It’s another explosive and deadly day on the Isonzo. That one trench in front of Gorizia changes hands a few more times, and nearby at Oslavija they take and hold a few more Austro-Hungarian positions. The local commanders are now starting to consider falling back a couple of hundred yards to fresh trenches that are waiting to be occupied.
On the Carso, the Italians are now changing tack, attempting to take Mount San Michele by breaking through on either side and then surrounding it rather than by frontal attack. At Petano, just to the north, they break in for a moment and are then evicted by the counter-attack; another attack in the evening is broken up by artillery fire without reaching the trenches. To the south, nothing doing.
I took my camp bed and blankets with me, on the off chance of being able to stay at Prilip, as I was gradually edging my way up to the Front, leaving the rest of my baggage in Bitol to be sent after me. We got there without any mishap, keeping a sharp look-out for Bulgarian patrols. We found a Serbian military hospital at Prilip, and I asked the Director if I might stay and work there, to which he consented, but added that he was afraid that it would not be for long, as they were expecting to have to fly before the Bulgarians any day.
I accordingly got a room at the hotel, and the Consul left me an orderly to look after me, named Joe, who could speak a little English. I was very pleased at getting into a Serbian hospital again in spite of all difficulties, as the opinion in Salonika seemed to be that it was impossible; but I must say I felt rather lost when the cars went back that evening and I was-left alone, the only Englishwoman in Prilip.
The “hotel” is in fact a somewhat disreputable inn, but it’s the only place with any rooms.
The French in Serbia
With events rapidly reaching a head in Serbia, the French government is beginning to have second thoughts about the whole thing. Having just asked for reinforcements in order to enable him to actually do something useful, General Sarrail is rather surprised by the message that appears today from the new minister of war General Gallieni. Far from sending him more men, Gallieni is ordering him to get in contact with as much of the Serbian army as he can (currently that would be precisely none of it), and then retreat with them back to Salonika and fortify the Greek border.
Sarrail writes a rather prickly reply in which he points out that anything that might be interpreted as a defeat by the Greeks might not be a good idea right now, given the delicate political situation in Greece. He also points out that since the British troops finally agreed to go somewhere, Salonika is now being garrisoned by a Greek division, and they’re making problems about the forward rail transport of men and supplies.
It’s a huge mess, and Sarrail gets a reply almost by return of telegram to tell him to carry on with what he’s doing while his government has another jolly good think.
Peace in Serbia
While all this comedy is going on, Field Marshal von Mackensen, in charge of the invaders, is well aware that he and his allies have won, and all they need to do is just keep going. He’s already requested directions from Erich von Falkenhayn, the German Chief, for what his men are to do after the Serbian campaign finishes. He’s also mindful of the appalling weather, and is trying to save his men from fighting in it if at all possible.
With that in mind, he’s made a formal peace offer of some sort to the Serbian government. (Whether it’s an armistice or a cease-fire or a surrender or what the hell it is, none of the books I have see fit to make clear.) Serbian prime minister Nikola Pasic’s response, as it had been back during the July Crisis, is to stall and play for time while issuing yet another round of increasingly-desperate pleas for assistance.
German East Africa
It’s almost exactly one year since the ill-fated Battle of Tanga. Now there’s a new plan being drawn up for the British Empire to once more invade German East Africa (Tanzania). It’s been carefully timed so that the Colonial Secretary, Austen Chamberlain, can present it to the War Committee while Lord Kitchener is away in the Mediterranean. Kitchener has been consistently hostile to any more than a minimal effort in Africa, but with his influence on a very definite downward slide, this is far from insurmountable.
It also helps that the plan involves the attack to be borne off the backs of a newly-raised force of at least 10,000 South Africans. This in turn will free up Indian troops to be used elsewhere, in Egypt or Mesopotamia. The force doesn’t exactly exist yet, as such, but recruitment in South Africa has stepped up several gears since the conquest of German South-West Africa (Namibia), and there have also been promising developments in British-ruled Kenya and Uganda.
The plan meets with approval in principle, although the details will still need a little work. The main sticking point is to find a commander. The new force will be independent of the existing British Empire presence, so simply appointing General Tighe to oversee it is unlikely; and the positions of General Botha and General Smuts are far from secure owing to their close involvement with domestic South African politics. A little original thinking may be required here.
And, of course, it’d be ideal for any such operation if the Navy can first seize control of Lake Tanganyika; we’ll be getting an update soon from Lieutenant-Commander Spicer-Simson at Lukuga. With that in mind, this one is, for the moment, going to be a slow burner.
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