Pozieres Windmill | Battle of Romani | 4 Aug 1916

Pozieres

The objectives on the Somme just keep getting closer and closer. First they shot for Bapaume. Then they shot for the Second Line so they could attack Bapaume. Then they shot for Longueval and Pozieres so they could hold the Second Line. Now they’re reduced to shooting for a little windmill (still at least 40% intact, somehow) just outside Pozieres. The defenders are much less strong than they had been when the ANZACs first arrived at Pozieres; again there’s no wire left in front of their trenches. The OG Lines fall to Australian bayonets, and by nightfall they’re clinging to a series of shell-holes all round the windmill.

And then comes the receipt, which doesn’t just come in artillery. The men who attacked yesterday into Fourth Avenue are trying to hold it and to then move into Ration Trench today. On the German side of the hill, the order is “At any price, Pozieres ridge must be recovered”. Sergeant Charles Quinnell of the 8th Royal Fusiliers is well placed to appreciate exactly what this means.

Over this barricade on our right flank came a German with a canister of liquid fire on his back. Squirting liquid fire out of a hose, he burnt twenty-three of our chaps to death. I plonked one into his chest, but he must have had an armoured plated waistcoat on, it didn’t stop him. Someone threw a Mills bomb at him and it burst behind—he wasn’t armoured plated behind, he went down. But at any rate he’d done a lot of damage.

The bombers bombed the Germans back from the barricade. Plenty of chaps were wounded with this liquid fire as well as those that were killed; it practically wiped out Tubby Turnbull’s platoon. Then we got an order from the Captain. I hope I never hear it repeated again. We must shorten our front—so he gave us an order to make a barricade of the dead, the German dead and our dead. We made a barricade of them and retreated about 40 yards back towards my platoon.

Quinnell holds the barricade all day and all night as well, with the aid of a Stokes mortar and rifle grenades firing little chip shots over the barricade and back to where the Germans are being forced to assemble for their counter-attacks. And as all this is going on, General Gough is complaining that it should have been done days ago. (General Haig, meanwhile, is slightly preoccupied with an imminent visit from the King, who is of course trying to get as far forward as possible, in the manner of idiotic leaders everywhere.)

Battle of Romani

The long-awaited Ottoman attack on the Suez Canal is now underway. Our correspondent Oskar Teichman has been expecting action for quite some time, and he’s not the only one. So too has General Murray, in command of the defences, and he’s had more than enough time to develop a strategy. It’s simple enough. The enemy could attack in a number of different directions, but the defenders have plenty of mounted troops available. Murray is betting that he can hold his horsemen in reserve long enough for the Ottomans to commit themselves, at which point he can redeploy and meet them in strength.

It’s a good guess. Here’s what it means for Teichman and his pals.

Casualties now began to occur, and it was necessary to make excursions into various parts of the valley. It was sad work bringing the serious cases up the steep declivity, tied on to their horses; but this had to be done at once, as they could not be left at the bottom. I was forced to abandon my dressing station in the Hod, as in the event of retirement we should never have been able to get the wounded up the hill quick enough.

At the dressing station cases were dressed and placed under shelters formed out of horse-blankets and swords. It was now getting very hot, and the wounded suffered greatly from thirst. Meanwhile the sand-cart problem was getting acute, as none had turned up and many wounded were waiting to be evacuated. However, our Signalling Officer managed to get heliograph connection with Canterbury Post, which communicated with the New Zealand Field Ambulance, and an hour later, much to our relief, the first sand-cart arrived.

During this time we had been heavily engaged, and it was a great relief to everyone to hear that the New Zealand Mounted Brigade, which had left Hill 70 after we had started, was just coming into action on our extreme left. The Somersetshire [Royal Arse Hortillery], attached to the New Zealanders, had already been in action for some hours, and had been putting in some good shooting; this battery, the Leicester RHA and the Ayrshire RHA were wonderfully mobile over the heavy sand with their enormous sand-tyres. As soon as the New Zealanders joined in, the pressure on our left flank was considerably relieved.

“Declivity” is a wanky word, and it’s not even been used properly; it’s a downward slope. By definition you can’t go up a declivity, you have to go up an “acclivity”. (Or, you know, an “upward slope”.) Here also we see the value of arse hortillery when you’re not stuck in horrible trench warfare and having to lay down indirect fire from miles away. “Cavalry was obsolete in the First World War” is such a gross over-simplification that it’s really hard to know where to start.

Teichman has a lot more to say, giving a blow-by-blow account of the day’s fighting. For us, suffice to say that it’s gone extremely well and entirely according to plan. We’ll rejoin him as night begins to fall.

It was a picturesque sight when the fires litup the camp and the motley collection of Turkish prisoners, many of whom were supplied with tea from our dixies. Infantry wearing the enverene hats, brown fezzes or skullcaps, dressed in dark-brown khaki and corduroy breeches (most unsuitable for this climate), gunners in astrakhan caps and blue uniforms, Arab irregulars in flowing garments, transport drivers with red facings to their uniforms and yellow sashes, and German machine gunners in khaki drill and wearing yachting caps.

I had charge of a Turkish medical officer. After he had had some food and tea I told him (in French) that he would be taken over to one of the Field Ambulances, where he would spend the night.He told me that his name was Jahat. On arrival at the Field Ambulance we found a very large number of Turkish wounded, some waiting and others being dressed in a large tent. Three [army doctors]were hard at work, assisted by Red Crescent orderlies. I brought Jahat in and announced that he was going to help them.

After explaining this to him he was very disgusted, but we compelled him to take off his coat and get to work amongst his own wounded. It was evident that he had previously concluded that his work was over after surrendering. Another Turkish medical officer told us that he had been in charge of the Field Hospital in Anafarta Village, which reminded us of our days at Suvla Bay.

Eleven months earlier, this doctor would have been treating the wounds that the Worcester Yeomanry were inflicting. It’s a small war after all. I wonder what other cheery thoughts today has in store for us?

Sixth Isonzo

Really? Really? Is it time again already? Why yes, it surely is. And, through no effort of their own, it turns out that this is in fact the best time since the start of the war to launch a major offensive. Between the ill-advised Battle of Asiago, the Brusilov Offensive, and the occupation of Serbia, the Austro-Hungarian army is having severe manpower difficulties. The defences on the Carso are weaker than they’ve ever been. The garrisons on the Isonzo have spent months preparing to attack again. The gunners have been stockpiling ammunition. And General Cadorna has finally, it seems, learned a thing or two about reasonable expectations.

He no longer dreams of vast leaps that can easily take Trieste. He’s no longer even hoping to capture Gorizia. All he wants to do is cross the Isonzo and improve their positions on the Podgora hill and Mount Sabotino. Gorizia itself won’t be assaulted until September. On the other hand, the Duke of Aosta, commanding the Italian 3rd Army, has with difficulty convinced his boss to allow yet another slaughter on Mount San Michele. It’s going off on the 6th, in two days time. Blood for the blood god!

Clifford Wells

Last we heard, idiot son of a Montreal millionaire Clifford Wells was still in England, waiting for orders. A couple of days ago, they finally arrived, and he’s now resting quietly at the Canadian base camp in Le Havre, from where he writes to his family.

I did not cable to you when I left England, because I was so busy at the last that I really could not find time to go to a telegraph office, and also because a cable would have given the impression that I was going straight to the trenches, whereas I knew I should be detained here for some time. Beyond the fact that I have left England, there is very little that I can report. I am pleased to be “on my way” at last.

I am having plenty of practice in speaking French, and find it much easier to understand the people here than the Canadian French in Montreal.

Cue outraged spluttering and alleged swearing from any Quebecois readers.

Herbert Sulzbach

Life is still relatively quiet for German gunner Herbert Sulzbach, and he has plenty of time to think and observe.

The second anniversary of the outbreak of war has passed, but you don’t really think any more about our entering the third year of war, and still less about whether and when there is going to be peace again. It would seem that the fighting on the Somme is attempting to decide the outcome of the war. Gallwitz has given his Army Group an order that not a single metre of ground may be lost. I assume that we too will soon be involved in the greatest battle in the history of the world, and that it will be worse than the Champagne fighting eighteen months ago. [Sulzbach talks at length about how outnumbered they appear to be.]

We hear that Hindenburg has taken over the Supreme Command of the entire Eastern Front, including Austrian troops.

There will be quite a bit more to come on the subject German command arrangements this month. What Sulzbach hears is not entirely accurate, mind. In response to the Brusilov Offensive, first General von Linsingen was given command of a number of Austro-Hungarian troops. Now the sector of German control has been greatly increased, from Riga to Lvov, and put under von Hindenburg and Ludendorff. Conrad von Hotzendorf has also agreed not to attack anything without German approval first. However, it’s not quite the supreme command that Sulzbach suggests.

However, that might soon be a distinction without a difference. Just as General Joffre has been struggling to maintain political support in Paris, so too is General von Falkenhayn struggling in Berlin. He assured the government that the Gorlice-Tarnow Offensive had neutered the Russians; it didn’t. He was full of beans about the prospects for the Battle of Verdun, which has now gone extremely pear-shaped. Now they’re being pushed slowly and surely back at the Battle of the Somme by the damned English. More soon.

Neil Tennant

Having given us a very gloomy view of Basra, Lt-Col Neil Tennant of the Royal Flying Corps is now heading up the Shatt-al-Arab toward the sharp end in Mesopotamia, such as it is.

In the evening we passed Ezra’s tomb: a blue-domed building and haunt of pilgrims in time of peace. Records as far back as the tenth century AD speak of this place as renowned through the country as a spot where prayers were answered. We anchored for the night in mid-stream, for in those days it was unsafe to tie up to ‘the bank. Jackals howled one to sleep.

The following afternoon we crawled into Amarah against a Shamal gale that burnt the eyes in their sockets. Lieut. Kelly, in charge of the RFC advanced store depot, met us here, and we groped ashore to have a look at the place and inspect the mule transport fitting out for the front. The wheels of the carts had all shrunk away from their tyres.

Ezra is a Biblical figure who has at least three separate claimed burial places, although the one near Basra is the best known. A “shamal” is a particularly evil north-westerly wind found around the Persian Gulf. It’s quite capable of making transit over the Shatt-al-Arab and the River Tigris all but impossible for weedy launches like the one Tennant finds himself in.

E.S. Thompson

There is an important little detail in today’s diary entry from E.S. Thompson, easily missed.

Parade as usual, after which made a wrist strap for my watch. Steak for lunch, after which our transport arrived so I suppose we will start tomorrow. Received letters from Doris and Mother mentioning Papa’s accident. Wrote to Mother and Doris in the afternoon and took the letters up to be censored. Stew very nice as it was flavoured with leeks and meat very tender, also pumpkin fritters. Made a raid on Pintlebury’s tent during which we got orders that we are moving tomorrow at 8am. Rations and a full tot of rum issued.

Pintlebury, of course, was the man who raided Thompson’s tent last night. The important point is the excellent stew. This means that the supply lines back to the rear are improving, which in turn means that the railway battalions are making good time as they build that railhead forward from Moshi towards Kondoa Irangi. Without them, General van Deventer at Dodoma would certainly be starving to death. As it is, he and his horsemen are surviving, just about, on half rations.

Actions in Progress

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

Further Reading

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