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Heroes of WWI:

#28: Flora Sandes – From F.A.N.Y. to Captain

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Flora Sandes, born on the 22nd of January, trained with the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry Corps where she learned first aid, horsemanship, signaling and drill. In 1910, she left the FANY to join another renegade FANY unit. She then was sent to Serbia and Bulgaria in 1912. Although she had the experience of the 1st Balkans War, she was rejected in 1914, when she volunteered to become a nurse.

However, she joined a St. John Ambulance unit and left England for Serbia in August 1914. She arrived in Kragujevac, the main base for Serbian forces fighting against the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Soon, Sandes joined the Serbian Red Cross and worked in an ambulance for the Second Infantry Regiment. During a retreat, Sandes enrolled as a soldier with the Serbian Army. Flora Sandes was the only British woman to do so and quickly advanced to the rank of Corporal.

In 1916, Sandes was severely wounded by a grenade. For her bravery she was promoted to the rank of Sergeant major and received the Order of the Karađorđe's Star, the highest decoration of the Serbian Military. However, her injury took its toll: Flora Sandes was unable to return to the front line, instead she ran a hospital. At the end of war, Sandes became the first woman to be commissioned as an officer, before she finally was demobilized in 1922.
October 24, 2014

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Forgotten battlegrounds of WWI

The Battle of Sandfontein – A battle for water and supplies

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On September 26th in 1914, over 3.000 British and native soldiers and nearly 4.400 animals under General Sir Henry Lukin marched to the wells in Sandfontein. Exhausted by the staggering heat and close to collapse from dehydration, Lukin and his men set up no protection while gathering water. Thus, they were exposed to the surrounding heights where the German forces hid.

1.700 German riflemen and four machine gun teams were awaiting the first patrol and sent them back under heavy fire and with severe casualties. The German Schutztruppe advanced through the rocky hills and forced the British soldiers to retreat. Colonel Grant took command and withdrew to the Kopje Mountain. Soon the native soldiers found themselves without communication and no reinforcement in sight. The German guns were moved closer to Mount Kopje and after 30 minutes of intense shelling, the South Africans hoisted a white flag.

As soon as the fire ceased, both armies raced for the wells where they congregated. The exhausted German soldiers under General von Heydebreck showed chivalry and the General sat down with with Colonel Grant and General Lukin to discuss the battle. When the dead had to be buried, the German soldiers gave the same honors to the enemy as they did to their own. Shortly after this victory, General van Heydebreck died from an accidental explosion of a grenade.
October 20, 2014

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Forgotten battlegrounds of WWI:

The East African Campaign of 1914 - The Battle of Kisaki

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After General von Lettow-Vorbeck managed to harass the British Central Railway to Uganda without an engagement, he had to leave Dar es Salaam to British soldiers and withdrew to a position in the Uluguru Mountains. He planned to secure the movement of his supplies before going South with his main force as well.

However, General Jan Smuts had planned to flank the German forces with the 1st Mounted Brigade before engaging the German forces with the 3rd Infantry Division. The native German Schutztruppen prepared their defensive positions and were stationed around the town and on the other side of a mountain. When the 3rd Infantry advanced on the 7th of September 1916, they were greeted by German Field Artillery and 4.1 inch guns.

Due to the terrain, the 1st Mounted Brigade arrived a day later. Meanwhile General von Lettow-Vorbeck had re-positioned his reserve and with guns and rifles the South African Mounted Brigade was fought off. The attack ended on the 11th of September and after the South African forces were sent to the Central Railway, von Lettow-Vorbeck quickly abandoned Kisaki to move South to Beho-Beho.
October 13, 2014

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Weapons of WWI

#42: Livens Large Gallery Flame Thrower – Britain’s secret WWI weapon

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The Large Gallery Flame Projector was one of Britain’s most mysterious weapons of WWI. The large experimental flamethrower was designed by Royal Engineers officer William Howard Livens in 1915. Although it is unknown how many pieces were actually built, four of them were deployed in 1916 at the Battle of the Somme and one in 1917 near Diksmuide. Two were destroyed before they saw action by German shelling at Somme.

The Livens Large Gallery Flame Thrower was 56 feet long and weighted nearly 2.5 tons. A carrying party of at least 300 soldiers was needed to bring the weapon to the front line and assemble it. A crew of eight operated the monster. Basically, the flamethrower consisted of a long chamber filled with fuel, one 14-inch diameter pipe and a spray nozzle. It was designed to be used from a tunnel under no man’s land and if needed, compressed gas drove a piston thus forcing fuel out of the nozzle. When lighted, the fuel and thus the weapon had a range up to 130ft.
October 11, 2014

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Forgotten battlegrounds of WWI:

The Battle of Ctesiphon

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Ctesiphon, located in present-day Iraq, lies on the left bank of the Tigris River in the barren dessert, only 16 miles south-east of Baghdad. As a good defensive position in a loop of the Tigris, the city was of large interest for the British and Ottoman Empire during the Mesopotamian Campaign. After several minor losses, the Ottoman forces were able to halt the British offensive at Ctesiphon.

Under the command of Major General Charles Townshend 11.000 troops, separated into four columns and supported by two warships, began their attack on the 22nd of November 1915. 18.000 Ottomans were awaiting the attack after 55 days of defensive preparation. The two river gunboats didn’t become a factor in the battle due to heavy artillery fire and the mines in the Tigris. The frontal attack ordered by Major General Townshend was stopped by the L-shaped defensive line. Although the B-Columns, mainly Punjabis and Gurkhas, reached the first line of trenches, their advance was halted by the reinforcement the Ottoman colonel in command, Nureddin Pasha, sent to the front line. At the end of the first day, the 6th Poona Division had captured the first line of trenches, but the Ottoman soldiers did hold their position.
An attempted breakthrough on the second day was also stopped. All available forces were sent to a counter-attack. On November 24th, both Generals ordered a withdrawal. However, when Colonel Nureddin realized that the British soldiers were retreating, he turned his army around. After three days of vicious fighting, both armies had suffered severe casualties with 6.200 to 9.500 casualties on British side and nearly 4.500 on Ottoman side. The 6th Poona Division had a casualty rate of nearly 40%.
October 6, 2014

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