Tanga | Mametz Wood | 7 Jul 1916

Tanga

We begin today with the settling of an old score in German East Africa. The Battle of Tanga, way back in November 1914, has, in many ways, set the stage for many of the set-piece battles that have followed it. A superior attacking force spectacularly cocked up a number of things and so allowed the defenders to hold out when really they shouldn’t have.

Today no such chances are being taken, although Tanga is defended only by the smallest of rear-guards. The Royal Navy’s cruisers have all been concentrated here for a punishing offshore bombardment; the defenders, job done, clear out as soon as honour allows. The amount of colony under German control is contracting; but Colonel von Lettow-Vorbeck still remains at large. As long as he’s free and has men to lead, the British Empire will have to continue pouring resources into the area to prevent him from running around launching guerrilla attacks at will.

In other news, there are still more than a thousand Schutztruppe at large around Lake Victoria. Their base at Mwanza is surrounded by mountains and is very easily defensible. It’s also the northern end of an important road to Tabora, on the Central Railway. Men from the Force Publique have now located Major Wintgens and his men. They’re important enough that between British and Belgian Empire commitments, about 5,000 men will attack in a week’s time.

Battle of the Somme

As the final Germans are winkled out of La Boisselle, the timetable for further attacks is just slipping, and slipping, and slipping. An attack on the now-critical Trones Wood has been consistently delayed, first for lack of French support, and now due to the on-again off-again blasts of rain. Four days ago it could almost certainly have been taken unopposed. Now the Germans have poured men into the wood. They’ve barely had time to dig trenches, but Trones Wood is tall, and home to overwhelmingly thick undergrowth, and they’ve had over a year of occupation to draw up detailed maps and gain local knowledge.

Meanwhile, over to the left, a couple of divisions are now trying to push towards Contalmaison (again), and through Mametz Wood. It’s far from the finest day in the Army’s history. Orders have arrived late and lack clarity. The constant need for artillery fire is starting to run shell supplies worryingly low. The problem has changed, mind you; it’s not that there are insufficient shells, just that most of them are stuck at the ports, unable to move forward because the logistical arrangements aren’t good enough. (More on that to come.) Let’s just have the map again.

Tube map, not Ordnance Survey map.

Tube map, not Ordnance Survey map.

Mametz Wood

Shells are not all there’s not enough of. The attack is supposed to be a divisional attack. As in, the division will attack as a whole. However, it’s been so poorly planned and executed that out of a division of (nominally) about 15 battalions, only two will go over the top towards Mametz Wood. Before they do, Sergeant Albert Perriman of the 11th South Wales Borderers is trying to feed his men.

For fifty-two of us I was allocated one and a half loaves of bread, a piece of boiled bacon weighing about 16 ounces after the Somme mud had been removed, a small quantity of biscuits, some currants and sultanas and a petrol tin of tea. As I displayed the rations which would not be the ‘last supper’ but the ‘last breakfast’ for some of us, I reminded my lads of the parable of the ‘loaves and fishes’, adding that as I had not the miraculous powers of Our Lord Jesus Christ, section commanders should toss up, the winner taking the lot.

At this, one of the lads said, “Say Sarge, the buggers do not intend us to die on a full stomach, do they?”

There’s about 500 yards to cover between the new front line and the fringes of the wood. The ground is rather undulating, which cuts both ways. On the one hand, it protects the blokes from direct observation after they’ve gone over the top. On the other, when they crest the last ridge, there’s still 150 clear yards to go before they’re in the trees. And there are German machine guns in the trees. Here we have a rare example of machine guns, not artillery, being the deadliest force on the battlefield. The men are forced to take cover and then retreat.

A second attack in the afternoon is broken up by artillery fire; Sergeant Perriman’s platoon had already been ordered forward again in an attempt to take the machine guns by surprise and capture them.

Shrapnel and heavy machine-gun fire all around us spelled instant death. My officer was the first to go. I was a yard or so behind him when he fell. He fell without uttering a sound. I examined him and found he was dead. I took over, but for short duration. I became the second casualty. I received multiple wounds—in leg, stomach and hands by shrapnel. Unable to continue, I handed over to the senior NCO and I managed to crawl back the best way I could. Progress was slow and painful.

Slow and painful, indeed.

Contalmaison and Ovillers

There are similar scenes at Ovillers. This is another occasion where some men went over the top and were immediately cut down by machine-gun fire. Of interest to our story is the presence of the 7th Royal Sussex. Before his adventures with the War Office, Maximilian Mugge was in the Royal Sussex’s permanent training battalion, and he might very well have been involved with this. Apparently, through sheer force of elan and bad German shooting, they and some Royal Fusiliers (another contender for Mugge-dom) succeeded where thousands had failed and shoved a pair of companies into the German trenches.

Comrades followed, the attackers bombed their way up the trenches, and then came the counter-attacks. By nightfall they’ve captured and held, er, a large chunk of half the German trenches. At Contalmaison they initially pushed right into the village, but their reinforcements were broken up, and counter-attacks threw them back out again. This all is really very worrying, for reaons we’ll explore as the battle continues. I’d do another map, but the line’s not gone far enough to warrant it.

Let us once again glance briefly across the hill, where we find General Burkhardt, whose division is defending Ovillers. “The crisis has been overturned for the time being”, he informs his bosses, before going on to reassure them “My order is this: hold out to the last man!” Well, there might not have been major success for anyone today, but it is rarely a good sign for an army when anyone in it is issuing an order to hold out to the last man. The Germans have prevented a major disaster, so far, but as the battle continues to develop, higher command is far from confident that the situation is in hand.

Briand and Romania

The French Prime Minister, Aristide Briand, is extremely enthusiastic about the possibility of bringing Romania into the war on the Eastern Front. The sticking point in negotiations is, at the moment, Romanian prime minister Ion Bratianu’s third request: an absolute guarantee of security against a Bulgarian attack. No problem, says Briand. On the Eastern Front, isn’t it so that the Germans are completely unable to reinforce Austria-Hungary because of the twin demands of Verdun and the Somme?

More importantly, hasn’t he been a vociferous supporter of operations at Salonika? Do they not even now have 400,000 men there? The Serbian Army now ready and fully returned to the battlefield, just waiting to attack the perfidious Bulgarians and retake their homeland? Bratianu, faced with this line of French argument, smells bullshit. I do not think he knew of the assessment of Generals Sarrail and Milne that no attack would be possible without supply that clearly was never going to come. However, he’s dead right to be suspicious about all this. Negotiations continue; more to come, but not for a while.

Emilio Lussu

More hair-raising adventures for Emilio Lussu. Local attacks are continuing on the Asiago plateau; they’re intended to function as a diversion, to make Austro-Hungarian commanders think that General Cadorna has lost his appetite for the Isonzo front. Never before has it been more appropriate to observe “Though this be madness, yet there is method in it.” Today’s wheeze: get some Bangalore torpedoes up under the Austro-Hungarian wire. There’s just enough time before that for Lussu to have a pleasant chat with a friend, and then immediately see him shot through the head by a sniper.

They were the same as we’d used on the Carso front, two metres long. Wire-cutting pliers arrived, too. The wire-cutters and the tubes had done never done us any good, but they arrived just the same. And brandy arrived, lots of brandy, so we were on the verge of a new operation. … We chose our soldiers from among volunteers. The regimental command offered a reward of ten lire for each volunteer.

Lussu has a wonderfully detailed narrative of the process of crawling into No Man’s Land, assembling a series of metal tubes with the explosive torpedo on the end, and then poking it hopefully at the enemy barbed wire. However, to quote it it would triple the length of this entry, so. The attack the following morning is, of course, a complete failure.

Neil Fraser-Tytler

It’s another lazy day for our battery commander friend Lt-Col Fraser-Tytler.

A very wet day. As things were idle at the guns, Maclean and I went forward to study the Hun second line over the ridge, as seeing the country with one’s own eyes certainly helps in unobserved shooting. On the way, we went into the village of Montauban. In the “Petit Parisien” of the 2nd July was the glowing headline, “FOUR FAIR VILLAGES OF PICARDY LIBERATED FROM THE INVADER”. One of them was Montauban. Today this village is not a pleasant place.

It is almost impossible to trace the line of the streets, hardly a wall higher than a few feet still stands. All around reeks with the indescribable stench of stale high explosive and unburied remains. The distilled spirit of death, brooding over the whole hamlet. During an extra-heavy rainstorm we sheltered in a dugout, formerly Battalion HQ of a Bavarian unit. The room was filled with papers and books, and it was interesting to read their typed reports of the effect of our bombardment up to the 26th of June.

After that, words seem to have failed them.

Le Petit Parisien is a major French national newspaper of the day that closed down in 1944. Many French-speaking British officers take it when they can get it; it’s not dissimilar to the Daily Mail.

Maximilian Mugge

Maximilian Mugge makes an observation that to modern eyes is not exactly original, but good on him for coming to it.

Conversation in tent either swear-words or incoherent rubbish. A. is usually not taking much notice of what B. says, considers B.’s sentences as a necessary evil and troublesome interruption with which he has to put up for courtesy’s sake. And, at times these interruptions of B. stimulate one’s memory, thinks A. B.’s attitude is the same.

Our social system is so rotten that it is no wonder men will fight. What have they to lose? Nabboth in my tent had 24 shillings a week ere he joined up; Nicholson and Titch consider 28 shillings very good pay indeed. And then think of the long hours, the monotony, the rough surroundings! Indirect (economic) pressure accounts for many of the volunteers in every army, I think.

“Naboth” would be an exceptionally unusual surname for an Englishman. A man of that name appears in the Bible, and he is (just about) a small tradesman of the sort who might, many thousands of years and miles later, found himself in the Army. (Of course, so was Jesus, although I’d bet he would have applied to be a conscientious objector.)

Actions in Progress

Armenian Genocide
Battle of Verdun
Brusilov Offensive
Siege of Medina
Battle of the Somme
Battle of Erzincan

Frise | Rhodesia | 28 Jan 1916

Albania

Austria-Hungary and Bulgaria are having a conference between friends to make sure there aren’t any unfortunate misunderstandings over the ultimate fate of Albania. Both countries’ armies have been carefully probing into Albania, on the now-familiar grounds that it’s easy to put an army somewhere and difficult to make it go away again. An agreement has now been hashed out for Austria-Hungary to annex a strip of northern Albania, Bulgaria to take a larger glob of Albania to go with its generous slice of Serbia, and the rump of Albania will become a Bosnia-style A-H protectorate.

With that done, they can now focus on actually going after the Serbian Army again; the advance begins in a day or two. There’s plenty of time remaining on the clock for the Entente to get the Serbians out, but that clock is now starting to tick down.

Rhodesia

So, a week ago we looked at the north of German East Africa, and the plans for an offensive in the Kilimanjaro region. It’s a big old colony; let’s now go take a look at the geography south of Dar-es-Salaam with another awful MSPaint map.

As ever, this be a Tube map, not an Ordnance Survey map.

As ever, this be a Tube map, not an Ordnance Survey map.

The Portugese Empire is still firmly neutral; people with long memories may recall how the British Empire in 1914 literally bought up all the coal in Mozambique to prevent it being sold on to the German Empire. So, it’s pretty obvious that there’s a long strip of land border between German East Africa and the British Empire in Rhodesia and Nyasaland. There’s been a little action down here, but with the British dealing with internal concerns and Colonel von Lettow-Vorbeck choosing to concentrate his men in the north-east, only a very little.

That’s about to change. Not only will there be an attack against that main concentration in the north-east, there are also plans afoot for a simultaneous offensive here in the south-west. If the diplomatic niceties can be sorted out and Lake Tanganyika seized by Commander Spicer-Simson, there are also high hopes for an offensive by the Force Publique to capture the western end of the Central Railway. And so we find a brigadier, Edward Northey, a veteran of the Boer War and Second Ypres, on a whistle-stop three-month-long grand tour of the south-western front.

Northey has a hell of a job ahead of him if he’s to launch any kind of offensive any time soon. His force is scattered, with no unified chain of command. He’s got about a thousand African regular soldiers from the King’s African Rifles. There are then 400 gendarmes from the colonial police force, and 1,300 raw and inexperienced South Africans. By the standards of the time he was also a rather eccentric general officer, wearing exactly the same uniform as his subordinates, and (as long as you were white and spoke English) both approachable and garrulous. One of his more popular morale-raising tactics was to give lectures everywhere he went about his experiences on the Western Front from Mons to Ypres.

There are also more traditional military tactics for improving morale. More training is being organised. Raids are starting to head across the border to deter the Schutztruppe from coming the other way. General Northey’s having to take a very long view here, and it’ll be some months before we come back; but we will be coming back.

Salonika

Meanwhile, General Sarrail’s having a not-unjustified attack of paranoia that someone might be planning to attack Salonika. With that in mind, his men are now fortifying a wide cordon around Salonika (this is your obligatory reminder that Greece is a neutral country) along a helpful line of lakes and swamps. The blokes will soon begin calling this set of fortifications “The Birdcage”, after its shape and apparent function.

Sarrail has also forcibly evicted the Greek Army from a fort that overlooks the entrance to Salonika harbour, and sent engineers to blow up a number of important railway bridges in Greek territory. Right now, he’s more acting more like a military governor than commander-in-chief of an army. Gallipoli may have been worse in terms of pointless slaughter of men, but the political dimensions of this ridiculous escapade are so very mind-bending.

Frise

For all our new correspondent Lt-Col Fraser-Tytler knows, the Germans have just launched a major attack against Frise and his guns are right in the thick of it.

Shells poured into us. [After half an hour] we lost touch with the group, our observation post, and other batteries, the lines cut to pieces by a perfect avalanche of shells. About 8:15am I thought I smelt something, and within ten minutes we were choking with [tear gas]. Fire slackened [an hour later], when the men got their breakfast out of the cookhouse by rushing across between shell-bursts. Somehow or other, a cookhouse always seems to be in the stormiest corner.

Most of the rest of the day is devoted to constantly repairing their telephone lines and waiting for orders that never come. In the afternoon it sounds like an infantry attack is in progress, so Fraser-Tytler opens fire on his own initiative. At nightfall it finally slacks off.

About 10pm I became somewhat anxious about our right. …One had long given up expecting orders and simply had to paddle one’s canoe. I determined to pull two guns out of their pits…hardly had we finished when we heard that the Huns had advanced, and we were ordered to fire at a certain point which, had we not already moved, would have been an impossibility.

Meanwhile, the entire gun team is grateful for the pause, as it gives them a chance for a round of mass vomiting. Even their newly-issued PHG Helmets are only protective for an hour or two, and they’ve been relentlessly tear gassed all day. The masks may be state of the art, but it’s the state of the floor I’m worried about.

Flora Sandes

Time for Corporal Flora Sandes to quite literally stand on ceremony.

There were a lot of young recruits who had been brought through with the Army from Serbia, but who had not yet been formally sworn in, and one morning this ceremony took place. The whole regiment was formed up in a square in the centre of which stood the priest with a table in front of him, on which were a bowl of holy water, with a bunch of leaves beside it, a Serbian Bible, and a large brass cross.

All the officers were drawn up in a double line facing the table, and the recruits behind them again, with the whole regiment forming the other two sides of the square and the band a little way behind. The priest read a sort of short service, and then the flag-bearer carried the regimental flag up to the table while the band played. After that the priest walked all down the line of officers with the basin of holy water in his hand, and dipping the bunch of leaves into it sprinkled them each on the forehead and held up the cross for them to kiss.

When that was over the swearing in of the new recruits began, and, as I had not yet been sworn in, I was one of them. We all stood at the salute and repeated the oath all together, sentence by sentence after the priest, swearing loyalty to Serbia and King Peter, and after that we marched in single file past the table, removing our caps as we did so for the priest to sprinkle our foreheads, and then kissed the cross, the priest’s hand, and, last of all, the regimental flag. It was a very impressive ceremony, winding up by the band playing the Serbian National Anthem while we stood at the salute.

All the officers came up and shook hands with me afterwards and congratulated me on now being properly enrolled as a soldier in the Serbian Army.

And would you believe that not one of them, I say not one of them, suffered an attack of the vapours at the thought of having a woman in their army?

Actions in Progress

Armenian Genocide
Siege of Kut
Erzurum Offensive

Further Reading

Support the blog! Buy the book! The book of 1915 is now in production and should, touch wood, be available to order very soon.

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

Gardeners of Salonika? | 12 Dec 1915

Salonika

All Entente troops who had crossed the border into Serbia are now back in Greece, which is good news for precisely nobody. It’s not good news for the blokes themselves; with the French government insistent that this wasn’t a total farce, there’s no chance of them leaving any time soon. These are the men who, as they dig themselves in and prepare for one of the longest “hurry up and wait” jobs of the entire war, will soon become known as the Gardeners of Salonika. It is widely said (though such claims are surprisingly difficult to find a source for) that in Germany, the high command began to refer to Salonika as “our biggest prison camp”.

And yet. And yet. This is not as unambiguously good for the Central Powers as it might first appear. Internal Greek politics are slowly going down the tubes as the gulf between King Constantine I’s neutralist supporters and the followers of Eleftherios Venizelos and his pro-Entente stance widens with every day that Greek neutrality is being violated. (Once again I’d just like to comment on the deep, deep irony of the British government being quite prepared to defecate all over Greek neutrality despite having allegedly entered the war to preserve Belgian neutrality.) This is good for nobody, because eventually the war will end, and deep divisions in Greece are hardly beneficial to a peaceful Balkans no matter who wins the war.

Then there’s the consideration that even a prison camp requires guards. True, the lion’s share of the work on this front will be done by the Bulgarian army. But we can only guess at what might have happened if the Entente had been entirely evicted from Greece. Maybe there could have been a wide-scale redeployment of Bulgarian and Austro-Hungarian troops to other fronts, and who knows what might have happened then?

It is truly a situation that is good for nobody involved; not even the one still-neutral country that appears best-placed to take advantage of the situation settling down into stasis.

Siege of Kut

Siege of Kut. Kut, siege. Siege, Kut. (Ahem.) Indian Army reinforcements are being rushed into Mesopotamia from wherever they can be spared. Fresh generals are arriving in theatre, more men, more cavalry, more guns. They’re trying to assemble, and frankly aren’t doing a particularly good job of it. They’re strung out along the Tigris between Amarah and Ali Gharbi, struggling manfully against a severe lack of river transport. The ships formerly making up Townshend’s Regatta have been reinforced with new gunboats, but there still aren’t nearly enough of them to be in all the places they need to be at once.

Indeed, it’s fast becoming apparent that the size of the relief force will have to be restricted, because there simply aren’t enough ships to keep everyone supplied if they advance as far upriver as Kut. Even the port facilities at Basra are struggling to cope with the number of men and supplies coming through. A new director-general is about to be appointed, formerly the man in charge of Rangoon, but even he can only do so much. And then there’s the organisation of the men who can go forward, or lack of it. Urgency is the keyword, and new formations are having to be worked out on the fly, staff officers re-appointed, generals given unfamiliar troops to use. It’s not exactly the sort of thing that inspires confidence.

There is now no prospect of a relief expedition until January 1916; and General Townshend’s report was that he could hold out comfortably for two months, but then things might get hairy. I hope he’s still got his shaving-razor. Meanwhile, General von der Goltz has explained certain things to his subordinate commanders, and they’re now settling in for the attacker’s half of a prolonged siege. More to come, next year.

Italian 48th Regiment

Yesterday found the Italian 48th Regiment in a bad way; were they British, they may well have called themselves by the old military phrase “fed up, fucked up, and far from home”. Despite heavy casualties over five months of almost non-stop fighting and shelling, the remnants of the regiment have had orders to reconstitute as a half-battalion and go back up the line. This did not go down well, and a full-scale mutiny broke out, with shots being fired at officers.

Within 24 hours, the Italian equivalent of a field general court-martial has been set up. They work quickly. Before the day is out, multiple convictions for mutiny have been handed out and two men have been executed. And this is far from the worst excess of Italian military discipline. The events have not escaped the notice of General Cadorna, and he has a rather knotty problem to wrestle with. Public support for the army has been bolstered by iron censorship of men’s letters and an absolute refusal to grant home leave. Now the Supreme Command is caught between a rock and a hard place. Allow home leave, and the stories go home with them men. Deny it, and there’ll surely only be more mutinies. Unfortunately, more soon.

Louis Barthas

The rain has eased off slightly at Neuville, and Louis Barthas and his chums are back in their trenches. Well, most of them are.

Meanwhile, in spite of the ferocious orders, friendly contact between Frenchmen and Germans continued, particularly at the listening posts. In the 21st Company, Private Gontran, from Caunes-Minervois, even paid a visit to the German trench. He had gotten to know the German captain, a good family man who always asked about his own children and gave him a few cigarettes. Whenever Gontran stayed too long, the captain pushed him out of the German trench, saying “Let’s go, on your way.”

Unfortunately for Gontran, one day when he was making his way back from the German trench he was spotted by an officer of his company—none other than Lieutenant Grulois, who said to him, “I’ve got you now. You’ll be shot at dawn. Arrest this man.” Nobody moved. Everybody stared stupidly. Gontran, maddened by the officer’s threat, scrambled up the side of the trench, crying out [“Come and get me!”] In a few strides he made it to the enemy trench, and he didn’t come back.

That very evening a court-martial composed of the superior officers of the regiment and presided over by the colonel met in the dugout of our commandant. In five seconds, Private Gontran was condemned to death in absentia. After an investigation, Lieutenant Grulois was put under arrest for being too zealous in frightening the guilty party and causing his desertion. Corporal Escande, from Citou, and the soldiers of his squad barely escaped court-martial for not firing on their deserting comrade as he fled across no-man’s-land.

For you, Gonti, ze var is over!

Actions in Progress

Armenian Genocide
Siege of Kut

Further Reading

Support the blog! Buy the book! 1914 is now available! 1915 to follow as long as y’all buy 1914!

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.

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

Crisis in Serbia | 14 Oct 1915

Bulgaria

The Bulgarian government has its allies, and its fig leaf casus belli of two days ago. Today they declare war on Serbia and come piling across the border. Their plan is simple, and brutally effective. They have two armies. Second Army, to the north, is under the supreme command of General von Mackensen. Their job is to drive west towards Nis, the provisional capital, and keystone of the main Serbian railway line. At worst they’ll be able to distract and tie up half the Serbian Army while the Germans and Austro-Hungarians march on Nis from the north by way of Kragujevac. This component is known as the Morava Offensive.

Away to the south, General Georgi Todorov has an independent command of First Army. Again, they will march west into Serbia, making for that railway line, this time through the valley of the River Vardar. Ideally, they’ll be able to stop the Franco-British relief force reaching Skopje for onward travel into the Serbian interior. At worst, by threatening the relief force’s only reasonable supply line, they’ll be able to keep it tied up in the south of the country, where it can’t directly aid the Serbian Army against von Mackensen’s forces. This is the Ovce Pole Offensive.

Meanwhile, away to the north, the combined invasion force has now reached Pozarevac, and shows very little sign that it might be in danger of stopping any time soon. This is a large crisis; and it needs a solution larger than two pencils and a pair of underpants. (Two pencils and a pair of lacy French knickers?)

General Sarrail

General Sarrail has now finally arrived in theatre to take over command of the French force, now 20,000 strong and increasing daily. When news of the Bulgarian invasion makes it back to Paris, he’s soon given orders to “cover the lines of communication between Salonika and Serbia”. He has a quick look at the map and sees that the first important railway station in Serbia on the railway line to Skopje is at Strumica, only a single hard day’s march from the Bulgarian border; a small force sets off to help defend it, with the rest of the blokes to follow as and when they land.

Battle of Loos

The battle is usually reckoned as ending today, although as ever, the odd local action will continue for the next week or so as both sides attempt to straighten out their line and improve their position. General Haig and Sir John French will for the rest of the month exchange an enthusiastic and masturbatory correspondence about the chances of attacking again, but this is the final end.

The autumn offensive is over, and a GQG assessment will soon sum up the problem. Although considerable tactical successes have been made, the line advanced a few miles in numerous areas, etc. the offensive has been an unmitigated strategic failure. The French Army has now spent the better part of a year battering away at the German line, trying to force the enemy to quit Noyon. However, our German artillery friend Herbert Sulzbach is even today enjoying a nice day off in Noyon (of which more in a moment). He made a brief note of the autumn offensive in his diary when it started, but other than that academic note, it hasn’t affected him one tiny bit.

Now we must turn to casualties, and this is where the scale of the failure becomes truly stark. The BEF committed six divisions to attack three German divisions at the Battle of Loos. The Germans (depending on how you add up; again, the figures are disputable) have lost about 25,000 men killed, wounded, and captured. The BEF has lost 48,367 at Loos itself, a further 10,880 (including Captain Bagot-Chester) on Aubers Ridge in the subsidiary attack, and a firm shake more in the demonstration at Ypres, for what’s as near as damned 60,000 casualties. A two-to-one superiority in men has achieved nothing except the possession of one thoroughly wrecked village and sustaining more than double the amount of the enemy’s casualties.

The French story is no better. At Third Artois, they too had a two-to-one superiority in men; once again, the Germans have lost about 25,000 and the French nearly 50,000 men. Second Champagne sees the same story; double the amount of men, and 145,000 French casualties against a disputed German figure that swings wildly between 72,000 and 97,000 depending on who you ask. The only crumb of comfort on this score is that the French have seen a major drop in the number of dead among their casualties, and a compensatory rise in the number of wounded. It’s surely no coincidence that autumn 1915 was the first time that significant numbers of French poilus went into battle wearing the steel Adrian helmet, of which more later, instead of a fabric kepi.

Bernard Adams

Bernard Adams continues musing on life in rest billets.

In the afternoons you will see groups of Tommies doing nothing most religiously, smoking cigarettes, writing letters home. From six to eight the estaminets are open, and everyone flocks to them to get bad beer.

I often wonder if these peasants think much. They must have done at the beginning when their men were hastily called up. But now, after fifteen months of war? It is the children who are interested in the aeroplanes against the sky, or the boom from the battery across the street. But for the mothers and grandparents, these things have settled into their lives. They are all one with the canal and the poplar trees. If a squad starts drilling on their lettuces, they are tremendously alert. As for these other things, they are not interested, only unutterably tired of them.

His mildly patronising thoughts are cut off by being sent back up the line.

Herbert Sulzbach

As quickly as he’d started, Herbert Sulzbach concludes this little flurry of diary activity before going quiet again for another while.

Jolly old Lt Becker continues being the friend of all the war volunteers, and he invited me to Noyon. The French girls there are nice and pro-German, in every way.

Nudge nudge, wink wink, say no more. I hope the German army tests for venereal diseases.

Actions in Progress

Armenian Genocide
Battle of Loos
Third Invasion of Serbia
Morava Offensive
Ovce Pole Offensive

Further Reading

Support the blog! Buy the book! 1914 is now available! 1915 to follow as long as y’all buy 1914!

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.)

Lualaba | Third Artois | 11 Oct 1915

Third Invasion of Serbia

The Austro-German advance into northern Serbia proceeds well. It’s now time to kick the Serbian Army in the nuts while they don’t have any mates around. Today the Bulgarian army carefully stages an exchange of fire with some Serbian border guards. This of course is immediately presented as vile provocation and shameless flouting of Bulgaria’s neutrality (good thing they’ve recently become an armed neutral, eh?). Bulgaria officially declares war and her two armies begin rumbling into action. More soon.

Africa

Man, I was really hoping this would be something not totally ridiculous. I’ve got to go talk about the French farce that finishes Third Artois in a minute. And now it turns out that the lead-in involves catching up with Lieutenant-Commander Spicer-Simson and his ridiculous boat-hauling safari.

It probably shouldn’t be surprising that, now that Mimi and Toutou are sailing down the River Lualaba, they’ve found a problem with the river. They’re at the back end of the dry season. Which is a good thing, from one perspective, since they need the ground to be passable for the last railway journey and going anywhere other than inside during the rainy season usually doesn’t end well. On the other hand, it means that the river is at dead low water. The Belgians have sent a steamer, the Constantin de Burlay, to help, but the ship has got stuck well short of the ridiculous expedition’s location.

So now it’s a question of paddling. Fortunately, the implements are equally effective at propelling the boats through water, pushing the boats off the mud, or bopping the native crocodiles firmly on the nose. On one day, the boats run aground on no fewer than fourteen seperate occasions; Spicer-Simson wonders idly if perhaps this might be a record.

Third Artois

So now General Foch finally gets to launch his second push against the top of Vimy Ridge. Hands up anyone who remembers what it is he’s actually trying to achieve by this? Sometimes I wonder if he could remember. Two hours of blind artillery fire is the best the guns can manage. The log in Foch’s headquarters records “progress almost nil, preparation by artillery insufficient, attack conducted by exhausted troops, enemy forewarned and strongly reinforced with artillery”. General d’Urbal, in operational command, cuts his losses as soon as decorum allows.

Foch’s explanation for this failure is simple; preparing for Day 1 his artillery fired 73,000 shells, and preparing for today they fired 21,600. Which is a smaller number. He’ll continue exchanging optimistic letters with General Joffre for a week or so, but this is the end of the Third Battle of Artois, and the end of the French autumn offensive. They will still support Sir John French’s upcoming waste of time and lives with an artillery demonstration at Hill 70, but nobody’s leaving their trenches.

Louis Barthas

Despite starting the day at the rear, of course Louis Barthas has to be in there at the death of this offensive. It begins, quite bizarrely, with General Niessel apparently attempting to curry favour with the men by handing out packets of pencils. By midday they’re on their way back up the line; and as they go past Neuville, the Germans start dropping shells on the French communication trenches. From the commandant on down, the battalion decides discretion is the better part of valour and scarpers in all directions.

When calm returned, [Quinze-Grammes and Cros-Mayrevieille] sent out their servants (or I should say their orderlies) to gather us up. This wasn’t easy, since we were widely scattered. The attack took place, but two sections of the 281st Regiment who went over the top from the trenches were immediately cut down by machine guns.

In spite of repeated orders from Niessel, no one else wanted to go out.

At seven in the evening, our company went up to reinforce the 281st Regiment. We occupied a communication trench which was badly damaged by shell-fire. We had to spend the night in the open, despite frequent volleys of shells which the Germans haphazardly sent over onto our lines.

The troops, General Foch, are not so much “exhausted” as “seriously fucked off”.

Actions in Progress

Armenian Genocide
Battle of Loos
Third Invasion of Serbia

Further Reading

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