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the Austrian gunners. At first the anti-aircraft
batteries tried to hamper the movements of these
spotters, but within the first hour or so every battery
had been destroyed, and the aeroplanes had free
license to go where they listed.

Soon the city was one big blaze, and terrified
citizens were fleeing helter-skelter to get away from
the deafening roar of bursting shells and falling
houses. But all the roads of escape were under fire
of the Austrian guns, and these miserable outcasts
— old men trundling their worldly possessions in
handcarts, women with children in their arms and
children clinging to their skirts— had to make their
way tlnough Ijursling shells. The roadside became



thf: fall of Belgrade iir

strewn with dead and wounded, as the fugitives
crowded together in their panic, so that the
winding road looked hke a huge writhing serpent,
composed of motor-cars, oxen-carts, horses, and
terrified humanity.

We in England, secure behind a deeper and wider
trench than ever the hand of man has dug, have
never yet realised what war is. When a few German
aeroplanes passed over our heads and dropped bombs
in our midst, our newspapers, with flaring headlines,
used to devote many columns to the incident, and
all our tongues were busy wagging about it, until we
really believed we had seen war. If only some of
us had been at Belgrade during those three awful
days, we might know what war really is.

No one had better cause to appreciate the magni-
tude of Belgrade's bombardment than the occupants
of No. 1 Battery on Velike Vrachar hill. The battery
was commanded by a Serbian artillery officer, with
another Serbian officer, as second in command, and
was composed of Sergeant Pearce with a corporal
and four gunners of the Royal Marines, and a small
crew of Serbian soldiers to assist with the heavy
work. During the first two days of the bombard-
ment the battery remained quiet, for they knew
that the Austrian gunners were looking for them, and
that they would be wise to reserve their fire until
the approach of the crisis. On the third day it
would seem that the aeroplanes had located them, for
shells from fifteen centimetre and many smaller guns
fell on them from eleven o'clock in the forenoon
until sunset. On the next day the shelling started
at eight o'clock in the morning, and again lasted
until sunset. But all this time the battery remained
quiet, waiting for the first sign of an attempt by the
enemy to cross the river.

On Thursday, 7th October, they could wait no
longer, but opened fire on the batteries along the



118 THE NAVY IN SERBIA

river front, and for the rest of that day they carried
on an artillery engagement with no less than twenty-
four Austrian guns. But the result was a foregone
conclusion. So long as they had kept quiet they had
smiled contentedly at the Austrian shells shrieking
over their heads, and exploding at some distance
behind them. But, the moment they fired the first
shot, the aeroplanes began to signal to the Austrian
gunners, who immediately reduced the range, until
their shells were falling in torrents all round the
battery.

Fortunately the emplacement was well constructed,
with good solid battlements, or the crews of No. 1
Battery would have been wiped out in a few minutes.
As it was, they managed to keep up the unequal
contest all day long, and most of the next day, until
those two guns were all that was left of Belgrade's
defences, and nearly the whole of the Austrian artil-
lery was concentrated upon them, though they never
realised it.

About eleven o'clock in the morning of 7th October
two heavy shells fell on the shell- room of No. 2 gun,
causing it to collapse, and killing one of the Serbian
interpreters and another Serb. Almost at the same
time two of the Marine gunners. Carter and Davies,
were wounded, and the other interpreter was severely
wounded. Both shrapnel and high explosive shell
were pouring on the battery, and the noise inside was
deafening. About noon the dug-out between the
two guns was blown in, so that it became almost
impossible to pass along the connecting trench, or
to go from one gun to the other without being exposed
to the enemy's fire. But there was another trench
in front of the battery, and, though this also was
exposed, it seemed to offer a better chance of com-
munication, because the enemy had, so far, ignored it.

When the rain of shells became unendinable, it
was decided to abandon the battery for a short time.



THE FALL OF BELGRADE 119

until the enemy had been led to believe that they
had silenced it. So the crews of the two guns crawled
forward into the trench in front of the battery, and
began to crawl stealthily along this trench towards
some haven of peace and quiet. But the accursed
aeroplanes had eyes like hawks, and immediately
signalled to the Austrian gunners to shorten their
range. Then the shells began to pitch into the trench
along which our men were crawling, and the Serbian
officer, the second in command, received a nasty
wound. The rest, however, managed to crawl away
in time.

They waited half an hour or so in their retreat,
and, as they expected, the enemy's fire eased after
a while on the battery, and sought other objectives.
So they started to crawl back along the trench,
flattering themselves that they had outwitted the
Austrians for once. But the aeroplanes hovered over
them like inexorable harpies, and immediately passed
the word to the Austrian gunners. Again the shells
came pouring into the trench, and. though by good
fortune they came through unscathed, those few
minutes were among the most crowded in those
crowded hours of life.

At last the welcome darkness came, and beneath
the protection of its cloak they set about repairing
the ravages of the enemy. The two poor fellows
who had been killed were extricated from a mass of
fallen masonry and earth, and the debris was cleared
away from the communication trench and from
around the guns. The first instinct of a British sailor
or a British Marine is to clear up an untidy mess,
and make things look ship-shape. If they had had
a hose and a squeegee they would doubtless have
cleaned the battery deck, and their fingers must have
been itching to run over the guns with a polishing rag.

Soon, however, they found more serious work to
hand. Some boats were seen off Kozara Island pre-



120 THE NAVY IN SERBIA

paring to take infantry across the river, so they loaded
up and sent a few shells into the thick of them.
Imagine the fury of the Austrian gunners, who
thought they had silenced our battery for ever.
With one accord they directed their fire upon it,
and in a few moments a mighty shell came crashing
into the casemate of one of the guns, breaking the
sights, the bar, and the bracket. When the sights of
a gun are broken it is still possible to use it with the
aid of a clinometer, and one of these imperturbable
Marines was on the point of getting to work on this
suggestion when it was discovered that ammunition
was running short. In that case it was better to
reserve what was left for the use of the sound gun
than to expend any of it with a lame gun. So, with
the one gun, they kept up a steady fire, until all the
ammunition was expended.

Then they waited until a fresh supply could be
passed up the trench by the Serbian soldiers — a risky
business, for it meant exposure to the enemy's fire.
With the ammunition came an old fellow bringing
some hot soup, made of beans, which the men drank
with avidity, and poured blessings on the head of
the old patriarch, who had risked his life to bring it
to them. Later on Captain Kartitch, the command-
ing officer of the battery, sent for some food, and, when
it came, shared it round amongst the men. It was
little enough, when divided among so many, but the
fact that officer and men stood shoulder to shoulder
in this hour of trial was more sustaining than the
most luscious masterpiece of a Paris chef.

So night passed into morning, and the undefeated
battery still kept on plugging away with its single
gun. Presently the Austrian monitors issued forth
from their retreat, and came down the river towards
Belgrade. " Give 'cm a drop of lyddite," said Ser-
geant Pcarcc, and the gun was loaded with a lyddite
shell. A few seconds later that shell burst amidships



THE FALL OF BELGRADE 121

on an Austrian monitor, and the little band of de-
fenders watched the vessel struggling to get back
upstream with large volumes of smoke pouring out
of her. All the other monitors fled for their lives,
while the lame duck managed to crawl into the creek
opposite Semlin, and remained there to lick her
wounds. " I reckon she's horse dee combat " said
one of the gunners, mopping his face with his hand-
kerchief.

But it was not long before the monitors plucked
up courage for another sortie, and at the same moment
all the guns for miles round concentrated on the last
of Belgrade's batteries. The battery managed to get
off one round at the monitors, and then a shell came
plunging into the casemate, wounding three men. It
was quite evident that the time had come to make
themselves scarce again, and they hurried along the
communication trench towards their shelter. The
last man had only just left the casemate when a
whole shower of shells fell on top of it, and the struc-
ture fell in. The sights and breech-lever of the one
remaining gun were smashed, so that it too was out
of action. But Sergeant Pearce was not the man to
leave anything to chance. The guns as they stood
were possibly capable of repair, and, though the torrent
of shrapnel made their vicinity far from comfortable,
he and his men went back to strip down the breech
and carrier. " The enemy won't make much of that
lot," they said, with a grin of satisfaction, as they
made their way out of the inferno.

The sergeant, in his official report, says : " Both
guns being thus out of action, we awaited further
instructions." And, while they waited, the city at
the bottom of the hill was all ablaze, shells shrieked
over their heads, and shrapnel burst within a few
yards of them. At nightfall a verbal order to retire
came to them, so they tramped through the rain and
darkness to a village a few miles to the south, where



122 THE NAVY IN SERBIA

some hospitable peasant gave them shelter, while they
rested for a few hom*s. In addition to the loss of two
men killed, the battery had fourteen men wounded.
But the sergeant regarded this casualty list as re-
markably small under the circumstances, and ascribed
their good fortune to the excellence of the battery's
construction and the depth of the trenches. All their
personal belongings, which were in a house near the
town, had to be abandoned, but what most distressed
them was the loss of the Serbian medals which had
been awarded them.

And now it was a case of sauve qui peut for all in
Belgrade. The mining section, under Major Elliot,
left the city on Friday morning, 8th October, and
marched by a circuitous route to Torlak, whence they
were ordered to proceed to Tchupria. There the
whole force, except the British guns' crews, was
assembled on 10th October. The French and Russian
naval missions, who had had all their guns destroyed,
also assembled at Tchupria, and for over a fortnight
the whole party waited upon developments. Then
they made their way by divers routes — partly by rail
and partly on foot — to Monastir, whence they took
train to Salonika, a day or two before Monastir fell
to the Bulgarians.

The three batteries belonging to the British Navy,
whose guns were still intact, were attached to the
Serbian army at the request of the General Staff.
On 1.5th October the admiral received a note from
the Serbian general to say that the whole of his heavy
artillery had been lost, and all that remained to him
were the six British naval guns to resist the invasion
of Bulgaria's armies.



CHAPTER X

THE GREAT RETREAT

Of the four British naval batteries sent to Serbia,
one was destroyed during the great bombardment
of Belgrade, and its crew, after having put up a
magnificent fight against impossible odds, abandoned
all that was left of their two broken guns, and retreated
to Tchupria. But the other three batteries, each
having two 4-7 guns, remained intact (except that
one of them had two men badly wounded) and on
9th October, 1915, when Belgrade had fallen, one was
on the left wing of the Serbian army, one on the right
wing, and one in the centre. Lieutenant-Commander
Kerr was then attached to the staff of General
Jivkovitch for command of the three batteries.

The Serbian army was gradually retreating, and
the naval guns had the task of delaying the enemy's
advance, so that the Serbians could carry out an
orderly retirement. It was during this period that
General Jivkovitch wrote to Admiral Troubridge that
the only heavy artillery left to his army was that of
the three naval batteries, and that they were doing
splendidly. It was, however, mighty hard work with
very little encouragement, for, no sooner had they
taken up positions for the guns, than they were ordered
to abandon them and continue the retreat. On 22nd
October they w^re at Mladnovatz ; from there they
moved southwards to Topola ; and from there on
25th October they moved to a position south-east of
Kraguievatz. There the retreat became more hurried,

123



124 THE NAVY IN SERBIA

and they had to retire by forced marches in ex-
ecrable weather, arriving at Krushavatz on 31st
October.

These twent3^-t\vo days of retreat were not without
their excitements but the general impression left on
the minds of those who went through the ordeal was
one of unceasing rain and endless trudging along
muddy roads crowded with soldiers, refugees, ambu-
lance waggons, transport carts, and all the parapher-
nalia of an army. The transport and the hospital
equipment were inadequate ; wounded men were
plodding along on foot, because that was their only
chance of escape, until they grew faint from loss of
blood, and fell by the way-side ; others perished from
want of food, because the facilities for conveying food
to them were lacking. It would need the pen of
another Zola to describe the harrowing scenes which
met the eye at every few paces along the road of
retreat, but perhaps it is more decent to draw the
veil over the details of Serbia's great tragedy, and
let those fill in the picture who can. Let us pass on
to the story of the naval batteries.

At the end of October the three batteries had all
reached Krushavatz, and early in the morning of
2nd November a request was made to Admiral Trou-
bridge that they should proceed to Nisch to join up
with the Second Serbian Army under Marshal Step-
anovitch. They had then been either in action or
on the march for twenty-two consecutive days, and
had had just one day's rest, so it would be useless to
pretend that they were in ecstasies of delight when
they received the order to trudge ten miles to a
railway station and thence take the train to Nisch.
They arrived there at half-past three next morning,
to find the town very full, but everybody making
preparations to evacuate it.

No. 2 Battery took up a position at Alexandre vatz,
to the west of Nisch across the Morava River, where



THE GREAT RETREAT 125

it was well placed to cover the road by which the
inhabitants oi" the town must retreat. No. 3 and No. 4
Batteries were placed at intervals af about three miles
along the river, but they were at some distance from
any road, and Lieutenant-Commander Kerr saw at
once that, when the inevitable order came to retreat,
there would be considerable difliculty in getting the
guns away. No. 3 Battery especially was very in-
accessible, for it was on the top of a small hill, and
between it and the main road lay a large expanse of
soft, marshy ground, lie decided that he must lose no
time in pointing out to the Chief of Staft the precarious
positions of the British guns, so he at once rode to
Prokuplie— a distance of some thirty miles — where the
marshal's staff had assembled. On arriving there he
had some difficulty in getting hold of a responsible
officer, to whom he could profitably explain the
situation ; but finally he succeeded in buttonholing
the marshal himself. The result of the interview,
however, was far from satisfactory, for, as might be
expected, the marshal had many preoccupations, and
the troubles of the British naval batteries could not
under the circumstances arouse very much sympathy
in his mind. Later on Lieutenant-Commander Kerr
returned to the front, and saw Colonel Mattich, com-
manding the division to which the batteries were
attached.

" Don't worry," said the colonel. " You will have
plenty of warning before a retreat is ordered, and the
ground between your batteries and the main road is
not so bad as you think." At this the matter had
to be left.

King Peter paid a visit in his car to No. 2 Battery
and asked the men whether they were comfortable,
and whether they would like to send letters home
to England. It was a thoughtful enquiry, but his
Majesty did not realise at the time that the postal
service had completely broken down, and there was



126 THE NAVY IN SERBIA

no way of getting the letters out of the country.
During the next few days the guns were in action
fairly constantly, and, whenever the enemy attempted
to mass troops, the batteries succeeded in dispersing
them. But, unfortunately, the ammunition was run-
ning low, and it was feared that the reserve supply
had fallen into the hands of the enemy, as the Serbian
officers in charge of the transport arrangements could
give no account of it. The time was obviously draw-
ing near when the guns would become useless through
lack of ammunition.

This was the period when the daily bulletin issued
by the Serbian Stafl" read, " Situation very serious."
The Austro-German forces were threatening to close
the road of retreat into IMontenegro, while the Bul-
garians were threatening the road into Albania. A
Bulgarian detachment was near Prilep threatening
the Ime of communications to Monastir — the railhead
of the only railway which was not in the hands of the
enemy. In fact, Marshal Stepanovitch's army was
in imminent danger of being completely surrounded
and cut off.

When, on 12th November, the order to retreat was
given, only one small segment of the enveloping circle
remained open — to the south-west of Nisch, towards
Prishtina — and the whole effort of the Serbians was
now directed to keeping open this line of retreat.
The batteries were ordered to proceed to Prishtina
with a view to joining up eventually with the Anglo-
French force, which was supposed to be coming up
from the south to the rescue of Serl)ia. The only
question was, could they ever get to Prishtina ? The
Third Army was sent to cover the defence of the
only road of escape, but that they could resist the
enemy's advance seemed very doubtful. The Second
Army was in full flight along this road, and the British
naval batteries were actually in the extreme rear of
it and nearest to the enemy.



THE GREAT RETREAT 127

No. 3 Battery met with disaster at the very com-
mencement of the retreat. As Lieutenant-Commander
Kerr had foreseen, that swampy ground proved too
much for them. The gun-carriages ran into deep mud,
which covered the axles, and all the combined eflorts
of their crews and their oxen could not move them.
So they had to be stripped and abandoned, only the
transport and the remainder of the ammunition being
saved. So only four of the original eight guns were
now left. The other two batteries safely reached
Prokuphe, and hurried on towards Kurshumlie, know-
ing that the flying moments were precious. No. 2
Battery had four men wounded just before the retreat
commenced, which did not help to cheer them on
their road. They were the first to get under way,
and trudged all through the night beside the weary
oxen and the two guns, taking just twenty-seven hours
to cover the thirty-three miles from the Morava River
to Kurshumlie. The men of No. 3 Battery, minus
their guns, were the next to pass through Prokuphe,
and finally came No. 4 Battery, so far behind that
Lieutenant-Commander Kerr had become more than
anxious about them. They, too, had had their troubles,
but they came up smiling, in spite of rain and slush
and weary limbs.

But there was no time to pause at Kurshumlie,
for the Austro-Germans were getting nearer every
moment. Just a few hours for rest and food, and
then the whole army had to push on towards Prish-
tina. The oxen attached to the guns were almost
worn out, but even the dictates of humanity must
give way before dire necessity, and the unfortunate
brutes had to be goaded on. All through the night
of 15th November the retreat continued along a road
which led them over the mountains. It was bitterly
cold, and the rain was incessant. A few of the Serbian
soldiers, seeking to make better speed than was possi-
ble on the congested road, turned aside from it, and



128 THE NAVY IN SERBIA

in the darkness walked over the edge of a precipice,
horses, waggons, and men.

Next morning the batteries reached the Mdare Pass,
whence they could see the snow-covered mountains
of Montenegro away to the west. But their road lay
to the south, and along it this great struggling crowd
of soldiers, refugees, transport-waggons, oxen, horses,
and guns made the best speed they could. At night
they bivouacked in the open to snatch a few hours
of sleep, but by half-past three in the morning
they were on the road again — struggling on, foot-
sore and weary, men, women, and children. The
road grew easier after they were through the
Mdare Pass, but the rain continued to pour down in
torrents, occasionally varied by a blinding snow
blizzard.

Napoleon's retreat from Moscow could have been
no worse than this, for at every few yards along the
roadside there were cattle, horses, and men dying of
hunger and exhaustion. No one knows what was the
toll in human life of that retreat through Serbia. We
can only thank Heaven that the women and children
were comparatively few, for most of them were left
behind. Whatever fate awaited them, it could not
be worse than that which overtook the refugees.
Report has it that the Serbian women were well
treated by the invaders ; but, on the other hand, there
were many ugly stories going rovmd, and the minds
of those soldiers who had left behind their mothers,
wives, and sisters were filled with persistent fore-
bodings.

So the bedraggled, rain-soaked crowd found its way
to Prishtina, and the town soon became filled with a
confused mass of dazed humanity, which knew not
what to do to get food, or where to go to dry their
soaking clothes. Fortunately, the batteries had food
of their own, and could look out for themselves. But
the question arose, what was to be done with the



THE GREAT RETREAT 129

four remaining guns ? The idea of taking them to
Mitrovitza, to join the new Anglo-Frcneh army coming
up from Salonika, had become impossible, for the
enemy had advanced too rapidly, and the new army
showed no signs of making its appearance on the scene.
One suggestion was to bury them somewhere accessible
to the railway, but eventually it was decided that
the batteries should be transferred to the Third Army
under General Sturm, and that they should retreat
with that army in the direction of Ipek, across the
Montenegrin border.

On 22nd November they got under way. The
congestion on the road was appalling, and an Austrian
aeroplane took advantage of the situation to drop a
few bombs, but fortunately they fell wide. The men
of the Navy, grateful for their rest at Prishtina, and
taking, as usual, a cheery view of life and things in
general, trudged on beside their four remaining guns.
They were not sorry to be quit of Prishtina, for
typhus had broken out there, and there were some
stories going around of weapons being hidden in the
Mohammedan mosques for use on the Christian popu-
lation as soon as the army was out of the town. In
fact, Prishtina was developing symptoms of un-
healthiness.

At four o'clock in the afternoon they arrived at a
swamp on the main road, and one of the guns of
No. 2 Battery promptly got stuck, holding up all the
traffic behind it for a long time. Men and oxen
hauled away at it for dear life without producing the
least impression ; then more men and more oxen were
requisitioned ; then a motor-car was harnessed to
the gun-carriage, and men, oxen, and motor-car did
their damnedest for five solid hours, but that gun


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