Water at Suvla Bay | 11 Aug 1915

Same as yesterday; but this time, let’s take Gallipoli first.

Suvla Bay

The bungling continues unabated. General Stopford blithely describes the battalions thrown against Scimitar Hill yesterday as “sucked oranges”, useless for further action. In just 24 hours he’s incapacitated the best part of a division. Sir Ian Hamilton now commits his final reserve division, the 54th, to secure the positions of the Irishmen who’ve been clinging onto a foothold on Kiretch Tepe for three days. He gives strict instructions to General Stopford that they shouldn’t be used until they’re all ashore and ready to attack something.

Stopford nods politely and then throws six battalions forward as soon as he can. Better yet, they go forward with a “guide” who soon proclaims himself completely lost, and the men spend the night marching this way and that, running themselves down to complete exhaustion. Well done.

The supply situation

So let’s consider the pathetic supply situation, shall we? In the chaos of the original landings, of course timetables get thrown out of kilter, and arrangements for landing supporting elements are discarded in order to get the fighting men ashore as soon as possible. Then the fighting men start fighting, taking casualties, heading back to the beaches in search of medical provision, of which there’s precious little to be found. The day wears on. The fighting men become hungry and thirsty. The beaches are choked with new men coming in and wounded men waiting to go out again. Which, of course, is not fantastic for morale…

Lieutenant Frank Howitt of the Army Service Corps was in charge of logistics when one of the first water barges arrived, nearly two days after the landings began.

Some 20 tons of water comes in and the troops, in their frightful anxiety to get at something to drink, slit the pipes conveying the water from the barge to the shore with their jack knives in order to get the first drink. Thus the barge is rendered useless and I am sent down to keep order as well as possible and see what can be done.

I arrive to find a perfect Babel of chaos. Two or three engineers on the barge are struggling with the men, the intervening space between the boat and shore is thick with struggling humanity, swimming backwards and forwards and carrying strings of water bottles over their heads.

Elsewhere, 2nd Lt Kirkpatrick of the 5th Inniskilling Fusiliers has hauled himself back to the beaches with a carrying-party for his battered men on Kiretch Tepe.

It was considered a great treat to be selected for these fatigues since it meant that we could have a hearty whack at the water on the beach. It took us well over an hour to cover the three mile journey. On arrival I paraded the men in front of a large iron tank the shape of a trough into which water had been pumped by a hose from a ship. Each man advanced in turn, filled the water bottles he was carrying, and then put his head into the tank to drink until he could drink no more.

Of course the water was quite warm from exposure to the sun and was almost black from the dirt off the unwashed faces and hands of the countless soldiers who had used the tank. Our return to the line took longer even than the outward journey. The men weighed down with the weight of their water bottles could do little more than crawl up the rocky paths and gullies which led back to the Battalion.

The standard Bottle, Water, Enamelled (thirst, quenching, for the use of) may not be more than mildly annoying when full of water; however, to provision an entire company, each man needs to carry eight or nine bottles at a total weight of about 25 pounds. And that’s a bloke who hasn’t eaten anything but army biscuits and a little bully beef for about three days. Now add a Mediterranean summer, sharp hills, no roads, and plentiful enemy snipers to the equation, and this really isn’t much fun at all.

Just to top it with the creme de la crap, the daily water ration was about a pint per man. Modern doctors recommend that in cool weather, we should be drinking about four pints per day. More in summer to counteract the fluid lost through sweat. It’s kind of hard to fight when some of the blokes are just tickling on the edge of kidney failure. And this is only scratching the surface of the supply issues. There’s food, and ammunition, and guns to come in; and wounded to go back out again…

Battle of Sari Bair

The Battle of Sari Bair will continue for another week or so of scattered skirmishing, but the men at ANZAC Cove are far too battered and tired to seriously threaten the Ottomans’ positions on the heights. Serious operations are done. There is no more hope that the men might be able to break out.

French strategy

Today sees a major meeting of the French army-group commanders at GQG in Chantilly. General Foch, who will be in charge of Third Artois, and General Castelnau, in charge of Second Champagne, are having a frank exchange of views on how best to go about their business.

Castelnau is a fully paid-up member of General Joffre’s Rupture Club. He speaks at great length about the value of surprise and hurricane bombardments. He’s fully convinced that they can make a multiple-mile advance on a wide front and entirely dislodge the German positions in Champagne.

He’s also confident that if they can move past the first German trench line, they will find only spottily-manned reserve positions in the second and third lines. As long as they have accurate, up-to-date reconaissance, they can bypass the strongpoints, move past them, and then assault them from the sides and rear. In these opinions he’s also supported by General Dubail, commanding the army group on his right.

Meanwhile, General Foch is only too happy to contradict both his comrades and his boss, with the confidence of a man who’s spent the last fifteen years writing French Army doctrine. He’s still a firm believer in taking the offensive, but his recent experiences at Ypres and Artois have left a deep mark. He’s now forming the Bite and Hold Club, insistent that the enemy’s defences are simply too strong to pierce or rupture. The only thing to do is launch overwhelming week-long bombardments to destroy the German fortifications, send the blokes to occupy the ruins, and then do it all over again with the next line.

Joffre, unsurprisingly, sides with Castelnau, who’s rapidly becoming a close and trusted friend of his. (Cynics may wish to connect this to Castelnau’s willingness to wholeheartedly adopt Joffre’s ideas.) Both the autumn attacks will be major affairs, but he’s giving priority to Second Champagne. More soon.

The French in the Mediterranean

Meanwhile, Joffre is also trying to fend off General Sarrail. His recent scheme to get rid of him has entirely backfired. Sacking him from his Western Front command has only allowed the government to appoint Sarrail as chief of the new Army of the Near East. Sarrail has accordingly just drawn up a strategic outline for his own winter offensive in the Mediterranean.

It has many different components; in brief, he wants to land everywhere and attack everything at once. Smyrna! Alexandretta! Salonika! Syria! Kum Kale! Gallipoli! Nothing is beyond his imagination. Joffre is extremely put out by this, and writes several strongly-worded letters slagging the plans off.

Actions in Progress

Armenian Genocide
Battle of the Isonzo (Second Isonzo)
Landings at Suvla
Battle of Sari Bair

Further Reading

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

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

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

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