Rufiji Delta | Basra | 19 Nov 1914

Once again, we have a day light on action on the Western Front, and plenty to talk about elsewhere.


There’s been a lot of sound and fury as the Royal Navy attempts to deal with Konigsberg, but all of it signifying nothing. She might profitably have been left alone, to stew in the malaria-ridden jungle; but this does not fit the character of the First Lord of the Admiralty (one W. Churchill). He’s currently sketching out his latest Good Idea to smoke Konigsberg out of hiding – and he means it quite literally. He’s dreaming of floating oil, pitch, tar, and other such flammables into the Rufiji, and then literally setting the river on fire. (They get as far as carrying out a few early experiments in Portsmouth.)

Meanwhile, back in the real world, a couple of days ago Captain Looff made an escape attempt, trying to do an end run around Chatham and the blockship that was recently sunk in the main, northern channel of the Rufiji delta. He’s tried to go by the southernmost exit at Kikale. If it had come off, he would have got clean away. However, even on a spring tide, his ship’s draft is too deep for him to go that way without running aground.

Meanwhile, Captain Drury-Lowe of Chatham has been cooking up an innovative scheme with his boss, and a slightly bonkers civilian aviator called Herbert Dennis Cutler. Cutler has somehow managed to acquire an early Curtiss Model F flying-boat, and has been cooking up some home-made bombs. I think you can probably see where this is going. He’s been commissioned as a Sub-Lieutenant in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, and today he takes off from his offshore base on Nyororo Island, and departs in search of the enemy.

He doesn’t return on time, and a search operation begins. At one in the afternoon he’s discovered, presumably rather sheepishly, on Okuzi Island, some considerable distance to the south of the Rufiji delta, having lost his way entirely. Still, all’s well that ends well, and plans are made to take him back to Nyororo Island and try again.


Today sees the main offensive against the Ottoman positions around Sahil fort. It takes until mid-afternoon and heavy fighting all the way in hard rain, but the British forces are too strong. The Ottomans are driven out of their positions with heavy losses, and their naval support is ordered up the Shatt al-Arab to provide further artillery support for the final push on Basra itself.


After four days of hard work, the Austro-Hungarian manpower advantage over the Serbs is beginning to tell. They seize some important hills to the south of the offensive, and start forcing the front line away from the Kolubara itself. And for once, someone’s intelligence about enemy strengths is both correct and correctly acted upon. The Austro-Hungarians choose to push the offensive, wary of a Serbian trap and counter-attack, but believing that the Serbians lack the strength and cohesion to execute it.


The Germans are feeling very punchy about their successes to the north of Lodz. Reserves are brought up to push home the advantage. They’re still making decent progress despite the horrendously cold weather. And they’re still completely ignorant of the planned Russian counter-stroke.

Actions in Progress

Siege of Przemysl
Battle of Basra
Battle of Lodz
Battle of Kolubara

Further Reading

The Daily Telegraph is republishing its archives from the war day-by-day. In today’s paper: Rudyard Kipling has written a poem in tribute to Earl Roberts. Yes, that’s most of the paper. Again. Page 3 is bullish about the chances of an Allied war-winning breakthrough in Flanders, Gillette safety-razors get a prime advertising spot next to the casualty list (page 7), and a full-page ad (page 13) encourages the moneyed classes to pay for recreational buildings at New Army camps.

The excellent tumblr Today in World War I is looking at a minor Russo-Turkish naval clash in the Black Sea.

Al-Jazeera English has a series of programmes about the war through Arab eyes.

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