Second Ypres | Konigsberg | 25 Apr 1915

The major event of today is the Gallipoli landings. They’re so extensive that they get their own post. Here we deal with events at Second Ypres, in Africa, and we see what’s happened to Grigoris Balaikan after he was arrested in Constantinople.

Konigsberg

After months of hard work, the RNAS aviators under command of Flight-Lieutenant John Cull have succeeded in making one of their planes airworthy for service in the difficult Tanzanian conditions. Somehow he hauls his plane up above 1,000 feet. Making about 60mph, he points his plane inland, and from a thousand feet in the air it’s child’s play to locate Konigsberg at her latest anchorage. The German sailors quickly respond with their best effort at anti-aircraft fire.

Somehow, one of them manages to score a lucky shrapnel hit, but they don’t interfere with Cull’s ability to take a considerable number of aerial photographs. He turns for home, but perhaps fortunately he’s over the coast when his engine, damaged by the shrapnel, gives up and fails. He brings it down safely on Mafia Island and the mission is a success.

Our Advertising Feature

The early days of a British phenomenon that would burn brightly for forty-odd years and then entirely burn itself out.
The early days of a British phenomenon that would burn brightly for forty-odd years and then entirely burn itself out.

Naval codes

Meanwhile, Captain Looff of the Konigsberg has had his suspicions raised by the recent excitement over the Kronborg. (Salvage efforts continue, completely unobserved by the Royal Navy.) He’s recently been sending out messages that he intends to leave his anchorage and rendezvous with a spurious new supply vessel. And he’s satisfied, but also disappointed, to note that two British ships have been immediately dispatched to the area that he named for the rendezvous. It’s now obvious to him that his codes are useless.

Grigoris Balaikan

Balaikan and his compatriots first have their personal effects confiscated, and they’re then taken out of the city to Saray Burnu. Memories of the Hamidian Massacres twenty years ago are still fresh. Many of the detainees fear that they’re going to be thrown into the sea, as had happened during that time. However, they’re instead put onto a ship, and sailed to a railway station from where they will be transported deep into Anatolia.

Second Ypres

Lacking significant infantry reserves, the Germans are now intent on shelling the salient into submission, inching forward all along the line when resistance has been silenced. The front-line trenches, the reserve lines, the communication routes back to Ypres, and Ypres itself are all eating a vast quantity of ordnance. Sir John French writes a strongly-worded letter complaining once again about the lack of ammunition for his own guns. He’s also worried about a potential lack of rifle ammunition. Signaller Jim Sutton is with ten underpowered, under-armed guns, being pelted by at least 25 heavy German howitzers.

In the wood was a chateau, deserted but undamaged. The occupants must have been heavy champagne drinkers, as there were several walls in the grounds built of empty champagne bottles. A direct hit threw glass fragments a considerable distance. … The enemy were using 17-inch howitzers to shell Ypres, and the shells sounded like freight trains as they passed over. Looking back into the city, you could see several houses disintegrate when a single shell exploded.

Meanwhile, Driver Rodger Fish is having a hairy time trying to bring fresh supplies into the salient.

We were just unloading inside Ypres when the bombardment commenced and we had to clear out as quickly as possible. We came back next day, and we had to take the load as far up as possible. I shall never forget that town. We had to go right through it, dodging the dead bodies of men and horses. Then the worst part of the journey, two and a half miles of open road in view of the Germans.

I don’t suppose you have the least idea what it feels like to be close behind the line during a battle. As a rule, the lorries deliver to the horse transport, which is a decent way behind, but we weren’t allowed to unload in case there was a breakthrough. This was just at the time that the Canadians made their great stand, and it was a night! Guns going all round us.

Meanwhile meanwhile, the field hospitals are filling up with gas casualties, something that the doctors and nurses are in no way prepared to deal with. Death by chlorine is agonising. If a man had been lucky enough to get several good lungfuls, he would have been incapacitated quickly and would have died not too long after. However, if he only breathed in a lesser concentration, the effects would often be just as deadly, but could take days to fully manifest.

The men’s lungs would slowly destroy themselves, their airways swelling and swelling with bronchitis, making them struggle harder and harder for breath. Most of them had also been blinded by the chlorine. Eventually, their lungs would begin to fill with fluid. If they didn’t succumb to asphyxia, they’d eventually drown from the fluid in their lungs.

The Army is desperately trying to find a better countermeasure to gas than pissy handkerchiefs. Sister Kate Luard, currently in a casualty clearing station south of Ypres, has some very unusual patients today.

This afternoon the medical staffs of both divisions have been trying experiments in a barn with chlorine, with and without different kinds of masks soaked with some antidote such as lime. All were busy coughing and choking, and the [chief medic] of the 5th Division got blue and suffocated. He was brought here looking very bad, and for an hour we had to give him fumes of ammonia until he could breathe properly.

They found out what they want to know.

The masks are incredibly primitive, pads of cotton wool soaked in neutralising chemicals wrapped in fabric and tied round the mouth and nose. But they’re much better than what the blokes already have, and within a week there’ll be 300,000 of them in France.

General Smith-Dorrien

As evening falls, General Smith-Dorrien has driven to see Sir John French. Information is scarce. All he knows is that his line is being gradually pushed back, and there’s still no real sign of the French to anchor the Canadian flank. There is a relatively strong fallback line in the salient. It was originally dug by the French, but as the BEF has moved in they’ve called it the GHQ Line. Smith-Dorrien wants to retire to it, stabilise the situation, and then counter-attack from it some time later.

There’s a real irony here. Back in August 1914, at the Battle of Le Cateau, Smith-Dorrien had disobeyed an order from French to retreat. Now it’s Smith-Dorrien who wants to retreat, being issued with orders to stand firm. French has been promised by General Foch that a Gallic counter-attack is imminent. If the counter-attack succeeds, there will be no need to retire to the GHQ Line. It’s a defensible position, but it commands almost no high ground. If they go back there, the Germans will have all the advantages of observation over the new BEF positions, over Ypres, and over the roads behind it.

Gallipoli

Once again, for the invasion of Gallipoli, which began today, see this separate post.

Actions in Progress

Defence of Van
Battle of Ypres (Second Ypres)
Gallipoli landings

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.

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.)

Leave a Reply