With General von Falkenhayn cautiously optimistic that the Russian Empire might be persuaded to sign a separate peace at some point in the next 12 months, the Entente governments have been moving to prevent that. An Anglo-Franco-Russian agreement to not negotiate individually had been signed in the opening days of September, and over the course of the last month, the Japanese* and Italian governments have now signed up to it.
*Yes, they’re still in the war. Japanese Navy protection of British, French and Russian Empire shipping routes is less important now the major German commerce raiders have been dealt with, but it still allows their allies to concentrate their navies in more useful theatres than the Pacific.
Retreat from Ctesiphon
As it turns out, the Poona Division has only just quit Aziziya in time to avoid its pursuers. The flotilla continues mud-hopping along behind them as they make good time to Umm-at-Tubal, but it’s now seeming likely that General Townshend may have to fight some kind of rearguard action to keep the heat off. Only a few days ago he was confident of holding Kut-al-Amara if besieged there. Now it’s in question whether he’ll ever reach the town…
We are finally done with this damned battle; or at least as “done” as we can reasonably be. Skirmishing and relatively heavy attacks will continue until mid-December, but as far as it matters to anyone, the Fourth Battle of the Isonzo has now come to its end. I’d do a map to illustrate the Italian “gains”, if there were any point to it. They’ve taken maybe a couple of square kilometres of ground, none of it of any tactical or strategic importance. They’ve taken 50,000 casualties to the Austro-Hungarians’ 32,000. And we are now, finally, finally, done with major actions on the Italian Front for the year.
Since May, the Italian Army has fought four major set-piece battles, occupied a small amount of territory formerly considered Austro-Hungarian, and utterly failed in everything it has attempted to do. 400,000 men are casualties and 66,000 of them are dead. The survivors are exhausted, hungry, and desperately trying to fight off disease. And the entire battlefield now turns new arrivals’ stomachs with the all-pervasive sickly-sweet stench of death and decomposition. We’ll be back here in a while, but thankfully I can now conclude a day on the Isonzo without ending with “More soon”. We’ll see them later.
The storm is now, mercifully, beginning to blow itself out. Well, the storm at Gallipoli is blowing itself out, in any case. The storm in London over what to do next continues furiously raging, much of the argument bound up with the debacle that Salonika has turned into. Colonel Hankey has been circulating a memo for the Cabinet on that very subject. This situation is now such a hot mess that even the far-sighted author of Hankey’s points is unable to cut through the nonsense. Rather two-facedly, his post-war comment on the memo’s impact was that it had divided the Cabinet still further and delayed a final decision, which was “the last thing I wanted”.
It’s hard to make any other comment on that than “well, what the hell were you expecting?” He set out a number of valid grand-strategic concerns for staying (most importantly, a large number of Ottoman troops would be free to go to Mesopotamia, or the Caucasus, or Egypt), and seems happy to admit that his only consideration of whether the men could physically survive the winter is to add the enormous hedge “…provided that it were possible to stay” to everything he said about why staying would be a good idea. The Cabinet continues kicking the can down the road until both Lord Kitchener and Admiral de Roebeck can report personally.
Flora Sandes watches the Second Regiment fighting in the snow.
I floundered through the snow up a httle hill with some of the others to see if we could see anything, but we could not see much through the winter twilight except the flashes from the guns momentarily lighting up the snow banks, and hear the noise of the shells as they whistled overhead. This had been going on for a couple of hours now, and the Greek doctor was getting into a regular funk because they had had no orders to move, though it was all right as we had no wounded in the tent to be carried away, and no one else was worrying about it.
He finally sent a messenger up to the Commandant, as he seemed to think the ambulance had been forgotten. A couple of days afterwards the men told me with much scorn that that afternoon had been too much for him, and that he did a retreat on his own and never came back to the ambulance again.
The soldiers were all retreating across the snow, and I never saw such a depressing sight. The grey November twilight, the endless white expanse of snow, lit up every moment by the flashes of the guns, and the long column of men trailing away into the dusk wailing a sort of dismal dirge. I don’t know what it was they were singing, something between a song and a sob, it sounded like the cry of a Banshee. I have never heard it before or since, but it was a most heartbreaking sound.
First the Kid, now the Greek doctor.
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(If you find the olde-tyme style difficult to get along with, have a look at this reading guide.)