With the Battle of Gully Ravine over, the Ottomans take the opportunity to reshuffle their command structure at Cape Helles. The defence has been in the charge of a German, Colonel Max Weber, since early May. Liman von Sanders is now concerned that his spirits are being affected by the lethality of the fighting and the static front. Weber is relieved and returns to Germany; the defence is handed over to an Ottoman general.
That’s not all they’re doing, either. A fresh corps has been brought up to Kum Kale, extra reinforcements are heading for Helles, and yet more reserves will go to Bulair. Ottoman intelligence suspects that soon, either the MEF will attempt a Fourth Battle of Krithia, or there will be another attempt at a landing somewhere, or possibly both. However, what they don’t realise is that General Hunter-Weston has been pushing strongly for another bite-and-hold attack in the mid-line re-entrant between Gully Ravine and Kereves Dere. They’d better hurry up and reorganise, or they might just be caught on the hop…
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The monitors Mersey and Severn finally cross through the Rufiji delta this morning. By half past six, they’ve found their anchorage and are preapring to open fire. Wireless-equipped RNAS aeroplanes have gone up to correct their fall of shot. The range is just a shade over 10,000 yards. The grand plan has come to fruition.
And then it all begins turning rotten. Captain Looff has had the Rufiji well scouted. A concealed field-gun has fired at the monitors on their way in, to alert him to their presence. He’s identified several likely anchorages, stationed spotters at all of them, and taken steps to work out the range to them. As soon as the monitors open fire, Konigsberg responds, and after only a few salvoes both monitors are being straddled by shells.
For an hour they survive by dumb luck, with shells plopping harmlessly into the water only a few yards away. And then Konigsberg stores a direct hit on one of Mersey’s guns, killing six men and coming within a hair of igniting the ship’s magazine. A second hit, this one near the waterline, follows. She retires for repairs, then comes back up in the afternoon; but by half past three, both ships need to leave.
They’ve had a hard day of it. They’ve been doing far more firing at long range than anyone had ever expected them to, and they’re going to need structural repairs. Mersey will need a new gun turret. They’ve also run into a problem that the Navy should have been well aware of, and that the Royal Flying Corps separately discovered back in March. When a spotter is being used for gunfire, it’s vital that all the gun batteries not fire at the same target at the same time. If all the shells land at the same time, it’s impossible for the spotter to tell who fired which shell, and he can’t then issue proper corrections. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what Mersey and Severn have been doing, and have scored only six minor hits from 685 shells fired. It’s nobody’s best day’s work.
Yes, it’s still the 2nd of July for Louis Barthas. He’s still taking stock of the damage wreaked on his squad.
In all, this one shell claimed fifteen or so victims. Once again, I had been warned in a way by this kind of instinctive intuition, which I had already felt several times previously. Like all who were not standing watch, I went to find a spot to sleep on the firing step, but a sudden idea came to me to stretch out at the bottom of the trench, although I risked being trampled by the boots of passersby. But shell fragments couldn’t reach me there.
The Peyriacois Allard had a close call. A fragment struck and shattered the hilt of his bayonet, which he had on the ground right beside him. It should have been on the end of his rifle. This infraction of the rules may have saved his life.
There’s still more to come. You’re welcome.
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Battle of the Isonzo (First Isonzo)
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.)