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192 THE NAVY IN ROUMANIA

before another S.O.S. signal came from Bucharest.
" For Heaven's sake make your push, or do some-
thing to cause a diversion." This was rather hard
on the general, first to take away his reserves, and
then to tell him to make his push ; but such things
are liable to happen when things are going badly, and
he consoled himself with the thought that, at all
events, they had not succeeded in robbing him of the
armoured cars. So he ordered that the push should
commence next day — 80th November.

The British armoured cars were divided into three
squadrons, two of them to operate from the village
of Topalul towards Ballagestii and a third from the
village of Panteleimon towards Saragea. The morn-
ing broke dull and misty, and the artillery soon
found that they were quite unable to observe the
effect of their shells ; but soon after noon it cleared
up, as Lieutenant-Commander Belt, in command of
Number One Squadron, was ordered into action
along the road running from Topalul to Ballagestii.
He found that the enemy was leaving nothing to
chance ; first there was a forest of barbed wire
entanglements, then another forest fifty yards behind
the first, then the first line trenches fifty yards behind
that, and then the second line trenches fifty yards
behind the first line.

The road along wliich the cars had to advance to
the attack was no road at all, but just an unmetalled
track running through cultivated fields. The ground
on either side of the track was soft and imcven, for,
tliough it had not received any recent ploughing, it
was equally unprepared as a terrain I'or lighting cars.
Two Russian cars of powerful build, carrying two
maxim guns each, had joined the British squadron,
and when they were ordered to attack the enemy's
trenches, they went full speed along the track right
up to the barbed wii-c. Tliey then conceived the
idea of tinning off {\\v track and jumiing along the



THE BATTLE NEAR TOPALUL 193

barbed wire, so as to enfilade the trenches all along
the sector. It was a bold scheme, but it failed to
take into account the factor of specific gravity. An
armoured car is no fairy with light fantastic toes to
trip nimbly over arable land. They had no sooner
left the track than they found themselves firmly
embedded in the soft ground, with their flanks almost
touching the barbed wire, and infuriated Bulgarians
expressing their indignation by means of a hot
fusillade.

Then came a telephone message from the Russian
observation post, ordering one of our light " Lan-
chester " cars to go in to support the Russian cars,
and incidentally to assist the Russian infantry in
launching an attack. Lieutenant-Commander Belt
sent Sub-Lieutenant Lefroy, accompanied as usual
by a motor cyclist, whose job it was to watch the
progress of events, and bring back reports from time
to time. Now, the ordinary practice when going into
action is to turn the car at a respectful distance from
the enemy's lines, reverse the engine, and approach
stern first towards the enemy. This is a fairly simple
operation on a metalled road, but when there is no
road worthy of the name, the whole science of fight-
ing an armoured car has to be reconsidered. Unfor-
tunately, there was no time to work out the problem,
for the Russian infantry were waiting to advance,
and Lefroy' s main purpose was to lead the way for
them. He proceeded up the track to the enemy's
first line, the Russian infantry followed, and the
great push had begun.

When he had approached within a few yards of
the barbed wire, he decided that it was high time to
carry out the ordinary manoeuvre of reversing the
engine, and advancing stern first. But, first of all,
he had to turn the car round. Turning a heavy car
on a narrow farm-track is no easy operation under
the best of circumstances, and when rifles, maehine-

13



194 THE NAVY IN ROUMANIA

guns, and artillery are devoting the main share of
their attention to frustrating the elTort, it becomes a
decidedly ticklish job. He had put the lever over
to the lowest speed when, as ill luck would have it, a
shell exploded underneath the car and jambed the
speed-gear, so that he was doomed to stick to his
lowest speed until he could get back to the repair
shop. Meanwhile his wheels were steadily subsiding
into the soft earth, and the enemy was making
things so uncomfortably warm for him that he had
no alternative but to try and get out of his tight
corner. Luckily, he managed to extricate his wheels,
but he did not enjoy the journey home at the speed
of a perambulator pushed by a superannuated nurse-
maid sufiering from rheumatism, and with high ex-
plosive shells following him steadily all the way.

Next, Lieutenant Walford was sent into action
with another light " Lanchester." By this time the
enemy had made up their minds that they did not
like armoured cars, and had become obsessed with
the idea that if their rifles and machine-guns could
only pour enough lead into the brutes, they would
become discouraged and retire gracefully from the
action. This theory suited the Russian infantry
admirably, for it enabled them to advance under far
pleasanter conditions than they had anticipated.
VV^hen Walford got within forty yards of the stranded
Russian cars, the patter of the bullets on his armour
plating grew louder and louder ; but an armoured car
does not worry much about bullets, so long as they
do not come through the loopholes. The trouble was
that they split into fragments, and the fragments
caused a kind of mist, so that the driver of the car
could not see the track in front of him. In trying
to turn he did just the same thing as Lefroy had
already done before him — got his wheels stuck in the
soft earth at the side of the track. He succeeded,
however, eventually in getting round, and then the



THE BATTLE NEAR TOPALUL 195

maxim in the car opened fire on the enemy, doing
considerable damage at that close range, until a
bullet came through a loophole and punctured the
maxim's water-casing, which keeps the gun cool.
This effectually put the gun out of action, and there
was nothing for it but to take the car back to safety.
It is regrettable to have to record that the personal
beauty of Lieutenant Walford and of the driver of
his car were completely spoiled for the time being by
the nickel splashes of the enemy's bullets. Ihese
had found their way into the car, and dug themselves
into the faces of its occupants, until they looked like
the masterpieces of a post-impressionist artist.

Meanwhile the two Russian cars were hopelessly
stuck, and were being subjected to a terrible fire
from rifles, machine-guns, and artillery, so Lieutenant-
Commander Belt himself went to the rescue. He
had exactly the same experience as his predecessors
when he tried to turn his car, and for nearly a quarter
of an hour he remained with the front wheels of his
car deeply embedded in the mud.

" If I was to tighten up the gears a bit," suggested
the driver, " I think we might get her to move."

So he got to work with a screw-driver, while the
enemy got to work with artillery, maxims, and rifles,
and concentrated everything they could bring to
bear on the car. At last, with a series of protesting
snorts and vigorous jerks, she began to move. By
this time it was quite dark, and moreover the road
had become pitted with shell-holes, so that the journey
home promised plenty of excitement. But there
were the two derelict Russian cars lying a few yards
awa}^ shrouded in gloom, and the thought of leaving
them to their fate was not an easy one. There are
times when it requires more courage to avoid a
danger than to run into one, and this was just one
of those occasions. Lieutenant-Commander Belt
knew that the result of any further attempt to rescue



196 THE NAVY IN ROUMANIA

the Russian cars would be that the enemy would be
able to rejoice over three derelicts instead of two,
so he braced himself up to the decision that there
was no alternative but to cut the loss. On his way
back through the dark he met another " Lanchester,"
coming to the rescue, but this too he ordered to
return, for he knew it could do no good. It after-
wards transpired that three of the crew of the first
Russian car were killed by a shell, and that the re-
mainder were badly wounded, but managed to
escape in the dark, as also did the crew of the second
Russian car. The two cars had to be destroyed by
the Russian artillery.

Such is the record of the first day's fighting, so far
as the armoured cars were concerned in it. It must
be put to their credit that, by causing the enemy to
concentrate his fire upon them, they had enabled
the Russian infantry to capture a hill on the left
flank, and to get a footing on another hill on the
right flank near the river. This was something to
the good, but it was already becoming painfully
obvious that the enemy were fully prepared, and
that ground could only be gained from them by
means of a ding-dong struggle. All through the
night the Russian infantry pressed forward the at-
tack, but only at the cost of heavy losses, which
made General Sirelius parody the great Augustus,
exclaiming, " Varus, Varus, give me back my re-
serves." The truth of the matter was that the break-
down of the Roumanian forces defending Bucharest
had placed the Russian army in the Dobrudsha in
a most unenviable position, and had completely
ruined the chances of a successful counter-attack
against ^lackenscn.

All next day (1st December) the fighting continued,
and again the armoured cars did valuable work. No
more Russian cars were available, but the British
cars kept on running througli heavy fire right up to



THE BATTLE NEAR TOPALUL 197

the enemy's trenches, pourinjDj a hot fusillade into
them, and running baek again before the artillery
could get their range correctly. For two solid miles
each way they had to run the gauntlet of bullets and
shells, and the enemy never left them in any doubt
as to the opinions he entertained about them, for
he devoted all the best of his energies in their direc-
tion. On one occasion, when Lieutenant Crossing
had brought his car within 300 yards of the enemy,
he noticed that a Russian shell had made a neat gap
through the parapet, exposing to view a large num-
ber of fleeing Bulgarians. He immediately switched
his machine-gun on to them, and got through two
belts of ammunition before the high explosive shells
began to fall uncomfortably close to him.

So far the attack had been pressed mainly from
Topalul in the direction of Ballagestii, and, though
the Russian infantry had advanced without hesita-
tion, they had gained but little ground, and that
little had been very expensive in casualties. In fact,
what reserves had been left to General Sirelius were
now all used up, and by the end of the second day's
fighting the whole Corps was so thoroughly worn
out that there was a grave danger that a counter-
attack on the part of the enemy might prove too
strong to be resisted by tired and dispirited troops.
When day dawned on 2nd December the situation
had become critical.

At 9 o'clock in the morning Commander Gregory
was requested by the Russian Staff to send two ears
into action, and he promptly complied with the re-
quest. But the cars went into action alone, un-
supported by the Russian infantry, who made no
attempt to advance. The bitter truth was that they
were in no fit condition to advance, and the sending
of the cars into action was merely a device to deceive
the enemy into thinking that the push was still in
progress. It was a vital necessity to conceal the



198 THE NAVY IN ROUMANIA

fact that the Russian troops were so badly in need
of rest and recuperation that a counter-attack on
the enemy's part would find them incapable of
adequate resistance. For nearly two hours the cars
of Lieutenant Walford and Sub-Lieutenant Gawler
carried on this pseudo-attack against General Mac-
kensen's army, dodging up and down the road to
keep the hostile artillery from finding the correct
range, and pouring many hundred rounds of ammuni-
tion into the Bulgarian trenches. The notion of two
armoured cars fighting an army has something of the
farcical about it, which must have appealed strongly
to the British sense of humour. The strange part
of it is that the ruse succeeded, and on that part of
the line the enemy attempted no counter-attack, but
patiently waited to see what was going to happen
next.

It was in the direction of Panteleimon that the
counter-attack was made, and there Lieutenant-
Commander Wells Hood with his squadron had been
standing by for orders during the past two days.
On 2nd December the enemy commenced an attack
in strong force, and immediately the cars were ordered
to proceed along the road between Panteleimon and
Saragea to meet the attack. There were three of
them, and they went into action at intervals of 150
yards along the road, Lieutenant-Commander Wells
Hood leading. They soon came under heavy shell-
fire, and when they were about half-Avay to Saragea
the rifles and machine-guns opened fire on them.
The leading car was only CO yards from the Bul-
garian trenches when the enemy were seen to be
advancing in open formation — a long line of Bul-
garian infantry coming forward at the double. The
range was 400 yards, and the maxim in the car soon
began to make appreciable gaps in the line. But
the moral effect of an armoured car is even greater
than the material damage it can inflict ; it is always



THE BATTLE NEAR TOPALUL 199

a nasty job to attack an object which is impervious
to rifle-fire, while it is pumping out hot lead faster
than a street-corner orator can pump out hot air.
The Bulgarian infantry dropped back into their
trenches, and the maxim pumped another 500 rounds
into them there, just to show them that there was
no scarcity of ammunition, in case they should care
to make another effort.

The next manoeuvre was to turn the car round, and
to reverse towards the enemy, so as to get near
enough to enfilade the trenches. There was an
ulterior object in this manoeuvre, for the hostile artil-
lery had found the range of the ear, and shells were
falling too close to be pleasant. If the car could
only get close enough to the Bulgarian trenches, the
artillery would be forced to discontinue their attack,
for fear of hitting their own men. Such at least was
the theory, but in practice it did not prove success-
ful. The artillery shortened their range, pursuing
the car relentlessly, until it became obvious that the
new position was untenable. When the car started
forward again the engine suddenly stopped, and it
was discovered that the pressure petrol tank had
been pierced in two places by bullets. This was an
awkward predicament at such a juncture, when the
car was within a few yards of the enemy's trenches.
But the driver treated it as though it was all in the
day's work, and promptly switched on to his gravity
spare tank. The next problem was how to start her
up again, and this was solved by the gunner. Chief
Petty Officer Vaughan, who, without a moment's
hesitation, jumped out of the car, started her up,
and jumped in again, before any Bulgarian sniper
had time to realise his chance. So they successfully
got back to Panteleimon, where they filled up with
water, repaired the petrol tank, and took a fresh
supply of ammunition aboard. ^V

Meanwhile the two^other cars were not enjoying



200 THE NAVY IN ROUMANIA

life quite so whole-heartedly. Lieutenant Mitchell's
car was about 40 yards from the road on the left-
hand side, and there it seemed to be stuck. It had
been noticed that the gun was at its extreme eleva-
tion, and that three of the crew were outside the car,
but what they were doing, or trying to do, was not
clear. The third car, commanded by Lieutenant
Ingle, was also on the left hand side of the road,
about 400 yards from it, and only a few yards from
the Bulgarian trenches. This car also seemed to be
stuck. The history of its exploits was not known
until the next day, but it will be convenient to relate
them here.

The car had run very nicely until it was traversing
No Man's Land, when the soft wet earth clogged the
wheels badly, with the result that the engine stopped
at a spot uncomfortably close to the enemy. Lieu-
tenant Ingle jumped out, and started her up, but
after a few yards she stopped again. Again Lieu-
tenant Ingle risked the chance of stopping a bullet,
and started her up once more, but the result was just
the same ; she stopped after a few spasms. Lieu-
tenant Ingle was indefatigable ; for the third time
he tried to start her up, and, in doing so, became
a handy target for some Bulgarian sniper. A bullet
struck him just above the knee, breaking his leg,
and at the same moment the enemy's artillery began
to drop shells in the vicinity. He rolled into a trench
close to the car, and ordered his men to do the same.
It was a lucky chance that he did so, for immediately
afterwards a shell hit the car, twisting the turret
beyond recognition, and carrying away the water-
jacket of the maxim. Strangely enough, however,
it did very little damage to the engine.

So there were the whole of the crew hiding in a
trench on the wrong side of No Man's Land, and the
next thing to liappen was a Bulgarinn advance which
swept right over them, Some Bulgarian soldiers



THE BATTLE NEAR TOPALUL 201

presently came up to them, and intimated that they
were prisoners, and must march to the rear of the
Bulgarian lines. Then they grasped the fact that
Lieutenant Ingle was wounded, and could not march,
so they solemnly went through the motions of carry-
ing a man on a stretcher, to indicate that they were
going back to fetch one. l?y this time it was quite
dark, and when Lieutenant Ingle was left alone to
think things out, he came to the conclusion that he
did not want to become a prisoner of war. Slowly
and painfully he started to crawl out of the trench
towards the Russian lines. He knew that many
hours of darkness lay before him, and that if he could
only traverse the distance before his strength failed,
he ran a very good chance of getting through with-
out being detected. That crawl lasted exactly
twelve hours — twelve weary hours on all fours with
one of them broken. At daybreak some Russian
soldiers in their trenches saw a British naval officer
lying on the other side of the parapet, and dragged
him into safety. Then they got a stretcher and took
him to the hospital at Panteleimon.

In the meantime things had been happening all
round Lieutenant Ingle, in which he would have been
keenly interested under happier circumstances. As
soon as night had fallen the Russians had counter-
attacked, and had succeeded in driving back the
Bulgarians for 300 yards. This again brought our
cars within the Russian lines, and it only remained
to send a party of men and horses to tow them out
of the mud. It was not an easy operation in the
dark, especially when Bulgarian snipers discovered
what was happening ; but both cars were successfully
recovered, and those who worked hard and risked
much to recover them had their reward, when they
saw an enemy communique reporting the capture of
two British armoured cars. It was the main feature
in the communiqiU, for both Germans and Bulgarians



202 THE NAVY IN ROUMANIA

had an unreasoning prejudice against the cars, and
hailed their capture in grandiloquent phrases ; nor
did they take the trouble to issue an amended state-
ment, when they found that they had been counting
unhatched chickens.

Of the crews of these two cars it is regrettable that
all except Lieutenant Ingle were taken prisoners, but
it is some consolation to know that the work of the
three cars between Panteleimon and Saragea had
most important results, and that official information
was forwarded to the commanding officer of the
Armoured Car Force to the effect that, had it not
been for the three cars operating at this point, the
Russian trenches would have been captured, and the
line broken. General Sirelius took the trouble to
write an autograph letter of thanks to the officers and
men of the force, in which he referred to their " brave
and unselfish work during the battle," and regretted
that it had entailed such heavy losses upon them.

The battle was over, and the result was profoundly
unsatisfactory. It may have produced a diversion,
which for the moment relieved the pressure on
Bucharest, but the original objective of a sweep
through the Dobrudsha between the Danube and the
Black Sea down to Cernavoda had faded away like a
dream, leaving only the consciousness of a heavy
casualty list, and a general feeling of depression. The
cars returned to Hirsova, where the repair stafl' got
to work on them at once, anticipating that it would
not be long before they were wanted again. In fact,
the general had applied for permission to retain
them with his division, and had intimated that he
hoped shortly to renew the operations.

No account of the battle of Topalul would be
complete without mentioning the work of the medical
staff attached to the British armoured cars. Staff-
Surgeon G. B. Scott was in command of them, and
at once placed all his resources at the disposal of the



THE BATTLE NEAR TOPALUL 203

Russian Senior Medical Officer. He sent Surgeon
Glegg with two sick berth ratings and an ambulance
to Panteleimon, while he and Surgeon Maitland Scott,
with the rest of the staff, attached themselves to the
hospital at Topalul. At six o'clock in the evening
of 30th November the Russian wounded began to
arrive, and continued in a steady stream until three
o'clock the next morning. There was only one
Russian oflicer capable of performing operations, and
before many hours he was completely worn out. He
appealed to the two British doctors to take over all
the operating work, and this they did cheerfully,
carrying on until 4 a.m., when they finished for the
night and turned in.

On 1st December Staff-Surgeon Scott was aroused
early in the morning by the Russian S.M.O., who
had a new problem to present. One day's fighting
had filled the hospital, and the battle was to continue.
The question was, how to get the cases removed to a
place of safety. The only medical transport the
Russians possessed was a lot of horse-drawn carts,
which were very slow and of small capacity. The
only possible solution of the problem was to borrow
some of the transport lorries of the Armoured Car
Force, and convert them into ambulances. Com-
mander Gregory agreed to lend the lorries for this
purpose, and in a very short time some of the ratings
belonging to the force were busy fitting them up with
naval cots and spare stretchers, and covering the
floor with loose straw. By eight o'clock in the morn-
ing the fleet of improvised ambulances was not only
ready for service but was loaded up with 116 wounded
men, and off they went on the road to Chisdarestii,
where the cases were to be placed on barges and
taken down the river to the base.

It is astonishing to find how little sleep a man
requires when necessity compels him to keep awake.
The two naval doctors had been busy with operations



204 THE NAVY IN ROUMANIA

until 4 a.m., but at 8 a.m. they were on their way to
Chisdarestii with the new British medical transport
section that had been improvised within the last
hour. It is equally astonishing to find what versa-
tility there is in the average man, when occasion calls
for it. Before long Staff-Surgeon Scott and his staff
found themselves playing the role of road -makers,
for there was one spot between Topalul and Chis-
darestii where the road was quite impassable by
motor traffic. Fortunately Staff-Surgeon Scott had
anticipated this, and had armed all the drivers and
spare drivers with picks and spades. By picking
away the road in places where there was more than
enough of it, and transferring it to places where there
was a great deal too little, they made quite a decent
road, and all in the space of half an hour. At Chis-
darestii they put all the wounded men safely on
board the barges, and then went back for another
load. The second trip removed 84 men to safety,
making a total of 200 for the morning's work. And
then the two doctors went back to the hospital, start-
ing in again at 10 a.m. with the routine work.

On this day (1st December) they were able to get
to bed at midnight, and it requires no great effort to
believe that they slept soundly. But they were up
again early next morning for more transport work,
and they took another SjO cases to Chisdarestii


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