Pozieres Windmill | 29 Jul 1916

Pozieres windmill

Between the ANZACs and Pozieres windmill, there is a very nasty interconnected trench system with two main fire trenches. The staff knows them as OG1 and OG2 (for “Old German”, because aerial photographs have shown them to be much older than the rest of the Second Line). Quick recap; from the windmill’s mound you have an unobstructed view everywhere and can theoretically make the Germans’ intact First Line positions untenable. General Gough has therefore pressured the 2nd Australian Division into attacking without proper preparation.

And we all know what happens without proper preparation. Since No Man’s Land is about 500 to 700 yards in many places, and sapping forward immediately provokes heavy shelling, they’re going to try and replicate the success had at Bazentin Ridge with a night attack. Fair enough, except at Bazentin Ridge the enemy was still struggling to find its arse with both hands, and the ground had not yet been excessively shelled. Here the ground is a hellscape of dead earth and shell-holes. And German engineers have been sneaking out at night, dropping barbed wire arrangements down the shell-holes.

And then, in the name of surprise, the artillery moves straight from general harrassing fire to an intense barrage of only a few minutes. There’s no accompanying rolling barrage. And so, all the BEF achieves by attacking at quarter past midnight is making it very difficult to see that the artillery has, by and large, failed to cut the German wire. And so the attack plays out like so many others on the Somme; the occasional foothold gained here and there, but most of the men forced right back to where they started. Many attacking battalions have taken 50% casualties and 100% disillusionment. Advance if you can, indeed.

The Chief will not be happy when he hears about this. But hopefully he’ll be able to work out what went wrong.

The attack by the 2nd Australian Division upon the enemy’s position between Pozieres and the windmill, was not successful. From several reports I think the cause was due to want of thorough preparation.

Correct! He goes into considerably more detail, identifying that the men had to advance far too far in the dark and over ground they were unfamiliar with. He also is worried by reports that the men didn’t have time to form up properly before going over, and that one brigade marched into the trenches and then almost straight over the top. Surely the correct thing to do now is go and visit the offending generals and give them a piece of one’s mind.

After lunch I visited headquarters Reserve Army and impressed upon Gough and Neill Malcolm that they must supervise more closely the plans of the ANZAC Corps. Some of their divisional generals are so ignorant and (like so many Colonials) so conceited, that they cannot be trusted to work out unaided the plans of attack.

Oh. I see. So let me get this straight. Haig’s spent the last week, at least, reminding Gough again and again of the importance of proper preparation. Gough has paid attention to absolutely none of this and instead forced his men to go off half-cocked. Haig is now blaming the ANZACs for doing what they were told. It gets better.

I then went on to HQ ANZAC Corps at Contay, and saw Generals Birdwood and [chief of staff Brudenell White]. The latter seems a very sound capable fellow, and assured me that they had learnt a lesson, and would be more thorough in future.

I pointed out to Birdwood that Pozieres village had been captured thanks to a very thorough artillery preparation. Last year the French had spent often a fortnight in taking such villages (Neuville St Vaast, Souchez, etc.) Still, the capture of Pozieres by the Australians would live in history! They must not however underestimate the Enemy or his power of defence. I had sent him a very experienced and capable [Commander Royal Artillery], and he must trust him.

Birdwood was very grateful for my visit and remarks.

Is that what he told you? Quite how Birdwood was able to listen to this ill-informed, patronising lecture without just hauling off and punching Haig is surely one of the great military miracles. But then he’s been in the Army since 1883, so I suppose this is what they mean by “military discipline”. Or maybe, like Father Ted with Bishop Brennan, he really did kick the Chief up the arse and then immediately pretended he hadn’t…

Caucasus

The fighting that’s now beginning on the Caucasus front is so little-known that it’s all but impossible to find an agreed English name. I’m going with “Battle of Bitlis”, although most of the fighting won’t be anywhere near it. This is because, for reasons best known to himself, Ottoman Second Army commander Izzet Pasha has divided his forces into three groups, who will be too widely spread to easily communicate and won’t be able to offer support if their mates get into trouble. His basic idea was a decent one, mind. Let’s try an extended metaphor.

Imagine a man holding a pike out in front of him; the pike is the Russian forces and supply lines in the Caucasus, and the man represents Sarikamis. Now, give him two opponents. One wears very thick gloves, walks in front of the pike, and holds it on the end so it can’t move about. (This is what Third Army should have done.) The other walks in from the side while the pike is being held in place and quickly saws it off a quarter of the way up; this man is the Second Army, now advancing on Erzincan and Erzurum from the south.

A reasonable idea, but now built on entirely faulty assumptions. For one thing, it turns out that our pikeman has just run the Third Army right through, so he’ll be turning round in a moment, and you may look out when he does. For another, instead of walking in with a chainsaw and making one strong cut on the pike, splitting their forces now means that Second Army will be trying to saw through in two separate places with a hacksaw in each hand, while also trying to kick the pikeman in the balls from three feet away.

Even the presence of one Mustafa Kemal, late of Gallipoli, as a corps commander, isn’t going to do much good here. The Russian pikeman is already turning to face his new enemy and bring the pointy end to bear, although it’ll take him a few weeks to finish turning round completely. Nevertheless, when he does finish, pike will surely beat hacksaw. If Second Army were moving like this a month ago, even as three columns they would have been a threat that could have stopped the Russians advancing on Erzincan. Now they’re just a chance for General Yudenich to pad his CV.

Louis Barthas

Yesterday, Louis Barthas introduced us to the ordinary soldier’s homing instinct for locating fresh sources of pinard, beyond the daily ration. Unfortunately, going to the rear to buy one’s own supply from the merchants is strictly forbidden.

A corporal from my company, having decided to go to Somme-Suippes, thought himself clever enough to make up a false authorization which he signed, by his own hand, with the name of the company commander. But the gendarmes who stopped him got suspicious and sent this permission slip to the division, which sent it to the colonel, and finally to the captain, and the trick was discovered. This corporal was in a real mess. No one talked of anything less than a court-martial, breaking in rank, forced labor. I don’t know how he pulled himself out of it.

But this zeal in carrying out such a rigorous and absurd duty irritated the poilus, who went out in groups and administered some hard knocks to the gendarmes with stout clubs. But these reprisals went too far. One day they found two gendarmes swinging from the branches of a pine tree, with their tongues hanging out. From this moment, the poilus could go get food in the neighborhood without worrying about a thing.

Well, that took a turn for the horrific. The General’s response was to have an order of the day read out in praise of the heroic military policemen. Now, you might expect the blokes to react to this fatuous, inadequate proclamation with flatulence and heckling, and indeed they do. However, apparently some of the junior officers are now joining in, which is not a good sign at all.

Neil Fraser-Tytler

It’s a day of celebration for our correspondent Neil Fraser-Tytler today. Someone has managed to arrange a coincidence.

My birthday. It started well, as when shaving in my hole on the firestep, to my great surprise Peter (Captain P.S. Fraser-Tytler) turned up with an army of signallers. He had come into action near Montauban the night before, and was anxious to make use of our line to get his howitzers registered at once. His men laid a line to the French battery, thus getting in touch with our exchange. Then we went up to Trones Wood, and had a most successful shoot.

He came back to join in my birthday dinner (our light cart had previously gone to Amiens to buy food and liquor suitable for the occasion). Unfortunately, just as we were starting, orders came in that I was to go immediately to Group HQ. Five courses and a bottle of champagne had to be gulped down in quick time.

I have two observations. First, how many other brothers can say they’ve celebrated a birthday by killing large numbers of German soldiers with an extremely large gun? Second, you would be quite correct in doubting whether the blokes get a five-course birthday dinner with champagne on their birthdays.

Oskar Teichman

Oskar Teichman’s mates have been warned to move, but so far…

We were ready to move off all night, with horses and camels saddled, but no orders arrived. In the afternoon one of our aeroplanes flew over rather lop-sided and very low. On arrival at Kantara the pilot, who had been shot through the chest, died of wounds.

There’s also an extensive selection of intelligence reporting, all to the effect of “there’s a lot of the buggers out there”. Apparently they managed to kill an Austro-Hungarian officer; I never knew they went as advisers to the Ottoman army in the same way that the Germans did.

E.S. Thompson

E.S. Thompson continues going nowhere, despite all the rumours flying around.

After parade Smikky made a protest for us to Mr Parsons against doing the colonel’s fatigues, as machine gunners are exempted from fatigues. Drew rations. Heard we are going back to Moshi on Monday and I hope so too as it is very slow doing nothing here. Lunch consisted of steak, coffee, bread and syrup. The motor returned with the 2 new machine guns with auxiliary tripods, new chain belts, battle-sights, etc. Put the stew on to boil then started filling the belts.

So, over the past two weeks or so, they’ve been variously going home, going forward to Dodoma, and going back to Moshi

Edward Mousley

Edward Mousley has now arrived at the end of his journey in Kastamonu. Remote enough to be out of the way and dissuade escapes, large enough to accomodate a large number of house-guests.

No words could describe my unbounded joy at receiving to-day news from the outside world. There was a postcard from friends in Camberley, saying that our defence has at last been understood, and asking what one wanted. It was such a cheery word. There was also a tiny letter three and three-quarter lines in length, which came many thousands of miles congratulating us on the siege, and announcing that parcels had already left for me. We hear they cannot arrive for months.

There is yet, however, no word from my dear mother, or from home. I am now practically without socks, shirt, vests, or anything else, my boots in ribbons, and with one blanket. We are to get seven liras a month, and our board and lodging costs nine liras at the least, as we have to pay an unjustified rent. What with tobacco and medicine, not to mention English food with which we must reinforce this Oriental provender, it will be at least fourteen liras and possibly eighteen a month.

All the people here seem well disposed towards us. They know we represent cash to them. At least they think so.

This arrangement is in accordance with the Hague Convention, just about.

Maximilian Mugge

Maximilian Mugge is being kept up with debates in Parliament that are relevant to his interests.

A friend of mine writes that in the House of Commons Mr. Reddie asked (July 26th): “Is the right hon. gentleman aware from this and other questions, of the spread of Germanophobia or German Fever; whether a lot of persons are affected with it in this House, and that it creates extraordinary delusions such as war babies, Channel Tunnel and other crazes; and whether he can take prompt steps to check it; if not, will he fumigate this side of the house, so as to allay the effect upon our nerves?”

I am still sleeping in the open. One good result: I had not to join the others in their lice-hunt last night. The tents in our line seem to lie across the track of some big army of lice looking for new quarters. I take it that some royal louse amongst them, gifted with a prophetic vision, warned them off their old feeding-ground, held by a Division with an energetic comanding officer, and told them about the warm and snug army blankets in the xth Division near the Reinforcement Office. “They never fumigate their blankets and it is heaven for lice. Fresh blood daily!”

Mr Reddie is Michael Reddy, MP for Birr in what’s now County Offally. He was finishing a short period of questions to the Home Secretary on the treatment of various German nationals. As a member of the Irish Parliamentary Party, which supports gaining Home Rule by military means, he’s very interested in who the Government chooses to intern and why, especially so soon after the Easter Rising.

A “war baby” is a baby who’s been named after a particular battle, often one that their father fought or died in; and the concept of a submarine-proof tunnel under the Channel now has a parliamentary committee investigating its feasibility, for obvious reasons. (There have been a lot of submarine sightings in the Channel recently, which is delaying cross-Channel traffic, including the despatch to France of the first Mark I tanks.)

Actions in Progress

Armenian Genocide
Battle of Verdun
Brusilov Offensive (Battle of Kowel)
Siege of Medina
Battle of the Somme
Battle of Bitlis

Further Reading

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