APRIL 1916

APRIL 1916

 

 

The spring of 1916 brought to an end the dominance of the Eindecker, and with it, the “Fokker Scourge”. The arrival of the French Nieuport II, the Airco DH2 and the Royal Aircraft Factory (RAF) FE2 was match for the German Eindecker.

 

 

On the 21st April 1916, a German submarine transported Sir Roger Casement to the coast of Kerry, Ireland where he was due to meet a consignment of captured Russian guns and ammunition. Shortly after landing, he was arrested by the waiting British authorities. The German ship carrying the arms consignment failed to reach the Irish rebels as it had put into the wrong port. British intelligence had intercepted messages between the Irish rebels and the German Embassy in New York.

Irish revolutionary nationalists had looked towards Germany for aid in funding an Irish uprising, and Casement was the central figure in developing the rebels’ relationship with Germany in order to promote the cause for Irish home rule.

The English had occupied Ireland since the twelfth century and the Irish had always fiercely resisted throughout the centuries. Introduction of home rule was due to be implemented in 1914 but was suspended because of the Great War. Misguided in the belief the Irish would eventually obtain peaceful home rule, hundreds of thousands volunteered to join the British army. Over 50,000 young Irishmen died in the trenches.

 

On the 24th April 1916, the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) began to show violent resentment against the British in the 1880’s, but gradually promotion of Home Rule was on the agenda. Home Rule was suspended in 1914 on the outbreak of war. There were elements of the Irish population who were determined to hold a rebellion. While the outbreak of the “Uprising” was in the planning stages, publication of an article in The Irish Volunteer on the 8th April 1916, called for military style manoeuvres in a defensive war against the British.     .

The “Dublin Easter Uprising” commenced at noon on the Monday 24th April 1916.        Approximately 1,600 Irish nationalist volunteers captured a number of buildings selected to form a crescent shaped defensive strong point against the forces of the British army occupying Dublin.

 

On the 23rd April 1916, Vera Brittain volunteered for overseas as a VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment) nurse. She had joined the VAD at the outbreak of war in 1914 in order to understand the privations suffered by her brother Edward and his three great friends, Roland Leighton, Victor Richardson, and Geoffrey Thurlow. At the start of the war, Vera Brittain was studying at Oxford University, along with her four male colleagues.

The four left Oxford University, joined the army, and were commissioned as officers. Unwilling and unable to endure Oxford on the sidelines, she joined the VAD as a nurse. In August 1915, she became engaged to Roland Leighton. Tragically, he was killed in France by a German sniper in December 1915. She went through a period of mourning by returning to her hospital duties in London. She had reached the end of her hospital contract and eventually offered her services with the VAD serving overseas.

 

 

 

 

Four German Battlecruisers opened fire on Lowestoft at daybreak of the 25th April 1916. This raid was to coincide with the “Easter Uprising” by Irish rebels in Dublin.

After Admiral Reinhardt Scheer had been appointed commander-in-chief of the German High Seas in February 1916, he proposed and commenced a campaign against the Royal Navy to force the British Grand Fleet into a naval war.

The British Grand Fleet were at their home bases, Rosyth for the Battlecruisers and Scapa Flow for the remainder of the fleet. Commodore Reginald Tyrwhitt, commanding a squadron of 3 light cruisers and 18 destroyers was ordered to move north. Tyrwhitt reported sighting the German fleet at Lowestoft and turned away hoping the German ships would follow but they did not.

The German attack on Lowestoft lasted approximately 10 minutes, causing the destruction of 200 houses and 2 defensive batteries. In addition, 3 civilians were killed and 12 people injured. The German ships moved on to Great Yarmouth where only a few shells were fired before reports arrived that a British force had engaged the remaining German fleet. The German Battlecruisers broke off their attack on Great Yarmouth to re-join the fleet. When Tyrwhitt realised he had failed to draw the Battlecruisers away, he returned to engage the six light cruisers and escorts. When the German Battlecruisers arrived Tyrwhitt realised he was massively outgunned, so broke off the action and turned south. The Germans failed to follow the retreating ships, as they were concerned larger British war ships were in the vicinity. The Germans turned North West in the hope the British would follow but they did not. The German operation had been a complete failure as the damage to Lowestoft, and Great Yarmouth was minimal, and they had failed to take advantage of their superior numbers to engage the British vessels anchored at Lowestoft.

 

 

The Sykes-Picot Agreement became official on the 26th April 1916 with an exchange of notes regarding the partition of the Ottoman Empire among the Allied Powers. Francois-Georges Picot represented the French Government and Sir Mark Sykes represented the British Government. Russia was also privy to the discussions.

According to the agreement, Britain would exercise direct control over Southern Mesopotamia with protection of the Arab state in the area to the Mediterranean Sea.

South of the French zone the area covering Jerusalem, extending southwards from Gaza to the Red sea, was to be under International Administration.

The terms were ratified in a return letter from Sir Edward Grey, British foreign secretary, to Paul Gambon, the French ambassador to London on the 23rd May 1916.

 

 

By the 29th April 1916, the “Dublin Easter Uprising” was over. The British army were taken by surprise by the uprising. Germany had intended to supply captured Russian arms but the ship carrying the consignment put into the wrong port. Eventually, 12,000 British reinforcements arrived. Firing from the GPO building the rebels managed to cut down a group of British Lancers who rode along O’Connell Street. With a degree of confidence, the rebels prepared their defensive tactics, but were not expecting the British to use artillery to attack them. The artillery caused considerable damage to the rebel held buildings. In various infantry attacks, the British suffered a great number of casualties, but eventually they began to overwhelm the rebels. At noon on the 29th April 1916, the British accepted the Irish leader’s decision to surrender in order to avoid further civilian deaths.

 

 

At the Battle of St.Eloi in April 1916, British troops wore the Brodie steel helmet for the first time. The helmet was introduced to replace the traditional cloth caps, which offered zero protection from modern weapons.

John L. Brodie of London patented the first design, which had been ordered by the British War Office. The design enabled the helmet to be manufactured from one sheet of steel and incorporated a brim of approximately 1.5” to 2”. The “soup bowl” shape was designed to protect the wearers head and shoulders from shrapnel projectiles bursting from above the trenches.

The French had their own design of steel “Adrian” helmets, while the Germans replaced the traditional Pickelhaube with the “Stahlhelm” steel helmet.

 

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The Balkans

 

On the 3rd April 1916, two hundred and fifty thousand Serbian troops were evacuated from Albania. Allied warships had transported the Serbs to Corfu by the largest naval evacuation to date.

 

Appointed on the 4th April 1916, General Alexei Brusilov assumed command of the Russian southern front.

 

On the 14th April 1916, the Russian offensive at Lake Naroch ended, as German counter attacks had eliminated the gains the Russians had made. Requested by the French, the offensive was an attempt to help divert German forces from Verdun. The Russians sustained 120,000 casualties for very little gain.

 

On the 14th April 1916, the newly appointed commander of the Russian southern front, General Brusilov, proposed an offensive over an extended front. This offensive was to differ from the ill-fated Lake Naroch debacle by having a revised bombardment strategy

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On 22nd April 1916, Flora Sandes, the only English woman to have fought in the trenches in the Serbian army, was promoted to sergeant. This promotion was to honour her work and devotion to the Serbian forces who had retreated across the Albanian mountains and arrived in Corfu two months earlier. She had organised food, warm clothing and medication for the emancipated forces transforming them into a force ready to join the fight to liberate their homeland. Upon promotion Flora’s deputy Sgt Milidan provided the experience she needed running the 1st Decetar (Section of 10 Men) of the 2nd Regiment. He assured her she would never be taken prisoner by Bulgarian forces while he was still alive.

Whilst still a corporal Flora had received the Sveti Sava Medal from the Serbian Crown Prince in recognition of her services to Serbia. She also received a letter entitled “To the high Esteemed MISS FLORA SANDES”, from the soldiers of her regiment stating their declaration of thanks for all her assistance in their welfare. This letter was written and signed by the Commander of the Company, Janachko Jovitch.

 

 

After declaring war on Serbia in October 1915, the Bulgarian army soon overwhelmed the Serbs, who had retreated to the Adriatic Sea via the Albanian mountains. They had repulsed an Entente force who had attempted to assist the Serbs. By the spring of 1916, the Bulgarians had advanced into Greece with the assistance of some German troops. The German high command had previously opposed to the Bulgarian offensive but had finally withdrawn their objections.

 

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The Caucasus and Middle East Campaign

 

On the 15th April 1916, one of four attempts were made to carry supplies to the British by aeroplane to the besieged Kut-al-Amara, located on a bend in the river. Owing to the location of Kut, airmen found it difficult to land. A shipload of provisions on its way to supply the British forces ran aground in the Tigris, only four miles from the hungry soldiers. The five months siege by the Turks had left the British troops exhausted and starving, leaving the British with no option but surrender.

 

During the Caucasus Campaign, on the 18th April 1916 the Turks abandoned Trebizond (Russian/Turkish border on the Black Sea) leaving the Russians in occupation until the Russian Revolution of 1917.

 

On the 26th April 1916, agreement between the British, French and Russian diplomats discussed the future partition of the Ottoman Empire. The British commitments were later to conflict with promises made to the Arabs.

 

29th April 1916. The British forces surrender to the Turks ending the five-month long siege of Kut-el-Amara. General Sir Charles Townsend finally submitted to the largest single surrender of British troops up to that time. Townsend and his fellow officers were well treated. His remaining 12,000 British and Indian troops were marched 1,900 km (1,200 miles) to prison camps in Anatolia. The troops were already in poor health because of the siege. More than a third of them died before the end of the war due to mistreatment and neglect leading to starvation.

The siege of Kut was an important Ottoman victory, greatly raising the morale of the Ottoman soldiers and prestige for the Ottoman army in the Middle East.

The British Government was forced to pour more resources into Mesopotamia.

 

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Verdun

 

On the 2nd April 1916, the French counter-attacked the eastern sector of the Meuse River regaining part of ruined village of Vaux. The village was to change hands thirteen times throughout April.

 

On the 9th April 1916, the Germans launched, across a 32km (20 mile) front, an offensive on both sides of the Meuse River. On the first day, they took the secondary crest of Le Mort Homme but subsequently failed in their attempt to take the summit. Fighting on the west bank slowly stopped four days later, due to the relentless rain. Fighting, however, continued on the east bank around Forts Douaumont and Vaux, throughout April.

The German Fifth Army had lost some 120,000 men by the end of April.

 

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