This question of the total abandonment of the attempt to force the Dardanelles was a tremendous problem for England. Involved in it was the great question of her prestige, not only among her millions of Mohammedan subjects, but also in the Balkans, then rapidly moving to a decision. Turkey was the only Mohammedan power still boasting independence, and for Great Britain to acknowledge herself bested in an attempt to defeat her was likely to have far-reaching and serious results throughout India and Egypt, where Great Britain's ability to hold what she had won was dependent in a large measure upon the very prestige now in danger.
One of the reasons for urging the abandonment of the Dardanelles campaign was the urgent need for troops elsewhere. It was declared that it was absurd folly to be wasting troops at Gallipoli when the western front was being starved for men. Furthermore there were rapidly accumulating evidences that the Entente Powers were soon to be compelled to fight on a new and important front.
About this time Germany began her preparations for a final attack upon Serbia. Try as the Allies might, they had not been able to force an agreement between Serbia and Bulgaria on the question of the ownership of those parts of Macedonia won from the Turk in the First Balkan War, and taken from the Bulgar by the Serbians in the second. Germany, taking advantage of these irreconcilable differences, was about to launch a heavy attack from the north upon the kingdom of aged Peter.
In these circumstances there came before the British Government, in common with the French Government, the question of just how great an obligation rested on the shoulders of the two great powers. Serbia certainly looked to them to assist her with all their strength, and at the height of the agitation Sir Edward Grey made a public declaration that in every circumstance Serbia could look to England for unlimited support.
It was when those who knew began to discuss the question of where Great Britain was to find the military force to make good Grey's pledge to Serbia that the Dardanelles campaign came in for hot criticism. It was known that few, if any, fully trained troops were available in England for a fresh campaign. Indeed, as matters ultimately worked out, it was France who found the bulk of the force that was hurried to Saloniki when Bulgaria declared war on Serbia and joined in the Austro-German attack upon the Balkan kingdom. Later, under French pressure, England withdrew 40,000 of her troops from the western front and rushed them off to Saloniki, but much too late to succor Serbia.
Finally, so powerful became the influences calling upon the Government to retire from the Dardanelles with as much grace as possible that the opinion of Sir Ian Hamilton was asked. Probably the inside truth of the affair will not be known for some years, but it later developed that there was considerable friction between Sir Ian Hamilton and the British War Office at the time. Sir Ian, it is known, laid a large part of blame for the failure at the Strait to the fact that Earl Kitchener did not send him large reenforcements that were expressly promised. At any rate he was against a withdrawal from Gallipoli in the circumstances and in favor of a swift and overwhelming assault with all the troops and forces that could be gathered. He was still firmly convinced that the forcing of the Dardanelles was possible and probable.
Just what were the relations between France and England, and especially how they each regarded the Dardanelles campaign in the winter of 1915, it is impossible to say with any degree of assurance. It is known, however, that there were serious differences of opinion, not only among the more influential men in both Paris and London, but between the two Governments.
Obviously, the British were the more reluctant to abandon the project, which had been entered upon with so much confidence and enthusiasm. It was distinctly a British operation, although the French Government had given its unqualified approval at the start and had loyally contributed all the troops it could spare. But the plans had been drawn up in London and had been worked out by British commanders; and the acknowledgment of failure was a confession of British, not French, incompetency. It was a blow at British prestige such as had not been dealt since the early disasters of the Boer War.
While the whole question of the Gallipoli campaign was being reconsidered there occurred something that had a profound effect upon subsequent events in that part of the war area and elsewhere. The defeat of the Russians while the French and British troops were unable, through lack of preparation and foresight, to carry on an energetic offensive that might have drawn the Germans from their Slav prey, convinced all the allied Governments that the time had arrived for a thorough revision of their system of cooperation. In short, if the war was to be won and each of the Entente Powers was to escape a separate defeat while the others were doomed to a forced inactivity, it was necessary that their military, economic, and financial affairs should be so coordinated and administered that they should be directed with one object only in view—the winning of the war.
For this purpose representatives of the allied powers met in Paris and discussed plans. One of the first results of these discussions was to be seen in the military field. The armies of France and England in the field became, for all practical purposes, one. The supreme command of the allied forces in France was placed in the hands of the commander in chief of the French army.
General French, who had been only nominally under the orders of the French commander in chief, retired from command of the British army in France and one of his subordinates, Sir Douglas Haig, took his place. Similarly, in the southwestern theatre of the war, where Sir Ian Hamilton was in supreme command, the leadership passed to France, Hamilton resigning and his place being taken by Sir Charles Monro. When the British and French troops from Gallipoli were ultimately landed at Saloniki the supreme command of the allied forces in that theatre of war was given to General Sarrail of the French army.
Undoubtedly, too, the influence of France, and of Joffre individually, was thrown into the scales at these Paris meetings against a continuance of the Dardanelles operations. French public opinion was strongly in favor of sending immediate succor to the Serbians. So strong, in fact, was this public opinion that, when the expected help failed to arrive, it forced the immediate downfall of Delcasse and the ultimate resignation of the French Cabinet.
Soon after Kitchener returned to London from these Paris conferences a sensation was caused by the announcement that he was leaving the War Office temporarily and would undertake an important mission in the Near East. Ultimately it developed that this important mission was nothing more nor less than a first-hand examination of the problems confronting the British commander in withdrawing his force from Gallipoli and a study of the field into which it was proposed to transfer, not only these troops, but hundreds of thousands of others.
Probably no high officer of the British army was more fitted for the mission. Whatever one may think of Kitchener's administration of the British War Office during a period of unprecedented difficulty, no one can deny his success in India and Egypt. With those commands had necessarily gone an exhaustive study of military operations that might conceivably have to be undertaken for the protection of British prestige and power in the Mohammedan world.
Thus he was thoroughly at home in the Near East and he brought back to London an encouraging report. Even high military opinion in England had been of the opinion that the withdrawal of the allied troops from Gallipoli could not be effected without terrible losses. Some even held that it would be better and less costly in human lives to leave the troops there on the defensive until the end of the war than to attempt to get them out of the death hole into which they had been dumped.
This, however, was not Lord Kitchener's idea. He reported that they could be withdrawn, not, it was true, without heavy losses, but at a cost much smaller than the general estimate. This conclusion he came to after an examination on the spot, and subsequent events, as we shall see, more than justified his judgment in the matter.
Once having made up its mind to risk the loss of prestige involved and withdraw the army from the Gallipoli Peninsula, the British Government acted with speed and intelligence. It turned the difficult task over to General Sir Charles Monro, whose subsequent accomplishment of the operations earned him the admiration of every military man throughout the world.
General Sir Charles Monro's job was difficult and dangerous enough for any man. In the face of an enemy numbering something like 80,000 men, along a line of 20,000 yards, he had to withdraw an almost equal number of men with their stores, trucks, ammunition, guns, etc. Only by the greatest of good fortune could he have the inestimable advantage of surprise.
Moreover, the enemy had been tremendously encouraged and emboldened by the successful defense which they had offered to all the allied assaults of the previous year. Their Mohammedan fanaticism had been stirred by the Turkish, Austrian, and German press, and their pride quickened by the thick crop of rumors that the Allies were finally about to acknowledge defeat.
In many places the French and British trenches were separated by less than fifty yards from the Turkish defenders. In few cases were they more than 500 yards distant. Furthermore, the Turkish positions overlooked the allied troops, being in almost every case on higher ground. And finally the Suvla Bay and Anzac regions, the points from which the troops would have to be embarked, were all within artillery range and often within rifle range of the enemy.
Every effort was made by General Monro and his subordinate officers to conduct the preparations for the embarkation of the troops in secret. That is to say the exact day decided upon was kept a secret from all except the highest officers. For it was not possible to keep from the Turks entirely the knowledge of a complete withdrawal from the Gallipoli Peninsula of the allied troops. Too much publicity had been given to the whole discussion in France and England for that.
Eventually, Monday, December 19, 1915, was decided upon for the critical operation. With all possible secrecy a great fleet of transports was gathered at Mudros Bay and, under the protection of this fleet of warships—the strongest that had approached the Gallipoli Peninsula since the arrival of the German submarines in the neighborhood—sailed for Suvla Bay and Anzac Cove.
It had been decided to remove the allied troops from these two bases before attempting the perhaps more difficult task of getting the force away from the Krithia region. Indeed, after the troops had been safely extricated from the northern bases it was officially announced in London that the Allies would continue to hold the base won in the south. This proved, however, to be merely in the nature of a literary demonstration to divert the attention of the none too credulous Turk from the real purpose of the allied command.
While the fleet of transports and warships was approaching the two bases under cover of the night, the Australian and New Zealand troops at Anzac and the British troops at Suvla were hastily preparing for leaving. Among the colonial troops there was the keenest regret in thus relinquishing what had been so hardly won at the price of so many precious lives. To the Australians the operations at Anzac will always remain one of the greatest, if not the very greatest military feat in their history. To be sure they fought in numbers and with conspicuous bravery throughout the Boer War; but Anzac was an operation all their own, on a scale never before attempted by them as a distinct military organization. They had won undying fame and unstinted praise from the highest military authorities, and the success of the operation in that part of the Gallipoli Peninsula had become a matter affecting their pride.
ABANDONMENT OF DARDANELLES—ARMENIAN ATROCITIES
Finally, by midnight of Sunday, all was ready. Just after that hour the allied troops on shore at Anzac and Suvla Bay could see the dark forms of the warships and the transports as they dropped anchor close inshore. If they had listened attentively they might have heard the soft splash of the hundreds of muffled oars as they slowly propelled the ships' boats toward the beaches.
On shore preparations were being made to repel a hurricane attack by the Turks. For it was felt that as soon as the enemy got knowledge of the contemplated withdrawal they would attack with unprecedented fury.
But, though the British troops waited, the expected attack never came. Finally, just after three o'clock in the morning, the Australians exploded a large mine at Russell's Top, between the two systems of trenches, and made a strong demonstration as if about to initiate a big offensive. About eight o'clock the last of them were taken off. Before these last men left they set fire to the stores that it had been impossible to carry away.
It was only then, apparently, that the Turks awoke to the real progress of events. Immediately from every Turkish battery a hurricane of shells was poured into the deserted Allies' base. Those within range turned their fire upon the allied fleet, now swiftly disappearing from sight in the thin haze.
Highly significant, as showing the serious state of public opinion in England during the closing days of the Dardanelles campaign, were the published statements of E. Ashmead-Bartlett. Ashmead-Bartlett was in the nature of an official eyewitness of the major part of the operations at the Strait, although the British War Office took no responsibility for his opinions or statements. It was at first intended by the British authorities that there should be no newspaper correspondents on the spot, but finally, as a concession to the demands of the united press of Great Britain, it was agreed that one man should be allowed on the scene and that his dispatches should be syndicated among the papers sharing the expense of his work. Ashmead-Bartlett was the man selected for the unique task.
His dispatches from the Dardanelles were censored on the spot and again in London, so they did not possess much information of direct value. It was when he returned to London and was in a degree free from restraint that he wrote frankly. His remarks are quoted in part because they are the best, perhaps the only, unprejudiced opinion on the operations from a British point of view.
Writing in the middle of October, 1915, he strongly advised the abandonment of the campaign, "which," he says, "if it ever had any hope of success, now is completely robbed of it." In his opinion, giving up the campaign would not hurt the Allies' prestige in the Balkans, for the simple reason that their prestige had "been reduced to nil" by the Foreign Office, loquacious politicians, and faulty diplomacy.
Speaking of the military operations at the Dardanelles, after paying the highest tribute to the ability and the courage of the Turks, and berating the British politicians who interfered with the General Staff, he said:
"Apart from the question that the conception is of doubtful paternity, we committed every conceivable blunder in our methods of carrying out the plan. Few minds were engaged that had any knowledge of the character of the Turks' fighting qualities and the geography of the country. Never before in this war has the situation been more serious.
"Our boasted financial stamina in outlasting our opponents is going fast to ruin in excessive expenditures in enterprises which, if they ever had any hope of success, now have been finally robbed of all such hope.
"A good gambler, when he loses much, can afford to stop. He waits for a turn in his luck and a fresh pack of cards, and clears off for another table. The mad and headstrong gambler loses everything trying to recoup, and has nothing left to make a fresh start elsewhere. Which is England to be, the former or the latter?"
It is natural that the Turkish people should have been jubilant over the turn of events in Gallipoli and elsewhere. After the series of defeats during the Balkan War the successes of the Great War against such redoubtable opponents as France and England were all the more inspiring. The final success in the Dardanelles had been predicted some weeks before in the Turkish Parliament, and therefore was not unexpected. In the last week in October, Halil Bey, president of the Turkish Chamber of Deputies, declared:
"At the time when the most serious engagements were taking place in the Dardanelles and in Gallipoli, I was in Berlin. I was there able to realize personally the feelings of high and sincere admiration entertained by our allies for the extraordinary bravery with which terrible attacks were repulsed by our armies. The German nation publicly congratulated their Government, which, at a time when we were despised by the smallest nations, was proud to sign an alliance with us. That alliance carries with it obligations for the distant future, and unites in a sincere and unshakable friendship three great armies and three great nations.
"The cannon which thundered on the Danube will soon be heard again in greater force and will create in the Balkans an important sector in connection with the war. After the reestablishment of communications, which will take place within a brief space of time, our army will be in a better position to fulfill its mission on all the fronts, and in irresistible fashion. The hopes of the enemy are forever destroyed as regards Constantinople and its straits, and can never be renewed."
Extremely significant is one of the concluding paragraphs of his speech in which he foreshadows economic developments after the war. In view of the Allies' expressed intention of making an effort to boycott German trade even after the signing of peace terms, the following words of Halil Bey are illuminating and important:
"The most important result of this war is that from the North Sea to the Indian Ocean a powerful group will have been created that will be ever in opposition to English egotism, which has been the cause of the loss of millions of human lives and of thousands of millions in money, and will act as a check on Russian pride, French revanche, and Italian treachery. In order to secure this happy result the Turkish nation will be proud to submit to every sort of sacrifice." The president concluded his speech by eulogizing the memory of those who had fallen in the war.
Halil Bey's prediction of the reestablishment of communications with the Central Powers was not long in being fulfilled. Within two weeks the Germano-Austrian drive from the Danube had penetrated to Bulgarian territory opposite the Rumanian frontier, and within another fortnight it had linked up with the Bulgarian columns in the south operating against Nish. For all practical purposes Serbia was in their hands, and the powerful economic group heralded by Halil Bey was in the process of completion.
There is no doubt that the forging of this strong link with Berlin was one of the main considerations in inducing the Allies to abandon the Dardanelles campaign. There were two immensely important reasons why this should have radically changed conditions in the Gallipoli Peninsula.
In the first place, there was the question of supplies. There are three ways in which modern wars on a big scale can be won: by direct military pressure, by financial pressure, or by economic stress. In the case of the Allies' offensive against Turkey, after the first disappointment of the naval military operations, it was confidently predicted that economic stress would accomplish what military pressure had failed to do. It was known that Turkey had but meager means of making good the enormous expenditure of heavy-gun ammunition necessary in modern battles. Indeed, as early as the big naval attempt to force the Dardanelles, rumors were heard of a shortage of ammunition in the Turkish forts, and in this connection it is interesting to print a report that gained currency at the time of the abandonment of the Anzac and Suvla Bay bases.
Had the allied fleet returned to its attack upon the Dardanelles batteries on the day following the great bombardment of March 19, 1915, the waterway to Constantinople would surely have been forced, in the opinion of several artillery officers of the defense works near Tchanak-Kalessi expressed to the Associated Press correspondent, who had just reached Vienna.
One of the principal batteries, it appeared, had for three of its large caliber guns just four armor-piercing shells each when night ended the tremendous efforts of the British and French fleet.
For the fourth gun five shells were left, making for the entire battery a total of seventeen projectiles of the sort which the aggressors had to fear. What this meant is best understood when it is considered that the battery in question was the one which had to be given the widest berth by the allied fleet.
During the evening of March 18, 1915, the correspondent talked with several artillery officers from this battery.
"Better pack up and be ready to quit at daybreak," said one of them.
"Why?" he asked.
"Oh, they are sure to get in to-morrow!"
Then the officer stated his reasons. He was so certain that the British and French would return in the morning to finish their task that there was no question in his mind as to the propriety of discussing the ammunition matter.
"We'll hold out well enough to make them think that there is no end to our supply of ammunition," he said, "but it can't be done if they go about their work in real earnest. With our heavy pieces useless they can reduce the batteries on the other shore without trouble. The case looks hopeless. You had better take my advice."
Following the advice thus given, the correspondent rose early next morning and packed his few belongings, keeping, meanwhile, a watchful eye on the tower of Kale-Sultanie, where the flag, showing that the allied fleet was near, was usually hoisted. But the morning passed and still the danger signal did not appear. Evidently the allied fleet was not inclined to risk more such losses as those of the previous day, when the Bouvet, Irresistible, and Ocean went down and five other ships were badly damaged. Yet even with the eleven remaining ships, it appears from the Turkish admissions, the Dardanelles could have been forced on March 19, 1915.
The correspondent visited several of the batteries during the day. The damage done the day before was slight indeed, consisting mostly of large earth displacements from the parapets and traverses. Four guns were temporarily out of commission, but the general shortage of ammunition made these pieces negligible quantities anyway.
Although the British information system in this field of operations was efficient, it must have failed in this instance, for it seems certain that with seventeen shells the battery in question would have been easily disposed of, a channel could have been made through the mine field, and the way to Constantinople would have been open.
All this was realized in the Turkish capital. The court made arrangements to transfer to Akhissar Anatolia, and the German and Austro-Hungarian Embassies were ready to leave for this ancient seat of the Ottoman Government. The families of many German officers in the Turkish service left Constantinople. In short, everybody understood that a calamity was pending. What its exact nature was but a few knew.
Whatever truth there may have been in this particular story, there seems to be little doubt that the Turks were woefully short of ammunition. During the Balkan War it was reported on good authority that much of their ammunition was defective. When countries like France, England, and Russia hopelessly miscalculated the need of ammunition for modern warfare, it is not asking too much of us to believe that the Turks suffered in a worse degree.
Without direct or indirect communication with Germany, it is easy to imagine this condition of affairs getting steadily worse. At the beginning of the war, there seems to be good evidence, large quantities of all kinds of munitions and war supplies were rushed from Germany to Constantinople by way of Rumania and Bulgaria, but it was not long before the Rumanian Government, either of its own volition or in the face of threats by the allied powers, refused to permit these supplies to pass through her territory.
It became evident to the Allies that sooner or later the Germans would have to make an attempt to link up with the Turks. Thus, from one point of view, the operations at the Dardanelles became a race against Germany, with a common objective, Constantinople. Those who laid their money on the allied horse were confident of winning, figuring that long before the Germans were free of the French menace on the west and south and the Russian menace on the east, and so in a position to undertake an offensive against Serbia, the allied troops would have forced the Dardanelles, vanquished the Ottoman troops before the gates of Constantinople, and opened the Strait of the Dardanelles and the Bosporus.
So it was that when events did not transpire as expected, and the allied troops were still hanging desperately to their bases on Gallipoli Peninsula, when the Germans had subdued Serbia, and arrived in triumph in the capital of the Ottoman Empire via the Berlin to Constantinople Express, there was no longer any hope of starving the Turkish guns nor, having even forced the Dardanelles, any certainty of the capture of Constantinople. In other words, conditions had radically changed, and, even with better chances of success than were believed to exist, the game was no longer worth the candle.
The second reason was that, with a neutral Bulgaria, the benefits to the Allies of a successful offensive in the Dardanelles were obvious. The forcing of the Strait, a combined naval and land attack upon Constantinople, the driving of the Turk from Europe, and the insertion of a firm defensive wedge between the empire of the Sultan and any possible German offensive from the north, were objectives important enough to justify almost any expenditure of money, men, and effort the Allies might have made.
But with the Turkish army linked up with a friendly Bulgaria, and backed by a strong Austro-German force led by General Mackensen, the conditions were changed to a state of hopelessness. An allied army operating on the European side against Constantinople would be dangerously flanked by the Bulgarian and Austro-Germans and hopelessly outnumbered if limited to the force the Allies had been able to send to the southeastern war area.
Just how many men it was possible for Bulgaria and Turkey to put in the field it is not possible to state definitely. It would be reasonable to figure that they could by a great effort, after many months of war, put at least twice their reputed war strength into the ranks. The larger countries far exceeded such figures. Enver Pasha, at the end of October, 1915, stated that Turkey had raised a total of 2,000,000 soldiers. Bulgaria, in a case of necessity, might possibly have added another million, while Germany and Austria, at the time of the operations against Serbia, demonstrated their ability to supply, in action and in reserve, another 500,000 for this front.
These are huge figures. There were many reasons why all these troops could not be used against an allied offensive. It is not meant to imply, for instance, that an allied offensive on a large scale, based on Saloniki, is doomed to failure. The figures are quoted simply to show the military conditions that made an offensive from the Dardanelles hopeless in the circumstances that obtained at the end of 1915 and that weighed with the military authorities in London and Paris in deciding upon a withdrawal from the Gallipoli Peninsula.
Probably it will be a long time before the world has any accurate, adequate idea of the terrible disaster that overtook British prestige and allied troops in their year's attempt to force the Strait. Official figures announced by Premier Asquith speak of more than 100,000 troops killed, wounded, or missing, but these total figures took account of the sick, who reached an extraordinary high total. Lack of drinking water, the difficulty of keeping the troops supplied with food, the intense heat, and the fact that the men engaged were unused to the climatic conditions, combined to lay low thousands upon thousands of men not mentioned in the restricted casualty lists. An estimate of another hundred thousand put out of action, temporarily or permanently, by sickness is not unreasonable.
Thus 200,000 men, six battleships and smaller war vessels, enormous stores and millions of dollars' worth of ammunitions were the price Britain paid to discover that the Dardanelles were impregnable even to British battleships and British endurance. And who shall estimate the loss of vital prestige, the waste of fine efforts at a time when it was so much needed elsewhere? Some future historian, with all the facts in his possession, with the saving perspective that only time can give, will have a fascinating subject for discussion in this Dardanelles campaign, destined to go down into history as one of the most spectacular and daring in the annals of warfare.
It was not until some weeks later that the outside world began to hear rumors of the dire predicament of the Armenians under Turkish rule. In their case, as in that of the French and British who were to be sent to the Dardanelles, Mr. Morgenthau finally intervened with effect.
It had always been recognized that the elements of serious trouble existed in the districts of Asiatic Turkey populated by the Armenians. In the days of Sultan Abdul Hamid there had been frequent massacres by the Turks, following outbreaks of racial and religious strife. The Armenians had not been easy people to govern, and a constant and deep hatred existed between them and their rulers.
With the coming of the Young Turks the lot of the unhappy Armenians had apparently bettered. Indeed, at the time of the outbreak of war, one of two special European inspectors, specially appointed to watch over the administration of the six provinces of Asiatic Turkey in which the Armenians lived, was actually on his way to his post.
Of course the war changed the entire situation and made the position of the Armenian population a precarious one. All hope of reform for the moment was banished and the old hatred, of which it was hoped the world had heard the last, was revived and intensified by the passions aroused by the entrance of Turkey into the struggle.
Nor were the Armenians content to await their fate. In several important instances they took matters into their own hands. It was, perhaps quite natural that many of them, especially those who lived near the Russian frontier, should sympathize with Russia.
Early in April of 1915, a considerable force of Armenians in the city of Van collected and resisted the attempts of Turkish gendarmes to apply the terms of an order banishing certain of their number suspected of Russian or anti-Turk sympathies. In such force were they that they actually, with the help of Russian troops, captured the city.
With the Van revolt Talaat Bey, the powerful Turkish Minister of the Interior, determined upon a ruthless policy of repression, and it was largely due to efforts to put that policy in force that there resulted the subsequent massacre of Armenians that shocked the world. It is difficult for anyone not in possessions of the actual facts to apportion an exact measure of blame for these bloody reprisals; and in the following account, it must be remembered, we are compelled at this juncture to rely almost entirely upon English and Russian, and therefore biased, information.
The district covered by the massacre, in which it has been said 1,000,000 Armenians (probably a gross exaggeration) were killed, were Eastern Anatolia, Cilicia, and the Anti-Taurus regions. It is said that at Marsovan, where there is an American college, the Armenians early in June were ordered to meet outside the town. They were surrounded and 1,200 of their number killed by an infuriated mob. Thousands of the rest were hurled into northern Mesopotamia.
At Bitlis and Mush, in the Lake Van district, it is reported that 12,000 were killed and several Armenian villages entirely wiped out.
As has been pointed out, the Armenians of some districts did not sit still and wait to be massacred. At Shaben Karahissar in northeastern Anatolia, within a hundred miles of Trebizond, the Armenian population held the town for a short time against Turkish troops. Finally they were overcome and 4,000 are said to have been killed. At Kharput, a hundred and twenty-five miles southwest of Erzerum, the Armenians held the town for a whole week, but were finally overcome by troops and artillery. In many of the districts the able-bodied men of the Armenian population have been drafted into the labor battalions for military work at the front and at the bases. The men too old for this class of work, and yet suspected of agitating against Turkish rule, were exiled into districts where their powers for harm would be nil.
It must not be assumed because of these accounts that the Turkish Government gave its unqualified approval of these massacres. Undoubtedly Talaat Bey adopted a deliberately ruthless policy in dealing with all cases of actual or suspected revolt. But it is a far cry from a systematic, intelligent policy of frightfulness to an indiscriminate massacre.
Protests against these massacres were not confined to the outside world. Many influential personages in Turkey openly protested, and in some notable cases conscientious and brave officials actually refused to obey the demands of the Constantinople authorities and hand over Armenian subjects or assist in their exile.
Again in this case, as in that of the proposal of Enver Pasha to send a large number of allied citizens to the bombardment area of Gallipoli as a reprisal, it was Mr. Morgenthau, the American Ambassador at Constantinople, who followed up his protest by real action. He threw himself heart and soul into the work of softening the lot of the unfortunate Armenians. Of course he had to move warily in order not to offend the pride of the Turkish authorities, but working through the American Consular officials stationed throughout Turkey and through the American missionaries and teachers working among the Armenian and Turkish people he undoubtedly saved the lives of thousands of men, women, and children, while other thousands undoubtedly owe to his zeal their escape from exile or starvation.
It was due largely to the publicity given to these deplorable happenings in the American press that the attention of the world was drawn to Asiatic Turkey and the conditions there, resulting in action by the Turkish Government that effectively put a stop, for the moment at least, to the persecution of an unhappy people.
CAMPAIGN IN CAUCASUS—FALL OF ERZERUM
The fall of 1915 and the early winter of 1915 were periods of feverish activity behind the lines in the Caucasus. A severe winter held up any active operations of consequence on the part of either belligerents, but both knew that with the coming of better conditions their defensive and offensive organizations would be put to severe tests.
On the part of the Russians the Caucasus front became at the time one of prime importance. Not excepting even the Balkan frontier, to Russia the Turkish line was of more importance than any other on which her army was aligned. In the first place, of all her frontier that running through the Caucasus promised the best return for the least expenditure of effort, time, money, and men. Against both Germany, in the north, and Germany-stiffened Austria in Galicia and the Carpathians, Russia had had severe reverses. The czar's staff, through grim experience, realized the tremendous difficulties that confronted them on these two fronts. Turkey, ill prepared, lacking superlative military leaders, without organization, and barely recovered from the terrible effects of the Balkan wars, appeared to be an easy opponent, comparatively speaking, despite the frightful difficulties of large military operations in the roadless and railless mountain passes of the Trans-caucasus.
Furthermore, the military pressure was becoming steadily easier on Russia. The great German drive was drawing to its close. With its front established in a straight line from just south of Riga on the north, to the Rumanian frontier on the south, the Austro-German army decided to abandon the offensive for the time being and be content with holding that front; and devote its energies to the Serbian and French theatres of war. This promised to provide a very welcome breathing spell for Russia, permitting her to reorganize her military forces, remedy her deplorable shortage of munitions and incidentally to turn her attentions to the Turks.
Finally, once in the war, the whole of Russian official opinion tended toward a settlement, once and for all, of her age-long dream of Constantinople. The consolidation of the Balkans on a Slav, pro-Russian basis, important as it appeared to be and furnishing the ostensible causes of the war, was but incidental to the Russian dominion over and control of Constantinople, the gate to the warm waters of the Mediterranean.
From the viewpoint of the Entente Powers as a whole there were cogent reasons why a Russian offensive against the Turkish Caucasus front would be highly desirable. It would, for instance, relieve the pressure, not only on the Gallipoli front, but as well on the British forces in Mesopotamia. In the latter field, of course, Great Britain, with a miniature army of not more than 40,000, was attempting to reach Bagdad, but was being hard pressed by the Ottoman forces. Furthermore, an eventual junction of the Russian columns from the Caucasus and the British troops from the Persian Gulf, and the establishment of an impregnable line, would provide against any future drive of a German-Austro-Turkish army toward India.
These, then, were the considerations that influenced the preparations for a resumption of the Russian offensive against Erzerum and beyond, which had been more or less quiescent since the smashing defeat of the Turkish army on the frontier in December, 1914.
Undoubtedly this state of affairs had much to do with the transfer of the Grand Duke Nicholas to the Caucasus command when it became apparent that the German offensive in the north was nearing its finish. With masterly skill the Russian commander in chief had withdrawn his huge army in the face of a victorious and highly efficient enemy, not, to be sure, without serious losses, but certainly without permitting his long front to be really broken or his forces utterly defeated. It was felt in Russia that he, of all men developed by the war, was the one to organize and initiate the proposed operations in the Caucasus.
It was early in the month of September, 1915, September 5 to be precise, that the czar issued his famous order relieving the Grand Duke Nicholas of his command in the north and transferring him to the Caucasus. Taking with him a number of the higher officers who had been with him through the trying months on the Warsaw front, the Grand Duke Nicholas immediately journeyed south and took over the command of the Russian forces in that theatre of war.
It was not long before there were to be seen many evidences of the arrival of a commander with energy and determination. Despite the lamentable shortage of munitions known to exist in Russia, guns, shells, rifles, provisions, and stores of all kinds were rapidly accumulated at the main Caucasus base and from there distributed to the points along the line of advance into Turkey. Many of these supplies of all kinds, provisions as well as munitions of war, came from the United States by way of the Siberian port of Vladivostok and even by way of Archangel, although that port was, in most cases, reserved for British shipments. From Vladivostok the American shipments were carried over the 6,000 miles of the great Trans-Siberian railway to Petrograd and from there continued on their long and slow journey to the Caucasus front.
Among the endless stream of supplies were many special and ingenious conveyances for transporting guns, provisions, and soldiers over the otherwise impassable snows of this terrible region. It was necessary, to insure success, that by some means hitherto unknown to military transportation guns weighing tons should be moved about the trackless, roadless country almost like playthings. Only thus could a commander hope to secure that preponderance of heavy gunfire without which the modern offensive is doomed to defeat or stalemate.
By the beginning of February, 1916, all was ready for the Russian advance upon Erzerum. To begin with, the Turks were known to be busily occupied in other fields. The British forces in Mesopotamia, although held up at Kut-el-Amara, and known to be in sore straits, were in daily expectation of strong reenforcements. The campaign against Bagdad, which had been originally undertaken by the Indian army, had proved too big a task for that relatively small organization, and the conduct of that campaign was taken over by the imperial military authorities in Great Britain, who have larger militant forces at their disposal than those possessed by the Indian Government.
Aside from this fear of strong reenforcements, the Turkish commanders were straining every effort to capture the British force shut up in Kut-el-Amara, and thus secure a great victory that could not fail to have far-reaching military and political effects both in Turkey and throughout the whole warring world. For this reason every unit of troops that could be possibly spared from other fields was rushed to Bagdad and thrown into the field against General Townshend's sorely pressed command awaiting relief at Kut-el-Amara.
Furthermore, although the pressure on the Gallipoli front had been relaxed through the practical abandonment by the allied troops of the attempt to force the Dardanelles, with the entrance of the Bulgarians into the war and the prosecution of the offensive against Serbia a new need had been found for Turkish troops. For the Bulgarian and Serbian development had brought the Allies in ever-increasing strength to Saloniki. The Allies at the Greek port were a constant potential menace to Turkey, as well as to Bulgaria, and through the Entente press were running constant rumors of a coming offensive directed at Constantinople "through the back door," as it was called.
To be sure the allied forces at Saloniki, beyond a half-hearted effort, with but a fraction of their numbers to assist the escape of the Serbian army from the menace of the Austro-German-Bulgarian pincers that threatened it on three sides, had made no move to carry the war to the Bulgarian or Turkish enemy. Yet Turkey found it necessary to keep constantly at Constantinople, or in the country immediately to the north and in close touch with the Bulgarian forces, an army estimated at at least 200,000 men.
In other words, the Turkish General Staff could withdraw few if any of the men concentrated about Constantinople at the beginning of the war to fill the enormous gaps made in her line on other fronts. Indeed, she had need to add to them to offset the extraordinary number of men who were constantly being poured into Saloniki by France and England until, in the early spring, their total was variously estimated at from 250,000 to 350,000 men of all services.
It was in these circumstances, then, that the Grand Duke Nicholas ordered the advance upon Erzerum. They go far to explain the events of the subsequent few weeks in and about the great Turkish Caucasian fortress town.
Russian forces had, during the three months immediately preceding the big offensive, prepared the way by the capture of points from which the grand attack was to be launched. In command of the czar's troops was General Judenich, although the Grand Duke Nicholas was officially responsible for operations on this front. General Judenich had devoted years of his life to a study of the special problems attending an offensive in the Kars-Erzerum regions and carried through his task with a skill and an expedition that have hardly their equal in the history of the war.
The advance of the Russian forces upon Erzerum was made from three points. It is well for the reader to keep this constantly in mind. It was an application of the principle of the pincers, combined with a great frontal attack, used so often and so successfully by the Germans in their Russian drive. It adds tremendously to the difficulties of a commander battling to defend a big position. Nowadays, under the new conditions of warfare, fortresses or other positions are not defended to the end. They are held just as long as it is safe for the army within to hold out. But a commander must on no account endanger his force. Discretion is more than ever the better part of valor, and "he who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day," is the guiding principle of the general of modern times.
Now this triple menace, striking not only on the front but on both sides and menacing the roads by which a defeated army must retreat, seriously weakens the defense which an army within a fortress can make. It was just such an operation or series of operations that carried the tremendously strong fortress of Antwerp in record time, that accounted for the surprising fall of Namur in two days, and that explains the rapidity with which a score of almost impregnable Russian fortresses in Poland fell before the rush of the German avalanche.
The triple Russian thrust at Erzerum was made from Olty, which had been captured as far back as August 3, 1915, along the Kars-Erzerum road by way of Sarikamish, the scene of the great Turkish defeat of the early days of the war, and from Melazghert and Khynysskala.
Erzerum was undoubtedly one of the strongest positions in the Turkish Empire, although the experience of the war had tended to detract from previous confidence in the strength of old-style concrete forts when attacked by concentrated big-gun bombardment. Opinions differ on the question of whether or not the Erzerum armament had been maintained up to a modern standard. But as regards the number of its guns, and the size and number of its individual forts, there are no two opinions.
Its eighteen separate positions encircling the city in two rings, defended by concrete forts, would, under ordinary conditions, have made it virtually impregnable. One count mentions as many as 467 big guns in the outer forts, 374 in the inner forts, and 200 more or less mobile fieldpieces scattered about the country intervening. Although this was an early Russian report, issued in the delirium of national joy that followed the capture of the fortress, and should be considerably discounted, nevertheless, Erzerum boasted a plentiful supply of big guns, few if any of which were taken away by the fleeing Turkish army, although the majority of them were probably rendered useless at the last moment. According to Entente information, among these guns were 300 of the very latest pattern Krupp pieces, but on the other hand, according to German information, the fortress boasted no guns less than twenty years old. Arguing from the known shortage of big guns in Turkey and the fact that of late years other fronts have been of prime importance and have undoubtedly received what fresh ordnance the army was able to purchase and secure, it does not seem likely that much modern equipment was found in the Caucasus fortress by the Russian victors.
Quickly the three Russian forces converged upon Erzerum. Finally, driving outlying Turkish forces before them, in the second week of February, 1916, they were in touch with the outer defenses of the great fortress. It was rumored at this time that both Von der Goltz and Liman von Sanders, the two high German commanders, lent by the kaiser to Turkey, were in Erzerum superintending the defense and, furthermore, that huge Turkish reenforcements were covering the 200 miles from the nearest railway head by forced marches in an effort to arrive at the fortress and prevent its encircling and isolation by the Russians. Both of these reports, however, ultimately were proved to be figments of the active imaginations of local correspondents.
The Turkish plan of campaign for the defense of Erzerum, according to official Russian sources, was as follows: The Third Army Corps, which had been ordered up to replace the losses in the Caucasus front of the previous nine months, was moved out of Erzerum and took up a position between that town and the Russian front. The Ninth and Tenth Corps moved out toward Olty to form an offensive ring, while the Eleventh Corps was to hold the Russian offensive on the Kars-Erzerum road. In case the Russians in the last named region were too strong for the Eleventh Corps to hold, it was to fall back slowly on the fortress of Erzerum, drawing the army of the Grand Duke Nicholas with it. When this movement had progressed sufficiently, the Ninth and Tenth Corps were to attack energetically on the flank.
Unfortunately for the success of this plan, although the Eleventh Corps performed its function and drew the Russian army with it in its retreat toward Erzerum, the Ninth and Tenth Corps suffered a reverse and were compelled to fall back also. Similarly, the Third Corps was compelled to yield before superior numbers and barely escaped envelopment.
Naturally, there is considerable difference of opinion as to the question of numbers involved in these operations. It seems to be fairly well established, however, that the Russians used, roughly, eight army corps, or slightly more than 300,000 men. Eight corps are known to have been at the disposal of the grand duke, but a small portion of his force was at the same time engaged in an expedition into northern Persia, so that the round figures given would seem to be conservative.
Although but four Turkish corps are mentioned, it is known that the Ottoman command had at its disposal considerable numbers of Kurds, Persians, Arabs, and other irregular troops, as well as several units not specifically mentioned in the official accounts. Thus the estimate of 180,000 to 200,000 men would not seem to be out of the way.
While the thrusts from the northeast and southeast were fighting their way toward the flanks of Erzerum, the Russian troops advancing along the Kars-Erzerum road, driving the Eleventh Corps before them, made a fierce frontal assault upon the outer forts of the town.
In this connection it would be well to examine more minutely the conditions that confronted the Russian commander. Erzerum is situated on a plateau some 6,000 feet above sea level, and the key forts had been placed on high ground commanding the surrounding country. However well the Russian transport department had done its work, the Russian supply of heavy artillery could not have been overwhelming in the sense that heavy guns were overwhelming on other fronts. There could, therefore, have been no condition of affairs where the infantry was called upon simply to occupy positions previously shattered by gunfire. Indeed, the best opinions agree that little or no real damage was done by the artillery to the Erzerum forts and that the infantry had to advance against practically intact defenses. Yet, after five days of fierce assault, the hardy Siberian troops of General Judenich's army carried nine of the outlying forts and forced the evacuation of the entire fortress.
There can be but one explanation of this astonishing result. It is hardly possible for any troops to take a position like Erzerum by direct assault. The fortress successfully resisted all Russian attempts to capture it in the Russo-Turkish War, although then far less strong than in 1916. Some foreign military critics have tried to explain the puzzling facts by claiming that the well-known bravery and tenacity of the Turk on defense, shown all through his history and never more evident than in the Gallipoli campaign, was, for some unknown reason, totally lacking at Erzerum. Such claims, however, do not hold water.
Erzerum was evacuated simply because of a menace to the Turkish lines of communication and the danger of isolation. However well provisioned the fortress might have been—and its stores were vast, for it was the chief supply and provisioning center for the whole Turkish military organization in Asia Minor—it could not hope to withstand an indefinite siege. The Turkish high command would not view with equanimity the bottling up of close upon 200,000 of its first-line troops. With the example of Przemysl, and Metz in 1870 in its mind, it decided upon a, perhaps, temporary abandonment of the position immediately it became apparent that the Russian advance from the northeast and southeast could not be successfully opposed by the troops available.
Furthermore, the defense of the fortress was weakened by the condition of the country over which the Turkish army had to retreat in any retirement from Erzerum. It is no simple matter to transport a defeated army, with its supplies, enormous guns, ammunition, and other impedimenta, even with an efficient railway organization at its back. It is comparatively easy, then, to imagine some of the difficulties that confronted the Turkish command. From Erzerum to the nearest railhead is something like 200 miles. A blinding snowstorm was raging and the temperature was hovering around 25 degrees below zero. Few roads, and those almost impassable at that season of the year, must supply all the needs of scores of thousands of men and thousands of animals, carts, trucks, guns, carriages, etc.
The retreat of the Turkish forces from Erzerum, resembling a rout in its inevitable haste and confusion, had to be made in the face of a victorious enemy and, menaced by superior forces on both flanks, under terrific weather conditions and through roadless and highly broken country. After a preliminary artillery bombardment of the Turkish forts on the southeast front of the city, the Russian infantry began to assault Fort Kara Gubek. Finally this was carried and then fell in quick succession Forts Tafta and Chobandede, six miles south on the commanding and important Deyer Boyum Heights. By February 15, 1916, the Russians were masters of the city and fortress.
At first it was supposed in the allied countries that the Turkish army had been trapped in the fortress and more or less authoritative accounts spoke of the surrender of 180,000 Turkish troops. These accounts were circumstantial enough. Several days before the news of the fall of Erzerum came through there appeared stories of the envelopment of the city. It soon became known, however, that less than 17,000 troops had been taken with the abandoned forts—merely a rear guard left behind to delay the onward sweep of the Russians and give the retreating Turkish army a chance to put a few miles between it and its pursuers.
If the country to the west of Erzerum was rugged and difficult for the retiring Turk, it also followed that it was not only difficult for the pursuing Russians, but also offered many opportunities for a stern resistance. Thus it was not astonishing to learn that the Russians had little chance of following up their success at Erzerum. The Turkish army, largely intact, made good its escape across Armenia, followed by the troops of the Grand Duke Nicholas, much to the chagrin of allied public opinion, which had hoped for a smashing victory such as the fall of Przemysl, or Metz in 1870, or Plevna in 1877.
The grand duke decided to advance with the right of his army on Trebizond, the Turkish supply base on the Black Sea. Turkey was known to be hurrying reenforcements to this town in the hope of preventing its capture by the Russians. It became a race across difficult country and, although Petrograd and London reports confidently predicted the success of the Russians, in the end the Turks were able to bring up strong enough forces to prevent its capture, for the time being at least.
It is difficult to measure with any accuracy the political results of the success of the Russians at Erzerum, for the political results far outweighed the military. In a general way it can be said that it had little or no effect upon the Balkans, and upon Mohammedan opinion throughout the East, merely serving to offset in a small measure the effects of the allied withdrawal from the Dardanelles. On the other hand, it had a tremendously important effect upon the situation in Persia. In that kingdom, just prior to the Russian offensive, there were many evidences that affairs were ripe for a rising of the local tribes against the Russians in occupation of the northern zone of influence. Indeed, at the very time the grand duke gave his orders for the advance upon Erzerum he was compelled to detach troops for operations in Persia. This force advanced against a body numbering about 2,000, made up of Turks, Persians, and some Germans, and finally, after some small fighting, occupied the Persian towns of Hamadan, Kurn, and Kermanshah.
Even with these successes there was great difficulty in controlling the Persians, who had gained courage through the defeat of the British in Mesopotamia and in Gallipoli. However, the capture of Erzerum and the rout of the Turks had a quieting effect, for the time being at least.
PART IX—ITALY IN THE WAR
REVIEW OF PRECEDING OPERATIONS—ITALIAN MOVEMENTS
A retrospect of the Austro-Italian struggle, taken from the vantage point afforded by nine months of fighting, revealed what was intended to be a campaign of invasion as developing all the characteristics of trench warfare. Following shortly on the declaration of war by Italy, General Cadorna deployed the whole of the Italian Third Army on the right bank of the Isonzo between Tolmino and Monfalcone, and carried out a vigorous offensive in order to gain a secure footing on the left bank—an antecedent condition to further operations eastward. Italian troops crossed the river at five different points, Caporetto, Plava, Castelnuovo, Gradisca, and Monfalcone. Considering the immense strength of the Austrian defenses this was considered a good start. Along the thirty-mile front from Tolmino to the sea there is a continuous wall of defensive works, flanked on the north by the fortified position of Tolmino, and on the south by the formidable Carso Plateau, while Gorizia constitutes the central Austrian point d'appui, having been converted into a modern fortress with a girdle of exterior forts supplemented by advanced batteries provided by armored cars on which the latest types of howitzers are mounted. All that military science could do to render this iron barrier impregnable had been done, and the Italians from the first had a hard struggle in their attacks on it.
While regular siege operations were being carried on against Tolmino and Gorizia, the Italians were putting forth great efforts to secure possession of the Carso Plateau, which dominates the rail and carriage road between Monfalcone and Trieste, as well as the Isonzo Valley up to Gorizia. The plateau had to be completely occupied before any advance could be made along the coast road into Istria and before Gorizia could be attacked from the south. Two months after the declaration of war the Italians, who by that time were in possession of the bridgehead at Sagrada, stormed with great gallantry several lines of trenches on the summit of the western face of the plateau, and captured two thousand prisoners with a large quantity of war material. They followed up this success by an infantry attack, supported by a large number of heavy and field guns. Farther north another army operated against Tarvis along two routes, one of which goes over the Pontafel Pass and is traversed by the railroad running between Vienna and Venice, while the other is a coach road leading from Plezzo over the Predil Pass to the Save Valley. The progress of the Italian columns was checked at Malborgeth, where the Austrians had constructed a chain of permanent forts, while along the coach road an equally strong group of forts covering the Predil Pass blocked the way. A further offensive was directed across the Carnic Alps by way of the Kreuzberg Pass down the Seoten Valley to Innichen and Toblach on the Pusterthal railway. Formidable works had been constructed at Seoten and Lambeo, covering the approaches to the railroad, and on these the Italians opened a furious bombardment for the purpose of clearing a way into the Drave Valley. The object aimed at here was very clear to the Austrians, for when the railroad was reached communication along the Pusterthal between the Adige and Isonzo would be cut, and the Austrian position on the Trentino turned. This was the position in August, 1915, when the Italians were exerting pressure on the Austrians for the further purpose of diverting troops from the Russian frontier, where was being carried on the greatest offensive known to history.
During August, 1915, a continuous night and day battle was waged on the Isonzo frontier for the possession of the Carso Plateau. Gorizia, with its circle of outlying forts, proved itself practically unavailable from either the north or west, for two fortified heights, Monte Sabatino, on the right bank, and Monte Gabrielle on the left bank, of the Isonzo River, stood sentry over the town on the north, while the plateau of Podgora, which is a perfect labyrinth of deep, intercommunicating trenches, barred the approach to the town from the west. A determined and carefully prepared attack was made by a large Italian force on Podgora, but though ten regiments were sent against the position they failed to get through. In another movement the troops of General Cadorna were successful in obtaining a firm footing on the western face of the Carso Plateau, occupying Sdraissima, Polazzo, Vermegbano, and Monte Sei Bussi, which overlooks Monfalcone. Finding, however, that the Austrians had been strongly reenforced, General Cadorna abandoned his storming tactics, and began advancing along the plateau by the slower methods of siege operations. From the beginning, both Italians and Austrians recognized the Carso Plateau as the key to Gorizia, and around it have been waged some of the bitterest conflicts of the war.
During September, 1915, General Cadorna was able to report progress all along the front occupied, and especially on the Trentino frontier, where Italian troops moved along the three main routes which converge on the Adige Valley from the Italian plain. The route taken was through the Val Giudicaria on the western face of the Trentino salient, up the Adige on the south side, and along the Val Sugano on the eastern front. The Val Giudicaria is the highway into the Tyrol from Brescia, and on either side of it are fortified positions nearly the whole way to Trent. During the first week of the war the Italians, taking the Austrians by surprise, seized Condino by a coup de main, and compelled the Austrian garrison to fall back on the second line of defense higher up the valley. Then the Italian troops began to secure the position gained by constructing defensive works covering the road approaches to Brescia, and linking these up with other defensive positions extending along the entire front from the Stelvio pass to Lake Garda. Simultaneously with the occupation of Condino, an Italian force, based on Verona, moved up both banks of the Adige, crossed the Austrian frontier near Borghetto, and seized Ala with hardly any opposition. Continuing their offensive the Italians then seized Monte Altissimo and its northern spurs, which command the railroad between Riva and Rovereto, and at the same time occupied the important position of Gori Zugra, which is four miles north of Ala, and flanks the Rovereto road. From there on advance was subsequently made to Pozzachio, an unfinished fort eight miles from Rovereto, which was abandoned by the Austrians as soon as the Italian offensive began to develop. Another force then moved up the Val Astico from Asiero, and succeeded in storming the Austrian positions on Monte Maronia, whence the Italians threatened the main defenses of Rovereto on the Lavaone-Folgaria Plateau. Rovereto is at the junction of three mountain roads leading into Italy in this locality, and has a strategical importance second only to that of Trent. Its occupation was recognized from the start as a necessary preliminary to advanced operations up the Adige. The third Italian column, directed against Trent, moved up the Brenta along the Val Sugana, and in September, 1915, its advanced guards, operating right and left of the valley, reached Monte Salubion on the north and Monte Armenderia on the south of Borgo. These heights command the town of Borgo, but as the inhabitants are all Italians, the place was not occupied lest this should lead to its bombardment by the Austrian artillery. The Austrian commander, however, did not spare the town, which had been repeatedly bombarded by the guns north of Ronegno. Borgo is only eighteen miles from Trent and its investment by Italian troops brought them almost within striking distance of the great Tyrol fortress.
During November and December, 1915, a series of most desperate attempts were made by the troops under General Cadorna to storm the bridgehead of Gorizia and establish a firm footing on the Doberdo Plateau. This plateau, which acts as the citadel for the more extended position of the Carso, rises from 350 to 650 feet above the level of the valley, and dominates all the approaches to Gorizia. Monte San Michele, which is a ridge on the north side of the plateau, and rises in one place to 900 feet above sea level, is the key to the whole position; and round it there was a continuous sanguinary hand-to-hand fight, the Italians sometimes gaining the advantage, and at other times the Austrians. Against this position General Cadorna concentrated 1,500 guns, some of them 14-and 15-inch howitzers, and naval guns. A tremendous artillery duel, interspersed with infantry attacks, thus set in, and for a long time the fate of Gorizia trembled in the balance. But the advantage of position and the systematic preparation of long years told heavily on the side of the Austrians, who had defended the town with a determination and courage equal to that of their adversaries. General Boroevich had all along had general charge of the Isonzo defenses, while the Archduke Joseph, who held the Dukla Pass for so many weeks against the Russian attacks, succeeded to the command of the corps holding the Doberdo Plateau. Meanwhile the Italian troops were achieving successes elsewhere. They occupied during the month of November, 1915, Bezzecea in the Ledro Valley, and took possession of Col di Lava (8,085 feet) in the Dolomite district.
This was roughly the position from the military point of view on the various Austro-Italian fronts toward the close of the year, when the obstacles facing the Italian forces began to be appreciated by the outside world. It was by that time generally recognized that, though the Italians outnumbered the Austro-Hungarian troops, and but few reserves were available to reenforce General Boroevich, the Austrian defenses were enormously strong, and could only be captured after a heavy sacrifice of life and an unlimited expenditure of artillery ammunition. No mere study of the map can convey any true idea of the difficulties to be overcome before the Austrian positions in the Dolomites and Carnic Alps could be captured. For such a survey could give no indication of the huge guns mounted on the very summit of snow-clad peaks, or the lines of armored trenches stretching uninterruptedly from the Stelvio to the Isonzo. In the mountain warfare that had to be undertaken amidst the terrific heights, progress by either side could all but be reckoned by yards. The convoys had to plod up and down precipitous mountain sides. Instead of the fighting taking place in valleys and passes, as many thought, the positions and even the trenches were revealed as frequently on the very summits of almost inaccessible peaks and crags, often above the snow line. At high altitudes the few observers admitted on either side saw artillery of a caliber usually associated with defensive works at sea level. The intrepidity required in operations over such a terrain is illustrated by the Italian capture of Monte Vero, when a battalion of Alpini ascended barefooted the precipitous face of the mountain in the middle of the night and stormed the Austrian position on the summit. In such enterprises youth and enthusiasm were found the best assets. The Alpine troops of Italy are recruited from mountain populations, whose hearts and lungs, accustomed to high altitudes, can well bear the strain of mountain fighting.
On the lower Isonzo front the character of the operations has somewhat recalled the aspect of the fighting area and the troop movements in France. Here low foothills and undulating plains predominate. There was on the Isonzo front, however, an absence of the horrors of war in the shape of devastated towns, villages, and countryside, with which the world has become familiar in illustrations from Belgium and northern France.
Over no field of operations was the veil of official secrecy more securely held than over the events proceeding on the Austro-Italian front. Newspaper men were rigorously excluded from the area over which martial law prevailed and the official communiques seldom erred on the side of perspicuity. This procedure gave rise to a widespread impression that the Italian forces had been largely marking time. The brilliant dash into the Isonzo Valley and the capture of Austrian positions in the Trentino which were chronicled during the months of June and July, 1915, marked an advance which was not equaled by any achievements in the months that followed. Nevertheless, a detailed study of the changes in position during that time show that the Italians were drilling their path forward with unflagging determination.
ITALY'S RELATIONS TO THE OTHER WARRING NATIONS
Meanwhile, events of a most startling character were taking place close to the Italian frontier, every one of them big with consequence to Italy's vital interests. The conquest of Serbia by the forces of Germany and Austria-Hungary under General von Mackensen was begun and completed in two months. On October 14, 1915, Bulgaria declared war against the Allies and immediately attacked Serbia from the south, cooperating with the Austro-German forces with whom direct communication was established toward the end of November, 1915. A belated French-British expedition landed at Saloniki for the purpose of lending aid to harassed Serbia, but the forces, which were united under the command of the French General, Sarrail, were capable of achieving little. After coming into contact with the Bulgarians they began on November 27, 1915, to retire to their base at Saloniki, with Irish troops covering their retreat. The conquest of Montenegro followed that of Serbia. The much-coveted strategic position of Mount Lovcen, commanding the Bocca di Cattaro, was captured by the Austrians on January 10, 1916, while the capital, Cettinje, was likewise occupied three days later. Farther east, the ill-starred Dardanelles venture was coming to a disastrous end. Evacuation of the Gallipoli Peninsula by the forces of Britain and France began in December, 1915, the last soldiers of these two powers leaving Sedd-el-Bahr on January 7, 1916.
It was expected that Italy would take a prominent part in the series of events which had taken place on these various fields. More than once the message was sent round the world that a well-equipped Italian expedition had left for the Dardanelles. It was considered certain that Italy would lend her assistance to the forces landed at Saloniki, and thus aid in preventing the overrunning of Montenegro, which could not but constitute a direct menace to herself. Apart from the landing of a number of troops at Avlona in Albania, Italy kept aloof. This rigid abstinence, coupled with the appearance of deadlock on Italy's two main frontiers, set in motion an undercurrent of criticism among the friends of the Allies. A further source of uncertainty was found in the relations still maintained between Italy and Germany. "Why did not Italy declare war against Germany as well as against Austria?" was a query that was continually put. In the face of this attitude of doubt the Italian Government still continued what it considered its sound and well-matured policy of concentrating its forces for the protection of its own frontiers against Austria, and looking on every other enemy as secondary.
As regards the Balkans, it has to be recalled that it was Italy who first suggested that Serbia receive the assistance of the Allies against the superior Austrian forces. This suggestion was at that early time taken into but slight consideration by France and Great Britain. A battery or two was lent to Serbia by Great Britain, but little more was done until the spectacle of invasion became imminent. While Italy recognized that her interests were of a paramount character in the Balkans, she was convinced that the war would be decided in the main theatre, and not on any of the side theatres that Germany might decide to choose. Nor was Italy under any misapprehension as to what would be her fate were the Austrians to succeed in breaking through the lines of defense on her northern frontier. These considerations decided her against participating in any over-sea adventure unless she was absolutely compelled to do so.
Italy's interest in the problem as to who was to dominate Constantinople and the Dardanelles was less than that of either England or Russia. The apologists of her policy of abstention maintained, indeed, that jealousy of Russia was Great Britain's main motive in deciding on the expedition to Gallipoli. Italy had a more important work to do than to lend her aid in playing off one ally against another. Any aid given to that expedition had, necessarily, to be of a comprehensive character if success was to be achieved. This would have meant a serious depletion of the Italian forces and might have opened up a way that would have enabled the enemy to strike at the very heart of Italy.
When the possibility of Bulgaria taking the side of the Central Powers loomed into the domain of actuality, Italy with her nearer intuition in Balkan affairs called attention to the impending denouement. In this she was seconded by Serbia, who asked the aid of the Allies in striking a blow which would have prevented what proved from the allied point of view to be a calamity. Italy's suggestion was that Sofia be at once occupied before Bulgarian mobilization could be got under way. The policy of hoping against hope took the place of energetic action. Then action on the part of the Allies followed when the blow had fallen. Yet Italy knew that Serbia was doomed the moment Bulgaria declared war.
Bitter as the admission might be to Italy, it was convinced that Montenegro was in the like case with Serbia. Montenegro had as little hope of coping with the combined forces of Germany, Austria, and Bulgaria as Serbia. A mere consideration of the alternative plans of rendering aid to her small neighbors revealed the most promising of them as entailing a useless sacrifice. It would have meant the taking over-sea of some hundreds of thousands of men and large guns during the worst period of the year. The passage to the Montenegrin port of Antivari would have required the protection of the entire Italian navy, thus leaving the coasts of Italy exposed to the attacks of the enemy. And what would have been the main purpose of the expedition? To save the celebrated Mount Lovcen, which indeed dominates the Bocca di Cattaro, but does not dominate the Bocca di Teodo, where at the time of the combined attacks of Montenegrins and French from Mount Lovcen months before, and of the French and English from the sea, the Austrian navy was safely sheltered. What Italy could wisely do she did so. She succored the retreating Serbian and Montenegrin soldiers, gave them food, clothing, and shelter, and brought them in safety to the different places to which they had been assigned.
Even before hostilities commenced between Italy and Austria the Italian Government accomplished a tour de force. Against the tacit opposition of Austria she transported a considerable body of troops to the port of Avlona, which, with Brindisi, commands the entrance to the Adriatic. A glance at the map will immediately reveal the vital importance of this strategic position as a base for expeditionary forces in Albania and the Balkans, while its naval possibilities make it inferior to no port on the Adriatic. The fly in the ointment was in the Austrian hold on the Bocca di Cattaro. Thence Austrian submarines could menace Italian shipping, even though no Austrian surface craft dare approach the Strait of Otranto. To this has to be added the further peril arising from the strong current that is supposed to descend from the head of the Adriatic. While transporting troops from Brindisi to Avlona, more than one Italian vessel fell victim to floating mines borne down by this current.
Such in general outline was Italy's position at the end of the year 1915, and such the tenor of those who sought to vindicate her policy in the Balkans and elsewhere. It was maintained by Italian publicists that the Italian fleet had fought with the fleets of France and England on several occasions against the Turks. It was pointed out that that fleet was on continual patrol duty in the Mediterranean with those of the Allies. Italian troops had also been landed with French troops on the island of Corfu, and, according to report, had cooperated to some extent with British troops in Egypt and North Africa. Nevertheless, political and military reasons all combined to make the Austro-Italian frontier the one battle ground where Italy could hope for an enduring victory and fight for it with all her strength.
In regard to the absence of a declaration of war between Germany and Italy, the attitude of the Government of King Victor Emmanuel was thus explained: First of all, the treaty of the Triple Alliance did not consist of a single document, but of three separate agreements: one between Germany and Austria, another between Germany and Italy, and another between Austria and Italy. When Austria declared war on Serbia, Italy registered her protest against the policy of Austria in which she claimed to recognize a violation of that country's treaty with herself. The pourparlers thus gradually turned for subject matter to the time-honored grievances which Italy cherished against her present ally, but old oppressor. In these negotiations Germany rendered continued aid to Italy, who sought by peaceful means to secure the return of the provinces to which she had an immemorial claim. These negotiations failed, and Italy, denouncing her treaty with Austria-Hungary, declared war against her. But except in so far as she was the ally of Austria-Hungary, Italy had no grievance against Germany. She broke off diplomatic relations with both empires, and she expected that Germany would declare war against her. Germany did not do so, and there the matter remained.
Italy had undoubted historic grounds for this procedure, which was likewise in full agreement with the national feeling. For well over a century feeling in Italy against Austria has been deep and widespread. Toward Germany, on the other hand, the feeling is largely neutral, tinged with a certain awe of German efficiency. German investments in Italy are also said to total something like $3,000,000,000, and the economic domination which that vast sum denotes was bound to be felt through every channel of the national life. But neither the respect felt for German ability nor the secret influence of German finance has hampered Italy in the conduct of the war. Besides breaking off diplomatic relations with the kaiser, she treated the Germans within her gates exactly as she treated the citizens and subjects of other enemy countries. She formed a commercial alliance with France, Great Britain, and Russia, an alliance the chief aim of which was the removal of German economic domination in Italy. She, moreover, requisitioned German merchant ships that had taken shelter in Italian ports; and finally she broke off commercial relations with Germany, and took measures to prevent Germany from obtaining through Switzerland any goods necessary for the welfare of the population or the prosecution of the war. Germany allowed the serious measures taken by Italy to pass unchallenged, and so Italy was content to let the relations between the two countries continue on that basis.
But beneath all these surface movements ran a deeper current of influence that was partly hidden from all except those who were active participants in affairs of southeastern Europe. There was, for example, the rivalry between Italy and Greece, a factor that may yet be discovered to have had a deciding influence in the war. For it was the entrance of Italy into the war, with the assumed pledge of territorial profits in the Balkans and in Asia Minor, that forced Greece into maintaining her neutrality at a time when the alignment of forces in the Balkans was still in complete doubt. A well-informed and well-conducted diplomacy, steering skillfully amid the eddies of Balkan affairs, might have brought the combined strength of Italy, Bulgaria, and Greece to the side of the Allies. But Greek jealousy of Italy was allowed to smolder and even to be fanned into flame by the awakened pretensions of the Italian press, whose ambitions in the East became inflated at the prospect of a victorious war, out of which Italy was mirrored as issuing as an imperial state holding a hegemony over the lesser lands on her extended border. While hesitation and doubt held sway in the councils of the Allies, Bulgaria struck, and at one stroke brought disaster on Serbia and Montenegro, and stiffened Greece into an attitude of unshakable neutrality.
PROBLEMS OF STRATEGY
Meanwhile, with more than half a year's fighting behind them, the Italian commanders had come to certain well-defined military conclusions. The plans of General Cadorna had involved three separate campaigns—one in the Trentino, the other in the Carso, and a subsidiary campaign in the Carnic Alps to the north, along the main watershed of the mountains. A general offensive in the Trentino had been tested and found well-nigh impossible. Trentino is indeed a military paradox—a sharp salient jutting into Italy, which is strong by reason of its being a salient. This is because it is inclosed on eight sides by great walls, the batteries of the main Alpine chain. A salient is weak as a strategical situation in proportion to the possibility of crushing in its sides and threatening the lines of retreat of the forces occupying the point. Where the sides cannot be successfully attacked, it becomes a position of strength and remains a constant threat. This was the situation in the Trentino. The main Alpine chain is not impassable. It is indeed conceivable, under exceedingly favorable circumstances, that one or more of the passes on the east or west side might be taken and an advance down the valleys to the Adige turn the positions of the defenders. But ordinary foresight on the part of the defense would make this impossible. The valley of the Adige is the only avenue through the Trentino, and this avenue, which is at best only a narrow road, was heavily guarded by the strong fortress of Trent. Moreover, there could be but little result accruing to Italy if the Trentino were forced. The Adige leads only to the main chain of the Alps, and farther on, across the mountains by the easiest of Alpine highways, is the Brenner Pass. Modern defensive power is so great that its development to the point where this highway would be impregnable, except against overwhelmingly superior numbers, would be a matter of great simplicity. Along the northern frontier, in the Carnic Alps, the situation is similar. There is only one pass across these mountains, and this the Austrians could block with the same facility and certainty with which they could block the Brenner Pass.