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before they resumed the professional work at the
hospital — again at 10 a.m. Three o'clock had struck
on the morning of 3rd December before they were
able to turn in, but they did so with thank fidness in
their hearts, for they knew that the fighting was
over for the time being, and they had been able to
get through three days of stress without any break-
down cjr s(ri(His hitch in the medical organisation.
On turning out they performed an abdominal opera-
tion on a case, who had been brought in during the
small Iiours, and tlien accompanied the heavy lorries



THE BATTLE NEAR TOPALUL 205

with another batch of cases to Chisdarestii, taking
fifty of them all the way to Hirsova to relieve the
pressure on the barges. The lighter lorries could no
longer be used because the road had become too
bad. At Hirsova they found Lieutenant Ingle, sent
there from Panteleimon, and tliey set his broken leg.
In spite of the assistance rendered by the British
motor -lorries, it was found impossible to provide all
the wounded Russians with transport, and large
numbers of lightly wounded men had to tramp the
ten miles to Chisdarestii.

Staff-Surgeon Scott mentions that at Topalul he
and his stall were treated with the utmost kindness
by the Russian Senior Medical Officers and staff.
The modesty of this statement is admirable, but one
is left wondering where the Russian medical arrange-
ments would have been without the fortuitous assist-
ance of the medical imit provided by the British
Navy. Luring the whole period of the battle the
two doctors and their staff of sick berth ratings had
worked almost day and night, and by their energy
and resource in making use of the transport lorries
they had averted the catastrophe of a hopeless con-
gestion at the field hospital. It had been a period
of gloom and depression for the allied forces, but the
devotion to duty of these officers and men, and the
unflinching courage of the combatants, both Russian
and English, endow the battle of Topalul with a shin-
ing ray of light. It is the courage which "■ mounteth
with occasion'! that is the best brand of all.



CHAPTER XV

THE RETREAT FROM THE DOBRUDSHA

Those were dark days for Roiimania in December
1916, when Mackensen's giant strides had rushed an
army through the Dobrudsha, while on the other
side of the Danube the Austro-German forces were
steadily closing on Bucharest. It is not for me to
try and fix the responsibility for her misfortunes,
even if it were possible to do so from the mass of con-
flicting accounts which have emanated from various
eye-witnesses ; but a warning may not be amiss that
all such accounts must be received with caution.
When things are going wrong, everybody blames
everybody else ; such is human nature. A distraught
staff officer eases his mind with a few forcible ex-
pressions about the regimental officers, while the
regimental officers are equally eloquent about the
stall officers ; and the General sends for his Chief of
Staff in order to blow off steam about the War Office
and the Government — all in the strictest confidence.
When two nations, very wide apart in race and
national characteristics, join hands for the purpose
of waging war, and when, moreover, the alliance is
based, not upon an old-established friendship, but
upon political expediency, it would be strange if, in
the hour of disaster, each did not ascribe the chief
share of the blame to the other.

In the Dobrudsha a Russian army had been striv-
ing to stem the tide of Mackensen's onslaught, and
had even attempted a counter-attack to push him

200



RETREAT FROM THE DOBRUDSHA 207

back beyond the Cernavoda Bridge. But on the eve
of that counter-attack all the reserves had been
hastily snatched away from General Sirehus, and
thrust across the Danube in a desperate elTort to
save the Roumanian army which was defending
Bucharest. The counter-attack was a failure in all
except the spirit shown by the Russian troops, who
throughout the battle of Topalul were faced by
greatly superior artillery, and except the courageous
efforts made by the British armoured cars. If
bravery alone could win battles, Mackensen's army
would have suffered a heavy defeat that day, but
unfortunately in modern warfare a great deal more
than the soldiers' heroism is required to gain success.
The fighting quality of every individual man may
count in the long run, but, however brilliant it may
be, it is of no avail if the great machine behind it is
faulty.

So the Russian army in the Dobrudsha, denuded
of its reserves, failed to drive back the enemy, and
was on the point of sitting down to recover its breath,
when the news came through that Bucharest had
fallen. It was a staggering blow, not only on account
of its political aspect, but also because it exposed the
flank of the Dobrudsha army. It must be remem-
bered that General Sirehus had been asked to make
his great effort at Topalul before fresh reserves had
had time to reach him, in order to cause a diversion,
and so relieve the pressure on the Roumanian army
before Bucharest. The fall of the capital, therefore,
added another failure to the list of those objectives
which he had attempted to secure. Moreover, it
placed his army in serious jeopardy. The general,
however, had no such word as "panic " in his vocabu-
lary ; he immediately sought some means of putting
heart into his dispirited troops, and his mind, sur-
veying the events of the past few days, lingered over
the work of the British armoured cars.



208 THE NAVY IN ROUMANIA

" Give me the list of those Englishmen in the cars
who have been recommended for decorations," he
said to his aide-de-camp. The list was handed to
him, and he ran his eye down the sheet. " Tell the
Chief of Staff that I want a full parade of the division
to-morrow morning," he said, " and send a note to
Commander Gregory to tell him that I want to see
these men there."

On 7th December 1916 the general presented the
crosses and medals of St. George to the men of the
British armoured cars before a full muster of his
troops, and when the presentation was over he made
a little speech to thank them for what they had done.
Then he turned to his troops and told them about
the work of the armoured cars.

" On 2nd December," he said, " the enemy's forces
made a strong counter-attack on our left flank at
Panteleimon. It was a critical moment, for I had
no reserves available, and if the enemy had broken
through our line, it is impossible to say what might
not have happened. It was then that the squadron
of British armoured cars, under Lieutenant-Com-
mander Wells Hood, went right beyond our first line
and poured into the advancing infantry of the Bul-
garians such a heavy fire that they were obliged to
get back into their trenches. Their counter-attack
was broken up, and our lines were saved. That was
at Panteleimon. At Topalul our English comrades
were performing similar feats. Bulgarian prisoners
who have been brought in declare that no less than
half their casualties have been due to the fire of the
armoured cars."

This parade was held near Braila, on the left bank
of the Danube, where the railway from Bucharest
into Southern Russia begins to skirt the river. The
place was in a state of hopeless confusion, for Rou-
manian fugitives, both soldiers and civilians, were
streaming through it, so that the railway and the



RETREAT FROM THE DOBRUDSHA 209

roads were blocked by them, and only the river was
left to the Russians as a line of communication. Here
Commander Gregory received orders from the staff
that the armoured cars were to cover the right flank
of the army during its retreat from the Dobrudsha,
and with these orders he hastened back to Hirsova,
where his force was carrying out a hurried refit.

During his absence at Braila he had left Lieutenant-
Commander Belt in charge, and this officer had been
informed by General Sirelius that Hirsova was liable
to be attacked by the enemy at any moment, and
that he had better make all preparations for remov-
ing the cars and their gear down the river. The
advice was doubtless excellent, but how to act upon
it was a problem. The quay was in a state of in-
describable chaos ; all the barges alongside it were
thronged with soldiers and civilians, every man of
them bent upon his own aims ; the soldiers were
loading up military stores, and the civilians were
struggling to evacuate as much as they could of their
household furniture and stock-in-trade. There was
no one in authority to procure any semblance of
order, and consequently every one was getting in
every one else's way, so that none were making much
progress with the work. Lieutenant-Commander Belt
saw at once that drastic measures were necessary, if
the property of the Armoured Car Force was to be
saved. He obtained the necessary sanction to com-
mandeer a couple of barges, and, accompanied by an
armed guard, he went down to the quay and com-
menced to load up all the heavier cars, the damaged
cars, transport cars, spare stores and ammunition,
and finally the sick men and those of the force who
would not immediately be required. This left a
squadron of light fighting cars, a few transport ears
for supply, and a sufficient number of men for pre-
sent needs.

The mobile force, which was thus reserved, was

14



210 THE NAVY IN ROUJMANIA

intended for the defence of Hirsova. There was some
danger that Austrian monitors might come down the
Danube and attack the town during the evacuation,
and in that case the armoured cars would oiier the
best form of rear-guard on account of their mobihty.
As things turned out, however, the monitors neg-
lected their opportunity, and, when all the inhabitants
and all the troops had made good their retreat, the
armoured cars received orders that they could leave
the place to its fate.

Rain had been falling steadily for several days past,
and consequently the roads were in a more horrible
condition than usual. Commander Gregory had
taken the precaution of reconnoitring them, in order
to ascertain which of them of'ered some possibility
of escape, and the result of the reconnaissance was
that they had all been placed upon the black list
with the exception of the road running eastwards to
Alebei Cliioi. Thither they started oil at daybreak
on 14th December, and a tedious journey they found
it. Every now and then they came across a hole in
the road big enough to swallow a pantechnicon, and
covered over with an unappetising mixture of mud
and water about as thick as pea soup. Ihe forty
odd miles occupied the whole of the day, and some
strong language was heard on the road from
Hirsova to Alebei Chioi. By the time they reached
their destination they all felt quite ready for a
nice hot supper followed by bed ; but when the
sailor goes a-soldiering he learns, among other
things, that nice hot suppers and beds are not
always to be picked up when they are wanted. It
is no longer a case of going below to the mess deck
and sitting down at a nice clean table, while the mess
cook brings something fragrant and steaming from
the galley ; but he has to suffer an introduction to
the mysteries of the commissariat and the field
kitchen, and the hunt for billets.



RETREAT FROM THE DOBRUDSHA 211

At Alebei Chioi the village was under Roumanian
control, and, to make matters worse, it was full of
Austrian prisoners. For some time the men of the
armoured cars could find no accommodation at all,
and when at last they tumbled into some kind of a
place with a roof to it — well, it is best not to go into
details. Suffice it to say. that previous occupants
had negligently left a few little things behind tliem.
Of course it was inevitable that one of these desirable
residences should be christened the Ritz, and another
should become known as the Carlton. That is where
the Britisher scores every time over the Hun and
most of the other tribes of the earth — his sense of
humour never fails him. In such quarters they
spent the next two days, and then came an order
from General Sirelius that they should proceed at
once to Braila, there to fill in an ugly gap in the
Russian lines, which was threatening to grow wider
at any moment. Just as they were about to start
in the early morning, the clattering of a horse's hoofs
was heard coming up the road, and a mounted orderly
drew rein in front of them. He had ridden in hot
haste with an urgent message from the general :
" The enemy has broken through the lines in two
places during the night. Dobrudsha army in full
retreat. Cancel all previous orders, and proceed
without delay to Tulscha. Two barges will be sent
there to meet you, and bring you up the river."

So the Dobrudsha was to be resigned to the enemy,
and the last flickering hope that it might be held
until sufficient force could be collected to drive
Mackensen southward, had died out. At Tulscha
they found another scene of wild confusion, conse-
quent upon an order to evacuate the place within
forty-eight hours. There were no other means of
retreat than by boat or barge up the Danube, or by
road to Isakcha, where there was a pontoon bridge
across the river. Needless to say, the more favoured



212 THE NAVY IN ROIBIANIA

of these two routes was the river, and consequently
all floating craft was in great demand. The two
barges referred to in the general's despatch were
either mythical, or had been commandeered long ago
by some distraught army officer, who was not likely
to have made particular enquiries as to whether they
were intended for some one else. After many hours,
Commander Gregory succeeded in securing the whole
of one barge to take the armoured cars to Reni, and
half of another to take the lorries, stores, ammuni-
tion, and provisions to Ismail. He had just com-
pleted this arrangement, when a new problem was
suddenly brought to his notice.

" How about the nurses of the Scottish Women's
Hospital ? "

This hospital had sent a unit to accompany a
Serbian division fighting in Roumania. The division
had been badly cut up, and very little was left of
it, but the ladies of the Scottish Hospital had re-
mained to carry on their good work, and found more
than enough occupation in ministering to the soldiers
of the Russian Army. They had recently been sta-
tioned at Braila, where some 8,000 wounded soldiers
had been collected from the scenes of fighting on the
Bucharest side of the Danube. And now they were
lending tlieir aid to the Russian medical units at-
tached to the Dobrudsha army.

The problem of tlicir evacuation from Tulscha was
solved by invoking the aid of Sub-Lieutenant Tmncr,
who proudly escorted his charge on board a barge,
and, having signed a receipt for them and for the
heavy transport lorries, which were also placed under
his charge, he shoved off en route for Ismail, whence
they were to proceed to l^olgrad. The light transport
cars were taken by Licutenant-Connnander Belt
along the road to Isakcha, and over the pontoon
})ridge to Bolgrad. The fighting cars went by barge
with Commander (ircgory to Reni. 'J'hus, by a pro-



RETREAT FROM IHE DOBRUDSHA 213

cess of devolving his responsil)ilities, the commanding
officer succeeded in shaking the chaotic dust of Tulscha
from his feet.

The story of the fighting cars is the one which most
concerns us at the moment, for the adventures of
the transport lorries and the nurses belong to other
realms than those of naval operations. When the cars
reached Reni, they were so badly shaken by the rough
roads they had traversed in the Dobrudsha that
they had to be handed over to the repair stall for
a hurried refit. It was fortunate that just at this
time some extra cars arrived by train from Archangel,
brand new from England. For the 4th Siberian
Corps at Braila were sending S.O.S. signals, of which
the burden ran, " For Heaven's sake send us some
of the British armoured cars." Now there was a
liaison officer attached to the force, and there was
also at Reni an officer belonging to the Russian
armoured cars. With these Commander Gregory
consulted as to the prospects of armoured car opera-
tions in the vicinity of Braila. Their advice was the
same as that of Punch to young persons about to get
married—" Don't."

" The roads round Braila," they said, " are quite
impossible for armoured cars. If you send those nice
new cars of yours there you will lose them. The best
thing you can do is to take the whole of your force
to Odessa, and there wait upon events. That is what
the Russian armoured cars are going to do."

But Commander Gregory was as obdurate as are
most of the young people to whom Punch offered his
advice.

" You see, it's this way," he said. " We were sent
out here as a fighting force, and the first duty of a
fighting force is to fight. I say nothing against
Odessa as a delectable place for a rest cure, but it is
not the kind of place for a fighting force, not at pre-
sent. And if all the Russian armoured cars are going



214 THE NAVY IN ROUMANIA

there, that seems to me an excellent reason why the
British cars should stay within easy reach of the
firing-line."

Of com'se he put it more politely than this, but he
left no doubt as to the state of his mind on the sub-
ject. So the Russian cars went to Odessa, and the
British cars remained at Reni, except a special
flying squadron which was sent under the command
of Lieutenant Smiles to Braila. The story of the
achievements of this squadron is told in another
chapter.

On 21st December the town of Tulscha fell into
the hands of the enemy, and from that moment the
Danube Army ceased to exist. In its stead a new
army was formed under the title of the Sixth Army,
and to this the British armoured cars were now
attached. Commander Gregory, after conferring with
Headquarters, decided to collect all the remainder
of his force at Galatz, where they would be within
call of the Army based on Braila if any urgent need
for their assistance should arise. In making this
decision he knew that he was incurring consider-
able risk, for, in the event of a sudden retreat, it was
very doubtful whether he would be able to extricate
his force. There were no adequate roads behind
Galatz leading to the rear ; the railway was blocked
with Roumanian refugees, while the stretch of river
between Galatz and Reni was likely to be commanded
before long by the enemy's artillery. On the other
hand, there was the prestige of British arms to be
considered, and this consideration was enough in
itself to determine him to remain near the firing-line
up to the last possible moment.

The repair staff, by working night and day, had
made every one of the lighting cars lit for immediate
service, when they were placed on a barge and taken
up to (ialatz. There they were joined by the light
transport cars, brought from Bolgrad by Lieutenant-



RETREAT FROM THE DOBRUDHSA 215

Commander Belt, after some minor adventures with
an Austrian aeroplane near the demoHshed pontoon
bridge at Isakcha. The heavy transport lorries also
found their way to Galatz, and so did the doctors
and nurses of the Scottish Women's Plospital. In
fact, none of the British contingent found the charms
of Odessa powerful enough to entice them from the
vicinity of the firing-line.

Of the formation of a second special squadron
under Lieutenant-Commander Wells Hood, to operate
in the neighbourhood of Tudor Vladimirescu, not
much need be said, for the roads there were found to
be quite impossible for armoured cars. The squadron
left Galatz in a blinding blizzard, lost their way
several times, eventually arriving at Tudor, where
they reconnoitred the roads in several directions, but
were obliged to condemn them all. They had con-
siderable difficulty in getting back to Galatz again,
for the main road was being continually cut up by
heavy artillery retreating eastwards.

The next event was the decision to evacuate Braila,
the base from which Lieutenant Smiles' s squadron
was operating, and Commander Gregory therefore
sent a telegram to recall him. But late in the even-
ing of New Year's Day an urgent message came
through from General Sirelius, begging that the
squadron might remain with him, and undertaking
to place at their disposal a special train to take them
from Braila to Galatz at the last moment.

" The cars," he said, " have established such an
ascendency over the enemy that he never attacks
when they are present, knowing that he is sure to
suffer heavy losses by doing so, and, moreover,
the cars produce a great moral effect upon my
own men, which is invaluable to me at this critical
juncture."

So Commander Gregory cancelled the order recall-
ing Lieutenant Smiles, sent him two new cars to take



216 THE NAVY IN ROUJMAN^A

the place of two which had been damaged in the
fighting, gave him a fresh supply of ammunition,
and wired to the general that the squadron was to
remain at his service.

From the quayside at Galatz they could see a
fierce battle raging in the Dobrudsha — the last des-
perate effort to contest Mackensen's advance. Far
and wide across the long stretch of flat country great
fountains of smoke kept on shooting up into the
sky, and mingling with the river mists, while the
bursts of the shells gave a lurid tinge of red to the
overhanging pall. As a spectacle it was magnificent,
but to the watchers at Galatz it was all too evident
that the Russian artillery was no match for that of
the enemy, and that the Russian infantry was every-
where being driven back by superior numbers. In
the evening of 2nd January Matchin — the last tow'n
in the Dobrudsha — fell into the enemy's hands, and
nothing now remained but to extricate the Russian
troops by withdrawing them across the river.

It is a curious illustration of the uncertainties of
war that on that very morning the General com-
manding in the Dobrudsha had actually been con-
templating an offensive, and three cars belonging to
Lieutenant S miles' s squadron had been sent across the
Danube in the afternoon to assist the attack. When
they arrived, however, the whole situation had
changed ; the Russians had been shelled out of their
positions, and, instead of expecting to advance, the
general was now wondering whether he could get
his forces out of the tight corner in which they were
placed. The three cars proceeded to a position 400
yards in advance of the Russian lines, and did not
drop back until the evening. One car developed
engine trouble, and had to be towed home, while
another was ordered to return, as it was a heavy
car with a 3-poundcr gun, which could not be used
advantageously after dark. This left Sub-Lieutenant



RETREAT FROM THE DOBRUDSHA 217

Kidd in a light Eord car abreast of the Russian
first-hne trenches, where he remained after the
commanding oflicer of the Cossacks had announced
his intention of retiring the whole force from the
trenches.

For another quarter of an hour he kept up an
intermittent fire on the enemy, while the Russian
infantry made good their retreat, and then he slowly
followed them — the sole barrier between the Russian
forces and jMackenscn's advancing army. A small
body of cavalry were just ahead of him, and he fol-
lowed them slowly towards the pontoon bridge, until
he came to the last line of Russian trenches, where
he found some infantry in possession but on the point
of retiring. He had no definite orders, but he con-
sidered that it was his job to see the whole of the
Russian army off the premises and over the river
before he himself left the Dobrudsha. So he waited
for twenty minutes to let the infantry get away,
keeping his machine-gun rattling away from time to
time at the unseen foe. It was very dark and very
foggy, and he could not help speculating upon the
chances of running his car into a shell-hole, and so
losing it. At last he moved on again, picking his
way very cautiously through a thick bank of fog.
Presently a voice hailed him through the darkness.
It was the Cossack commander, who wanted to thank
him for what he had done.

" They're all over the bridge," he said, " cavalry
and all."

" Where is the bridge ? "

" Here, you've just come to it ; and we must hurry
up and get across, for our fellows are going to blow
it up."

So Sub-Lieutenant Kidd splashed through the mud
on to the pontoon bridge — the very last unit of the
allied forces to leave the Dobrudsha. Less than an
hour later the bridge was no more.



218 THE NAVY IN ROIBIANIA

At Galatz there was a scene of bustle and activity,
for it was obvious that in a few hours the town
would be subjected to bombardment, and all the


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