A Better Rifle at Halloween

Thinking ahead
  • 23rd September 1914, Ghoy.

    C Squadron 12th (Royal) Lancers had re-joined the main regimental position at Ghoy, the withdrawl had gone swiftly with the squadron mounting up and trotting down the road from Ogy to Ghoy, the truck carrying that had carried the RGA signallers was loaded with wounded, most of them RGA men returned in there officers car, but some were travelling back on the limbers of the 13 pounder guns. The RGA men having taken over the horses of the wounded and dead, the RGA subaltern was bouncing along on one of the Lancers horses looking most uncomfortable. The Squadron commander commented not unkindly on his riding style, prompting the young officer to note that they hadn’t done as much riding at Woolwich as might have been required at Sandhurst. The two men then discussed the performance of the 60 pounder and how to improve liaison between the cavalry and the artillery, the RGA officer mused about perhaps using some type of wireless in a truck or wagon that could signal back to the battery or regiment. But both agreed that being able to call indirect fire onto an enemy position was immensely valuable.
    An Army Marches
  • 23rd September 1914, Lessines.
    The Army Service Corps driver was sitting in the cab of his lorry, he had been called up from his pre-war job as a delivery driver for Pears Soap company. The truck he was driving had been called up from Hazelhurst & Sons and still smelt faintly of the coal dyes used to colour their soaps, rather than the more pleasing fragrance which infused his old vehicle.
    Mostly now all he could smell was the stink of war, he had been driving from the rail head at Mons up and over the ridge line to Ath and then from there on to Lessines. His current cargo was boxes of rations, mainly maconochie stew and hard tack, he was sharing the road with a variety of other vehicles, primarily horse drawn wagons carrying up ammunition but also ambulances and other motor vehicles. There were also a number of staff cars of one sort or another, the most senior officers proceeded by motor cycle outriders or even in one case a troop of cavalry.
    There was a railway line that existed between Ath and Mons but it had been badly damaged by the fighting over the last month and it would be at least a week before it could be restored to limited operation. The Royal Engineers were labouring mightily to restore the rail link, as it would enable rapid movement of supplies along the entire line between Ghent and Mons. The next dual tracked line was much further back running through Lille and Tournai and it had been even more badly damaged by the fighting, it would have to be restored as well. But for now, the supplies needed to keep the German First Army trapped would have to travel over rutted roads in northern France and Belgium.
    The end of First Army
  • 23rd September 1914, Lessines.

    The battlefield was carpeted with bodies, most were the field grey of the German First Army but here and there were scattered British corpses, cavalry men who had been shot down in the retreat to the main defensive line. It was not until early afternoon that the fighting for the cavalry positions ceased, with their withdrawal to the rear of the main line, they would form a mobile reserve to plug breaches in the defences of the infantry divisions. The retreat of the cavalry had been well managed, they had withdrawn in good order, but they had been gravely outnumbered by the attacking German infantry and had taken casualties.

    Their defence had been worth the losses though, achieving two objectives, firstly inflicting stinging casualties on the German infantry as they attacked and secondly causing the Germans to spend precious time and scarce ammunition in a deliberate attack.

    The delay had also allowed the defending infantry units further time to prepare their entrenchments, barbed wire was becoming more available, with every factory in Britain working double shifts and the first supplies from America also arriving. The infantry and engineers had formed wiring parties who had laboured mightily to create actual barbed wire entanglements, not the mere single or double wire fences seen previously but rather more effective barriers. These entanglements would be difficult to traverse whilst their apparent impenetrability would add further strains to the faltering morale of First Army.

    The initial attack by the German Infantry was much more aggressively conducted than anyone expected, the same closely packed lines of infantry had come forward at a steady pace. The eighteen pounders had had a field day, with the vast majority of the Germans Artillery having exhausted their ammunition and subsequently been spiked and abandoned, their gunners drafted into ersatz regiments to press the attack. The British Guns had been able to position themselves with little thought to counter battery fire, they were drawn up as if it was Waterloo or the Crimea, the guns virtually on the front line. This position would expose them to rifle fire from the attacking Germans but it would enable easy direct fire against the oncoming foe.

    The artillery batteries were as professional as the infantry, the men long service professionals, the officers educated at Woolwich. Along with the engineers the gunners considered themselves intellectually superior to the Sandhurst men of the cavalry and the infantry.

    Shrapnel was being almost exclusively used, the shells bursting above the advancing infantry, the first attack continued to be pressed strongly, the German infantry advanced in the hail of shrapnel balls with little hesitation. They had advanced within 600 yards of the British front line before the order for the infantry and machine guns to open fire was given. The first rounds cracked out almost as a volley, the next round was more ragged with each man loading and firing rapidly but in his own time. The machine guns added their own noise but they were virtually drowned out by the rapid fusillade from the riflemen.

    The artillery had been a steady erosion, the rifle and machine gun fire was a shattering blow, the first ranks of men down in a moment and the hungry wasplike bzt of bullets cracked past and into the remnant. They broke, turned about and ran, the past days defeats and hunger finally exceeding discipline and training, rumours of von Kluck’s death and the actions of the chain dogs had already worked on their morale but this sleeting death was too much.

    The British infantry took advantage of this, sending them on the way back with well-aimed fire that felled men fleeing for the illusory safety of the start line, nor did the gunners stint, they continued to fire rapidly on both the fleeing men and those forming up to become the next wave of the attack.

    The second wave having seen what happened to the first balked, it was in many cases comprised of ersatz units drawn from dismounted cavalry, artillerymen without guns, a field veterinary unit, even a balloon unit that had abandoned their craft in the retreat. In short, the whole supporting assemblage of the army pushed forward to try and break an impenetrable wall. These men were often older reservists, their courage was not in doubt, but they viewed themselves as specialists valuable men to the army for their skills and with lives and families that would depend on them in the future. They had only just recently been called up in many cases and they had seen little but loss, hardship and futility as they spread across Belgium like a tide that was now receding.

    The military police and their officers snarled threats and potential for recriminations but to little avail they would not advance into that storm of steel not for the General, not for the colonel and not for some jumped up little tyrant with a gorget round his neck. They simply turned around and retreated back to the town, leaving a carpet of dead and dying men, the German First Army was no more.

    The surrender when it came was an anticlimax, a small party of senior German officers rode towards the British lines, they attempted to negotiate passage for the army, shorn of their arms but an army still, that received curt dismissal, the only offer total surrender including arms and ammunition and supplies or the attack would resume in 2 hours. To prevent the useless effusion of blood, the terms of surrender were agreed too with Major General Hermann von Kuhl signing on behalf of General von Linsingen, General Smith Dorrien signed on behalf of the BEF.
    Cabinet Meets
  • 24th September 1914 London

    The Cabinet meeting was almost jolly, Winston Churchill had spoken at great length of the surrender of the German First Army, he praised General Smith Dorien, suggesting that immediate promotion to the rank of Field Marshal was called for. Churchill was not all triumph and bombast, he reminded his colleagues that whilst the war was going well, half of Belgium was still occupied including its capital and heavy French, British and Belgian losses had been suffered. He cautioned that the Germans still had a great depth of reserves, and one victory did not mean the war was won.

    Recruitment was going well with all of the Territorial units expanding to utilise the flood of volunteers, the regular army was also recruiting short service volunteers with most regiments creating an additional war service battalion to accommodate numbers.

    He then handed the meeting over to the Foreign Secretary, who spoke of the likely impact of the victory in neutral opinion, he spoke in passing of the Americans who whilst happy to sell war materials wanted payment in either dollars or gold. They object mightily to our blockade of Germany, wanting to be able to trade with them as well as with us. In another matter our purchasing agents are reporting some problems with strikes and sabotage within America, the radical labour unions are opposed to the war and are doing all they can to hinder our cause.

    Changing subjects from Cousin Jonathan, and moving on to the Ottoman Empire, it appears that the sublime porte is inclined further towards neutrality as well. It looked a close-run thing when the Goeban and the Breslau escaped, but the recent reverses suffered by German arms have caused a serious recapitulation of the Ottoman position. The Germans have increased pressure on the Ottomans to join the war, but thus far too little avail, we should consider what we can offer to them to keep them neutral, reopening the Bosphoros to our trade with Russia would be nearly as great a victory as that our arms gained this week. It would be worth a great price to keep the Ottomans neutral in this war, we should look to what guarantees we, the French and the Russians can provide to maintain that policy.

    David Lloyd-George spoke next, he was generally satisfied with the Governments financial position, the Bank of England was considering returning to limited convertibility which would reassure the markets and facilitate the sale of War Bonds. The Treasury and Bank were also considering providing guarantees for Belgian and Serbian bonds, Russia had successfully placed a bond issue the last week which would enable them to place orders for additional equipment for their army. Recruitment was being managed in such a way as to minimise industrial dislocation with men who worked in war industries being discouraged from joining the Army and Navy, a public information campaign was being prepared to reinforce the importance of industry and agriculture to the war effort.

    Orders had been placed for everything from bullets to blankets and from kilts to cannon with the scope and cost of the war and its industrial demands only expected to grow. The purchasing commissions were working with both the Army and the Navy to ensure that British industry was able to supply the means of victory.

    The cabinet then began to discuss how the war should be brought to a final victory, Germany was hemmed and had suffered defeats in both the east and the west, Austro-Hungary likewise had been defeated in the East, the Ottomans looked unlikely to join the war and without them Bulgaria would not enter either. Britain had traditionally not fielded large armies in Europe and with the vast numbers available to the Russian Empire and with France and Belgium calling up every able-bodied man it looked unnecessary to do so in this case.

    The Empire was rallying to the call with large numbers of volunteers in training in the dominions and an Indian Army Corps on its way to France. The army would grow but not without limits, better to grow industry to make bullets for Frenchmen and shells for Serbs. General Greirson and Field Marshall Smith Dorien would be consulted on what size of army was needed, the Navy too would have to grow. The Germans had suffered setbacks at sea but their merchant raiders and pacific squadron were causing problems, not to mention the flight of the Goeben and the Breslau. The Germans also had a powerful submarine fleet that posed an unknown threat to the Royal Navy, which would also have to be countered.
    Molins Machine Company
  • 25th of September 1914, London

    W.E Molins of the Molins Machine Company, manufacturers of packing machines for the tobacco and food industries, had just been visited by a member of the War Industries Purchasing Commission. He had taken the member on a tour of the factory and the design offices. He had provided the member with information on both the makeup of the firm’s workforce, the types of equipment which it manufactured and the types of design work of which it was capable. He also made sure to stress that the Molins Machine company, provided vital equipment without which the packing lines of the likes of Players Cigarettes would grind to a halt. He also stated that his design group would be happy to work on developing automated sorting and packing equipment for the military or for any other precision mechanical systems which needed his firm’s expertise.

    At that comment the member showed more than a little interest, he began to take further notes on the capacity of the Molins Machine Company, Molins was clearly a forward-thinking manufacturer. In addition they exported equipment globally mainly to the United States, a very useful source of foreign exchange. He thanked Molins for his time and responding with such detail, he then requested that a larger group of specialists be allowed to visit the design office and factory as soon as practical. W.E. Molins agreed, saying he could block out a period of time as soon as he had notice for himself, his design team and his factory managers. With that the member returned to Whitehall to write a report on the potential utilisation of the company.
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    The Royal Navy Plans
  • 25th September 1914, London.

    Admirals Fisher, Scott and the First Sea Lord Prince Louis of Battenberg were discussing ways for the Royal Navy to take the fight up to the Germans more effectively. Prince Louis had just pointed out that with the Germans pushed back from the Belgian coast it might be possible to mine the German coast line sufficiently thickly to lock the Germans in place, preventing the movement of any shipping. To which Admiral Fisher replied hotly “if we lay enough mines, such that you could walk from Borkum to Sylt without wetting your feet, Germany is blockaded and starved no doubt, but what then?” “The Army would go on gathering all of the laurels of victory, whilst our ships wearing themselves out in thankless patrols, that do nothing to hasten victory in the eyes of the parliament and the press”

    Both Admirals concurred with the broad sweep of Fishers sentiments. They had seen how quickly the battle of Thornton Bank, with its heavy losses but clear victory, had been forgotten with the surrender of an entire German Army.

    The only role the Royal Navy had played, had come from the Royals and some ancient armoured cruisers, one of which had then been destroyed by an airship. The Royal Naval Air Service was doing sterling work but again this was an adjunct to the main, no what was needed was a way of bringing Germany to its knees, a victory to rival Trafalgar or Quiberon Bay. The High Seas fleet might come out to contend with the Grand Fleet, the destruction of the High Seas fleet would be a victory for the history books. The other road to continued relevance would be to to land an army on the German Coast and push directly for Berlin, but for now the means to do such a thing was lacking.

    All three admirals were in agreement, plans would be made to bring draw out the High Seas Fleet, an attack was planned on the German patrol vessels operating on the North Sea coast, this raid would be supported by the Grand Fleet who would be in the offing in the event that the High Seas fleet could be encouraged to sortie. Commodore Keyes who had proposed a raid on the German North Sea patrols was still reporting that they were being conducted to a regular timetable. This regularity would facilitate an attack on the patrol vessels. Whilst this attack was taking place some of the armoured cruisers would bombard the German fortifications on Heligoland. It was hoped that the presence of the armoured cruisers with their low top speed would be a suitable bait, with the possibility occurring to the German Admirals that the cruisers could be cut off, sinking them before other fleet units could arrive to support them. The plan was cold blooded in that it did risk the wholesale destruction of the Armoured cruisers, but with their heavy guns and armour they were better placed to exchange fire with shore defences. They had also been somewhat upgraded with at least limited gunnery direction equipment being fitted to all ships, the forceful efforts of Admiral Scott having already borne some fruit.

    The attack would take be planned for a quarter moon in November, to give a long enough night with sufficient light to reduce the risk of collision but minimise the risk of being spotted in turn by patrolling vessels. Whilst the planning for this raid was going on, planning for a larger scheme to attack the German coast directly would be undertaken.
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    The mystery of the sands
  • 25th September 1914, London.

    Lt Erskine Childers RNVR was continuing the work he had been doing since mid August on his return from Dublin, reviewing British and Dutch Admiralty Charts with a view to establishing water depths around Borkum, Juist and the Wadden Sea.
  • 25th September 1914, near Lille

    Commandant Rene Dupuis was a man with a major problem, his battalion had been called up early in the war. Part of the Reserve of the Territorial army, his battalion was lightly equipped with ancient weapons and had been carrying out lines of communications tasks for 6th Army as they herded the German First Army into the British Guns.

    This had all changed with the surrender, suddenly his battalion and many other British and French reserve and territorial battalions, were tasked with guarding almost uncountable numbers of German Prisoners. The requirements of the surrender were simple, the German troops were to stack their arms and colours and offer no resistance to the allied troops. The first order that had been given had required the majority of the Germans to simply march back towards Lille. This was done for two reasons, firstly by increasing the distance any absconders would have to travel to escape, secondly by moving them closer towards the undamaged railheads that would be able to supply the prisoners.

    The French and British Army had never expected to have to deal with so many prisoners all at once and the plans they had were rudimentary at best. It was estimated that as many as 220,000 men had been captured, just guarding them would require tens of thousands of men. The prisoners would have to be dispersed across France into whatever accommodation could be found, the prisoners would build their own camps when nothing else was available. The British would also take their share of Prisoners thereby reducing the burden on France.

    The numbers of wounded had already completely overwhelmed the Germans capacity to cope and was causing similar problems for the French and British Army as well. Train loads of wounded prisoners were already being dispersed to hospitals throughout France, with some making their way to Britain as well.

    The dead were numberless, most unburied as the First Army sought initially to defeat and then escape the trap, scattered amongst the field grey were the blue of France and the khaki of Britain. The Entente Troops would be buried individually, the German dead would be identified where possible, but many would go into mass graves unknown.

    The German prisoners would provide the burial parties for the dead of all armies, with full military honours to be accorded to the dead of all sides, the firing parties would for obvious reasons not be German.

    As well as the dead men, thousands of horses had been killed in the retreat and defeat, where practical the German and French Armies horse butchers were hard at work turning them into rations. But by this stage several days after the guns had fallen silent the bloated and rotting horse carcases had to be disposed of. This task was also given to the Prisoners.

    In all some 50,000 German prisoners would be retained behind the front line, they would work to restore the damage done to French and Belgian villages. Once this work was completed, they would then be evacuated to the POW camps.

    But for Commandant Dupuis, the next weeks would be difficult, his men would have to guard prisoners whilst moving this slow-moving column deeper into a France that hated them. It had been suggested that the prisoners be marched through Paris, a ritual humiliation which would no doubt prove popular. But which could well end very badly, a snarling crowd throwing rubbish at prisoners would not make for good propaganda. Dupuis hoped that his charges would simply be loaded onto trains and taken south, they could spend the war working on farms and doing other useful tasks.
    Field Marshal Smith Dorrien plans
  • 26th September 1914

    Field Marshal Smith-Dorrien was reviewing the disposition of the BEF since the Surrender of the German First Army. The fighting along the new frontline had not died down but it was limited to inconclusive skirmishing, mainly between cavalry patrols and the German rear-guard. Casualties had been heavy in many battalions with losses of up to 40% killed and wounded in some cases. The past two days since the German surrender had been spent in frantic re-organisation. Smith-Dorrien had issued orders to his Army Commanders to expedite the reorganisation of their forces. Where necessary battalions would be amalgamated to bring them back up to full strength, this was contrary to regimental traditions of the British Army and would be resented, but it was a necessary temporary expedient.

    The BEF now stretched from the French Fifth Army Boundary near Charleroi to the Belgian Antwerp Garrison positions near Termonde. British First Army was holding the line from the boundary with the French to Braine-le-Comte and on to Enghien, the Second Army from Enghien to Gramont and Sottegem, the Third Army from Sottegem to Wetteren and on to Termonde where it joined the Belgians.

    Facing the British were the remnants of X Corps which had been badly handled thus far and had retired from its initial position between Jurbise and Braine-le-Comte, it had retreated in good order towards Waterloo in an attempt to reform and form a line between the Brussels and the Second army positions before Namur. Conforming with that movement Xr Corps had retired towards Nivelles. To the north of Belgium IIIr corps was also slowly retiring towards Brussels, IVr corps was continuing to screen the Antwerp Garrison. The German Forces in Brussels were in a dangerous position, significantly outnumbered and with their supply lines threatened by the Antwerp Garrison, they also faced a real risk of being enveloped.

    Field Marshal Smith Dorrien was not inclined to give the Germans in Belgium any breathing room, an attack on the Brussels Garrison directly was an option but would also result in the destruction of the city. Better to try and cut the Germans off completely and compel them to either retreat or surrender. As well as the three British Armies under his command, Smith Dorrien had temporarily been given command of the French Sixth Army. They had initially taken charge of the management of Prisoners of War, however in keeping with the Hague convention many of the prisoners would have to be transferred to British control. The War Office was already working on a scheme for the management of the haul of men. The prisoner escort role was going to fall on the Territorial and Territorial Reserve units, the Active and Reserve units would soon be moving up to take part in the next phase of the action. Smith Dorrien was particularly keen to use the 1st Moroccan Division, they had proven to be doughty fighters in defence and would no doubt be just as resolute in the attack.

    The timing of the attack was driven by a range of factors, but the longer he waited the more time the Germans had to reinforce their positions and recover their morale. It would be better to attack before everything was ready in order to keep the momentum up. Otherwise it could rapidly become a bloody slaughter such as the Germans had just experienced, with that thought ringing in his mind Smith Dorrien went off to hurry along his subordinates.
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    Rosa Plans
  • 27th September 1914, Berlin.

    The socialist agitator Rosa Luxembourg was meeting with a group of her closest allies to discuss the war its progress and how best to respond. She was nominally a member of the Social Democratic Party but with the official party supporting the war she was moving away from it. She and her nearest comrades had denounced the Kaiser’s war, they had called it a capitalist sham to enrich the blood suckers of international finance, while the poor bleed. The recent disasters suffered by the army in both Russia and on the Franco-Belgian front had swept the capital.

    The Army officers in their glittering braid who had so often lorded it over the ordinary German subjects now looked downcast, their morale impacted by the stunning series of defeats. The bourgeoisie plump in their exploitation of the workers likewise were beginning to suffer, their marks drawn from the toil of honest workers availed them less. The Royal Navies blockade was already biting hard on imports, no shipping was making it past the minefields and the roving patrols of British destroyers. Some goods were being imported via Sweden, Denmark, and the Netherlands but only a little and what little was making it to Germany was prohibitively expensive. Oranges and Bananas had disappeared from the shops and even Danish bacon was becoming harder to access.

    Whilst she was adamantly opposed to the capitalist system, Rosa Luxembourg had spent some considerable time studying its workings. She was fascinated in many ways by its flexibility and its ability to enable trade between disparate peoples who would never meet but linked by a chain of middlemen. The desire for a cup of coffee in Berlin would be met by a farm in Tanginika, heedless of course to the cost for the workers and peasants exploited by those same middlemen along the way. She understood the impact that the blockade, the defeats and the consequential plunge in the value of the German Mark would cause financial chaos in Germany and Austro-Hungary.

    The Socialists would be tarred with the support for the war, her groups refusal to support it was a point in their favour. As the war which was already touching families across Germany worsened, how to take advantage of the wars hard hand was therefore subject of much of her thinking and planning. From all she could see the suffering would only increase, especially as winter came. The economic logic of the war would require the total subordination of the German State to the war, that subordination would entail much misery and as the people suffered, they could be brought to think of a new way to order society. One in which they were not mere serfs to be exploited, sent out to die in battle, labour endlessly in the fields for the enrichment of another, or starve in a tenement to let others gorge themselves on the fruit of their labour.

    She would continue to advocate patience to her comrades, as the war went on the inherent corruption in the German state would be revealed, ripening with every dead soldier and starving civilian. The ties of loyalty to Kaiser and Empire would be weakened by defeat and demoralisation, when those ties finally snapped then her people would be positioned to act. The other advantage of not being overly active yet, was it reduced the risk of the secret police infiltrating her group and disrupting their plans.
    von Boehn in Brussels
  • 27th September 1914, Brussels

    General von Boehn was pondering his increasingly tenuous position, he was the commander of the Brussels Garrison, his parent army had already surrendered to the British and now his Corps was threatened from both the north and the west. He had already taken control of the remaining elements of IIIr Corps which had retreated towards Brussels likewise the commander of IVr Corps was accepting his orders as well. The Belgian Telegraph and telephone system had been repaired since the invasion and that and dispatch riders were tying the three corps together fairly effectively.

    Boehn’s forces were unlikely to be able to remain in position for long, the Belgians had cut the main railway line between Brussels and Louvain and thus his supply options limited not as badly as those faced by Von Kluck in the week just passed but unenviable none the less. There was a single narrow gauge line which connected Louvain and Brussels, along with several single track lines which spurred off from the Louvain-Liege line which then joined the Brussels-Namur line. It might be possible to set up a circular route connecting Liege to Brussels using these single tracked lines but it would add significant complexity to his logistical position.

    The options facing von Boehn were simple, remain in place and hope that he could hold Brussels against the British whilst using the forces available to him to fend of the Belgians to the north whilst Second Army parried the French. Or retire towards Louvain giving his forces secure supply lines but conceding even more ground to the Entente forces. His signals to General von Falkenhayn, who had succeeded von Moltke after the later had had the temerity to die of a stroke in the Kaisers presence, were not providing clear directions, vacillation seemed to be the order of the day at OHL. But whatever happened a decision would be needed soon before the next Entente blow fell.
    A Cardinal Returns
  • 27th September 1914, Mechelen

    Cardinal Désiré-Joseph Mercier had returned to the Archbishop’s palace just days earlier, with the recapture of Mechelen. St Rumbold’s the Cathedral Church had been badly damaged during the German attacks and that along with the burning of the library of the University of Louvain had increased the Archbishop’s anger towards the German Army. He had already sent a detailed report to the Vatican listing the destruction and rapine which had been visited on his city and his country. He hoped this report would stir action from the new pontiff, Pius XI was mainly concerned with continuing his predecessor’s campaign against modernism, but as the horrors of the war increased it was likely that the Pope would be forced to take a side. The Pope had served previously as Papal Nuncio to Mexico and he had been witness to the start of the Mexican Revolution, a revolution whose bloody horror seemed only to be growing with massacre and counter massacre. The Cardinal hoped that he could be convinced push hard for peace between the great powers of Europe before everything was consumed in flames.

    Cardinal Mercer sat down with his secretary to write a pastoral letter to all the Parishes of Belgium. In it he would call on the people of Belgium to resist the invader. By passive resistance if living under German rule and if living in free Belgium to support the war effort and their fellow Belgians with all the means available to them. He praised the support of the French, Russian and British forces in fighting against the common foe and called for Germany and Austria to recognise that the war was lost and that they should seek a negotiated peace.
    A night patrol
  • 27th September 1914, near Sottegem.

    Lieutenant Angus Ross, D Coy, the Queens Own Cameron Highlanders was leading the patrol, it consisted of him corporal and 11 other ranks. They were all men from the area around Portree on Skye and several of them were known to have taken a deer or two. The men had seen hard fighting in the past weeks as they defeated the First Army and their morale was excellent, they had met the enemy in the field and defeated him. Casualties had been light for the battalion and reinforcements were due soon. The patrol was being sent forward to scout the German front line, the men were lightly equipped with only their rifles and battle order webbing belts. The officer and the corporal had carefully checked over each man’s kit to ensure that nothing work clink or clank or otherwise make any noises that might alert a German Sentry to their activity.

    The men had moved forward soundlessly from the British front line, they were careful to move slowly and avoided bunching up. The Lieutenant led the section with the private from the Braes whilst the corporal in the rear. Every man had blacked his face with cork to try and further reduce the risk of being spotted, the moon was waxing gibbous with scattered clouds, sufficient light for careful movement to be possible. Lt Ross was leading his men slowly along a drainage ditch, the ditch was just a few feet lower than the surrounding crop land and provided good cover for the section. Their advance was slow and steady, with the men signalling by means of hand gestures, frequent halts were taken to listen and look for any movement that might indicate German Troops doing the same thing. The plan for the patrol was to advance until the German front line was detected, once it had been identified it was to be observed to determine how strongly it was held. If it looked to only be weakly held or any positions looked to be unsupported an attempt was to be made to gather additional intelligence by capturing prisoners.

    The drain was beginning to disappear, they paused and an order to spread out into a shallow chevron was given, with each man to advance carefully forward. They continued to advance in this manner for a further 200 yards before another broader drainage ditch blocked their path. Thus far they had travelled some 600 yards without any sign of German positions, ahead there was a small copse, with a large brick building behind it. Lt Ross paused the section and summoned the corporal forward, he agreed with the Lt that if their were Germans in the vicinity the building was likely to be occupied. They sent the poacher and his cousin forward now to scout the copse, the remained of the section slithered forward and using the drain for concealment prepared to provide covering fire should the two privates get into trouble.

    The rest of the section watched their assigned sectors, there was little or no noise nothing to indicate the presence of the foe. The two privates, men from Upper Ollach whose fathers had taught them the patience of their ancestors, oozed forward, their movements gradual and patient, experienced night stalkers this would be the first time they had hunted men in the dark. That said they had both excelled in the carnage of the early fighting, shooting steadily with an unhurried accuracy. The two privates disappeared into the copse, after a few tense minutes the clicking call of the capercaillie could be heard. The rest of the section then moved forward into the trees.

    The big building was now clearly visible, a single German sentry was standing outside, he looked listless and bored. The section again spread out using the edge of the trees as cover, watching to see if any other sentries or patrols were evident. After another long tense wait the Lt again sent out the poacher, this time with another man from the section, unlike the Braes men he was from Trotternish but had moved to Portree, he was a butcher by trade and a popular local shinty player.

    The butcher lived up to his name, he crept up behind the sentry, reaching forward he clamped his left hand onto the man’s jaw yanking it down and back. Before he could shout a warning the butchers right arm slipped round his body sliding his sword bayonet expertly between the 8th and 9th ribs the 17” blade splitting the liver in two, cutting the aorta and the vena cava, before continuing to slice upwards to pierce the diaphragm and a lung. Giving the bayonet a savage twist, he pulled the bayonet out releasing a gush of blood and the hot stink of iron.

    The section again advanced, splitting into two parties they moved to into position so that they could assault the front and rear of the building simultaneously. The Lt lead the assault, with his FHSLR at the shoulder with bayonet fixed he moved into the building, immediately by the entrance there was a small room. In it was a pair of German soldiers, the rifle roared twice, neither man had a chance to get up from their chairs before they were shot. Meanwhile the rest of the party continued to move into the house firing as they went, the rapid fire of the FHSLR proving its worth, the bolt action rifles of the German Troops unable to match the rapid fire of the British rifles. After what seemed like hours but was only minutes the cry of Kameraden and nicht schieszen came from a small group of soldiers pinned down in a bedroom being used as a barracks.

    “Hands up” was the order given and the four surviving Germans came out with their hands high, the building was quickly searched for any documents, the highlanders dressed their own wounds, one man had been grazed by a bullet and was bleeding badly enough to warrant a shell dressing. The remainder of the section had suffered nothing worse than cuts and bruises, as well as the four prisoners a German Junior officer had been wounded and was being guarded by two men near the entrance, he was whimpering in pain and unable to walk and so the four prisoners were instructed to load him onto a stretcher. The intelligence haul valuable, a map showing the German frontline positions and the units holding them was taken and would be sent back to battalion headquarters as soon as possible. Looking at the map Lt Ross was surprised to note that the next position was several hundred yards away the front line being more a series of strong points rather than a continuous line.

    The patrol returned back to the battalions lines, again the call of the capercaillie was used as a signal, but this time instead of being recognised, it was met with a rifle fire as a sentry panicked. The rest of his section then began to blaze away wildly before the sergeant restored order with shouts and blows. The Sergeant called the password “Port Righ” and the now wounded Lt Ross replied “Raasay”, the section was then able to cross back over the front line. As well as the wounds suffered by Lt Ross which would result in his hospitalisation for several weeks, two men from the section and one prisoner were dead. The map was sent backwards to be scrutinised by the Brigade Commander before making its way up to Third Army Headquarters, it along with the results of other patrols would be evaluated before the next move was planned.
    King Albert plans
  • 28th September 1914, Antwerp.

    King Albert was back in Antwerp, he had spent the morning at the railway station watching as wounded men were arriving in a steady stream from the front. They would be sent on by ambulance to the city’s hospitals. Albert had spent the last week in the field with his army, despite the casualties experienced, the men’s morale was excellent. The war had been brutal for the Belgian army, first had come the bloody slogging siege of Liege with its endless bloodletting. Then following its fall, they had watched as the German forces pushed further and further south and west in a seemingly relentless tide, but with equal suddenness they had stalled and then the British and French had counter attacked. Their own attack had been advancing steadily for most of the past week, there had been no lightning thrusts simply a steady advance. The Belgian army now controlled the area from Kappelle-op-den-Bos through Zemst to Kortenbourg, they had finally forced the Germans out of Louvain (Luevan) the day before but much of the city was flattened in the fighting with many casualties amongst the civilian population. The front line then ran back north towards Heist-op-den-Berg before re-joining the fortifications at Fort van Lier.

    Some 100,000 Belgian troops from the field army had taken part in the attack, casualties had been heavy, but all the divisions remained capable of conducting further offensive action.

    With the capture of Louvain there were several courses of action open to the King Albert as commander of the Belgian Army. The first was to hold Louvain and attack west towards Brussels aiming to liberate the city, this coupled with a British attack from the west of the city would likely result in its liberation but would also result in significant damage to the city and high civilian casualties. The second option was to advance directly south from Louvain towards Namur. A successful attack in this direction would isolate the Brussels Garrison and cut the railway lines still supplying the forces to the west of the thrust. It could well result in the capture of large numbers of German troops replicating the victory against the First Army. If the Germans chose to retreat in this scenario, Brussels would be liberated without suffering the damage that an assault on the city would entail. The third option was to hold Louvain and then attack east towards Hasselt, this attack would have the initial advantage of not facing heavy German resistance, as this area was only lightly garrisoned and mainly by older reservists of the landwehr. If the attack succeeded it would provide an excellent springing of point for the liberation of Liege, with the possibility of placing an even larger portion of the German army at risk of envelopment.

    King Albert would spend the rest of the day in consultations with the military representatives of France and Britain whilst he planned for the next series of attacks. He was expecting another visit from Winston Churchill as well, likely he would demand another tour of the frontline. King Albert was very fond of the British Politician but his frenetic pace in person and constant blizzard of telegrams when absent was hard to keep up with. King Albert spoke to the British Envoy, requesting details of the promised additional support. Apparently some 40 British naval guns on improvised carriages were to be shipped over to Belgium within the week, he would use men from some of the fortresses to crew them. He also pressed for more aerial reconnaissance, his own aviation section was worn out from near continuous operations and he was almost entirely reliant of French and British support in that area. Once he had some more intelligence on the Boche and had consulted with his allies, he would issue his orders.
    In pursuit
  • 29th September 1914, Cook Islands

    Vice Admiral Yamaya Tanin was watching the coaling gangs labour to bring the last of fuel aboard, he had pushed his ships hard from Ocean Island when he heard of the attack on Papeete. He had originally planned on sailing there directly but reports received by radio indicated the coal stocks had been burnt, that had necessitated his stop here in Rarotonga. The island had provided not only coal but also bunker oil to top up his fuel tanks and enable him to continue his pursuit of the German East Asian Squadron.

    His Signals officer had received several more messages from both British and Japanese shipping in the area, thus far there was no indication that the Germans had doubled back towards the North Pacific or the Philippines, their course appeared to be towards Cape Horn and on into the Atlantic.

    Tanin’s squadron was nearly ready to resume the chase, as well as fuel they had taken on additional food stocks including many tropical fruits, yams, fish and pork that would reduce the monotony of the normal rations in the Imperial Japanese Navy.

    Coal would be the greatest challenge for both his squadron and that of the Germans, if the East Asia Squadron was attempting to return to Germany it would have to round the Horn and to do that it would need coal. It could coal on the Chilean mainland but that information would enable the Royal Navy to track them with ease. The Eastern Pacific was sparsely supplied with islands, few would have the thousands of tonnes of coal needed by a squadron of warships but Easter Island would have coal in sufficient quantity for von Spee’s squadron.

    Vice Admiral Tanin made the decision he would push on to Easter Island, his own squadron had the range to make it with coal to spare if he kept his speed to 12 knots. He wrote a dispatch to Navy Headquarters in Tokyo and his signals officer ciphered it before dispatching it to the telegraph station. He sent a shorter dispatch to the Royal Navy Admiral commanding the China Station, Vice Admiral Sir Martyn Jerram summarising his actions. He was sure that Jerram a thoroughgoing professional would use the information he had provided to its best possible outcome.
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  • 30th September 1914,

    The General Court Martial was arrayed before the prisoners, both men had been arrested for cowardice, members of the 1st (City of London) Battalion, London Regiment (Royal Fusiliers) they had fled the line during the Battle of Ath, ten days previously.

    They were being charged under the Army Act, specifically Section 4 item 7 “Misbehaves or induces others to misbehave before the enemy in such manner as to show cowardice, shall on conviction by court-martial be liable to suffer death, or such less punishment as in this Act mentioned.”

    Acting under the orders of General Smith Dorrien the court had been assembled to rapidly conduct the Court Martial under the provisions in the Army Act for Field General Courts Martial, the president of court was a Brigader General attached to the Army Staff, the other members included an artillery colonel and 3 majors drawn from the other battalions of the brigade.

    Evidence of the soldiers cowardice had been presented by the mens section commander, platoon sergeant and the military police corporal who had arrested them. The platoon commander, who in civilian life was a junior barrister, had acted as prisoners’ friend to both men. He had been admonished several times by the courts president for attempting to badger the witnesses and bring in in admissible evidence. The trial took most of a day, with the president of the court adjourning the trial to consider the verdict.

    The two prisoners stood as the five members of the court filed back in, they had been adjourned for a mere 15 minutes. The president of the court ordered the two ashen faced privates to stand up, “you have been tried under the Army Act for cowardice, you have been convicted by a General Court Martial appointed by the General Officer Commanding the British Expeditionary force, Field Marshal Smith-Dorrien. In accordance with the Army Act the Penalty for Cowardice before the enemy is Death. As there is no compelling reason to reduce your penalty and for the good of the discipline of the whole army you are to be shot 5 days hence. Provost sergeant take these men away.”
    Siege of Konigsberg continues
  • 1st October 1914, Konigsberg.

    The siege had entered its 6th week, the Russian Army besieging the city was only slightly larger than the force penned within its defences. The Russians had shown little interest in assaulting the German positions, they had however been lavish in their use of artillery. They would fire on any exposed troops or indeed any human movement. The German garrison was relatively well equipped with their own guns, but they lacked the ammunition to undertake effective counter battery missions. The Russian commanders seemed more than content to keep the Germans trapped whilst they waited for starvation and a shortage of ammunition to force a surrender. The Russian army had managed to emplace a total of 8 large rifles which were steadily pounding the city into dust, their effectiveness significantly improved by the deployment of a pair of spotting balloons which were able to observe the entire area within the siege works, they were then connected via telegraph and telephone to both the commanding generals bunker and to the positions of the various artillery batteries.
    As part of their support for their British Allies, the Japanese had agreed to supply additional weapons including a pair of heavy mortars to the Russian army. Those guns had been transhipped from Korea to Vladivostok and were anticipated to arrive within the week. Whilst they lacked the range of the guns which the Russians were already using, they would be able to put an even heavier shell down on the enemy positions. The Russian railways would be able to bring the mortars almost to the siege lines themselves. Those lines having been largely repaired, despite the damage done by both armies in the opening stages of the war. The war had revealed the parlous state of the Empires railways, shortages of engines, rolling stock, track and even ballast were causing delays from one end of the empire to the other. The additional demands were starting to cause real problems for the civilian economy as war priority loads displaced the cargos normally carried. The priority for maintenance and repairs were the lines which kept the armies supplied but unless at least a minimum was done to ensure that St Petersburg and Moscow remained supplied with food chaos would ensue irrespective of any success on the frontlines.
    The Japanese were supplying more than just mortars to the Russians, they had also agreed to supply several hundred thousand rifles from their both their own stocks and new manufacturing and had also accepted a Russian order for 50000 maxim guns as well as additional artillery pieces. The British had agreed to guarantee the Russian bonds that were being used for the payments to the Japanese Empire for the weapons.
    It was hoped in Japan that supporting the Russian efforts directly would gain Japan improved access to Russian raw materials to support their own rapid industrialisation. The Japanese Government were surprised at the success of the Russian Army thus far. Spurred by this they took the view that more direct support to their British Allies may be needed, to ensure that a victorious Russia did not challenge their own ambitions in China or the Pacific more generally. Likewise they were providing more support on naval matters, the squadron in pursuit of the Germans was being seen as concrete support for the British Empire and was well regarded by the normally sceptical populations of both New Zealand and Australia.
    The Japanese Military attaché to the Russian Empire had visited the siege lines several times and his reports back to Tokyo were testimony to the success of Russian arms and had led directly to the supply of the Mortars along with the deployment of several advisors who would supervise the installation of the guns and their operation.
    The Russian air force was also taking part in the siege, they were overflying the city daily, both for reconnaissance purposes and also to drop propaganda leaflets which whilst widely discounted by most were all being put to some use at least. Boredom and worry were the main allies of the Tsar in the siege of Konigsberg but as it ground on hunger would soon take first place.
    A Cavalry Patrol
  • 1st October 1914, Somewhere in Belgium.

    2nd Lt The Honourable Percival Sykes-Fairburn was leading a patrol from the 3rd King’s Own Hussars, the patrol consisted of a half troop from A Squadron. Before leading the patrol the Squadron commander had briefed Lt Sykes-Fairburn well, “Cornet, you are to take the half troop forward scouting from our front line here at Herne towards Ter Linden, there is a Royal Castle there.” The Squadron commander paused and pointed the village and the castle out on the map which had been recently issued by the Ordnance Survey. “Assuming the Hun are not present in any strength you are to move up to Heikrus. If you encounter any German troops send back word immediately, don’t get bogged down skirmishing, push through any weakly held positions but don’t try anything too heroic.”
    The patrol had gone very well in the beginning, the patrol had mounted up and had moved rapidly forward from British positions near Herne. They had not seen any sign of the Germans at the village, there had been some evidence that the Castle had been in use, it was littered with German ration tins and bottles but there were no soldiers present, there were no documents left behind but a large pile of ashes in the courtyard indicated they had been burnt as the Germans withdrew. The German troops had vandalised the building, ruining much of the artwork and destroying the stained-glass windows in chapel.
    The Lt had detached a party of 4 men under a lance corporal to take word back to squadron HQ before resuming the patrol. He had expected to reach the hold point for the patrol about 15 minutes ago but they were still proceeding through open country with little but scattered farm houses. In the back of his mind the worry was that he had taken a wrong turn, the patrol came to a T intersection, they had still not sighted any Germans at all.
    Trudging past was a weary looking farmer, he was stopped by the patrol, not having any Dutch the Lt addressed him in French, asking if he had seen any Germans. The farmers only response was a laconic grunt followed by his spitting on the ground and then pointing back down the road from which he had come. Convinced now that he had taken a wrong turn, he could see Heikrus, half a mile the other way up the road from the direction in which the farmer had pointed. Between the officers poor French, better suited to holidays in nice that tactical intelligence gathering and the farmers desire to get away from the foreign soldiers the distance to the enemy was not communicated, released on his way the farmer waddled of sparing not a backwards glance.
    The Lt was in a quandary, he was not where he was meant to be but, he was also in a position, to probe closer to Brussels, he would take his patrol now down to 12 men onwards in the direction the farmer had indicated. Before he moved off, he ordered another pair of men to return to the Squadron with his position and his intentions. As the patrol continued down the road the Lt sat atop his horse pondering his decision. He did hope that his action would not be seen as “heroic” in hindsight, he feared his squadron commanders’ displeasure to say nothing of the colonel, but his task was reconnaissance and that was what he would do, in the finest traditions of the King's Own.
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    Reservists Vs Professionals
  • 1St October 1914, Trop Belgium.

    The gefreiter was a 27-year-old, from Schleswig, he had been called up from his normal job as a reporter with the local Danish language newspaper on the declaration of war. He didn’t really want to be in Belgium, he didn’t want to be German, he certainly didn’t want to be in the army. He was in his heart a Dane, more than once he heard his grandmother bemoaning the annexation and his family still exclusively spoke Danish at home. Many family members had moved to Denmark, but his family had a cannery and could not afford to sell up to go into exile.
    He was a reluctant conscript and the progress of the war had worsened his morale, the rest of his squad were little better, like him they were all reservists, and all known to one another, there were 3 Danes and 3 Germans in the squad as well as himself. They were currently occupying a farmhouse about 800m in front of the village of Trop, the village was being held by the rest of the platoon as part of the outer screen for Brussels. Their orders were to act as a trip wire and send back word if Entente patrols were seen.
    The gefreiter was sharing the noon watch with another Dane, they were speaking in Danish together, something which was forbidden by standing order, but which was common enough in regiment to pass without comment, certainly as the war news grew worse the use of Danish had risen. The rest of the squad was downstairs in the farmhouse kitchen, cooking lunch and making a nuisance of themselves with the elderly farmer’s daughter and his housemaid. Neither woman seemed in the least bit interested in the German soldiers and the fates of those Belgian girls who had been seen as being overly keen to collaborate was grisly, when their fellow Belgians had a chance to remonstrate with them.
    The discussion had already covered the futility of the war, the defeat and capture of First Army, the worsening situation in Brussels itself and the shortage of food. The other Dane had just declared that a stint in a British Prisoner of war camp might well be a good thing. The gefreiter silenced him saying “that sort of talk will get you shot so keep your stupid mouth shut,” a frosty silence descended, made worse but the ribald German filtering up the stairs.
    The silence and bad feeling endured for another 30 minutes till the watch ended, then the two men were relieved by another pair of soldiers from the squad. The danes heading downstairs to see what remained of the lunchtime rations.
    As the Gefreiter had just sat down to a bowl of soup and the heel of a loaf of black bread, all hell broke loose upstairs, both sentry’s began shouting “Cavalry, Tommies” and then the shooting began. Dropping his soup the Gefreiter rushed up the stairs, the rest of the squad on his heels. Looking out the window, he could see a British Cavalry patrol disappearing behind a farm building some 400m from the farmhouse his men occupied. None of the shots his men had fired seemed to have hit anything, unsurprising considering the state of their rifle practice, with limited ammunition and the endless occupation and pacification patrols his men had been conducting. The calm lasted only a few minutes, then British rifle fire lashed back at his position, the glass in the window shattered and bullets crunched into the walls of the farmhouse.
    Downstairs the maid was screaming, with both the farmer and his daughter shouting at her as they tried to push her down the stairs into the cellar. The gefreiter remembered his orders, detailing two men to return to the village with word of the British patrol, for it could only be a patrol. The firing from the British died down and an uneasy stalemate developed, none of his men had been wounded yet beyond some slight cuts from broken glass. The British troops were slightly higher up the slope than his position, the house with its two stories could see some distance but it was uphill to the British positions.
    The firing resumed again but this time it was closer than before, the British had used dead ground to approach to within 200m of the farmhouse, the fire was coming from two directions now, pinning them in position. The squad was shooting back but with little effect, their position was secure the walls thick but the British bullets were cracking round the men’s heads now. Already there was a reluctance to draw fire or expose themselves, the squad was starting to be supressed. Again fire lashed into the building from another direction, the British Cavalry were using effective fire and movement tactics to keep his men pinned down and distracted whilst they moved closer to his position. He didn’t think it was more than a dozen men, but they had his own squad heavily outnumbered. Nobody had suffered any casualties yet on either side, but that was more by luck than anything else. The two runners sent back to the platoon had both been ethnic Germans, which left the Gefreiter with 3 Danes including the loudmouth and one German. The firing intensified again and this time a bullet found a target, one of his men was struck in the upper arm, the man began whimpering, obviously severely hurt. At this point the loudmouth snapped saying “I won’t die for the Kaiser, I am no damned German” he stood throwing his rifle out the window.
    Unfortunately for him as he stood a British cavalry trooper had him neatly in his sights. The trooper who had once been a sergeant until reduced to the ranks for peculation, namely the misappropriation of three cases of brandy from the officers mess, was also an excellent shot. The trooper in question had suffered under Boer musketry in South Africa, and when the cavalry had been reequipped with the SMLE, he had been as keen as any man to hone his own skills. The squadron commander who had merely reduced him to the ranks for his crime rather than taking any more severe steps had recognised the value of a crack shot and the trooper was entirely unmoved as he took up the trigger pull on his rifle.
    The rifle cracked and 37 grains of cordite deflagrated, the pressure inside the breach of the rifle rapidly increased and 174 grain bullet was accelerated down the barrel spinning within the rifling. The bullet had a mere 170 yards to travel and it did that in a fifth of a second, retaining the vast majority of it 2440 feet per second velocity. The bullet struck the loudmouth unironically in the mouth, blowing a hole through the back of his head. He dropped like a marionette with its strings cut, his blood and brains spraying like a bloody douche over the gefreiter.
    General firing resumed with British rifles cracking with a metronomic cadence as a four man team rushed the farm house, the Germans were pinned unable to fire back, reduced to huddling behind the walls. The farmhouse door crashed open and more rifle fire crashed about the building, bullets were coming up through the floor now, the firing ceased and the shouts of “aufgeben and hande hoch” could be heard. Throwing down his own rifle, the gefreiter led his men down the stairs and into captivity.
    Percy Girouard
  • 1st October 1914, Calais

    Lt General Percy Girouard was meeting with his principal subordinates, he had moved quickly once established in his position as transport commander for the BEF to bring in men from industry to fill many of the key roles, armed with Churchills imprimatur and his reputation from South Africa he had met little resistance. He had been enthusiastically supported by both the local commanders of the Army Service Corps and the Army Ordnance Corps. They recognised the need to massively expand their own capacities and having a man with Girouard’s reputation and clout at the top was going to make their own tasks easier. Their acceptance was further aided by the inherent pragmatism and less hidebound nature of the both the Army Service Corps and the Army Ordnance Corps.
    Also attending was the officer commanding the Royal Engineers Line of Communications units, he was responsible for Military Railways, Canals and Road Construction. The Royal Engineers had already deployed the 5 Railway construction companies available to France and Belgium with a further 5 companies being formed from experienced civilians, further expansion was anticipated but was being held off until required to minimise the impact on the Railways in Britain. Lt General Percy Girouard had also proposed the employment of several thousand experienced workers from the Raj. They would be used in part to support the French and Belgian railways; the war having called so many railway men to the colours in both countries. Railway works in Britain were considered essential to the war effort and were being restricted from recruitment by the armed forces save into specific matched roles.
    The meeting had commenced with a discussion of the three major challenges they faced, which had been caused by the destruction of the core of the Belgian Railway network. The damage had been done first by the Belgians as they retreated and then compounded by the Germans as they withdrew. The first challenge the repair of the damaged railway and canal network to enable future offensives. The second the logistical requirements of the BEF and the third was the feeding of the Belgians civilians in the areas formerly occupied by the Germans.
    The Entente was aided in part by having held the Channel coast, the ports were all intact. The railway which paralleled the coast had been damaged during the attack on Oostende but that damage had already been fully repaired. This railway was already being heavily used to move food and supplies landed at the port to dumps from which it could be moved inland. Three of the railway construction companies had each been assigned a sector and were working to restore the railway lines moving inland from the Belgian coastline. As well as the British engineers, each railway company was provided with a battalion strength unit of Belgian Labourers recruited under the Levee en Masse regulations, these impressed civilians were being used for pick and shovel work as they laboured to relay track and repair damaged bridges and culverts. The work was advancing but slowly, with scant miles repaired thus far. The other two companies were working on the equally important line that ran from Mons to Ghent and which had been on the front line of the British destruction of the German First Army. This line was extensively damaged, but its restoration was vital to enable the movement and supply of British forces facing the Brussels garrison.
    The logistical challenge of supplying the means of war to the BEF was being met through several mechanisms, firstly ruthless control had been implemented on the railway networks within Britain itself, all unnecessary travel was being discouraged, all freight movements were being co-ordinated with rival railway networks being compelled to facilitate the most efficient routings. The railway system was being somewhat rationalised to ensure efficient use of resources. This rationalisation was being driven by the company’s themselves to some extent, as they recognised that if they didn’t do it themselves, they would have Whitehall do it to them and that would end nowhere good.
    At this stage off the war the army was still drawing on peacetime stocks thought these were dwindling rapidly. Industry was ramping up explosively aided by the purchasing commissions work, however everyone could see that baring the end of hostilities in early 1915 there would come a time when the supply cupboard would be bare. The Army had called up all of the civilian vans, buses and trucks it had funded prior to the war, but this was a mere tithe of what was required and purchasing officers were seeking vehicles up and down the British Isles. As with munitions, industry was growing to meet the demand, but it was likely that there would be a shortage within 6-9 months as existing units wasted.
    Horses were likewise being called up and they were continuing to flood across the Irish Sea and the channel into the Army, with the horses the requirement for fodder was also growing at a pace. Some of these wants would be met from the United State of America, particularly in fodder and vehicles. But as much as possible the government’s policy was to supply the BEF from within the Empires resources, orders had been placed in Australia for Beef and Horses, in Canada for timber and wheat and in New Zealand for mutton and wool.
    For Lt General Percy Girouard, his responsibility was to move this flood tide of material forward through a wasteland of ruined roads, burnt and mangled railways and blown bridges. He was using a mixture of Army Service Corps and Army Ordnance Corps vehicles and horse drawn transport aided by every Belgian civilian truck and cart he could access. The steady advance of the railways was helping as the railheads moved forward, the distance’s supplies had to move to get to the frontline reduced. The problem was that the front line wasn’t static, it kept moving forward and every mile the BEF moved closer to Germany was another mile of damaged country that had to be traversed. For the Germans every mile they fell back was a mile closer to their own farms and factories reducing their own logistical problems.
    The challenge of feeding the Belgian Civilians was being met although not without some hardship, food was crossing the channel from British stocks as well as the normal supplies sourced from the United States and the Netherlands. The Netherlands was supplying food mainly around Antwerp and along its borders. The Americans were supplying food to the remainder of Belgium, with some limited shipments via the Netherlands to areas under German occupation. Although the Entente was keen to minimise this supply as it weakened the blockade of German which was being enforced with as much rigour as the Royal Navy could muster.
    The meeting continued for hours as the problems were examined and solutions proposed, debated and accepted. Percy Girouard was satisfied in the end that his command was doing all that could be done to ensure that the war could continue to be fully prosecuted, but despite the victories seen already German was a powerful foe and her destruction and defeat would not come swiftly.
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