Haig and Rawlinson | 22 Aug 1916

Haig and Rawlinson

It seems that the rule among the BEF’s high command at the moment is “if in doubt, shout at General Rawlinson”. While General Melchett might have approved of this man-management strategy, he’s about the only one. To be sure, General Haig has every reason to be peeved about the performance of his 4th Army commander, and has told him so in no uncertain terms.

The only conclusion that can be drawn from the repeated failure of attacks on Guillemont is that something is wanting in the methods employed. The next attack must be thoroughly prepared for in accordance with the principles which have been uccessful in previous attacks and which are, or should be, well known to commanders of all ranks. …

In actual execution of plans, when control by higher commanders is impossible, subordinates on the spot must act on their own initiative, and they must be trained to do so. But in preparation close supervision by higher commanders is not only possible but is their duty, to such extent as they find necessary to ensure that everything is done that can be done to ensure success. … It is not interference but a legitimate and necessary exercise of the functions of a commander on whom the ultimate responsibility for success or failure lies.

Oh, physician, why dost thou not heal thyself? You’re right, General. It is indeed both legitimate and necessary. So why are you, personally, so incapable of doing it? He goes further when describing to his diary Rawlinson’s latest plan for taking Guillemont.

I disapproved of…his plan because the whole advance would be under the Enemy’s machine gun fire from Guillemont Ridge. Numerous shell holes afforded excellent cover for his machine guns. In fact I thought the scheme doomed to failure.

So why didn’t you make him un-fuck it before allowing him to attack again, you hopeless pillock? It’s enough to make anyone want to scream.

JRR Tolkien

Tolkien and his friend G.B. Smith are doing some soul-searching, just as hundreds of thousands of other men are, who’ve so recently seen their mates die in a dubious cause. He and his school-friends declared years previously that they were destined to do great things in the world, and now it’s uncertain whether any of them will survive the war. Smith offers his grieving friend some high-minded words of encouragement; Tolkien comes to the conclusion that if only one of them lives, that one might achieve greatness on his own.

As they try to eat together for the last time before Smith has to go back up the line, their rear-area billet is shelled and they have to dive for cover. Tolkien’s course is ending; he’ll be back in the trenches soon. And this will be the last time he sees Smith alive.

Max Plowman

Max Plowman, meanwhile, has been wounded. Sort of.

Castlereagh, bright lad, has made me a drink of tea, which I am thankful to accept even from his mess-tin. But while drinking it, I feel a smack on the neck and look round to see who is throwing earth about. No one looks guilty, and putting my hand up I find my neck bleeding; and there at my feet lies an inch of shrapnel I had not seen before. Luckily it must have been the flat side that hit and split the skin. Hill ties me up and we laugh over our first “casualty.” Then Rowley comes along and, brushing my ridicule aside, insists that I must report to the Medical Officer.

He’s passing this off with a stiff upper lip, but he was very possibly only a few inches from death. The side of the neck instead of the back, the carotid arteries; or a sharp edge breaking through to the spine or the brain…

Edward Mousley

Edward Mousley continues trying to make the best of a bad job.

I attempted a long walk, permission having been obtained for a party of us to go. The direction led me over hills towards some pine woods—a considerable climb for those in our condition. An extraordinary phenomenon common to almost all Kut people, young and old—but more especially to the young who had starved on account of enteritis troubles—is their sudden huge girth expansion. One’s figure protrudes like any Turk’s. The fatty foods and weak state of the stomach are said to be the cause of this.

The next day I actually turned out to rugger for our house, as left wing three-quarter. The delight after all one’s sickness in feeling one’s legs really attempting to run was so encouraging that one Brabazon and I, for dinner, divided a bottle of German beer. This is to become a custom. We played three spells of ten minutes each, and quite enough too, with a ball stuffed with wool, as we had no bladder. Kastamonu is totally hilly, and the footer ground over a mile away, is uneven and stony, but the best we can get. Correct collaring is barred, but we go croppers just the same.

I have had some rough chessmen made out of bits of wood, and am settling down to discipline my mind again to some sort of methodical thinking. One feels that some such effort as this stands between us and oblivion.

He seems quite determined to portray Kastamonu as the world’s worst CenterParcs resort. And I can only imagine the fun had by anyone who did not grow up in England, trying to decode the sentence “Correct collaring is barred, but we go croppers just the same”.

Ruth Farnam

Ruth Farnam has now gone from London to Southampton to catch a boat. She lived in Southampton for a while before the war, and has heard that one of her old household staff has been wounded in France and is now in a local hospital, so pays him a visit.

When I saw poor Mursell, my faithful gardener of happier days, on crutches and heard that he had been wounded in the legs, he seemed to think that I ought to have an explanation. As he is only five feet four inches in height he was, for a time, ineligible for military service, but after a while “Bantam Regiments” were formed and he was among the first to join and was the tallest man in his regiment! “Yes, madam,” he said, “I caught a shell-splinter in my legs. Why, a man six foot four could have been wounded there.”
He was quite cheerful and happy, in spite of the pain which he was suffering, to have “done his bit” in the great war.

On my way to dinner in the town, I remembered that my presence at the police station was required, so I went there. The sergeant on duty asked my business.
“I’m an alien and am here without an identity card,” I said. “Are you going to arrest me?”
“What for, madam?” he asked.
“Oh, I just thought you might want to,” I replied.
“Wouldn’t think of such a thing. And I didn’t know you was a h’alien, madam.” This courteously.

I looked surprised and he laughed and said he remembered often having seen my husband drive with me down the High Street when we lived near Southampton and he ‘ad h’ always supposed that I was H’english, though he knew that Mr. Farnam was a H’american.

I do henjoy seeing someone take note of the peculiar speech patterns hof the workin’-class British man who is puttin’ on hairs, on haccount of bein’ in a position of hauthority.

Actions in Progress

Armenian Genocide
Battle of Verdun
Brusilov Offensive
Siege of Medina
Battle of the Somme
Battle of Bitlis
Battle of Doiran (First Doiran)

Further Reading

Support the blog! Buy the book! Revised and expanded versions of 1914 and 1915 are now available!

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

Sixth Isonzo | Boselli | Bissolati | 17 Aug 1916

Romania

Negotiations for bringing Romania into the war have finally concluded, to the alleged satisfaction of all parties. I’m far from convinced. After a little subterfuge, everyone seems to think they’ve got either what they wanted or what they can easily renege on, and the papers have been officially signed. General Joffre’s somewhat exasperated verdict on the negotiations: “a web of Penelope”. In Greek myth she was the wife of Odysseus, and spent twenty years fending off the advances of other men while he was off doing his twenty years’ worth of mythical deeds.

The deeds done now will be, ahem, slightly less than mythical. At one point there was a hope that Romania could be attacking on or around the 1st of August. Now they’re looking at August 28th. General Sarrail at Salonika has been accordingly ordered to delay his pinning attack until the 20th. Gee, I sure do hope that no large-scale Bulgarian movement of troops is going to interfere with this plan! That would be an absolute tragedy, I tell you. Meanwhile, the Romanian government is drawing up a declaration of war, to be delivered to Austria-Hungary right as their army rolls over the border into Transylvania. More soon!

Sixth Isonzo

There had also been hopes that Sixth Isonzo could have been launched to coincide with the Romanian entry into the war, which really would have been a kick in the dick. Alas; after a week’s worth of fruitless uphill attacks across the Vallone Doberdo and east of Gorizia, General Cadorna calls a halt. But he’s in the best mood he’s been in since the start of the war. Two victories in the summer fighting, and he’s successfully deposed an energetic Prime Minister and installed an apparent non-entity instead. Of course he’s ordering a Seventh Isonzo, to begin as soon as possible to capitalise on the Romanian entry into the war.

As it turns out, “as soon as possible” will mean “in mid-September”. Which by lucky hap will also coincide with General Haig’s Flers-Courcelette offensive. I wonder who will have the most success? Or, should I say, the least failure? On which note, there’s just space to mention that the casualties for Sixth Isonzo are about equal; 51,000 Italian and 42,000 Austro-Hungarian.

Anyway. Cadorna’s position is not quite as rock-solid as he’d like to think. The new Prime Minister, Paolo Boselli, has formed a government of national unity. Bypassing the official minister of war, deputy Leonida Bissolati has been given a cabinet post without portfolio and responsibility for “relations with the military”. Bissolati is perhaps the closest thing Italy has to Winston Churchill; he argued to join the war, and then put his money where his mouth was, volunteering at age 58. He’s won two bravery medals, and is now back at his parliamentary duties.

For the last month or so he’s been touring the fronts to see what’s what. This has not gone down at all well with General Cadorna, of course, worried that his glorious victories might in fact be misinterpreted as bloody failures. Cadorna is now trying to get him banned from the front, but Bissolati has had plenty of time to travel around and find out who’s got the dirt. Chief among them is one Colonel Douhet, staff officer and aviation pioneer. Douhet has given him an uncompromising and highly accurate assessment of the commander-in-chief as a blithering idiot…

Central Railway

In German East Africa, General Smuts is trying to advance to Morogoro on the Central Railway, just over 100 miles west of the capital Dar-es-Salaam. It’s the same old story here, though. He greatly outnumbers the enemy, but they all rather rudely are refusing to just stand and fight, preferring instead to run a series of delaying operations as they retreat through the Nguru Mountains. Meanwhile, the Navy has landed a small detachment of men at Bagamoyo, just up the coast from Dar-es-Salaam.

Just pushing the enemy back, or capturing towns, isn’t going to do any good, though. What they need are encirclements and captures of large bodies of Schutztruppe. General van Deventer’s South African Horse is now back on the move, but Colonel von Lettow-Vorbeck is now well south of him. Spoilers; van Deventer won’t be able to link up at Morogoro in nearly enough time to trap the enemy forces out to the east. All the attackers appear to have achieved is marching an awfully long way, looting a number of small towns en route, and losing more than half their strength to disease.

Edward Mousley

Speaking of which. Edward Mousley is trying hard to make the best of a bad job.

The mornings continue fine and sunny, but in the afternoons a sharp, shadowy wind springs up, and the evenings are quite cold. We are anxiously awaiting the parcels waylaid in Stamboul. The fever has largely gone, but muscular rheumatism has taken its place. No one hears from or is allowed to write to Yozgat or Kara Hissa.

The Turks here seem to have already settled on their plan of campaign, which is to make us get into debt at huge prices, which already are increasing. I am, however, assuming a sublime indifference to money matters. The financial anxiety of the trek was enough, and I have a long score to pay off against the Turk in this respect, so once in his debt he will have to facilitate our getting our money from home, or else receive cheques.

What a quaint town this is! All water is drawn from springs or wells. There are no lights of any kind, except, possibly, some faint glimmer burning from a police station. There are no trams or much vehicular traffic, donkeys being the chief transit. In the early morning one hears the ancient Biblical solid-wheeled oxen cart groaning on its turning axle beneath the weight of a huge tree trunk brought in for firewood. At night the distant tinkling of bells sometimes reaches one as the goats come back.

And, later still, over the sheets of darkness in deep, pulsing waves, like the voice of a dark and mysteriously moving spirit, floats the muezzin, which is taken up from mosque to mosque until the whole town echoes with the cry.

“Stamboul” is a common pre-1923 rendering of “Istanbul”, for the city which at the time was still officially Constantinople. Sometimes the name was used by English speakers to differentiate the historic walled city from the general metropolis.

Briggs Kilburn Adams

Briggs Kilburn Adams is now finishing up his insane summer job driving ambulances on the Voie Sacree. He’s been rotated off to another unit at Juilly. and I’d like to believe that the casualties he’s been evacuating included men who were shelled by Herbert Sulzbach’s guns. Things are much quieter here than they were at the Battle of Verdun.

The fellows in this squad are all very nice, and but one older than I, being in the thirties. The sergeant is an Englishman exempt from service for some physical trouble. He is a circus in himself. Every minute of the day he is saying or doing some ridiculously funny thing, and he has a very fine bass voice, by which ordinarily he earns his living. One evening we came upon a piano in one of the empty recitation rooms. One of the fellows sat down and began to play, and I happened to find a violin in good condition in the cupboard. The sergeant brought out some songs, and we spent a very enjoyable evening.

Juilly is within a couple of miles of the farthest advance by the Germans on Paris in September, 1914, and the place where actual fighting took place is within easy walking distance. We hired a car the other day and went for quite a long ride, to and through the region of the Battle of the Marne, and it was very interesting. Hundreds of graves are lying in every direction according as the men fell, the Germans mixed in among the French, the former being marked only by a black stick, while the latter are marked by a wooden cross and a wreath or two.

You would never believe one of the greatest battles of the world had been fought here; for everywhere rich crops of grain are growing, and nothing is prettier than the golden oats, among which are scattered red poppies and blue bachelor buttons, like kale in our oats at Hilltop Farms.

And this is the last we’ll hear from him for an entire year. He’ll soon be on a boat back to America and Harvard University; but this is far from the last he’ll have to do with the war.

Actions in Progress

Armenian Genocide
Battle of Verdun
Brusilov Offensive
Siege of Medina
Battle of the Somme
Battle of Bitlis
Battle of the Isonzo (Sixth Isonzo)
Battle of Doiran (First Doiran)

Further Reading

Support the blog! Buy the book! Revised and expanded versions of 1914 and 1915 are now available!

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

Gorizia | Sixth Isonzo | 7 Aug 1916

Sixth Isonzo

Yesterday we had a rather odd concept to digest; there’s been a battle on the Isonzo and there is good news for the Italians. Here’s another odd concept; it’s day 2 of Sixth Isonzo, and things are still going well! The defenders of Gorizia don’t have enough of anything; not enough men, not enough artillery shells, not enough barbed wire, and not enough morale. The situation continues deteriorating through the afternoon, and the evening. The local commander, General Zeidler, has been both promoted and ennobled over the last year for his efforts leading the defence.

As the witching hour ticks round, he’s decided that the position is no longer tenable, and it’s time to leave before they’re forced. This will mean letting the Italians cross the upper Isonzo without much opposition; but with little artillery ammunition and not much more for the machine-guns, it’s not worth it. Behind Gorizia is a fresh line of mountains, and they’ve been excavating a second line anchored on three peaks: Monte Santo, San Gabriele, and San Marco. There’s more high ground behind. Holding Gorizia is great for propaganda purposes, but they can hold the mountains almost indefinitely.

Off to the south, the defenders have given up the summit of Mount San Michele, and they’re now trying to sidle off to the rear without being noticed. Now it’s irony time. Just as Zeidler is making his decision, General Cadorna is reminding us how much he’s learned from 1915 by drawing up an order reminding subordinates that they should be careful and their job is to establish bridgeheads over the Isonzo only. For a few hours, there’s going to be a chance to inflict some serious damage on the defenders as they retreat across miles of open ground to their new positions.

And, thanks to the Italian army quite correctly learning from 1915 and not trying to do anything rash, they’re going to entirely miss the opportunity. If you’re not biting massive grooves in your knuckles right now, you’re better than me. Irony!

Battle of the Somme

After another extended round of fruitless counter-attacks on Pozieres, the Germans are giving the hilltop up as a bad job. Try as they might, they just can’t stop themselves being forced backwards, losing position after position after position. The attention of the BEF now switches back to Guillemont, where they’re going to have another push, on almost exactly the same lines as last time, and likely doomed to exactly the same failure. It’s been arranged with at least one eye on the jolly that’s beginning today. King George V is at the front; so too is President Poincare and plenty of other members of both governments.

General Joffre has used this as a chance to drop in on General Haig, and he’s in rather a better mood than he was last month. From Haig’s diary:

Extremely pleased at everything we had done, and full of compliments. He was also greatly delighted at the remarks which I had made about him in my message to the French on the third anniversary of the war. “As long as [you] get on well with [me], there is nothing to be feared from the politicians”, he said. My message appeared in Le Matin of 2 August. [Joffre] brought me a box of 50 Croix de Guerre for me to distribute as I thought right…a sort of “peace offering” after the previous interview between us here! I managed to get together 10 officers who had rendered “good service under fire” and he presented the crosses himself.

The Croix de Guerre is the standard French military decoration for bravery; it looks rather like a Victoria Cross but should not be mistaken for having the same rank. Le Matin was a popular daily newspaper that fell into collaborationism in a later war and quietly disappeared after the liberation of Paris. Haig has also just been told by Wully Robertson that both his and Winston Churchill’s assessments of the battle have been presented to the War Committee, but that nobody’s listening to Churchill.

Edward Mousley

Edward Mousley and his fellow officer-prisoners are settling in, if that’s the right word, to life in captivity at Kastamonu.

Malaria returned. The ague was more severe this time. Quinine we have at last procured in small quantities at the rate of five piastres a cachet, which means that one’s malaria medicine bill will be fifteen shillings daily. A cold snap in the weather has sent several others here down with malaria. Kastamonu is said to have a cold winter, so we hope to get this fever quite out of our system. It is raining steadily, the first rain since arriving here. We have no books as yet, but it is to be hoped the Turks will allow them to come through later on.

I have finished the Bible, a complete reading now since Baghdad. What a vigorous teacher is St. Paul. No mundane considerations seemed to prevent his putting the true value on this transient existence, and from that probably sprang the facility with which he decided always for the Lord.

The men from Kut are now mostly working as labourers, on precious little food, all along the Baghdad to Berlin railway.

Oskar Teichman

Oskar Teichman spends most of the day trying not to think about his broken leg, waiting to be taken away. It seems that the German advisors have been teaching the Ottoman soldiery a thing or two about how to taunt Tommy Atkins.

There was still no sign of our being moved to railhead, and as some of us were suffering considerable pain, our wounds were re-dressed. At midday we were visited by several friends from our regiment who were on their way up to the front line. We heard that cholera had broken out amongst the Turks and that some cases had occurred amongst our troops. It appeared that after a stiff resistance the Turks had evacuated. They had left a note saying that Lieutenant [name removed], of the Australian Light Horse, was safe and a prisoner; that he had dined with the officers of one of their batteries the night before, and that he was a gentleman.

Another note said “How did you like the six ladies from Katia?” This referred to their heavy guns, which they had succeeded in removing.

By evening they’ve been loaded onto a train and despatched to Kantara for further evaluation; most are being sent on to hospital at Cairo and Port Said. Teichman won’t easily forget the train journey, though.

A trooper in a New Zealand regiment who lay next to me, and had been shot through the spine, kept up a pitiful wail until he was finally exhausted. He was just alive when eventually taken out, but could not have survived long. After we had been going for a time the noise of the train overcame the groans of the sufferers. On reaching Pelusium our engine broke down and the train waited for a considerable time; then the shrieks and groans of the wounded broke the stillness of the quiet night. But worse was to come: we had to be shunted in order to let a supply train pass through.

It seemed a cruel thing to shunt a train full of wounded in open trucks, but it had to be done. Every bump in our springless truck was extremely painful.

Yeah, that hurts just thinking about it.

Max Plowman

From physical to mental pain now with Max Plowman, who’s been summoned along with all the officers by the battalion’s commanding officer. He’s a new replacement; I’m trying to work out whether the former lieutenant-colonel was wounded or killed on the 1st of July.

Officers, many of whom I have not seen before, crowd into a small room, each one saluting as he comes before a grey-headed, red-faced man, wearing a Scottish uniform, who sits writing at a table. Standing by his side is another Scotsman, tall, raw-boned and of very sour expression. He is our medical officer. The faces of the two men offer a contrast in red and grey; but they both look unpleasant. Without preamble the colonel begins:

“The discipline in this battalion is damnable. Some of you officers don’t know your job at all. You think the men will respect you just because you wear a belt. They won’t, and I don’t blame them. You’ve got to command these men before they’ll respect you, and the sooner you make up your minds to it the better. I see officers talking to men as their equals. I won’t have that. If there isn’t an alteration at once I intend to make it devilish hot for you. I don’t know what you’ve learnt at home. I don’t know who sent you out here. Some of you fellows have only just come out.

Well, you may as well understand, this isn’t a picnic. If you don’t know your job and show a very different idea of discipline, I’ll have you sent back and reduced to the ranks. You think you’ve come to France to loaf about. You’ll find your mistake. There’s got to be a drastic alteration, or back you go. I’ll not allow the men to be under the command of inefficient officers. Just understand that. You can go.” We salute and file out.

This seems a strange introduction. What does he know about our efficiency? The majority of us have only been with the battalion a matter of days. Why should we be cursed by a man who has never set eyes on us? We are volunteers; most of us joined in ’14, and our prospects of dying for our grateful country are the brightest in the world. Is this the way the modern commander spurs his men on to victory? I am stung with resentment. Captain Rowley sees this and smiles indulgently. He declares it is all “eyewash,” prompted by the doctor who regards every man who was not in France before July as a skunk.

Yes, Colonel. Because it was officers having civil conversations with their men that caused the disasters of the 1st of July, Colonel. Please feel free to have a shell drop on your head at any moment, Colonel.

Oswald Boelcke

Oswald Boelcke has continued meeting with the great and the good in Bulgaria. He’s managed to inveigle himself worryingly close to the front for someone who’s supposed to be off flying duty.

I was with General von Mackensen, and sat next to him at the [meal] table. Mackensen talked with me for quite a while. He is serious-looking, but not nearly as stern as his pictures lead one to believe. Later, I went by train to Hudova, and reached aviation headquarters, where I was given a fine welcome in the barracks. The aviators all live in wooden shacks, in a dreary neighborhood. This is not an enviable place to be, especially since they have had nothing to do for months. I flew up and down the Greek front. Then I went back to Uskub, where I spent the night.

Let’s now continue exploring the Dicta Boelcke, his rules of air combat for German pilots. Rule number 2:

Always carry through an attack when you have started it.

It’s very important that Boelcke has noticed what’s happened when other people start an attack, then attempt to break it off. Our man’s seen plenty of comrades shot down this way; and a flyer who’s been shot down often can’t tell the story of why he got shot down. Breaking off after starting to attack is a terrible idea, since first you alert the enemy to your presence, and then you obligingly turn round and make yourself vulnerable to him as you run away. Much better to just keep attacking and hope to force your opponent (who, after all, is being attacked) to make a mistake.

Maximilian Mugge

Recently, Maximilian Mugge was complaining that every time he’d applied to the War Office to become an interpreter or translator, they’d responded by transferring him. Except this latest time, which until now has not drawn a response. But no longer.

If amongst those mates of mine who were sitting outside our tent last Saturday even a bomb had dropped, nobody could have been more surprised than we were. A sergeant came just before the First Post was sounded and gave me orders to report the next morning at the Orderly Room in order to proceed to England. Of course we were convinced that the Fairy-Godmother-Department at the War Office had yielded to my 2001st application.

Whilst the boys munched up the contents of my two large parcels which had only arrived that evening, I had to listen to congratulations without end. “Fifty pounds I’d give milad!” said one of my mates,”if I were in your shoes.”

Fifty pounds in 1916 would be more or less a year’s wages for a private soldier.

Actions in Progress

Armenian Genocide
Battle of Verdun
Brusilov Offensive (Battle of Kowel)
Siege of Medina
Battle of the Somme
Battle of Bitlis
Battle of Romani
Battle of the Isonzo (Sixth Isonzo)

Further Reading

Support the blog! Buy the book! Revised and expanded versions of 1914 and 1915 are now available!

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

Pozieres Windmill | 29 Jul 1916

Pozieres windmill

Between the ANZACs and Pozieres windmill, there is a very nasty interconnected trench system with two main fire trenches. The staff knows them as OG1 and OG2 (for “Old German”, because aerial photographs have shown them to be much older than the rest of the Second Line). Quick recap; from the windmill’s mound you have an unobstructed view everywhere and can theoretically make the Germans’ intact First Line positions untenable. General Gough has therefore pressured the 2nd Australian Division into attacking without proper preparation.

And we all know what happens without proper preparation. Since No Man’s Land is about 500 to 700 yards in many places, and sapping forward immediately provokes heavy shelling, they’re going to try and replicate the success had at Bazentin Ridge with a night attack. Fair enough, except at Bazentin Ridge the enemy was still struggling to find its arse with both hands, and the ground had not yet been excessively shelled. Here the ground is a hellscape of dead earth and shell-holes. And German engineers have been sneaking out at night, dropping barbed wire arrangements down the shell-holes.

And then, in the name of surprise, the artillery moves straight from general harrassing fire to an intense barrage of only a few minutes. There’s no accompanying rolling barrage. And so, all the BEF achieves by attacking at quarter past midnight is making it very difficult to see that the artillery has, by and large, failed to cut the German wire. And so the attack plays out like so many others on the Somme; the occasional foothold gained here and there, but most of the men forced right back to where they started. Many attacking battalions have taken 50% casualties and 100% disillusionment. Advance if you can, indeed.

The Chief will not be happy when he hears about this. But hopefully he’ll be able to work out what went wrong.

The attack by the 2nd Australian Division upon the enemy’s position between Pozieres and the windmill, was not successful. From several reports I think the cause was due to want of thorough preparation.

Correct! He goes into considerably more detail, identifying that the men had to advance far too far in the dark and over ground they were unfamiliar with. He also is worried by reports that the men didn’t have time to form up properly before going over, and that one brigade marched into the trenches and then almost straight over the top. Surely the correct thing to do now is go and visit the offending generals and give them a piece of one’s mind.

After lunch I visited headquarters Reserve Army and impressed upon Gough and Neill Malcolm that they must supervise more closely the plans of the ANZAC Corps. Some of their divisional generals are so ignorant and (like so many Colonials) so conceited, that they cannot be trusted to work out unaided the plans of attack.

Oh. I see. So let me get this straight. Haig’s spent the last week, at least, reminding Gough again and again of the importance of proper preparation. Gough has paid attention to absolutely none of this and instead forced his men to go off half-cocked. Haig is now blaming the ANZACs for doing what they were told. It gets better.

I then went on to HQ ANZAC Corps at Contay, and saw Generals Birdwood and [chief of staff Brudenell White]. The latter seems a very sound capable fellow, and assured me that they had learnt a lesson, and would be more thorough in future.

I pointed out to Birdwood that Pozieres village had been captured thanks to a very thorough artillery preparation. Last year the French had spent often a fortnight in taking such villages (Neuville St Vaast, Souchez, etc.) Still, the capture of Pozieres by the Australians would live in history! They must not however underestimate the Enemy or his power of defence. I had sent him a very experienced and capable [Commander Royal Artillery], and he must trust him.

Birdwood was very grateful for my visit and remarks.

Is that what he told you? Quite how Birdwood was able to listen to this ill-informed, patronising lecture without just hauling off and punching Haig is surely one of the great military miracles. But then he’s been in the Army since 1883, so I suppose this is what they mean by “military discipline”. Or maybe, like Father Ted with Bishop Brennan, he really did kick the Chief up the arse and then immediately pretended he hadn’t…

Caucasus

The fighting that’s now beginning on the Caucasus front is so little-known that it’s all but impossible to find an agreed English name. I’m going with “Battle of Bitlis”, although most of the fighting won’t be anywhere near it. This is because, for reasons best known to himself, Ottoman Second Army commander Izzet Pasha has divided his forces into three groups, who will be too widely spread to easily communicate and won’t be able to offer support if their mates get into trouble. His basic idea was a decent one, mind. Let’s try an extended metaphor.

Imagine a man holding a pike out in front of him; the pike is the Russian forces and supply lines in the Caucasus, and the man represents Sarikamis. Now, give him two opponents. One wears very thick gloves, walks in front of the pike, and holds it on the end so it can’t move about. (This is what Third Army should have done.) The other walks in from the side while the pike is being held in place and quickly saws it off a quarter of the way up; this man is the Second Army, now advancing on Erzincan and Erzurum from the south.

A reasonable idea, but now built on entirely faulty assumptions. For one thing, it turns out that our pikeman has just run the Third Army right through, so he’ll be turning round in a moment, and you may look out when he does. For another, instead of walking in with a chainsaw and making one strong cut on the pike, splitting their forces now means that Second Army will be trying to saw through in two separate places with a hacksaw in each hand, while also trying to kick the pikeman in the balls from three feet away.

Even the presence of one Mustafa Kemal, late of Gallipoli, as a corps commander, isn’t going to do much good here. The Russian pikeman is already turning to face his new enemy and bring the pointy end to bear, although it’ll take him a few weeks to finish turning round completely. Nevertheless, when he does finish, pike will surely beat hacksaw. If Second Army were moving like this a month ago, even as three columns they would have been a threat that could have stopped the Russians advancing on Erzincan. Now they’re just a chance for General Yudenich to pad his CV.

Louis Barthas

Yesterday, Louis Barthas introduced us to the ordinary soldier’s homing instinct for locating fresh sources of pinard, beyond the daily ration. Unfortunately, going to the rear to buy one’s own supply from the merchants is strictly forbidden.

A corporal from my company, having decided to go to Somme-Suippes, thought himself clever enough to make up a false authorization which he signed, by his own hand, with the name of the company commander. But the gendarmes who stopped him got suspicious and sent this permission slip to the division, which sent it to the colonel, and finally to the captain, and the trick was discovered. This corporal was in a real mess. No one talked of anything less than a court-martial, breaking in rank, forced labor. I don’t know how he pulled himself out of it.

But this zeal in carrying out such a rigorous and absurd duty irritated the poilus, who went out in groups and administered some hard knocks to the gendarmes with stout clubs. But these reprisals went too far. One day they found two gendarmes swinging from the branches of a pine tree, with their tongues hanging out. From this moment, the poilus could go get food in the neighborhood without worrying about a thing.

Well, that took a turn for the horrific. The General’s response was to have an order of the day read out in praise of the heroic military policemen. Now, you might expect the blokes to react to this fatuous, inadequate proclamation with flatulence and heckling, and indeed they do. However, apparently some of the junior officers are now joining in, which is not a good sign at all.

Neil Fraser-Tytler

It’s a day of celebration for our correspondent Neil Fraser-Tytler today. Someone has managed to arrange a coincidence.

My birthday. It started well, as when shaving in my hole on the firestep, to my great surprise Peter (Captain P.S. Fraser-Tytler) turned up with an army of signallers. He had come into action near Montauban the night before, and was anxious to make use of our line to get his howitzers registered at once. His men laid a line to the French battery, thus getting in touch with our exchange. Then we went up to Trones Wood, and had a most successful shoot.

He came back to join in my birthday dinner (our light cart had previously gone to Amiens to buy food and liquor suitable for the occasion). Unfortunately, just as we were starting, orders came in that I was to go immediately to Group HQ. Five courses and a bottle of champagne had to be gulped down in quick time.

I have two observations. First, how many other brothers can say they’ve celebrated a birthday by killing large numbers of German soldiers with an extremely large gun? Second, you would be quite correct in doubting whether the blokes get a five-course birthday dinner with champagne on their birthdays.

Oskar Teichman

Oskar Teichman’s mates have been warned to move, but so far…

We were ready to move off all night, with horses and camels saddled, but no orders arrived. In the afternoon one of our aeroplanes flew over rather lop-sided and very low. On arrival at Kantara the pilot, who had been shot through the chest, died of wounds.

There’s also an extensive selection of intelligence reporting, all to the effect of “there’s a lot of the buggers out there”. Apparently they managed to kill an Austro-Hungarian officer; I never knew they went as advisers to the Ottoman army in the same way that the Germans did.

E.S. Thompson

E.S. Thompson continues going nowhere, despite all the rumours flying around.

After parade Smikky made a protest for us to Mr Parsons against doing the colonel’s fatigues, as machine gunners are exempted from fatigues. Drew rations. Heard we are going back to Moshi on Monday and I hope so too as it is very slow doing nothing here. Lunch consisted of steak, coffee, bread and syrup. The motor returned with the 2 new machine guns with auxiliary tripods, new chain belts, battle-sights, etc. Put the stew on to boil then started filling the belts.

So, over the past two weeks or so, they’ve been variously going home, going forward to Dodoma, and going back to Moshi…

Edward Mousley

Edward Mousley has now arrived at the end of his journey in Kastamonu. Remote enough to be out of the way and dissuade escapes, large enough to accomodate a large number of house-guests.

No words could describe my unbounded joy at receiving to-day news from the outside world. There was a postcard from friends in Camberley, saying that our defence has at last been understood, and asking what one wanted. It was such a cheery word. There was also a tiny letter three and three-quarter lines in length, which came many thousands of miles congratulating us on the siege, and announcing that parcels had already left for me. We hear they cannot arrive for months.

There is yet, however, no word from my dear mother, or from home. I am now practically without socks, shirt, vests, or anything else, my boots in ribbons, and with one blanket. We are to get seven liras a month, and our board and lodging costs nine liras at the least, as we have to pay an unjustified rent. What with tobacco and medicine, not to mention English food with which we must reinforce this Oriental provender, it will be at least fourteen liras and possibly eighteen a month.

All the people here seem well disposed towards us. They know we represent cash to them. At least they think so.

This arrangement is in accordance with the Hague Convention, just about.

Maximilian Mugge

Maximilian Mugge is being kept up with debates in Parliament that are relevant to his interests.

A friend of mine writes that in the House of Commons Mr. Reddie asked (July 26th): “Is the right hon. gentleman aware from this and other questions, of the spread of Germanophobia or German Fever; whether a lot of persons are affected with it in this House, and that it creates extraordinary delusions such as war babies, Channel Tunnel and other crazes; and whether he can take prompt steps to check it; if not, will he fumigate this side of the house, so as to allay the effect upon our nerves?”

I am still sleeping in the open. One good result: I had not to join the others in their lice-hunt last night. The tents in our line seem to lie across the track of some big army of lice looking for new quarters. I take it that some royal louse amongst them, gifted with a prophetic vision, warned them off their old feeding-ground, held by a Division with an energetic comanding officer, and told them about the warm and snug army blankets in the xth Division near the Reinforcement Office. “They never fumigate their blankets and it is heaven for lice. Fresh blood daily!”

Mr Reddie is Michael Reddy, MP for Birr in what’s now County Offally. He was finishing a short period of questions to the Home Secretary on the treatment of various German nationals. As a member of the Irish Parliamentary Party, which supports gaining Home Rule by military means, he’s very interested in who the Government chooses to intern and why, especially so soon after the Easter Rising.

A “war baby” is a baby who’s been named after a particular battle, often one that their father fought or died in; and the concept of a submarine-proof tunnel under the Channel now has a parliamentary committee investigating its feasibility, for obvious reasons. (There have been a lot of submarine sightings in the Channel recently, which is delaying cross-Channel traffic, including the despatch to France of the first Mark I tanks.)

Actions in Progress

Armenian Genocide
Battle of Verdun
Brusilov Offensive (Battle of Kowel)
Siege of Medina
Battle of the Somme
Battle of Bitlis

Further Reading

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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