Reed and Stopford | 26 July 1915

Mimi & Toutou

The expedition which will, in one crew member’s words, “make Fiction look like Truth’s shabby sister” to bring Mimi and Toutou from Cape Town to Lake Tanganyika, is well underway. They’ve just completed the easy part of their journey, by rail from the Cape to Elizabethville. Now they’re going to have to man-haul the boats the rest of the way.

Here they meet up with freelance explorer and loony of Empire John R Lee. Lee has been enthusiastically scouting an overland route for the rest of the journey. He appears to have done a great deal else. Reports have been sent back to Cape Town that Lee has spent much of his time either drunk, shagging, or getting into debt to pay for those habits.

When the expedition arrives in Elizabethville, Spicer-Simson and his men soon discover Lee’s reputation. This is rather annoying. As far as they were concerned, this all was supposed to be a vital secret. Now they find that Lee has been spreading the news around with a shovel. More tomorrow.

Suvla Bay

General Stopford, the poor old sod, is trying to apply a little common sense. When he first was told of Sir Ian Hamilton’s plan for the landings at Suvla, he apparently made plenty of promising noises. He then, quite sensibly, took the plan to his Chief of Staff, General Reed. And, painfully aware of his lack of any kind of experience, he’s taken careful note of everything that Reed has told him.

We’ll be covering this in more detail later; but in very brief, the plan envisages an almost unopposed landing, followed by a swift move inland to seize several important ridges on Day 1 before Ottoman reinforcements can arrive. General Reed has taken one look at this proposal and pooh-poohed it. His recent experience on the Western Front has made one thing painfully clear; an advance of this kind will be impossible without proper artillery support. And his idea of “proper artillery support” is far, far in excess of anything available on Gallipoli.

And so Stopford gives way to Reed. The outline that he approves is already watering down Sir Ian Hamilton’s explicit orders. By the time Stopford issues his detailed corps orders, they’ll bear almost no relation to what his boss has asked him to do. They’re timid and cautious and they’re entirely based on false premises.

What Reed hasn’t understood is that this time, they won’t be facing anything like the resistance that an attack on the Western Front would do. There is a small Ottoman covering force at Suvla Bay, but it’s little more than a tripwire, without the capability to do much more than fire a few rounds of rifle ammunitions and send runners back to HQ. They’re not entrenched, they have very little artillery of their own, and none of the Minenwerfers that the German Army has deployed to such devastating effect. Reed has drawn up an excellent plan, but it’s for the wrong battle. When applied to this one, a hoary old phrase about sledgehammers (nuts, cracking, for the use of) does unfortunately spring to mind.

Siege of Saisi

Once again, the German Empire besiegers at Saisi mostly content themselves with shelling the town from long range. Occasionally they probe forward to test out the defences, and they keep a close watch on the men willing to risk it all to make the vital journey down to the river from water.

Battle of Malazgirt

The Russians begin retreating from Malazgirt and from Van. There’s nothing left to do but head back to the Eleskirt Valley, where they started from a few months ago.

Second Isonzo

The Second Battle of the Isonzo has an absolutely brutal day today on Mount San Michele. The summit changes hands four times over the course of the fighting, with countless other positions being taken and retaken again and again. The Italians also suffer a major setback when their Brigadier and most of his staff are caught in the wrong place at the wrong time and a heavy shell lands on them. A Captain Abel serving with the Austro-Hungarian army describes what it’s like to be in battle on the Carso in the summer.

[The sun] bakes the leaves on the trees to a dark crisp, until they crackle on the branch. It blanches the grass until it shatters at a touch. Trees look black. The sea steams, or gleams like steel. Rocks split. Sound carries louder and faster. It is as if the sun’s rays are multiplied by mirrors, tormenting the eyes. There is no escaping the heat.

Tongues swell, coated with thick saliva. Fingers swell and dangle clumsily from sticky hands. Eyes inflamed, skin like parchment. The blinding light beats everywhere, penetrating our eyelids. Our [water] flasks are empty, sucked dry by early morning.

The incoming shells are visible to the naked eye. They look like black sausages. If they were not so terrible, the sight of Carso veterans leaping to avoid them would be ridiculous. Not realising that they must dodge the shells, many of the newcomers are blown up. As soon as the bombardment ends, the Italians rush out of their advance positions and jump into our trenches.

Of necessity, the Italians have become expert at filling sandbags, positioning machine-guns, building barricades, and doing the hundred and one other things required to turn a trench round at breakneck speed. Captain Abel and his comrades must counter-attack immediately, or the position is lost. And, at the end of the day, it’s the defenders who still hold the summit of Mount San Michele. Some of the summit’s supporting positions have been shelled so heavily that they’ve disappeared entirely, and the men have had no option but to give them up and let the Italians die in them, without any cover.

It’s far from over.

Actions in Progress

Armenian Genocide
Battle of Malazgirt
Battle of the Isonzo (Second Isonzo)
Siege of Saisi

Further Reading

I have a Twitter account, @makersley, which you can follow to be notified of updates and get all my retweets of weird and wonderful First World War things. If you prefer Tumblr, I’m also on Tumblr.

The Daily Telegraph is republishing its archives from the war day-by-day. Worth a look. I’m reading the paper every day, and it’s where the content for Our Advertising Feature comes from.

(If you find the olde-tyme style difficult to get along with, have a look at this reading guide.)

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