Mother | Hanna | 20 Jan 1916

Battle of the Somme

Today General Joffre pays one of his little visits to General Haig at GHQ in St Omer. You may recall that a month ago, he wrote a long letter suggesting that an area of Picardy around the River Somme might be a good one for an offensive. The British-held part of the Western Front currently extends from the Ypres salient to a point just south of the Somme. If they were to attack there, then French and British soldiers would be able to fight side-by-side, an important propaganda concern.

Whether by accident or design, Joffre has also managed to frame his proposal for the offensive in terms that Haig will be predisposed to approve of. A letter sent a few days later talks extensively of the need wear down the enemy before seeking a decisive victory. Hello, “wearing-out battle!” They’re still working around a rough start date of July 1st for the main push, but Joffre’s also trying to sell Haig on the idea of two major pre-push battles in April and May to wear the Germans down. (A large debate follows among Haig’s staff as to the best way for politely telling Joffre to place this idea where the sun does not shine.)

Mother

Back in Blighty, it’s another important milestone for the development of tanks. In Lincoln’s Burton Park, Mother has been brought out for her first live firing test. It’s worth remembering that this first tank design doesn’t look much like what we now think of as a tank. It’s a large diamond-shaped box with tracks running right up onto the roof and no turret. Instead, the tank’s weapons will be held in two “sponsons” (it’s a silly naval word), forward-facing boxes attached to each side of the tank.

tank

One sponson will hold a machine-gun, but the other will be armed with an artillery piece. French tank development quickly went down the road of “we ‘ave zese soixante-quinze guns, ‘ow do we make one to go on ze tank?”. However, without an iconic gun to adapt, the British designers have ended up trying to shoe-horn a Hotchkiss 6-pound naval gun into the things. There are now some concerns that the gun’s recoil might be too high for the design to cope with. Indeed, original Landships Committee member Thomas Hetherington has a £50 bet with one of the chief designers, Walter Wilson, that the entire hull will collapse under the shock.

And it’s not the best of starts. The first attempt to fire a shell fails to fire. Hetherington and Wilson wander over to inspect the gun, at which point Mother lets off what’s surely one of the most spectacular Bang-Fucks in British history. (So called because when they happen, the gun says “Bang” and you say “Fuck”.) After a long pause while they go off to find the shell, they manage a few better-controlled shots and the machine proves perfectly stable. A drive across some suitable obstacles follows.

Mother is now ready to be demonstrated in official trials; preparations have been underway for some time. Time to accelerate them. More soon!

Mesopotamia

Back to the desert. The best plan that General Aylmer and friends can manage to deal with the Hanna chokepoint is to send as many guns as possible onto the far bank of the River Tigris to shell the Ottoman positions from the side. They’ve got four battalions of infantry across, but “as many guns as possible” has turned out to be one battery of field artillery and half a battery of the Royal Arse Hortillery. The remaining men, also about 4,000 strong, wait on the right bank of the river to charge.

A frontal attack is the only thing possible. On the right the Ottomans’ flank is held firm by a vast marsh. On the left; the attackers may be able to put men across the river, but there’s no way of getting them back over the river to attack the defenders’ rear or flanks. Most of the day is spent launching intermittent artillery bombardments and demonstrations. They have no way of knowing that most of the defenders are quite safe in strong, deep dugouts. They have no means of digging proper jumping-off trenches, as would be done on the Western Front, to minimise the amount of open ground that the infantry will have to cross. No Man’s Land will be some 500 yards wide, five times the width that anyone would have planned for in France.

And yet, if they sit and do nothing, Kut-al-Amara only has so much food. Incidentally, the Ottomans have just made an unsurprising change of command. Colonel Nureddin is removed in favour of Colonel Halil, who will be more willing to listen to his boss.

Robert Palmer

Robert Palmer’s mind is on other things than writing. He spends the day on the march.

Fair, sun, heavy bombardment all day. Post going.

He’s spent the previous two battles in general reserve. That makes him and his fellows of the 1/4th Hampshires the closest thing available to fresh troops. The only consolation is that they will be fighting on the extreme left of the attack, next to the river; the main thrust will be further to the right. The attack is scheduled for dawn tomorrow.

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.)

Kozincan-dag | 14 Jan 1916

Erzurum Offensive

Yesterday we had a nice bit of tension going. General Yudenich’s slightly complicated plan is working, so far. The Ottomans have committed their reserves in the wrong place. The remaining question is whether all the men required to drive home the attack on the Cakir Baba can arrive in time. And they have, despite having to force their way through chest-high snow. For once, a Russian commander has disregarded his orders and come up with a positive result.

General Vorobyev, commanding the critical brigade, ordered his men to start moving forward early, ahead of schedule. It’s a risky move; their advance was supposed to be concealed as far as possible by night. If some enemy observer had looked the wrong way at the wrong time with a good pair of binoculars, the game might just have been up. But luck was with him; if they’d left on time they might just have barely arrived, but they would have been going straight into battle after a long march in all-but-impossible conditions. We saw what happened at the Battle of Sarikamis when the Ottomans attacked with their men in that condition.

Now the Russians will attack after just a little rest, and that’s going to make all the difference. Soon after dawn the Kozincan shoulder is in Russian hands. By 11am, Vorobyev’s men are advancing, and this time they’ve achieved surprise. Up here in the mountains, there’s far too few men holding far too long a front. The defence is based around a series of strong-points rather than a continuous line, and the Russians are finding it all too easy to defeat individual positions with overwhelming force brought onto each one.

By evening the situation is critical, and only the most fractured information is filtering back to Third Army’s headquarters. On the right the Russians are poised to seize the Kozican-dag heights, the doorway to the western, less exposed portion of the Top Yol. On the left, they’ve taken an important village. One fork in the road leads up to the summit of the Cilligul-dag, still in Ottoman hands. The other leads down towards Koprukoy, and the practical upshot of this is that the Russians now have a shot at surrounding the Lines of Koprukoy.

Once the Cilligul-dag, now cut off from reinforcement, is captured, it’ll take about two days to march into Koprukoy; less than that if a recently-deployed Siberian Cossack brigade can make good time. They’re the only cavalry in the entire war that can be of any military use up a mountain in winter (other than as a source of horse meat). Between the original defenders and their reinforcements, there are about 50,000 Ottomans in the lines. If they aren’t told what’s happening, then the Russians will suddenly appear right on their line of retreat and a full-scale disaster is in the making.

Africa

Meanwhile, in east Africa, a new British Empire unit is arriving at Mbyuni. This is the 2nd South African Brigade, a freshly-raised mob with a few old sweats from the Boer War, and a great deal more pimply teenagers. They’re short on training, and high on enthusiasm; and they’re thousands of miles from home. Even after having been in theatre only 24 hours, they’re quickly discovering how different this place is from the Africa that they know. Now somebody has to figure out what the hell to do with them.

Lake Tanganyika

Meanwhile, over on Lake Tanganyika, a violent storm has blown in and wreaked havoc in Commander Spicer-Simson’s makeshift harbour. The newly-captured and renamed Fifi (late of the German navy as Kingani) has dragged her anchor and nearly thrown a Belgian ship onto the rocks, causing her to lose two propellers. Another Belgian speedboat has propeller-shaft damage. Mimi and Toutou are still carrying battle damage. When the weather finally clears, the only ship in fighting condition is Dix-Tonne, a fat, unwieldy, poorly-armed Belgian vessel.

And then Hedwig von Wissmann, one of the Germans’ remaining large steamers, appears on the horizon, prompting brief panic. This is the local German commander, Captain Zimmer, launching his latest attempt to find out what the hell’s going on on the Belgian Congo side of the lake. As it happens, Leutnant Odebrecht is under strict orders not to do anything risky, which means he never gets close enough to see anything worth spending the fuel for. But, hey. At least he came back with the ship in one working piece, which is a better result for Zimmer than the last two times he sent someone out. He’s left to scratch his head as his motley opponents set to trying to repair their damaged ships. More to come.

Royal Flying Corps

Time to drop in quickly on the Royal Flying Corps on the Western Front. They’ve just adopted formation flying tactics for the first time in an effort to protect their observation planes. No observers are to go up without an escort of at least three British fighters. Of course, with aerial warfare in its infancy, exactly what “flying in formation” means is going to have to be sorted out mostly in mid-air…

Mesopotamia

There’s no escaping Mesopotamia while the Siege of Kut lasts. Once again, the Ottomans have done the sensible thing and retired at night from the Wadi. And yes, there’s yet another prepared position for them to fall back to. They’re still 30 miles from Kut-al-Amara itself.

This time they’ve arrived at something which people insist on referring to as the “Hanna defile”, which sounds like some red-faced British general did something inadvisable with a copy of the Quran. But no, in the military sense, a “defile” is a chokepoint. (Apparently, when one passes through a defile and comes out the other side, one “debouches” from it, which never fails to make me laugh.) And the men withdrawing from the Wadi have now met up with some mates.

Anyway. What we have at Hanna is a rather knotty problem for the relief column. Everyone’s on the right bank of the river. The Tigris is flowing fast and deep, and is currently defeating the Engineers as they try to bridge it without half their sappers and all their material being washed away in the general direction of Basra. Close on the right of the river is another nasty, sticky, impenetrable salt marsh. There’s no going around it; you either go up the river or turn round and go home. The chokepoint between the river and the marsh is the “defile”, and it currently contains some 30,000 men. A relief column that started the size of a division, and which is now much smaller, is facing the best part of an entire enemy corps.

A frontal attack is clearly hopeless. The thing to do is get across the river. Everybody knows it. From there you can at least bring fire on the chokepoint from two directions, possibly even bypass it and threaten to cut the defenders off entirely. But while there are plenty of cross words about, this river isn’t for crossing. Yet more rain hammers down in the evening, swelling its waters yet further.

Robert Palmer

Robert Palmer has drawn another of the terrible jobs. At first it was thought his men might be needed to attack, but then they found the Wadi positions empty. Instead, he’s been, cough cough, clearing up yesterday’s battlefield.

The stretcher parties had been out during the night, but they had been fired on so heavily that they could not get beyond the 1,200 yard line, so there were wounded to pick up as well as dead to bury and equipment to collect. The dead were so pitiable that one quite forgot their ghastliness; but it was a gruesome job searching their pockets. The poor wounded had had a fearful time too, lying out in the cold all night, but the satisfaction of getting them in cheered one up. The ground was simply littered with pointed bullets.

In the middle of this job we were recalled and told to march to the support of our outflanking force; but by the time we were collected and fallen in the need for our assistance had apparently passed, for we were merely marched to the Canal and then along it to where it joins the river; where we have been ever since. We got into camp here soon after noon, and were very glad to be within reach of water again. The weather was the limit. It blew a gale all the afternoon, and the dust was so bad one could hardly open one’s eyes. We had no tents, but Major Stilwell had a bivouac and invited me in with him, which was a blessing as it rained all night.

What now? They can’t go on, but they can’t just abandon Kut, either.

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.)

The Wadi | Durazzo | 11 Jan 1916

Siege of Kut

We begin in Mesopotamia, where the weather has finally cleared enough to allow the Royal Flying Corps, after a prolonged period on the ground, to get their planes into the air. There’s plenty for them to see, and for General Aylmer, none of it is good. Several miles upstream of his lead elements is a large wadi, a steep valley with a watercourse of some sort at the bottom, that’s often only wet during the rainy seasion (not unlike the many deres on Gallipoli). This wadi is so large that it’s known to the invaders simply as “The Wadi” or “the Canal”. And, aren’t they just in luck, the Wadi is full of water right now.

That’s not all it’s full of. This is where the Ottoman blocking force has fallen back to, to prepared and well-sited defensive positions. A large and impassable salt marsh blocks the left bank of the River Tigris, and the blocking force is concentrated on the right bank. Their trenches are anchored, several miles up the Wadi from the Tigris, on a walled enclosure rather grandly called Chittab Fort. And the fliers also have an updated estimate of the enemy’s strength; they’re now pegging it at about 11,000.

At best, the strength of each force is now even; at worst, the Ottomans now have a slight manpower advantage. Time for thinking caps to be put on.

Robert Palmer

Robert Palmer spends another day at Sheikh Sa’ad, waiting for orders. After the past few days of marching every which way, the rest is very welcome. Even better, mail from home has been brought up with the rations. Time for some product placement!

Two fine days (though it freezes at night) and rest have restored us. A mail arrived this morning, bringing letters to December 7th. On these cold nights the Little Kitchener is invaluable; so is soup. Of the various brands, Ivelcon is the best. The chocolate is my mainstay on day marches. Also the Diet Tablets are very good. Bivouac Cocoa is also good. The Kaross is invaluable.

We have had absolutely no outside news since January 1st, and get very little even of the operations of our own force. I then went to see Foster who has had to go sick and lives on our supply ship. About 20 per cent. of our men are sick, mostly diarrhœa and sore feet. The former is no doubt due to Tigris water. They don’t carry the chlorinating plant on trek, and men often have to replenish water-bottles during short halts.

Personally I have so far avoided unboiled water. I have my bottle filled with tea before leaving camp, and can make that last me forty-eight hours, and eke it out with soup or cocoa in the Little Kitchener at bivouacs.

Cha-ching! There’s more than a few products being sent to Robert Palmer by his family that I’ve seen advertised by the Daily Telegraph. I used to spend a lot of time poking fun at those adverts. They don’t seem quite so funny now, though.

For the record, a “Little Kitchener” is a portable stove, one of many brands of Tommy cooker. They’re advertised as having been used since the Sudan. Sometimes the name appears with capital letters to emphasise “Kitchener”, sometimes it appears without to emphasise “kitchen”. A kaross is a large, heavy sheepskin cloak/blanket, as modelled by millions on the Western Front; and the Diet Tablets could be any one of a hundred patent medicines.

Erzurum Offensive

Day two of the Erzurum Offensive, still confined to probes on the Cakir Baba. And for the most part, it’s still a whole lot of nothing but poking at well-sited defences and getting cut down by machine-guns. For the most part. There is one important exception; there’s been a small breakthrough, apparently insignificant from the defenders’ point of view. However, there are now men in position to attack a mountain shoulder, the Kozican-dag. Take it, and they’ll be in position to break through onto the western Top Yol.

And not a moment too soon. A blizzard is blowing in, and although General Yudenich had hoped for a little more success, the Kozincan-dag position is the most important thing. The attack now breaks off, so as to give the impression to the Ottomans that it was only a distraction, and the blokes settle down to the serious business of trying not to freeze to death.

Flora Sandes

Time now to return to Corporal Flora Sandes and the Serbian Army, still outside Durazzo, waiting to be taken off and sent to Corfu for rest.

We were about 10 miles from the town of Durazzo, though it did not look anything like so far, and we could see it plainly at the end of the long line of yellow sands jutting out into the sea. There were several wrecks round there, one of them a Greek steamer, which had hit a floating mine. There were a great many of these floating mines about, and the Austrian submarines were also very active, adding immensely to the difficulty of getting food and supplies, which all had to be brought by sea to the troops.

…I rode into Durazzo with three of the officers to see the sights of the town. The first sight I did see was a real live English sergeant-major walking down the street. I could hardly believe my eyes, it seemed so long since I had seen an Englishman, and I did not know there were any there. I almost fell on his neck in my excitement, and he seemed equally astonished and pleased to see a fellow countrywoman. He took me up at once to the headquarters of the British Adriatic Mission, and fed me on tea and cakes, while we were waiting for [his Colonel] to come in. Afterwards I had lunch with the Colonel and his staff.

It was the first time for so long that I had sat on a chair and eaten my meals off a table with a table-cloth that I had almost forgotten how to do it. I went back late in the afternoon laden with sundry luxuries they had given me in the way of butter, jam, and a tinned plum pudding, and also two loaves of bread which I had bought in the town, as in those days when we got near a shop we always bought a loaf of bread, in the same way that people at home would buy cake.

I feel duty-bound to provide a moment’s humbug and point out that King’s Regulations strictly prohibit officers and NCOs socialising. Maybe it’s because she’s a Serbian corporal? (Please read with heavy amounts of dry sarcasm.)

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.)

Blowing up Cape Helles | Battle of Sheikh Sa’ad | 8 Jan 1916

Evacuation of Cape Helles

They’ve nearly done it. An odd last-day-of-term feeling washes about the men as they wait for nightfall. One way or another, this is the last day any of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force will spend on Gallipoli. Back to Sapper Wettern of the Engineers.

That last day was rather queer. One would feel very much the same sensation on being left behind alone in a house that had been one’s home after the family and the furniture had gone. Two French 75s near our camp were very successfully trying to pretend that they were a battery of four guns. Apart from them, there was hardly a soul to be seen. Having nothing to do, we wandered round the line to have a last look round and take some photos. Ate as much as we could possibly tackle, to use up the surplus grub and spent a happy evening opening bully and jam tins and chucking them down a well, also biffing holes in dixies and generally mucking up any serviceable articles.

Meanwhile, the Navy and the few aeroplanes in theatre are busying themselves chucking plenty of ordnance at the heaviest Ottoman guns on the Canakkale side of the Dardanelles. Other sappers are marking out designated routes back to the beaches in flour and dropping copious quantities of barbed wire into all other pathways and communication trenches. Immediately nightfall comes, the men begin pulling back.

And not too soon after that, the calm weather begins to change. At W Beach it’s particularly bad; the makeshift harbour, so recently repaired after the November and December gales, is taking another pounding. Then, just before midnight, some twerp with a candle is wandering around the stores on the beach and sets fire to one of the many ammunition dumps scattered around the beach. Fortunately for the twerp concerned, this dump only contains flares, Very lights, fuses, and a few grenades. But, if the fire spreads, the entire beach could go up…

Battle of Sheikh Sa’ad

Speaking of bad weather! It’s not a good picture for the blokes at the Battle of Sheikh Sa’ad, in Mesopotamia. Casualties have been high over the last few days of fighting. It’s still damp and miserable, with no hope for getting the RFC into the air. But surely if General Kemball just pushes on a bit harder today, he can break the back of the Ottoman resistance?

Well, it turns out that it’s no easier to cross marshy, muddy ground criss-crossed by drainage ditches at midday than it is at midnight. General Younghusband on the left bank of the River Tigris has at least been ordered not to attack until Kemball gets somewhere (and therefore does not attack at all today), but there’s still more heavy casualties and no gains for Kemball. He has at least managed to get his cavalry out into something vaguely approximating decent ground, but from what they can make out there are still at least five thousand enemy troops in the reserve lines in front of Sheikh Sa’ad.

Night falls again. Of the British Empire battalions who have been in action at this battle, they’re running at an average of one-third casualties. Robert Palmer’s told us about how pathetic the medical provision is. Speaking of whom…

Robert Palmer

It is always a good thing to remember that for every man in a battle who is actually involved in an infantry assault, there are at least four or five more somewhere behind him, in reserve. They usually spend all day marching this way and that, following the ebb and flow of the battle. They’re expending energy, and if they’re close enough to the enemy they’re probably taking casualties from shellfire. Although they never go over the top, their experiences are just as much part of the battle as those who do actually go over. (Consider Louis Barthas a moment, of whom more tomorrow. He’s been in three major Western Front battles as part of the attacking force, but he’s not yet been called on to attack anything.)

So to Robert Palmer’s day. He spends most of the morning marching in support of General Kemball’s attack; first away from yesterday’s camp, then back to it. Then they go out again, come the afternoon, in the same direction as before, but to a different position.

Being general reserve is no sinecure with bluffing tactics prevailing. This last lap was extremely trying. We marched in artillery formation, all very lame and stiff. We passed behind our yesterday’s friend, the howitzer battery, but at a more respectful distance from the enemy’s battery. This latter showed no sign of life till we were nearly two miles from the river. Then it started its double deliveries and some of them came fairly close to some of our platoon, but not to mine.

It took us nearly two hours to drag ourselves three miles and the men had hardly a kick in them when we reached the place assigned for our post. We were ordered to entrench in echelon of companies facing North. I thought it would take till dark to get us dug in (it was 2pm); but luckily our men, lined up ready to begin digging, caught the eye of the enemy as a fine enfilade target (or else they saw our first line mules) and they started shelling us from 6,500 yards.

The effect on the men was magical. They woke up and dug so well that we had fair cover within half an hour and quite adequate trenches by 3. This bombardment was quite exciting. The first few pairs were exactly over “D” Company’s trench, but pitched about 100 yards beyond it. The next few were exactly right in range, but about forty yards right, i.e. behind us. Just as we were wondering where the third lot would be, our faithful howitzer battery and some heavy guns behind them, which opened all they knew on the enemy battery as soon as they opened on us, succeeded in attracting its fire to themselves.

This pattern repeats several times. If ever you need a good description of the colourful period soldier’s phrase “buggered around from arsehole to breakfast time”, there you go. Just before nightfall, the howitzers finally find the range after three days of trying and hammer accurate counter-battery fire into the Ottoman guns.

All the same, we were rather gloomy that night. Our line had made no progress that we could hear of; we had had heavy losses (none in our battalion), and there seemed no prospect of dislodging the enemy. Their front was so wide we could not get round them, and frontal attacks on trenches are desperate affairs here if your artillery is paralysed by mirages. The troops who have come from France say that in this respect this action has been more trying than either Neuve Chapelle or Ypres, because, as they say, it is like advancing over a billiard-table all the way.

The relief force has spent three days going fuck-all nowhere. Time for some more Good News/Bad News. The orders given the Ottoman blocking force were to delay the enemy, inflict casualties, but also to keep itself intact as far as possible. They’ve now decided that they’ve done as much as they can at Sheikh Sa’ad, and under cover of darkness they begin heading off up the river. That, for General Aylmer, is the good news. The bad news is that Sheikh Sa’ad was only an advance position, and not too far behind is a much stronger position, anchored on a wadi (“watercourse”) so large that it’s generally known to English speakers as “The Wadi”.

Battle of Verdun

Back to the Western Front for a moment! It’s not gone anywhere, and at General Joffre’s headquarters, GQG (for “Grand-Quartier-General”), the intelligence-wallahs have been busy working out what the enemy might do next. Unlike this time last year, there doesn’t appear to be any large attempt to transfer forces to the Eastern Front. If anything, they’re bringing more blokes in. This analysis has reached Joffre’s desk, who in turn is worried that the lack of any Entente winter offensive is allowing the Germans to plan an offensive.

And now Joffre’s critical flaw rears its head again. Way back in 1914, he’d allowed himself to be caught out by the German invasion plan because he made the error of assuming that the enemy thought in a similar way to himself. He didn’t see any advantage for Germany in attacking through Belgium, and so completely discounted the possibility. And now he’s doing exactly the same thing. His intelligence is warning him about an imminent attack in the south-west, perhaps at Verdun, perhaps at Nancy, perhaps in Champagne.

In the Germans’ place, Joffre would be seeking to do exactly what he’d prefer to do in his current job, given a free hand. He’s planning for a major offensive this spring, no earlier than April, when the ground will be favourable for advancing, so that is clearly what the Germans must be planning. He’d also like to launch at least one sizeable but minor attack before then, to deny the enemy the chance to re-organise and plan without any going concerns. So, he reasons, this is what the enemy is doing.

And, faced with that reasoning, he today has a conversation with one of his liaison officers, Emile Herbillion. By Herbillion’s account, the Chief was in fine form, assuring him “I ask only one thing: that the Germans attack me; and if they attack me, that it be at Verdun.” It’s critical to place this in the context of Joffre’s wider expectations. A major attack there in February is not what he would do, so he’s completely discounted that as a possibility. The Germans haven’t had to do anything in the way of deception operations. The enemy commander-in-chief has thoroughly deceived himself.

Actions in Progress

Armenian Genocide
Siege of Kut
Battle of Sheikh Sa’ad

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.)

Montenegro | Moewe | 6 Jan 1916

Montenegro

Still determined to prove that yes, Austria-Hungary can totally invade other countries on their own, Mummy, Conrad von Hotzendorf launches his attempt to invade Montenegro and Albania. There are actually a few vaguely decent reasons behind this; for one, if they move quickly enough, they might just be able to catch up with some of the Serbian Army as it waits to be evacuated from northern Albania. For another, there are a few Italian detachments in Albania who probably deserve a good kicking on principle; and Conrad is also worried about the presence of some Bulgarians in Albania, thinking their government might try to use them to enforce some kind of territorial claim later.

The first and most important thing to do is to capture Mount Lovcen, site of a highly annoying fortress that’s been intermittently interfering with Austro-Hungarian naval movements in the Adriatic Sea. It’s where most of the small, poorly-supplied Montenegrin army is, and is the only place where they might be able to make a decent stand. The mountain is some way past the Montenegrins’ border defences, and the attack today does make rather heavy weather of things, taking significant casualties and making only a minor advance. Surely they can’t cock this up as well?

Battle of Sheikh Sa’ad

The story so far: General Younghusband and about half the force that’s trying to relieve the Siege of Kut have been stopped by what appears to be a small Ottoman picket force at Sheikh Sa’ad. His boss, General Aylmer, wants him to be cautious; but he significantly outnumbers the estimate of the enemy’s strength, so why shouldn’t he grasp the nettle firmly and clear them out of the way? He even seems to have had a stroke of luck; there’s a thick mist lying over the battlefield as dawn breaks to conceal his advance.

And then the nicely-rounded plan of attack goes a bit pear-shaped. His 28th Brigade should be playing the key role, finding and turning the inland flank of the Ottomans’ positions on the right bank of the River Tigris. Just one minor problem. They can’t find it. They keep pushing left, but no matter how far they go, the enemy’s line is still there. And, just to make matters worse, the Ottomans evidently have far more guns than had been suspected. The fire isn’t particularly well-directed on account of their observers being blinded, but it’s there.

After several hours of this, Younghusband does the sensible thing and pulls back. His orders had called only for reconnaissance, after all; and that’s effectively what’s been achieved. Daddy won’t arrive until tomorrow morning, he’ll never know what Younghusband was really trying to do. No harm done. Right?

Robert Palmer

Meanwhile, Robert Palmer is on the move at last, one of the last men to leave Ali Gharbi. He’s got a round sixteen miles of desert marching ahead of him.

We paraded as soon as it was light, at 7.15 a.m., but owing to the transport delays, the column did not start till after 9.0. The transport consists of: (a) ships and barges; (b) carts, mules and camels. Each has its limitations. Ships tie you to the river-bank, so every column must have some land transport. Camels can hardly move after rain: they slip and split themselves. The carts are fearfully held up by the innumerable ditches which are for draining the floods back to the river. There are not nearly enough mules to go round and they only carry 160lbs each.

So you can imagine our transport difficulties. The country supplies neither food, fodder nor fuel. Our firewood comes from India. If you leave the river you must carry every drop of drinking water. So the transport line was three times as long as the column itself, and moved more slowly. About 2 p.m. we began to hear firing and see shrapnel in the distance, and it soon became clear that we were approaching a big battle.

Consequently we had to push on beyond our sixteen miles, and went on till Sunset. By this time we were all very footsore and exhausted. The men had had no food since the night before, the ration-cart having stuck in a ditch; and many of the inexperienced ones had brought nothing with them. My leg held out wonderfully well, and in fact has given me no trouble worth speaking of.

After dark, they get orders to retire a mile and stay the night there. There’s food, but no shelter.

To put the lid on it, a sharp shower of exceedingly frigid rain surprised us all in our beauty sleep, about 11 p.m. and soaked the men’s blankets and clothes. Luckily I had everything covered up, and I spread my overcoat over my head and slept on, breathing through the pocket-holes.

It’s all getting a bit unpleasant.

Royal Navy

It’s not been a good start to the year for the Royal Navy. A few days ago, the super-dreadnoughts HMS Barham and HMS Warspite were out of Scapa Flow on a training exercise in typically heavy seas and with poor visibility. Barham, leading her squadron in line, hoisted a signal flag ordering speed to 8 knots. Sadly, some twerp on Warspite instead read the signal as “18 knots”, and just as she came up right behind Barham, a large wave intervened.

Barham’s stern sank into a deep trough, and just as it did so Warspite’s bow was lifted in the air by the next crest, lifting her up and on top of Barham’s rear like a rutting horse. Sadly, this is not how you make new baby dreadnoughts. Barham’s topside damage was relatively minor; but Warspite has been removed from the Grand Fleet and sent south to the Devonport shipyards.

Things then get even better today; the pre-dreadnought King Edward VII is on her way round Cape Wrath to a refit in Belfast when there’s a mysterious explosion and she begins taking on water. Another ship had recently passed in the opposite direction without incident; submarines are suspected and a destroyer force heads out. After nine hours of trying to keep the ship afloat, the crew are taken off by destroyers without loss.

There is, however, no submarine. What we have here is a good old-fashioned commerce raider pulling double duty. The Moewe is a merchant ship converted into a mine-layer and raider. Slipping the British blockade, she’s spent the past few days laying mines all round the north of Scotland. She then set a course west of Ireland and is currently heading in the general direction of the Bay of Biscay. After a year of very little naval action since the Battle of the Falklands and the Battle of Dogger Bank, things seem to be picking up again.

Actions in Progress

Armenian Genocide
Siege of Kut
Battle of Sheikh Sa’ad

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.)