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21st March 1918

I thought you might be interested to see how this episode, a story of missed messages, was originally conceived on an A3 pad. It is the first time I've ever done a physical blocked out map and tried to put on it the sequence of events as understood in the various locations. I learnt a lot, not least how good those 3D maps you get in Osprey Publications are.


I also thought you might be interested to see how this episode, a story of missed messages, was originally conceived. The above is the first time I've ever combined my usual schematic map with a sequence of events as understood over time in the various locations. I learnt a lot, not least how good those 3D maps you get in Osprey Publications are.


Which reminds me to mention KAISERSCHLACHT 1918 in their series, which is as good as ever they are, but the very first book I ever read about this day was probably way back in the 1990's. It was of course THE KAISER'S BATTLE by Martin Middlebrook. I can vividly remember the effect it had on me.


Good grief. The Allies were pushed right back. They died in their thousands, they surrendered in droves, they ran way in their thousands. They were about to lose the war, and this all happened in 1918.




I admit I'd never heard of the German attacks of Spring 1918. It all seemed so counter to my understanding of a static war and ploddy Brit victory that I'm not stretching a point to say I'm not sure I actually believed it.


Coming back to the story again many years later it was really John Ferris and Jim Beach (see so many other of my pages) who framed the story for me – the idea that it was an intelligence and signals coup that enabled the Germans to put surprise back onto the battlefield. Nalder and Priestley (as above) were obviously good guides to how this played out in signals terms on the day, especially in the way that after years of static warfare and an attacking posture the signallers now had too few survivors of the retreats of 1914 to put those plans into action even if they'd had the time.


We started out in No Man's Land with 34th Division. They were considerably further north than the part of the line normally associated with the birdcage defence, but I read 101st Brigade War Diary and their defence scheme was as zone-centric as you could imagine. We then went up the line to 57th Division to contrast this, once again straight from their War Diaries.


We then met our Suffolk character (thanks to my neighbour Peter who helped with the accent) who was down in 34th Division, and my more local map for this was derived from MG outpost schemes you can find in the Machine Gun Company War Diary. (By the way, I can't speak highly enough of the National Archives, of course I can't, but I wish I could put the pictures I take of the sources on this site. Because they are brilliant.)


I ran into a common TOMMIES problem which is create a legitimate place in HQ structure for our characters. I chose a room that funnels reports on their way up to the staff. Probably didn't exist, forgive me. Once created, though, I hit a real challenge: how to create a legitimate fog of war without confusing the hell out of everyone at home. This was especially difficult because I wanted to bring out one of the most nuanced notions you get from reading the to and fro of signals written down at divisional WD level.


You get a situation where brigades are in relaxed "conversation" with units that have actually been overrun hours before, and they just don't know. I hope we conveyed this. In an early draft I said we got a lot of this information from overhearing wireless comms at army and division level, which I thought was legit. I cut that in the final draft so I hope it was comprehensible.


The mustard gas story was anchored by Guy Hartcup's WAR OF INVENTION. Gas on the Flesquières salient had a sharpened spur for me because I'd just been over to France for the 100th of the Battle of Cambrai, so I thought you might like to hear the radio piece (excuse the ho-hum graphics just put together from phone camera footage).

210318 Layout






The material about the Irish Colour Sergeant Major was based on a real case that I researched about eighteenth months ago. Unfortunately I can't get in touch with the next-of-kin anymore for some reason and I therefore can't give you all the details.


Ferris and Beach guided me to Mickey's monitoring of German preparations and the whole von Below deception operation. It's not for beginners, but Zabecki's GERMAN OFFENSIVES is brilliant on this. I thank every revisionist historian who has carved out our new understating of the reordering of the British Army leading to our vulnerability to attack, although as is so often the case you can find the situation clearly and unemotionally stated in the Official History. Rob Schaefer helped with the pronunciation of "von Below".


After all our material about the two haversack operations in Gaza last November I was amazed to discover in the OH the nature of the balloon to the south threatening the French. Incredible.


The chapter and verse about surrender and running away are all there in the literature - and the WD's - and seemed conclusive. However, I wanted a contemporary or near-contemporary official source prepared to admit to killing prisoners. Rob Thompson steered me to the Australian OH and its honesty was striking. Gary Sheffield (dang, I forgot to mention his excellent FORGOTTEN VICTORY) put me onto Gerry Rubin who took me through the complexities of attempting to court-martial British soldiers for possible war crimes. More about that on 11th April.


It took me a very long time to find the earliest possible reference to a division being moved south but 31st Division were detailed to go that day so I thought it legitimate to make the conversation about it happen within the timescale of late morning/lunchtime.


Florrie Featherstonehaugh arrived on the scene like a force of nature. I found the material about the illegality of war from THE INTERNATIONALISTS by Hathaway and Shapiro really useful for her.