von Knobelsdorf | Iringa | 21 Aug 1916

Nyasalanders in Tanzania

Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the Nyasalanders’ campaign in the south-west of Tanzania is proving to be rather a curate’s egg. In engagement after engagement they’ve forced the enemy Schutztruppe back, caused casualties, taken few in return. In theory they should now be well-placed to march hard to Iringa, and complete a grand encirclement. In theory. Unfortunately, that’s just slightly beyond their capabilities, especially as they’re now at the end of a 200-mile supply line, surviving on half rations, their numbers worn down by disease.

So what we’ve got here is just another load of men marching a very long way to very little practical effect. They’ll make Iringa in a week, and then General Smuts is going to have to seriously re-assess this campaign. There’ll be no quick six-month victory, and no grand pivot of resources to another theatre just yet.

German command structure

There is an important German command change today. As chief of staff of the German 5th Army (officially commanded by the Kaiser’s son), General von Knobelsdorf (no sniggering) has played a key role in the Battle of Verdun. He’s the poor sod who’s been trying to achieve General von Falkenhayn’s wishes, and also to figure out what they are, which is not an easy job. He’s been advocating for continuing attacks even despite the Battle of the Somme.

This is an unwelcome opinion, and today he’s been called away from the battle. There are two pieces of news. First, he’s been awarded the Pour le Merite, a major German decoration. Yay! Second, he’s been re-assigned to the Eastern Front as a corps commander, a clear demotion. Boo! The knives are well and truly out in Berlin at the moment. This will not be the last change of command before the end of the month. Every option is on the table, and the Chancellor, Bethmann-Hollweg, has now fully taken up lobbying for the supposed dream team of von Hindenburg and Ludendorff.

Over the last couple of weeks, both the Chancellor and von Hindenburg himself have been bombarding Kaiser Wilhelm II with letters on the subject of von Falkenhayn’s many inadequacies. The Kaiser, however still appears to be listening to von Falkenhayn, who’s been firing back with both metaphorical barrels. So today Bethmann-Hollweg goes to Pless Castle, where the boss has his headquarters. He’s going to spend the next three days personally trying to browbeat the increasingly-indecisive monarch into actually taking a decision. More soon!

Procurement

The current arrangements in Britain for tank design and production have both advantages and disadvantages. We’ll hopefully recall that Bertie Stern is now in undisputed control of the Tank Supply Department of the Ministry of Munitions. This gives him plenty of opportunity to drive things forward and use his own authority to drive design and procurement decisions. He doesn’t have to refer to the War Office or to GHQ in France before doing things. Today he uses that authority to do something both useful and unwise.

He’s convinced that when the tanks finally go into action, their potential will be obvious and there’s going to be an immediate request for as many machines as possible, as soon as possible. This can’t be done as simply as snapping one’s fingers, of course. Skilled workers have to be recruited. Supplies of steel, fuel, and other raw materials have to be earmarked. Guns, engines, caterpillar tracks, and all kinds of other components have to be manufactured. Factory space needs to be available for the manufacturing process.

Therefore, on his own authority, he today authorises the construction of an extra 1,000 machines of a similar type to the Mark I tank. (They won’t have to be identical, mind you, and two upgraded Marks are already being designed to improve on the Mark I design.) Unfortunately, he’s done so without informing anyone in the Army. He reasons that he has the support of David Lloyd George, now Minister of War; that should be more than enough support. This is deeply politically unwise. More soon, alas.

Robert Pelissier

The tone of Robert Pelissier’s correspondence has just taken a rather unhappy turn. On the Hartmannswillerkopf there was plenty of time to think and to describe daily life. Now he’s arrived in the Somme sector; and his latest letter to a friend in America, where he taught before the war, well…

We are not very far from your English cousins. They and we are bombarding with a continuity which quite beggars description. There is a canopy of steel over our heads just about day and night. We are so used to the constant reports and hisses that we don’t pay any attention to anything that falls not in our immediate neighborhood. You have had plenty of thunderstorms this year. Well, a barrage is like the most furious thunderstorm you ever heard, only it goes on and on by the hour and when it turns to ordinary bombardment it’s like an ordinary storm. (Living in New England is fine preparation for war.)

I cannot give you any details about important things because we do not know what is going on and the papers are stuffed with mere trifles. Will write you at length when we get back to some sane region.

No more lyrical descriptions, or meditations on American foreign policy. He was like this up in the Vosges when things got hot. More soon.

E.S. Thompson

E.S. Thompson has not only shot an antelope big enough to feed all his mates for a week, he’s also survived his birthday without some near-death scrape. Maybe this is a sign that I can stop poking fun at him all the time?

Fooling about with Bibby. Put my foot on a tree stump and skinned it. Rather painful for a while.

Sad trombone. Sad, sad trombone.

Rather chilly wind sprang up so put on my overcoat and started a letter to Mother. Mossy Green came in to see me, but could not stay long as he is leaving for Kilossa this morning. Started on our rainy season house, getting the zinc from an old blockhouse started by the Motor Cycle Corps. My guard from 2pm to 4pm, after which went to town, but my foot was rather painful.

You don’t say, chief. You don’t say.

Clifford Wells

Idiot son of a Montreal millionaire Clifford Wells is censoring his men’s letters, and provides an excellent cautionary tale against reading too much into the contents of captured letters and diaries.

Some of the men’s letters are very amusing, their comments on the war, their food, the French people, etc. Yesterday a chap asserted positively that the war would be over by November. In a letter this morning another man said he was counting on being home for Christmas, 1925. One very funny letter was written by a man who was most indignant at having been transferred to a kilted battalion. He did not object to kilts per se, but he objected strenuously to “scrubbing his knees every day.” Not one letter that I have read has been anything but confident as to the outcome of the war, and all are cheerful.

I had the experience of wearing a gas helmet the other day and walking through gas ten times as powerful as one is likely to meet in the trenches. I could breathe without difficulty, but found the helmet hot and uncomfortable, which, of course, is unavoidable.

If ever there is a slow day again in this war, I’ll dig out some personal accounts from men who were posted into kilted regiments, and found they actually preferred wearing kilts in the trenches. It barely seems creditable, but I promise they exist.

Maximilian Mugge

Maximilian Mugge is still quietly ticking over, but I promise some first-rate fifth-gear outrage and sacrasm is on its way. In the meantime, he’s reading the evening paper, and makes a highly interesting observation.

The “Evening News” says: –
“That the Board of Trade is still liable to cling to its old traditions is made evident by the recent appointment of Mr Albert George Holzapfel to the position of British Consul at Rotterdam. We are well aware that Mr. Holzapfel’s father was naturalised in this country and that he himself was born and bred here. We have no word to say against his loyalty, but the fact remains that his name is not one which is calculated to inspire confidence.

A man with German connections, however devoted he may be to the cause of Britain and her Allies, is most emphatically not the man to supervise the blockade of Germany, and the choice of Mr Holzapfel shows not only want of vision but want of common sense.”

So that old oracle Shakespeare was all wrong. There is much more in a name than he dreamt of. If William Shakespeare had been born of German parents 1889 and lived during the War, he would not have said “What’s in a name?”

First, let us issue a hearty “fuck you” to the bloke who writes leaders for the Evening News. Now that’s out of the way, let us examine for a moment what exactly “What’s in a name?” means. It’s from Romeo and Juliet, Act 2 Scene 2, part of the famous bit on the balcony where Juliet laments that she is a Capulet and Romeo is a Montague and yet she still loves him. “What’s in a name?” is a key transition as she talks the predicament through and decides that his name is irrelevant to her.

There is a very popular interpretation of the play as the story of two bloody idiots, a pair of naive youngsters (Juliet is turning 14; Romeo is not too much older) who think that Love Can Conquer All and tragically find out that it does not. In particular, she thinks that ultimately his name is unimportant, but ends up wrong. I think Mugge has got the wrong end of the stick entirely. “What’s in a name?” is surely an acknowledgement that in fact there is a lot in a name.

But, you know, he’s still doing a hell of a lot better engaging with Shakespeare in English than I’d do with, say, Goethe in German.

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

Haig’s joke | Flora Sandes | 12 Aug 1916

Battle of Romani

Time to close up shop in Egypt for the forseeable future. The Ottomans have lost just about two-thirds of their force. General von Kressenstein has had enough; he’s ordering a full-scale retreat back across the desert to Arish. Even if anyone on the other side might have wanted to chase him, they simply don’t have the water. There have been plans made to pipe water forward from the Suez Canal to support an attack towards Palestine, but they’re still a good four months at least from completion. Nothing can be done until that’s done. So now we’re bidding farewell to Egypt for a while.

One last note. Getting an Ottoman division across the desert and then back again is an amazing feat of logistics from General von Kressenstein. Making a horrendous bollocks of the following battle is an amazing feat of tactics, although not in the same sense. Defending, as he will probably have to do from now on, is also going to require some tactical thinking…

General von Falkenhayn

Let us now pause for a moment and consider the position of one Erich von Falkenhayn. He took over as German commander-in-chief in 1914, stabilised the Western Front at the Battle of the Aisne, then failed to win the extremely winnable First Ypres. He made it clear that he thought victory would come on the Western Front and wanted as little as possible to do with the Eastern Front. Another chance at advancing on the critical-to-the-BEF Channel ports was blown at Second Ypres.

He got little credit for the Gorlice-Tarnow Offensive or the conquest of Serbia, having made it clear that this was not his preferred option. He then stitched up the Eastern Front dream team of Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg and General Erich Ludendorff in favour of General von Mackensen and his amazing hat. Who, incidentally, has stayed in command of the remaining German presence in occupied Serbia. For nine months he’s been having polite dinners with Bulgarian officials and other passing dignitaries, rather than being transferred anywhere more useful. (This is actually going to work out very interestingly; watch this space.)

von Falkenhayn has effectively staked whatever reputation he may have left on the success of the Battle of Verdun. And we’ve all seen how that’s turned out. Then there was the Brusilov Offensive. von Falkenhayn had launched Verdun at least partly on the basis that the Russians couldn’t attack on the Eastern Front any time soon. And then there was the Battle of the Somme, the biggest loss of captured French territory since 1914, where his army commanders are now beginning to complain about that order to defend every inch of ground.

This is not a good picture. Say, you know who else doesn’t like him very much? The Chancellor, Bethmann-Hollweg, whose own political position is far from secure. Political life in Berlin is fast filling up with threats to resign from all and sundry. The Bulgarian government has discreetly made it known that they would much prefer for their generals to deal with Hindenburg and Ludendorff. Austro-Hungarian Crown Prince Charles has been trying to build support for getting rid of his own commander-in-chief Conrad von Hotzendorf; there’s a growing movement (mostly in the Hungarian government) to have von Hindenburg and Ludendorff as generalissimos.

And there’s a list of German politicians, civil servants, industrialists, advisors, and other hangers-on as long as your arm who are openly supporting Hindenburg and Ludendorff. Despite all these ructions, von Falkenhayn is still clinging onto his job, mostly by exploiting the Kaiser’s growing inability to take any kind of decision, and his not-unjustified fear of what Hindenburg and Ludendorff might do with a supreme military command. Maybe the Kaiser will begin burning von Hindenburg and Ludendorff’s ever-more-aggrieved letters of complaint about their boss. It’d help von Falkenhayn’s case if he could be right about, oh, anything, mind you.

And so we come back to Romania. von Falkenhayn has convinced the foreign ministry to send the Romanian government a series of warnings against any funny business. Romanian food and oil is crucial to the ever-more-fragile German war economy. He’s also had his staff draw up contingency plans for putting the Romanians in their place if they do do anything stupid. But he’s quite sure that the Romanians probably won’t do anything stupid this year. And even if they are going to do something stupid, it’s now so late in the year that they’ll have to wait for the soldiers to come back from harvest leave in September. Surely.

Harvest leave! Anyone else remember harvest leave being a major arse-ache for Conrad von Hotzendorf back in the days of the July Crisis? Now here it is again to trip someone else up.

Haig, Joffre, and the King

As their opposite number teeters, the Entente’s top military men are playing amusing pranks on each other. Today General Rawlinson’s headquarters is putting on a gluttonous seven-course lunch for King George V, President Poincare, and a few other lucky sorts who appreciate haute cuisine. Unfortunately for General Joffre, proud owner of the largest appetite in the war, the King is taking an Important Moral Stand. In order to set an example to his people, he has sworn off alcohol for the entire war. Of course, when the King is not drinking, nobody is drinking.

And so Joffre finds himself offered the choice of ginger beer or orange juice with his meal. This is not unlike offering a Manchester United fan tickets to see either Manchester City or Liverpool play. “Many of us will long remember General Joffre’s look of abhorrence, or annoyance”, wrote Haig in his diary afterwards, but the japery doesn’t end there. Holding out some hope that there might be some arrangement for serving booze when His Britannic Majesty isn’t looking, Joffre directs several meaningful looks at the waiters.

“I think General Joffre wants the bread…” suggests his BFF Haig. The bread basket appears. The General can’t very well refuse. The meal progresses. Joffre’s silent pleas continue. Haig continues sending the bread basket round. By the end Joffre is having a little difficulty restraining the urge to write his name in the history books as the first man to trigger an international incident by throwing staple foods at a Scotsman. Eventually the King and the President retire for conversation and cigars; someone explains the unfortunate situation to Joffre and offers him a digestif by way of apology.

Of course he refuses. If he cannot have a glass of wine with his meal, he will have nothing. A most successful jape; and one that’s very important in order to give a full sense of Haig’s personality. He’s often unfairly described as being extremely austere and having no sense of humour; it’s only right to deepen our portrait of him into three dimensions before saying rude things about him.

Flora Sandes (Slight Return)

One of the most remarkable non-commissioned officers in the war right now is a sergeant in the Serbian Army. This sergeant was not, however, born in Belgrade, or Nis, or Kragujevac. This sergeant was born into an upper-middle-class family in a well-to-do Yorkshire village called Nether Poppleton, which (appropriately enough for a soldier) sounds rather like an unfortunate condition brought on by a venereal disease.

When a very small child I used to pray every night that I might wake up in the morning and find myself a boy. Fate plays funny tricks sometimes, so that it behoves one to be careful of one’s wishes.

In 1915 we followed as Flora Sandes, Red Cross nurse, joined the Serbian Army (which has a refreshingly practical opinion on the role of women in wartime when one’s country is literally being overrun by foreign invaders) and obtained quick promotion through being both a good soldier and an excellent propaganda asset.

The soldiers seemed to take it for granted that anyone who could ride and shoot, and I could do both, would be a soldier in such a crisis. To their minds there was nothing strange about a woman joining up; there had occasionally been Serbian peasant girls in the Army, and there was one in this same regiment. The only thing that distinguished me particularly, and made them treat me with so much affection and respect, was that I, an Englishwoman, was willing to rough it with them, and to fight for Serbia.

Like the Turks they say “to die for your country is not to die”; but to die for someone else’s country, they thought to be something extra special.

It is often suggested (by osmosis from lazy historians) that this has something to do with the old rural Balkan tradition of the “sworn virgin”, by which a person assigned female at birth can be treated by their society as a man for all practical purposes. Sandes directly rejects that interpretation here, which I am reliably informed is best responded to with targeted flatulence. Anyway. She’s spent most of the summer on leave in England, rallying support for Serbia and raising money for war orphans. But now, as we know, there is an offensive in the offing. Sandes has now returned to her regiment.

My memories of the 1916 campaign are confused. They seem like a whole series of vivid pictures of little incidents which I can never forget, but which are not consecutive. With the help of my very scrappy diary, I hope to be able to make some kind of a whole of them, beginning in mid-August heat with the 2nd Regiment, numbering some 3,000-odd men, and ending in November snows with a bare 500. In the Iron Regiment (our nickname) I served by apprenticeship in war with a vengeance, and my tough and hardy comrades, most of them young veterans of two previous wars, taught me how to be a Serbian soldier.

We’ll see what we can do as regards putting them in some kind of order. And do think of her the next time you see someone fulminating about how women soldiers are totally too fragile and weedy to be effective in combat roles. By the way, she refers to another woman in the regiment; this woman is in a different battalion, but we will eventually meet her. And the two wars are of course the First and Second Balkan Wars of 1912 and 1913.

E.S. Thompson

And now we go from the hyper-competent woman soldier to the Transvaal’s own travelling pratfall, E.S. Thompson. What comedy misadventure have you for us today, Private?

Not feeling very well, having a tired and heavy feeling. Took aspirin tablet which made me feel much better. Read a bit then saddled up and moved off at 4pm, marching 2.5 hours. Off-saddled for coffee then moved off again after 2 hours, into Dodoma. Total for the day 11 miles. Touched the railway line as we walked over. Camped on a square opposite the station and next to the hospital. Went to get the kits but somebody had found them by mistake. After a lot of enquiring found them and went to bed.

Ah, there’s a small novella in the story of “a lot of enquiring” about who’s nicked his kit. So, they’ve arrived at Dodoma to garrison the Central Railway. Time once more for Thompson and chums to hurry up and wait. Just what he needs, more time on his hands to think up new and exciting ways to maim himself.

Max Plowman

Max Plowman has acquired a batman, a patronising attitude, and a disturbing piece of news. (A reminder that he is almost certainly using pseudonyms in his memoir.)

Herbert Castlereagh (better known to his mates as “Erb”) is a dark undersized Cockney with a switch of black hair that the company barber ought to see to. His personal cleanliness is an item he forgets, and his speech is difficult to understand; but he has a comical face and there is a good deal of the faithful spaniel about him. He says he is twenty-one: he doesn’t look more than sixteen. With a true Cockney’s ability to make shift, he found some sticks and rigged me up quite a tolerable bath this morning.

Though the performance entailed mild censure for indecent exposure, I’m pleased with Castlereagh, and we shall repeat the trick. An orderly has a few privileges, and, after Gallipoli, it seems only human to save such a brat from as much hardship as possible. He is the butt of the other orderlies, but in his old serio-comic fashion he is quite able to defend himself. He has a marvellous stock of righteous indignation that he displays like a coster if I, or another, happen to swear at him. A queer self-contained bit of old humanity, I like him, and believe he likes me.

The battalion is still considerably below strength, but I hear we are moving forward tomorrow.

That’s not promising, and I do wonder how much divisional and corps command knows about the strength of battalions like the 10th Green Howards. The Austro-Hungarian staff is infamous for consistently assuming that all its units were at full strength regardless of their actual condition. Perhaps it is mildly unfair to single them out in that regard.

Actions in Progress

Armenian Genocide
Battle of Verdun
Brusilov Offensive
Siege of Medina
Battle of the Somme
Battle of Bitlis
Battle of Romani
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

Mouquet Farm | Contalmaison | 11 Aug 1916

Battle of the Somme

Problem: To dislodge the Germans from Thiepval, Reserve Army needs to push north-west from Pozieres and threaten their rear. Just over a mile down the hill, Mouquet Farm links two strong German Second Line redoubts. So now, having had their fill of attacking uphill, they’re going to get a chance to attack downhill. Can’t attack Mouquet Farm without jumping-off positions, after all. Stands to reason, that does. And so, under the guns, Mucky Farm is getting muckier by the day.

Meanwhile, the Germans have just thrown in a couple of fresh divisions to meet this latest attack; of course it’s the ANZACs who’ve got to do it. The attack today is often only looked at from the BEF’s familiar side of the hill, where it comes over like another penny-packet half-arsed attempt to bite and hold. (It is at least a relatively successful one, gaining about 600 yards of ground; note use of word “relatively”.) From the German side, it’s an entirely more sinister affair, though. For a moment, although it would have taken a major stroke of luck for the attackers to know, they were in serious trouble.

The inexperienced new battalions coming into the fight have been thrown into an unfamiliar world of trenches, with few maps, where everything looks the same, under heavy shelling. The two who were supposed to be the divisional boundary didn’t have time to properly link up with each other before they were under attack and falling back. For a few hours there’s a rare gap in the German line, and a great deal of confusion up the chain of command. But of course the attackers can’t know, and they’ve taken bad enough losses as it is just pushing forward and getting counter-attacked and falling back a bit.

In the end, just one of a thousand missed opportunities. As all this is going off, a new field ambulance has just arrived at Contalmaison to assist with the ANZACs’ casualties. Medical officer Lawrence Gameson has been given some rather odd sailing directions that nevertheless proved completely reasonable. The conditions in his new place of work, on the other hand…

Contalmaison is quite completely ruined. We were told to turn left at the second bad smell. The directions proved to be as accurate as a precise map reference. We live in the remains of a chateau. A few chunks of wall and part of one room is all that is left above ground. The cellars are sound. Soon the wounded began to arrive: some walking, some carried, some just helped along; the usual bloody, patient battered crowd, without a grouse and with scarcely a groan. Here at Contalmaison I feel most curiously and disturbingly isolated, as if one was going to be stuck here forever.

The flow of work in our cellar was uncertain. Times of slackness alternating with times of great stress, when the place was filled with scores upon scores of reeking, bleeding men. These times of great stress were not isolated incidents, to be dealt with, cleaned up, then forgotten, like a railway accident. They recurred regularly. They went on and on and on. Sometimes a man on a stretcher would vomit explosively, spewing over himself and his neighbours. I have seen mounted troops brought in with liquid faeces oozing from the unlaced legs of their breeches.

Occasionally a man would gasp and die as he lay on his stretcher. All this was routine and the waiting crowd looked on unconcerned. No one spoke much during these seemingly endless periods of congestion.

Look at this, our Susan. “Died of wounds”, it says here. “Died of wounds”. What does that mean? That nice Lieutenant Eyewash-Woggler wrote to us and said our Tommy, he died quickly and without any pain, he saw it himself…

German defences

Regardless of General von Falkenhayn’s intermittent burblings about holding every inch of ground (more on him very soon, I promise), the German units who have been through the Somme are doing some extremely quick institutional learning. This is no time for pooh-poohing ideas that might work. If some hairy-arsed private has an idea, he’ll probably get a chance to try it. If he dies, it probably isn’t any use. If he lives, or at least takes a lot of the enemy with him on the way out, it’s probably worth doing again. The secret machine-gun or bombing post is just one such idea that’s catching on very quickly.

Someone crawls out to a random shell-hole about 50 yards in front of their main fire trench; there are plenty of those around. They lie still and quiet (often under a blanket) until the BEF’s latest attackers are right on top of them. Then they open up at point-blank range. Other units are, very quietly, experimenting with allowing attackers into booby-trapped trenches and then counter-attacking only after the attackers trigger the traps. These methods are currently being passed on by word of mouth. Perhaps someone might collate these things and turn them into doctrine; wouldn’t that suck to have to attack?

Speaking of doctrine, the French have just managed to capture in a trench raid some spectacularly useful papers. Some of them set out the defence in depth theories that von Falkenhayn is so determined to ignore. Some of them discuss lessons learned from infiltration-style attacks early at the Battle of Verdun, the first use of proto-stormtroopers. Food for thought for the intelligence department, especially when compared to reports that the Germans seem to know this is a good idea, but they’re not being allowed to do most of it…

Max Plowman

Max Plowman is thinking about how best to ingratiate himself with his men. Well, he’s not putting it in those terms, but.

I am getting to know the men of my platoon. About a third of them, the pick of the bunch, are miners from the north of England: short, tough, reserved men, used to hard work and not given to “grousing.” More than half of them are married. … Spencer is a tall, red-faced lad, awkward but intelligent. I presume the pits have given him that incurable stoop. The trades of the rest make an extraordinary list. Labourer, wheelwright, railway storekeeper, farmer, platelayer, cabinet-maker, rag-conditioner, oil-presser, painter, shoe-salesman, driller, grinder, wool-sorter. What occupations a civil world provides!

Barlow calls himself a “horseman,” and, being the platoon fool, can give no more explicit description of himself. … Jenkins is an “interpreter” of languages, perhaps; but I rather suspect the description as being designed for purposes of reference when those “chits” from the orderly room come round, promising comfortable billets for men of strange trades. I suspect this because Jenkins shows himself a cute student of his own well-being in other ways.

That little wisp of a man, Jackson, who has been to India with the regular army, is something of an enigma. He is smart enough, but he wears a bored expression and seems strangely reticent and unresponsive. To-day, when I told him I wanted him to [become a lance-corporal], seeing that in point of service he was nearly the oldest soldier in the platoon, he replied that he would rather not. Well, he must, for there’s nobody else.

Corporal Neal, who escaped injury on July 1st with the old battalion, has lost his nerve, if he ever had it. He is demonstrative in his authority; but I do not like his stupid, shifty eyes or his subservient manner. Still less do I like the sergeant I am saddled with by the colonel. He has a criminal look, and why he should suddenly be promoted from the ranks to full sergeant I cannot imagine. He has served in Gallipoli, but we do not know his record. Like Neal, he is too servile, and I am a bad judge of men if he proves trustworthy.

He almost certainly feels much more of a connection to the men than to his brother officers; he left school at 16 and worked in his father’s brick business.

Neil Tennant

Neil Tennant hasn’t been mucking around in boats so much as boating around in muck on the River Tigris, but he’s finally making progress.

Ali-Gharbi proved a mere collection of Arab shelters and the tents of a small British post; not a tree to be seen. Here we left T3, as she would only have blown on the shoals in the shallow and tortuous channels above. I shall never forget going ashore that morning in this god-forgotten spot; bending low against the gale, I searched for a British officer. Eventually there appeared a ragged individual in pyjamas and helmet; he had been there all summer and had long since lost all interest in life. The arrival of fresh blood from England, however, cheered him, and talk of London over a bottle of warm beer seemed to awaken further desire to live.

Our intention of crossing the desert to Sheikh Sa’ad in a motor was not advised on account of possible attack by Arabs, so a telegram was sent to Squadron HQ for their motor-boat. Captain Murray, commanding at ‘the time, met us, and we ran up to Sheikh Sa’ad in four hours in spite of taking several shoals at twelve knots. The tents of a squadron of Flying Corps and afew other troops were the sole means of distinguishing Sheikh Sa’ad from Ali Gharbi. Otherwise, as spake the British Tommy, “there was miles and miles and miles of sweet fuck all!”

Tennant claimed the British Tommy actually said “sweet damn all”, but we know better than that. He’s arrived now to take command of 30 Squadron and kick it into some kind of fighting shape, but that might not be easy.

E.S. Thompson

E.S. Thompson continues to, oh, I’ll let him say it.

Slept late. Had a narrow escape from boiling porridge falling on my face as half a dixie full upset.

The man is a walking pratfall, he really is.

Sewed patches on my shorts and packed my valise putting my camera in again. Still feeling a bit stiff and footsore. … Got orders to move at 4pm. Made doughboys for the stew and had it at 3.15pm. Marched 3 hours doing 7.5 miles, then halted for 2 hours and made some coffee. Feet very sore from little splinters in the left foot. Marched on again for 4.5 miles. Total for the day 12 miles [19 km]. Collected some wood and made some porridge and coffee.

His mates have also vented their feelings about not being able to drink the machine guns’ water by confiscating a sergeant’s oversize water bottle. There’s not much water around for anyone right now, but as long as they make good time they’ll be in Dodoma tomorrow.

Evelyn Southwell

Evelyn Southwell has found an excellent way of occupying his time at rest in the rear, as he tells to his father.

This morning I was alone; so I went along the river bank, and made a highly important discovery, which is that the Field Service Post Card makes a capital boat in skilful hands like yours or mine. I put one afloat this morning, within twenty yards of a huge artillery camp on the bank, but not in the least abashed by the watchful eyes of one or two inquisitive gunners at their ease on the bank. I put her well out, and with a poke from a stick off she went.

All went well (this was a very important voyage, and you must forgive me if I dwell on it rather lengthily) for quite a long time- it was necessary to throw one big stone into a shallow, to prevent her coming to rest much too soon. And there was a certain home-sick look about her (perhaps she caught it from her designer), which was a little too apt to make her aim at unexpected little harbours on the way down. With this exception, however, she did well, and it was no fault of hers that she did go right down to join the — Oh dear, here’s the Censor again. One can’t even run one’s private navigation without being careful.

Of course he can’t say which river this was. I do like to imagine the other half of this anecdote, though. That’s the story told by the two gunners (I also want to think they’re from Neil Fraser-Tytler’s battery) who were sitting around having a quiet rest, when suddenly this idiot officer appears and starts floating a boat folded from a field service postcard down the river…

Curiously, it is far, far easier in a less easy period than in what we call a ‘cushy’ one. In the Ypres days, ‘twenty-four hours out’ was a thing to look forward to, and down in our last place a week out seemed short! So I fully hope it will be, here: in fact, I know it is so. One says to oneself that it is silly even to think of anything unpleasant till we get to So-and-so at the earliest, and there one stops. At least, I think so.

“So-and-so” is clearly somewhere like Albert, the last big town before the Somme battlefield begins.

Maximilian Mugge

Private Maximilian Mugge, newly-minted member of the 30th Middlesex (a unit, as we shall see, of many nicknames) still has his outrage in first gear. Today he contents himself with a description of his new unit’s history. But don’t worry, he’ll have plenty of time to get steaming mad about being exiled to the “Boche Battalion”.

I hear that this Battalion was formed on 12-7-16 as the 33rd (I.W.) Bn. Midshire Regiment, at Balmy Camp, Sussex; Captain P. L. Thornly 10th East Lancers Regiment assuming temporary command. The majority of the men are conscripts and were recruited under Army Council Order 1209; they are of enemy (German, Austrian, Hungarian, Turkish and Bulgarian) Alien parentage.

On the 13th July 1916 Headquarters and 300 men of this Unit proceeded to Peas Pudding Camp, Reptum, as an advance party; on the twentieth Colonel Byle took over command of the Battalion, and seven days later the remainder of the battalion arrived. On the 3rd August, 1916 200 men of A. Company under 2nd Lieut. Singleway proceeded to Fodderham and were attached to the Guards for Trench Digging at the Bombing School.

Usually I translate Mugge’s pun-filled substitute names into their real equivalents, but here I’m leaving them as written. The officers too have had their names obscured; but Mugge does like a good pun, so perhaps someone can work out who they are. For an example of how his mind works; Peas Pudding for “Pease Pottage” is relatively transparent, and “reptum” is a Latin verb meaning to creep or crawl, as in Crawley, the large town near Pease Pottage village and Army camp. Good luck.

Army Council Order 1209, incidentally, was drawn up right after someone noticed that conscription was going to require taking into the Army men of alien parentage who had previously attempted to volunteer and not been accepted.

Actions in Progress

Armenian Genocide
Battle of Verdun
Brusilov Offensive
Siege of Medina
Battle of the Somme
Battle of Bitlis
Battle of Romani
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

Pozieres Windmill | Battle of Romani | 4 Aug 1916

Pozieres

The objectives on the Somme just keep getting closer and closer. First they shot for Bapaume. Then they shot for the Second Line so they could attack Bapaume. Then they shot for Longueval and Pozieres so they could hold the Second Line. Now they’re reduced to shooting for a little windmill (still at least 40% intact, somehow) just outside Pozieres. The defenders are much less strong than they had been when the ANZACs first arrived at Pozieres; again there’s no wire left in front of their trenches. The OG Lines fall to Australian bayonets, and by nightfall they’re clinging to a series of shell-holes all round the windmill.

And then comes the receipt, which doesn’t just come in artillery. The men who attacked yesterday into Fourth Avenue are trying to hold it and to then move into Ration Trench today. On the German side of the hill, the order is “At any price, Pozieres ridge must be recovered”. Sergeant Charles Quinnell of the 8th Royal Fusiliers is well placed to appreciate exactly what this means.

Over this barricade on our right flank came a German with a canister of liquid fire on his back. Squirting liquid fire out of a hose, he burnt twenty-three of our chaps to death. I plonked one into his chest, but he must have had an armoured plated waistcoat on, it didn’t stop him. Someone threw a Mills bomb at him and it burst behind—he wasn’t armoured plated behind, he went down. But at any rate he’d done a lot of damage.

The bombers bombed the Germans back from the barricade. Plenty of chaps were wounded with this liquid fire as well as those that were killed; it practically wiped out Tubby Turnbull’s platoon. Then we got an order from the Captain. I hope I never hear it repeated again. We must shorten our front—so he gave us an order to make a barricade of the dead, the German dead and our dead. We made a barricade of them and retreated about 40 yards back towards my platoon.

Quinnell holds the barricade all day and all night as well, with the aid of a Stokes mortar and rifle grenades firing little chip shots over the barricade and back to where the Germans are being forced to assemble for their counter-attacks. And as all this is going on, General Gough is complaining that it should have been done days ago. (General Haig, meanwhile, is slightly preoccupied with an imminent visit from the King, who is of course trying to get as far forward as possible, in the manner of idiotic leaders everywhere.)

Battle of Romani

The long-awaited Ottoman attack on the Suez Canal is now underway. Our correspondent Oskar Teichman has been expecting action for quite some time, and he’s not the only one. So too has General Murray, in command of the defences, and he’s had more than enough time to develop a strategy. It’s simple enough. The enemy could attack in a number of different directions, but the defenders have plenty of mounted troops available. Murray is betting that he can hold his horsemen in reserve long enough for the Ottomans to commit themselves, at which point he can redeploy and meet them in strength.

It’s a good guess. Here’s what it means for Teichman and his pals.

Casualties now began to occur, and it was necessary to make excursions into various parts of the valley. It was sad work bringing the serious cases up the steep declivity, tied on to their horses; but this had to be done at once, as they could not be left at the bottom. I was forced to abandon my dressing station in the Hod, as in the event of retirement we should never have been able to get the wounded up the hill quick enough.

At the dressing station cases were dressed and placed under shelters formed out of horse-blankets and swords. It was now getting very hot, and the wounded suffered greatly from thirst. Meanwhile the sand-cart problem was getting acute, as none had turned up and many wounded were waiting to be evacuated. However, our Signalling Officer managed to get heliograph connection with Canterbury Post, which communicated with the New Zealand Field Ambulance, and an hour later, much to our relief, the first sand-cart arrived.

During this time we had been heavily engaged, and it was a great relief to everyone to hear that the New Zealand Mounted Brigade, which had left Hill 70 after we had started, was just coming into action on our extreme left. The Somersetshire [Royal Arse Hortillery], attached to the New Zealanders, had already been in action for some hours, and had been putting in some good shooting; this battery, the Leicester RHA and the Ayrshire RHA were wonderfully mobile over the heavy sand with their enormous sand-tyres. As soon as the New Zealanders joined in, the pressure on our left flank was considerably relieved.

“Declivity” is a wanky word, and it’s not even been used properly; it’s a downward slope. By definition you can’t go up a declivity, you have to go up an “acclivity”. (Or, you know, an “upward slope”.) Here also we see the value of arse hortillery when you’re not stuck in horrible trench warfare and having to lay down indirect fire from miles away. “Cavalry was obsolete in the First World War” is such a gross over-simplification that it’s really hard to know where to start.

Teichman has a lot more to say, giving a blow-by-blow account of the day’s fighting. For us, suffice to say that it’s gone extremely well and entirely according to plan. We’ll rejoin him as night begins to fall.

It was a picturesque sight when the fires litup the camp and the motley collection of Turkish prisoners, many of whom were supplied with tea from our dixies. Infantry wearing the enverene hats, brown fezzes or skullcaps, dressed in dark-brown khaki and corduroy breeches (most unsuitable for this climate), gunners in astrakhan caps and blue uniforms, Arab irregulars in flowing garments, transport drivers with red facings to their uniforms and yellow sashes, and German machine gunners in khaki drill and wearing yachting caps.

I had charge of a Turkish medical officer. After he had had some food and tea I told him (in French) that he would be taken over to one of the Field Ambulances, where he would spend the night.He told me that his name was Jahat. On arrival at the Field Ambulance we found a very large number of Turkish wounded, some waiting and others being dressed in a large tent. Three [army doctors]were hard at work, assisted by Red Crescent orderlies. I brought Jahat in and announced that he was going to help them.

After explaining this to him he was very disgusted, but we compelled him to take off his coat and get to work amongst his own wounded. It was evident that he had previously concluded that his work was over after surrendering. Another Turkish medical officer told us that he had been in charge of the Field Hospital in Anafarta Village, which reminded us of our days at Suvla Bay.

Eleven months earlier, this doctor would have been treating the wounds that the Worcester Yeomanry were inflicting. It’s a small war after all. I wonder what other cheery thoughts today has in store for us?

Sixth Isonzo

Really? Really? Is it time again already? Why yes, it surely is. And, through no effort of their own, it turns out that this is in fact the best time since the start of the war to launch a major offensive. Between the ill-advised Battle of Asiago, the Brusilov Offensive, and the occupation of Serbia, the Austro-Hungarian army is having severe manpower difficulties. The defences on the Carso are weaker than they’ve ever been. The garrisons on the Isonzo have spent months preparing to attack again. The gunners have been stockpiling ammunition. And General Cadorna has finally, it seems, learned a thing or two about reasonable expectations.

He no longer dreams of vast leaps that can easily take Trieste. He’s no longer even hoping to capture Gorizia. All he wants to do is cross the Isonzo and improve their positions on the Podgora hill and Mount Sabotino. Gorizia itself won’t be assaulted until September. On the other hand, the Duke of Aosta, commanding the Italian 3rd Army, has with difficulty convinced his boss to allow yet another slaughter on Mount San Michele. It’s going off on the 6th, in two days time. Blood for the blood god!

Clifford Wells

Last we heard, idiot son of a Montreal millionaire Clifford Wells was still in England, waiting for orders. A couple of days ago, they finally arrived, and he’s now resting quietly at the Canadian base camp in Le Havre, from where he writes to his family.

I did not cable to you when I left England, because I was so busy at the last that I really could not find time to go to a telegraph office, and also because a cable would have given the impression that I was going straight to the trenches, whereas I knew I should be detained here for some time. Beyond the fact that I have left England, there is very little that I can report. I am pleased to be “on my way” at last.

I am having plenty of practice in speaking French, and find it much easier to understand the people here than the Canadian French in Montreal.

Cue outraged spluttering and alleged swearing from any Quebecois readers.

Herbert Sulzbach

Life is still relatively quiet for German gunner Herbert Sulzbach, and he has plenty of time to think and observe.

The second anniversary of the outbreak of war has passed, but you don’t really think any more about our entering the third year of war, and still less about whether and when there is going to be peace again. It would seem that the fighting on the Somme is attempting to decide the outcome of the war. Gallwitz has given his Army Group an order that not a single metre of ground may be lost. I assume that we too will soon be involved in the greatest battle in the history of the world, and that it will be worse than the Champagne fighting eighteen months ago. [Sulzbach talks at length about how outnumbered they appear to be.]

We hear that Hindenburg has taken over the Supreme Command of the entire Eastern Front, including Austrian troops.

There will be quite a bit more to come on the subject German command arrangements this month. What Sulzbach hears is not entirely accurate, mind. In response to the Brusilov Offensive, first General von Linsingen was given command of a number of Austro-Hungarian troops. Now the sector of German control has been greatly increased, from Riga to Lvov, and put under von Hindenburg and Ludendorff. Conrad von Hotzendorf has also agreed not to attack anything without German approval first. However, it’s not quite the supreme command that Sulzbach suggests.

However, that might soon be a distinction without a difference. Just as General Joffre has been struggling to maintain political support in Paris, so too is General von Falkenhayn struggling in Berlin. He assured the government that the Gorlice-Tarnow Offensive had neutered the Russians; it didn’t. He was full of beans about the prospects for the Battle of Verdun, which has now gone extremely pear-shaped. Now they’re being pushed slowly and surely back at the Battle of the Somme by the damned English. More soon.

Neil Tennant

Having given us a very gloomy view of Basra, Lt-Col Neil Tennant of the Royal Flying Corps is now heading up the Shatt-al-Arab toward the sharp end in Mesopotamia, such as it is.

In the evening we passed Ezra’s tomb: a blue-domed building and haunt of pilgrims in time of peace. Records as far back as the tenth century AD speak of this place as renowned through the country as a spot where prayers were answered. We anchored for the night in mid-stream, for in those days it was unsafe to tie up to ‘the bank. Jackals howled one to sleep.

The following afternoon we crawled into Amarah against a Shamal gale that burnt the eyes in their sockets. Lieut. Kelly, in charge of the RFC advanced store depot, met us here, and we groped ashore to have a look at the place and inspect the mule transport fitting out for the front. The wheels of the carts had all shrunk away from their tyres.

Ezra is a Biblical figure who has at least three separate claimed burial places, although the one near Basra is the best known. A “shamal” is a particularly evil north-westerly wind found around the Persian Gulf. It’s quite capable of making transit over the Shatt-al-Arab and the River Tigris all but impossible for weedy launches like the one Tennant finds himself in.

E.S. Thompson

There is an important little detail in today’s diary entry from E.S. Thompson, easily missed.

Parade as usual, after which made a wrist strap for my watch. Steak for lunch, after which our transport arrived so I suppose we will start tomorrow. Received letters from Doris and Mother mentioning Papa’s accident. Wrote to Mother and Doris in the afternoon and took the letters up to be censored. Stew very nice as it was flavoured with leeks and meat very tender, also pumpkin fritters. Made a raid on Pintlebury’s tent during which we got orders that we are moving tomorrow at 8am. Rations and a full tot of rum issued.

Pintlebury, of course, was the man who raided Thompson’s tent last night. The important point is the excellent stew. This means that the supply lines back to the rear are improving, which in turn means that the railway battalions are making good time as they build that railhead forward from Moshi towards Kondoa Irangi. Without them, General van Deventer at Dodoma would certainly be starving to death. As it is, he and his horsemen are surviving, just about, on half rations.

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

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

Verdun and the Somme | Fromelles | 13 Jul 1916

Battle of Verdun

The Battle of the Somme has now succeeded in one of its main objectives. Today General von Falkenhayn orders offensive operations to cease at the Battle of Verdun. On the most charitable interpretation of von Falkenhayn’s intent, it was supposed to take a couple of weeks, maybe a month, to establish a strong line that the French would find it almost impossible to recapture, and then sit back and let them bleed to death on it. They’ve now taken five months and still they’re not quite as far forward as General von Knobelsdorf would like to be.

But this is going to have to be it. They don’t have the men to keep attacking at Verdun, and keep counter-attacking on the Somme, and keep the Eastern Front as strong as it is right now to cover for the Austro-Hungarians’ ongoing failure against Russian attack. General Nivelle has officially been handed the initiative. Happily for the Blood God, he and General Mangin are planning a major counter-attack outside Fleury and Fort Souville, to go off in two days.

Fromelles

We’ll come on to the imminent attack on the German Second Line in just a moment. One of the many instructions from General Haig’s advanced headquarters in recent days has been a reminder to his other three army commanders of the need to keep up pressure away from the Somme, so that the enemy will think twice before sending men south to the big show. So we find one General Haking (last seen at the Battle of Loos, allegedly/possibly mis-managing the reserves) being given the ANZACs and told to give them something to do. Once again the BEF’s collective eye has fallen on Aubers Ridge.

They’re just looking for diversion this time; the plan is for a heavy 24-hour bombardment. Then there’ll be a major infantry attack by the ANZACs on the 15th, strictly limited to the enemy’s first trench system near Fromelles on top of Aubers Ridge, and then they hold on for dear life. The objective here is primarily to pinch out the Sugarloaf, a small and highly annoying German salient on top of a knobbly hill that’s ideal for observation of the surrounding low ground. We’ll be back.

Trones Wood

Let us have a snapshot of Trones Wood from artillery subaltern Lieutenant William Bloor. He has been sent forward on a recce, doing a similar job to the officers belonging to Lt-Col Fraser-Tytler who two days ago saved a wounded man.

The place beggars description quite—there has been the fiercest fighting here for four days, and both sides have taken and lost the wood several times. Wounded have not been cleared away, and there are some who have been all that time without food or any attention. The horror and misery and countless tragedies of this war—even the little of it I have seen—are much too awful to let the mind dwell on it and I am surprised that more men do not go mad with the horror of it.

Many of the infantry that I saw and spoke to were in a state of ‘daze’, their senses were all blurred and dull, and they neither cared if they lived or died, nor if they went forward or backward. I suppose it is as well that they can get that way.

There’s a major heave at 5pm. Fraser-Tytler himself is under the impression that it’s succeeded. Bloor meets several wounded men who describe the affair as a complete failure. All we can say for sure is that lots more people are dead, and there are still Germans somewhere in Trones Wood.

Bazentin Ridge and field telephones

Time to drop a bombshell. A few days ago, someone was poking around in an ex-German dugout in front of Ovillers, where their signallers used to live, and made an exceptionally nasty discovery. The dugout had some wires going out of it the wrong way, out towards No Man’s Land. Further investigation shows that this dugout is in fact a listening post. Turns out that the British telephone wire is badly insulated, and the Somme chalk is an excellent medium for carrying telephone signals through the ground. (In other sectors, particularly Ypres, the enemy is directly tapping into the hopelessly confused telephone network.)

Now the BEF is beginning to understand why the Germans have sent trench raids out only rarely over the last few months. They haven’t had to. They’ve been listening to everything that’s been said down the BEF’s field telephone system. To be fair, this has meant listening to a lot of inconsequential bullshit between bored subalterns. However, now all those taunting German signboards, welcoming new units to a section of line by their name, suddenly become explicable. (Why not attack today, Jock?) There’s a happy ending to this story, but it won’t come for a while. For now, field-telephones will have to be used with great caution, if at all.

Good time to be planning that major attack on the German Second Line, huh? After a frantic 24 hours, and much consultation with his own staff, General Haig has agreed to go with General Rawlinson’s bold and risky plan (discussed in detail on the 11th). Today he gives fresh orders and objectives at a personal meeting in the afternoon.

I spoke about use of the cavalry. The divisions were not to go forward until we had got through the Enemy’s fortifications, except a few squadrons to take High Wood.

Hold that thought; it will become relevant very soon.

I stated his objectives as:

1. Occupy position Longueval-Bazentin, and consolidate it.
2. Take High Wood, and establish right flank at Ginchy and Guillemont.
3. At same time (if possible, as there are ample troops, extend left and take Pozieres ridge…)

I saw General Pulteney…[he] had not thought of how to employ his divisions to capture Pozieres village. I said he should not attack direct, but take it from the rear to avoid loss.

Hold that thought, and all. There is a considerable amount of original thinking to be employed here. It could go badly wrong. Lying out in No Man’s Land, waiting for zero hour, is (to say the least) a deeply risky proposition. The Second Line will have a massive concentration of artillery, but it’ll only have time to fire a long hurricane bombardment in support. And the whole plan is based on having captured Trones Wood; as midnight turns into tomorrow morning, that still has not been achieved…

Let’s just get a map on this, shall we?

The yellow box marks the rough objectives for the end of the day.

The yellow box marks the rough objectives for the end of the day.

And, as today turns to tomorrow, German senior commanders are thinking entirely of their upcoming command shakeup. First, as General Haig has already done, the Germans are splitting the battlefield in two. Their chosen demarcation line is the River Somme. There has been no German First Army since 1914, but now the name is being resurrected and it’s being put in command of everything to the north. To provide continuity at the most vital point, General von Below is being shifted over to command First Army; General Max von Gallwitz has been recalled from the Eastern Front and given command of Second Army.

So far, so sensible. Then it all goes a bit hatstand. In his infinite* wisdom, General von Falkenhayn has decided that von Gallwitz will also serve as an army-group commander. I suppose it’s better than having no army-group commander at all, but there’s a clear conflict of interest in having the guy who decides things like which armies get reinforcements also be in charge of an army. To make matters even better, HQ insists on re-examining their idea of what a corps is. In the Prussian style, a corps is rather like a large breeze-block; its identity is inherently entangled with that of its constituent divisions.

In the light of losses at Verdun and on the Somme, this is proving too inflexible. In isolation, a move to a more British-style concept, where a corps is a large bucket into which you throw and remove several different house-bricks/divisions according to the situation, is probably beneficial. But to make the change now, on top of everything, and with the BEF ready to attack them again? Too much, too soon.

*By this point, rather less than infinite, as more than a few high-powered people in Berlin are beginning to suggest…

Attack on the Karasu

The Ottoman Third Army’s southern divisions have been fleeing in front of the impetuous Russian General Lyakhov for the past few days. They’ve made it to the Karasu, one of the two long source rivers that eventually join to form the River Euphrates, in enough time to blow the bridge at Kotur. In the past week Lyakhov has given himself a jolly good talking to, and he’s managed to re-adjust his outlook from “foolhardy” back into “aggressive”. Attacking quickly to not allow the enemy to dig in is important, but not the only important point.

This time he’s made sure to select the freshest units and send them into battle with a well-designed plan, attacking tonight under cover of darkness and turning disorderly retreat into all-out rout. A full third of the already under-strength Third Army’s, ahem, strength, has now become casualties, prisoners, or deserters. The rest are heading off to the north in the general direction of Erzincan, in no fighting shape. Lyakhov has achieved his objective; he can now secure General Yudenich’s flank against the attack that Izzet Pasha and Second Army has no intention of launching anyway.

Losing the bridge is a blow, but not an immediate concern. Everything is looking set fair for a long Russian march to Erzincan. Right now, the only thing that seems like it might be able to stop them heading even further west is simple logistics. It’s 275 miles more to Kayseri; they’ll have gone 210 miles from Sarikamis to Erzincan, but if they can advance up the coast at the same time and capture Samsun…

E.S. Thompson

At Kondoa Irangi, E.S. Thompson is trying to keep morale up among his mates.

Reveille and roll call as usual. Put kits outside then had a fine breakfast of mealie-meal and koekjes. Went to town with Dick who was having a tooth drawn. Took Sourie to the hospital to get Smith’s kit. Afterwards went to see Alf and on the way saw Jack Wetton and Ernie Barritt. On entering the church heard somebody call ‘Eric’ and, going over, found poor Percy Forbes thinner than ever now down with dysentery. He looked so bad that it made me feel awfully upset. After chatting with him for a while went to see Alf who’s leg is better now but he is going back to Ufiome.

Had just got out of the church when I met Ralph and Whitticombe going in to see Percy so I took them to him. After cheering him up for about half an hour we walked to the 9th [Regiment] camp, going through the native town.

For now, their duties are still the universal military pastime of Hanging Around Until Something Happens.

Louis Barthas

Everyone’s favourite grognard Louis Barthas is today indulging in a little unexpected cultural exchange. He’s gone to the Camp de Chalons, a major French training centre, to become a trench mortar corporal.

Bomb throwers, snipers, machine gunners came in teams to spend ten or twelve days. This made the place a slacker’s haven for instructor officers and non-coms and their entourages of orderlies, aides, cooks, messengers, secretaries, etc. The very evening of our arrival, I went into the village of Bouy with my comrades, and there I saw Russian soldiers for the first time. They occupied the neighboring sector, took their rest in the nearby village of Mourmelon, and in spite of the strict prohibitions given to them they wandered around the area in the evenings.

There was an order given in the region, prohibiting their being served any alcoholic beverages, including the sacred pinard. Nevertheless you could tell that the Slavic soldiers I met in the streets of Bouy had had something other than tea, their customary beverage, to drink. They zigzagged in a manner which was dangerous to their equilibrium, and some of them, gesticulating, singing, stopped women and girls in the streets, kneeling comically before them to give them what was no doubt an elaborate declaration of love, in the form of raucous sounds interrupted with hiccups.

You might be forgiven for thinking that Corporal Barthas has been at the absinthe, but no. The Russian Expeditionary Forces are a real thing that happened, in this case mostly to stop General Joffre suggesting that Russia just casually send him two spare armies. They’ve already sent about a division’s worth of men to France. As part of the ongoing negotiations with Romania, about 50,000 men will eventually be sent to Salonika under the REF banner to join in there. You’ve probably not heard of them, and in this case it’s a compliment; they generally did their duty well and without fuss, and then packed up and went home.

Maximilian Mugge

Maximilian Mugge, God bless him, has come through with yet another of those “a day in the life of a bloke” lists that I just cannot resist. This one is by a friend and fellow crock; it’s daily life at the base.

Daily Routine of a Soldier’s Life in France, in a few Hymns:

2 a.m. Draft proceeding to the Front: ” God be with you.”
6-30 a.m. Reveille: “Christians Awake.”
6-45 a.m. Rouse Parade: “Art thou weary?”
7 a.m. Breakfast: “Meekly wait and murmur not.”
8 a.m. Sick Parade: “Tell me the old, old story.”
9-15 a.m. Manoeuvres: “Fight the good fight.”
9-45 a.m. Orderly Room: ” Oft in danger, oft in woe.”
11-15 a.m. Swedish Drill: “Here we suffer grief and pain.”
1 p.m. Dinner: “Come ye thankful people, come.”
2-15 p.m. Fatigue: “Come, labour on.”
3-15 p.m. Lecture by Officer: “Abide with me.”
4 p.m. Dismiss: “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.”
4-30 p.m. Pack-Drill: ” For all the Saints who from their labours rest.”
5 p.m. Tea: “What means this eager anxious throng.”
6 p.m. Free for the night: “O Lord, how happy should we be.”
6-30 p.m. Out of Bounds : “We may not know, we cannot tell.”
7 p.m. In a Cafe: “How bright those glorious spirits shine.”
9-15 p.m. Last Post: “All is safely gathered in.”
9-30 p.m. Lights Out: “Peace, perfect peace.”
10 p.m. The Guard: “While Shepherds watched their flocks by night.”

I am sure this is even funnier if you actually know anything about hymns. “Swedish drill” is a system of calisthenics originally set down by Martina Bergman-Österberg, a Swedish gymnastics teacher who settled in London and taught generations of female fitness instructors and PE teachers.

Actions in Progress

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