponder the problem of the Hanna chokepoint, which I refuse to call a “defile”.

Henri Desagneaux

Henri Desagneaux’s comedy of errors continues. He’s been told to join a training course for new company commanders…

I introduce myself and some friends in the same position to the Course Director, Lt-Col Petit. Great embarrassment. He has no orders to receive us and the course we were supposed to follow is just finishing! Still more phone-calls. Why are we arriving now? What is to be done with us? Oh, the beauty of French organisation!

After some considerable debate, it is decided that they should stay and join in with the last few days of the current course, and then start from the beginning. Why not, indeed?

Flora Sandes

At Durazzo, Flora Sandes has a problem that needs solving.

The British Adriatic Mission were feeding the Serbian Army, and were doing wonders. Among other things [the men] had had some coffee given to them, but it was not much use, as they had no sugar, and the kindly inhabitants of Durazzo had made a corner in sugar and put the price up; so it was impossible to buy it for them, and I racked my brains as to how I could get some at least for my own company.

I asked the head of the Mission, but he, of course, could not make an exception of one particular company, even if it had an English corporal, but he said he would see what could be done and turned the matter over to his Adjutant. He, being a young man of resource, went to a Red Cross organisation and demanded a year’s rations of sugar for an English nurse.

I do not know what the daily ration of sugar for an English nurse may be, but, anyhow, one year’s worked out at a good-sized case, which I brought back in triumph (having borrowed a pack-horse in Durazzo for that purpose) and divided up amongst my company. Perfect peace reigned in the camp, the men all spending a very happy afternoon sitting round their little camp fires, making endless little cups of sweet black Turkish coffee. I hope the American Red Cross will forgive me for sharing my year’s rations with belligerents if they should ever chance to read this.

If there’s anyone out there who thinks they need more proof that this woman is a born soldier, you’re off your head, mate.

Actions in Progress

Armenian Genocide
Siege of Kut
Erzurum Offensive

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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