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"At a mile distant their thousand hooves were stuttering thunder, coming at a rate that frightened a man - they were an awe inspiring sight, galloping through the red haze - knee to knee and horse to horse - the dying sun glinting on bayonet points..." Trooper Ion Idriess

The Australian Light Horse Studies Centre aims to present an accurate history as chroniclers of early Australian military developments from 1899 to 1920.

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Wednesday, 15 April 2009
Where Australians Fought, Naval Battles, 1914 - 1918
Topic: BatzN - Naval

Where Australians Fought

Naval Battles, 1914 - 1918



Chronology of Australian participation in Naval Battles, 1914-18



Cocos Islands, Indian Ocean, November 9, 1914.


Sea of Marmara, Turkey, April 25 to 30, 1915.



Zeppelin L43, North Sea, May 4, 1917.



Zeebrugge, Belgium, April 22 to 23, 1918.

Heligoland Bight, North Sea, June 1, 1918.



Further Reading:

Light Horse Battles

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920


Citation: Where Australians Fought, Naval Battles, 1914 - 1918

Posted by Project Leader at 9:18 AM EADT
Updated: Wednesday, 15 April 2009 11:01 AM EADT
Suez Canal Attack, Egypt, The Times, 8 February 1915
Topic: BatzS - Suez 1915

Suez Canal Attack

Egypt, January 28 - February 3, 1915

 The Times, 8 February 1915


The Times, 8 February 1915, p. 8, pt 1.


The account is transcribed below.






It is now possible to form an idea of the enemy's movements and plans before the recent engagements on the Suez Canal. Contrary to the view usually held, Djemal Pasha committed to the majority of his advanced guard the more difficult line of advance from Halir-el-Auja via Wadi-el-Arish and Djebel Libni, to Ismailia and Toussoum. A comparatively small force marched from El Arish towards El Kantara via Katieh, while bodies of partisans who followed the Akaba - Nakhl road made unimportant demonstrations in the Suez region and near Tor. He doubtless expected these demonstrations to draw off our troops from more important points, and perhaps to cause some ferment in Egypt, but his expectations were disappointed.

Whatever may be said of the enemy's tactics, the arrangements for traversing the desert were good. The men had enough to eat and drink and appear to have marched well, covering the whole distance from Beersheba to the Canal in 10 marching days and arriving, in general, in good condition. Everything was done to encourage their belief that, the crossing of the Canal could be effected without difficulty.


The regimental chaplains were instructed to warn the soldiery that, while victory or Paradise awaited them in Egypt, death or Hell would claim those who retreated. The officers, some of whom appear to have been highly confident of success, added their injunctions to the exhortations of the Imams; while lying articles in the Tanin accusing British troops of massacres of "our Arab brethren"' were distributed among them, according to the time-honoured policy of the Committee of Union and Progress.

The centre column of the Turkish advanced guard was composed of troops belonging to the Eighth Army Corps, under the command of Djemal Pasha, a namesake of the Ottoman Commander-in-Chief of the Syrian Army; and to these some Turkish troops of the Fourth Army Corps were attached. Of the Beduin auxiliaries, of whom so much has been heard since the outbreak of the war in Turkey, little indeed has been seen in recent encounters, and it would appear that the huge levies of irregulars, of whom rumour told many tales of late, have either never existed or have mysteriously evaporated before the hostile advanced guard drew near the Canal.


The first fight with the advanced parties of Djemal's northern column took place on January 27. It was an unimportant affair, in which the losses on our side were small, but it showed conclusively that the enemy meant to make for a point towards Katieh. In the next few days the advanced parties were reinforced, while our airmen succeeded in dropping bombs, to the disgust of the Beduin, on hostile bodies advancing westwards. One of our aeroplanes had a narrow escape of being obliged to descend in the neighbourhood of the enemy, darting away again when almost in their clutches amid a heavy fire.

In this connexion it may be noted that the death of two airmen killed by accident by our outposts when coming in after an accident to their machine was in no wise due to error on the part of our troops. The airmen, neither of whom was a trained soldier, blew whistles when near our advanced posts, which just sighted them through the night. Our men naturally taking this as a signal to charge, opened fire with fatal results.


On February 2 the enemy's advanced guard came to within striking distance our centre. During the day a part of them came into action near Ismailia in a sandstorm which blew clouds of dust and sand over the bare desert balking the gunners, who expended quantities of ammunition and caused only six casualties among our troops. The shooting of the enemy's infantry was bad. They were heavily shelled by land and naval guns, but the dust cloud; prevented our men from ascertaining what losses they inflicted.

Meanwhile a column, composed apparently of a pontoon company of Turks, the 75th Regiment, belonging to the 25th Division with the 74th Regiment of the same division and two Anatolian battalions in support prepared an attack on our position near Toussoum, near the point where the Canal emerge from the Timsah Lake. The advanced parties had reached the little oasis of Bir Murra near the Canal. Only here was there any cover worth mentioning. Southward along our front towards Serapeum stretches an open gravel plain, bare and almost without even a camel scrub. The decision to make the first rush at night was imposed upon the Ottoman commander.


After midnight the Turks moved down to attack: The pontoon section and its immediate supports were at first unmolested.
"We heard nothing from your side," said one prisoner. "We know your trenches were somewhere near but no sound came to us. We only heard three dogs barking along way off. We reached the water and began to dig and build a pontoon bridge. We thought we must have found a gap in your line. Then a Maxim opened on us."

The Times, 8 February 1915, p. 8, pt 2.


With the steep canal bank behind them the luckless Turks who had reached the water were swept away by our fire. Many were killed and drowned. A detachment of two companies of the 75th Regiment, which supported them, suffered heavy losses. Attempts to cover the advance farther south with Maxim fire failed. The 74th Regiment supporting the 75th got a boat on the Canal, which was sunk as it reached the western bank, and a plucky officer and one soldier who survived were taken prisoners. Our Indian troops shot straight, and fought coolly and well.

The attack failed, but the action was not over. At dawn the enemy's artillery attacked to warships on Lake Timsah. Shots from a 6in. gun hit H.M.S. Hardinge twice, and it appears that one shell was sent sufficiently near the Ismailia landing-stage, where a number of habitants of the town were watching the engagement, to cause a sudden and slightly comic stampede. Later in the day a French warship, it is claimed, silenced it.


Meanwhile the British and Egyptian artillery had come into action at various points along our front. All did well. The Turkish column which renewed the attack near Toussoum and anther which moved against Serapeum, covered by heavy artillery fire, were checked and turned and finally driven eastward by our advance from Serapeum and elsewhere. Many sere killed and wounded, and a number who had entrenched themselves between Toussoum and Serapeum were attacked and overpowered, and surrendered before our troops closed in.


Meanwhile the attack, or feint, near Ismailia had no better success, and by 3 in the afternoon he Turks were in full retreat. They failed, however, to draw off all their surviving men, for the next day our troops, moving out eastward, captured come 200 prisoners, three Maxims, and a camel convoy almost without resistance.

During the action of February 3 between Ismailia and Serapeum an engagement took place at El Kantara. Here too the first attack was made before dawn. Owing to our inundations the enemy was forced to advance on a narrow front over very soft ground, where some, according to witnesses of the fight, stuck, up to their waists in mud. The attack failed before dawn came. At daybreak another attack was pushed from the south-east.


From all accounts the, enemy never had a chance of succeeding. The Syrian troops came bravely on, but our fire was too much for them. A shell from one of our warships wiped out a party of officers. A low ridge where the enemy was attempting to entrench was swept by our artillery.

The advance of the Indian troops completed the work of the guns. By 3 all was over, and on the 4th our troops, pushing out from the Canal, found that the hostile column had retreated, and had even abandoned a position several miles east, which had been strongly entrenched as a point d'appui.

Since then prisoners, rifles, and other trophies have been streaming in. The prisoners, some of whom when first captured expected to be delivered to torment, were delighted to find themselves well treated and fed. The only complaint that any of them made was that the Indian troops upbraided them severely with the disgraceful conduct of the Turkish Government, whereupon the Syrian prisoners, in many cases, were equally ready to heap curses on the Government.


The impression that the enemy's advanced guard is in full retreat from the vicinity of the Canal is confirmed by the latest available information.

The French military mission, composed of Colonel Maucorps, formerly Military Attache at Constantinople, Captain Reymond, and Lieutenant Comte de St. Quentin, formerly Secretary of the Embassy at Constantinople, arrived here yesterday.




An official communiqué issued here says:

Two Shawishes of the 75th Turkish Regiment captured at Toussoum state:

Our division (the 25th) left Beersheba for Halir-el-Auja, and then, crossing Wadi el Arish, continued its march in the desert until it reached Kataib-el-Kheil, four hours' distance from the Canal. We brought with us many boats, which were carried on cars and dragged by oxen and buffaloes.

"At Kataib-el-Kheil we were divided up into parties, each of which was ordered to attack a point on the Canal. Our party, composed of half a tabur (500 to 600 men), was ordered to attack Toussoum. We came to the Canal bank, but met with a very hot and well-aimed fire, which caused a great many casualties amongst us, and then we were surrounded by troops from behind, and so were hemmed in and made prisoners.

"Arif Bey, our commandant, was wounded and carried off the field. Our next officer was wounded and made prisoner."

A first lieutenant of the 74th Regiment states:

"My corps began its march for the final objective at 6 p.m. on February 2, and moved through the night, and was in action soon after dawn. I was in the second line until the first line was checked, and then moved up with my detachment in support. The rifle fire was very fierce as we approached the Canal, but we managed to get a boat launched with our half company. As we approached the west bank we suffered severe casualties and the boat was riddled and sank. At this point I was wounded. I landed with two boatmen and a third man all that was left of my half company. Finally I and one boatman alone survived. Where upon I surrendered to some Indian troops."

A German major, who was shot during the fight near Serapeum, was found to be carrying a white flag in a specially designed khaki wallet. There has been no fighting to-day, February 5. [See End Note.]


The Press Bureau announces that the following statement was officially issued a Cairo on February 7:

No further fighting has taken place on the Canal. Besides Arabs a number of Anatolian Turkish soldiers are deserting and giving themselves up to the British authorities They are very despondent over the failure of their attack on February 2. Some deserters state that they attempted to rejoin their regiments, but saw the German and Turkish officers shooting runaways, so though it safer to go back to the British lines.

During the recent fighting none of the enemy reached the west bank of the Canal except prisoners and the four soldiers whose escape has already been notified. No buildings in Ismailia were hit, nor did any shell come into the town; most of the enemy shells dropped into Lake Timsah.


End Note: The German major killed was Hauptmann Wilhelm von dem Hagen.


Further Reading:

Suez Canal Attack, Egypt, Contents

Where Australians Fought, Sinai, 1916-1917

Light Horse Battles

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920


Citation: Suez Canal Attack, Egypt, The Times, 8 February 1915

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EADT
Updated: Sunday, 26 April 2009 12:36 PM EADT
Bert Schramm's Diary, 15 April 1919
Topic: Diary - Schramm

Diaries of AIF Servicemen

Bert Schramm


During part of the course of his military service with the AIF, 2823 Private Herbert Leslie Schramm, a farmer from White's River, near Tumby Bay on the Eyre Peninsular, kept a diary of his life. Bert was not a man of letters so this diary was produced with great effort on his behalf. Bert made a promise to his sweetheart, Lucy Solley, that he would do so after he received the blank pocket notebook wherein these entries are found. As a Brigade Scout since September 1918, he took a lead part in the September 1918 breakout by the Allied forces in Palestine. Bert's diary entries are placed alongside those of the 9th Light Horse Regiment to which he belonged and to the 3rd Light Horse Brigade to which the 9th LHR was attached. On this basis we can follow Bert in the context of his formation.

 Bert Schramm's Diary, 15 April 1919


Bert Schramm's Handwritten Diary, 12 - 15 April 1919

[Click on page for a larger print version.]


Bert Schramm

Tuesday, April 15, 1919

Bert Schramm's Location - Zagazig, Egypt.

Bert Schramm's Diary - Have been out on patrol all day. Had about a thirty mile ride, nothing doing. Rumoured that we are to sail sometime next month.



9th Light Horse Regiment War Diary

9th Light Horse Regiment Location - Zagazig, Egypt.

9th Light Horse Regiment War Diary - One mounted troop patrolled El Khis - Amrit reporting all quiet and the natives were friendly. Tod, Second Lieutenant PA, returned from Moascar. Buchanan, Captain; and, Falconer, Captain, Indian Army, attached to this Regiment for Military Court Duty marched out to Kantara.



Darley, TH, With the Ninth Light Horse in the Great War, Adelaide, Hassell Press, 1924.

No Entry

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Next: Bert Schramm's Diary, 16 April 1919


Further Reading:

9th Light Horse Regiment AIF War Diary - Complete day by day list

Bert Schramm Diary 

Bert Schramm Diary - Complete day by day list


Additional Reading:

Darley, TH, With the Ninth Light Horse in the Great War, Adelaide, Hassell Press, 1924.


Citation: Bert Schramm's Diary, 15 April 1919

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EADT
Updated: Saturday, 9 May 2009 8:35 PM EADT
Emptsa, North Russia, The Times, 3 September 1919
Topic: BatzO - Emptsa


North Russia, 29 August 1919

The Times, 3 September 1919


The Times, 3 September 1919, p. 10.


The account is transcribed below.

The Times, 3 September 1919, p. 10. 



The War Office yesterday issued the following communique dealing with the operations in North Russia:

ARCHANGEL FRONT. - On August 31 the Russian troops were reported to be in possession of Emptsa [Yetritsa] Village [on the Vologda railway], having beaten off repeated Bolshevist counter-attacks. Several trains have been captured by us. Many enemy wounded are reported in the village.

Murmansk FRONT. - A successful raid has been carried out on Rimkaya on the east shore I of Lake Onega, by Russian troops, assisted by the Lake Flotilla and the R.A.F. We captured five machine-guns, 300 rifles, and over 150 prisoners. Our losses were light.

Bolshevist report, Sept. 1:

In the Archangel region the enemy's fierce attacks have failed.

An enemy cruiser bombarded the locality of the mouth of the river Onega without results. Wireless Press.


Further Reading:

North Russian Campaign, Contents

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920


Citation: Emptsa, North Russia, The Times, 3 September 1919

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EADT
Updated: Saturday, 2 May 2009 10:20 PM EADT
The Nature of the British Army prior to 1914, Eight 'undred fightin' Englishmen, the Colonel, and the Band, Part 2
Topic: AIF - DMC - British

The Nature of the British Army prior to 1914

Part 2, Eight 'undred fightin' Englishmen, the Colonel, and the Band


An extract from Holmes, R., Riding the Retreat, London, 1995, pp. 42 - 49.


Eight 'undred fightin' Englishmen, the Colonel, and the Band

So much for the creature's physiology. Now let us look at its behaviour, and stand beside one of those endless poplar-lined roads of northern France to watch the infantry come by, trudging to a hundred destinations but a common fate: most of the soldiers we see will be dead or wounded before the year is over. At the head of the battalion column rides the commanding officer, a lieutenant-colonel in khaki barathea tunic, Bedford cord breeches and high, brown field-boots, the splash of medal ribbons marking him out as a man who smelt powder in South Africa over a decade before. He is already well into his middle years, and that thoughtful look may tell us that he already knows what others suspect: he is not quite the man he was, more worrier, now, than warrior, with late nights and early starts far more of a strain than when he was chasing de Wet or mounting bridge-guard in the Karroo.

The colonel has a little headquarters. His adjutant, a captain, rides with him; his second-in-command, a major, is enjoined by regulations to follow at the rear of the battalion as whipper-in, but do not be surprised if he escapes from the dust to trot forward for a pipe and a chat. The pioneers under their sergeant - the only man in the battalion allowed to wear a beard - stump along behind, on hand in case a gate needs taking off its hinges or a broken-down wagon has to be heaved onto the verge. Next comes the Corps of Drums, fighting soldiers as well as musicians, ready to strike up `The Young May Moon' or `It's a Long Way to Tipperary' if they are from an English regiment, or to set fingers to chanters for `Black Bear' or 'Hielan' Laddie' if they are Scots.

The buglers are both notice-board and public address system. Their calls regulate the day in barracks and camp, and even now we may hear them on the battlefield. Soldiers have memorised the calls by putting words to them. There is an official version, inevitably corrupted. `Come and do your guard, my boys! Come and do your guard! You've had fourteen nights in bed, so it won't be hard' suggests Trumpet and Bugle Sounds for the Army. `Come and do a picket, boys, come and do a guard! You think it's fucking easy but you'll find it's fucking hard' chant the irreverent soldiery. Such rudery was international. Russian cavalrymen remembered the call for `Mount' by giving it the words `The devil got hold of me, and I mounted a nun'.

The unmistakable figure of the Regimental Sergeant-Major, a warrant officer and the battalion's senior non-commissioned member, strides along ahead of the leading rifle company. Each of the four companies has a nominal strength of six officers and 221 men. A major or captain, mounted like the officers at the head of the column, commands each company, with a captain as his second-in-command. The subalterns - lieutenants and second-lieutenants - command the four platoons, each consisting of a sergeant and forty-six men, and subdivided into a small headquarters and four ten-man sections under a corporal.

This organisation is unfamiliar to many of the soldiers in its four-deep ranks. For although the British Army, unique amongst the combatant powers, has no conscripts, not all its soldiers are regulars. Many are reservists, snatched back from civil life. Frank Richards had served eight years with the colours and had become a timberman's assistant in a mine. He was enjoying a beer with his mates in the Castle Hotel at Blaina when somebody came in with the news that the police sergeant was hanging up a notice recalling reservists. Richards duly reported to his Regimental : Depot at Wrexham the following day, having stayed at a nearby pub till `stop tap' and arriving at-the barracks `in a jovial state.' He was posted to and Royal Welch Fusiliers, and recalled that his fellow reservists were `a little muddled' by the four-company organisation, having been used to the Pre-1913 eight-company system.

Not only has the new organisation robbed half the battalion's captains of their former status as company commanders - James Jack, junior captain in his Cameronian battalion, finds himself leading a platoon - but the company commander's erstwhile right-hand man, the colour-sergeant, has also declined in importance. With the change to, four companies, the four senior colour-sergeants in each battalion became company sergeant-majors, although it will not be until 1915 that they receive their own badge of rank - a crown on the cuff - and the status of Warrant Officer Class 2. The four juniors retain the rank of colour-sergeant and have. become company' quartermaster-sergeants, responsible for administration within their companies.

Toiling along at the rear come the odds and sods. Here is the medical officer, a lieutenant or captain attached from the Royal Army Medical Corps, with his sergeant and stretcher-bearers, the latter the regiment's bandsmen (serious musicians, these, not the fife and' drum boys at the head of the column) who have returned their instrument; to store on mobilisation. There are the signallers, encumbered with semaphore flags, heliographs, field telephones and cable. The machine-gun officer, his sergeant and twelve men accompany the battalion's two .303 belt-fed Maxim machine-guns. These are old models with brass cooling jackets round their barrels; the new Vickers gun has been introduced but few are to be seen. Each gun is carried on a two-wheeled wagon which tows a two-wheeled limber; there are 3,500 rounds with each and a reserve of 8,000 on a third wagon. Ammunition carts, five in all, carry some 100,000 rounds more, forming a regimental reserve of 100 rounds per man.

Last, but by his own practised reckoning anything but least, comes the quartermaster. He has been commissioned from the ranks; not too long ago he was the regimental sergeant-major. He is the colonel's logistic staff officer, though call him that and you will have your fortune told in a way no soothsayer would risk. The quartermaster is responsible for the receipt, safe-keeping and issue of food, clothing, ammunition and much else besides. His myrmidons, headed by the regimental' quartermaster-sergeant, have a cushioned and knowing look, for if you spend your life counting blankets you do not want for an extra one when the nights grow chilly. The quartermaster's impedimenta travels on the horse-drawn GS (general service) wagons that rumble along with the cookers and water-cart at the very end of this long and -martial snake.

The battalion is marching at ease. The men have undone the collars of their khaki tunics, rifles are carried anyhow, and stubby little pipes jut beneath many a-moustache. A few push their luck by smoking cigarettes; pipes are permitted on the line of march but cigarettes are not, though as Private Harry Beaumont, shouldering his pack with 1st Queen's Own Royal West Kent, remembered, `this rule was unfair, and died a natural death on the first day'. Marching at ease; but not an easy march. The road is high-cambered pave, made of four inch square granite blocks set half an inch apart. Some of the younger regulars find the going hard, and not a few of the reservists are in real difficulties. On 21 August Count Gleichen, commanding 15th Infantry Brigade, reported that there were many stragglers after a fifteen-mile march: `all of them reservists ... They had every intention of keeping up, of course, but simply could not.'

Packs are another problem. The men wear 1908 pattern webbing equipment, much better, as any old soldier will tell you, than the leather it replaced. Shoulder straps suspend ammunition pouches: five left; five right, with ten rounds in each. Another twenty rounds are carried in the haversack which is on the left hip, balancing the water-bottle, blue enamelled tin covered in khaki felt, on the right. The entrenching tool hangs at the base of the spine, its handle strapped to the bayonet scabbard beneath the haversack. The pack hangs squarely in the middle of the back. Crammed with spare clothing -- a 'worsted cardigan jacket', spare grey flannel shirt, socks, underwear, and here and there a board for the forbidden gambling game of Crown and Anchor - it brings the total weight carried, by Harry Beaumont's reckoning, to almost eighty pounds. Small wonder that as his battalion moved up on a scorching day: `within an hour [we] began to feel the effects of the intense heat. Some were more or less in a state of collapse, and had to be supported by their comrades, while others carried their rifles.'

His rifle was the infantry soldier's raison d'être. The .303 Short Magazine Lee-Enfield weighed 8lb 10½ oz and was 3ft 8½ ins long.

Its magazine held ten rounds, loaded by thumbing in two five-round dips. The British infantryman of 1914 Could dispose of these to good effect. He fired 250 rounds on his annual musketry course, which consisted of slow, rapid and snap practices at ranges up to 60o yards. In the `mad minute' he was expected to fire fifteen rounds at a target 300 yards away, and Major Frederick Myatt suggests that: `there were very few infantryman who could not put all their shots into a two-foot (6I-centimetre) circle in that time; many indeed could almost double that rate of fire with no appreciable loss of accuracy'. Field Service Regulations 1909 described ranges of 600 yards and under as being `close' as far as infantry was concerned; 600 to 1,400 was 'effective', 1,400 to 2,000 (the limit of the standard backsight) was `long', and only 2,000 to 2,800 was `distant'.

The soldiers who tramp past us take their musketry seriously. Proficiency brings extra pay: `How do I stand for, Marksman?' was the urgent question as butt-markers passed the scores down the range telephone. Officers fired the same course as their men, and were expected to do well. 'There is nothing so disgusting', said Major-General Thompson Capper, `as an officer who is a second class shot'. When young George Ashurst, who joined the Lancashire Fusiliers in 1913, scored nineteen points out of a possible twenty at 60o yards, his colonel gave him five shillings on the spot. Officers carry sword and pistol. Swords have been sharpened by the armourer on mobilisation, but few will kill Germans: Lieutenant George Roupell of the East Surreys will find that his comes in handy for beating prone soldiers on the backside and telling them to fire low.

The fact that the sword and magazine rifle - ancient and modem yet again - were carried in such close proximity emphasises the dilemma facing the armies of 1914. There was widespread recognition that the firepower revolution brought with it the risk of very heavy casualties. In 1912 General Friedrich von Bernhardi warned: `Anyone who thinks that great tactical successes can be achieved in modern war without staking a great deal of human life is, I believe, very much mistaken'. For his part, on mobilisation young Hanbury-Sparrow expected `a short war with heavy officer casualties. I warned my parents to prepare themselves not to see me again.'

Theorists and practitioners were unsure whether firepower favoured attack or defence. The Polish banker, Jan Bloch, author of the perceptive Future War, declared that it simply ruled out frontal attack, and British experience in South Africa seemed to prove that Bloch was right: both British and French infantry regulations were modified to reflect the reality of the fire-swept battlefield. But it was not that simple. The weight of military opinion believed that wars were won by offensive action, and it followed that an army which allowed itself to be paralysed by firepower –‘acute transvaalitis' - could not expect to win. Moreover, as Colonel Charles Ardant du Picq had acutely observed even before the Franco-Prussian War, on the new battlefield `cohesion is no longer ensured by mutual observation'. What would happen if these loose, flexible formations met the enemy's fire? Officers would be unable to lead effectively, and soldiers' courage would not be buttressed by the close physical proximity of comrades. Men - short-term conscripts, most of them - would go to ground and not get up again; impulsion would be gone and stalemate would result.

The reaction was predictable. If war was not to be mere sterile butchery, soldiers must be imbued with the desire to press to close quarters and win. This would prove costly in the short term, but it was preferable to have a short, bloody and victorious war than a long and inconclusive conflict. In Germany, von Bernhardi proclaimed that `those troops will prove superior who can bear greater losses than the others', and in France, General Joffre (chief of the general staff and commander-in-chief designate from 1911) demanded 'the spirit of the offensive'. All this, as its proponents recognised, called for more than merely the transformation of military training: it demanded the forging of a new national will.
This task was already well under way in Germany, where society was infused by a pervasive militarism that made `a young officer into a god, a reserve officer into a demi-god'. In France, the popular novelist Ernest Psichari demanded `a proud and violent army'. The philosopher Henri Bergson expounded to huge audiences his conviction that the creative urge, not natural selection, lay at the heart of evolution: what better way to show l’élan vital than to impose your will on an enemy in battle.

In Britain, the `unconquerable and determined offensive spirit' was championed by Thompson Capper, an infantry officer who had entered Staff College in 1896, and became inspector-general of infantry in February 1914. Capper believed that German tactical doctrine, which emphasised attacking the enemy's flanks and rear, was superior to French teaching. However, he argued that victory was essentially a matter of morale, of `determination to conquer or die'. Like continental theorists, he argued that `organised abnegation of self' was the basis of the offensive spirit, and felt that this must be reflected in the community at large, attributing Germany's success in 1870-71 to her schoolmasters who had imbued youth with national ethics.

Though Capper's position was more extreme than -that of many, of his colleagues, he was not exceptional in demanding a national revival. The National Service League argued vigorously in favour of national service rather than more restrictive professional soldiering. Popular culture radiated the new mood. Guy du Maurier's play, An Englishman's Castle, warned of invasion by a thinly-veiled Germanic enemy, and Erskine Childers' best-selling book, The Riddle of the Sands, was a spy story with the Germans as its villains.

In the decade before 194 military doctrine was recast on both sides of the Channel. Although the most extreme expression of offensive spirit was contained in the French Regulations Of 19113 which declared that: The French Army ... recognises no law save that of the offensive', the British were scarcely more measured. The 1909 edition of Field Service Regulations abandoned the cautious note which pervaded the 1905 edition, written while the Boer War was fresh in the collective memory. The new regulations proclaimed that-. `Success in war depends more on moral than on physical qualities', and added that `decisive success in battle can only be gained by a vigorous offensive'. This view was echoed in the regulations for the individual arms. Infantry Training 1914 was unequivocal, and made a rare excursion into bold type to lend emphasis to crucial points:

The main essential to success in battle is to dose with the enemy; cost what it may ... The object of infantry in attack is therefore to get to close quarters as quickly as possible, and the leading lines must not delay the advance by halting to fire until compelled by the enemy to do so ... The object of fire in the attack, whether of artillery, machine guns, or infantry, is to bring such a superiority of fire to bear on the enemy as to make the advance to close quarters possible.

A battalion might push a company or two forward to form a firing line and its immediate supports while the remaining companies waited in reserve. The forward companies, assisted by artillery and machine-guns, would set about winning the fire fight. The slackening of the enemy's fire and the sight of demoralised individuals sloping off to the rear would prompt the local commander to order his bugler to sound the charge. And now we slip back a century: `the call will be taken up by all buglers, and all neighbouring units will join in the charge as quickly as possible. During the delivery of the assault the men will cheer, bugles be sounded, and pipes played.' Successful assault would be followed by relentless pursuit: the enemy's army would be broken and the war won.

Defence, in contrast, could not in itself produce a decisive result and was acceptable only as an adjunct to offensive action: firepower would enable a commander to reduce the forces committed to a specific sector and thus free them for an attack elsewhere. `The choice of a position and its preparation must therefore be made with a view to economising the power expended on defence in order that the power of offence may be increased,' declared Infantry Training.

Our thoughtful colonel, then, has much on his mind. Experience has taught him just what damage his battalion's firepower can do, but his training emphasises the need to `demand the impossible and not think of sparing his men'. As the campaign develops he will find his resolve sorely tried, all the more because he is so close - physically and psychologically - to the battalion he commands. The first casualty will be his sense of perspective, his ability to balance his loyalty between the sweating column behind him and the chain of command stretching above him.
He answers to a brigadier-general, who commands four such battalions with the aid of a small staff headed by his brigade-major. Count Gleichen (soon to avoid his title's foreign ring by styling himself Lord Edward Gleichen) noted that his brigade numbered 127 officers, 3,958 men, 258 horses and 74 vehicles when it was ready to leave for France. It is not until we ascend to the next level of command, the division, that we see the beginnings of a combined arms force. The major-general commanding it has a colonel as his chief of staff - officially General Staff Officer Grade 1, abbreviated to GSO1. Full colonels are rare birds in the British army of 1914. In the French and German armies they command three-battalion infantry regiments, and have lieutenant-colonels as their second-in-commands and majors commanding their battalions. In the British army the word `regiment' has no tactical significance in the infantry: different battalions of the same regiment are seldom in the same brigade in 1914.


Previous: The Nature of the British Army prior to 1914, Something old, something new, Part 1

Next: The Nature of the British Army prior to 1914, Down in the lead with the wheel at the flog, Part 3


Further Reading:

British Army involvement with the Desert Mounted Corps


Citation: The Nature of the British Army prior to 1914, Eight 'undred fightin' Englishmen, the Colonel, and the Band, Part 2

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EADT
Updated: Friday, 1 May 2009 3:01 PM EADT

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