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CAMPAIGN IN ARTOIS REGION
To understand properly the campaign in the Artois, it is necessary to have at least a fair knowledge of the geography and the topography of the territory between La Bassee and Arras.
The valley of the Scarpe is held in on the south by low hills, and on the north by a low plateau, which descends in long ridges to the valley of the Lys and the plains about Lens. The greatest altitude in this section is the ridge known as Notre-Dame de Lorette, running east and west, and containing numerous ravines. To the south of it, in a little valley, is the town of Albain St. Nazaire. Carency is opposite on the next ridge. Next is the Bois de Berthonval in the middle of a wide depression. Beyond, the land ascends to Mont St. Eloi. The valley of the Lys is to the north of the Lorette ridge. To the east the land descends to the long, narrow valley in which is the highway between Arras and Bethune. La Targette and Souchez are along the way. Again the land rolls upward to the hills of Vimy with the Lens-Arras highway beyond them.
The Teutons held a salient in this region at the beginning of May, 1915. The line which bounded this salient ran east of Loos over the Bethune-Lens road, east of Aix-Noulette, and appeared on the Lorette plateau considerably to the west of its tallest spur, where was situated the Chapel of Our Lady; running out to the prow of the salient, it took in Albain; and then proceeded to Carency; bending closely, it ran east of the Bois de Berthonval, taking in La Targette and the Arras-Bethune highway. That part of the German line was called by the French the "White Works," on account of the chalk with which the breastworks were constructed. To the southeast of it was a section known as the Labyrinth. Ecurie was inside the line which finally ran back east of Arras. The salient was constructed for the guarding of Lens, which was considered the entrance to the upper valley of the Scheldt and the lowlands in the direction of Douai and Valenciennes. Of more importance than Lens itself was the railroad back of this front, the capture of which would naturally be a source of great danger to the Germans.
The French had won some ground in the region of the Lorette plateau early in 1915. The Tenth Army in the Artois received enough additional men to give it seven corps. More than 1,100 pieces of artillery, of varying caliber, were taken to this region by the French. The entire preparation for the campaign was under the personal direction of General Foch. In the meantime the Germans, becoming aware that their enemy was becoming more and more active, proceeded to strengthen the front by the addition of three divisions which were known as "divisions of assault." The men composing these additions were from Bavaria, Saxony, and Baden. Even this reenforcement left the Teutons outnumbered, and with less artillery than their opponents; but they held a position which was considered more impregnable than any other on either front. The Germans here had a chain of forts linked together by an elaborate series of trenches, these latter so arranged that the taking of one of the series placed its captors within the zone of fire of several others. Moreover there was an elaborate series of underground works, including mines and wolf pits, the latter being covered over with a thin layer of turf and thickly studded with stakes whose points awaited the charging French.
General Foch was ready on Sunday morning, May 9, 1915, and his artillery began one of the heaviest bombardments in history. The 1,100 French cannon hurled 300,000 shells on the German fortifications that day. The reverberations were deafening and terrifying. They startled the British engaged at the Aubers Ridge. The deluge of projectiles crashed their way through the supposedly impregnable work of engineering that the Germans had erected, and buried their mangled defenders in chaotic ruins. The preliminary work of the artillery was continued for three hours, accompanied by the plaudits of the French infantrymen. Then the infantry were sent to take the wrecks of what had been the pride of the German engineers. They took what was still in existence at La Targette, and the important crossroads there. They waged a fierce fight in and around the village of Neuville St. Vaast, which was stoutly defended by German machine guns. Here there was house-to-house fighting. The French center, farther north, charged over the remnants of the White Works, and went on beyond the Arras-Bethune road. This section of the advance took more than two and a half miles of trenches in an hour and a half. On the left the French were unable to maintain such speed, because of the many ravines. They took the outlying sections of Carency, and worked their way eastward, cutting the road to Souchez. At the end of the first day the French had to their credit three lines of German trenches on a five-mile front, 3,000 prisoners, 10 field guns, and 50 machine guns.
The bombardment was continued all night by the French gunners, while the men who had taken the trenches did their best to make such repairs as were necessary for the protection of the victors. On the morning of the following day, May 10, 1915, the soldiers of the republic had forced their way into the center of the German position. North of the plateau of Notre Dame de Lorette a feint attack was made to hold the German reserves. When the first French line was about to dash forward to complete their work of the day before, they suddenly received an order to remain where they were and seek all cover possible. One of the French aviators had seen a German counterattack getting under way near the sugar factory at Souchez. Preparatory to the Teuton advance the German artillery hurled hundreds of high-explosive shells on the section where the French would have been had they not received the order to keep under cover. To be exposed under such conditions would have meant annihilation. Believing their plans for the counterattack were working favorably, the Germans advanced, only to be mowed down by the French guns. Then the French infantry charged and gained another trench line. So eager were the younger French soldiers that some of those who charged from the south were not content with taking the trench which was their objective point, but dashed on into a ravine that extended in the direction of Ablain. There they killed or made prisoners of the Germans they found. This dash was extremely hazardous in the face of a possible German counterattack, which luckily for the French did not occur as the Teutons retired to Souchez in confusion and were unable to rally for any counterattack. A summary of the day's fighting includes the taking of all of the German trenches across the Bethune-Loos road; the attack on the fortified chapel of Notre Dame de Lorette, and the gaining of the trenches to the south of it, these connecting with Ablain and Souchez; the capture of the cemetery of Neuville St. Vaast; and the defeat of the German reserves who were rushed in motor cars from Lens and Douai. The trenches and approaches being too narrow and deep to allow freedom of action in using rifle and bayonet, the rifle is generally slung on the man's back in bandolier, and the fighting within the trenches is done with short weapons, especially with hand grenades, hence the new military expressions "bombing" and "bombing parties," as the squads are called that are especially detailed for bomb work during the charges.
The fighting continued fiercely throughout May 11, 1915. Late in the day the French took the lower part of the Arabs' Spur. An unsuccessful counterattack was made that night from the Spur of the White Way. But the French were harried by the artillery in Angres and the machine guns in Ablain, and their discomforts were added to by the work of the bursting shells which opened the graves of soldiers who had been slain in previous months.
Carency, surrounded on the east, south and west, and wrecked by the 20,000 shells which had been fired upon it, surrendered on the afternoon of May 12, 1915. The Germans captured there made a total of more than 5,000 prisoners taken by the French. Notre Dame de Lorette with its chapel and fort was also taken this same day, as was Ablain which was in flames when it was surrendered. Thus all of the highland to the west of Souchez was held by the French except a few fortins on eastern ridges.
A north wind and a heavy rain added to the discomforts of the soldiers on May 13, 1915. But physical discomforts were not all that made for more or less unhappiness. The Germans had little reason to be happy; but the French had the edge taken from their elation, because of their victory, by the fact that it seemed as if it must be won again before it would be of use to them. According to the rules of the war game the German line had been broken and the French had made for themselves a right of way; but there were many instances in this war where the rules were not followed; and this was one of the exceptions. It is true the German line had been smashed, but it had not fallen back. Instead the remnants of the line had collected themselves in the series of independent redoubts which had seemingly been prepared for just such an emergency. They were so situated that it was well-nigh impossible to destroy them at long range; but it was impossible to make any forward movement which would not be enfiladed by them. Hence it became necessary for the French, if they were to be really victorious, to reduce each separate redoubt. The most prominent of these were the sugar factory at Souchez, the cemetery at Ablain, the White Road on a spur of the Lorette, the eastern portion of Neuville St. Vaast, and the Labyrinth. The last named was so called because it was an elaborate system of trenches and redoubts in an angle between two roads. The White Road surrendered on May 21, 1915. Ablain was taken on May 29, 1915. The Souchez sugar factory fell on May 31, 1915. Neuville St. Vaast was captured on June 8, 1915. The Labyrinth, however, remained under German control. Part of it was fifty feet below the surface of the earth, much of the fighting there being carried on in underground galleries and by means of mines. It finally was entirely in the hands of the French on June 19, 1915, after being taken to a considerable extent foot by foot. The last of the fighting there was in what was known as the Eulenburg Passage, where the entire 161st German Regiment, consisting of 4,000 men, were slain and a Bavarian regiment suffered a heavy loss in killed and wounded. The French took 1,000 prisoners; and only 2,000 of their own men were unable to answer roll call after the fight, of whom many were only slightly wounded.
In concluding the account of the battle of the Artois it may be admitted that the French had won what has been called a brilliant victory, but it had not been a complete success. They had made an end of the German salient; and only the last defense of Lens remained. How much they had reduced the pressure on Russia is problematical; but there is little doubt they had prevented the Germans from continuing the offensive on the Ypres front. They estimated the German loss at 60,000; and, by a peculiar coincidence, the Crown Prince of Bavaria, whose armies they fought, estimated the French loss at the same figure—60,000. It is known they lost many men in the hand-to-hand struggles; but their great forward movement was so well protected by their artillery that the French loss there was comparatively slight. Some idea can be gained from the fact that one French division killed 2,600 of their enemy and captured 3,000 prisoners with a loss of only 250 slain and 1,250 wounded. But the greatest gain to the French was probably the fact that the battle of the Artois had proved to the soldiers of the republic that their artillery was the equal of the German, which had been the arm in which the Teutons excelled. It also proved that the Germans could not intrench themselves in any manner that was impregnable to the French; for they had taken the Labyrinth, a most complicated series of military engineering feats which were supposed to be able to withstand any assault. And lastly, and perhaps of most importance to the French, the belief in the superiority of the German soldier, as a result of 1870, was shattered in the mind of the Frenchman.
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BRITISH FORWARD MOVEMENT—BATTLE OF FESTUBERT
To aid the French in the Artois, the British made a forward movement in the Festubert region in May, 1915. Its purpose was to prevent the Seventh German Corps from sending troops and artillery to reenforce Lens. Moreover the British, if they succeeded, would take the Aubers ridge, which they had tried to gain in the battle of Neuve Chapelle. If they could capture the Aubers ridge, the way would be opened to Lille and La Bassee. The action began on Sunday morning, May 9, 1915, in the region between Bois Grenier and Festubert, and was a part of the forward movement of the British from Armentieres to La Bassee. Part of the First Corps and the Indian Corps marched forward on the right from the Rue du Bois toward the southern part of the Bois du Biez, where there had been much fighting before. The principal attack was made by the Eighth Division on Rouges Banes, not far from Fromelies and the Aubers ridge, near where the British had been stopped in the battle of Neuve Chapelle. At approximately the same time that General Sir Douglas Haig with the British First Army reached the slightly elevated plateau in front of Lille, General Foch with a large body of French troops made a desperate attack on the Germans on their front from La Bassee to Arras. The French and British had joined their efforts here, not only to relieve the pressure which was being exerted on Ypres and to take Lille, which dominated a region rich in coal, but also for the purpose of keeping the Germans so busy on the western front that none could be sent to the eastern front and further embarrass Russia. The artillery of both the British and French attempted to wreck the German trenches before their infantry should be sent against their foe. In this effort the British, using principally shrapnel, made little headway; but their ally, using high-explosive shells, such as they had been hurling at the Germans for weeks at the rate of a hundred thousand a day, was successful. Soon the Teutons' front was screened by clouds of yellow, green, black and white smoke. But this was not to be a one-sided artillery engagement, and the Germans soon had their artillery in action. They trained it on their enemies' trenches, believing from the size of the bombardment that an assault was soon to be made and that the trenches would be filled with troops. Their surmise was correct, but the Allies had suspected their opponents would reason thus, so the French and British infantry were in covered positions. Of course the Germans did not know how well their opponents were protected, so they sent thousands of shells against the allied positions. And again the allied artillerists replied in kind. This time they caught the German reenforcements, with the result that many of them were slain before they could reach their own front. In this work the British shrapnel was more effective than the French high-explosive shells.
The bombardment was continued vigorously for three-quarters of an hour. That the allied range finders had been doing accurate work was evidenced by the appearance of the German trenches when the British and French fire was turned against the supporting German trenches; but the Teutons' wire entanglements remained intact. Heretofore the big guns had been able to sweep such obstructions away. When the infantry reached the barbed wire, it found the Germans had improved this particular method of defense by using specially manufactured wire cable, well barbed, which was from one and one-half to two inches in diameter. And, to protect their cable entanglements, the Germans had built parapets in front of the entanglements. Their enemy's charging infantry coming upon such an obstruction could not cut it, and the only means of circumventing this new device was for the attacking force to throw their overcoats on the entanglements and crawl across the wire in the face of rifle and machine-gun fire.
For a considerable distance along this part of the front the distance between the German and British trenches was not more than two hundred yards. At not a few sections the opposing trenches were near enough to permit the soldiers to converse with their opponents. The trenches for the most part were built on the marshland with sandbags, those of the British being khaki-colored, and the German being black and white. When the inevitable order to charge was given, the British artillery shifted its range to the German rear and the Eighth Division dashed over the black and white sandbags behind which the Germans were crouching. Beyond them was a ridge, in horseshoe formation, which was the last barrier that lay between the Allies and the plains that led to Lille. This ridge trails off in a northeasterly direction at Rouges Banes. Near the hamlet there was a small wood which had been taken by the Pathans and Gurkhas before the cannonade started. Among the regiments that led the attack of the Eighth Division were the Kensington Battalion of the London Regiment, the First Gloucesters, the Second Sussex, and the Northamptons. They were supported by the Liverpool Territorials, the First North Lancashires, the Second King's Royal Rifles, and the Sussex Territorials. The Germans had large bodies of reenforcements held at Lille, but they were unavailing; and the British took the first line of trenches though it required fifteen and a half hours to do it. Then they went on until they were on the slope of the ridge. Beyond that, however, it seemed impossible to proceed, for the Germans had such an array of machine guns trained on the approach to their second line of trenches that no human being could live in the face of their deadly fire. The British needed an equipment with which to bombard their enemy with high-explosive shells. Such an equipment they did not possess.
The German commander played a clever trick on the British when their First Army Corps and their Indian Division attempted to make progress in the triangle to the west of La Bassee. He evacuated his first two lines of trenches while the artillery was doing what it could to demolish his parapets; but his men were drawn up in the third line of trenches waiting for the inevitable advance of the British. This third line of trenches was protected with armor plate and concrete. Moreover he had planted a large number of machine guns in the brickfield near La Bassee. The British dashed forward until they were in range of the machine guns. Then they suffered such severe losses that they were forced to retreat, even though they had almost taken the inviting German trenches. The Highlanders and the Bedfords had made a gallant charge and felt especially humiliated to have to withdraw when victory was about to perch on their banners. They believed that a lack of reenforcements was responsible for their nonsuccess.
The day's fighting ended with the First Army of the British driven back except in the center. There the Kensington Territorial Battalion made a remarkable record for itself. In the morning when the British artillery ceased firing, the Kensington men dashed from their trenches and captured three lines of the German trenches at the point of the bayonet. A part of the battalion, in its eagerness to win the day, went on up the ridge. At the same time one of its companies turned to the left and another to the right, and with bayonet and bomb drove the Germans from the trenches for a distance of 200 yards. The Kensingtons were doing the work that had been set for them to do; but two regular battalions, one to their left and the other to their right, were not as able to comply with the orders they had received. The regulars were stopped by wire entanglements that the artillery had failed to smash, and, at the same time, they were raked by machine-gun fire. Hence they were unable to keep up with the Territorials. In fact the regulars never got up to the Kensington men; but were forced to retire. This left the Territorials in a most precarious condition. They had gained such an important point on the German line that a heavy fire was directed against them. But the British would not give up what they had taken. Instead of retiring, they sent for reenforcements which were promised to them. In the meantime the Germans gave up trying to blow the Kensingtons out of their position and made a counterattack. The left wing of the plucky Territorial battalion used bombs effectively to hold their enemy at bay. The right wing at the same time was kept busy in its attempt to prevent being enveloped. In spite of all the Germans could do with their artillery and their repeated counterattacks the West London men maintained their small wedge in the Teuton front. Finally trench mortars were brought against them. Then the Kensington battalion, or what was left of it, received the order to retire. To do that necessitated fighting their way back through the thickening line of their enemy. Those British Territorials had held their peculiar position several hours, and had suffered severely in consequence; but their loss was undoubtedly much larger when retiring to their former line. They fought the greater part of the afternoon and well into the evening in endeavoring to get back; and finally a comparatively few of them succeeded. The last dash to the British trenches was made over a barren piece of ground which was so flat that there was no opportunity for concealment. And here the Germans raked what was left of the battalion with rifle and machine-gun fire. Ultimately, however, a portion of the brave band returned to the British trenches. Previous to withdrawing the survivors from the front, General Sir Henry Rawlinson told them that their gaining the position which they took and holding it as long as they did had not only relieved the pressure on Ypres but had aided General Foch's army to advance between Arras and La Bassee. In conclusion he said: "It was a feat of arms surpassed by no battalion in this great war."
The Sussex and Northampton troops made a desperate effort to get into the German trenches on the morning in which this action started, but they never got nearer than forty yards, being stopped by the deluge of shrapnel, rifle, and machine-gun fire to which they were subjected. When they were ordered to return to the British trenches, those who remained able to make the attempt found it quite as dangerous as trying to go forward. That afternoon the Black Watch and the First Cameronians charged where the Sussex and Northamptons had been repulsed, but the Scotchmen had but little more success. It is true some of the men from the land of the heather got into the German trenches; but they did not survive. The determination of the British was shown when men, who had been wounded in the first charge and been unable to return to their own line, joined the Scots in their mad rush to death. Those men had lain under fire twelve hours before making their dying assault on the German trenches. It had been expected the Scotchmen would get into the opposing trenches and bomb and bayonet the Teutons out. Then reenforcements would be sent from the British line. But the artillery of King George was unable to check the devastating work of the kaiser's big guns and give the reenforcements a clear field through which to go to the aid of the attacking force. The result was that the Germans continued such a leaden hail between the lines that it was sending soldiers to certain death to order them to cross the zone of fire. The remnant of the Scottish regiments was recalled, and it lost as many men on its return as it had in its desperate struggle to reach the German trenches.
Both the Kensingtons and the Scots found groups of German machine guns, doing most destructive work, that could have been rendered useless if the British had had a supply of high-explosive shells. Under the circumstances there was nothing for Sir Douglas Haig to do but to order his men all along the line to retire. They obeyed the order sullenly, and many of them were slain in their attempt to get back to their own trenches. But their comrades felt they had not died wholly in vain; for the woeful lack of lyddite shells thus became known in England and the indignation thus aroused resulted in the appointment of a minister of munitions who organized the manufacture of the necessary explosives on a scale heretofore unattempted by the British. A lesson had been learned, but at a fearful cost to life.
The same lesson was being taught the British public at another section of the battle front. Its soldiers not only were unable to maintain a successful artillery fire, but the fact became so impressed on the German mind that the Teutons in the Ypres and Lille regions felt assured that their infantry had the British at their mercy. Sir John French, however, had a clever knowledge of human nature. He began his efforts to remedy the difficulty by telling the war correspondents his troubles. They spread the news. Then he secretly collected all of the available artillery in the Ypres region, together with his limited supply of shells, and was ready to deal such a blow to the Duke of Wuerttemberg's army when it marched on Ypres the latter part of May, 1915, that it was necessary for the Germans to get reenforcements through Belgium. This was a great surprise to the Teutons and cost them dearly.
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SIR JOHN FRENCH ATTEMPTS A SURPRISE
The operation of this plan of Sir John French had an excellent effect in the Ypres region, but it had the opposite effect on the British who were trying to take Lille. Moreover it was necessary for the British to continue to occupy the attention of the left wing of the German army, under the command of the Crown Prince of Bavaria, in order to keep him from using his men against General Foch, who was attempting to push his way between Arras and Lille. Inasmuch as the British artillery had proved ineffective because of its lack of enough and the proper kind of ammunition, Sir John French planned another surprise for the Germans. This time he selected the weapon which the Teutons seemed most to fear when it was in the hands of the British—the bayonet. The salient on the German front at Festubert, between La Bassee and Neuve Chapelle, was chosen for the proposed military feat. The territory occupied by the Teutons had the appearance, to the casual observer, of being lowlands on which were wrecked homes, farms, and trees. The actual conditions of this section of the country were much more serious for any body of troops which planned to make an attack. The ground was moist and muddy, in many places being crossed by treacherous ditches filled with slimy water. Moreover the exact range of practically every square foot of it was known to the German artillerymen, whose guns were on the high ground to the west of the lowlands. The British were in trenches from seventy to three hundred yards from those of their enemy. If the men there could dash across the intervening space and get into the German trenches before being annihilated by the kaiser's cannon, they would use the bayonet with deadly effect, and, from past experiences, have reasonable hope of gaining a victory. It was decided to make such an attempt first on that part of the line between Richebourg on the left and Festubert on the right.
The British Seventh Division was sent south to support the attack which was to have been made on May 12, 1915. On that day it was too foggy for the aviators to see with any degree of accuracy; so the movement was delayed. This gave time for the Canadian Division to be sent south and add their strength to the support. The German trenches, at this point where the attack was to be made, were occupied by the Seventh Westphalian Army Corps. This corps had lost many of its men at Neuve Chapelle; and their places had been taken by youths who had not reached the development of manhood and whose immaturity and lack of military training greatly lessened the efficiency of this famous body of troops.
Finally, on Saturday night, May 15, 1915, all conditions for the attack seemed favorable to the British. There was no moon and the sky was dark, though there was not that inky blackness that occasionally occurs under similar weather conditions. The Indian Corps stole from their trenches and began to go forward from Richebourg l'Avoue. But the Germans were alert, and they illumined the movement with innumerable flares which made the Indians easy targets for the machine guns and rifles of the Teutons in that part of the line. So quick was the work to repel the attack that many of the Indians were slain as they were climbing out of their own trenches. As a surprise attack at night, the British were not making much of a success of their plan, but as a method of gaining ground and keeping their enemy busy on that particular part of the line the men of their Second Division were effective. They dashed into the first line of German trenches and cleared them out with the bayonet and hand grenade. The furor of the attack took them on into the second line. By dawn the soldiers of the Second Division had driven a wedge into the German line.
This wedge was widened and driven in harder by Sir Douglas Haig's old command—the First Corps. This corps had suffered heavy losses at the first battle of Ypres; but the men who filled the gaps in the line were hardy young men who made excellent soldiers from the start. Added to their enthusiasm was a desire to show their ability as fighters, with the result that the British right wing was so effective that it, in a great measure, made up for the failure of the Indian troops. The center and the right, with bomb and bayonet, drove the Germans from the trenches; and then together they forced their way into the Teutons' position 600 yards along a front 800 yards in length. Early the next morning, before daylight on May 16, 1915, the British Seventh Division forced its way into the German salient at Festubert. In the meantime the Germans were making hasty preparations for a counterattack. Sir John French's plan, however, had proved effective. It would have required a large supply of high-explosive shells to have made much of an impression on the excellent defenses which the German soldiers had constructed on this part of the front. The British had no such supply of ammunition, and, even if they had had it, it is doubtful if they would have been able to demolish the formidable wire entanglements. Yet in this night attack with the bayonet the British troops had accomplished all they could have done if supplied with proper ammunition. In the desperate charge which they made no wire entanglement could stop the British soldiers. They threw their overcoats or blankets over the barbed wire and then climbed across the obstruction. The Seventh Division took three lines of trenches in this manner, until it was 12,000 yards back of the original line of its enemy.
There were now two wedges driven into the German front, and the British desired to join them and make what might be termed a countersalient, or a salient running into the original salient of the Germans. But the space between the two horns of the British force was a network of trenches. The horns might prod and irritate the Teutons, but they needed artillery again to rid the German breastworks of machine guns and demolish the obstructions which would cost too many lives to take in the same manner in which the British success had been won in its night attack. Nevertheless the British started in to bomb their way toward Festubert, and they even gained forty yards in this hazardous undertaking before they were forced to stop. If they had seemed to be an irresistible force, they had met what had every appearance of being an immovable body—and there was a limit to human endurance.
By May 17, 1915, the British concluded that their most advisable offensive was to clear the space between their two wedges by cutting off the Germans who held that part of their line. To do this the British attempted to cut off the German communication to the north from La Quinque Rue; but, by that time, the Teutons had received reenforcements; and they rained such a shower of lead on the attacking force that the attempt had to be abandoned, but not until many heroic efforts had been made by the British to succeed in their purpose.
Many Germans were made prisoners at all stages of the fighting. The British bayonet seemed to strike them with terror, and the bombs were more potent in scattering them than were the orders of their commanders to repel the attacking force. Between Richebourg l'Avoue and Le Quinque Rue is the farm Cour de l'Avoue. In front of this farm the remains of a battalion of Saxons attempted to surrender. They had arrived on the line as reenforcements to the Westphalians, and had been fighting valiantly until their numbers were so decreased that they were unable to hold out against their foes longer. Whether their commanding officer ordered them to surrender or a common impulse dictated their action, they left their position and advanced toward the British. Not understanding their action, the attacking force fired upon the Saxons who were sufficiently numerous to give the impression that they might be leading a counterattack. Thereupon the Saxons dropped their guns and the firing from the British side ceased, only to be taken up on the German side by the Westphalians. This was followed by an attack on the would-be prisoners by the German artillery until every soldier in the surrendering party was slain. This action horrified the British, but the Germans considered it a means of discipline which would have a salutary effect on any who might prefer the comforts of a prison camp to dying for the Fatherland.
The British Seventh Division at Festubert continued to work south along the German trenches. Its bayonets and bombs cleared the way before it. The plan was for them to continue toward Rue d'Ouvert, Chapelle St. Roch, and Canteleux. In the meantime the Second Division, on the left of the Seventh Division, was to fight its way to Rue du Marais and Violaines. The Indian contingent had received orders to keep in touch with the Third Division. The Fifty-first Division was sent to Estaires to act as a support to the First Army. By the night of May 17, 1915, the British held all of the first line of German trenches from the south of Festubert to Richebourg l'Avoue. For a part of that distance the second and third lines of trenches had been taken and held; and still farther forward the British possessed many important points. Moreover the British soldiers were so inspired with their success that they desired to press on in spite of the fact that the nature of the country was such that they were wet through and covered with mud. It was not all enthusiasm, however. Mingled with the desire for victory was a desire for revenge. The British on this part of the line were enraged by the use of gas at Ypres and the sinking of the Lusitania.
On the night of May 17, 1915, the Fourth Cameron Highlanders, a Territorial battalion, met with disaster. The men composing this unit were from Inverness-shire, Skye, and the Outer Islands. Many of them had been gamekeepers and hence were accustomed to outdoor life and the handling of guns, all of which aided them in saving the remnant of their command. They had been ordered to take some cottages, occupied by German soldiers as a makeshift fortification. The Cameronians on the way to the attack fell into a ditch which was both deep and wide. It was necessary for them to swim to get across the ditch in some places. In the meantime Highlanders were being slain by German shells and the rifle fire that the men in the cottages rained upon the Scots. One company was annihilated. Another company lost its way. The rear end of a German communicating trench was reached by a third company. Long before midnight this company was almost without ammunition. Two platoons reenforced it at midnight; but the reenforcements had no machine guns, which would have given at least temporary relief. Under the circumstances the only thing for the Territorials to do was to retreat. The Germans made that quite as perilous a venture as the advance had been. Only half of those who started for the cottages returned. Among the slain was the commander, and twelve other officers were also killed.
The British, in spite of a cold rain, pushed on 1,200 yards north of the Festubert-La Quinque Rue road; and took a defense 300 yards to the southeast of the hamlet. Two farms west of the road and south of Richebourg l'Avoue, the farm du Bois and the farm of the Cour de l'Avoue, in front of which latter the surrendering Saxons were slain, had been held by the Germans with numerous machine guns. The British took both farms by nightfall and found, on counting their prisoners, that they then had a total of 608 as well as several machine guns.
The Second and Seventh Divisions were withdrawn by Sir Douglas Haig on the following day, Wednesday, May 19, 1915. The Fifty-first Division and the Canadians took the places of the men who were sadly in need of relief from active duty. Lieutenant General Alderson received the command of both divisions together with the artillery of both the Second and Seventh Divisions. The cold, wet weather hampered operations and there was comparatively little activity, though hostilities by no means altogether ceased. Each side needed a little rest and time to fill in gaps in their respective lines. Hence it was not until Sunday, May 23, that any fighting on a large scale took place. On that day the Seventh Prussian Army Corps made a desperate effort to break through that part of the British line held by the Canadians near Festubert. The Prussians used their old tactics with the result that the British shrapnel, rifle, and machine-gun fire plowed great holes in their ranks. The Teutons in this instance were without adequate artillery support, for many of their batteries had been made useless by the British. From then on to May 25, 1915, there were several small engagements in which the British made gains. Then Sir John French concluded to end the activity of his men on this part of the front. In that connection he made the following statement: "I had now reasons to consider that the battle which was commenced by the First Army on May 9 and renewed on the 16th, having attained for the moment the immediate object I had in view, should not be further actively proceeded with.
"In the battle of Festubert the enemy was driven from a position which was strongly intrenched and fortified, and ground was won on a front of four miles to an average depth of 600 yards."
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ATTACKS AT LA BASSEE
The British had discovered the futility of attempting to smash through the German lines without an adequate supply of high-explosive shells with which to destroy the heavy wire entanglements. Moreover, in maintaining a curtain of fire between the German lines and potential reenforcements, it was necessary to increase the artillery arm of the service. At this time the Germans could fire four shells to one by the British. Another very essential equipment in which the British were lacking was machine guns. The German army had developed machine-gun warfare apparently to its highest power. They not only used it to increase their volume of fire, but also as a means of saving their infantry. When, for any reason, it was found expedient to move infantry, a few machine-gun crews would take the place of the soldiers with the rifle and maintain a fire which would be almost as effective in checking the British advance as the infantry had been. The British had no such number of machine guns. They lacked this necessary part of their equipment just as they lacked shells, cannon, aircraft, and other war material which the Germans had developed and accumulated in large quantities under the supervision of the German General Staff.
The German munition factories had been making and storing enormous supplies for an army of several millions of men. On the other hand the British had believed in the excellence of their comparatively small army to such an extent that it required all of the fighting from the time their troops landed on the Continent up to Festubert to convince them that they must make and maintain a military machine at least equal, if not superior, to the one her foes possessed. It is true the British needed more men in the ranks, but what was needed more was large additions to the supply of machine guns, artillery, and ammunition.
For those reasons the British generals avoided clashes with the Germans after the battle of Festubert, except when it was necessary to hold as many of the Germans as possible to the British part of the western front. This plan was maintained throughout the summer of 1915. In the meantime the Germans were constructing, beyond their trenches, the most elaborate series of field fortifications in the history of warfare. The German staff realized that the time was coming when the British would again take the offensive. When that time arrived the Germans would thus be prepared to make every foot of ground gained as costly as possible to their foes. In fact they had reason for believing that it would be almost impossible for their opponents to gain ground where it was held by such seemingly impregnable works.
An attack at La Bassee in the first weeks in June, 1915, started with the British Second Army making a pretended advance in the Ypres region. The British in the forest of Ploegsteert drove a mine into the German lines and blew it up. The explosion followed by a British charge, which resulted in the taking of a part of the German trenches. This forest extended northwest of Lille and south of Messines. Under the ground in this section the sappers had built a city, whose streets were named for the thoroughfare of London. Thus there was "Regent Street," "Piccadilly Circus," "Leicester Square," and many others. There was also a "Kensington Garden," in which grew wild flowers transplanted from the forest by the soldiers.
The Germans had been driven out of the forest in the fall of 1914 when they made their dash to reach Calais; but their trenches were only about 400 yards beyond the eastern edge. The earth here was especially adaptable for mines, and both sides made many attempts to work destruction by tunneling forward. In this activity it was soon found necessary to have men in advanced positions in the tunnels to listen to the mining operations of their opponents. As soon as such operations were discovered, a countertunnel was driven in that direction and a mine exploded, thereby destroying the enemy's tunnel and burying his sappers. Sometimes, however, the men in the countertunnel cut through to the other excavation and engaged in a hand-to-hand conflict beneath the surface of the earth. Then primitive methods were used. Though mining had taken place on other sections of the western front, as at Hill 60, it was in this forest area that it was probably brought to its highest development.
The British mine here, as noted above, on June 6, 1915, blew up the German trenches, and the British charged into the crater and drove the Germans out with bayonet and bomb. A similar crater was the result of the mining at La Bassee. Five mines at the end of tunnels constructed by the Germans did not go far enough toward the British trenches, and when the explosions occurred the trenches remained intact.
The sappers, however, had other things to contend with; this was the case when a tunnel was driven toward the German trenches between Rue du Bois and Rue d'Ouvert, near the La Bassee Canal. Water was found below the German intrenchments. The British managed to keep the water out of the tunnel by using sandbags. Then they planted enough dynamite to blow up a large part of the German force. The two trench lines were very close together on this part of the front; and, to prevent accidents, the British left their trenches near the mine before it was fired.
On the night of June 6, 1915, the mine tore open the trenches of both sides, and buried one of the British magazines which was filled with hand grenades and killed several British bomb throwers. At about the same moment another supply of British bombs was exploded when it was struck by a shell from a German howitzer. This occurred at a place on the line called Duck's Bill, and resulted in the British being without an adequate supply of hand grenades. The British troops in this action were the soldiers of a British division and a Canadian brigade. The latter included the First Ontario Regiment, the Second and Fourth Canadian Battalions, the Third Toronto Regiment, and the East Yorkshires.
The Ontario regiment was directed against a fortified part of the German line which was called Stony Mountain. To the south of Stony Mountain, about 150 yards, was another fortified position called Dorchester. This also was to be taken by the Ontario men. If they succeeded in their work the right flank of the British division would be protected. But it was Stony Mountain that was of most importance to the British. Its machine guns and its northern defenses menaced the route which the British must take to make an advance. In order to prevent the Germans from giving their undivided attention to the Canadians, the British division on the left made an advance against the Teutons north of Stony Mountain. The British artillery had been shelling this part of the German line day and night many days as a preparation for this advance. Its projectiles crashed into the brick fields near La Bassee, and in front of the wrecked village of Quinchy.
The German machine-gun crews were hidden behind the brick stacks which were square blocks of burned clay upon which the British shells burst without perceptible effect. The shells that went over the stacks, however, did much damage. Beyond the brick field to the north were the ruins of farm buildings which were also hiding places for the Germans and their machine guns. All the buildings back of the German line had been turned into fortresses whose underground works were concreted and connected with their headquarters by telephone. While the British artillery was attempting to destroy these fortresses it was also hurling lyddite shells into the trenches.
The German artillery fire greatly exceeded the British in volume. Nevertheless the British forces were in the more comfortable position. They had comparatively little to do except wait until they were needed, which would be when their artillery had completed the preparation for the inevitable charge. On the other hand the German soldier had a nerve-racking part to play. He knew from the preparation that an attack in force was about to be made; but he did not know when it would occur nor where. Hence it was necessary for him to be constantly on the alert. Many of the Germans were under arms at all hours of the day and night. In fact few of them on that part of their line got any real rest during the week in which the bombardment continued. The section between the two lines of trenches was illuminated at night, and the cannonade kept up so that there was no opportunity for the Germans to repair the havoc made by the British shells.
The suspense was terminated on the evening of June 15, 1915, by an additional flight of projectiles from the British guns. Every piece of British ordnance on that part of the line was worked at top speed. The Germans, knowing that this immediately preceded an infantry charge, used their artillery to stop it. But the British charge formed in their trenches, with the Canadians on their right. In addition to the shrapnel the Germans made breaks in the lines of their foes by the use of machine guns, but the breaks were quickly filled. On some parts of the front the British and Canadians were successful and reached the trenches. In all the captured trenches extended from Rue du Bois to Rue d'Ouvert.
In the meantime those Canadians who had been directed against Stony Mountain and Dorchester were doing heroic work. The First Company of the Ontario Regiment charged through the debris of the mine explosion, only to run into the deadly hail sent at them by the machine guns. But the Canadians were determined to complete their task, and they took Dorchester and the connecting trench. The fire was too heavy for them to reach Stony Mountain. A group of bombers made a dash forward, but were shot down before they could get near enough to use their weapons.
The second and third companies rushed forward, suffering severely from the deluge of lead, but some of their men got into the German second line and then began to bomb their way to right and left. The captured first trench was utilized by the attacking force. From that vantage the advance was led by a machine gun which was followed by a group of bomb throwers. In working forward the machine-gun base became lost when the man who had it was slain. Thereupon a Canadian "lumberjack" named Vincent became the base, the machine gun being fired from his back. But the German bomb throwers drove the attacking force out of the trench. The Germans kept a rain of lead between the Canadians and the British line of trenches with the result that it was almost suicide for a man to attempt to return for bombs. Nevertheless many braved the ordeal. Only one was successful. He, Private Smith of Southampton, Ontario, seemed to bear a charmed life, for he made the trip five times. The Third Canadian Battalion was sent forward to reenforce the Ontario Regiment which had lost most of its officers, but such a pressure of German forces were brought to bear on the Canadians that the reenforcements were unavailing, and the Canadians were forced to relinquish all they had gained, and return to their own trenches that night.
The retreat was a desperate undertaking; the Germans then had the Canadians in the open and added heavily to the Canadian's death roll. On the other side of Stony Mountain the British had met with no better success than the Canadians. Having started their enemies back, the Germans massed for a counterattack and drove them back a mile, but not without a terrific struggle. The battle field was lighted by the peculiar fireworks used for such purposes and bursting of shells. Jets of flame shot forth from machine guns and rifles. In many places the intermittent light disclosed deadly hand-to-hand conflicts. Suddenly the Germans concentrated their fire on a portion of their lost first line of trenches, and the trenches of their enemies who held them were no more. Having the British and Canadians defeated, as they believed, the Germans proceeded to add to their victory by storming the British and Canadian trenches. They met with resistance, however, that drove them back.
At daybreak on June 16, 1915, the artillery on both sides resumed firing on a large scale. Suddenly, in the afternoon, the British fire increased preparatory to another charge. This time the British commander had selected a smaller section for his attack. This was at Rue d'Ouvert, and the men who had been selected to make the charge were the Territorials and the Liverpool Irish. They got into the first line of German trenches which the Teutons shelled to such an extent that the remnant of the attacking force had to retreat. Then the Second Gordon Highlanders and other Scotch soldiers made a gallant charge at the same place, Rue d'Ouvert, on June 18, 1915, but were forced to retire to their own trenches.
These attacks on this part of the German front resulted in repulses for those who made them; but, at the same time, they helped the Allies win victories elsewhere by keeping the German troops on that part of the line from going to reenforce those who were being hard pressed by the French. In this manner the British and Canadians, who fought so valiantly and with so little apparent success at Stony Mountain and Rue d'Ouvert, were in a measure responsible for the French victories at Angres, Souchez, and the Labyrinth. The Crown Prince of Bavaria could not hold out against both the French and British, but he believed it was more important for him to check the British, because a victory for them would threaten Lille to a greater extent.
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OPERATIONS AROUND HOOGE
The next action of importance on the British front occurred at the Chateau of Hooge on the Menin road about three miles east of Ypres. Here had been the headquarters of Sir John French and Sir Douglas Haig at the first battle of Ypres. From the Chateau Sir John French had seen the British line break at Gheluvelt, thereby opening the road for the Germans to Calais. That opening, however, had been closed by the Worchsters. After the Germans began to use their deadly gas in the spring of 1915 they again took possession of Hooge, and used the Menin road for a forward movement which threatened what was left of Ypres.
The Duke of Wuerttemberg was in command of that part of the line opposed to the British, and his forces extended from near Pilkem in the north to near Hill 60 in the south, in the form of a crescent. He made use of the asphyxiating gas cloud and gas bombs so frequently on this part of the front that the British soldiers became expert in donning their hood like masks and in using respirators. Moreover, the British were constantly on the alert for the appearance of the poison gas. So that this method of attack was much less effective. Before the Germans discovered how well the British had prepared themselves against the gas, they met with disaster twice when using it. On both occasions they had followed their gas cloud expecting to find their foes writhing on the ground in choking agony—an easy prey for an attack.
But the British had put on their curious-appearing headgear, and were waiting for the men whom they knew would be following the cloud at a safe distance. As soon as the Germans were near enough the British turned loose everything that would hurl a projectile large or small. By the time the gas cloud had cleared, or, to be more accurate, passed on to the rear of the British line and spent itself, the only Germans to be seen were in the piles of dead and wounded in front of the British most advanced trenches. The first time this occurred did not teach the Germans its lesson sufficiently well. A second time the Germans did not follow their gas cloud so closely. The gas-filled shells, however, the British found more difficult. They did not give warning of their coming as did the appearance of the comparatively slow-moving gas cloud. Thus in the first week of May, 1915, Hill 60 was taken by the Germans in a bombardment of asphyxiating shells. The bombardment had been immediately followed by a charge of bomb throwers who made an assault on the hill from three sides at once. That forced the British to retreat to a trench line at the foot of the hill, and gave the top of the hill to the Germans who immediately set up a lookout post for their artillery back of the Zandvoord ridge.
This part of the British line was under the command of Sir Herbert Plumer. His troops occupied themselves from the first week in May to the middle of August, 1915, in fighting in the Hooge district. Most of this fighting was important only because it kept the Germans busy on that section of the line, and prevented them from being able to reenforce the Crown Prince of Bavaria or adding men to the force that was driving the Russians eastward.
The men, fresh from the training camps, fought alongside of hardened veterans and learned much from them. From being what amounted to auxiliaries in these actions the new troops became hardened to actual fighting conditions. For this reason the personnel of the British troops on this part of the line was changed frequently. This was especially true at Hooge. Princess Patricia's Canadian Regiment occupied the Chateau and village of Hooge on May 8, 1915. The "Princess Pats," as they were known at home, turned over their quarters to the Ninth Lancers who were followed by the Fifteenth Hussars and the Second Camerons.
On May 24, 1915, the Germans made a great gas attack. They had placed along the line from St. Julien to Hooge a great number of gas tanks. They then started a bombardment with asphyxiating shells. When the bombardment was well under way the tanks were opened. The ensuing cloud was five miles long and forty feet high; and it floated over the British trenches from 3 a. m. to 7 a. m. The cloud was followed by three columns of infantry, who dashed forward under the protection of the shells of their artillery. But the Germans made gains in only two places—at Hooge and to the north of Wieltje. For the most part the British regained by counterattacks what they lost; but they were unable to retake the Chateau of Hooge, though the Ninth Lancers and the Fifteenth Hussars made a heroic attempt to regain it. Thereupon the Third Dragoons received orders to attempt to retake the Chateau of Hooge. They went into the second line of the British trenches to the south of the Menin road on May 29, 1915. The Germans bombarded the trenches with high-explosive shells while from the German trenches a torrent of small arms fire poured. In spite of the continued hail of lead, the Dragoons held to their position though their trenches were wrecked.
Early in the morning of May 31, the British charged and drove their enemy from the ruins of the Chateau and its stables. The Germans turned all of their artillery on that part of the line against Hooge, and when the bombardment was finished there was only a heap of ruins left. The British withdrew from the Chateau, but only for a short distance.
The bombardment was renewed on June 1; on that day the German infantry tried to dislodge the Dragoons, but the attempt was unsuccessful. Again, on June 2, the artillery was used, the German shells being hurled a part of the time at the rate of twenty a minute. Under the cover of this terrific bombardment a part of the German infantry charged from the Bellewaarde Lake region. They got to the Chateau before a British battery opened fire on them. Again they entered the ruins and made a dash out on the opposite side, where they were met by more machine-gun fire. Three times they tried to escape, but practically all of them were slain. Other attempts were made by the Germans that afternoon, but none of them was successful.
The Dragoons were relieved on June 3, 1915, and their places were taken by a much larger force. It included the Third Worcesters, the First Wiltshires, the First Northumberland Fusiliers, the First Lincolnshires, the Royal Fusiliers, the Royal Scots Fusiliers, and the Liverpool Scottish, a territorial organization.
The British artillery was concentrated in the neighborhood of Hooge and started a bombardment on June 16. After a fairly adequate preparation by cannonade, the infantry charged the German line for a thousand yards near the Chateau, and took a part of the second line of trenches. Again the British bayonet and bomb had won, though in this attack the greater credit must be given to the bomb. The Germans made an attempt to retrieve the day by battering the British out of the trenches they had won. To do this the German artillery used a plentiful supply of high-explosive shells. They continued the attempt for twenty-four hours; but all they succeeded in doing was driving the British back to the first line of German trenches where they waited for the inevitable attack of the infantry which was repulsed. Finally the Germans seemed inclined to give up trying to accomplish much on this part of their front.
In the first week of July, 1915, the British took two hundred yards of German trenches, eighty prisoners and three trench mortars. The German commander now turned once more to Hooge. An additional reason for his renewed interest in that place was the fact that the British engineers, on July 20, blew up a mine west of the Chateau, thereby making a great crater in which the British infantry made themselves comparatively secure. The crater was one hundred and fifty feet wide and fifty feet deep.
The Germans made an unsuccessful attempt to take the crater on July 21, 1915; and tried again on July 24. The Duke of Wuerttemberg found his men making comparatively little progress. It is true that the British had not made much more. The gas attacks had gained ground before the British had learned how to avoid the more severe effects of the poison. The result of experience brought into existence a new device. It has been called a flame projector, and has been described as a portable tank which is filled with a highly inflammable coal-tar product. The contents of the tank were pumped through a nozzle at the end of which was a lighting arrangement. The flame could be thrown approximately forty yards.
A large supply of these flame projectors arrived in the German trenches on July 30, 1915. The action began with the usual bombardment of high-explosive shells. Other shells filled with the burning liquid were also used. At the height of the bombardment, the British lines were flame swept. No preparation had been made for such an attack; and the only thing that the British could do was to get out of the way of the flame. Thus they lost their trenches in the crater and at the Chateau and village of Hooge. The method of attack so infuriated the British that they made a desperate counterattack with the result that they regained most of what they lost with the exception of about five hundred yards of trenches.
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FRANCO-GERMAN OPERATIONS ALONG THE FRONT
We have thus far dealt chiefly with the British operations in the western front, but it must not be assumed that the French, in the meantime, were idle. On the contrary, their operations, covering the far greater territory, were proportionally more important than those of their allies.
During the winter months artillery duels along the entire Franco-German front were kept up without intercession. These were varied by assaults on exposed points which were in many cases repeatedly taken and lost by the opposing forces.
The French staff applied itself with the utmost vigor to the accumulation of large stacks of munitions and supplies for the production of active movements when weather conditions should permit. For the most part, however, the Franco-German operations were desultory movements occurring in various portions of the long line. Actions of the first importance began with the attacks in the St. Mihiel salient in April, 1915.
On the night of February 6, 1915, Germans exploded three mines at La Boisselle in front of the houses in the village which the French occupied, but the attempt of the Germans to advance was checked after a small amount of ground had been gained. The next day a counterattack carried out by a French company retook this ground, and inflicted a loss of 200 men. The French seized a wood north of Mesnil-les-Hurles on the night of February 7. Here the Germans had strongly established themselves.
During the first part of February, 1915, the Germans made a series of assaults on the Marie Therese works in the Argonne. Their force comprised about a brigade; but the French repulsed all attacks. Both sides suffered severe losses. On the night of February 9, there was an infantry engagement at La Fontenelle in the Ban de Sapt. Two battalions of Germans took part in the action and gained some ground which the French regained by counterattacks on the following day.
Actions in the Vosges continued in spite of heavy snow. The French carried Hill 937, eight hundred meters northwest of the farm of Sudelle, in the region north of Hartmannsweilerkopf.
About February 9, 1915, there was considerable activity on the part of the German artillery in Champagne, especially before Rheims. The city being again bombarded. There was also a lively cannonade in the region of Lens, around Albert, between the Avre and Oise, in the neighborhood of Soissons, and at Verneuil, northeast of Vailly. In Lorraine the Germans, after having pushed back the French main guard, succeeded in occupying the height of the Xon beacon and the hamlet of Norroy. The Germans were repulsed by a counterattack as far as the slopes north of the beacon.
The French on February 18 made some progress in the region of Boureuilles on Hill No. 263. They also gained a wood south of the Vois de Cheppy. At the same time French troops took four hundred meters of trenches north of Malancourt and about as much south of the Bois de Forges. The Germans made five unsuccessful counterattacks, near Bolincourt, to retake the trenches which the French had captured. On the same day, the French recaptured the village of Norroy. In the Vosges, the French repulsed two infantry attacks north of Wisembach, in the region of the Col de Bonhomme, and consolidated their positions, progressing methodically north and south of the farm of Sudelle. The bombardment of Rheims was continued during these days. On the heights of the Meuse, at Les Eparges, three German counterattacks on the trenches which the French had won on February 17 were stopped by the French artillery fire.
In the Vosges, between Lusse and Wisembach, in the Bonhomme region, the Germans, after succeeding in getting a footing on Hill 607, were dislodged on the morning of February 19, 1915. The French held their position on the height notwithstanding the violent efforts to dislodge them. An attack by the Germans on Le Sattel north of the Sudelle farm was also repulsed.
In the evening of February 19, 1915, the Germans delivered their fourth counterattack against the trenches which the French took at Les Eparges, but the French artillery again beat them back. The Germans were also unsuccessful in a counterattack on Hill 607, at Sattel, south of the Fecht. They succeeded in gaining a footing on the eastern spur of Reichsackerkopf.
After having repulsed a sixth counterattack by the Germans at Les Eparges, the French on February 10, 1915, delivered a fresh attack which enabled them to enlarge and complete the progress they made on the day before. They took three machine guns, two trench mortars, and made two hundred prisoners, among whom were several officers.
They also repulsed a counterattack of the Germans and then took all of their trenches to the north and east of the wood which had been captured by the French on the day before. Two other counterattacks were repulsed, and the French made fresh progress, particularly to the north of Mesnil, where they captured two machine guns and one hundred prisoners. The Germans made their seventh unsuccessful counterattack on Les Eparges on February 21. The French advanced posts fell back on the main line in Alsace on both banks of the Fecht; but the main line was strongly held, and the Germans, attacking in serried and deep formations, suffered heavy losses.
On the Belgian front the French batteries demolished one of the German heavy guns near Lombaertzyde on February 22, 1915. On the same day the French artillery dispersed German troops and convoys between the Lys and the Aisne. The French made progress on the Souain-Beausejour front, taking a line of trenches and two woods, and repulsed two particularly violent counterattacks. Many prisoners were taken by the French in this action. In the Argonne the French artillery and infantry had the better of the almost continuous fighting. This was especially true near Fontaine-aux-Charmes and Marie Therese, as well as at the Bois Bolante.
The bombardment of Rheims continued on February 22, lasting for a first period of six hours, and a second period of five hours. One thousand five hundred shells were fired into all quarters of the town. The cathedral was made a special target and suffered severely. The interior of the vaulted roof, which had resisted up to this time, fell. Twenty houses were set on fire and twenty of the civilian population were killed.
The French captured more trenches in the region of Beause-jour and held their gains of previous fighting, on February 23, 1915. Their batteries blew up a German ammunition store to the northwest of Verdun at Drillancourt, in the region of the Bois de Forges, on the same day, February 23, 1915, and stopped an attempted German attack in Alsace from the village of Stossweiler.
There was an action of some importance in the Wood of Malancourt, on February 26, 1915, when the Germans sprayed the French advanced trenches with burning liquid. The French troops evacuated them, the soldiers being severely burned before they could escape. A counterattack was immediately made. This checked the German advance. On the same day, in the region of Verdun and on the heights of the Meuse, the French heavy artillery enveloped with its fire the German artillery, wrecked some guns, exploded about twenty wagons or depots, annihilated a detachment, and destroyed an entire encampment.
In Champagne the French on the night of February 26, 1915, captured five hundred meters of German trenches to the north of Mesnil-les-Hurles.
On February 28, 1915, Rheims was again bombarded and still again on March 2, 1915. About fifty shells fell on the town. In the Argonne, on March 2, 1915, in the Bagatelle-Marie Therese sector, there was mine and infantry fighting in an advanced trench which the French reoccupied after they had been forced to abandon it. At the same time in the region of Vauquois, the French made some progress and held the ground captured in spite of the counterattacks of the Germans. The French also took some prisoners. In the Vosges, at La Chapelotte, they captured trenches and gained three hundred meters of ground.
The bombardment of Rheims was continued on March 4, 1915, and lasted all day, a shell falling about every three minutes. While the bombardment was in progress the Germans captured an advanced trench from the French to the north of Arras, near Notre Dame de Lorette; but in the Argonne the French made fresh progress in the region of Vauquois. On the following day, March 5, however, the French made successful counterattacks in the region of Notre Dame de Lorette. The Germans lost the advanced positions which they had taken from the French and held them for two days. At Hartmannsweilerkopf, in Alsace, the French captured a trench, a small fort, and two machine guns. They also repulsed a counterattack opposite Uffholz, and blew up an ammunition store at Cernay. On the same night, the French drove back the German advanced posts which were trying to establish themselves on the Sillakerkopf, a spur east of Hohneck.
The French continued to gain ground, on March 7, to the north of Arras in the region of Notre Dame de Lorette, where their attacks carried some German trenches. The German losses were considerable. During this first week in March, 1915, the French carried successively, to the west of Muenster, the two summits of the Little and the Great Reichaelerkopf. The Germans made two counterattacks starting from Muehlbach and Stossweiler; but they were unsuccessful. On the right bank of the Fecht the French captured Imburg, one kilometer southeast of Sultzern. This success was completed farther to the north by the capture of Hill 856 to the south of the Hutes Hutles. Finally, at Hartmannsweilerkopf the French repelled a counterattack delivered by a German battalion which suffered heavy losses and left numerous prisoners in the hands of the French.
On March 8, 1915, the French gained two hundred meters on the ridge northeast of Mesnil which they added to the gains of the previous day. Here the French carried a German redoubt, took a revolver gun and three machine guns, and made some prisoners. The Germans had armored shelters supplied with revolver guns and very deep subterranean chambers. In the Argonne, between Four-de-Paris and Bolante, the French delivered an attack which made them masters of the first line of German trenches of more than two hundred meters in length.
To the north of Rheims in front of the Bois de Luxembourg, the Germans attempted, on March 14, to carry one of the French advanced trenches, but were repulsed. On the same day, between Four-de-Paris and Bolante in the Argonne, the French gained three hundred meters of trenches, and took some prisoners. Two counterattacks which the Germans made were unsuccessful.
In the region of Lombaertzyde on March 15, the French artillery very effectively bombarded the German works. When the Germans attempted to recapture the small fort which was taken from them on the night of March 1 they were repulsed and left fifty dead. The French losses were small. To the north of Arras, a brilliant attack by the French infantry enabled them to capture, by a single effort, three lines of trenches on the spur of Notre Dame de Lorette, and to reach the edge of the plateau. The French captured one hundred prisoners including several officers. They also destroyed two machine guns and blew up an ammunition store. Farther to the south, in the region of Eeurie-Roclincourt, near the road from Lille, they blew up several German trenches and prevented their reconstruction. In Champagne the French made fresh progress. They gained ground in the woods to the northeast of Souain and to the northwest of Perthes. They also repulsed two German counterattacks in front of Ridge 196, northeast of Mesnil, and extended their position in that sector. In the region of Bagatelle in the Argonne two German counterattacks were repulsed. The French demolished a blockhouse there, and established themselves on the site of it. Between Four-de-Paris and Bolante the Germans attempted two counterattacks which failed. At Vauquois the French infantry delivered an attack which gave it possession of the western part of the village. Here they made prisoners. At the Bois-le-Pretre, northeast of Pont-a-Mousson, the Germans blew up with a mine four of the French advanced trenches which were completely destroyed. The Germans gained a footing there, but the French retook the first two trenches and a half of the third. Between the Bois-le-Pretre and Pont-a-Mousson, in the Haut de Rupt, the Germans made an attack which was repulsed.
In Champagne, before Hill 196, northeast of Mesnil, on March 19, 1915, the Germans, after violently bombarding the French position, made an infantry attack which was repulsed with heavy losses.
In the Woevre, in the Bois Mortmore, on March 20, 1915, the French artillery destroyed a blockhouse and blew up several ammunition wagons and stores. At La Boisselle, northeast of Albert, the Germans, after a violent bombardment, attempted a night attack which was repulsed with large losses.
The Germans bombarded the Cathedral of Soissons again on March 21, 1915, firing twenty-seven shells and causing severe damage to the structure. On the same day Rheims was bombarded, fifty shells falling there.
Near Bagatelle the French, on March 22, blew up three mines; and two companies of their troops stormed a German trench in which they maintained their position in spite of a strong counterattack. Five hundred yards, from there, the Germans, after exploding two mines, and bombarding the French trenches, rushed to an attack on a front of about two hundred and fifty yards. After some very hot hand-to-hand fighting the assailants were hurled back in spite of the arrival of their reenforcements. The French artillery caught them under its fire as they were falling back, and inflicted very heavy losses.
The French then retreated some fifteen meters at Vauquois on March 23, 1915, when the Germans sprayed one of their trenches with inflammable liquid.
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CAMPAIGN IN ARGONNE AND AROUND ARRAS
There were some weak places in the French line from Switzerland to the North Sea; and one of them was that part in the region between the Forest of the Argonne and Rheims. General Langle de Cary was in command of the army which held this section. It requires no military genius to comprehend that the French center and the right wing from Belfort to Verdun were not safe until the Germans had been forced back across the Aisne at every place. The French general had made an effort to drive the Germans under General von Einem from Champagne Pouilleuse. The preliminary effort had been to stop the Germans from using the railroad which ran from near the Nort to Varennes through the Forest of the Argonne and across the upper Aisne to Bazancourt.
After the battle of the Marne, the crown prince's army, severely handled by the Third French Army under General Sarrail, pushed hastily toward the north and established itself on a line running perpendicularly through the Argonne Forest, at about ten or fifteen kilometers from the road connecting Ste. Menehould with Verdun. Almost immediately there developed a series of fights that lasted during a whole year and were really among the bloodiest and most murderous combats of the war. The German army in the Argonne, commanded by the crown prince, whose headquarters had long been established at Stenay, consisted of the finest German troops, including, among others, the famous Sixteenth Corps from Metz, which, with the Fifteenth Corps from Strassburg, is considered the cream of the Germanic forces. This corps was commanded by the former governor of Metz, General von Mudra, an expert in all branches of warfare relating to fortresses and mines. Specially reenforced by battalions of sharpshooters and a division of Wuerttembergers, the Twenty-Seventh, accustomed to forest warfare, this corps made the most violent efforts from the end of September, 1914, to throw the French troops back to the south and seize the road to Verdun. The crown prince evidently meant to sever this route and the adjoining highway, leading from Verdun to Ste. Menehould. The road then turns to the south and joins at Revigny, the main line of Bar-le-Duc to Paris via Chalons, forming, in fact, the only possible line of communication for the fortress of Verdun. The other line, running from Verdun to St. Mihiel, was rendered useless after the Germans had fixed themselves at St. Mihiel in September, 1914.
Up to the first months of 1916 there was only a small local railway that could be used between Revigny and Ste. Menehould by Triaucourt. Of the two big lines, one was cut by the Germans, and the other was exposed to the fire of their heavy artillery.
The violence of the German attacks in the Argonne prove that so long ago as September, 1914, they already dreamt of taking Verdun. Their aim was to force the French troops against Ste. Menehould and invest the fortress on three sides to bring about its fall.
These Argonne battles were invested with a particular interest and originality. They were in progress for a whole year, in a thick forest of almost impenetrable brushwood, split with numerous deep ravines and abrupt, slippery precipices. The humidity of the forest is excessive, the waters pouring down from high promontories. The soldiers who struggled here practically spent two winters in the water.
One can hardly imagine the courage and heroism necessary to bear the terrible hardships of fighting under such conditions. All the German soldiers made prisoners by the French describe life in the Argonne as a hideous nightmare.
From the end of September, 1914, the Germans delivered day and night attacks, generally lasting ten days. These attacks were made with forces of three or four battalions up to a division or a division and a half. In each attack the Germans aimed at a very limited objective—to capture the first or second line of trenches, to seize some particular fortified point. That object once attained, the Germans held on there, consolidated the occupied terrain, fortified their new positions and prepared for another push forward. It was thus by a process of nibbling the French trenches bit by bit that the Germans hoped to attain the Verdun-Ste. Menehould line.
The tactics employed in these combats were those suited to forest fighting; sapping operations methodically and minutely carried out to bring the German trenches as near as possible to the French; laying small mines to be exploded at a certain hour. Two or three hours before an attack the French positions were bombarded by trench mortars and especially heavy mine throwers.
At the short distances the effect would naturally be to cause considerable damage; trenches and their parapets were demolished, shelters, screening reserves, were torn open. At that moment when the attack is to be launched, the German artillery drops the "fire curtain" behind the enemy trenches to prevent reenforcements from arriving. Such are the tactics almost constantly employed by the Germans.
Despite their most furious efforts during the winter of 1914 and the spring and summer of 1915, in at least forty different attacks, the German gains were very insignificant, and if one considers the line they held after the battle of the Marne and compares it with their present position, one may gather some idea of how little progress they have made.
It was in June and July, 1915, that the Germans displayed their main efforts in the Argonne. Their three great attacks were made with greater forces than ever before (two or three divisions), but the results were as profitless as their predecessors. The heroism of the French barred the way.
At Arras in June, there was almost as much activity as at Ypres. During the last part of the campaign in the Artois, General d'Urbal began an advance between Hebuterne and Serre. The former had been held by the French and the latter by the Germans. The two villages were each on a small hill and not quite two miles apart. There were two lines of German trenches in front of the farm of Tout Vent which was halfway between the villages.
The trenches were held by the Seventeenth Baden Regiment which was attacked by the French on June 7, 1915. The French troops consisted of Bretons, Vendeans, and soldiers from Savoy and Dauphine. The work of the infantry was preceded by a heavy bombardment to which the German artillery replied. Then the French charged with a dash that seemed irresistible.
On the following day, June 8, 1915, the French gained more ground to the north in spite of the activity of the German artillery. June 9, 1915, saw desperate fighting in the German communicating trenches, and on June 10, 1915, several hundred yards of trenches to the south were taken. The Seventeenth Baden Regiment was only a name and a memory when the fighting ceased; and two German battalions had fared but little better. Of the five hundred and eighty prisoners taken ten were officers.
General de Castelnau, on the day before the fighting at Hebuterne, made a break in the German line east of Forest of l'Aigle which is a continuation of the Forest of Compiegne but is separated from it by the Aisne. Within the French lines were the farms of Ecaffaut and Quennevieres. The Germans held Les Loges and Tout Vent. There was a German salient opposite Quennevieres with a small fort at the peak of the salient. Defenses had been built also where the northern and southern sides of the salient rested on the main line of trenches. There were two lines of trenches on the arc of the salient with three lines on a portion of the arc. An indented trench held the chord of the arc. The Germans had placed several guns in a ravine which ran down toward Tout Vent. Four companies of the Eighty-sixth Regiment had held the salient.