Our man in Sinai tells of his desert adventures.
Electronic Arts opened up its servers this week for a multiplayer beta of its World War I game, Battlefield 1, due out on PlayStation 4, Windows PC and Xbox One on Oct. 21. Here follows an account of the recent action, from one of its combatants.
From: Lieutenant George Dugenhall, British Sinai
To: Bertie Dugenhall, 45 Walnut Avenue, Tunbridge Wells, England
Date: June 14, 1916
I was sorry to hear about your unfortunate episode with a Zeppelin in Flanders. I certainly hope you gave the Hun Behemoth what for! The main thing, brother, is that you're home at last. Or at least, those parts of you that didn't get left behind in Belgium!
Some fellows here say they'd give an arm and a leg to get back to Blighty. Well, I tell them, that's exactly what my little brother Bertie did!
I, on the other hand, am still stuck in this d------ed hellhole, Sinai. They say the sun never sets on the British Empire. I wish it would set on this place, and stay bloody well set! Who the hell starts a war in a country like this?
We don't have Zeppelins here, but we do have giant armored trains. I'll tell you about those if I get a chance, along with all the other contraptions of our modern age of technological wonderments.
It is a marvelous thing to see the fierce desert tribesman charging on horseback at biplanes whizzing right at 'em. It's not so marvellous to see the poor devils being machine-gunned into mincemeat.
Please don't pass any of this on to Mother. I send her letters pretending that I'm serving Pink Gins to toffs at the Consulate in Cairo, safe in the shadows of the Pyramids. Truth is, I spend my days in sandholes, ducking German bullets fired by enraged Turks. It's a long way from Tunbridge Wells!
But enough of my blithering. First, the good news. This is a beautiful place, I mean properly poetic in its majesty and all that. The reds, golds and oranges of the desert are really quite something, even if you've been staring at them for days on end.
We are fighting in a large square that's walled by the most magnificent cliff faces, hewn by centuries of sand storms. I sometimes find myself staring up at them, right up until I see the twinkle of a sniper's sight in the sun and I take a quick dive into a bunker!
I don't want you to get the impression that this is all a wasteland. There are villages here in various states of ruin. I'd say some of them were homes to wealthy people at some time or another. You can see the carpets still on their rooftops, a comfy position for sniping!
Ruins of long-dead civilizations dot the landscape, a reminder that all empires must fall, sooner or later.
In practise, these structures mean that there's quite a bit of close-quarters fighting. Some of these villages have been here since the time of Moses, and they are quite a warren. There are no real trenches to speak of. I suppose they'd just fill up with sand as soon we'd finishing digging them!
There are times when I can get away from it all and just wander some quiet stretch of desert. All I can hear is the sound of the wind and my own breath. I stare at sandy wisps drifting across the horizon, mesmerised. But always, my reveries are broken by the echo of gunfire, of men shouting or screaming their last, far away.
I trudge back to the action. Sometimes it's quite a hike, especially in this hot sun. It's generally a bad idea to wander around on foot. You're badly exposed against the desert. There are many dangers here.
In an area this big, you need transport. I've been known to make use of a horse that's been left standing around, or even to cadge a lift in an armored car. This is not like the trenches of the Western Front. There's an awful lot of moving around, and it pays to understand transport, distances and all that.
The fighting is, of course, quite pointless. Each day, we are given some place to capture, to plant the Union Jack and move on or try to defend it, but soon enough, Johnny Turk shows up en masse and plants his own pretty crescent moon flag.
There's nothing that you'd recognize as a "front" here, mainly due to the distances and the terrain, but also transportation. I know men who'll happily defend some pretty row of houses, right back in the rear, only to be mown down by a rampaging warrior on a horse. Those animals are easier to kill than an armored car, but you have to hit them first. Miss, and they'll trample you underfoot or the rider will take you down with a rifle or a scimitar. I've never much liked horses.
Landships tend to tip battles one way or another. They are heavily fortified and very mobile over the sand. If you're standing around on foot, you're basically dead. But the best machine for a man who likes to operate alone is the artillery truck, which fires shells and bullets and moves fast.
A lot of battles are fought between men in machines. That's the future, isn't it? Perhaps one day, they'll take the men out of the equation and just let the frightful machines duke it out.
Same thing is going on, up in the sky. I told you about the low-flying biplanes mowing down mounted tribesmen, but mostly the planes are dog-fighting one another, speedy fighters against heavily armed bombers. The curious thing is how the best pilots make use of the rocky cliffs, luring unwary enemies to their deaths. There are canyons in there, not for the faint-hearted!
The soldiers here come in all shapes and sizes. It's like a gathering of the Empire. Black-skinned men here from Africa and Indian chaps in their turbans. Splendid soldiers. As for the locals, thank God they're on our side. Also, plenty of boys from back home. It's strange to hear the voice of some London NCO booming across these undulating sands. From The Dog & Duck to The Wastes of Sinai!
As for the enemy, I don't think they are any happier to be here than we are. No doubt, they'd prefer to be at home with their pretty carpets, sweet teas and comforting rituals. But if one of the buggers finds you dug deep in a crater, sniping his pals, he'll stove your head in, quick as a flash. It's worth remembering that these Ottomans were fighting here back when Queen Beth was on the throne.
I'll finish off by telling you about the train. Every now and then, usually late in the day, this giant armored train comes trundling across the land, basically mowing down anything that comes near. The main problem is that it pulls men away from defending their targets, in order to destroy it. A lot of fellows get killed that way. I won't go near it unless I'm in a landship, and even then, well, let's just say, laundry day can't come soon enough!
Anyway, good cheer to you Bertie. I hope to see you soon, so we can enjoy a pint of beer and reminisce about good times, all together again at last.