HotFreeBooks.com
The Story of the Great War, Volume V (of 8)
by Francis J. (Francis Joseph) Reynolds, Allen L. (Allen Leon)
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

Considerable light is thrown upon the organization of the Italian army, which made it possible to carry on successfully these operations, in the following article from the pen of the special correspondent of the London "Times":

"I have been allowed to visit the offices of the general staff at army headquarters and those of the administrative services at another point within the war zone. This is not a favorable moment for describing how the army machinery works; but there is no harm done in saying that all these services appear to run smoothly, have good men at their head, and produce good results.

"I was particularly struck by the maps turned out. They do great credit to the Military Geographical Institute at Florence, and to the officers at headquarters who revise the maps as new information pours in. All the frontiers have been well surveyed and mapped on scales of 1:25,000, 1:50,000, 1:100,000, and 1:200,000. These maps are very clear and good. I like best the 1:100,000, which is issued to all officers, and on which operation orders are based. The photographs are also very fine, and the panoramas excellent, while the airmen's photographs, and the plans compiled from them, are quite in the front rank.

"The service of information at headquarters also appears to me to be good. There are more constant changes in all the Italian staffs than we should consider desirable, and officers pass very rapidly from one employment to another, but in spite of this practice the information is well kept up, and the knowledge of the enemy's dispositions is up to standard, considering the extraordinary difficulty of following the really quite chaotic organization of the Austro-Hungarian forces.

"I am not sure that I like very much the liaison system in Italy. The comparatively young officers intrusted with it report direct to army headquarters, and on their reports the communiques are usually based. These officers remind us of the missi dominici of the great Moltke, but on the whole I confess that the system does not appeal to me very much.

"All the rearward services of the army are united under the control of the intendant general, who is a big personage in Italy. He deals with movements, quarterings, railways, supply, munitions in transit, and, in fact, everything except drafts and aviation, both of which services come under the general staff. There is a representative of the intendant general in each army and army corps. An order of movement is repeated to the intendant general by telephone and he arranges for transport, food, and munitions.

"The means of transport include the railways, motor lorries, carts, pack mules, and porters. The railways have done well. They had 5,000 locomotives and 160,000 carriages available when war broke out, and on the two lines running through Venetia, they managed during the period of concentration to clear 120 trains a day. Between last May 17 and June 22, 1916, for the purposes of General Cadorna's operations in the Trentino, the railways carried 18,000 officers, 522,000 men, about 70,000 animals, and 16,000 vehicles, with nearly 900 guns. These figures have been given by the Italian press, so there is no harm done by alluding to them. The railway material is much better than I expected it to be, but coal is very dear.

"The motor lorries work well. There are three types in use—the heavy commercial cars, the middleweight lorries, which carry over a couple of tons, and the lightweights, taking about one and a half tons. These lorries form an army service. Each army park has a group of lorries for each army corps forming part of the army, and each group has two sections for each division. The motor cars of the commanders and staffs are good. I traveled several thousand miles in them, and having covered 300 miles one day and 350 another, am prepared to give a good mark to Italian motor-car manufacturers, and also to Italian roads and Italian chauffeurs.

"I may also point out that the army has hitherto administered the Austrian districts which have been occupied on various parts of the front, and has had to deal with agriculture, roads, births, deaths, marriages, police, and a great many other civil matters. As I had once seen a French corps of cavalry farming nearly 5,000 acres of land I was prepared to see the Italian army capable of following suit; but I fancy that if Signor Bissolati is to take over all these civil duties General Porro will be far from displeased.

"There is the little matter of the 4,000 ladies who remain at Cortina d'Ampezzo while their men are away fighting in the Austrian ranks, and there are such questions as those of the Aquileia treasures, which have fortunately been preserved intact. I must confess that it is a novelty and a pleasure to enter an enemy's territory and sit down in a room marked Militaer Wachtzimmer, with all the enemy's emblems on the walls, but on the whole I liked best the advice evitare di fumare esplosioni painted by some Italian wag on an Austrian guardhouse, and possibly intended as a hint to Austro-German diplomacy in the future.

"The Italians regard Austria as we regard Germany, and Germany as we regard Austria. Austria is the enemy, but at the same time, while every crime is attributed to Austria on slight suspicion, I find no unworthy depreciation of Austrian soldiers. I am told that while Austrian discipline is very severe, and the officer's revolver is ever quick to maintain it, the Austrian private soldier has a sense of deep loyalty toward his emperor, and that this is a personal devotion which will not easily be transferred to a successor. In meeting the Kaiserjaeger so often the Italians perhaps see Austria's best, but the fact remains that the Italian has a good word for the Austrian as a soldier, and that I did not see many signs of such willful and shameless vandalism by the Austrians as has disgraced the name of Germany in Belgium and in France. Even towns which are or have been between the contending armies have not, I think, been willfully destroyed, but they have naturally suffered when one army or the other has used the town as a pivot of defense.

"The officers who have to keep the tally of the Austrian forces and to locate all the divisions have my deepest sympathy. Long ago the Austrian army corps ceased to contain the old divisions of peace times, but one now finds army corps with as many as four divisions, while the division may be composed of anything from two to eight battalions. A certain number of the divisions reckoned to be against the Italians on the whole front are composed of dubious elements, and there are some sixty Austrian battalions of rifle clubmen.

"The Austrians shift regiments about in such apparently haphazard fashion that it is hard to keep track of them. They may take half a dozen battalions from different regiments and call it a mountain group. In a week or two they will break it up and distribute the battalions elsewhere. They usually follow up their infantry with so-called march battalions, but whether these battalions are 100 or 1,000 strong seems quite uncertain. Some surprise occurs elsewhere, and away go some of the march battalions. They may lose prisoners, say, on the Russian front, and the Russians naturally believe that the regiment and the division to which the regiment belongs are all on the Russian front, whereas only one weak battalion of drafts may be there and all the rest may still be against the Italians. The Austrians also take a number of regiments from a division and send them elsewhere, leaving a mere skeleton of the divisional command behind.

"For these reasons one must regard with a good deal of scepticism any estimate which professes to give an accurate distribution list of the Austrian army. Also it is difficult to believe that any real esprit de corps can remain when such practices are common, and we are reduced to the belief that the only real soldier of the army is the personal devotion to the emperor of which I have already written.

"I could not find time to study the Italian air service, but foreign officers with the army speak well of it. The Austrian airmen deserve praise. They watched us daily and bombed with pleasing regularity.

"My view of the war on the Italian front is that Italy is in it with her whole heart, and has both the will and the means to exercise increasing pressure on Austria, whom she is subjecting to a serious strain along 400 miles of difficult country. I think that few people in England appreciate the special and serious difficulties which confront both combatants along the Alpine borderland, and especially Italy, because she has to attack. The Italian army is strong in numbers, ably commanded, well provided, and animated by an excellent spirit. As this army becomes more inured to war, and traditions of victory on hard-fought fields become established, the military value of the army is enhanced.

"As I think over the Italian exploits during the war, I remember that the men of Alps, of Piedmont and Lombardy, of Venetia, and Tuscany, of Rome, Naples, Sardinia, and Sicily have one and all contributed something to the record, and have had the honor of distinguished mention in General Cadorna's bulletins, which are austere in character and make no concessions to personal or collective ambitions. I find much to admire in the cool and confident bearing of the people, in the endurance of great fatigues by the troops, and in the silent patience of the wounded on the battle field. I fancy that the army is better in the attack than in the defense, and I should trust most with an Italian army to an attack pressed through to the end without halting."

The first indications of renewed activity, outside of artillery duels, anywhere except in the Trentino, appeared during the last days of June. On June 28, 1916, the Italians suddenly, after a comparative quiet of several months, began what appeared to be a strong offensive movement on the Isonzo front. They violently bombarded portions of the front on the Doberdo Plateau (south of Goritz). In the evening heavy batteries were brought to bear against Monte San Michele and the region of San Martino. After the fire had been increased to great intensity over the whole plateau, Italian infantry advanced to attack. At Monte San Michele, near San Martino and east of Vermigliano, violent fighting developed. At the Goritz bridgehead the Italians attacked the southern portion of the Podgora position (on the right bank of the Isonzo), and penetrated the first line trenches of the Austrians, but were driven out.

The Italian offensive was continued the next day, June 29, 1916, and resulted in the capture of Hills 70 and 104 in the Monfalcone district. The Austrians undertook a counteroffensive at Monte San Michele and Monte San Marino, on the Doberdo Plateau, attacking the Italian lines under cover of gas. Fighting continued in the Monfalcone sector of the Isonzo front for about a week, during which time the Austrians vainly endeavored to regain the positions which they had lost in the first onrush of the Italian offensive. After that it again deteriorated into artillery activity which was fairly constantly maintained throughout the balance of July, 1916, without producing any noteworthy changes in the general situation.

Coincident with this short Italian offensive in the Monfalcone sector of the Isonzo front, there also developed considerable fighting to the east on the Carso Plateau, north of Trieste, which, however, was equally barren of definite results.

Minor engagements between comparatively small infantry detachments occurred in the adjoining sector—that of the Julian Alps—on July 1, 1916, especially in the valleys of the Fella, Gail and Seebach. These were occasionally repeated, especially so on July 19, 1916, but throughout most of the time only artillery duels took place.

In the Carnic Alps hardly anything of importance occurred throughout the late spring and the entire summer of 1916, excepting fairly continuous artillery bombardments, varying in strength and extent.

Considerable activity, however, was the rule rather than the exception in the sector between the Carnic Alps and the Dolomites. There, one point especially, saw considerable fighting. Monte Tofana, just beyond the frontier on the Austrian side, had been held by the Italians for a considerable period, and with it a small section of the surrounding country, less than five miles in depth. The Italians at various times attempted, with more or less success, to extend and strengthen their holdings, while the Austrians, with equal determination, tried to wrest from them what they had already gained, and to arrest their further progress.

In this region Alpine detachments of the Italian army on the night of July 8, 1916, gained possession of a great part of the valley between Tofana Peaks Nos. 7 and 2, and of a strong position on Tofana Prima commanding the valley. The Austrian garrison was surrounded and compelled to surrender. The Italians took 190 prisoners, including eight officers, and also three machine guns, a large number of rifles and ammunition.

A few days later, on July 11, 1916, the Italians exploded a mine, destroying the Austro-Hungarian defenses east of Col dei Bois peak. This position commanded the road of the Dolomites and the explosion blew it up entirely, and gave possession of it to the Italians. The entire Austrian force which occupied the summit was buried in the wreckage. On the following night the Austrians attempted to regain this position which the Italians had fortified strongly in the meantime, but the attack broke down completely.

Three days later, July 14, 1916, Italian Alpine detachments surprised and drove the Austrians from their trenches near Castelletto and at the entrance of the Travenanzes Valley. They took some prisoners, including two officers, as well as two guns, two machine guns, one trench mortar and a large quantity of arms and ammunition. An Austrian counterattack against this position was launched on July 15, 1916, but was repulsed.

Finally on July 30, 1916, the Italians registered one more success in this region. Some of their Alpine troops carried Porcella Wood and began an advance in the Travenanzes Valley.

Throughout this period considerable artillery activity was maintained on both sides. As a result Cortina d'Ampezzo, on the Italian side, suffered a great deal from Austrian shells, while Toblach, on the Austrian, was the equally unfortunate recipient of Italian gunfire.

On the western frontier, between Italy and Austria, along Val Camonica, only artillery bombardments were the order of the day. These were particularly severe at various times in the region of the Tonale Pass, but without important results.

Aeroplanes, of course, were employed extensively, both by the Austro-Hungarians and the Italians, although the nature of the country did not lend itself as much to this form of modern warfare as in the other theaters of war. Some of these enterprises have already been mentioned. The Austrians, in this respect, were at a decided advantage, because their airships had many objects for attacks in the various cities of the North Italian plain. Among these Bergamo, Brescia, and Padua were the most frequent sufferers, while Italian aeroplanes frequently bombarded Austrian lines of communication and depots.



CHAPTER XXXVIII

RUSSIAN SUCCESSES AFTER ERZERUM

With the same surprising vigor with which the Russian armies in the Caucasus had pushed their advance toward Erzerum, they took up the pursuit of the retreating Turkish army, after this important Armenian stronghold had capitulated on February 16, 1916. With Erzerum as a center the Russian advance spread out rapidly in all directions toward the west in the general direction of Erzingan and Sivas; in the south toward Mush, Bitlis and the region around Lake Van, and in the north with the important Black Sea port of Trebizond as the objective. This meant a front of almost 300 miles without a single railroad and only a limited number of roads that really deserved that appellation. Almost all of this country is very mountainous. To push an advance in such country at the most favorable season of the year involves the solution of the most complicated military problems. The country itself offers comparatively few opportunities for keeping even a moderate-sized army sufficiently supplied with food and water for men and beasts. But considering that the Russian advance was undertaken during the winter, when extremely low temperatures prevail, and when vast quantities of snow add to all the other natural difficulties in the way of an advancing army, the Russian successes were little short of marvelous.

As early as February 23, 1916, the right wing of the Russian army had reached and occupied the town of Ispir on the river Chorok, about fifty miles northwest of Erzerum, and halfway between that city and Rizeh, a town on the south shore of the Black Sea, less than fifty miles east of Trebizond. At the same time Russian destroyers were bombarding the Black Sea coast towns. Under their protective fire fresh troops were landed a few days later at Atina on the Black Sea, about sixty miles east of Trebizond, which promptly occupied that town. From there they rapidly advanced southward toward Rizeh, forcing the Turks to evacuate their positions and capturing some prisoners as well as a few guns, together with rifles and ammunition.

The center, in the meantime, had advanced on the Erzerum-Trebizond road, and by February 25, 1916, occupied the town of Ashkala, about thirty miles from Erzerum. From all sides the Russian armies were closing in on Trebizond, and their rapid success threw the Turkish forces into consternation, for the loss of Trebizond would mean a serious threat to their further safety, having been up to then the principal point through which supplies and ammunition reached them steadily and rapidly by way of the Black Sea. No wonder then that the London "Times" correspondent in Petrograd was able to report on March 5, 1916, that all accounts agreed that the population of the Trebizond region were panic-stricken and fleeing even then in the direction of Kara-Hissar and Sivas, flight along the Black Sea route being out of question on account of the presence of Russian warships.

In the south the left wing of the Russian army was equally successful. On March 1, 1916, it occupied Mamawk, less than ten miles north of Bitlis, a success foreshadowing the fall of that important Armenian city. And, indeed, on the next day, March 2, 1916, Bitlis was occupied by the Russians. This was indeed another severe blow to the Turkish armies. Bitlis, 110 miles south of Erzerum, in Armenian Tamos, is one of the most important trade centers, and commands a number of important roads. It is only about fifty miles north of the upper Tigris, and even though it is more than 350 miles from Bagdad, its occupation by Russian forces seriously menaced the road to Bagdad, Bagdad itself, and even the rear of the Turkish army, fighting against the Anglo-Indian army in Mesopotamia.

Hardly had the Turks recovered from this blow when their left wing in the north suffered another serious reverse through the loss of the Black Sea port of Rizeh. This event took place on March 8, 1916, and the capture was accomplished by the fresh Russian troops that had been landed a few days before at Atina, from which Rizeh is only twenty-two miles distant. Along the Black Sea coast the Russians were now within thirty-eight miles of Trebizond. On and on the Russians pressed, and by March 17, 1916, their advance guard was reported within twenty miles of Trebizond. However, by this time Turkish resistance along the entire Armenian front stiffened perceptibly. This undoubtedly was due to reenforcements which must have reached the Turkish line by that time. For on March 30, 1916, the official Russian statement announced that seventy officers and 400 men who had been captured along the Caucasus littoral front belonged to a Turkish regiment which had previously fought at Gallipoli. At the same time it was also announced that fighting had occurred northwest of Mush. The Turkish forces involved in this fighting must have been recent reenforcements, because Mush is sixty-five miles northwest of Bitlis, the occupation of which took place about four weeks previously, at which time the region between Erzerum and Bitlis undoubtedly had been cleared of Turkish soldiers. Their reappearance, now so close to the road between Bitlis and Erzerum, presented a serious menace both to the center and to the left wing of Grand Duke Nicholas's forces, for if the Turkish troops were in large enough force, the Russians were in danger of having their center and left wing separated. This condition, of course, meant that until this danger was removed, the closest cooperation between the various parts of the Russian army became essential, and therefore resulted in a general slowing down of the Russian advance for the time being.

In the meantime the Russian center continued its advance against Erzingan. This is an Armenian town of considerable military importance, being the headquarters of the Fourth Turkish Army Corps. On March 16, 1916, an engagement took place about sixty miles west of Erzerum, resulting in the occupation by the Russians of the town of Mama Khatun, located on the western Euphrates and on the Erzerum-Erzingan-Sivas road. According to the official Russian statement the Turks lost five cannon, some machine guns and supplies and forty-four officers and 770 men by capture. Here, too, however, the Turks began to offer a more determined resistance, and although the official Russian statement of the next day, March 17, 1916, reported a continuation of the Russian advance towards Erzingan, it also mentioned Turkish attempts at making a stand and spoke even of attempted counterattacks.

This stiffening of Turkish resistance necessitated apparently a change in the Russian plans. No longer do we hear now of quick, straight, advances from point to point. But the various objectives toward which the Russians were directing their attacks—Trebizond, Erzingan, the Tigris—are attacked either successfully or consecutively from all possible directions and points of vantage. Not until now, for instance, do we hear of further advances toward Erzingan from the north. It will be recalled that as long ago as February 23, 1916, the Russians occupied the town of Ispir, some fifty miles northwest of Erzerum on the river Chorok.

The headwaters of this river are located less than twenty-five miles northeast of Erzingan, and up its valley a new Russian offensive against Erzingan was started as soon as the new strength of the Turkish defensive along the direct route from Erzerum made itself felt.

On April 1, 1916, and again on April 12, 1916, the Turks reported that they had repulsed attacks of Russian scouting parties advancing along the upper Chorok, and even claimed an advance for their own troops. But on the next day, April 3, 1916, the Russians apparently were able to turn the tables on their opponents, claiming to have crossed the upper basin of the Chorok and to have seized strongly fortified Turkish positions located at a height of 10,000 feet above sea level, capturing thereby a company of Turks. Again on the following day, April 4, 1916, the Russians succeeded in dislodging Turkish forces from powerful mountain positions.

Concurrent with these engagements, fighting took place both in the south and north. On April 2, 1916, a Turkish camp was stormed by Russian battalions near Mush to the northwest of Bitlis. Still farther south, about twenty-five miles southeast of Bitlis, the small town of Khizan had fallen into the hands of the Russians, who drove its defenders toward the south. The Russian advance to the southwest of Mush and Bitlis continued slowly but definitely throughout the next few days, with the town of Diarbekr on the right bank of the upper Tigris as its objective.

Beginning with the end of March, 1916, the Turks also launched a series of strong counterattacks along the coastal front. The first of these was undertaken during the night of March 26, 1916, but apparently was unsuccessful. It was an answer to a strong attack on the part of the Russians during the preceding day which resulted in the dislodgment of Turkish troops holding strong positions in the region of the Baltatchi Darassi River and in the occupation by the Russians of the town of Off on the Black Sea, thirty miles to the east of Trebizond. This success was due chiefly to the superiority of the Russian naval forces, which made it possible to precede their infantry attack with heavy preparatory artillery fire. By March 27, 1916, the Russians had advanced to the Oghene Dere River, another of the numerous small rivers flowing into the Black Sea between Rizeh and Trebizond. There they had occupied the heights of the left (west) bank. During the night the Turks made a series of strong counterattacks, all of which, however, were repulsed with considerable losses to the attackers. Another Turkish counterattack in the neighborhood of Trebizond was launched on April 4, 1916. Although strongly supported by gunfire from the cruiser Breslau, it was repulsed by the combined efforts of the Russian land forces and destroyers lying before Trebizond. During the next few days the Turks offered the most determined resistance to the Russian advance against Trebizond, especially along the river Kara Dere. This resistance was not broken until April 15, 1916, when the Turks were driven out of their fortified positions on the left bank of that river by the combined action of the Russian land and naval forces. The Russian army was now, after almost a fortnight's desperate fighting, within sixteen miles of its goal, Trebizond. On April 16, 1916, it again advanced, occupying Surmench on the Black Sea, and reaching later that day, after a successful pursuit of the retreating Turkish army, the village of Asseue Kalessi, only twelve miles east of Trebizond.

With this defeat the fall of Trebizond apparently was sealed. Although reports came from various sources that the Turkish General Staff was making the most desperate efforts to save the city by dispatching new reenforcements from central Anatolia, the Russian advance could not be stopped seriously any longer. Every day brought reports of new Russian successes along the entire Armenian front. On April 17, 1916, they occupied Drona, only six and a half miles east of Trebizond. Then finally, on April 18, 1916, came the announcement that Trebizond itself had been taken.

Trebizond is less important as a fortified place than as a port and harbor and as a source of supply for the Turkish army. It is in no sense a fortress like Erzerum, though the defenses of the town, recently constructed, are not to be despised. As a vital artery of communications, however, its value is apparent from the fact, first, that it is the Turks' chief port in this region, and secondly, that railway facilities, which are so inadequate throughout Asia Minor, are nonexistent along the northern coast. Hence the Turks will have to rely for the transport of troops and supplies upon railways which at the nearest point are more than 300 miles from the front at Trebizond.

Trebizond is an ancient seaport of great commercial importance, due chiefly to the fact that it controls the point where the principal trade route from Persia and central Asia to Europe, over Armenia and by way of Bayezid and Erzerum, descends to the sea. It has been the dream of Russia for centuries to put her hands forever upon this important "window on the Black Sea."

Trebizond's population is about 40,000, of whom 22,000 are Moslems and 18,000 Christians. The city first figured in history during the Fourth Crusade, when Alexius Comnenus, with an army of Iberian mercenaries, entered it and established himself as sovereign. In 1461 Trebizond was taken by Mohammed II, after it had for two centuries been the capital of an empire, having defied all attacks, principally by virtue of its isolated position, between a barrier of rugged mountains of from 7,000 to 8,000 feet and the sea.

As far as capturing important ports of the Turkish left wing was concerned, the victory of Trebizond was an empty one. For the Turks evacuated the town apparently a day or two before the Russians occupied it. The latter, therefore, had only the capture of "some 6-inch guns" to report. This quick evacuation, at any rate, was fortunate for the town and its inhabitants, for it saved them from a bombardment and the town did not suffer at all as a result of the military operations.

The campaign resulting in the fall of Trebizond did really not begin until after the fall of Erzerum on February 16, 1916. Up to that time the Russian Caucasian army had apparently been satisfied to maintain strong defensive positions along the Turkish border. But since the occupation of Erzerum a definite plan of a well-developed offensive was followed looking toward the acquisition of Turkish territory which had long been coveted by Russia.

With the fall of Trebizond Russia became the possessor, at least temporarily, of a strip of territory approximately 125 miles wide along a front of almost 250 miles length, or of an area of 31,250 square miles. In the north this valuable acquisition was bounded by that part of the south shore of the Black Sea that stretches from Batum in Russian Transcaucasia to Trebizond. In the south it practically reached the Turko-Persian frontier, while in the west it almost reached the rough line formed by the upper Euphrates and the upper Tigris. It thus comprised the larger part of Armenia. As soon as the Russians had found out that the Turks had a start of almost two days, they began an energetic pursuit. The very first day of it, April 19, 1916, brought them into contact with Turkish rear guards and resulted in the capture of a considerable number of them. The retreat of the Turks took a southwesterly direction toward Baiburt along the Trebizond-Erzerum road and toward Erzingan, to which a road branches off the Trebizond-Erzerum road. Baiburt was held by the Turks with a force strong enough to make it impossible for the Russians to cut off the Trebizond garrison. Along the coast the Russians found only comparatively weak resistance, so that they were able to land fresh forces west of Trebizond and occupy the town of Peatana, about ten miles to the west on the Black Sea.

A desperate struggle, however, developed for the possession of the Trebizond-Erzerum road. The Russians had been astride this road for some time as far as Madan Khan and Kop, both about fifty miles northwest of Erzerum and just this side of Baiburt. There the Turks put up a determined resistance and succeeded in holding up the Russian advance. Although they were not equally successful farther north, the Russians managed to advance along this road to the south of Trebizond only as far as Jeyizlik—about sixteen miles south of Trebizond—where they were forced into the mountains toward the Kara Dere River. This left still the larger part of the entire road in possession of the Turks, and especially that part from which another road branched off to Erzingan.

In the Mush and Bitlis region the Russians had made satisfactory progress in the meantime. On April 19, 1916, progress was reported to the south of Bitlis toward Sert, although the Turks fought hard to hold up this advance toward Diarbekr. This advance was the direct result of the defeat which the Russians had inflicted on a Turkish division at Bitlis as early as April 15, 1916. By April 23, 1916, the Turks had again gathered some strength and were able to report that they had repulsed Russian attacks south of Bitlis, west of Mush, east of Baiburt, and south of Trebizond. From then on, however, the Russians again advanced to the south of Bitlis as well as in the direction of Erzingan. By the beginning of May, 1916, the Russian official statements do not speak any longer of the "region south of Bitlis," but mention instead "the front toward Diarbekr." This important town is about 100 miles southwest of Bitlis, and apparently had become, after the fall of Trebizond, together with Erzingan, one of the immediate objectives of the Russian campaign.

Diarbekr is a town of 35,000 inhabitants, whose importance arises from its being the meeting point of the roads from the Mediterranean via Aleppo and Damascus from the Black Sea via Amasia-Kharput, and Erzerum and from the Persian Gulf via Bagdad. Ras-el-Ain, the present railhead of the Bagdad railway, is seventy miles south.

The stiffening of the Turkish defensive was being maintained as April, 1916, waned and May approached. The Russian campaign in the Caucasus had resolved itself now into three distinctive parts: In the north its chief objective, Trebizond, had been reached and gained. There further progress, of course, would be attempted along the shore of the Black Sea, and in a way it was easier to achieve progress here than at any other part of the Caucasian front. For first of all the nature of the ground along the coast of the Black Sea was much less difficult, and then, too, the Russian naval forces could supply valuable assistance. That progress was not made faster here by the Russians was due entirely to the fact that the advance along the two other sectors was more difficult and the Turkish resistance more desperate. And, of course, if the front of any one sector was pushed considerably ahead of the front of the other two, grave danger immediately arose that the most advanced sector would be cut off from the rest of the Russian armies by flank movements. For in a country such as Turkish Armenia, without railroads and with only a few roads, it was of course impossible to establish a continuous front line, such as was to be formed on the European battle fields both in the east and west. This explains why by May 1, 1916, the Russian front had been pushed less than twenty-five miles west of Trebizond, even though almost two weeks had elapsed since the fall of Trebizond.

In the center sector the immediate objective of the Russians was Erzingan. Beyond that they undoubtedly hoped to advance to Swas, an important Turkish base. Toward this objective two distinct lines of offensive had developed by now—one along the valley of the river Oborok and the other along the Erzerum-Erzingan road and the valley of the western Euphrates. The latter was somewhat more successful than the former, chiefly because it did not offer so many natural means of defense. But to both of these offensives the Turks now offered a most determined resistance, and the Russians, though making progress continuously, did so only very slowly.

In the southern sector conditions were very similar. Here, too, two separate offensives had developed, although they were more closely correlated than in the center. One was directed in a southwestern direction from Mush, and the other in the same direction from Bitlis. Both had as their objective Diarbekr, an important trading center on the Tigris and a future station on the unfinished part of the Bagdad railroad. Here, too, Russian progress was fairly continuous but very slow.

Some interesting details regarding the tremendous difficulties which nature put in the way of any advancing army, and which were utilized by the Turks to their fullest possibility, may be gleaned from the following extracts from letters written by Russian officers serving at the Caucasian front:

"We have traveled sixty miles in two days, and never have we been out of sight of the place from whence we started. South and north we have scouted until we have come into touch with the cavalry of the —— Corps of the vedettes which the Cossacks of the Don furnished for the —— Brigade. Sometimes it is wholly impossible to ride. The slopes of these hills are covered with huge bowlders, behind any of which half a company of the enemy might be lurking. That has been our experience, and poor K—— was shot dead while leading his squadron across a quite innocent-looking plateau from which we thought the enemy had been driven.

"As it turned out, a long line of bowlders, which he thought were too small to hide anything but a sniper, in reality marked a rough trench line which a Kurdish regiment was holding in strength, K—— was shot down, as also was his lieutenant, and half the squadron were left on the ground. Fortunately, at the foot of the road leading down to the plateau, the sergeant who led the men out of action found one of our Caucasian regiments who are used to dealing with the fezzes, and they came up at the double, and after two hours' fighting were reenforced by another two companies and carried the trench.

"Farther back we found the enemy in a stronger plateau. Almost within sight of the enemy we made tea and rested before attempting to push forward to the fight.

"An officer of the staff who does not understand the Caucasian way reproved the colonel for delaying, but he took a very philosophical view, and pointed out that it was extremely doubtful whether he even now had men enough to carry the enormous position, and that he certainly could not do so with exhausted troops. So we had the extraordinary spectacle of our men lying down flat, blowing their fires and drinking their tea and laughing and joking as though they were at a picnic, but when they had finished and had formed up they made short work of the fellows in the trench. But think of what would have happened if we had left this plateau unsearched!"

"On the Baiburt road," writes another Russian officer, "there was one small pass which had been roughly reconnoitered, and through this we were moving some of the heavy guns, not imagining that there were any Turks within ten miles, when a heavy fire was opened from a fir wood a thousand feet above us. The limbers of the guns were a long way in the rear, and there was no way of shelling this enemy from his aerie. There was nothing to do but for the battalion which was acting as escort to the guns to move up the slope under a terrific machine-gun and rifle fire and investigate the strength of the attack. The guns were left on the road, and mules and horses were taken to whatever cover could be found, and an urgent message was sent back to the effect that the convoy was held up, but the majority of the infantry had already passed the danger point. Two mountain batteries were commandeered, however, and these came into action, firing incendiary shells into the wood, which was soon blazing at several points.

"The battle which then began between the Turks who had been ejected from the wood and the gun escort lasted for the greater part of the afternoon. It was not until sunset that two of our batteries, which had been brought back from the front for the purpose, opened fire upon the Turks' position, and the ambushers were compelled to capitulate. The progress on the left was even more difficult than that which we experienced in the northern sector. The roads were indescribable. Where they mounted and crossed the intervening ridges they were almost impassable, whilst in the valleys the gun carriages sank up to their axles in liquid mud."

From still another source we hear:

"In the Van sector a Russian brigade was held up by a forest fire, started by the Turks, which made all progress impossible. For days a brigade had to sit idle until the fire had burned itself out, and even when they moved forward it was necessary to cover all the munition wagons with wet blankets, and the ashes through which the stolid Russians marched were so hot as to burn away the soles of their boots.

"A curious discovery which was made in this extraordinary march was the remains of a Turkish company which had evidently been caught in the fire they had started and had been unable to escape."

On May 1, 1916, Russian Cossacks were able to drive back Turkish troops, making a stand somewhere west of Erzerum and east of Erzingan. Other detachments of the same service of the Russian army were equally successful on May 2, 1916, in driving back toward Diarbekr resisting Turkish forces west of Mush and Bitlis, and a similar achievement was officially reported on May 3, 1916. On the same date Russian regiments made a successful night attack in the upper Chorok basin which netted some important Turkish positions, which were immediately strongly fortified. May 4, 1916, brought a counterattack on the part of Turkish forces in the Chorok sector at the town of Baiburt, which, however, was repulsed. On the same day the Russians stormed Turkish trenches along the Erzerum-Erzingan road, during which engagement most savage bayonet fighting developed, ending in success for the Russian armies. Turkish attacks west of Bitlis were likewise repulsed. On May 5, 1916, the Turks attempted to regain the trenches in the Erzingan sector lost the day before, but although their attack was supported by artillery, it was not successful.

The Russian official statement of May 7, 1916, gives some data concerning the booty which the Russians captured at Trebizond. It consisted of eight mounted coast defense guns, fourteen 6-inch guns, one field gun, more than 100 rifles, fifty-three ammunition wagons, supply trains and other war material. This, taken in connection with the fact that practically the entire Turkish garrison escaped, confirms the view expressed previously that the capture of Trebizond was of great importance to the Russians, not so much on account of what they themselves gained thereby, but on account of what the Turks lost by being deprived of their principal harbor on the Black Sea, comparatively close to the Caucasian theater of war.

The Turkish artillery attack of May 5, 1916, in the Erzingan sector was duplicated on May 7, 1916, but this time the Russians used their guns, and apparently with telling effect. For so devastating was the Russian fire directed toward the newly established Turkish trenches that the Turks had to evacuate their entire first line and retire to their second line of defensive works. Throughout the entire day on May 8, 1916, the Turks doggedly attacked the Russian positions. Losses on both sides were heavy, especially so on the Turkish side, which hurled attack after attack against the Russian positions, not desisting until nightfall. Though no positive gain was made thereby, the Russians at least were prevented from further advances. The same day, May 8, 1916, yielded another success for the Russians in the southern sector, south of Mush. There, between that town and Bitlis, stretches one of the numerous mountain ranges, with which this region abounds. On it the Turks held naturally strong positions which had been still more strengthened by means of artificial defense works. A concentrated Russian attack, prepared and supported by artillery fire, drove the Turks not only from these positions, but out of the mountain range.

On May 9, 1916, engagements took place along the entire front. In the center fighting occurred near Mount Koph, in the Chorok basin southeast of Baiburt, and the Turks made some 300 prisoners. Farther south a Turkish attack near Mama Khatun was stopped by Russian fire. In the south another Turkish attack in the neighborhood of Kirvaz, about twenty-five miles northwest of Mush, forced back a Russian detachment after capturing some fifty men. All this time the Russians were industriously building fortifications along the Black Sea coast both east and west of Trebizond. During the night of May 9, 1916, the Turks made a successful surprise attack against a Russian camp near Baschkjoej, about thirty-five miles southeast of Mama Khatun. There a Russian detachment consisting of about 500 men, of which one-half was cavalry and one-half infantry, found themselves suddenly surrounded by the bayonets of a superior Turkish force. All, except a small number who managed to escape, were cut to pieces.

As the Russians succeeded in pushing their advance westward, even if only very slowly, they became again somewhat more active in the north along the Black Sea. On May 10, 1916, they were reported advancing both south and southwest of Platana, a small seaport about twelve miles west of Trebizond. Throughout May 11, 1916, engagements of lesser importance took place at various parts of the entire front. During that night the Turks launched another strong night attack in the Erzingan sector, without, however, being able to register any marked success. The same was true of an attack made May 12, 1916, near Mama Khatun. In the south, between Mush and Bitlis, an engagement which was begun on May 10, 1916, concluded with the loss of one Turkish gun, 2,000 rifles and considerable stores of ammunition. In the Chorok sector the Turks succeeded on May 13, 1916, in driving the Russian troops out of their positions on Mount Koph and in forcing them back in an easterly direction for a distance of from four to five miles. There, however, the Russians succeeded in making a stand, though their attempt to regain their positions failed. May 14, 1916, was comparatively uneventful. Some Russian reconnoitering parties clashed with Turkish advance guards near Mama Khatun, and a small force of Kurds was repulsed west of Bitlis. On May 16, 1916, the Russians announced officially that they had occupied Mama Khatun, a small town on the western Euphrates, about fifty miles west of Erzerum and approximately the same distance from Erzingan. Throughout the balance of May, 1916, fighting along the Caucasian front was restricted almost entirely to clashes between outposts, which in some instances brought slight local successes to the Russian arms, and at other times yielded equally unimportant gains for the Turkish sides. To a certain extent this slowing down undoubtedly was due to the determined resistance on the part of the Turks. It is also quite likely that part of the Russian forces in the north had been diverted earlier in the month to the south in order to assist in the drive against Bagdad and Moone, which was pushed with increased vigor just previous to and right after the capitulation of the Anglo-Indian forces at Kut-el-Amara in Mesopotamia.



PART VII—CAMPAIGN IN MESOPOTAMIA AND PERSIA



CHAPTER XXXIX

RENEWED ATTEMPT TO RELIEVE KUT-EL-AMARA

As far as the Turko-English struggle in the Tigris Valley is concerned, the preceding volume carried us to the beginning of March, 1916. On March 8, 1916, an official English communique was published which raised high hopes among the Allied nations that the day of delivery for General Townshend's force was rapidly approaching. That day was the ninety-first day of the memorable siege of Kut-el-Amara. On it the English relief force under General Aylmer had reached the second Turkish line at Es-Sinn, only eight miles from Kut-el-Amara. After an all night march the English forces, approaching in three columns against the Dujailar Redoubt, attacked immediately after daybreak. Both flanks of the Turkish line were subjected to heavy artillery fire. But, although this resulted quickly in a wild stampede of horses, camels and other transport animals and also inflicted heavy losses in the ranks of the Turkish reenforcements, which immediately came up in close order across the open ground in back of the Turkish position, the English troops could not make any decisive impression on the strongly fortified position. Throughout the entire day, March 8, 1916, the attacks were kept up, but the superior Turkish forces and the strong fortifications that had been thrown up would not yield. Lack of water—all of which had to be brought up from the main camp—made it impossible for the English troops to maintain these attacks beyond the end of that day. In spite of the fact that they could see the flash of the guns of their besieged compatriots who were attacking the rear of the Turkish line from Kut, they were forced to give up their attempt to raise the siege. During the night of March 8, 1916, they returned to the main camp, which was located about twenty-three miles from Kut-el-Amara.

The unusual conditions and the immense difficulties which confronted the English relief force may be more easily understood from the following very graphic description of this undertaking rendered by the official representative of the British press with the Tigris Corps:

"The assembly was at the Pools of Siloam, a spot where we used to water our horses, two miles southwest of Thorny Nullah. We left camp at seven, just as it was getting dark. We had gone a mile when we saw the lamps of the assembly posts—thousands of men were to meet here from different points, horse, foot, and guns. They would proceed in three columns to a point south of west, where they would bifurcate and take a new direction, Columns A and B making for the depression south of the Dujailar Redoubt, Column C for a point facing the Turkish lines between the Dujailar and Sinn Aftar Redoubts. There was never such a night march. Somebody quoted Tel-el-Kebir as a precedent, but the difficulties here were doubled. The assembly and guidance of so large a force over ground untrodden by us previously, and featureless save for a nullah and some scattered sand hills, demanded something like genius in discipline and organization.

"I was with the sapper who guided the column. Our odd little party reported themselves to the staff officer under the red lamp of Column A. 'Who are you?' he asked, and it tickled my vanity to think that we, the scouts, were for a moment the most vital organ of the whole machine. If anything miscarried with us, it would mean confusion, perhaps disaster. For in making a flank march round the enemy's position we were disregarding, with justifiable confidence, the first axiom of war.

"We were an odd group. There was the sapper guide. He had his steps to count and his compass to look to when his eye was not on a bearing of the stars. And there was the guard of the guide to protect him from the—suggestions of doubts as to the correctness of his line. Everything must depend on one head, and any interruption might throw him off his course. As we were starting I heard a digression under the lamp.

"'I make it half past five from Sirius.'

"'I make it two fingers left of that.'

"'Oh, you are going by the corps map.'

"'Two hundred and six degrees true.'

"'I was going by magnetic bearing.'

"Ominous warning of what might happen if too many guides directed the march.

"Then there was the man with the bicycle. We had no cyclometer, but two men checked the revolution of the wheel. And there were other counters of steps, of whom I was one, for counting and comparison. From these an aggregate distance was struck. But it was not until we were well on the march that I noticed the man with the pace stick, who staggered and reeled like an inebriated crab in his efforts to extricate his biped from the unevennesses of the ground before he was trampled down by the column. I watched him with a curious fascination, and as I grew sleepier and sleepier that part of my consciousness which was not counting steps, recognized him as a cripple who had come out to Mesopotamia in this special role 'to do his bit.' His humped back, protruding under his mackintosh as he labored forward, bent into a hoop, must have suggested the idea which was accepted as fact until I pulled myself together at the next halt and heard the mechanical and unimaginative half of me repeat 'Four thousand, seven hundred, and twenty-one.' The man raised himself into erectness with a groan, and a crippled greengrocer whom I had known in my youth, to me the basic type of hunchback—became an upstanding British private.

"Walking thus in the dark with the wind in one's face at a kind of funeral goose step it is very easy to fall asleep. The odds were that we should blunder into some Turkish picket or patrol. Looking back it was hard to realize that the inky masses behind, like a column of following smoke, was an army on the march. The stillness was so profound one heard nothing save the howl of the jackal, the cry of fighting geese, and the ungreased wheel of an ammunition limber, or the click of a picketing peg against a stirrup.

"The instinct to smoke was almost irresistible. A dozen times one's hands felt for one's pipe, but not a match was struck in all that army of thousands of men. Sometimes one feels that one is moving in a circle. One could swear to lights on the horizon, gesticulating figures on a bank.

"Suddenly we came upon Turkish trenches. They were empty, an abandoned outpost. The column halted, made a circuit. I felt that we were involved in an inextricable coil, a knot that could not be unraveled till dawn. We were passing each other, going different ways, and nobody knew who was who. But we swung into direct line without a hitch. It was a miracle of discipline and leadership.

"At the next long halt, the point of bifurcation, the counter of steps was relieved. An hour after the sapper spoke. The strain was ended. We had struck the sand hills of the Dujailar depression. Then we saw the flash of Townshend's guns at Kut, a comforting assurance of the directness of our line. That the surprise of the Turk was complete was shown by the fires in the Arab encampments, between which we passed silently in the false dawn. A mile or two to our north and west the campfires of the Turks were already glowing.

"Flank guards were sent out. They passed among the Arab tents without a shot being fired. Soon the growing light disclosed our formidable numbers. Ahead of us there was a camp in the nullah itself. An old man just in the act of gathering fuel walked straight into us. He threw himself on his knees at my feet and lifted his hands with a biblical gesture of supplication crying out, 'Ar-rab, Ar-rab,' an effective, though probably unmerited, shibboleth. As he knelt his women at the other end of the camp were driving off the village flock. Here I remembered that I was alone with the guide of a column in an event which ought to have been as historic as the relief of Khartum."

After this unsuccessful attempt at relief comparative quiet reigned for about a week, interrupted only by occasional encounters between small detachments. On March 11, 1916, English outposts had advanced again about seven miles toward Kut-el-Amara to the neighborhood of Abn Roman, among the sand hills on the right bank of the Tigris. There they surprised at dawn a small Turkish force and made some fifty prisoners, including two officers. Throughout the next two or three days intermittent gunfire and sniping were the only signs of the continuation of the struggle. On March 15, 1916, two Turkish guns were put out of action and during that night the Turks evacuated the sand hills on the right bank of the river, which were promptly occupied by English troops in the early morning hours of March 16, 1916.

During the balance of March, 1916, conditions remained practically unchanged. The siege of General Townshend's force was continued by the Turks along the same lines to which they had adhered from its beginning—a process of starving their opponents gradually into surrender. No attempt was made by them to force the issue, except that on March 23, 1916, the English general reported that his camp at Kut-el-Amara had been subjected to intermittent bombardment by Turkish airships and guns during March 21, 22, and 23, 1916. No serious damage, however, was inflicted.

As spring advanced the difficulties of the English forces attempting the relief of General Townshend increased, for with the coming of spring, there also came about the middle of March—the season of floods. Up in the Armenian highlands, whence the Tigris springs, vast quantities of snow then begin to melt. Throughout March, April, and May, 1916, a greatly increased volume of water finds the regular shallow bed of the Tigris woefully insufficient for its needs. The entire lack of jetties and artificial embankments results in the submersion of vast stretches of land adjacent to the river. Military operations along its banks then become quite impossible, although in many places this impossibility exists throughout the entire year, because the land on both sides of the river for miles and miles has been permitted to deteriorate into bottomless swamps, through which even the ingenuity of highly trained engineering troops finds it impossible to construct a roadway within the available space of time.

These natural difficulties were still more increased by the fact that the equipment of the relief force was not all that might have been expected. This is well illustrated by the following letter from a South African officer, published in the "Cape Times:"

"The river Tigris plays the deuce with the surrounding country when it gets above itself, from melting snows coming down from the Caucasus, when it frequently tires of its own course and tries another. The river is the only drinking water, and you can imagine the state of it when Orientals have anything to do with it. A sign of its fruity state is the fact that sharks abound right up to Kurna.

"We have all kinds of craft up here, improvised for use higher up. His Majesty's ship Clio, a sloop, was marked down in 1914 to be destroyed as obsolete, but she, with her sister ships, Odin and Espiegle, have done great work in the battles to date. Now that we have got as far as Amara and Nassariyeh, the vessels that give the greatest assistance are steam launches with guns on them, flat-bottomed Irrawaddy paddle steamers. For troops we have 'nakelas' a local sailing vessel, and have 'bellums,' a long, narrow, small cone-shaped thing, holding from fifteen to twenty men; barges for animals, etc. Rafts have been used higher up to mount guns on. Here we have also motor boats.

"The difficulties as we advance are increased to a certain extent, though country and climate are improving. Our lines of communication will lengthen out, and we shall have to look out for Arab tribes raiding. Our aerial service is increasing; we have now a Royal Navy flight section, which has hydroplanes as well."

In spite of these handicaps, however, General Lake, in command of the English relief force, reported on April 5, 1916, that a successful advance was in progress and that the Tigris Corps at five o'clock in the morning of that day had made an attack against the Turkish position at Umm-el-Hannah, and had carried the Turkish intrenchments. Umm-el-Hannah is at a much greater distance from Kut-el-Amara than Es-Sinn which was reached on March 8, 1916, but from where the relief force had to withdraw again that same night to a position only a short distance beyond Umm-el-Hannah. However, it is located on the left bank of the Tigris, the same as Kut-el-Amara, and the success of taking this position, small as it was, promised therefore, once more an early relief of General Townshend.

This successful attack against Umm-el-Hannah on April 5, 1916, was carried out by the Thirteenth Division, which had previously fought at the Dardanelles. It now stood under the command of Lieutenant General Sir G. Gorringe who had succeeded to General Aylmer. The most careful preparations had been made for it. For many weeks British engineering troops had pushed forward a complicated series of sap works, covering some sixteen miles and allowing the British forces to approach to within 100 yards of the Turkish intrenchments. With the break of dawn on April 5, 1916, bombing parties were sent forward, whose cheers soon announced the fact that they had invaded the first line of Turkish trenches. Already on the previous day the way had been cleared for them by their artillery, which by means of incessant fire had destroyed the elaborate wire entanglements which the Turks had constructed in front of their trenches.

The storming of the first line of trenches was followed quickly by an equally successful attack on the second line. By 6 a. m., one hour after the beginning of the attack, the third line had been carried with the assistance of concentrated machine-gun and artillery fire. Within another hour the same troops had stormed and occupied the fourth and fifth lines of the Turks. The latter thereupon were forced to fall back upon their next line of defensive works at Felahieh and Sanna-i-Yat, about four and six miles respectively farther up the river. Reenforcements were quickly brought up from the Turkish main position at Es-Sinn, some farther ten miles up, and with feverish haste the intrenchments were made stronger. General Gorringe's aeroplane scouts promptly observed and reported these operations, and inasmuch as the ground between these new positions and the positions which had just been gained by the British troops is absolutely flat and offers no means of cover whatsoever, the British advance was stopped for the time being.

In the meantime the Third British Division under General Keary had advanced along the right bank of the river and had carried Turkish trenches immediately in front of the Felahieh position. In the afternoon of April 5, 1916, the Turks tried to regain these trenches by means of a strong counterattack with infantry, cavalry and artillery, but were unable to dislodge the British forces.

With nightfall General Gorringe again returned to the attack along the left bank and stormed the Felahieh position. Here, too, the Turks had constructed a series of successive deep trenches, some of which were taken by the British battalions only at the point of the bayonet. This attack as well as all the previous attacks were, by the nature of the ground over which they had to be fought, frontal attacks. For all the Turkish positions rested on one side of the river and on the other on the Suwatcha swamps, excluding, therefore, any flank attack on the part of the British forces.

Again General Gorringe halted his advance, influenced undoubtedly by the open ground and increasing difficulties caused by stormy weather and floods. April 6, 7, and 8, 1916, were devoted by the British forces to the closest possible reconnoissance of the Sanna-i-Yat position and to the necessary preparatory measures for its attack, while the Turks energetically strengthened this position by means of new intrenchments and additional reenforcements from their position at Es-Sinn.

With the break of dawn on April 19, 1916, General Gorringe again attacked the Turkish lines at Sanna-i-Yat. The attack was preceded by heavy artillery fire lasting more than an hour. In the beginning the British troops entered some of the Turkish trenches, but were driven back at the point of the bayonet. After this stood success. Again the floods came to the assistance of the Turkish troops. Increasing, as they were, day by day, they covered more and more of the ground adjoining the river bed and thereby narrowed the front, on which an attack could be delivered, so much so that most of its force was bound to be lost. According to Turkish reports the British lost over 3,000 in dead. Although the British commanding general stated that his losses were much below this number, they must have been very heavy, from the very nature of the ground and climatic conditions, and much heavier, indeed, than those of the Turks which officially were stated to have been only seventy-nine killed, 168 wounded and nine missing.

After this unsuccessful attempt to advance further a lull ensued for a few days. On April 12, 1916, however, the Third Division again began to attack on the right bank of the Tigris and pushed back the Turks over a distance varying from one and one-half to three miles. At the same time a heavy gale inundated some of the advanced Turkish trenches on the left bank at Sanna-i-Yat with the waters from the Suwatcha marshes. This necessitated a hurried withdrawal to new positions, which British guns made very costly for the Turks. A heavy gale made further operations impossible for either side on April 13 and 14, 1916. On the following day, April 15, 1916, the Third Division again advanced a short distance on the right bank, occupying some of the advanced Turkish trenches. Further trenches were captured on April 16 and 17, 1916, at which time the Turks lost between 200 and 300 in killed, 180 by capture as well as two field and five machine guns, whereas the English losses were stated to have been much smaller. This was due to the fact that for once the English forces had been able to place their guns so that their infantry was enabled to advance under their protection up to the very trenches of the Turks, which, at the same time, were raked by the gunfire and fell comparatively easily into the hands of the attackers. The latter immediately pressed their advantage and succeeded in advancing some hundred yards beyond the position previously held by the Turks near Beit Eissa. Here, as well as during the fighting of the few preceding days, the British troops were frequently forced to advance wading in water up to their waist, after having spent the night before in camps which had no more solid foundation than mud. They were now within four miles of the Turkish position at Es-Sinn, which in turn was less than ten miles from Kut-el-Amara. However, this position had been made extremely strong by the Turks and extended much further to the north and south of the Tigris than any of the positions captured so far by the British relief force.

In spite of this the Turks recognized the necessity of defending the intermediate territory to the best of their ability. After the British success at Beit Eissa in the early morning of April 17, 1916, they again brought up strong reenforcements from Es-Sinn, and at once launched two strong counterattacks, both of which, however, were repulsed by the British.

During the night of April 17 and 18, 1916, the Turks again made a series of counterattacks in force on the right bank of the Tigris, and this time they succeeded in pushing back the British lines between 500 and 800 yards. According to English reports, about 10,000 men were involved on the Turkish side among whom there were claimed to be some Germans. The same source estimates Turkish losses in dead alone to have been more than 3,000, and considerably in excess of the total British losses. On the other hand the official Turkish report places the latter as above 4,000, and also claims the capture of fourteen machine guns. Storms set in again on April 18 and 19, 1916, and prevented further operations.

Beginning with April 20, 1916, the relief force prepared for another attack of the Sanna-i-Yat position on the left bank of the Tigris, by a systematic bombardment of it, lasting most of that night, the following night, April 21, 1916, and the early morning of April 22, 1916. On that day another attack was launched. Again the flooded condition of the country fatally handicapped the British troops. To begin with, there was only enough dry ground available for one brigade to attack, and that on a very much contracted front against superior forces. To judge from the official British report, the leading formations of this brigade gallantly overcame the severe obstacles in their way in the form of logs and trenches full of water. But, although they succeeded in penetrating the Turkish first and second lines, and in some instances even in reaching the third lines, their valor brought no lasting success, because it was impossible for reenforcements to come up quickly enough in the face of the determined Turkish resistance strongly supported by machine-gun fire. According to the Turkish reports, the British lost very heavily without being able to show any gain at the end of the day. The same condition obtained on the right bank of the Tigris. In spite of this failure the bombardment of the Sanna-i-Yat position was kept up by the British artillery throughout April 23, 1916. On the next day, April 24, 1916, the British troops again registered a small success by being able to extend their line at Beit Eissa, on the right Tigris bank—in the direction of the Umm-el-Brahm swamps. On the left bank, however, the line facing the Sanna-i-Yat position remained in its original location.

All this time General Townshend was able to communicate freely by means of wireless with the relief forces. As the weeks rolled by it became evident that his position was becoming rapidly untenable on account of the unavoidable decrease of all supplies. Having had his lines of communication cut off ever since December 3, 1915, it was now almost five months since he had been forced to support the lives of some 10,000 men from the meager supplies which they had with them at the time of their hurried retreat from Ctesiphon to Kut-el-Amara, which were only slightly increased by whatever stores had been found at the latter place. So complete was the circle which the Turks had thrown around Kut that not a pound of food had come through to the besieged garrison. It was well known that the latter had been forced for weeks to exist on horse flesh. Beyond that, however, few details concerning the life of the Anglo-Indian force during the siege were known at that time except that they had not been subjected to any attack on the part of the Turks.

During the night of April 24, 1916, one more desperate effort was made to bring relief to General Townshend's force. A ship, carrying supplies, was sent up the Tigris. Although this undertaking was carried out most courageously in the face of the Turkish guns commanding the entire stretch of the Tigris between Sanna-i-Yat and the Turkish lines below Kut-el-Amara, it miscarried, for the boat went aground near Magasis, about four miles below Kut-el-Amara. Another desperate effort to get at least some supplies to Kut by means of aeroplanes also failed. The British forces had only some comparatively antiquated machines, which quickly became the prey of the more modern equipment of the Turks.



CHAPTER XL

THE SURRENDER OF KUT-EL-AMARA

By the end of April it had become only a question of days, almost of hours, when it would be necessary for General Townshend to surrender. It was, therefore, no surprise when in the morning of April 29, 1916, a wireless report was received from him reading as follows:

"Have destroyed my guns, and most of my munitions are being destroyed; and officers have gone to Khalil, who is at Madug, to say am ready to surrender. I must have some food here, and cannot hold on any more. Khalil has been told to-day, and a deputation of officers has gone on a launch to bring some food from Julnar."

A few hours afterward another message, the last one to come through, reached the relief forces, announcing the actual surrender:

"I have hoisted the white flag over Kut fort and towns, and the guards will be taken over by a Turkish regiment, which is approaching. I shall shortly destroy wireless. The troops at 2 p. m. to camp near Shamran."

It was on the hundred and forty-third day of the siege that General Townshend was forced by the final exhaustion of his supplies to hoist the white flag of surrender. According to the official British statements this involved a force of "2970 British troops of all ranks and services and some 6,000 Indian troops and their followers."

About one o'clock in the afternoon of April 29, 1916, a pre-arranged signal from the wireless indicated that the wireless had been destroyed. It was then that the British emissaries were received by the Turkish commander in chief, Khalil Bey Pasha, in order to arrange the terms of surrender. According to these it was to be unconditional. But the Turks, who expressed the greatest admiration for the bravery of the British, readily agreed to a number of arrangements in order to reduce as much as possible the suffering on the part of the captured British forces who by then were near to starvation. As the Turks themselves were not in a position to supply their captives with sufficiently large quantities of food, it was arranged that such supplies should be sent up the Tigris from the base of the relief force. It was also arranged that wounded prisoners should be exchanged and during the early part of May, 1916, a total of almost 1,200 sick and wounded reached headquarters of the Tigris Corps as quickly as the available ships could transport them.

The civil population of Kut-el-Amara had not been driven out by General Townshend as had been surmised. This was undoubtedly due to the fact that a few civilians who, driven by hunger, had attempted to escape, had been shot promptly by the Turks. Rather than jeopardize the lives of some 6,000 unfortunate Arabs, the English commander permitted them to remain and the same rations that went to the British troops were distributed to the Arabs. This, of course, hastened the surrender, an eventuality on which the Turks undoubtedly had counted when they adopted such stringent measures against their own subjects who were caught in their attempt to flee from Kut. Although Khalil Pasha refused to give any pledge in regard to the treatment of these civilians, he stated to the British emissaries that he contemplated no reprisals or persecutions in regard to the civilian population and that their future treatment at the hands of the Turkish troops would depend entirely on their future behavior.

With the least possible delay the Turks moved their prisoners from Kut-el-Amara to Bagdad and from there to Constantinople, from which place it was reported on June 11, 1916, that General Townshend had arrived and, after having been received with military honors, had been permitted to visit the United States ambassador who looked after British interests in Turkey during the war. An official Turkish statement announced that together with General Townshend four other generals had been captured as well as 551 other officers, of whom about one-half were Europeans and another half Indians. The same announcement also claimed that the British had destroyed most of their guns and other arms, but that in spite of this the Turks captured about forty cannon, twenty machine guns, almost 5,000 rifles, large amounts of ammunition, two ships, four automobiles, and three aeroplanes.

It was only after the capitulation of General Townshend that details became available concerning the suffering to which the besieged army was subjected and the heroism with which all this was borne by officers and men, whites and Hindus alike. An especially clear picture of conditions existing in Kut-el-Amara during the siege may be gained from a letter sent to Bombay by a member of the Indian force and later published in various newspapers. It says in part:

"Wounded and diseased British and native troops are arriving from Kut-el-Amara, having been exchanged for an equal number of Turkish prisoners. They bring accounts of Townshend's gallant defense of Mesopotamia's great strategic point. Some are mere youngsters while others were soldiers before the war.

"All are frightfully emaciated and are veritable skeletons as the result of their starvation and sufferings. The absolute exhaustion of food necessitated the capitulation, and if General Townshend had not surrendered nearly the whole force would have died of starvation within a week.

"The Turkish General Khalil Pasha provided a river steamer for the unexchanged badly wounded, the others marching overland. Because of the wasted condition of the prisoners the marches were limited to five miles a day.

"When the capitulation was signed only six mules were left alive to feed a garrison and civilian population of nearly 20,000 persons.

"In the early stages of the siege, the Arab traders sold stocks of jam, biscuits, and canned fish at exorbitant prices. The stores were soon exhausted and all were forced to depend upon the army commissariat. Later a dead officer's kit was sold at auction. Eighty dollars was paid for a box of twenty-five cigars and twenty dollars for fifty American cigarettes.

"In February the ration was a pound of barley-meal bread and a pound and a quarter of mule or horse flesh. In March the ration was reduced to half a pound of bread and a pound of flesh. In April it was four ounces of bread and twelve ounces of flesh, which was the allowance operative at the time of the surrender. The food problem was made more difficult by the Indian troops, who because of their religion refused to eat flesh, fearing they would break the rules of their caste by doing so.

"When ordinary supplies were diminished a sacrifice was demanded of the British troops in order to feed the Indians, whose allowance of grain was increased while that of the British was decreased. Disease spread among the horses and hundreds were shot and buried. The diminished grain and horse feed supply necessitated the shooting of nearly 2,000 animals. The fattest horses and mules were retained as food for forty days.

"Kut-el-Amara was searched as with a fine tooth comb and considerable stores of grain were discovered beneath houses. These were commandeered, the inhabitants previously self-supporting receiving the same ration as the soldiers and Sepoys. It was difficult to use the grain because of inability to grind it into flour, but millstones were finally dropped into the camp by aeroplanes.

"In the first week in February scurvy appeared, and aeroplanes dropped seeds, which General Townshend ordered planted on all the available ground, and the gardens bore sufficient fruit to supply a few patients in the hospital.



"Mule and horse meat and sometimes a variety of donkey meat were boiled in the muddy Tigris water without salt or seasoning. The majority became used to horseflesh and their main complaint was that the horse gravy was like clear oil.

"Stray cats furnished many a delicate 'wild rabbit' supper. A species of grass was cooked as a vegetable and it gave a relish to the horseflesh. Tea being exhausted, the soldiers boiled bits of ginger root in water. Latterly aeroplanes dropped some supplies. These consisted chiefly of corn, flour, cocoa, sugar, tea, and cigarettes.

"During the last week of the siege many Arabs made attempts to escape by swimming the river and going to the British lines, twenty miles below. Of nearly 100, only three or four succeeded in getting away. One penetrated the Turkish lines by floating in an inflated mule skin."

Another intimate description was furnished by the official British press representative with the Tigris Corps and is based on the personal narratives of some of the British officers who, after having been in the Kut hospital for varying periods of the siege on account of sickness or wounds, were exchanged for wounded Turkish officers taken by the relief force. According to this the real privations of the garrison began in the middle of February and were especially felt in the hospital.

"When the milk gave out the hospital diet was confined to corn, flour, or rice water for the sick, and ordinary rations for the wounded. On April 21, 1916, the 4 oz. grain rations gave out. From the 22d to the 25th the garrison subsisted on the two days' reserve rations issued in January; and from the 25th to the 29th on supplies dropped by aeroplanes.

"The troops were so exhausted when Kut capitulated that the regiments who were holding the front line had remained there a fortnight without being relieved. They were too weak to carry back their kit. During the last days of the siege the daily death rate averaged eight British and twenty-one Indians.

"All the artillery, cavalry, and transport animals had been consumed before the garrison fell. When the artillery horses had gone the drivers of the field batteries formed a new unit styled 'Kut Foot.' One of the last mules to be slaughtered had been on three Indian frontier campaigns, and wore the ribbons round its neck. The supply and transport butcher had sent it back twice, refusing to kill it, but in the end it had to go with the machine-gun mules. Mule flesh was generally preferred to horse, and mule fat supplied good dripping; also an improvised substitute for lamp oil.

"The tobacco famine was a great privation, but the garrison did not find the enforced abstention cured their craving, as every kind of substitute was there. An Arab brand, a species similar to that smoked in Indian hookahs, was exhausted early in April. After that lime leaves were smoked, or ginger, or baked tea dregs. In January English tobacco fetched forty-eight rupees a half pound (equal to eight shillings an ounce).

"Just before General Townshend's force entered Kut a large consignment of warm clothing had arrived, the gift of the British Red Cross Society. This was most opportune and probably saved many lives. The garrison had only the summer kit they stood up in.

"Different units saw very little of each other during the siege. At the beginning indirect machine-gun and rifle fire, in addition to shells, swept the whole area day and night. The troops only left the dugouts for important defense work. During the late phase when the fire slackened officers and men had little strength for unnecessary walking. Thus there was very little to break the monotony of the siege in the way of games, exercise, or amusements, but on the right bank two battalions in the licorice factory, the 110th Mahratas and the 120th Infantry, were better off, and there was dead ground here—'a pitch of about fifty by twenty yards'—where they could play hockey and cricket with pick handles and a rag ball. They also fished, and did so with success, supplementing the rations at the same time. Two companies of Norfolks joined them in turn, crossing by ferry at night, and they appreciated the relief."

A personal acquaintance of the heroic defense of Kut-el-Amara drew in a letter to the London "Weekly Times" the following attractive picture of this strong personality:

"A descendant of the famous Lord Townshend who fought with Wolfe at Quebec, and himself heir to the marquisate, General Townshend set himself from boyhood to maintain the fighting traditions of his family. His military fighting has been one long record of active service in every part of the world. Engaged first in the Nile expedition of 1884-85, Townshend next took part in the fighting on the northwest frontier of India in 1891-92, when he leaped into fame as commander of the escort of the British agent during the siege of Chitral. He fought in the Sudan expedition of 1898, and served on the staff in the South African War. In the peaceful decade which followed Townshend acted for a time as military attache in Paris, was on the staff in India, and finally commanded the troops at Bloemfontein, Orange River Colony.

"The outbreak of the Great War found him in command of a division in India, longing to be at the front in France, but destined, as events turned out, to win greater fame in Mesopotamia. All accounts agree as to the masterly strategy with which he defeated Nur-ed-Din Pasha at Kut-el-Amara, and subsequently fought the battle of Ctesiphon. Those two battles and his heroic endurance of the long siege of Kut have given his name a permanent place in the annals of the British army.

"Townshend has always attributed his success as a soldier to his constant study of the campaigns of Napoleon, a practice which he has long followed for a regular period of every day wherever he has happened to be serving. He has mastered the Napoleonic battle fields at first hand, and is an ardent collector of Napoleonic literature and relics. Everyone who knows him is familiar with the sight of the paraphernalia of his studies in peace time—the textbooks and maps, spread on the ground or on an enormous table, to which he devotes his morning hours. During the present campaign his letters have been full of comparisons with the difficulties which confronted Napoleon.

"But Townshend possesses other qualities besides his zeal for his profession, and one of them at least must have stood him in good stead during these anxious months. He is indomitably serene and cheerful, a lover of amusement himself and well able to amuse others. In London and Paris he is nearly as well known in the world of playwrights and actors as in the world of soldiers. He can sing a good song and tell a good story. Like Baden-Powell, the hero of another famous siege, he is certain to have kept his gallant troops alert and interested during the long period of waiting for the relief which never came. Up to the last his messages to the outside world have been full of cheery optimism and soldierly fortitude. No general was ever less to blame for a disastrous enterprise or better entitled to the rewards of success."



CHAPTER XLI

SPRING AND SUMMER TRENCH WAR ON THE TIGRIS

After the surrender of Kut-el-Amara a lull of a few weeks occurred. The Turkish forces seemed to be satisfied for the time being with their victory over their English opponents for which they had striven so long. The English forces below Kut-el-Amara likewise seemed to have ceased their activities as soon as the fall of Kut had become an established fact.

Almost for three weeks this inactivity was maintained. On May 19, 1916, however, both sides resumed military operations. The Turks on that day vacated an advanced position on the south bank of the Tigris at Beit Eissa, which formed the southern prolongation of the Sanna-i-Yat position. On the north bank the latter was still held strongly by the Sultan's forces.

Immediately following this move the English troops, who under General Sir Gorringe had attempted the relief of Kut-el-Amara, attacked. Advancing about three miles south of the Tigris and south of the Umm-el-Brahm marshes, they threw themselves against the southern end of the Turkish position at Es-Sinn. The latter is about seven miles west of the former and about the same distance east of Kut-el-Amara. It began on the north bank of the Tigris, a few miles north of the Suwatcha marshes, continued between these and the Tigris and for almost five miles in a southeasterly direction. On its southern end the Turks had erected a strong redoubt, known under the name Dujailar Redoubt, from which a strong line of six lesser redoubts run in a southwesterly direction to the Shatt-al-hai. This body of water is the ancient bed of the Tigris. In the first half of the year it is a navigable stream, carrying the waters of the Tigris across the desert to the Euphrates near Nasiriyeh, a town which British forces have held since the spring of 1915. It was against the key of this very strong line of defense, the Dujailar Redoubt, which General Gorringe's battalions attacked. At various other times before English troops had attempted to carry this point, but had never succeeded. This time, however, they did meet with success. In spite of strong resistance they stormed and carried the position.

On the same day, May 19, 1916, it was officially announced that a force of Russian cavalry had joined General Gorringe's troops. This cavalry detachment, of course, was part of the Russian forces operating in the region of Kermanshah in Persia. Inasmuch as these troops were then all of 200 miles from Kut-el-Amara and had to pass through a rough and mountainous country, entirely lacking in roads and inhabited by hostile and extremely ferocious Kurdish hillmen, the successful dash of this cavalry detachment was little short of marvelous. The difficulties which had to be faced and the valor which was exhibited is interestingly described by the official British press representative with the Mesopotamian forces:

"The Cossacks' ride across country was a fine and daring achievement, an extreme test of our Allies' hardness, mobility, and resource. Their route took them across a mountainous territory which has been a familiar landmark in the plains where we have been fighting for the last few months.

"The country traversed was rough and precipitous and the track often difficult for mules. They crossed passes over 8,000 feet high. Enemy forces were likely to be encountered at any moment, as these hills are infested with warlike tribes, whose attitude at the best might be described as decidedly doubtful.

"Their guide was untrustworthy. He roused their suspicions by constant attempts to mislead them, and eventually he had to point the way with a rope round his neck. Nevertheless, they met with no actual opposition during the whole journey other than a few stray shots at long range.

"They traveled light. For transport they had less than one pack animal for ten men. These carried ammunition, cooking pots, and a tent for officers. Otherwise, beyond a few simple necessaries, they had no other kit than what they stood up in, and they lived on the country, purchasing barley, flour, rice, and sheep from the villagers. Fodder and fuel were always obtainable.

"For ambulance they had only one assistant surgeon, provided with medical wallets, but none of these Cossacks fell sick. They are a hard lot.

"Their last march was one of thirty miles, during which five of their horses died of thirst or exhaustion on the parched desert, and they reached camp after nightfall. Yet, after a dinner which was given in their honor, they were singing and dancing all night and did not turn in till one in the morning.

"The ride of the Cossacks establishing direct contact between the Russian force in Persia and the British force on the Tigris, of course, has impressed the tribesmen on both sides of the frontier."

On the next day the Turks withdrew all their forces who, on the south bank of the Tigris, had held the Es-Sinn position. Only at a bridge across the Shatt-al-Hai, about five miles below its junction with the Tigris, they left some rear guards. On the north bank of the Tigris they continued to hold, not only the Es-Sinn position, but also the Sanna-i-Yat position, some eight miles farther down the river. This meant that General Gorringe not only had carried an important position, but also that he had advanced the British lines on the south bank of the Tigris by about ten miles, for on May 20, 1916, the British positions were established along a line running from the village of Magasis, on the south bank of the Tigris, about five miles east of Kut-el-Amara, to a point on the Shatt-al-Hai, about equally distant from Kut.

The withdrawal of the Turkish forces on the south bank of the Tigris naturally left their positions on the north bank very much exposed to British attacks. It was, therefore, not at all surprising that English artillery subjected the Turks on the north bank to heavy bombardments during the following days, nor that this fire was extremely effective. However, in spite of this fact, the Turks continued to maintain their positions on the north bank of the Tigris.

Throughout the balance of May, June, and July, 1916, nothing of importance occurred in Mesopotamia. The temperature in that part of Asia during the early summer rises to such an extent that military operations become practically impossible. It is true that from time to time unimportant skirmishes between outposts and occasional artillery duels of very limited extent took place. But they had no influence on the general situation or on the location of the respective positions.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11     Next Part
Home - Random Browse