Lord Kitchener sent this message:
"My warmest congratulations to you and all serving under you on the substantial success you have achieved...."
In his report of October 3, 1915, General French stated that "The enemy has suffered heavy losses, particularly in the many counterattacks by which he has vainly endeavored to wrest back the captured positions, but which have all been gallantly repulsed by our troops.... I feel the utmost confidence and assurance that the same glorious spirit which has been so marked a feature throughout the first phase of this great battle will continue until our efforts are crowned by final and complete victory."
The following sentence is culled from the French official report on the fighting in Champagne:
"... Germans surrendered in groups, even though not surrounded, so tired were they of the fight, and so depressed by hunger and convinced of our determination to continue our effort to the end...."
Rather contradictory in tone and substance were the German dispatches:
"The German General Staff recently invited a number of newspaper men from neutral countries—the United States, South America, Holland, and Rumania—to inspect the fighting line in the west during time of battle.... They are thus enabled to verify the reports from the German headquarters concerning this greatest and most fearful battle fought on the western front since the beginning of the war. They are, accordingly, in a position to state that exaggerated statements are made in the reports from French headquarters, and to confirm the facts that the Germans were outnumbered several times by the French; that the French suffered terrific and unheard-of losses, in spite of several days of artillery preparation; that the French attacks failed altogether, as none of them attained the expected result, and that the encircling movement of General Joffre is without tangible result." "The world presently shall see the pompously advertised grand offensive broken by the iron will of our people in arms.... They are welcome to try it again if they like." "French and English storming columns in unbroken succession roll up against the iron wall constituted by our heroic troops. As all hostile attacks have hitherto been repulsed with gigantic losses, particularly for the English, the whole result of the enemy's attack, lasting for days, is merely a denting in of our front in two places...." Who shall decide when doctors disagree?
THE CAVELL CASE—ACCIDENT TO KING GEORGE
On October 15, 1915, the United States Ambassador in London informed the British Foreign Office that Miss Edith Cavell, lately the head of a large training school for nurses in Brussels, had been executed by the German military authorities of that city after sentence of death had been passed on her. It was understood that the charge against Miss Cavell was that she had harbored fugitive British and French soldiers and Belgians of military age, and had assisted them to escape from Belgium in order to join the colors. Miss Cavell was the daughter of a Church of England clergyman, and was trained as a nurse at the London Hospital. On the opening of the Ecole Beige d'Infirmieres Diplomees, Brussels, in 1907, she was appointed matron of the school. She went there with a view to introduce into Belgium British methods of nursing and of training nurses. Those who knew Miss Cavell were impressed by her strength of character and unflinching devotion. She could have returned to England in September, 1914, shortly after the outbreak of the war, when seventy English nurses were able to leave Belgium through the influence of the United States Minister, but she chose to remain at her post. The "execution," which was accompanied by several unpleasant features, raised a great outcry of public indignation not only throughout the British Empire, but also in most neutral countries. That indignation rose to a still higher pitch when, on October 22, 1915, the report on the case, by Mr. Brand Whitlock, United States Minister in Belgium, was published in the press. From the report it appeared, what the world had hitherto been ignorant of, that Mr. Whitlock had made the most strenuous efforts to save the unfortunate lady from death. His humanitarian labors in that direction were strongly seconded by the Spanish Minister in Brussels.
Miss Cavell's mother, a widow, residing at Norwich, received the following letter of sympathy from the king and queen:
"Buckingham Palace, "October 23, 1915.
"By command of the King and Queen I write to assure you that the hearts of their Majesties go out to you in your bitter sorrow, and to express their horror at the appalling deed which has robbed you of your child. Men and women throughout the civilized world, while sympathizing with you, are moved with admiration and awe at her faith and courage in death.
"Believe me, dear Madam,
"Yours very truly, "STAMFORDHAM."
The report described how Mr. Hugh S. Gibson, the Secretary of the American Legation, sought out the German Governor, Baron von der Lancken, late at night before the execution, and, with the Spanish Minister pleaded with him and the other German officers for the Englishwoman's life. There was a reference to an apparent lack of good faith on the part of the German authorities in failing to keep their promise to inform the American Minister fully of the trial and sentence. Mr. Whitlock's final appeal was a note sent to Von Lancken late on the night of October 11, 1915, which read as follows:
"My dear Baron: I am too sick to present my request myself, but I appeal to your generosity of heart to support it and save from death this unhappy woman. Have pity on her.
"Yours truly, "BRAND WHITLOCK."
The next day Mr. Whitlock telegraphed to our Ambassador in London: "Miss Cavell sentenced yesterday and executed at 2 o'clock this morning, despite our best efforts, continued until the last moment." The sentence had been confirmed and the execution ordered to be carried out by General von Bissing, the German Governor General of Belgium.
The British press drew an apposite parallel between the summary execution of Miss Cavell in Belgium and the course taken in England in the case of Mrs. Louise Herbert, a German, and the wife of an English curate in Darlington. She had been sentenced to six months' imprisonment as a spy. According to English criminal law every condemned person is entitled to appeal against the sentence inflicted. Mrs. Herbert availed herself of this indisputable right, and her appeal was heard at Durham on October 20, 1915—eight days after the execution of Miss Cavell. The female spy admitted that she had sought information regarding munitions and intended to send this information to Germany. She also admitted that she had corresponded with Germany through friends in Switzerland. Here, according to military law, was a certain case for the death sentence, which would undoubtedly have been carried out in the Tower had the accused been a man. It must be borne in mind that the Court of Appeals in England has the power to increase a sentence as well as to reduce or quash it altogether. Astonished by her frank answers, the judge remarked: "This woman has a conscience—she wishes to answer truthfully and deserves credit for that. At the same time, she is dangerous." He then gave judgment that the sentence of six months' imprisonment should stand. No charge of espionage was preferred against Miss Cavell. She was refused the advocate Mr. Whitlock offered to provide her with, and the details of the secret trial have not been made public.
Whatever may be the right or the wrong of the case, it is reasonably safe to apply to it the famous dictum of Fouche on Napoleon's execution of the Duc d'Enghien: "It is worse than a crime; it is a blunder." It certainly had the effect of still further embittering the enemies of Germany. Perhaps no incident of the great world war will be more indelibly imprinted on the British mind than this. Many thousands of young Englishmen who had hitherto held back rushed to join the colors. "Edith Cavell Recruiting Meetings" were held all over the United Kingdom. A great national memorial service was held in St. Paul's Cathedral in London, where representatives of the king and queen, statesmen, the nobility and thousands of officers and soldiers attended. The Dowager Queen Alexandra, who is the patron of the great institution now in course of erection and known as the "Queen Alexandra Nurses' Training School," expressed the desire that her name should give place to that of Miss Cavell, and that the institution shall be called "The Edith Cavell Nurses' Training School."
Within a month of her death it had been decided to erect a statue to the memory of Miss Cavell in Trafalgar Square. Sir George Frampton, R.A., President of the Royal Society of British Sculptors, undertook to execute the statue without charge.
The most permanent memorial of the death of Nurse Cavell will be a snow-clad peak in the Rocky Mountains, which the Canadian Government has decided to name "Mount Cavell." It is situated fifteen miles south of Jasper, on the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway, near the border of Alberta, at the junction of the Whirlpool and Athabasca Rivers, and has a height of more than 11,000 feet.
A curious sequel followed the execution of Miss Cavell. Nearly three months later, on January 6, 1916, a young Belgian was found shot dead in Schaerbeek, a suburb of Brussels. The German authorities took the matter in hand for investigation, but in the meantime General von Bissing fined the city of Brussels 500,000 marks and the suburb of Schaerbeek 50,000 marks on the plea that the murder had been committed with a revolver, the Germans having ordered that all arms should be surrendered at the town hall. But there was more in this affair than an ordinary crime. The "Echo Belge," published in Amsterdam since the German occupation of Belgium, revealed that the punitive action by the German authorities was prompted by something other than an infringement of the regulations. The body found was that of a certain Niels de Rode, and he it was who denounced Miss Cavell and also betrayed several Belgians—his own countrymen—who were trying to cross the frontier to join the army. The "Echo Belge" asserted that De Rode was executed by Belgian patriots to avenge the betrayal of Miss Cavell. The anger of the German authorities was explained by the loss of their informer.
On October 22, 1915, London was officially informed that "The king is in France, where he has gone to visit his army. His majesty also hopes to see some of the allied troops." This was not the king's first visit to the battle line, and, as before, his departure from England and arrival on the Continent had been kept a secret until he had reached his destination. The king traveled by automobile from Havre to various parts of the British and French lines, "somewhere in France," inspecting troops and visiting hospitals. The royal tour was brought to a premature close on the morning of the 28th owing to an unfortunate accident. The king had just finished the second of two reviews of troops representing corps of the First Army when his horse, frightened by the cheers of the men, reared and fell, and his majesty was severely bruised. Twice the horse (a mare) reared up when the soldiers burst suddenly into cheers at only a few yards' distance. The first time the mare came down again on her forefeet, but the second time she fell over and, in falling, rolled slightly on to the king's leg. The announcement of the king's mishap came with dramatic suddenness to the assembled officers and troops. The troops of the corps which he had first inspected could hear from where they stood the cheers of their comrades about a mile away, which told them that the second review was over, and that the king would pass down the road fronting them in a few minutes. The orders to raise their caps and cheer were shouted to the men by the company officers, and then the whole corps, with bayoneted rifles at the slope, advanced in brigade order across the huge fallow field in which they had been drawn up to within thirty yards or so of the road. In a few minutes a covered green automobile was seen tearing down the road at full speed, and as it drew up opposite the center of the corps the cheering began to spread all along the line. In the enthusiasm of the moment the majority did not notice that the car was not flying the royal standard, and even when an officer, with the pink and white brassard of an Army Corps Staff, jumped out of the car and began to shout hasty instructions few realized their mistake and his words were carried away down the tempestuous wind that raged at the time. Then the officer hurried here and there calling out that the king had met with an accident and that there was to be no cheering. A few of those in the center caught his words, but the news had not spread to more than a fraction of the whole body before the king's car drove past. A curious spectacle now presented itself. Along one portion of the front the men stood silently at attention, while their comrades on either side of them, and yet other troops farther away down the road, were raising their caps on their bayonets and cheering with true British lustiness. Some could catch a glimpse of the king as his car dashed swiftly by. He was sitting half-bent in the corner of the vehicle, and his face wore a faint smile of acknowledgment. The king's injuries proved to be worse than was at first supposed, necessitating his removal to London on a stretcher.
OPERATIONS IN CHAMPAGNE AND ARTOIS—PREPARATIONS FOR WINTER CAMPAIGN
By the middle of October operations on the western front centralized almost entirely in the Champagne and Artois districts, where the Germans, fully appreciating the menace to their lines created by the results of the allied offensive, sought by continuous violent counterattacks to recover the territory from which they had been dislodged and to prevent the Allies from consolidating and strengthening their gains. Their attacks in the Artois fell chiefly between Hulluch and Hill 70, and southeast of Givenchy, against the heights of Petit Vimy. The Germans succeeded in retaking small sections of first-line trenches, but lost some of their new trenches in return. Whereas the Allies held practically all they had gained, the Germans were considerably the losers by the transaction. The British attempted to continue their offensive by driving between Loos and Hulluch, the most important and at the same time the most dangerous section on the British front. By steadily forging ahead southeast of Loos toward Hill 70, the British were driving a wedge into the German line and creating a perilous salient around the town of Angres as the center. To obviate the danger from counterattacks against the sides of the salient, the British endeavored to flatten out the point of the wedge by capturing more ground north of Hill 70 toward Hulluch. To some extent the plan succeeded; they advanced east of the Lens-La Bassee road for about 500 yards, an apparently insignificant profit, but it had the effect of strengthening the British position.
Uninterrupted fighting in Champagne had made little difference to either side, save that the French had managed to straighten out their line somewhat, though they were by no means nearer to their desired goal—the Challerange-Bazancourt railway. If that could be taken, the Germans facing them would be cut off from the crown prince's army operating in the Argonne. Bulgaria had meanwhile entered the conflict and started the finishing campaign of Serbia with the assistance of her Teutonic allies.
Between October 19 and October 24, 1915, the Germans made eight distinct attacks in the Souchez sector in Artois, attempting to loosen the French grip on Hill 140. In this venture the First Bavarian Army Corps was practically wiped out by terrible losses. Each attack was reported to have been repulsed. Commenting on the same event, the German report said that "... enemy advances were repulsed. Detachments which penetrated our positions were immediately driven back." Both sides of the battle line now settled down to the same round of seesaw battles of the preceding midsummer; attacks and counterattacks; trenches captured and recaptured; here a hundred yards won, there a hundred yards lost. After almost every one of these events the three headquarters issued statements to the effect that "the enemy was repelled with heavy losses," or that some place or other had been "recaptured by our troops." On October 24, 1915, the French in Champagne made some important progress. In front of their (the French) position the Germans occupied a very strongly organized salient which had resisted all previous attacks. In its southwestern part, on the northern slopes of Hill 196, at a point one and a quarter miles to the north of Mesnil-les-Hurlus, this salient included a valuable strategic position called La Courtine (The Curtain), which the French took after some severe fighting. La Courtine extended for a distance of 1,200 yards with an average depth of 250 yards, and embracing three or four lines of trenches connected up with underground tunnels and the customary communication trenches, all of which had been thoroughly prepared for defense. In spite of the excellence of these works and the ferocious resistance of the German soldiers, the French succeeded in taking this position by storm after preparatory artillery fire. On the same day that this was announced, the Berlin report put it thus: "In Champagne the French attacked near Tahure and against our salient north of Le Mesnil, after a strong preparation with their artillery. Near Tahure their attack was not carried out to its completion, having been stopped by our fire. Late in the afternoon stubborn fighting was in progress on the salient north of Le Mesnil. North and east of this salient an attack was repulsed with severe French losses."
The following two interesting reports were issued on October 27, 1915:
After having exploded in the neighborhood of the road from Arras to Lille ... a series of powerful mines which destroyed the German intrenchments ... our troops immediately occupied the excavations. They installed themselves there, notwithstanding a very violent bombardment and several counterattacks by the enemy, who suffered serious losses. We captured about 30 prisoners.
After the explosion of a French mine on the Lille-Arras road an unimportant engagement developed, which went in our favor.
An important event happened in France on October 28, 1915, when the Viviani Cabinet resigned, much to the general surprise of the nation. The result of the change of government was that M. Aristide Briand, one of the aggressive and militant members of the Socialist party, succeeded as Premier and Foreign Secretary, M. de Freycinet became Vice President of the Council, and General Gallieni Minister for War. It was not a "political crisis," but a union of the parties—a coalition, such as the British Government had already adopted. The change implied a distribution of responsibility among the leading men of all parties, a useful measure to stifle criticism and insure unanimity of purpose. M. Viviani reentered the new Cabinet as Minister of Justice. For the first time in the history of the French Republic a coalition ministry of all the opposing factions was formed.
Some stir and much speculation was caused when General Joffre visited London at the end of October and held another conference with Lord Kitchener. It was generally understood that some scheme for central military control was being promoted, to render quicker decisions and coordinate action possible. It was obvious that matters of vital interest had brought the French Generalissimo to London. Shortly before his departure it leaked out that the British Government had for some time contemplated the creation of a new General Staff composed of experts to supervise the prosecution of the war, and it was believed, perhaps with justification, that General Joffre had come to give his opinion on the matter. On November 17, 1915, the first meeting of the Anglo-French War Council was held in Paris. The British members in attendance were the Prime Minister, Mr. Arthur James Balfour, First Lord of the Admiralty; Mr. David Lloyd-George, Minister of Munitions, and Sir Edward Grey, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. The French participants were Premier Briand, General Gallieni, Admiral Lacaze, Minister of Marine, and General Joffre.
At the beginning of November a temporary lull had set in on parts of the western front, and the center of interest was for the time shifted to the Balkans. The French and British seemed unable to continue their offensive operations and were, for the most part, confined to their trenches and such territory as they had wrested from the Germans during September and early October. On October 30, 1915, the Germans had again begun a series of determined offensives in Artois and Champagne. They met with considerable success in the initial stages, for on the morning of the 31st they had gained about 1,200 yards of the French trenches near Neuville-St. Vaast and on the summit of the Butte de Tahure, capturing 1,500 French soldiers. The struggle for the Neuville trenches continued for days, during which the positions changed hands at short intervals.
In Champagne the Germans, after a fresh artillery preparation, with the employment of suffocating shells of large caliber, renewed their attacks in the region to the north of Le Mesnil. They delivered four successive assaults in the course of the day—the first at 6 a. m. on the extreme east of La Courtine; the second at noon against Tahure; the third at 2 p. m. to the south of the village, and the fourth at 4 p. m. against the ridges to the northeast. The French artillery, however, checked their progress and compelled them to retire to their trenches, leaving 356 unwounded prisoners with the French. Beyond occasional artillery duels in the Dixmude-Ypres district, nothing of importance happened on the Belgian front.
In the middle of November hard fighting was resumed on the Artois front in the region of the Labyrinth, north of Arras, and continued day and night, conducted chiefly with hand grenades. Artillery actions raged in the Argonne forest, near Soissons, Berry-au-Bac, and on the Belgian front. German activity in the Arras-Armentieres sector was regarded as prognosticating a big attack. While the Germans collected men and munitions at one spot, the French and British, adopting worrying tactics, suddenly descended and harassed them in another. A successful little enterprise was carried out by a small party of British troops during the night of November 16-17, 1915, with a loss of one man killed and one wounded, just north of the river Douave, southwest of Messines. They forced an entrance into the German front trench after bayoneting thirty of the occupants. The party returned with twelve German prisoners. About November 19-20, 1915, the heavy artillery of the Allies battered the German trenches west of Ypres, while their warships were shelling the coast fortifications at Westende.
Between November 20 and 25, 1915, the British employed their time in bombarding the German positions in several places, destroying wire entanglements and parapets. The Germans made but little reply, contenting themselves with holding tight to their trenches. They were more active north of Loos, Ploegstreet, and east of Ypres. On the evening of the 22d the Germans made a heavy bombing attack on a mine crater held by the British south of the Bethune-La Bassee road, with apparently inconclusive results. Constant mining operations were resorted to by both sides, the British exploding one and occupying the crater on the aforesaid road, and the Germans performing a similar feat south of Cuinchy, severely damaging some British trenches. They also exploded mines near Carnoy and Givenchy. A British aeroplane squadron of twenty-three machines bombarded a German hut encampment at Achiet le Grand, northeast of Albert. A single German aero ascended to engage the attackers and deposited sundry bombs in the neighborhood of Bray. In the Argonne forest artillery activity was more pronounced, and a German ammunition depot in the Fille Morte region was destroyed.
A big fall of snow somewhat restricted operations in the Vosges, especially in the region of the Fecht and Thur Rivers. On the Belgian line a rather violent bombardment occurred in front of St. Heewege. To the north of Dixmude and the cast of St. Jacques Capelle a retaliatory fire was kept up for two days. The subjugated Belgians raised a voice of protest against the German method of raising the war levies imposed upon the country. They complained that, whereas Belgium had faithfully carried out her share of the arrangement, the German Government was indebted to the Belgians a matter of $12,000,000 for supplies that had not been paid for. Nearly $100,000,000 had been exacted in tribute by Germany from the occupied provinces of Belgium up to November 10, 1915, since which date the German Governor General had issued orders for a monthly war tax of 40,000,000 francs ($8,000,000) until further notice. Calculating that the Belgians in the occupied territory numbered 6,000,000, this fresh levy meant that every man, woman, and child would have to pay about $1.35 into the German war treasury every month. This new levy order issued by Baron von Bissing differed in some important particulars from the one issued a year previously. No limit was referred to upon the expiration of which the tax should cease; in the former order the period of a year was mentioned. Another new clause was to the effect that the German Administration should have the right to demand the payment in German money at the customary rate in Brussels of 80 marks to 100 francs. This device probably aimed at raising the rate of the mark abroad. That nine Belgian provinces had hitherto been able regularly to pay these large monthly installments was due to the fact that the provincial authorities secured large support from the Societe Generale de Belgique, which bank expressed its readiness, on certain conditions, to lend money to the provinces and make payments for them, these transactions, of course, taking place under the supervision of the German authorities. On the other hand, the Societe Generale was granted by the Germans the exclusive right to issue bank notes, which had hitherto been the privilege of the Belgian National Bank.
The uninterrupted and intense activity along the front with grenades, mines and heavy guns can be only vaguely described or even understood from the brief chronicles of the official bulletins. This underground warfare, to which only dry references are occasionally made, was carried on steadily by day and by night. The mines, exploding at irregular intervals along the lines, gave place to singular incidents which rarely reached the public. Near Arras, in Artois, where sappers largely displaced infantry, was related the story of two French sappers, Mauduit and Cadoret, who were both decorated with the Military Medal. The story of how they won this distinction is worth repeating:
They had dug their way under and beyond German trenches when the explosion of a German mine between the lines cut their gallery, leaving them imprisoned in a space eight feet long. This happened at ten in the morning. They determined to dig toward the surface and encouraged each other by singing Breton songs in low tones while they worked. The air became foul and they were almost suffocated. Their candles went out and left them to burrow in absolute darkness. After hours of intense labor the appearance of a glowworm told them that they were near the surface. Then a fissure of the earth opened and admitted a welcome draft of fresh air. The miners pushed out into the clear starlight. Within arm's length they beheld the loophole of a German trench and could hear German voices. The thought seems not to have occurred to them to give themselves up, as they could easily have done. Instead, they drew back and began to dig in another direction, enduring still longer the distress which they had already undergone so long without food or drink. After digging another day they came out in the crater of a mine. The night was again clear and it was impossible for them to show themselves without being shot by one side or the other. So they decided to hold out for another night. They lay inside the crater exposed to shells, bombs, and grenades from both sides, eating roots and drinking rain water. On the third night Mauduit crept near the edge of the crater and got near an advance sentinel, one of those pushed out at night beyond the lines to protect against surprise. Cadoret, exhausted, lost his balance and fell back into the crater. Under the German fire Mauduit went back and helped his companion out. Both crawled along the ground until they fell into the French trenches.
Attacks by French aeroplanes upon the German lines were the main features of the day's fighting for November 28, 1915. They damaged the aviation hangars near Muelhausen, in Alsace, and brought down two German machines. The Germans exploded a mine in front of the French works near the Labyrinth, north of Arras, and succeeded in occupying the crater.
Near the end of November the sleet, snow and winds abated and a dry frost accompanied by clear skies set in. Immediately a perfect epidemic of aerial activity broke out. French, German, British, and Belgian aeroplanes scoured the heavens in all directions, seeking information and adventure. Even the restless artillery seemed inspired with still greater energy. German ordnance belched its thunder around Aveling, Loos, Neuve Chapelle, Armentieres, and Ypres, eliciting vigorous responses from the opposite sides. Aviators fought in the air and brought each other crashing to earth in mutilated heaps of flesh, framework and blazing machinery. No fewer than fifteen of these engagements were recorded in one day. And yet, despite all the bustle and excitement, the usually conflicting reports agreed that there was nothing particular to report. Each sector appeared to be conducting a local campaign on its own account.
The Switzerland correspondent of the since defunct London "Standard" quoted, on November 30, 1915, from a remarkable article by Dr. Heinz Pothoff, a former member of the Reichstag:
"Can any one doubt that the German General Staff will hesitate to employ extreme measures if Germany is ever on the verge of real starvation? If necessary, we must expel all the inhabitants from the territories which our armies have occupied, and drive them into the enemy's lines; if necessary, we must kill the hundreds of thousands of prisoners who are now consuming our supplies. That would be frightful, but would be inevitable if there were no other way of holding out."
On the last day of November a bill was introduced in the French Chamber of Deputies by General Gallieni calling to the colors for training the 400,000 youths of the class of 1917, who in the ordinary course of events would not have been called out for another two years. The war minister explained that it was not the intention of the Government to send the new class, composed of boys of 18 and 19, to the front at once, but to provide for their instruction and training during the winter for active service in the spring, when, "in concert with our allies, our reenforcements and our armaments will permit us to make the decisive effort." The bill was passed.
A British squadron bombarded the German fortifications on the Belgian coast, from Zeebrugge to Ostend, for two hours on November 30, 1915. The weather suddenly changed on the entire western front. Rain, mist, and thaw imposed a check on the operations, which simmered down to artillery bombardments at isolated points. For the next three months the combatants settled down to the exciting monotony of a winter campaign, making themselves as comfortable as possible, strengthening their positions, keeping a sharp eye on the enemy opposite, and generally preparing for the spring drive. Great offensive and concerted movements can only be carried out after long and deliberate preparations. The Allies had shot their bolt, with only partial success, and considerable time would have to elapse before another advance on a big scale could be undertaken. Hence the winter campaign developed into a series of desultory skirmishes and battles, as either side found an opportunity to inflict some local damage on the other. For the Allies it was part of the "war of attrition," or General Joffre's "nibbling process."
The Germans had gone through a bitter experience in Champagne; with characteristic skill and energy they set to work improving their defenses. At intervals of approximately 500 yards behind their second line they constructed underground strongholds known as "starfish defenses," which cannot be detected from the surface: About thirty feet below the ground is a dugout of generous dimensions, in which are stored machine guns, rifles, and other weapons. Leading from this underground chamber to the surface are five or six tunnels, jutting out in different directions, so that their outlets form half a dozen points in a circle with a diameter of perhaps 100 yards. In each of the tunnels was laid a narrow-gauge railway to allow the machine guns to be speedily brought to the surface. At the mouth of the tunnels were two gun platforms on either side, and the mouth itself was concealed by being covered over with earth or grass. The defenses were also mined, and the mines could be exploded from any one of the various outlets. On several occasions when the French endeavored to press home their advantage they found themselves enfiladed by machine guns raised to the surface by troops who had taken up their places in the underground strongholds at the first menace to the second line. When one of the outlets was captured, machine guns would appear at another; while, if the French troops attempted to rush the stronghold, the Germans took refuge in the other passages, and met them as they appeared.
On the French and British side also, underground defense works were of a most scientific and elaborate character. Trench warfare has become an art. Away from the seat of war the importance of the loss or the gain of a trench is measured by yards. If you are in trenches on the plain, where the water is a few feet below the surface, and all the area has been used as a cockpit, you would wonder how any trench can be held. If, on the other hand, you were snugly installed in a deep trench on a chalk slope, you would wonder how any trench can be lost. Any real picture of what a trench is like cannot be drawn or imagined by a sensitive people. It is, of course, a graveyard—of Germans and British and French. Miners and other workers in the soil drive their tunnel or trench into inconceivable strata. They come upon populous German dugouts, corked by some explosion perhaps a year ago. They are stopped far below ground by a layer of barbed wire, proved by its superior thickness to be German. Every yard they penetrate is what gardeners call "moved soil." It is of the nature of a fresh mole heap or ants' nest, so crumbled and worked that all its original consistency has been undone. A good deal of it doubtless has been tossed fifty feet in the air on the geyser of a mine or shell explosion. It is full of little bits of burnt sacking, the debris of sandbags. Weapons and bits of weapons and pieces of human bodies are scattered through it like plums. The so-called trench may be no more than a yoked line of shell holes converted with dainty toil and loss to a more perpendicular angle. And the tangled pattern of craters is itself pocked with the smaller dents of bombs. There are three grades of holes—great mine craters that look like an earth convulsion themselves, pitted with shell holes, which in turn are dimpled by bombs. Imagine a place like the Ypres salient, a graveyard maze under the visitation of 8,000 shells falling from three widely separate angles, and some slight idea may be formed of nearly two years' life in the trenches. It is an endless struggle for some geographical feature: a hill, a mound, a river, or for a barn or a house. At Ypres, indeed, the German and British lines have passed through different sides of the same stable at the same time. The competition for a hill or bluff is such that in many cases, as at Hill 60, the desired spot, as well as the intervening houses and even woods, have been wiped out of existence before the rival forces.
On November 2, 1915, the British Premier announced in the House of Commons that there were then nearly a million British soldiers in Belgium and France; that Canada had sent 96,000 men to the front, and that the Germans had not gained any ground in the west since April of that year. He furthermore stated that the British Government was resolved to "stick at nothing" in carrying out its determination to carry the war to a successful conclusion. In addition to the troops mentioned above, the Australian Commonwealth had contributed 92,000 men to date; New Zealand 25,000; South Africa, after a brilliant campaign in which the Germans in Southwest Africa were subdued, had sent 6,500; and Newfoundland, Great Britain's oldest colony, 1,600. Contingents were also sent from Ceylon, the Fiji Islands, and other outlying parts of the empire. The premier said that since the beginning of the war the admiralty had transported 2,500,000 troops, 300,000 sick and wounded, 2,500,000 tons of stores and munitions, and 800,000 horses. The loss of life in the transportation of these troops was stated to be less than one-tenth of one per cent.
On December 2, 1915, General Joffre was appointed commander in chief of all the French armies, excepting those in North Africa, including Morocco, and dependent ministry colonies. The appointment was made on the recommendation of General Gallieni, the War Minister, who, in a report to President Poincare, said:
"By the decree of October 28, 1913, the Government, charged with the vital interests of the country, alone has the right to decide on the military policy. If the struggle extend to several frontiers, it alone must decide which is the principal adversary against whom the majority of the forces shall be directed. It consequently alone controls the means of action and resources of all kinds, and puts them at the disposal of the general commander in chief of the different theatres of operations.
"The experience gained, however, from the present operations, which are distributed over several fronts, proves that unity of direction, indispensable to the conduct of the war, can only be assured by the presence at the head of all of our armies of a single chief, responsible for the military operations proper."
General Joffre's new appointment possesses a historic interest, for it created him the first real general in chief since the days of Napoleon, independent entirely of the national ruler as well as of the minister for war and any war council.
In the beginning of December, 1915, Field Marshal Sir John French was relieved at his own instance and appointed to the command of the home forces. He was given a viscountcy in recognition of his long and brilliant service in the army.
From the landing of the British Expeditionary Force in France, Sir John French had commanded it on the Franco-Belgian frontier along a front that grew from thirty-two miles to nearly seventy in one year, while the troops under his command had grown in numbers from less than sixty thousand to well over a million. The son of a naval officer, John Denton French began his career as a midshipman in the navy, but gave that up after a three years' trial and joined the army in 1874. General French was essentially a cavalry commander, and as such he distinguished himself in the South African War of 1899-1902. His conduct in the European War has been the subject of some criticism. The time is not yet ripe to form a just estimate of his achievements and failures. Nothing succeeds like success, and nothing is easier than to criticize a military commander who fails to realize the high expectations of his countrymen. Whatever may be the verdict of history for or against General French, it will certainly acknowledge that he did great things with his "contemptible little army." The figure of Viscount French of Ypres will stand out in bold relief when the inner history of Mons, the Marne, Neuve Chapelle, Ypres, and Loos is definitively written. The present generation may not be permitted to read it, for even to-day, after a hundred years, military experts are still divided over the mistakes of the great Napoleon.
The command in chief of the British army now devolved upon General Sir Douglas Haig, who, though a "born aristocrat," had nevertheless taken his trade of soldiering very seriously. He had served with distinction in India and South Africa. During the retreat from Mons General Haig performed marvels of leadership. By skillful maneuvering he extricated his men at Le Cateau in the most critical moment of the retreat. He led in the attack on the Aisne, and is also credited with chief responsibility for the clever movement of the British army from the Aisne to Ypres. In his dispatch on the battle of Ypres Field Marshal French highly praised the valuable assistance he had derived from General Haig. It was said that during the fierce battle of Ypres, "at one time or another every corps and division commander in the lot lost hope—except Haig. He was a rock all through."
On December 2, 1915. Mr. Asquith announced in the House of Commons that Great Britain's total losses in killed, wounded, and missing since the war began amounted to 510,230.
The figures for the western front were: Killed, 4,620 officers and 69,272 men; wounded, 9,754 officers and 240,283 men; missing, 1,584 officers and 54,446 men; grand total of casualties, 379,959.
EVENTS IN THE WINTER CAMPAIGN
It is well-nigh impossible to give a connected story of the innumerable and far-flung operations of the winter campaign. It resolves itself into a mere list of dates and a brief description of what happened on those dates. At this short distance of time even the descriptive details are by no means altogether reliable, owing to the contradictory reports that announced them. During the first week in December, 1915, the Germans concentrated strong reenforcements and an immense amount of artillery with the object of striking a blow at the allied line in Flanders and Artois. In Champagne they captured about 800 feet of an advanced trench near Auberive. The French admitted the loss, but claimed that they had reoccupied a large part of the ground originally yielded.
Floods in the Yser region compelled the Germans to abandon many of their advanced trenches, and two of their ammunition depots were blown up. Near Berry-au-Bac they destroyed a French trench with its occupants and blew up some mines that the French had almost completed. Artillery engagements in Artois became more pronounced, especially around Givenchy. On the 8th sixteen British aeroplanes bombed a German stores depot at Miraumont, in the Somme district, and the aerodrome at Hervilly. The attack was carried out in a high westerly wind, which made flying difficult. All machines returned safely after inflicting much damage on both objectives. A British cargo boat having run aground off the Belgian coast, three German hydroaeroplanes attempted to sink her with bombs. Several of the allied aeroplanes, one of them French, set out from the land and drove the German flyers away after an exciting fight. Deep snow in the Vosges Mountains prevented operations beyond artillery action.
On December 16, 1915, in the course of his demand in the Chamber of Deputies that the Chamber grant three months' credit on the budget account, the French Minister of Finance, M. Ribot, said that while the war expenditure at the beginning of the conflict was 1,500,000,000 francs ($300,000,000) a month, it had risen to 2,100,000,000 francs ($420,000,000). "At the beginning of hostilities financial considerations took a secondary place. We did not think the war would last seventeen months, and now no one can foresee when it will end."
Artillery activity of more than usual intensity at a number of points marked the 17th, 18th and 19th of December, 1915. To the east of Ypres French and British batteries bombarded the German trenches from which suffocating gas was directed toward the British line. No infantry attacks followed. By December 22, 1915, the French had gained the summit of Hartmannsweilerkopf, a dominating peak in southern Alsace, overlooking the roads leading to the Rhine. For eight months they had fought for the position, and thousands of lives were sacrificed by the attackers and the defenders. The Germans succeeded in recovering part of the ground next day. The French took 1,300 prisoners in the capture, and the Germans claimed 1,553 prisoners in the recapture. Fighting continued around the spot for months.
Christmas passed with no break in the hostilities and no material change in the situation on the western front. The year 1915 closed, in a military sense, less favorably for the Allies than it began. Only a few square miles had been reconquered in the west at a heavy sacrifice; Italy had made little progress; the Dardanelles expedition had proved a failure; the British had not reached Bagdad nor attained their aim in Greece; while Russia had lost nearly all Galicia, with Poland and Courland as well, and the Serbian army had been practically eliminated. On the other hand, the Allies had maintained supremacy on the seas, had captured all but one of the German colonies, and still held all German sea-borne trade in a vise of steel. Not one of the armies of the Allies other than that of Serbia had been struck down; each of them was hard at work raising new armies and developing the supply of munitions. The spirit of all the warring peoples, without exception, appeared to be that of a grim, unbending determination. Germany, with a large proportion of her able-bodied manhood disposed of and her trade with the outer world cut off, was perhaps in greater straits than a superficial examination of her military successes showed. The care with which the Germans economized their supplies of men, and made the fullest possible use in the field of men who were not physically fit for actual military service, was illustrated by the creation of some new formations called Armierungsbattalionen. These battalions, of which, it was said, no full description would be published before the end of the war, consisted of all sorts of men with slight physical defects, underofficers and noncommissioned officers who were either too old for service or had been invalided. Their duty was to relieve the soldiers of as much work as possible. They were employed in roadmaking and in transporting munitions and supplies in difficult country—for example, in the Vosges Mountains. Most of these men—and there were many thousands of them—wore uniforms, but carried no arms.
It is rather an ironical commentary on "our present advanced state of culture," as Carlyle put it, that the birthday of the Man of Sorrows—the period of "peace on earth and good will toward all men"—was celebrated even amid the raucous crash and murderous turmoil of the battle field. Preparations had long been in the making for the event. In the homes of France, Germany, and Great Britain millions and millions of parcels were carefully packed full of little luxuries, comforts, tobacco, cigars, and cigarettes, and addressed to some loved one "at the front." Newspapers collected subscriptions and busy societies were also formed for the same purpose, so that there was hardly a single combatant who did not receive some token of remembrance from home.
On the occasion of the New Year the kaiser addressed the following order to his army and navy:
"Comrades:—One year of severe fighting has elapsed. Whenever a superior number of enemies tried to rush our lines they failed before your loyalty and bravery. Every place where I sent you into battle you gained glorious victories. Thankfully we remember to-day above all our brethren who joyfully gave their blood in order to gain security for our beloved ones at home and imperishable glory for the Fatherland. What they began we shall accomplish with God's gracious help.
"In impotent madness our enemies from west and east, from north and south, still strive to deprive us of all that makes life worth living. The hope of conquering us in fair fighting they have buried long ago. On the weight of their masses, on the starvation of our entire people, on the influence of their campaign of calumny, which is as mischievous as malicious, they believe they can still reckon. Their plans will not succeed. Their hopes will be miserably disappointed in the presence of the spirit of determination which imperturbably unites the army and those at home.
"With a will to do one's duty for the Fatherland to the last breath, and a determination to secure victory, we enter the new year with God for the protection of the Fatherland and for Germany's greatness."
About the same time Count Zeppelin delivered a speech at Duesseldorf. The local newspapers reported him as saying: "Speaking for myself and expressing the view of your Imperial Master, the war will not last two years. The next few months will see German arms march rapidly from triumph to triumph, and the final destruction of our enemies will be swift and sudden. Our Zeppelin fleets will play an important part in future operations and will demonstrate more than ever their power as a factor in modern warfare."
The opening of the year 1916 found Great Britain in the throes of a momentous controversy over the question of adopting conscription. In the west the Franco-British armies hugged the belief that their lines were impregnable to attack. An offensive on the part of the Germans was certainly expected, but where and when it would materialize none could foretell, though the French command had a shrewd suspicion. It was purely a matter of deduction that the Germans, having so far failed to break a passage through the circle of steel that encompassed them on the east and the west, would be forced to concentrate their hopes on an offensive on the western front. They had carefully taken into consideration the Battle of Champagne. They admitted that the French had opened a breach in their line, and they would probably argue that the imperfect results of the operations were due only to the inability of their enemies to exploit the first advantage that they had gained. They appear to have decided to copy the French example, but to apply to it the German touch of thoroughness. The French, they might argue, fired so many shells on a front of so many miles and destroyed our trenches; we will fire so many more shells on a narrower front, so that we can be certain there will be no obstacle to the advance of our infantry. The French had not enough men to carry their initial success to its conclusion, consequently we will mass a very large number of men behind the attack. With this object undoubtedly in view, the Germans indulged in a succession of feints up and down the whole frontier, feeling and probing the line at all points. This procedure cost them thousands of men, but it probably did not deceive the strategists on the other side. All that remained indeterminable to the French Staff was the precise date and locality.
A general survey of the front for the first days of January, 1916, reveals activity all round. In Belgium there was artillery fighting over the front of the Yser and along the front at Yperlee, and a similar duel between Germans and Belgians near Mercken. In front of the British first-line trenches the Germans sprang mines, but did not trouble to take possession of the craters. The British sprang some mines near La Poisselu and bombarded the German trenches north of Fromelles and east of Ypres, the Germans responding vigorously.
The British also attempted a night attack near Frelinghien, northeast of Armentieres, which failed in its purpose. German troops cracked a mine at Hulluch and captured a French trench at Hartmannsweilerkopf with 200 prisoners. The French heavy artillery in Champagne directed a strong fire against some huts occupied by Germans in the forest of Malmaison. A German attack with hand grenades in the vicinity of the Tahure road did little harm. Between the Arve and the Oise artillery exchanges were in continual progress; between Soissons and Rheims a series of mine explosions; and in the Vosges the French artillery roared in the vicinity of Muehlbach. A German long-range gun fired about ten shots at Nancy and its environments, killing two civilians and wounding seven others.
In the north, again, we find the German artillery making a big demonstration on the front east of Ypres and northeast of Loos; the British destroying the outskirts of Andechy in the region of Roye. French and Belgian guns batter the Germans stationed to the east of St. George and shell other groups about Boesinghe and Steenstraete. South of the Somme the German first-line trenches near Dompierre are receiving artillery attention, and a supply train south of Chaulnes is shattered. In Champagne the Tahure skirmish goes on, while in the Vosges an artillery duel of great intensity rends the air in the Hirzstein sector.
Along the Yser front the Belgians are shelled in the rear of their lines, and a German barracks is being bombarded. On the southern part of the British front bomb attacks are being carried out. With all this sporadic and disconnected expenditure of life, energy and ammunition little damage is done, and the losses and gains on either side are equally unimportant. The Germans are tapping against the wall, looking for weak spots. By the 5th, however, when General Joffre's New Year's message appears, in which he tells his armies that the enemy is weakening, that enemy suddenly grows more active and energetic. German artillery fire increased in violence throughout Flanders, Artois, Champagne, and the Vosges. They launched infantry attacks against the French between Hill 193 and the Butte de Tahure. North of Arras the French bombarded German troops in the suburbs of Roye; in the Vosges they shelled German works in the region of Balschwiller, and demolished some trenches and a munitions depot northwest of Altkirch.
British aeroplanes dropped bombs on the aerodrome at Douai, and a German aviator dropped a few on Boulogne. The German War Office statement briefly announced that "fighting with artillery and mines at several points on the Franco-Belgian front is reported." The next few days are almost a blank; hardly anything leaks out; but things are happening all the same.
To the south of Hartmannsweilerkopf, after a series of fruitless attacks, followed by a severe bombardment, the Germans succeeded in recovering the trenches which they had lost to the French on December 31, 1915. Besides that, they also captured 20 officers, 1,083 chasseurs, and 15 machine guns. This move compelled the French troops occupying the summit of Hirzstein to evacuate their position. Artillery incessantly thundered in Flanders, Champagne, Artois, the Vosges, and on the British lines at Hulluch and Armentieres. By January 10, 1916, it looked as though the Germans intended to retrieve the misfortunes of Champagne. An assault by the kaiser's troops under General von Einem was made on a five-mile front east of Tahure, with the center about at Maisons de Champagne Farm, close to the Butte de Mesnil. At this point the French had held well to the ground won during the previous September. On the 9th the German artillery opened fire with great violence, using suffocating shells, and this was followed by four concentric infantry attacks on that front during the day and night. The French fire checked the offensive, but at two points the Germans managed to reach the first French lines. The battle raged for three days, during which the Germans took a French observation post, several hundred yards of trenches, 423 prisoners, seven machine guns, and eight mine throwers. The French counterattack broke down, though it was claimed that they had recovered the ground.
At Massiges the Germans attacked on almost as large a scale as the French had done the previous autumn. The German bombardment increased steadily in intensity, and during the last twelve hours 400,000 shells were stated to have fallen on the eight-mile front from La Courtine to the western slopes of the "Hand" of Massiges. The infantry were thrown forward on the 10th. The first attack was launched on the hill forming the western finger of Massiges, whence the French fire broke their ranks and drove them back. Foiled in this direction, the next attack was delivered against the five-mile front. Some 40,000 men took part in the charge. But the powerful French "seventy-fives" tore ghastly lanes in their ranks, and few lived to reach the wire entanglements. Crawling through the holes made by the bombardment, they captured 300 yards of trenches. A portion of this the French regained. The British lost four aeroplanes on January 12-13, 1916. Two German aviators accounted for one each, and the other two were brought down by gunfire.
The Prussian Prime Minister, Dr. von Bethmann-Hollweg, who is also Imperial Chancellor, opened the new session of the Prussian Diet on January 13, 1916. In reading the speech from the throne, he said: "As our enemies forced the war upon us, they must also bear the guilt of the responsibility if the nations of Europe continue to inflict wounds upon one another."
By the 13th the German offensive in Champagne had collapsed. Operations in the west resumed for the time a normal state of activity, in which artillery duels were the main features. In the middle of January the British opened fire on the French town of Lille, near the Belgian border and inside the German lines. According to German authority, the damage done was negligible. Little of import happened till January 23, 1916, when two squadrons of French aeroplanes, comprising twenty-four machines, bombarded the railway station and barracks at Metz. They dropped 130 shells. The aeros were escorted by two protecting squadrons, the pilots of which during the trip engaged in ten combats with giant Fokkers and aviatiks. The French machines were severely cannonaded along the whole of their course, but returned undamaged, except one only, which was obliged to make a landing southeast of Metz. On the 24th the Germans made another strong feint, this time in Belgium, that had all the appearance of the expected attack in force. They began by bombarding the French lines near Nieuport, but the infantry charge that was to have followed was smothered in the German trenches, before the men could make a start. Another German attack north of Arras was held up by French rifle fire. The chief result of the offensive seems to have been the destruction of Nieuport cathedral.
Toward the end of January, 1916, activity became more and more intensified all along the western front in every sector except that in which the Germans were preparing for the big coup—Verdun. It will be simpler to review the disconnected operations by following them separately in the different districts where they occurred. It will be observed that in practically every case the Germans assumed the offensive. In Alsace the French batteries exploded a German munitions depot on the outskirts of Orbey, southeast of Bonhomme. In the region of Sondernach, south of Muenster, the Germans captured and occupied a French listening post, from which they were expelled by counterattacks. On February 13, 1916, they attempted an infantry attack, which was halted by French artillery fire. The Germans gained 300 feet of trenches on the 14th. The French took the ground back again, but were unable to hold it. On the 18th the Germans, after the usual artillery preparation, directed an infantry attack against the French position to the north of Largitson, where they penetrated into the trenches and remained there for some hours until a counterattack expelled them. In Lorraine, constant artillery duels raged in the sectors of Reillon and the forest of Parroy. In the Argonne, French mine operations destroyed the German trenches over a short distance near Hill 285, northeast of La Chalade. On February 12, 1916, the French shattered some enemy mine works.
Increased artillery firing at many points in Flanders and northern France first gave the Allies the impression that the Germans were planning a new offensive on a large scale against their left wing, in an attempt to blast a passage through to Calais and Dunkirk. By February 7, 1916, the Allies were thoroughly awake to the possibility of a big blow impending somewhere in the west. The sweep through Serbia had released several hundred thousand men for service elsewhere. For a month the Germans had been hammering and probing at Loos, Givenchy, Armentieres, and other points with the evident object of finding a weak spot. Along the Neuville-Givenchy road especially the Germans made no fewer than twenty-five determined attacks between the 1st and 17th of February, 1916. Their later attacks developed more to the north, near Lievin, where heavy trench fighting occurred, with no important results either way.
At the beginning of February, 1916, the 525-mile battle front in the west was held on one side by about 1,250,000 Germans—an average of 2,500 to the mile—as against quite 2,000,000 French, about 1,000,000 British, and 50,000 Belgians. But this superiority in numbers on the allied side was neutralized by the strength of the German defense works plus artillery. None of the Allies' undertakings had, so far, been carried out to its logical—or intended—conclusion. Whether this was due to weakness, infirmity of purpose or lack of coordination, remains to be told some future day. By the middle of the month it became apparent, from their expenditure of men and munitions, that the German General Staff were determined to make up for their past losses and to recapture at least some of the ground taken from them by the Allies. It seems hardly credible that all these fierce attacks were mere feints to withdraw attention from their objective—Verdun. They had no reason to fear a French offensive in the immediate future. For one thing the condition of the ground was still too unfavorable. The French at this stage occupied practically the entire semicircle from Hill 70 to the town of Thelus, excepting a portion between Givenchy and Petit Vimy. Hill 140, the predominant feature in the district, was almost all in French hands. The line between La Folie and the junction of the Neuville-St. Vaast road covered the Labyrinth, which the French had won in the summer of 1915, and it was here that the main force of the German attacks was launched. The French positions on the heights commanded every other position that the Germans could possibly take within the semicircle, and naturally gave the former an immense advantage for their next offensive.
In Artois the Germans exploded several mines on January 26, 1916, in the neighborhood of the road from La Folie, northeast of Neuville-St. Vaast, and occupied the craters made. Violent cannonading kept up in the whole of this sector. By the 28th the Germans had captured three successive lines of French trenches and held them against eight counterattacks. After exploding mines the Germans made an attack on both sides of the road between Vimy and Neuville and stormed French positions between 500 and 600 yards long. They captured fifty-three men, a machine gun, and three mine throwers. On the 28th they directed infantry attacks against various points and gained more trenches. Following up their advantage the Germans stormed and captured the village of Frise, on the south bank of the Somme.
While this struggle was in progress, a terrific fight was raging north of Arras. The real objective of the attack appears to have been an advance south of Frise in the direction of Dompierre, but this effort met with little success. The French at once set to work to recover the only ground that was of any real importance. The troops in the section opened a series of counterattacks, and in a very short time the French grenadiers had gained the upper hand again. The capture of Frise brought the Germans into a cul-de-sac, for their advance was still barred by the Somme Canal, behind which there lay a deep marsh. Maneuvers were quite impossible here, hence the village could not serve as a base for any further operations. The German gains were nevertheless considerable, for they took about 3,800 yards of trenches and nearly 1,300 prisoners, including several British. Spirited mine fighting marked the first three days of February, 1916. In the neighborhood of the road from Lille the French artillery fire caused explosions among the German batteries in the region of Vimy. Between February 8-9, 1916, the German infantry stormed the first-line French positions over a stretch of more than 800 yards, capturing 100 prisoners and five machine guns. Small sections of these trenches were retaken and held.
The German report stated that the French "were unable to reconquer any part of their lost positions." Five German attacks were made on Hill 140 on February 11, 1916, all but one being repulsed by the intense fire of the French artillery and infantry. Stubborn fighting, accompanied by heavy losses, raged about the 14th, by which time the French had regained a few more trenches. The steady underground advance of the French sappers drove the Germans back upon their last bastion, commanding the central plain.
The French trenches gradually crept up the slopes of the hill until the German commander, the Bavarian Crown Prince, realized that the next assault was likely to be irresistible and to involve the abandonment of Lille, Lens, Douai, and the entire front at this point. A mine explosion west of Hill 140 made a crater fifty yards across. A steeplechase dash across the open from both sides—French and Germans met in the crater—a fierce struggle for its possession followed, and the French won the hole. A furious bombardment from a score of quick-firing mortars hidden behind La Folie Hill battered the earth out of shape, and when the Germans occupied the terrain where the French trenches had been, the "seventy-fives" played such havoc among them that they were forced to relinquish their hold. To the south of Frise the Germans were preparing an attack, but were prevented from carrying it out by French and British barrier fires.
On the British front the artillery was hardly less active than in Artois. On one section, according to a German report, the British fired 1,700 shrapnel shells, 700 high explosive shells, and about the same number of bombs within twenty-four hours. On January 27, 1916, the Germans attempted an infantry attack on a salient northeast of Loos, but were held back. A British night attack on the German trenches near Messines, Flanders, was likewise repulsed. In the morning of February 12, 1916, the Germans broke into the British trenches near Pilkellen, but were pushed out by bombing parties. There was much mining activity about Hulluch and north of the Ypres-Comines Canal. At the latter place some desperate underground fighting occurred between sappers. On the 14th the Germans were again engaged in serious operations in the La Bassee region, where they exploded seven mines on the British front.
By February 15, 1916, the British first-line trenches on a 600 to 800 yards' front fell to the Germans in assaults on the Ypres salient, carried by a bayonet charge after artillery preparation. Most of the defenders were killed and forty prisoners taken. The assaults extended over a front of more than two miles. The trench now captured by the Germans had frequently changed hands during the past twelve months, and for that reason was facetiously called "the international trench." The brunt of the fighting here fell upon the Canadians, who were withdrawn from the trench owing to the furious bombardment, and sheltered in the second-line trench. The German infantry consequently met with no opposition at the former, but when they approached the latter the Canadians opened a murderous fire with rifles and machine guns, dropping their enemies in hundreds. A few, however, managed to reach the trenches, when the Canadians sprang out and charged with bayonets, rushed the Germans back to and across the first-line trenches again, which were then reoccupied. It was the Canadian First Division that had blocked the German path to Calais in the spring of 1915 almost at the same point.
Activity on the west front on the 18th was largely confined to the Ypres district. British troops attempted to recapture their positions to the south of Ypres, simultaneously bombarding the German trenches to the north of the Comines Canal. By February 20, 1916, as a result of the continuous fighting north of Ypres, the British had lost on the Yser Canal what the German official report described as a position 350 meters long, and the British statement as "an unimportant advanced post." The Germans took some prisoners and repelled several day and night attacks by the British to recover the ground.
In Champagne, uninterrupted artillery actions continued apparently without much advantage to either side. The German works north of Souain were particularly visited. On February 5, 1916, the French bombarded the German works on the plateau of Navarin, wrecking trenches and blowing up several munition depots. Some reservoirs of suffocating gas were also demolished, releasing the poisonous fumes, which the wind blew back across the German lines. On the 13th the French were able to report a further success northeast of the Butte du Mesnil, where they took some 300 yards of German trenches. A counterattack by night was also repulsed, the Germans losing sixty-five prisoners. They succeeded, though, in penetrating a small salient of the French line between the road from Navarin and that of the St. Souplet. They also captured, on the 12th, some sections of advanced trenches between Tahure and Somme-Py, gaining more than 700 yards of front.
In the Vosges a similar series of local engagements occupied the combatants. Artillery exchanges played the chief part in the operations. Three big shells from a German long-range gun fell in the fortress town of Belfort and its environs on February 8, 1916. The French replied by bombarding the German cantonments at Stosswier, northwest of Muenster, Hirtzbach, south of Altkirch, and the military establishments at Dornach, near Muehlhausen. On the 11th ten more heavy shells fell about Belfort. North of Wissembach, east of St. Die, a German infantry charge met with a withering fire and was stopped before it reached the first line.
While all the fighting just described was in progress, matters were comparatively on a peace footing in the Argonne Forest. The French and Germans engaged in mine operations, smashing up inconsiderable pieces of each other's trenches and mine works. But it was here that affairs of great historic import, perhaps the mightiest event of the war, were in the making.
In an interview given to the editor of the "Secolo" of Milan, at the end of January, 1916, Mr. Lloyd-George, the British Minister of Munitions, said: "We woke up slowly to it, but I am now perfectly satisfied with what we are doing. We have now 2,500 factories, employing 1,500,000 men and 250,000 women. By spring we shall have turned out an immense amount of munitions. We shall have for the first time in the war more than the enemy. Our superiority in men and munitions will be unquestioned, and I think that the war for us is just beginning. We have 3,000,000 men under arms; by spring we shall have a million more.... Our victory must be a real and final victory. You must not think of a deadlock. One must crack the nut before one gets at the kernel. It may take a long time, but you must hear the crack. The pressure on the enemy is becoming greater. They are spreading their frontier temporarily, but becoming weaker in a military sense. Make no mistake about it; Great Britain is determined to fight this war to a finish. We may make mistakes, but we do not give in. It was the obstinacy of Great Britain that wore down Napoleon after twenty years of warfare. Her allies broke away one by one, but Great Britain kept on. Our allies on this occasion are just as solid and determined as we are."
THE BATTLE OF VERDUN—THE GERMAN ATTACK
Toward the close of 1915 the German General Staff decided on a vast onslaught on the French front that would so crush and cripple the fighting forces of France that they would cease to count as an important factor in the war. A great action was also necessary owing to the external and internal situation of the German Empire. The time was ripe for staging a spectacular victory that would astonish the world, intimidate Greece and Rumania, and stiffen the weakening hold that Germany had on Turkey and Bulgaria.
The German General Staff knew that Russia was arming several hundred thousand new troops, that Great Britain had reenforced her armies on the Continent, that the Allies were amply supplied with guns and shells, and that in the spring they would undertake an offensive on a large scale that would go far toward ending the war. In order to anticipate this threatened onslaught the German staff decided to strike, hoping to gain a victory before the Allies were entirely ready.
Having arrived at this decision, the next problem was to select the battle field, and Verdun was decided upon. At first this choice created general astonishment, for the capture of Verdun would only mean the gaining of a certain number of square miles of territory. But the German staff believed that the capture of the ancient fortress of Verdun would have a powerful effect on public opinion at home and abroad. As a military operation they were confident that such a victory might have a decisive effect on the future of the war. It was hoped that the French army, already weakened, would receive a crushing blow from which it could never recover. An intelligent German prisoner explained the German point of view: "Verdun sticks into our side like a dagger, though sheathed. With that weapon threatening our vitals, how can we think of rushing on France elsewhere? If we had done so, the Verdun dagger might have stabbed us in the back as well as in the side."
In order to sustain the German people's faith in the Hohenzollern dynasty there was urgent necessity that the crown prince should gain a success. The capture of Verdun would reestablish his somewhat tarnished military reputation and might force an exhausted France to sue for peace.
The loss of Verdun and its girdle of forts would have made the situation of the defenders very difficult, they would find it a serious problem to hold back the German hosts while organizing a new line of defense from St. Mihiel to Ste. Menehould. Moreover as the German lines formed a semicircle around the French position at Verdun an immense number of guns could be massed against a small area.
In the matter of railway facilities the Germans had every advantage. They possessed fourteen strategic lines, while the French had only one ordinary double line, which was in easy range of the German guns south of Vauquois, and a narrow gauge from Verdun to Bar-le-Duc. This terrible handicap was in time overcome by the French, who brought to perfection a system of motor transport by road that enabled them at a moment's notice to bring up men, ammunition, and supplies to the defense of Verdun.
The French positions around the fortress had not greatly changed since the closing months of 1914, when the French carried the village of Brabant and Haumont Wood and occupied the southeast corner of Consenvoye Wood. Two formidable natural barriers had been secured by the Germans: Forges Wood on the left, a long crest east and west confronting the French lines and bisected its full length by a ravine. Protected from French fire from the south, it afforded an excellent artillery position, while the trees served as a screen against aerial observation. The position also commanded a clear view of the French left at Brabant. To attack Forges Wood it would be necessary to advance over an open space entirely bare of any natural protection. On the right of the French positions the Germans occupied a strong post on a sort of island that overlooked the Woevre plain and having on one side a steep cliff.
The possession of these two strong positions by the Germans exposed the French flanks to artillery fire from every direction. It was impossible that the French line, bent into a salient in front of Haumont and Caures Wood, could hold out if the Germans massed a great number of guns against it.
When the struggle in the Verdun sector began the French left was resting on the centers of Brabant, Consenvoye, Haumont, and Caures Wood, their first position. The second was marked by a line passing through Samogneux, Hill 344, and Mormont Farm.
The French center included the Bois de la Ville, Herbebois, and Ornes, with the woods of Beaumont, La Wavrille, Les Fosses, Le Chaume, and Les Caurieres as the second position.
The French right included Maucourt, Mogeville, the Haytes-Charrieres Wood, and Fromezey, with a second position covering Bezonvaux, Grand-Chena, and Dieppe. Back of these positions the line of forts was distinguished by the village of Bras, Douaumont, Hardaumont, the fort of Vaux, La Lauree, and Eix. Between this line of forts and the second position an intermediate position on the reverse side of the slope had been begun from Douaumont to Louvemont, on the Poivre and Talou Hills, but at the time of the opening assault the work had not made much progress.
The Germans prepared for the offensive with the most exhaustive labors, and as far as it was humanly possible left nothing to chance. Roads were made through the woods and up the slopes, firm foundations were laid down, and the heavy guns were dragged to elevated positions. As the result of these weeks of herculean toil there were massed against the selected sector over a thousand guns brought from every quarter—Serbia, Russia, and the west front. The proportion of heavy guns was much larger than had ever been employed in preparing attacks of this kind.
Toward the close of December, 1915, the Germans received strong reenforcements, the first to arrive being three divisions which had fought in the campaign against Serbia. From other fronts also they flowed in, and the two corps which had held the Vauquois-Etain sector was increased to seven. Some of the finest German troops were included in these armies, such as the Third Brandenburg Corps and the Fifteenth Corps. It was evident that the Germans counted on the battle of Verdun to decide the fighting in France, for just before the offensive began General Daimling addressed his troops in these words: "In this last offensive against France I hope that the Fifteenth Corps will distinguish itself as it has ever done by its courage and its fortitude."
Starting from the north of Varennes the German order of battle on the day of attack was as follows: On the extreme right were the Seventh Reserve Corps, comprising the Second Landwehr Division, the Eleventh Reserve Division (later relieved by the Twenty-second Reserve Division), and the Twelfth Reserve Division in the order given. Northeast of Verdun, and facing the French lines, were the Fourteenth Division and the Seventh Reserve Corps, with the Eleventh Bavarian Reserve Division in support. To the left of these armies was a central force, comprising the Eighteenth Corps, the Third Corps, the Fifteenth Corps, and the Bavarian Ersatz Division in the order named.
It was estimated by a competent French military authority that the Germans had under arms in this sector up to the 16th of March a grand total of 440,000 men, of which 320,000 were infantry. When the battle opened, the Germans were at least three times as strong in numbers as their opponent.
Before the date fixed for the great offensive the Germans undertook many local attacks on the French front with a view to deceiving their antagonists as to their real objective. In Artois, Champagne, and the Argonne Forest there was some strenuous mine fighting, and at Frise in Santerre the Germans gained some ground only to lose it a little later.
A bombarding squadron of Zeppelins which the Germans sent out along the Verdun front to cut railway communications fared badly. The French antiaircraft guns brought down a number of Fokkers and a Zeppelin in flames at Revigny, but the raiders succeeded in cutting the Ste. Menehould line, leaving only a narrow-gauge road to supply Verdun.
At 4.15 in the morning of February 21, 1916, the great battle began, the German guns deluging the sector with shells of every caliber that smashed and tore the French positions and surroundings until the very face of nature was distorted. French trench shelters vanished and in Caures Wood and La Ville Wood men were buried in the dugouts or blown to fragments. Telephone lines having been cut, communication could only be maintained by runners. News of the great destruction wrought by the German guns, far from depressing the French fighting units, had a stimulating effect. The French front lines crumbled away under the deluge of fire, but their occupants still clung tenaciously to the debris that remained. The German guns were everywhere, and it was useless for French aerial observers to indicate any special batteries for bombardment. The Germans had the greater number of guns and the heavier, but the French artillery was better served on the whole, and there was less reckless expenditure of ammunition. As an illustration of the brilliant work of the French artillery, an eyewitness has described the defense of a position southeast of Haumont Wood. Here one battery was divided into flanking guns in three positions—one to the southeast of Haumont Wood, a second to the south, and a third to the north of Samogneux. The two other batteries were to the south of Hill 312; there was also a supporting battery of six 90-mm. guns. In response to the German attack the French replied with a curtain of fire, but, unchecked by the fearful loss of life, they began to swarm in from all sides.
"They reached Caures Wood by the crests between Haumont Wood and Caures Wood itself, and advanced like a flood on our positions. The section which attempted to hold them back adjusted its range to their rate of progress and mowed them down wave after wave. Swept by the storm of shells, the Germans continued to advance and some succeeded in making their way around to the rear of the guns. The French by this time had come to the end of their ammunition, but they did not lose their head, and, destroying their pieces, retreated, bringing a wounded sergeant major along with them."
A battery of 90's on the Haumont knoll was forced to stop firing. Pierrard, an adjutant whose battery had ceased to exist, was dispatched by the commander to help.
"Pierrard collected his companions and attached himself to the battery, which opened fire again with tremendous effect. Those guns were in action under him for forty-eight hours, during which he kept up constant communication with the group commander, the burden of his song being an incessant demand for ammunition for this truly epic duel with the Germans.
"Unfortunately it was impossible to get supplies up. The Germans were so near that Pierrard and his men used their rifles against them; then, finding the position untenable, they blew up their guns and retired." It was during this retreat that the gallant Pierrard was killed.
The indomitable courage of the French gunners in this great battle is described in another instance by a French officer who was present:
"A certain battery was being terribly shelled. A 305-mm. shell burst and killed the captain, the adjutant, a sergeant major and five gunners. Do you think that the others stopped? Not at all; they took off their coats and, working in their shirt sleeves, increased their efforts to intensify the curtain of fire and to avenge their leaders and comrades."
The defense of Caures Wood by Lieutenant Colonel Driant's chasseurs was one of the most brilliant and dramatic incidents in the battle of Verdun. The deluge of German shells had destroyed the deepest French dugouts, and before noon their stronghold had been smashed in, burying an officer and fourteen men beneath the debris. The bombardment continued until the French defenders were left without a single shelter worthy of the name. When the Germans began to attack Haumont, their front-line skirmishers, to create confusion, wore caps that imitated the French, and were also provided with Red Cross brassards. The attempted deception was soon discovered, and the Germans were forced to pay heavily for the trick. In spite of great losses the Germans continued to advance, succeeded in gaining a foothold in the French first-line trenches, and held on. Throughout the night there were many counterattacks and constant grenade fighting, but the French maintained their positions.
On the second day of the assault the Germans resumed their terrific bombardment. Trenches were obliterated, and portions of the forest were swept away. About noon a large body of German troops attacked French positions in Caures Wood, trying to turn their flanks from two sides, Haumont and La Ville Wood. The French fought with desperate energy, but the Germans had one gun that raked their chief position, and the iron ring of the enemy gradually contracted. To attempt to defend the position longer in the face of such conditions would mean death or captivity and reluctantly the French commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Driant, gave the order to retire. Driant waited to see the last of his men through the wood. He was never heard of again.