Konigsberg | 6 July 1915

Gallipoli

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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Konigsberg

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.

Louis Barthas

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.

Actions in Progress

Gorlice-Tarnow Offensive
Armenian Genocide
Battle of the Isonzo (First Isonzo)

Further Reading

I have a Twitter account, @makersley, which you can follow to be notified of updates and get all my retweets of weird and wonderful First World War things. 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.)

Mount San Michele | 04 July 1914

We’ve got a real rarity today; a serious chance of a breakthrough on the Italian Front!

Battle of Gully Ravine

It’s another quiet day, with only minor artillery exchanges. Yet more Ottoman reinforcements have been brought up, and they’ve taken a day’s rest to draw up detailed fire plans. The last week of counter-attacks has given them useful intelligence on how the MEF men are deploying in the trenches, and observation posts atop Alci Tepe hill have direct observation down into them. Zero hour is set for early tomorrow morning.

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1915 sensitivity, donchaluvit?

First Isonzo

Mount San Michele is a strategic position of the first order. It sits right at the north-western edge of the Carso. To the north, it has an overview of the plain south of Gorizia. As mountains go, it’s rather ragged and ugly. It can’t even work out where its own summit is; there are four seperate peaks that might be a summit. The positions here are in a very poor state. Without proper drills, the defenders were reduced to carving knee-deep grooves out with picks, and then building breastwork parapets. They do have a little barbed wire, and this they carefully camouflage with branches All of this in the pissing rain, naturally.

And they’re at the top of a huge, sharp hill. The Italians have spent the last four days running up that hill, and the defenders’ machine guns have spent the last four days mowing them down. More than one attack has been stymied by friendly artillery fire dropping short. And yet, the attacks that have got into contact have caused casualties. When the Italian artillery is on target, the Austro-Hungarian “trenches” are utterly inadequate to protect the men. Today their commander has run out of reserves to throw in, and sends an urgent message for more. Two days ago, the Duke of Aosta had made his own request for reinforcement, but it’s taken until today for General Cadorna to issue the orders. Here on Mount San Michele, it’s now degenerated into a simple case of getting there the firstest with the mostest.

Konigsberg

Piet Pretorius has completed the final part of his mission, carefully monitoring the water level in the delta as the tide goes in and out. The monitors Mersey and Severn are finally ready to go up the Rufiji and give Konigsberg what for. Admiral King-Hall has selected the 6th for the attack. Other operations have also been put in hand to conceal their intentions. More soon!

Louis Barthas

The horrors of July 2nd aren’t nearly over yet. Private Favier has been hit by a shell on his first night in the trenches. That’s hard enough for Louis Barthas to deal with, but there’s more to it than that. Earlier in the night…

When he climbed up to the firing step to take his turn at watch, I had to stay near him for a little while. There was no loophole for observing, and in order to do his job of surveillance he had to stick his head above the parapet. Favier couldn’t get used to it. He crouched down each time he heard a bullet whistle past. I suggested that he fill up a couple of sandbags and pile them up to make a crenellation, behind which he would be better protected. The poor guy had listened to me. When we picked him up in the communication trench, at the place where the big shell had fallen, he was holding a sandbag in his arms.

I was perhaps the unwitting cause of his death. If I hadn’t suggested to him the idea of filling sandbags, he wouldn’t have been at the most dangerous spot. Poor Favier. You too, please forgive me.

Yes, there’s more to come.

Actions in Progress

Gorlice-Tarnow Offensive
Armenian Genocide
Battle of the Isonzo (First Isonzo)
Battle of Gully Ravine

Further Reading

I have a Twitter account, @makersley, which you can follow to be notified of updates and get all my retweets of weird and wonderful First World War things. 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.)

Piet Pretorius | 18 Jun 1915

It’s the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, and a few of our British correspondents pause for a moment to make note of it, but for all of them, that’s about all they have time to do. It seems a very long time ago to most of them. Even the Daily Telegraph contents itself with reprinting a Rudyard Kipling poem and then moving on.

Just below Pilckem Ridge, a German heavy shell landing in the British rear uncovers a real find; a slightly rusty but otherwise quite acceptable cannonball. An officer with a historical bent declares it most likely to have been fired during the War of the Spanish Succession, when over 200 years ago the Duke of Marlborough led an entirely different army into Flanders, fighting the French in alliance with the Dutch and the Germans. I can hear Sir Humphrey Appleby now, speaking fondly of his hopes for a dis-united Europe…

Nyororo Island

In Africa, plans for a raid on Konigsberg are proceeding apace. The current thinking is that, if only they can get the technology to work properly, it would be best to send the recently-arrived monitors Mersey and Severn up the river while the RNAS airmen attempt to spot for their fire.

Their preparations receive a major fillip today with the arrival of four modern radio-equipped biplanes, one Squadron Commander, three other pilots, four navigators, and lashings of extra mechanics and supplies to keep things running. In less than two days they’ll be installed on Nyororo Island, and this time they’ll be much less embarrassed at the show they’re putting on for the island’s population.

Meanwhile, the monitors are being extensively re-armoured and retrofitted for operations while under fire. And one Piet Pretorius, elephant-hunter, German-hater, and war volunteer, has just been given a considerable dollop of extra work.

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Even the inevitable attempt to cash in on the anniversary doesn't seem like its heart is in it...

Even the inevitable attempt to cash in on the anniversary doesn’t seem like its heart is in it…

Piet Pretorius

Since arriving in theatre he’s spent his days sneaking past the German defences that guard the River Rufiji’s delta to see what he can see. Twice already he’s sidled quietly up to within 300 yards of Konigsberg after Captain Looff has tried to throw them off by changing his anchorage. He’s also, in the manner of a Western Front trench raid, captured prisoners for interrogation. This has already paid dividends, giving the fleet advance warning of a German plan to move torpedo tubes to the mouth of the delta during the highest spring tides to fire at any Royal Navy cruiser that might try to slip in.

Now he’s to be condemned to weeks upon weeks of slipping unobtrusively throughout the Rufiji delta, poking the water at intervals with an enormous pole. Of course the Navy has no charts of the delta, it being a long-standing part of a German colony. Before the monitors can be used, someone has to do the painstaking, dangerous work of properly charting the channels. The monitors may be designed for riverine work, but even by the standards of a river, the Rufiji is dangerously shallow in places. It’s no good sending gunboats up the river if they’re only going to run aground.

So Pretorius goes out, night after night, shoving his pole right down to the bottom, testing the river’s depth, making careful notes from which the Admiralty can produce a proper chart. At any moment he could be spotted by the Germans, and that would be the end of him.

Second Artois

General Foch calls a general halt to the battle. Joffre’s instructions were to only reinforce success, and there’s no more of that to be had. Sporadic fighting will continue for another week or so to straighten out the line and dispute the last few trenches, but any hope of achieving anything further has been quietly pushed to one side.

Actions in Progress

Gorlice-Tarnow Offensive
Battle of Artois (Second Artois)
Armenian Genocide
Bussa Rebellion

Further Reading

I have a Twitter account, @makersley, which you can follow to be notified of updates and get all my retweets of weird and wonderful First World War things.

The Daily Telegraph is republishing its archives from the war day-by-day. Worth a look. I’m reading the paper every day, and it’s where the content for Our Advertising Feature comes from.

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

Severn | Mersey | 3 Jun 1915

Free of Churchill’s influence, the Royal Navy has resorted to a rather more sane solution to the Konigsberg problem than setting the entire river on fire. There’s also the round-up of “In June…” items, and some details about how martial law is being enforced to put down the Sri Lanka Riots.

Sri Lanka Riots

Troops continue roaming the streets of towns and villages across Sri Lanka, rigidly enforcing curfew, and shooting anyone whose face they don’t like. In some areas, it’s the custom to sleep outside one’s home on a front verandah. There’s quite a few reports of men being shot in their beds while sleeping out of doors. Apparently this is a violation of the curfew regulations.

Also, the police are being kept busy arresting prominent Sinhalese community figures, mostly on suspicion of being suspicious. A prominent Buddhist priest is arrested, and in the finest tradition of British-derived policing, falls down several sets of stairs on his way to Kandy and is found to be dead when he arrives. Meanwhile, a wide-ranging Order-in-Council is being drafted as an arse-covering exercise. By the time this is over, there will be plenty of arses needing to be covered.

Untrimmed hats.  Untrimmed hats.  Untrimmed.  Hats.  These two words do not appear to go together....

Untrimmed hats. Untrimmed hats. Untrimmed. Hats. These two words do not appear to go together….

Severn and Mersey

HMS Severn and HMS Mersey are a pair of riverine monitors (basically overgrown gun platforms with a shallow keel) who’ve been having an extremely interesting war. They spent a while bombarding the Germans around Nieuport and Dixmude in 1914. Then they were towed to the Dardanelles, with the frankly hilarious idea of eventually sending them through the strait, then through the Sea of Marmara, then along the Bosphorus, and finally transiting the Black Sea to sail up the Danube and go bother Austria-Hungary.

This proved fortuitous. While they waited for the Dardanelles to be forced, the Admiralty decided that actually they’d be just the ticket to deal with Konigsberg. So they’ve spent the last month heading through the Suez Canal and then down the east coast of Africa. Now they’ve finally arrived, and with the promise of more aeroplanes arriving soon, things are looking up. (Well, unless you happen to be on board Konigsberg, in which case they kinda suck.) Their shallow keels will enable them to pass through the Rufiji delta, where deeper-drafted ocean ships would simply run aground.

Louis Barthas

Our favourite grognard Louis Barthas describes his new quarters at Noulette, in reserve.

Along the embankment, the engineers had carved dugouts covered with iron sheets, each meant to hold a dozen men at most. Forty of us were piled up in each. You couldn’t lie down, or hardly crouch with your legs curled up. You couldn’t move without provoking howls of complaint from your neighbours. You couldn’t get out of the hole without stepping on feet, legs, knees. What little air there was inside was poisonous. It was hot enough to hatch chickens. Legions of fleas and ticks climbed up onto our legs, our arms, our backbones, causing uncontrollable itching.

An accursed German battery had sighted its 105s right on the road outside, in enfilade. If anyone ventured outside it would unleash a blast, sometimes a volley, from the guns. They weren’t stingy with their shells. They would toss a few shells onto the deserted road, just to remind us how vigilant they were.

And then there’s the flies everywhere, yet more rats, enormous worms, and the ever-present smell of the poorly-buried dead.

Amara

The advance on Amara finishes today in highly comedic fashion. Townshend’s Regatta arrives just in time to surprise a steamer that’s loading Ottoman troops to go and meet them somewhere down-river. In the confusion, the fleet captures the majority of their opponents.

In fact, they’ve taken so many prisoners in the last few days that a large number of ships have to about-turn, heading back to Qurna and Basra to get them somewhere safe Very soon after, the governor of Amara is surrendering to General Townshend. By tomorrow, British Empire control over the town is secure, having come at a ridiculously low cost of just four dead and 24 wounded. It’s a spectacular success, and perhaps things might have been better in Mesopotamia if it hadn’t been. There’s now going to be a lull while the Brains Trust works out what to do next. (No prizes for guessing what it is.)

“Early in June…”

Time now for my monthly round-up of things that irritatingly don’t have a precise date to them.

BEF bomber units

The Army Council this month directs all infantry battalions in the BEF to detach one officer, two NCOs and 56 men as a dedicated unit to be trained and equipped with hand grenades. Originally these people were, rather sensibly, to be known as “grenadiers”. At which point the prissy sensibilities of the Grenadier Guards made themselves known, and after much pointless time-wasting and consumption of perfectly good paper and ink, the name was changed to “bombers”. That aside, it’s a sensible tactical innovation that will pay dividends just as soon as the munitions industry can manufacture enough proper bombs to make it worthwhile.

Stokes mortar

The Stokes mortar is unquestionably one of the best weapons of the war. Named after its inventor, Wilfred Stokes (later knighted), it’s by far the best Entente solution to their Minenwerfer problem. It’s extremely simple, basically a small tube on legs. It’s easily portable and can be carried anywhere and operated from a trench by a pair of idiots. (It can then be quickly moved so its operators can run away from any counter-battery fire that its use may provoke.) It isn’t the longest-ranged weapon in the world, but it’s easily sufficient to fire across No Man’s Land, or support the front line from the rear. In emergency situations it can fire up to 25 bombs per minute, nearly one every two seconds.

Needless to say, when it reaches general issue, it’ll be a massive game-changer. The design will be quickly adopted and improved on by the French Army, and successors based on it will be manufactured for nearly thirty years to come. It should not, therefore, be surprising to learn that it’s being trialled early this month, and it will then be rejected. Its advantages are obvious, but from the War Office’s perspective it has one major flaw; it can’t fire existing stocks of mortar bombs. Therefore, they will initially reject it, and it will take the strenuous interjection of David Lloyd-George at the Ministry of Munitions (the legislation to create it is being introduced today) to get it into service.

Bussa Rebellion

Yes, another one. This time we’re off to Nigeria, where the British Empire had some time ago deposed the Emir of Bussa in accordance with the principle of indirect rule. Apparently the Emir was seen as too weak a figure to properly collect taxes, or “recruit” “volunteer” labourers to work on the Empire’s latest ridiculous railway scheme, so he was removed and replaced with a more pliant figurehead and a vastly reorganised “native administration”.

For some strange reason, some Nigerians are not happy with this. A local prince has rallied some 600 men to his cause; today they march on Bussa armed with spears, and bows and arrows. The “Native Administration” is taken completely by surprise. Half of them manage to flee the rebels; the rest are captured or killed. So far, so ordinary. Surely the might of the Empire can sort this out in jig time?

Except the might of the Empire currently has its hands full trying to play Whack-A-Mole with Colonel von Lettow-Vorbeck’s incessant guerilla raids on the Uganda Railway. Between that, its various garrison duties, and General Tighe’s optimistic plans to attack Bukoba, just over the Uganda/German East Africa border, it’s going to take quite an effort to scrape a force together…

Actions in Progress

Gorlice-Tarnow Offensive
Battle of Artois (Second Artois)
Armenian Genocide
Sri Lanka Riots
Bussa Rebellion

Further Reading

I have a Twitter account, @makersley, which you can follow to be notified of updates and get all my retweets of weird and wonderful First World War things.

The Daily Telegraph is republishing its archives from the war day-by-day. Worth a look. I’m reading the paper every day, and it’s where the content for Our Advertising Feature comes from.

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

Vimy | 02 Apr 1915

Today we’re going to do the “In April 1915…” round-up of news without a specific date. The planning for Second Artois is also beginning to take shape.

Friendly Feldwebel

First, back to the Friendly Feldwebel. He’s now served his eight days in the second line behind the Devil’s Hole and they go back to rest at Ripont. My suspicion of a while ago is confirmed, incidentally. Ripont is where Herbert Sulzbach would probably be right now with his battery, if he wasn’t in hospital with a skin rash.

It would have been better to have been left where we were. There was no shelter at Ripont, and the artillery fire was just as bad. Nevertheless, we were able to get a shave for the first time in twelve days. When the artillery was not firing, the soldiers played cards or cleaned their guns. On account of the steady fire, we did not have to drill.

I would like to believe that the two of them did cross paths at some point around now. Perhaps they shared a cigarette together. It’s a nice thought.

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Oooh boy, a temperance movement.  That always ends well.

Oooh boy, a temperance movement. That always ends well.

“The greatest masterstroke any monarch has ever made”. It parodies itself by this point, it really does.

Vimy

General Joffre has reshuffled his subordinates in preparation for Second Artois, and General d’Urbal will now take command of the attack. It’s another highly optimistic plan, based around a strong push from Ecurie up the road to the top of Vimy Ridge as soon as possible. Once there, the position will be secured and the cavalry will ride on towards Vimy village itself and onwards in the general direction of Lens.

This will be accompanied by a strong secondary attack against Carency and the Lorette to the north. If mining operations in this sector go well, there’s the possibility of supporting this attack from underground as well as with artillery. Today sees the detonation of a counter-mine against the Germans’ latest forward galleries. The mining effort is fast becoming a war all of its own.

April in Africa

Roundup time! There’s a major shuffle of command in Mesopotamia and Africa. During April, General Wapshare will be moved to Mesopotamia to work under the new commander in the region, General Nixon. This leaves General Tighe in command of the forces dealing with German East Africa.

The situation that Tighe is being faced with is not good. He has a buccaneering temperament, and this doesn’t sit well with his orders after the Battle of Jasin to sit on the defensive. His men are suffering heavily from disease, and during April he’s going to be obliged to give up his hard-won forward position at Longido. The 2nd Rhodesia Regiment is on its way as reinforcement, but as the month wears on and disease takes hold, they’ll have to start appealing for their own reinforcements to keep themselves above half strength.

Meanwhile, there’s no sign of change at the Rufiji delta. Konigsberg continues to sit well out of sight, its crew waiting for the arrival of Kronborg and her supplies. Some more aeroplanes have arrived at Nyororo Island for the RNAS aviators, but they’re even more useless than the first lot. Meanwhile, Admiral King-Hall (lest we forget, the self-described “ugliest man in the Royal Navy”) hasn’t stopped thinking outside the box. He’s sent for the Boer adventurer and elephant-hunter Piet Pretorius.

Pretorius’s business interests had, in past times, involved extensive land holdings in and around the Rufiji delta. He probably has a far better knowledge of the area than any white man. He’s not overly fond of the British, either. Fortunately, he absolutely hates the Germans, after having had his cotton plantations confiscated by the authorities. When Admiral King-Hall sends for him, he accepts enthusiastically and agrees to help in any way he can.

Disease and boredom is heavily at play here. Many of the older British ships lack refrigeration or bakery facilities to support extended operations. Most of them are incubating massive cockroach infestations. Temperatures on deck are rarely lower than 30 degrees Celsius, and the engine rooms are frequently pushing past 50 degrees. When the crews aren’t sweating at their work, they’re also keeping the Navy’s end up in the endless inter-service rivalry to acquire as many venereal diseases as possible. I can’t really say as I blame them!

April in Armenia

With Russian and Ottoman forces cautiously vying for position off to the north, something is going on in Armenia, and around Van in particular. Exactly what was going on is, needless to say, a Matter of Some Debate. It seems relatively uncontroversial to say at least that in the early part of the month, there is some kind of Armenian rebellion going on. With most of the local Jandarma units off fighting the war somewhere else, unrest has been increasing.

Exactly who was involved in it and how extensive it was, I can’t say. By some accounts, there is a vicious, heavily-armed, well-organised, full-scale popular rebellion in progress. By others, scattered bands of Armenians, mostly army deserters, are wandering around the place in a bad mood, shooting at whatever takes their fancy. What’s important is that the contemporary Ottoman communications seem mostly to be painting a picture more like a popular rebellion than armed bands. We’ll be back here soon as the situation develops.

Actions in Progress

Battle of Woevre

Further Reading

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.)