by Tom B
------outside Djibouti 0150 hrs (GMT) Thursday, March 18, 1915
While their officers were French, very few of enlisted men huddled in the trenches were not. A little more than half were Somalis, most of the rest belonged to the Foreign Legion. A week ago the Abyssinian invasion had overwhelmed the small French border guard at Dikhill. Half of the Djibouti garrison were rushed to Dikhill on a forced march. Before they got to Dikhill the relief column encountered the Abyssinians. In their initial firefight Sunday the outnumbered French column still managed to inflict three times as many casualties as they suffered. But when they discovered the true size of the invasion force they knew they would be eventually overwhelmed and beat a hasty but orderly retreat back to Djibouti
.The rest of the garrison had already begun to erect defenses including a trench line. They had only 3 old Maxim machine guns and a pair of obsolete 9 cm field guns without a recoil system. The trench line was very primordial and they lacked barbed wire and had only a single weak searchlight. Out in gulf two gunboats were anchored—one French and the other British.
Early yesterday morning small force of Oromo cavalry arrived to perform a quick reconnaissance. It was decided that they were not worth expending artillery shells. Just before dusk some Abyssinian infantry arrived and this time the French guns were allowed to fire a few rounds which send the Abyssinians scurrying. .
Even though this was the cooler season the night was still hot. The air was not as arid as it was further inland. A refreshing breeze would occasionally waft in from the gulf to them for a few minutes then stop. Some of the men felt so uncomfortable inside the narrow trench so they sat on top of the back edge of the trench. Some men tried to sleep despite the heat. Others tried to relieve their anxiety by smoking and talking. Rumors were circulating. A popular one doubled the strength of the Abyssinians. Three officers were discussing the arrival of reinforcements. The French were trying to bring in the small detachments in outlying areas. That was taking a while. More significantly the British were sending 2 companies of the King’s Africa Rifles Regiment from Zeila. These were expected to arrive in the afternoon. . The officers thought the need to secure an adequate supply of drinkable water in the parched countryside would prevent the Abyssinians from attacking for at least two more days.
Of the 11,000 Abyssinian infantry men, more than a quarter lacked a working rifle. Of these about 2,100 men were armed according to the old ways with spears and shields. At Adowa Ras Mikael had learned the hard way how ineffective such soldiers were in an open battle against a foe armed with modern rifles. So far he had tried to use the spearmen as little as possible.
At this time most of spearmen were crawling on their hands and knees towards the French trenches. The sand had lost its daytime heat. They had gotten fairly close to the trench when the spotlight froze on one of them. Yells went up on both sides. The French defenders began to open fire while the Abyssinians rose to their feet and charged. Even in the dark moonless night rifles and machine guns cut down nearly half the attackers. The rest though reached the French trench resulting in fierce melees in several places. The rifle with a bayonet is just another spear and the Abyssinians had been very well trained in the use of theirs.
Another wave of Oromo approached in small groups—these were armed with rifles. The French artillery finally entered the battle. They had registered during the day at a fairly long range and their shells landed behind the first wave of riflemen and served merely to disrupt the formation of the next wave. Like most night battles this one degenerated into confusion. Some of the French trained Somalis ran away—just a handful at first but then others. After a while even a few of the Legionnaires panicked. An attempt by the officers to rally their forces and eject the enemy failed. Before the first rosy hints of dawn the French had abandoned their trench and were withdrawing into Camp Lemonier and the city They managed to save their 3 Maxim’s. .
The Abyssinians were even more confused. They did not realize the defenders had retreated until well after first light. In the meantime several of their men mistakenly shot their comrades. Several of the enemy who were already dead were shot, hacked and stabbed, often intentionally. So were most of those who tried to surrender though a few were spared an taken prisoner.. When the sun rose the Abyssinians were still milling about the trenches Shells from the two field guns started exploding in their midst..
"Everyone! Get into the trench!" shouted Ras Mikael . Some of his men did dive into the captured trench while others fled. The trench did provide adequate protection, even when the two gunboats joined in the shelling an hour later.. But Abyssinians were more tightly packed than the French forces had been making it very uncomfortable in the midday sun.
In the next two hours, Ras Mikael was able to get casualty figures—382 of his soldiers were dead and another 807 were wounded. He did not have a very good figure for the number missing as yet but it did appear that it would be under 100. Some of the badly wounded would die in the next two days. In return his men had counted 122 enemy corpses and they had taken 19 prisoners. In addition to the trench they had captured 131 working rifles, some ammunition and several much appreciated barrels of drinking water.
Ras Mikael realized this had been something of a pyrrhic victory. He had hoped to take Djibouti quickly. He had with the aid of some local friends gained quick control of an marginally adequate quantity of fresh water—the most precious of supplies in this parched country. This allowed him to make an attack in force on Djibuoti more rapidly than the French defenders had anticipated. He succeeded in capturing the outer defenses but had done so at great cost. Soon his scouts reported several hundred enemy reinforcements marching towards Djibouti from the east. He knew that the upcoming fight in the city itself was nearly certain to be very difficult.
Ras Mikael had wanted to complete the capture of Djibouti quickly. He needed to return to Addis Ababa before Iyasu’s enemies made a serious counterattack. His son was Emperor and deserved respect, but the prospect of him trying to personally lead the Oromo forces at the capital filled him with dread. Ras Mikael would need to leave before the fall of Djibouti. .
------Viceregal Lodge Dublin 0850 hrs
Lord Curzon summoned Nathan, Friend and Chamberlain to report on the current situation. The Viceroy turned to the last, the head of Royal Irish Constabulary and asked, "I was given some indication of disturbances yesterday, most being illegal attempts to parade despite the ban on public assembly, but little in the way of details How serious were they?"
"There were in all 34 incidents reported of attempts to violate the ban, Your Lordship. In a few instances the crowd dispersed peacefully when confronted by constables, but in most it was necessary to make arrests."
"Did I hear you correctly? Did you say 34 incidents? I did expect a few incidents but not so damn many"
"You heard correctly, Viceroy, there were indeed a total of 34 incidents."
."Oh, dear. And how many people have been arrested?"
"The number I have been provided, My Lord, is 463. When arrests were necessary my men usually tried to arrest only a few people that were acting as the leaders. For instance here in Dublin we ended up arresting only 5 people, which was surprising as I expected the most trouble here. But in Cork a riot broke out when the constables ordered the marchers to disperse and we ended up arresting 93 people for various offences."
"If the disturbance was that severe, I should have been notified immediately. I am hereby ordering a curfew for Cork as well starting tonight," commanded Curzon.
"As you wish, My Lord."
"What happened in Cork was disturbing but I am much more worried about what I hearing about what happened in Belfast," said Nathan," It sounds like it was the constables that rioted there, charging the marchers and beating them severely with their batons without first ordering them to disperse. One of the marchers badly beaten was a pregnant woman, who ended up losing her baby afterwards."
"There are conflicting reports about what happened in Belfast, sir. The matter is being investigated thoroughly," answered Chamberlain.
"Putting on a St. Patrick’s Day parade in Belfast under these circumstances was a blatant act of provocation by the Catholics, if you ask me, I also heard tell that this pregnant woman wasn’t showing," commented General Friend.
"That may be some truth to that General, but it is absolutely no excuse for the constables to behave in such a blatantly unprofessional manner. If these allegations are substantiated I expect—let me rephrase that—I demand that these men to be properly disciplined. The people who enforce laws are not exempt from obeying them," declared a disgusted Curzon.
"I must emphasize how strongly I concur with that policy. I have also heard a rumor that Yeats was arrested in Sligo."
"That is true, Under Secretary. He participated in an illegal parade and was extremely defiant. The constables really had no alternative. I don’t know if you are aware that the Countess Markiewiscz comes from Sligo and is a good friend of the poet. As he was being arrested he announced that he intended his defiance to be a public act of support for her."
"I keep forgetting how stubborn the Irish can be," said Curzon, "Birrell has me notified that he will be returning to work Monday. He suggests that we should lift the curfew in Dublin tomorrow night. That is too soon. If the situation is under control I will consider lifting it Sunday."
------Istanbul 1040 hrs
On occasion Enver Pasha actually liked Generalfeldmarschal von der Goltz. More often he did not but even then he usually tried tp pretend that he did as an act of professional courtesy. Today he wasn’t even pretending.
"One more division for Mesopotamia! ‘Just one more division, Pasha’ As if I had a hundred divisions!," Enver yelled at him.
De Goltz kept his own emotions in check. Cautiously he answered, "I know very well the number of divisions at your command, Pasha."
"When you requested 3 divisions to assist the Bulgarians, did I not comply?"
"That is most true, Pasha. We are—"
"---and I recall at the time that this would induce Tsar Ferdinand to enter into alliance. I make that commitment and still the fat fool delays signing a treaty."
"He has not broken off talks, either. I think he will sign soon."
"Harrumph. That remains to be seen. But let me continue. The young Abyssinian ruler, this Iyasu, demonstrates that unlike Ferdinand he has testicles. You ask me to send forces across the Bab al Mandab, even though the Entente warships in the area make the transit that very perilous. And again I complied with what you ask. Is that not so?"
"Yes, Pasha, it is so."
"And when you asked that I use our corps in Yemen to exert pressure on the British base at Aden. Did I not comply with that request as well?"
"So it cannot be said Enver Pasha ignores his German allies, now can it?"
"You have most considerate to our needs, Pasha."
"So today you come to me and ask me for ‘just one more division.’ Colmar, Colmar, what is wrong with your eyes? How is that you constantly fail to see the most obvious of facts—that the decisive theatre in this conflict is the Caucuses?"
The Baron thought about possible replies to that question. None of them seemed very good so he remained quiet. Enver gazed at him and shook his head disapprovingly. The Baron came to the conclusion that his cause was useless—at least for today. Perhaps another day he might revisit the topic when the Pasha was in a better mood. "My suggestions were made as an officer trying to fulfill his duty. What you have done is greatly appreciated. If your judgment is that my last suggestion is not acceptable, then I will take my leave."
The feldmarschal turned and started to leave the room. "Where are you going? I have not dismissed you," spoke Envers in an icy tone.
Der Goltz turned around. At first he expected Enver wanted to berate him further. But then he noticed a strange look in the Pasha’s eyes. "I meant no disrespect, Pasha."
Enver drummed his fingers on his desk. He bit his lip and frowned, "I will send this additional division to Mesopotamia, but you must do something for me in return."
Der Goltz was optimistic but wary, "I am here to serve, Great Pasha. What is it that you require of me?"
"I want you to go with this division and take command of the forces in Mesopotamia."
------10 Downing Street 1130 hrs
The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Sir Edward Grey was briefing the War Committee on the Abyssinian situation, "Before he was incapacitated Emperor Menelik declared his grandson, Lij Iyasu to be his successor. The legitimacy of this appointment was not openly disputed. When Menelik died the government was for a while reluctant to publicly acknowledge it. Instead they quietly bestowed some privileges and limited authority on Iyasu but refused to enthrone him. Iyasu’s father, Ras Mikael, is a powerful leader amongst the overwhelmingly Moslem Oromo people of eastern Abyssinia. Ras Mikael converted to the Coptic Christian Church but the hierarchy of the Coptic Church doubts the sincerity of his conversion and suspects that Iyasu is actually a Muslim. This would bar him from becoming Emperor. It is akin to the situation with our own monarch and the Church of England."
"Has this Iyasu publicly said or done anything that would prove he is a Muslim?" asked Carson.
"That apparently depends a great deal on who you talk to, First Lord. If I might presume to speak like a barrister the evidence is far –very far--from being conclusive—at least as far as I can tell from our staff in Abyssinia."
"Our embassy remains in Addis Ababa?"
"Yes, prime minister. There are however some agents working in a less official capacity in the provincial capitals."
"So Iyasu has at least some legitimacy in his claim to the Abyssinian throne?" asked Lloyd-George.
"I regard that as an accurate statement, Chancellor." .
"But a stronger argument is that Iyasu’s coup d’etat creates a presumption against his legitimacy."
"We are not in chambers, Edward," said Bonar Law in a mildly chiding tone, "the situation has clearly reached the point where it has become a question of power. I assume the Christian nobility there now regards Iyasu as their mortal enemy. Have they mobilized their strength to march on the capital? Are they strong enough to overthrow him?
"The entire country is being mobilized for civil war. But the Christian factions are having difficulty uniting. Some favor an aunt of Iyasu named Zauditu. She is regarded as something of a living saint by many Orthodox clerics. Iyasu saw her as a rival and exiled her to the countryside. Despite that there are reports she is apparently reluctant to move against Iyasu because he was chosen by Menelik. There is some unconfirmed intelligence that she may be trying to negotiate with Iyasu. The other contender is a cousin of hers, Ras Tafari. He is young—early 20’s I’ve been told—but a strong leader and is very eager to move against Iyasu."
"Will he have enough men to defeat Iyasu’s forces by himself? Or does he need Zauditu’s troops as well?"
"Lord Kitchener will be able to answer than better than I can. My military advisers say that the answer to that question depends on how much of Oromo force was sent into Somaliland and how much is being retained near Addis Ababa. It should also be noted that there are Christian nobles who are hesitating in opposing Iyasu because they think have a misconception that Germany now rules the waves and Britain is dropping out of the war."
"What do I have to do eradicate that vile rumor?" thundered Bonar Law, "I have given speech after speech reiterating in the strongest possible terms our national resolve to fight on to victory, yet again and again I hear these insidious rumors that we don’t really mean what we say and are secretly negotiating with the Huns."
Grey pursed his lips and after a few minutes replied with the utmost delicacy, "Ahem. It is frustrating, but governments have on occasion been known to pursue in secret policies quite different from what they publicly proclaim."
"Just what are you trying say—"grumbled Bonar Law.
Fearing that Grey’s latest comment might further inflame the prime minister, Lloyd-George spoke up, "Concentrating on what course of action we should be pursue, it appears our options fall into four broad categories. First, we might back Zauditu’ s attempts at negotiating as long as we make it clear that Abyssinia must immediately withdraw from Somaliland and retract its declaration of war on France. Once the Great War is over we can then take another closer look at the Abyssinian situation. Our second option would be to back Ras Tafari and pressure Zauditu to place her forces under his command, and together take on Iyasu. Our third option would be to encourage Ras Tafari to attack immediately without waiting for Zauditu to fall in line on the assumption that Iyasu has left the capital weakly defended while he tries to overpower the French at Djibouti. What these plans all have in common is that the burden of the initial response falls on the Christian Abyssinians and we do little more than persuade their leaders and reinforce our own colony."
"And so your fourth option is going to be to take the initiative ourselves and quickly mount a strong military response?" guessed Carson.
"You read my mind, Edward. Our policy has been that Africa, with the Boer revolt being a borderline exception, is at best a secondary theater. So when I first heard about the Abyssinian attack I thought it would be best to merely pressure them to resolve the situation themselves, and not let it distract us from more important operations such as the Albanian expedition."
"That was my thinking as well," said Law.
"But now I begin to grow worried. The possibility exists that Iyasu will ignore Zauditu’s entreaties and succeed in taking Djibouti before the Christians unite behind Ras Tafari."
"That would be unpleasant, but Djibouti is not to the war," pondered Law.
Grey decided to get back into the conversation, "It is not critical per se, Prime Minister. But in terms of prestige it would be sending a very dangerous signal. The King of Siam and the Sultan of Darfur might see this as a sign that the British and French colonies are ripe for the taking. The declaration of jihad may now be taken more seriously. The rebel factions in Persia—"
"--Yes, yes, I get the bloody picture," Bonar Law grumbled, "I still see no reason to come to a conclusion today on this one. This is the sort of thing my predecessor would’ve had committees and reports arguing endlessly about for months without reaching a conclusion. Lord Kitchener will present us with military options Saturday. I suggest we all give them serious consideration."
------off Gravelines 1215 hrs
In the Battle of North Foreland, Dover Patrol had suffered serious losses. With the disaster sustained by the Grand Fleet at Utsire, it patrolled vigorously as the first line of defense, but their only reinforcement were a half dozen ‘B’ and ‘C’ class destroyers pulled from Tyne and Humber Patrol. It continued to suffer a string of niggling losses. Two days ago a German seaplane destroyed a searchlight on the HMS Myrmidion with a bomb. Today the UB.2 torpedoed HMS Gipsy which sank in 15 minutes.
------Mount Kilimanjaro 1405 hrs
It was a good day for two German officers to enjoy the view from their outpost on the mountain. One of them brought his binoculars up. After a minute his subordinate, Major Kraut asked "What do you make of those wireless messages, Oberst?"
Paul Emil von Lettow Vorbeck momentarily lowered his binoculars, and answered, "Not sure."
"If it is true that Abyssinia has become our ally it could change the strategic situation dramatically."
Lettow Vorbeck was trying to resolve his own thoughts on the matter. In January he had won a battle a Jassin but expended a great deal of ammunition in the process. Since then his strategy was to avoid a pitched battle and concentrate on hit and run raids. If it was to be a long war then he had to be miserly when it came to ammunition.
But was a long war that likely? There was some news that led him to think it might not. For one thing there was that naval battle off Norway which finally made its way to him at the beginning of March. British control of the seas had taken a heavy blow. Could it knock Britain out of the war? And if the British persisted was there now at least be some chance that his forces might eventually receive supplies? Now there comes news of Abyssinia joining the Central Powers and attacking French Somaliland.
Swinging his head he took a good look at the enemy lands. He lowered his binoculars and with a trace of smile said, "We have some agents on the other side. Let me hear some interesting news in the next two weeks"
------Obock 0455 hrs Friday March 19, 1915
In the faint twilight Col Rabadi watched as the men stepped off the trawlers out of Mocha. They were another rifle company and battalion HQ staff from his 1st battalion. A coaster carrying his 3rd battalion had successfully slipped through the Entente patrols. The condition aboard that small freighter had been extremely cramped, the situation aggravated by the fact that none of the soldiers had been allowed topside because it would look suspicious to an enemy patrol boat. When they had arrived at Obock many of the men from 3rd battalion were sick from inadequate ventilation during the trip.
Col. Rabadi had other problems as well. The Afars had not provided him with as many draught horses as he required. They promised him more eventually but were extremely evasive about when that would be. He had sent the field artillery battery on ahead with what animals he had. It would be tricky enough getting the guns through the narrow mountain roads near Tadjoura. The Afars were familiar with how to move wagons and promised to guide the artillery so maybe they would make it through. The Germans had designed the 77mm gun to be easy to move in difficult terrain.
There was something about the current convoy that now worried the colonel. He spotted the battalion commander and asked, "Why are there only 5 boats."
"These boats were all severely overloaded, Colonel. One of them capsized soon after we left Mocha."
The next attempt to using fishing boats out of Mocha was to be in two days. Rabadi had his signal unit send a wireless message to Yemen asking that they merely send some supplies aboard the trawler and not another rifle company.
------10 Downing Street 0915 hrs Friday March 19, 1915
The Attorney General, Frederick Edwin Smith was briefing the War Committee on the latest developments in the failed Irish rebellion.
"You said over the telephone, Frederick, that there has been a stunning development in the case against Connolly. What has happened?" asked Bonar Law.
"Prime Minster, we now have a signed confession from Mr. Connolly. He admits to planning an insurrection."
"Fantastic! Good work by all concerned! I look forward to hanging the rotten bastard."
"Ahem, this confession poses some problems, Andrew."
"As I said Mr. Connolly’s signed a confession of his own composition admitting that he planned to start an armed rebellion in Dublin. But in this statement he repeatedly denies that anyone else knew anything of his plans at the time of his arrest--not Mr. Mallin and definitely not the Countess Markieviscz."
"So if we admit this statement into evidence against Mr. Connolly it could be used against us when we prosecute Mr. Mallin and the Countess."
"Ah, it appears he wants to be martyr but wishes to protect his accomplices."
"So far the evidence we have against Mr. Mallin is rather thin. Certainly not enough to send him to the gallows. The evidence against the Countess Markieviscz is still weaker."
"And I would imagine that some of our evidence is coming from well placed informants within the Irish Volunteers?" Carson speculated.
"Precisely! And if we have those men testify their future usefulness will evaporate."
"Surely we can find some charge that we can make stick against Mallin and the Countess," remarked Bonar Law.
"It might end up being a very minor change. They could end up serving only a few months in prison," noted the Attorney General.
"In that case maybe we should be considering deportation as an alternative?" wondered Carson.
"I agree strongly with that sentiment as far as Maillin is concerned," said the prime minister, "as he was Connolly’s right hand man he definitely constitutes a menace to public safety. I am much less worried about this silly goose of a Countess. After all, she is only a daft woman. What harm could she possibly do?"
------Hargeisa (British Somaliland) 1305 hrs
The Mullah got off his ass. He let one of his subordinated tend to the beast. He then marched up to the creat of the hill. "Here they come now," he was told as he was handed an old but still effective telescope. What he saw was men mounted on camels. It was his old nemesis, the British Camel Corps. This time he had a new trick for them.
"Shall we signal the guns to commence firing?" he was asked.
The Mullah waited for the camels to come a little bit closer, then ordered, "Do so now!"
The Abyssinians had brought a battery of 4 Russian made mountain guns with them. They had been used without much effectiveness at Adowa. One of the mountain guns had broken an axle on its limber coming through the mountains. The other 3 now began to fire. Since then the Abyssinians had gotten a little more skillful in their use but their gunnery still left a lot to be desired. Only one of the guns was coming close to the targets. It did bring down 2 camels and their riders. The rest of the column dispersed.
As the other two guns tried to converge on the targets the enemy force dispersed. While they were in disarray the Mullah sent in the Oromo cavalry along with some of his own horsemen. The mountain guns—which only had a limited amount of ammunition—ceased firing. The camel corps was unable to properly dismount and instead it retreated to the north as best it could after suffering moderate losses.
The town of Hargeisa controlled a mountain pass along a key road running from Berbera into Abyssinia. For the time being itremained in the hands of the Mullah of his Abyssinian allies..
------AustroHungarian Fourth Army HQ 1745 hrs
General von François and Major Bauer were looking at a battery of Austrian 10.4 M14 field guns. "These are the first Austrian artillery pieces made from steel instead of bronze," noted the general.
Bauer edged closer to the general so only the general could hear what he said, "What an astounding development! What will the clever Austrians try next—breech loading perhaps?"
The general smiled only a little at Bauer’s sarcasm. In a voice meant to be heard by more than Bauer he answered, "Yes, this is a most impressive weapon. It is surprisingly light, has an impressive range and elevation and I’ve been told is capable of firing 4 rounds per minute. I have already authorized the purchase of a battery of these for Division Prague."
"More foreign made toys paid for with that treasure chest aboard Kronprinzessin Cecilie, general?"
François decided he would not let Bauer rile him. Good naturedly he answered pointing, "Why yes, and speaking of which I think I see some more over there."
He walked rapidly to a nearby section of the camp where a half dozen armored cars were parked. As they drew closer Bauer commented, "So, these are the AustroDaimler armored cars that so impress you."
"Yes, they are. We asked General Conrad to commit all he had available for Operation Whisper. I do hope more are coming. They were really an advanced concept when they were first developed in 1906. They have 4 wheel drive."
"Just like as those Tatra trucks you bought to act as tractors for the 15cm guns provided by the Navy? Is there any gold left aboard that poor ocean liner?"
"More than enough to buy 8 more of these for Operation—er, for another operation being planned. It is amazing how little interest this fine vehicle has engendered in Vienna or Berlin for that matter. Their plant is lying idle so with the Feldmarshal’s approval I placed an order."
Bauer wondered what operation the general was referring to. Clearly it was not Whisper—there was simply not enough time for the ordered cars to arrive. Bauer had heard a little bit at OKW about planning for an operation codenamed Tourniquet—the Balkan campaign involving German, Austro-Hungarian, Bulgarian and even some Ottoman divisions. It was still in limbo because Tsar Ferdinand had still not signed the treaty of alliance. Suddenly Bauer noticed some people approaching, "Look, general, here comes the Archduke again."
Archduke Josef Ferdinand, the commander of the Fourth Army walked over to François and Bauer accompanied by 3 officers. "General von François, I wish to introduce you to General of Cavalry Leopold Freiherr von Hauer. He will be commanding our Cavalry Corps. You told me it was vital to discuss cavalry tactics with him."
------45 Broadway, NYC 2305 hrs (GMT)
Count Johann von Bernstorff, the German ambassador, had arrived from Washington and was holding a meeting at the office of his commercial attaché, Dr Heinrich Albert. In addition to Dr. Albert, the military attaché Hauptmann Franz von Papen and the naval attaché Kapiten Karl Boy-ed were present.
"As you already know yesterday we received 2 messages from Berlin through the transatlantic radio station at Sayville. The first message ordered that all operations for disrupting the flow of war supplies from this country to the Entente be completely suspended until further notification."
"Does that include inciting strikes among the dockyard workers and other critical industries?" asked Papen.
"That is my interpretation. I would not worry about becoming bored with too much idle time, because the second wireless message orders us to proceed with certain other projects we had been instructed to prepare at the beginning of the month. Heinrich, were you able to contact Mr. Solomon Loeb today?"
"Yes, Ambassador, he recalls our previous conversations. He is still willing to authorize the loan. We need to deliver a document to his residence Sunday giving our guarantee to back the loan. Mr. Devoy must then stop by the bank Monday in the early afternoon to sign some necessary paperwork."
"Very good. Franz, you and Karl must contact Mr. Devoy tomorrow. Make sure that he understands the key details of the arrangement. Also remind him that President Wilson is not going to permit him to ship firearms."
"Understood, Your Excellency."
"About the steel helmets, were you able to contact the two manufacturers which had said they could produce them quickly?"
"Yes, one said he could complete 900 by 2 weeks for Monday and the other 800 but will require two more days. I will note for the record I regard the prices they will be charging for what they call a ‘rush order’ are outrageous. Furthermore they won’t be painted green."
POLICE RAMPAGE IN BELFAST
The royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) used St. Patrick’s Day as an opportunity to once again demonstrate their infamous brutality. A pack of them descended like WOLVES upon an innocent gathering of Catholics in Belfast trying to celebrate the traditional feast with a parade. Many of the Catholic were severely beaten and required hospitalization. The most heinous incident was when a pregnant woman, Caitlin McShane was savagely beaten and kicked in the stomach as she lay screaming on the ground. She ended up losing her infant.
------NY Journal American Saturday March 20, 1915
SOCIALISTS CONNECTED TO CORK RIOTS
Reporters for the Daily Mail have learned that the Royal Irish Constabulary is seriously investigating a suspected link between the bloody riots that happened in Cork Wednesday and the Irish Socialists who plotted a Dublin insurrection earlier in the week. This development casts doubt the widely reported assumption that the treacherous James Connolly was involved with a small group existing only in Dublin. The possibility that his plot was instead the vile fruit of what now appears to be a vast Socialist conspiracy must be taken seriously.
------Daily Mail Saturday March 20, 1915
------Djibouti 0050 hrs (GMT) Saturday March 20, 1915
What was left of the Foreign Legion company lay huddled behind barricades at Camp Lemonier. . There was a little more than 200 Somali soldiers with them. As far as they knew they were the only pocket of resistance left in Djibouti. Many of Somalis had surrendered. They had beaten off two assaults so far this night Hans had left Germany in his teens coming to America. He had not done well there and had in fact gotten in some trouble with the law, which inspired him to join the Legion. One of his American born friends, Gary had also joined the Legion as well. It had something to do with a woman. Like some of the other Germans, Austrians and Hungarians in the Foreign Legion, there was some suspicion about Hans’ loyalty when the current war started. Hans would not have liked to be fighting other Germans but serving France here in Africa did not bother him in the slightest.
Hans as usual talked a great deal, "The black savages just keep coming. We kill a great many but we are taking casualties with each attack. I sure hope that British relief expedition gets through, soon, eh?"
"If they don’t get through it does not look good. We are cut off from the well and we have only a limited stockpile of water. The days are very hot and we need a lot of water."
-----Ober Ost 0835 hrs
An enraged Ludendorff stormed in to see Hindenburg, "Feldmarschal, something dreadful has happened!"
:Not for the first time Hindenburg wondered if Ludendoff had contracted rabies, "Calm down, Erich, what could be so bad? Have the Russians finally attacked General von Below’s weak left flank?"
"No, no. It’s much worse than that. OKW has removed Eleventh Army from our command! They have placed it under the command of General Conrad!"
"What? Why would Feldmarschal von Moltke do that? And more importantly how can he? OKW does not have operational authority. Are you sure it is not General von Falkenhayn that has done this?"
"Moltke claims that OKW is authorized to coordinate with allies. What a load of bullshit!"
"Do we have a copy of the OKW Charter so we could see if this ‘coordination with allies’ clause is actually in there?"
"General Falkenhayn showed it to me once, Feldmarschal. I have only a general recollection of what was in there. Much of it seemed very vague and meaningless. He did not provide me with a copy. If he had I would have used it to wipe my ass."
"I will request the Military Cabinet provide us with a copy. Didn’t the Bundesrat revise it recently at the behest of the Kaiser."
"Yes, they did, feldmarshal. That is why they control the railroads and the airships now."
"Putting aside the question of how OKW justifies this amazing development, do we have any indication as to their purpose?"
"Their objective is to weaken our authority! I strongly suspect Falkenhayn is secretly backing them, general. I think he may have learned of Bethmann-Hollweg’s intercession with the Kaiser."
Hindenburg sighed, "I was thinking of military purposes, my friend. We both know Feldmarschal Moltke has a very low opinion of the Austrians, esp. General Conrad. So I find it curious that he would trust Conrad with an entire German Army."
"Oh, I forgot to mention that part of their arrangement is that General von Mackensen now commands an Army Group which also includes the Austrian First and Fourth Armies."
Hindenburg got up from his desk and slowly walked over a large map on the wall. After staring at the map for 2 minutes he tapped his lips and turned only his head to ask, "Does this development suggest that General Conrad hopes to make an attack in Poland? We know he must be unhappy with merely being on the defensive. Has he found an enemy weak spot?"
"Oh, it is very likely that he has found what he thinks is a weak sector and is preparing to attack. Whether it really is a weak spot is another matter. Eleventh Army has been reduced to only 6 infantry and a cavalry division so there is a serious limit to what assistance it can render."
"That is true. When does Max get back from Berlin? We should get his opinion on this situation."
"That’s another part of the problem, Feldmarschal. OKW has not given any indication of when he is returning. I am starting to worry that they mean to keep him permanently."
"Oh. That would not be good."
"You need to quickly bring a formal complaint about OKW to the Kaiser, Feldmarschal. First about Eleventh Army being put under Conrad, but also about the loss of Oberst Hoffman."
------HQ Austro-Hungarian Fourth Army 0940 hrs
"I need to get back to OKW," declared General von François, "A motorcar will be coming for me in a few minutes. Is there anything I need to clarify for you before I go, Max?"
Bauer shrugged, "I understand my role very well, general. I will stay here and not return to our Eleventh Army. I trust the German artillery officers to understand and follow the instructions I send them by telegram. The Austrians are another matter, entirely. I need to go everything with them face to face and then go over it again. And even then I do not trust them to get it right."
"It might help if you were a little less condescending."
Bauer frowned briefly, "You and I have a fundamental disagreement on this subject, general. The plan for Operation Whisper you and Oberst Hoffmann devised is impressive, but I go on the record now as saying that it expects too much from the Austrians. Even with the addition of XXXIX Reserve Corps from OKW Reserve I doubt that they accomplish what you want."
"We shall see. The question is not whether our ally has serious shortcomings. It is rather can these deficiencies be corrected? On the basis of my experience with Center Army I believe that they can be."
"Which explains this experiment you are performing with that division at Prague."
"Yes, it is fairly obvious isn’t it? Except it’s more than that. I intend Division Prague to be a testing ground for weapons and tactics that even us supercompetent Germans can learn from."
Bauer made no comment for a few seconds. Since they left OKW he had strongly mixed emotions towards the general. On the one hand he was greatly annoyed that he had been removed from Berlin making it much more difficult to indulge in political intrigue. He also knew that the general did not trust him and wanted to keep him from causing Operation Whisper to be stillborn. Yet in the last few days he experienced some enthusiasm for the challenge he was presented. François made it clear that if Operation Whisper was a success Bauer would receive due credit for the artillery fire plan. Unexpectedly Bauer found himself believing this, even though this entire Operation Whisper was proof of how incredibly devious this general could be. To Bauer’s way of thinking the deviousness was impressive. .
"General von Falkenhayn is required to supply OKW with sufficient officers. He does not like this fact but he has come to accept it. It is why he made me available. Now there is an officer that I am going to suggest who should be very useful in helping you with this experimental division, general. He is innovative without being silly. He has been in many a battle and experienced considerable success. He is still merely a Hauptmann though, so Falkenhayn should not complain too much about the transfer."
"I am definitely interested. Who is this officer?"
"He is with the Guard Schutzen Battalion in the Vosges.. His name is Willy Rohr."
------Vienna 2015 hrs
"Have you reached a conclusion about General Sarkotic’s letter?" Kaiser Franz Josef asked Erzherzog Karl.
"Yes, I have Your Majesty. The question he raises has two parts to my thinking. The first is what should be done? The second is when? Like the slain archduke, God rest his soul, I have leaned towards these reforms. When the war started, though I felt that these matters should be held in abeyance until afterwards. What the good general is saying is that the intervention of the Entente into Herzegovina means we no longer have the luxury of waiting."
A dark look momentarily passed over the elderly face of Kaiser Franz Josef at the reference to his late nephew... Even though Ferdinand was now dead, there still lingered in his soul some ire over his morganatic marriage. Some things are never completely forgiven no matter what.
"I will tell you something, Karl. I did not want this war. When I am no longer around, some people will say that I did. They will blame me. Even if we win the most glorious victory we could possibly imagine I do not want any credit. This war was a mistake."
Karl paused before replying, "Of course, Your Majesty. Everyone knows you did everything in your power to prevent it. When you are—uh, what I mean to say is if and when I sit on the throne, I will make sure no one forgets that."
Franz Josef smiled warmly but there was a look of great sadness in his rheumy eyes. "That is good, my boy. But we are talking out the current crisis. As I’ve been told there have been 3 major attacks against us lately. Only one of them has been stopped—the one near Przemysl Fortress. The other two—one in the Bukovina and the other in Herzegovina—are eating our liver. The first threatens to renew the revolt in Transylvania which we had hoped was stamped out. But the more serious threat is the incursion into Herzegovina. General Sarkotic—and others—feel this invasion will encourage some of my Slavic subjects to think foolish notions about uniting with the Serbs and Montenegrins to form a new nation. I am forced to agree with them. General Conrad claims he is doing all that he can. He even sent my precious Kaiserjaeger regiments to stop them. But these berserkers from the savage frontiers of the British Empire keep advancing! Now they have been reinforced with an entire Corps of Frenchmen. Montenegrins and Serbs accompany the advance to fan rebellion."
Trying to be positive Karl said something he did completely believe, "I am sure General Conrad will find a way to stop them, Your Magesty."
"Oh, he claims he has a plan. Something to do with an attack in Poland he is readying. Not for the first does his vaunted strategic thinking escape me. With enemies advancing in the Bukovina and Herzegovina he is going to attack in Poland. Have I lost my wits in my old age? Because for the life of me I do not see it."
Karl did not see it either. He knew from his military training that the best place to mount a counterattack was difficult to discern. There could be a good reason for General Conrad’s plan. What was disturbing was that in the early months of the war General Conrad demonstrated a proclivity for unwarranted offensives which were frequently disastrous. After some silence he answered feebly, "I am not privy to General Conrad’s intelligence. He may indeed have an excellent reason."
"Even our navy has tried to help, bravely challenging the French Fleet. Admiral Haus claims he won a victory. It does not appear to be doing us much good, though he probably deserves a medal. I’ve been told that you very much interested in warships and naval things, Karl. Is this true?"
"Er, yes, I would to that, Your Majesty."
"Well, I for one think sea power is very much overrated. Look at our German ally. They have won two big victories at sea. Upon hearing of this latest one, this Battle of Utsire, my advisers told me it would force the British to leave Albania, maybe even leave the war altogether. Another mirage in all of this is Bulgaria. I have been told more times than I count that they are on the verge of signing a secret treaty with us. Instead Tsar Ferdinand keeps stalling and now I seriously doubt he ever will sign the damn thing. If things unravel in Herzegovina he may even turn on us and join our enemies!"
"Er, I am not privy to those negotiations, Your Majesty. All I hear is a few vague and often contradictory rumors second and third hand. So I find myself unable to offer any meaningful comment."
"Perhaps I should be involving you more, Karl. If this country does not collapse completely, you will have to deal with what happens. This is all so dreadful. These are desperate times!"
"Desperate times call for desperate measures, Your Majesty."
"Yes, yes! I had made up my mind before you arrived, Karl, but I am pleased you and I concur. Tomorrow I will draft and revise my proclamation. It will be released Monday morning."
"Why do you look so sad, Your Majesty? You are performing a great deed!"
The monarch shuddered more than a little, "I am already anticipating Count Tisza’s reaction."
------10 Downing St 1030 hrs
The Secretary of State for War, Lord Horatio Herbert Kitchener of Khartoum was presenting his plans for dealing with Abyssinia to the War Committee. "I have studied this matter with the greatest intensity in the last week. I have concluded that merely reinforcing Somaliland would be an inefficient strategy, possibly even dangerous strategy. Merely securing our own colony and rescuing the French in theirs would give Iyasu an opportunity to consolidate his power. If that were to happen he could then threaten either East Africa or possibly the Sudan. The notion that the Christian elements of his country will overthrow him with nothing more than a few words of encouragement on our part is dangerously presumptuous. A more direct response to the problem is warranted."
Kitchener knew full well that Carson simply despised him and neither Bonar Law nor Lloyd-George were enamored with him. He paused to register their reactions. It appeared that all three of them accepted his initial premise, so he continued, "So what is most important is to gain control of their capital at Addis Ababa. Once accomplished, this will knock Abyssinia out of the war and alleviate all our problems. How we dispose of the country after the war is a topic for another day."
The Prime Minster exchanged glances with Carson and Lloyd-George then briefly commented, "Our own thoughts have shifted in this direction over the last few days. Please outline your plan."
"The core of my plan, prime minister is for there to be a two pronged attack into the western portion of Abyssinia. One expedition will be brought down from Egypt via river boats and rail to Barbar where it will some units at Khartoum and proceed towards Gondar. That was once the capital of Abyssinia and we will reestablish it as a provisional capital for the rebels. The second prong will be formed from our forces already in East Africa and will head north out of Nairobi through the Rift Valley. Meanwhile an infantry brigade with some artillery will be shipped to Berbera from India. It will first defeat the Abyssinian forces in Somaliland and then advance towards Addis Ababa."
"Lord Kitchener, what about the Germans in East Africa? Doesn’t it strike you as being very dangerous to leave our colony there unprotected?" asked Lloyd-George.
"I am not proposing to remove all our forces, Chancellor—that indeed would indeed be asking for trouble. No, what I am proposing is to keep half of our current forces in British East Africa and Uganda and send the rest on the expedition out of Nairobi. The forces that remain should be sufficient to safeguard the Uganda Railroad, which has been the enemy’s primary target. The Germans in East Africa rely heavily on their askaris, which means the threat they pose is not that much. Oh, I have not forgotten Tanga but they had exceptional luck there. One thing to remember is they have not received any supplies since the war started."
"I am wondering if it is possible to use some of the Union forces from South Africa," speculated Bonar Law.
"Botha wants very much to complete the capture of Southwest Africa before he will be willing to commit Union forces to another operation. He is very worried that the recent German successes will reinvigorate the Boer rebellion if the rebels who fled into Southwest Africa are allowed to regroup. I’m afraid I am forced to agree with his thinking."
"Well then, how about the Belgians, Lord Kitchener? Are you planning to use them in this campaign?" asked Carson.
"I was not planning to use them at all, First Lord."
"Why not? Surely you must recall our meeting with King Albert nearly two weeks ago. He came right out and suggested using his army in the Congo to seize the German protectorates of Rwanda and Burundi. We promised to a quick response to his proposal which we have not made."
"Blast it! I recall that conversation now," said the prime minister, "With all the other developments of the last week I scarcely gave it a thought. We should have given him our reply by now."
"Yes I recall the conversation, First Lord. At this time I do not think Rwanda is of any importance, so I fail to see any relevance."
"But if the Belgians have spare forces in the Congo, could they not also be used to free up more of our forces for the expedition coming out of Nairobi?"
Kitchener waited a good minute before replying, "That may be possible if they can reach Kampala quickly. It would depend on how soon they organize their march. They will be crossing some difficult terrain. Like the Germans they overestimate the capability of the natives. I am not very optimistic."
"I do not want you to summarily reject this possibility. Work with the Belgian staff and see what is feasible," ordered the prime minister.
------Millford Haven 1130 hrs
Captain James ‘Jack’ White of County Antrim sat on a bench in passenger terminal with her ferry ticket in hand. He found himself thinking about Africa. It was during the Battle of Doorknop. His unit, the 1st battalion Gordon Highlanders, had overrun a stretch of Boer trenches. A 17 year old was captured cowering in the trenches. "Shoot him, shoot him," ordered a senior British officer. White turned his carbine on the officer and said, "If you shoot him, I’ll shoot you."
The youth was spared and nothing more was heard of the incident. Jack eventually received a DSO for his performance in the Boer War. After the war he was assigned aide-de-camp to his father, Field Marshal Sir George White V.C. who was serving a term as governor of Gibraltar. This allowed him to meet many a European monarch. None impressed him. Many disgusted him.
Jack married a Catholic woman he met while stationed at Gibraltar. This caused a roe in both his family and hers. They ended up getting married in a civil ceremony. His annoyance with both Protestants and Catholics intensified. When his father’s term as governor ended Jack was reassigned to India. Increasingly he found himself at odds with the senior officers. In 1907 he resigned his commission and wandered around Europe for a while. In 1912 he finally returned to Ireland. For a while he worked with Sir Roger Casement in Ulster to get liberal Protestants to make common cause with the valid aspirations of the Catholics. They had little success. Jack now found himself wondered what Sir Roger was up to.
Eventually Jack’s interested shifted to Dublin. There he worked with Jim Larkin and James Connolly in the cause of the Transport Union. After things got rough in the lockout of 1913 the three of them decided it was best to form a paramilitary adjunct to the Transport Union. This became the Citizen Army. Having military experience Jack White gladly volunteered to train them.
When the war started White saw it as a great wanton waste of lives and resources. He had no inclination to return to the military but he did volunteer to become an ambulance driver.
When he heard of Connolly’s arrest, he quickly left his section. He made his way first to Wales.
He thought that there was an excellent chance he would not be welcome in Dublin. Instead of crossing the Irish Sea directly to Dublin, he decided to take the ferry to Rosslare in Country Wexford and then take the train to Dublin
His motives were not to lead the Citizen Army into battle. From what he had read in the papers, James Connolly must have lost his mind. No the reason Jack was heading for Dublin was to make sure that the Citizen Army did not rise up and get themselves slaughtered. Instead of a hopeless armed uprising he hoped he could organize a series of strikes both in Ireland and Britain to keep Connolly from being hanged. The problem must have started when Jim Larkin left to raise money in America he said to himself Larkin has a vain streak but he would have kept Connolly in check.
He had bought some tea and a newspaper—not one of Northcliffe’s rags but a local Welsh newspaper. Soon the ferry would start boarding. He caught a glimpse of two middle aged men in overcoats looking in his direction. He felt very uneasy and even more so when they approached at a quick pace. He was pretty sure what this was about and considered fleeing, but didn’t think that would do much good.
The two men were standing in front of him. Jack was certain now. The older one introduced himself, "I am Inspector Blakely of Scotland Yard. Come with us, sir."
------Viceregal Lodge Dublin 1405 hrs
Lord George Curzon, the Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland, had summoned Eoin MacNeill, the head of the Irish Volunteers to meet with him in private.
"I cannot stay too long, Your Lordship. I don’t want to be breaking curfew and getting myself arrested."
Curzon grimaced. As he had expected this was going to be a trying conversation, but he felt it was his duty to make an effort. "The curfew may be lifted before you leave," he countered.
MacNeill eyed the Viceroy warily for a few seconds, then with a deep sigh asked, "What do you want?"
"Tension has risen in Ireland to a dangerous level in the last few days. His Majesty’s Government is very much concerned about the situation."
"Ah, tension has been rising in Ireland the moment you became Viceroy. I’ll say it again. What do you want?"
"In the interest of public safety and the security of the realm, I must ask that your organization, the Irish Volunteers, disarm and disband."
"I thought so. Why don’t you ask me to chop off my right arm while you’re at it?"
Curzon forced himself to smile, "Please be sensible, Mr. MacNeill. I am trying to avert a catastrophe. Ireland is plunging pell-mell to disaster, a tragedy in which she herself will pay the heaviest price."
"If I say ‘No’ will you ban the Irish Volunteers like the Citizen Army? Will you try to seize our weapons? Hasn’t Birrell told you that step would be the surest way to cause the very catastrophe you claim you want to avoid? We had nothing to do with James Connolly and his loony scheme. Your informants must surely have told you this."
"Pearse and Clarke were seen talking with Connolly."
MacNeill paused before replying to that comment, lest he reveal too much, "But you don’t know about what now do you? The Irish Volunteers were not planning to join in his damn fool Rising."
"Ah, so you knew Connolly was planning one?"
MacNeill bit his tongue. Despite his intention he had just suggested something he did not want to discuss. He decided to shift the conversation, "Is Carson going to disarm and disband the Ulster Volunteers? Have you even dared to ask him, eh?"
"Er, you are avoiding my question."
"And you are avoiding mine!" MacNeill thought about asking if John Redmond had been ask to disband his organization, the National Volunteers. Curzon may well have asked him but he doubted Redmond would disarm and certain he would not disband. But did John Redmond matter anymore? Redmond’s relevance was melting away like an ice cube on a hot summer day.
"If the Irish Volunteers disarm, it will set an example for the others. And it is your faction that poses the greatest threat! It is not Carson nor Redmond neither, who applaud German victories."
"Let me make this very simple Viceroy. You have asked me to disarm and disband the Irish Volunteers. My answer is a resounding ‘NO’. If you are looking to be making Connolly’s insanity into an excuse to ban the Irish Volunteers as well then you will be making a huge mistake you will surely regret."
------Zeila (British Somaliland) 0305 hrs Sunday March 21, 1915
The Abyssinian forces had foiled an attempt by 2 British companies of the King’s African Rifles Regiment to reinforce Djibouti. These were encamped on the eastern outskirts of the city. They had a pair of machine guns with them with which they had driven off two Abyssinian attacks. But it did not let the relief expedition reach Camp Lemonier and they were bogged down at the edge of the port. Meanwhile the Mullah had provided Ras Mikael with a few trustworthy contacts in the area. Through them Mikael learned that the British port itself was now defended by only 2 companies of the King’s African Rifles and some police. But one of these companies was not in Zeila but stationed in the Jineh Pass to the SSE guarding against a possible raid by the Mullah. His sources also told him otherwise the security precautions at Zeila had been increased only a small notch.
Mikael had now hustled nearly 5,000 of his men to the outskirts of Zeila. He signaled now for the attack to commence. The surprise was only partial. The sentries gave a belated alarm. There was some frantic resistance by the King’s African Rifles but the Somali police merely fled in disarray. Just before noon the last pocket of resistance—numbering 29 soldiers—surrendered. This time Mikael made sure they were not slaughtered. The cost had been steep—Abyssinian casualties were over 500—but Ras Mikael had severed the coastal road connecting French and British Somaliland. The line of communication for the two KAR companies outside Djibouti was cut. Baring the unforeseen they would be eliminated as well before too long.
------Old Admiralty Building 1710 hrs
"We finally received the damage report from the French Navy less than an hour ago, First Lord," said Admiral Sir George Callaghan, the First Sea Lord when Sir Edward Carson arrived. Admiral Oliver, the chief of the naval staff, was also present.
"How bad is it, Admiral?"
"It is considerably worse than our initial impressions, sir. It turns out that all three of the French dreadnoughts require repairs that cannot be readily accomplished at Malta so they must all return to Toulon. Once they reach the dockyards the repairs are expected to take 6 weeks on Courbet and 4 weeks on the other two. Voltaire’s torpedo damage will take 8 weeks to repair. Diderot evidently badly ruined a propeller shaft during the chase. They are going to try to fix her at Malta but it is going to take at least 2 weeks."
"This is most disturbing. It means much of the strength of 1ere Armee Navale is going to be out of action for more than a month. Is there any way these repairs can be expedited."
The First Sea Lord frowned, "We will explore that vigorously, First Lord. The French are easily irritated by anything they construe as interference. From what we know of the French shipyards I fear these repair estimates are likely to be optimistic."
"Admiral Oliver, what is our current estimate of the Austrian damage resulting from this battle—what have we decided to call it?"
"The Battle of Cattaro Gulf is what we’re calling it, sir. We believe one Austrian dreadnought to be severely damaged. It was not lost but one of planes got a good look at her Wednesday and she still had a pronounced list as well as a destroyed turret. We can safely say that it will need at least two months of repair work. Another Austrian dreadnought and two of their predreadnoughts were damaged but apparently their damage was rather light. We cannot dismiss the possibility that they are still battle worthy."
"And just to make matters worse," interjected Admiral Oliver, "there is the possibility that the 4th Austrian dreadnought, Szent Istvan could finally become operational. We have some intelligence that she is not complete, but I cannot rightfully say this intelligence is ironclad."
Carson let this sink in, then said, "So it is possible that the Austrians could sortie with essentially the same strength? What happened to the pleasing notion that the French Fleet would annihilate them? You must be aware that we planned to send another convoy to Albania with supplies at the end of the week. With their strength so seriously reduced there is a real possibility of the French could suffer a defeat if the Austrians sorties again."
"That is my concern as well, sir."
"Blast it!. The Albanian expedition is finally starting to pay off. But they were left with only enough ammunition for a fortnight. They have been firing off quite a lot of shells in the last few days, because the Austrians have reinforced Herzegovina. We can’t afford to postpone the convoy until after the French dreadnoughts are repaired."
"I concur wholeheartedly in that assessment, First Lord. I would like to propose as a solution that we strengthen the Mediterranean Fleet."
"You are not proposing sending any dreadnoughts to the Mediterranean, I hope."
"No, sir. The Grand Fleet cannot spare a single dreadnought at this time. But I am thinking we can spare some of the predreadnought battleships."
"Hmm. I will not pass judgment until I know more. Is it that you merely want to add our other old battleships in the Mediterranean to Admiral Limpus’ squadron?"
"That is part of it, First Lord, though I want to keep Swiftsure at Suez just in case the Turks try something there. But I want to add Russell, Albemarle, Duncan, Glory and Formidable so we have 12 battleships at Malta."
"Hmm. I had no real problems with your suggestions until you got to Formidable. She is part of the Grand Fleet now."
"Yes, she is. Needless to say, neither Admiral Bayly nor myself are very happy with the idea of weakening the Grand Fleet now. However I have come around to your position that it is likely to be another two months before we see the High Seas Fleet again. It is only a single predreadnought and she will be gone for one month at most."
Carson turned to Admiral Oliver, "Are you in agreement with this, Henry?"
"I am, sir. If the reinforcements to the Mediterranean are inadequate a fleet action could prove disastrous, esp. as coordinating effective with what is left of the Armee Navale during a battle is one of those things easier said than done. So the only suggestion I would add is to suggest we dispatch Phaeton to Malta immediately. A fast cruiser should be able to make a quick delivery of ammunition to Durazzo which should tide the boys over until we can assemble this fleet."
Another naval disaster right now even if it’s only our weaker predreadnoughts could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back mused Carson and the Albanian expedition is the one thing we have going for us right now. He took his time while the Sea Lords waited. Finally he said, "I would normally prefer to take a day or two to think this over, but the sooner we reinforce the Mediterranean Fleet, the sooner we can send supplies."