April—British 18, French 15, Russian 7, Italian 3; German 16, Austrian 3, Turkish 1, Bulgarian 0.
May—British 16, French 11, Russian 5, Italian 4; German 10, Austrian 5, Turkish 0, Bulgarian 0.
June—British 19, French 10, Russian 11, Italian 3; German 8, Austrian 6, Turkish 1, Bulgarian 0.
July—British 15, French 15, Russian 13, Italian 5; German 16, Austrian 8, Turkish 0, Bulgarian 1.
Total losses in aviation officers: Allies, 170; Central Powers, 75.
A cursory examination of the records of aerial combats on the western battle front shows an average of eighteen combats daily; on some days there were as many as forty distinct aerial battles, while on others, in blinding snow and rainstorms no machines were aloft. In the 3,000-odd duels in the air, the Franco-American Flying Corps began to take a prominent part early in the spring of 1916, shortly after the various American volunteer aviators had been gathered into a single unit and been placed at the point of the greatest danger—the Verdun sector of the front.
The formation of the Franco-American Flying Corps was formed by Frazier Curtis and Norman Prince, after many unsuccessful attempts since December, 1914. At the time of gathering the scattered Americans into a single corps there were about thirty experienced aviators in the group, but the number has been greatly augmented since then, and in the latter part of July nearly a hundred are reported to have been gathered in the aviation corps near Verdun.
The first American aviator to fly over the Verdun battle field since the beginning of the great battle still raging in that sector, was Carroll Winslow, of New York, who piloted one of the Maurice Farman speed planes. Previous to the beginning of that battle, Lieutenant William Thaw of Pittsburgh and Elliott Cowdin of New York had crossed the battle field repeatedly.
AERIAL COMBATS AND RAIDS
February, 1916, because of foggy, stormy weather, did not furnish many thrilling aerial combats. With the exception of a Zeppelin raid over England and an attack on Kent by two German Fokker aeroplanes, in the course of which bombs were dropped on Ramsgate and Broadstairs, few events worthy of chronicling occurred on either of the big battle fronts. In Egypt, early in that month, an officer of the R. F. C. flew from Daba, railhead of the Mariut railway, to El Gara and return, without a stop. The entire trip was made in eight hours, covering 400 miles. It was one of the most splendid pieces of reconnoitering work accomplished by a British aviation officer.
On February 25, 1916, announcement was made in the British House of Commons to the effect that the total loss of life in the twenty-nine great and small Zeppelin raids up to that date had been 266.
On March 1, 1916, an Aviatik aeroplane, piloted by Lieutenant Faber, and containing Lieutenant Kuehl as observer, succeeded in wrecking the leading truck of a motor transport train on the Besancon-Jussey road. The bomb struck squarely and blockaded the road for a considerable time, causing confusion and delay in the transport. While the drivers of the trucks endeavored to straighten out the tangle, the aviators poured a withering fire from their machine gun into the crowd of men, while circling over the truck at low altitude.
Four days later an extensive Zeppelin raid was directed at the east coast of England, the result being twelve killed and thirty-three injured, while considerable material damage was admitted by British papers.
Aerial duels and combats over the battle lines began to increase in number to such an extent as to cause their omission from the official bulletins. Only the most spectacular feats thereafter were considered worthy of record. Among these was an attack by four German sea planes, which set out from some part of the Belgian coast and raided the English coast from Dover to Margate, killing nine and injuring thirty-one persons. One of the planes was damaged by the defending guns.
A few days later the British returned the visit with five sea planes, accompanied by a cruiser and destroyers, with disastrous results. As related in a former chapter at some length, only two of the machines succeeded in escaping from the withering fire of the strong antiaircraft defense guns.
Then followed the series of Zeppelin raids between March 31 and April 5, 1916, when practically the entire eastern and northeastern coast of England was bombarded by the German air fleet. Even Scotland was visited by some of the Zeppelins, and there is every reason to believe that the main object of the raid was to discover the whereabouts of the main British battleship fleet. However, the airships seem to have returned southward before locating the fleet. The German admiralty never gave up hope of locating the main base with certainty, for many Zeppelin and submarine raids were made with no other object in view. Had the ships succeeded, there is no doubt that all available submarines would have been dispatched to the spot, ordered to lie in wait, and then entice the fleet out by offering a couple of older ships as a sacrifice. The plan did not work out to the satisfaction of the German navy heads, but it still remains one of their pet hopes.
On April 3, 1916, a French dirigible appeared above Audun-le-Roman, bombarding the railway station, while on the same day a German Aviatik was winged at Souchez, crashing to the earth and killing the occupants.
On April 4, 1916, a sensational aerial battle took place between more than a score of Austrian and Italian machines above Ancona. Three Austrian planes were reported shot down, while two of the Italians seemed severely damaged.
The next day a German official resume of the aerial battles was issued by the Germans, in which it was claimed that fourteen German machines and forty-four British and French were lost in March. In this compilation the German statement differentiated between "destroyed" and "brought down," claiming to have listed only those which were actually shot down under conditions which precluded the safety of pilot and observer, or which were captured in the German lines.
April 7, 1916, saw a heavy bombardment of Saloniki by Bulgarian and Austrian aeroplanes; the camp of the Australian section and that of the French contingent were severely damaged, and fire broke out in them.
A week later, three naval British aeroplanes dropped bombs on Constantinople and also farther north on Adrianople, in an attempt to destroy the large powder factories and hangars there. The damage reported was very slight, and of no military value. The machines made a trip of 300 miles length, in order to carry out this attack, an achievement worthy of special notice.
A strong French squadron shelled the stations at Nantillons and Brieulles on April 10 and 11, 1916, doing considerable material damage to buildings.
On April 12, 1916, the Czar of Russia had a narrow escape from death when an Austrian aeroplane, of the Rumpler-Taube type, appeared over the parade grounds at Czernowitz, throwing several bombs on the officers present. The aviator did not know of the presence of the czar, and the incident did not become public for several days after.
On April 15, 1916, a large French battle plane, fitted with a 37-millimeter gun, attacked a German steamer in the North Sea, but the ship escaped without damage, as all the shells went wide of the mark.
The French resume of the operations on the west front during March challenges the statement of the German authorities concerning the number of machines lost. "During the month of March," says the official communique, "our military aircraft displayed great activity along the entire front, notably in the region of Verdun. In the course of the many aerial engagements thirty-one German machines were 'brought down' by our pilots, nine of which descended or crashed to the ground within our lines, while twenty-two were brought down in the German lines. There is no doubt concerning the fate of those twenty-two machines which our pilots attacked over the enemy's lines. Twelve of these aeroplanes were seen coming down in flames, and ten descended in headlong spirals under the fire of our airmen. Moreover, four German machines were brought down by our special guns, one in our lines in the environs of Avocourt and three in the enemy lines—one near Suippes, one near Nouvion and one near Sainte-Marie-a-Py. This total of thirty-five machines should be contrasted with the figures of our own aerial losses, which amount to thirteen aeroplanes, as follows: One French machine brought down in our lines and twelve brought down in the German lines."
A pitched battle between Zeppelins, battle cruisers, and submarines on the German side, and destroyers, land batteries, aeroplanes and sea planes on the British side, took place in the morning of April 25, 1916, near Lowestoft. A number of aeroplanes and sea planes rose to attack the Zeppelins which were flying high and bound westward. In the course of the battle the airships turned toward the sea, bringing the pursuing aeroplanes within range of the naval guns. Four submarines also appeared on the surface and began firing their high-angle guns against the British aeros. One of the latter was destroyed by fire from a Zeppelin quick-firing gun, while two sea planes were severely damaged by the fire from the battle cruisers and submarines.
May, 1916, began with three disasters for the German aerial forces. On the 3d of the month, the naval airship L-20 (Schuette-Lanz type) which had raided the coast of England and Scotland on the preceding day, ran out of fuel on the return trip and was carried by a strong wind eastward onto the Norwegian coast, where it stranded near Stavanger. The Norwegian authorities interned the crew and blew up the ship.
Two more Zeppelins were lost two days later; the L-7 (one of the oldest airships in the service) was shot down by French warships off Saloniki, while the other fell a victim to the guns of a British squadron off the coast of Schleswig-Holstein.
An Italian airship, the M-3, attempted a reconnoitering trip over the Austrian positions on the Gorizia front, but was heavily bombarded with incendiary shells. Fire broke out on the airship and the resulting explosion tore it apart, killing the crew of six men.
Sixteen Allies' aeroplanes undertook a bombing expedition upon the German aerodromes at Mariakerke, dropping thirty-eight large and seventeen small bombs. A sea plane dropped one 100-pound bomb and two 65-pound bombs on the Solvay Works at Zeebrugge. All the machines are reported to have returned in safety, with one exception.
Aerial combats increased in number and violence during the summer months, as many as thirty separate fights taking place in a single day on a short stretch of the battle fronts. In one of the combats, early in June, Lieutenant Immelmann, of the German forces, was shot down and killed. At first the report included his famous comrade, Lieutenant Boelke, among the killed, but news received later mentioned his name among the fighting corps.
Dover and other ports on the English coast were raided by two German sea planes on June 9 and 10, 1916, according to the German official report. The British denied that any such raid took place. The next day, two German sea planes attacked Calais, on the French side of the Channel, dropping bombs on the port and the encampments. They returned to their base undamaged.
German aeroplanes also raided Kantara, thirty miles south of Port Said, and fired on Romani with machine guns. A number of casualties occurred at Kantara.
A raid of considerable magnitude was carried out by the German forces against the port of Reval, during which they bombarded cruisers, destroyers, military buildings, and several submarines lying in the harbor. One of the latter is reported to have been hit four times. The sea planes had been convoyed to the port by a fleet of cruisers and destroyers which waited in the open sea for the return of the aeroplanes. The attacking party had no losses.
An aerial battle between more than forty machines took place on July 3, 1916, near Lille. A British squadron set out to bombard the city of Lille, but was attacked during the bombardment by a fleet of twenty German monoplanes and biplanes. The British claim to have brought down two of the German machines, while all the British returned safely to their lines.
Similar raids continue every day along the battle front in Flanders, Belgium, and France, and even to enumerate them would be merely a repetition entirely without value to the reader.
PART X—THE UNITED STATES AND THE BELLIGERENTS
WAR CLOUD IN CONGRESS
A confused situation prevailed in Congress on March 1, 1916, the date on which Germany decreed that her submarines would sink all armed merchantmen of the Allied Powers without warning. The promulgation of this decree had abruptly interrupted the imminent settlement of the Lusitania case, the Administration having taken a serious view of Germany's latest step, which injected new elements into the whole submarine dispute with that country. Once more the old question of the danger to Americans traveling on belligerent vessels arose in an aggravated form. The Administration was steadfast in upholding the right of Americans to travel the seas when and whither they chose, immune under international law from interference or menace on the part of any belligerent power. Strong factions in Congress, in the face of Germany's new decree, feared that the Administration's stand was driving the country into certain war with Germany. Americans were bound to be among the crews of passengers of the armed merchantmen that Germany was determined to sink on sight, and this country had already clearly indicated to Berlin what would happen if any fatality befell them.
Hence, as mentioned in the previous volume of the history, a feverish agitation developed in Congress for the passage of resolutions forbidding Americans to travel on belligerent ships at all during the war. German-American influences, especially congressional delegations from districts, chiefly in the Middle West, where the German vote was a decisive factor, assiduously fanned this movement, but there was a scattered sentiment, wholly American at heart, and unallied with pro-Germanism, which also held the view that Americans ought not to jeopardize the peace of their country by traveling in belligerent vessels. Resolutions pending in the House and Senate prohibiting them from doing so had been pigeonholed in committee. President Wilson had interposed, urging that no action be taken on them. He held that the executive and legislature ought not to be at cross-purposes on a question of foreign policy, and any antagonistic step by Congress against the Administration would weaken the United States in the sight of the world. The Congressional leaders, at heart opposed to the President, reluctantly agreed that the two branches of the Government should not be rent by divided counsels on such a dangerous issue as the country's relations with Germany.
The President faced a critical and exasperating situation. He changed his earlier view that Congress should not put itself in the position of wrangling with the executive over the armed-merchantmen issue. If divided counsels there were in Congress regarding his submarine policy, let them now declare themselves, and let the stronger prevail! Hence, instead of any longer desiring that the armed-merchantmen resolutions should remain smothered in committee, he challenged the leaders in Congress to bring them to a vote so that the world might know whether Congress was with him or against him. The President would not brook the continuation of an impasse which lent a spurious color to the manufactured impression current abroad, that he was playing a lone hand in his submarine policy, unsupported by Congress and the country. He strove to emphasize that his insistence on the right of Americans to travel on belligerent merchant ships, whether armed for defense or otherwise, would not mean war with Germany, the latter would rather surrender to the American demands to avoid war.
The immediate effect of the President's demand for a vote on the armed-merchantmen resolutions was to clear the air regarding the strength of their supporters in Congress. The overwhelming sentiment in their favor rapidly diminished—if it ever really existed—under the searchlight of careful canvassing by the Administration's supporters, until it began to be manifest that, far from Congress ranging itself against the President, the latter would carry the day. Then came a reversal of tactics by the congressional factions opposed to the President. When the belief or illusion prevailed that the armed-merchantmen resolutions would pass the House by a big majority, strident demands were heard for submitting them to a roll call and unrestrained resentment against the President was expressed for thwarting such action. But now, when national sentiment ranged itself in support of the President, and many Congressmen had heard from their constituents, there was a disposition in Congress to turn the tables on the President by preventing the resolution being put to the vote that is, by keeping them in the limbo where they had been consigned at the President's original request, since, to be sure, the vote would compel Congressmen to go on record as to their pro-German leanings, and would, moreover, be defeated. This and other influences deferred action by the House for a week.
Meantime national sentiment had rapidly crystallized to a simple viewpoint, and Congressmen could not wisely ignore it. The general view was that if Congress opposed the executive on the armed-merchantmen issue, and proscribed the present rights of American citizens to travel on the trading ships of belligerent nations, the whole diplomatic negotiations with Germany on the submarine dispute would be reduced to chaos. No president, oppressed by such a precedent, could enter with confidence on any contention with a foreign power. His most earnest representations and most solemn protestations might be rendered meaningless by the intrusion of a Congress influenced by incorrect reports or overcome by personal antagonism. Such a condition of executive impotence was viewed as endangering rather than safeguarding the country's tranquillity. The paramount need then was that Congress should support the presidency, not the temporary occupant of the White House. The country was in a controversy with a European power and the American stand had been taken on definite and well-understood principles.
In the midst of that dispute the demand had been voiced that the American attitude be radically changed and the conditions seriously altered. The inevitable effect of such a change in American policy, it was felt, would be to hearten the power that was at issue with the United States, to embarrass the President, and encourage the belief that those to whom he must look for support would withhold it from him. That injury could only be repaired by the repudiation by Congress of the influences at work within it aiming at the overthrow of the President's policy, and by a convincing exhibition of the unity of the republic.
The Senate was the first to act. The armed-ship resolution, forbidding Americans to travel on such craft, was introduced by Senator Gore, of Oklahoma, who thus explained his purpose in doing so:
"I introduced this resolution because I was apprehensive that we were speeding headlong upon war; perhaps, I ought to go further and say what I have hitherto avoided saying, that my action was based on a report which seemed to come from the highest and most responsible authority, that certain Senators and certain members of the House, in a conference with the President of the United States, received from the President the information, if not the declaration, that if Germany insisted upon her position the United States would insist upon her position, and that it would result probably in a breach of diplomatic relations, and that a breach of diplomatic relations would probably be followed by a state of war, and that a state of war might not be of itself and of necessity an evil to this republic, but that the United States, by entering upon war now, might be able to bring it to a conclusion by midsummer and thus render a great service to civilization.
"Mr. President," added the Senator, "I cannot say what the truth may be. I tell you the tale as it was told to me. This came to my ears in such a way, with such a concurrence of testimony, with such internal and external marks of truth, that I feared it might be the truth, and if such a thing be conceivable I did not feel that, discharging my duty as a Senator, I could withhold whatever feeble service I might render to avert the catastrophe of war."
The President immediately authorized an unqualified denial to be made that he had expressed any utterance to which such a meaning could be attached. On the contrary, the President, in his talks with members of Congress, had insisted that war was the last happening he wanted and that his and not Congress' course would best insure peace. One version of what transpired at the conference referred to by Senator Gore credited the President with making these statements to the Senators and Congressmen who consulted him: That the way to avoid war was to convince the rest of the world that the people of the United States were standing solidly behind the executive; that the course Congress was seeking to pursue would lead toward war rather than away from it, because yielding to Germany on the present issue would result in further curtailments of American rights; that the only course the United States could safely pursue now was to abide by international law; that any other course would result in making circumstances themselves the sole guide, and this policy would eventually cause the fabric of international law itself to crumble and disappear; that any concession to Germany, abridging the right of Americans to travel on the seas, would necessitate a concession to Great Britain; and that such a weakening of American policy would cause the country to drift toward war. Asked what would happen if a German submarine sank an armed merchantman with the loss of American life, the President was quoted as intimating that in that event only a break in diplomatic relations would follow; further asked as to the effect such a rupture would probably have, he carefully replied that "it had been represented that this would lead to war," and that the participation of the United States in the European upheaval might result in ending hostilities in six months.
The effect of the disputed disclosure of the President's views on the issues with Germany, coupled with his disavowal of Senator Gore's statements, was an accession of congressional support to the Administration, and the dooming of the Gore resolution to certain failure. After a couple of days' debate the resolution was put to the vote and defeated March 3, 1916, by sixty-eight to fourteen. But this only meant an overwhelming rejection of the intent of the Gore resolution, for its proposer, foreseeing that it could not pass, confused the President's supporters at the last minute by resorting to a parliamentary maneuver changing its purport. The resolution, as put before the Senate, had been reversed; instead of forbidding Americans to travel on belligerent vessels, it had become a hypothetical declaration of war against Germany—a bellicose affirmation in irreconcilable contrast with the senator's well-known pacifism. Originally the resolution read:
"Whereas a number of leading powers of the world are now engaged in a war of unexampled proportions; and
"Whereas the United States is happily at peace with all of the belligerent nations; and
"Whereas it is equally the desire and the interest of the American people to remain at peace with all nations; and
"Whereas the President has recently offered fresh and signal proofs of the superiority of diplomacy to butchery as a method of settling international disputes; and
"Whereas the right of American citizens to travel on unarmed belligerent vessels has recently received renewed guarantees of respect and inviolability; and
"Whereas the right of American citizens to travel on armed belligerent vessels rather than upon unarmed vessels is essential neither to their life, liberty, or safety; nor to the independence, dignity, or securing of the United States; and
"Whereas Congress alone has been vested with the power to declare war, which involved the obligations to prevent war by all proper means consistent with the honor and vital interest of the nation; therefore be it
"Resolved, by the Senate (the House of Representatives, concurring), That it is the sense of the Congress, vested as it is with the sole power to declare war, that all persons owing allegiance to the United States should, in behalf of their own safety and the vital interest of the United States, forbear to exercise the right of travel as passengers upon any armed vessel of any belligerent power, whether such vessel be armed for offensive or defensive purposes; and it is the further sense of the Congress that no passport should be issued or renewed by the Secretary of State, or by anyone acting under him, to be used by any person owing allegiance to the United States for purpose of travel upon any such armed vessel of a belligerent power."
As voted upon by the Senate, this resolving clause had disappeared and the following substitute with the preamble unaltered, had taken its place:
"Resolved by the Senate (the House of Representatives concurring), That the sinking by a submarine without notice or warning of an armed merchant vessel of her public enemy, resulting in the death of a citizen of the United States, would constitute a just and sufficient cause of war between the United States and the German Empire."
THE PRESIDENT UPHELD IN ARMED-MERCHANTMEN ISSUE—FINAL CRISIS WITH GERMANY
The issue in the Senate, as far as the text of the resolution was concerned, was beclouded. Senators on both sides vainly sought to ascertain what the change meant. Senator Gore himself even voted against his amended proposal. But out of the confusion the upshot was plain. The debate before the Senate had been on the question whether Americans should be allowed to travel on armed belligerent ships, and, whatever the resolution finally expressed, that was the question on which Senators really declared their aye or nay. Technically, the Senate had failed, if it had not actually refused, to adopt a resolution hostile to the Administration's foreign policy. Another resolution similar to that originally proposed by Senator Gore, sponsored by Senator Jones of Washington, was withdrawn by him, and a bitter debate continued for hours without any measure pending. Hence the Senate had technically gone on record against declaring war on Germany if any of her submarines sank an armed merchantman without warning, thereby causing the death of any American on board. Actually it supported the Administration in its policy upholding the right of Americans to travel on belligerent ships, and the handful of Senators who voted for the amended resolution were hostile to the President's stand.
Meantime parliamentary tactics by the President's opponents in the House of Representatives successfully delayed the submission of the McLemore resolution to a vote. The Foreign Relations Committee had decided, by 17 to 2, to report it, with the recommendation that it be "tabled." The resolution had even been abandoned by its author, Representative Jeff McLemore of Texas, who was of opinion that it had really served its purpose without being adopted. "The main object of the resolution," he said, "was to prevent this country being plunged into war with one or more of the belligerent nations, simply because of the heedless act of some indiscreet American citizens, and I feel sure that this object has now been attained."
But the object the President sought, which was a virtual vote of confidence, by both Houses of Congress, on his submarine policy, had not been attained, and would not until the resolution had been brought into the open House and squarely voted upon. The issue between the House and the President had gone too far for further cross-fires of parliamentary moves to succeed in preventing the resolution from coming to a vote, and, on March 7, 1916, it reached this crucial stage and was defeated by 276 to 143, after six hours of turbulent debate.
The majority of 133 in favor of shelving the resolution, achieved by the aid of many Republican votes, was interpreted as a decisive compliance with the request of the President.
The voting in both the House and Senate on the armed-merchantmen issue ranged more on geographical than on political divisions, and indicated that on questions of foreign policy Congressional sentiment was governed by sectional, not by party lines. Thus, of the fourteen votes cast in the Senate against "tabling" the Gore resolution twelve were recorded by Senators from States west of Indiana and Lake Michigan, while a geographical analysis of the House vote revealed that President Wilson met the strongest opposition from the Middle West delegations, and derived his chief support from the Atlantic Seaboard States.
Secretary Lansing later issued a ruling of the State Department defining the status of armed merchant ships. Germany was thereby notified that the United States recognized the equity of her argument—that if a vessel was armed and used its armament to attack a submarine the latter could not be called upon to give warning in advance, for in so doing the safety of the submarine and its crew was imperiled. But the United States reiterated what it had frequently pointed out before as the only criterion governing such occurrences—each case must be judged by itself. Only a belligerent vessel which had been proved guilty of such an offensive use of armament could be regarded as a warship. The presence of armament could not of itself be construed as a presumption of hostility. Summarized, the State Department's ruling laid down:
(1) That the status of an armed merchantman must in each case be determined before it could be regarded as a warship—a neutral government, on entry of the ship into port, presuming that the armament was aggressive unless the belligerent proved otherwise.
(2) The belligerents on the high seas must assume that the armed ship carried armament only for protection, and, unless resistance or an attempt to escape was immediately made, the merchantman could not be attacked without receiving due warning.
(3) That Americans and all others who took passage on armed ships intermittently engaged in commerce raiding could not expect to be immune, for such vessels acquired a "hostile taint." This was Germany's contention; but the United States refused to agree to the German idea that, because a few British vessels might be guilty of wrongful use of armament, all British ships must consequently be regarded as warships.
(4) The right of "self-protection" could be exercised by an armed merchantman; and this was different from cruising the high seas for the special purpose of attacking hostile ships.
(5) If belligerent vessels were under orders to attack submarines in all circumstances they lost their status as "peaceful merchantmen." Germany claimed England had so ordered. England denied the charge. Evidence in each case must reconcile the difference of opinion.
The Administration's position in the submarine issue with Germany, now that Congress had upheld the President, seemed to be that Germany's decree condemning armed merchantmen curtailed the liberty of Americans to travel on the high seas. The status quo had not been affected. Germany, in the Arabic case, had undertaken that merchant vessels would not be torpedoed without first being warned, and that pledge the United States looked to her to respect, whether the vessels were armed for defense or not. What, then, would now happen, with Germany's latest decree sent ringing round the world with resounding bombast, by way of telling neutral noncombatants, including Americans, to stay at home, as though cataclysmic destruction awaited all vessels which dared to show a gun at the stern? The United States waited. Nothing, so far as the German armed-merchantmen decree was concerned, did happen. There was no appreciable increase in the number of vessels sunk by Teutonic submarines, and armed merchantmen did not especially figure among the victims.
In the face of this tame execution of the terrible decree, providing a sorry anticlimax to its noisy proclamation, the German press called for a policy of no compromise with the United States. The "Berliner Tageblatt" announced that Germany intended to wage a ruthless U-boat war against her enemies, whatever the American attitude might be. Apparently the German people believed that a renewal of submarine activity was vitally necessary, and were convinced of the propriety of their stand, both from the point of view of ethics and international law. Germany's armed-merchantmen decree, as indicated, was not immediately followed by any submarine activity of a character in keeping with the dire threat made; but toward the close of March, 1916, a sudden indiscriminate outbreak of destruction came against merchantmen of every type. Many were sunk without warning, the question of whether they were armed or not seemingly being disregarded in the new crusade. The United States began to take stern cognizance of these reckless operations when four ships having Americans on board, either among the crews or passengers, became targets for the kaiser's torpedoes, without warning. These were the Eagle Point, the Manchester Engineer, the Englishman, and the Sussex. All were sunk except the last-named vessel, and the Americans were saved except one on the Englishman, though not, in several cases, without injury.
The circumstances of the torpedoing of the Sussex provoked a final clash between the United States and Germany. This vessel plied as a Channel ferryboat between Folkestone and Dieppe. On March 24, 1916, at 4.30 p. m., while near the latter port, with 436 persons on board, including seventy-five Americans, she was struck by a torpedo from a submarine. The captain observed a torpedo about 100 meters from the side and immediately maneuvered to avoid it; but the vessel was struck in the forward part, which was destroyed. Rescuing craft towed the disabled boat to Boulogne, where a majority of the passengers were landed. About fifty persons lost their lives, and three Americans were hurt.
The State Department at once instructed the American ambassador at Berlin to inquire whether the torpedo which almost sunk the Sussex came from a German submarine, though the Government entertained little doubt that this was the case. The American suspicions were later confirmed by incontestable evidence; but the Government first sought to give Germany the opportunity of having her day in court before acting.
Unofficially came reports from Berlin scouting as impossible the assumption that a German submarine was the culprit, the assurance being repeated that Germany in no circumstance would violate her pledge to the United States not to destroy enemy vessels except after full warning to enable crews and passengers to save their lives. No official statement was forthcoming. The German admiralty declined to "deny or explain" until all the submarines operating off the French coast had returned and reported.
The American procedure in the Sussex case differed from that followed in previous issues with Germany arising from submarine warfare. There were no official representations made to Berlin; Ambassador Gerard was merely asked to ascertain informally and transmit to Washington any pertinent facts he could gather bearing on Germany's culpability. The submarine issue, in fact, had reached a stage where explanations and excuses were of minor importance. Evidence showing whether Germany had or had not broken her pledge not to torpedo passenger vessels without warning was alone of interest to the President. Proof of Germany's guilt foreshadowed an unqualified threat by the United States to break off diplomatic relations. The United States determined to be the judge with Germany in the dock as a defendant, instead of arguing an issue with Berlin, as in the past. This attitude placed Germany in the position of having to prove her innocence in the face of damaging evidence of her guilt. No discussion was even invited with the German ambassador over the case, and Count von Bernstorff apparently did not want to make his usual extenuatory or defensive pleas.
Germany assumed a mien of innocence. Her spokesmen by implication declined to consider that she was in any way involved in the Sussex case; hence there could be no need for Count von Bernstorff to make it a subject of discussion with the American Government.
"I cannot help it," said the ambassador unofficially. "One cannot blame Germany because the Sussex struck a British mine. Why should we discuss it? It does not concern us."
This was Germany's first informal explanation. The readiest means of exculpating Germany from complicity in the Sussex affair was eagerly seized upon and clung to. What other cause except a British mine would there be for the calamity the Sussex had encountered when Germany had pledged herself not to make such attacks?
Meantime information reached Washington that the German secret orders to submarine commanders relating to the armed-merchantmen decree did not conform to the pledges given to the United States, but urged the importance of a policy of concealment in their operations, so that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to lay the proof at Germany's door, if any vessel was sunk contrary to pledge. By this means the German Government could decline to acknowledge responsibility for any attack unless the United States could prove that the submarine was of German nationality.
Whether Washington was correctly informed or not, Germany's attitude gave color to the theory that she had predetermined on repudiating having any hand in submarine attacks if she could successfully cloak the operations of her U-boat commanders. The situation embarrassed the United States and influenced the procedure of the diplomatic negotiations necessary to elucidate any given case. Germany's attitude, in short, placed the United States in the position of either assuming that the word of a friendly government could not be accepted at its face value, or of abandoning further inquiry, as happened in the case of the Persia, recorded in the previous volume. The President boldly undertook to act on the first of these alternatives.
Before the crisis reached this stage, the German point of view regarding submarine warfare was, despite pledges, more than ever unalterably opposed to modifying that warfare to conform to the wishes of any foreign power. For eleven days after the attack of the Sussex the Berlin Foreign Office preserved an attitude of ignorance regarding the torpedoing; but the seriousness with which the case was viewed in the United States, coupled with the instructions from Washington to Ambassador Gerard, at length caused the Foreign Office to call upon the admiralty for a report on the destruction of the Sussex if any submarine commander could throw any light upon it. No hope, however, was entertained that a satisfactory statement would be received from Berlin. A resort to evasion, a professed lack of information, the familiar assumption of an English or French mine being to blame, were expected to be embodied in any defense Berlin made, and an explanation of this tenor was rejected in advance.
Germany's answer was received on April 10, 1916, and fulfilled expectations. The United States was informed that the admiralty had subjected the affair to the fullest investigation, with this results—that no German submarine attacked the Sussex, but that one torpedoed another vessel, about the same time in the same vicinity, with the same result. A sketch the submarine commander made of the vessel he struck was submitted to show that it was not the Sussex, as the sketch differed from the published pictures of that ship. The submarine commander, the German note said, had been led to attack the "unknown" vessel in the belief that it was a warship, that is, "a mine layer of the recently built Arabic class." A violent explosion occurred in the fore part of the ship after the torpedo had been fired, which "warrants the certain conclusion that great amounts of ammunitions were on board." The German note proceeded:
"No other attack whatever by German submarines at the time in question for the Sussex upon the route between Folkestone and Dieppe occurred. The German Government must therefore assume that the injury to the Sussex is attributable to another cause than an attack by a German submarine.
"For an explanation of the case the fact may perhaps be serviceable that no less than twenty-six English mines were exploded by shots by German naval forces in the channel on the 1st and 2nd of April alone. The entire sea in that vicinity is, in fact, endangered by floating mines and by torpedoes that have not sunk. Off the English coast it is further endangered in an increasing degree through German mines which have been laid against enemy naval forces.
"Should the American Government have at its disposal further material for a conclusion upon the case of the Sussex the German Government would ask that it be communicated, in order to subject this material also to an investigation.
"In the event that differences of opinion should develop hereby between the two Governments, the German Government now declares itself ready to have the facts of the case established through mixed commissions of investigation, in accordance with the third title of 'The Hague agreement for the peaceful settlement of international conflicts, November 18, 1907.'"
In explanation of the sinking of the Manchester Engineer, the Englishman, and the Eagle Point, which vessels had Americans on board, the German note professed to be unable to say whether the first-named ship was attacked by a German submarine, but in the case of the two last-named they were attacked after attempting to escape and disregarding signals to stop.
The communication made the worst of impressions on the Washington Government. The clumsy prevarication of attempting to show that a steamer other than the Sussex had been torpedoed in the belief that it was a war vessel merely sufficed to complete the accumulating circumstantial evidence in the possession of the Government that the Sussex had been torpedoed by a German submarine without warning in violation of an express pledge. The Administration had become weary of Germany's protestations of innocence and good behavior, and of shallow excuses for breaking her word, and had lost faith in any German utterance. The cabinet view of the situation, as expressed at a meeting called the day following the receipt of the German note, was that a nation which would accept perjured affidavits as a basis for a note charging that the Lusitania was armed would not hesitate to enter a blanket denial of any act if perpetrated.
The tension created by Germany's unconvincing alibi caused alarm in Berlin, and government officials were reported as showing a nervous anxiety to strain every nerve to avoid a rupture with the United States. A loophole had been provided in the German note for a possible withdrawal of her denial of responsibility for the destruction of the Sussex as will be seen from this passage:
"Should the American Government have at its disposal further material for a conclusion upon the case of the Sussex the German Government would ask that it be communicated, in order to subject this material also to an investigation."
This saving clause gave the German note the aspect of a preliminary to the usual backdown and to an admission of liability, with the palliating excuse of ignorance of the vessel's identity. At any rate signs were not wanting that Germany recognized, had she had a choice to make, with the American Government reenforced with clinching testimony, to be duly presented, that a German submarine and none other torpedoed the Sussex and jeopardized the lives of twenty-five Americans on board.
On April 19, 1916, President Wilson had the issue with Germany before Congress and addressed that body in person, solemnly informing the legislators that "a situation has arisen in the foreign relations of the country of which it is my plain duty to inform you very frankly." This he proceeded to do, speaking, he said, on behalf of the rights of the United States and its citizens and the rights of humanity in general. He announced that he had notified Germany that "unless the Imperial Government should now immediately declare and effect an abandonment of its present methods of submarine warfare against passenger and freight-carrying vessels, the Government of the United States can have no choice but to sever diplomatic relations with the German Empire altogether."
The President's address was more or less a paraphrase of the note he had that day sent to Berlin, and was in fulfillment of a promise he made to notify Congress of any action he took to bring Germany to realize the serious condition of her relations with the United States.
THE AMERICAN ULTIMATUM—GERMANY YIELDS
The American note was an indictment of Germany's conscienceless practices and broken faith. Secretary Lansing informed the kaiser's advisers that their note denying any attack on the Sussex, but acknowledging that another vessel had been torpedoed under identical circumstances as to time, place, and result, confirmed the inferences the American Government had drawn from information it possessed establishing "the facts in the case of the Sussex."
A "statement of facts" relating to the Sussex accompanied the virtual American ultimatum. It set forth a chain of testimony, citing the source thereof, showing that the passengers of the Sussex, which included about twenty-four American citizens, were of several nationalities, many of them women and children, and half of them subjects of neutral states; that the Sussex carried no armament; that the vessel has never been employed as a troopship, but solely as a Channel ferryboat, and was following a route not used for transporting troops from Great Britain to France; that a torpedo was seen driving toward the vessel and the captain was unable to swing the vessel out of the torpedo's course; that on a subsequent inspection of the broken hull a number of pieces of metal were found which American, French, and British naval experts decided were not parts of a mine, but of a torpedo, with German markings, and were otherwise different from parts of torpedoes used by the French and British.
Regarding the sketch made by the German submarine commander of the steamer which he said he torpedoed, showing that it did not agree with a photograph of the Sussex as published, the American statement made this comment:
This sketch was apparently made from memory of an observation of the vessel through a periscope. As the only differences noted by the commander, who relied on his memory, were the position of the smokestack and the shape of the stern, it is to be presumed the vessels were similar in other respects.
This conclusion was the more certain because no other German submarines, on the day the Sussex was wrecked, attacked steamers in the same locality. Hence, in the American views, "as no vessel is reported to have been torpedoed without warning by a submerged submarine other than the Sussex, it is beyond question that that vessel was torpedoed by the submarine whose commander's report is relied upon in the note of April 10, 1916."
The United States had spoken its last word. No attempt was made to disguise the gravity of the situation, and there was a quiet recognition of the fact that the continuance of friendly relations rested wholly on the action of the German Government. Just now, however, political conditions in Germany were believed to be such that the Government itself, even if it desired to give full satisfaction in word and deed to the United States, would be facing a problem in finding a way of doing so. The Imperial Chancellor, Dr. Bethmann-Hollweg, representing the civilian part of the federated government, had so far succeeded in holding the concessions to the United States. But the military element, including the naval and submarine advocates of a continued campaign of "frightfulness," headed until recently by Grand Admiral von Tirpitz, had nevertheless pursued its course of ruthless destruction, either with the reluctant and tacit consent of the chancellor or in spite of his opposition. There thus existed a fundamental cleavage of policy between these two factions of the German Government. The chancellor made pledges to the United States and the naval authorities disregarded them, the kaiser apparently being helpless or lukewarm in his support of the chancellor's commitments. Presently, however, when Admiral von Tirpitz's retirement was announced, the civilian element appeared in the ascendant. His resignation smote the German people with the startling effect of a coup d'etat, and was plainly the outcome of a long and silent struggle in the inner councils of the Government. All the political influence of the chancellor, supported by the romantic weight of the kaiser's name, was exercised to stifle an outburst of criticism in the Reichstag. Meantime, under the German system of censorship, the submarine warfare was reported to the German people in boastful terms, which made them almost a unit in demanding its continuance without abatement. They heard little of the hundreds of noncombatants killed by their submarines, or else these casualties were explained as the result of the explosion of cargoes of munitions. They had been told week by week of the steady reduction of British tonnage, that the pinch of hunger which they had experienced was also being felt in England, and that the German submarine was the only shield between Germany and starvation. So the German people were behind the military and naval element for an unrestricted U-boat warfare. The situation was such that the gravest doubt was felt whether the chancellor, even with the kaiser's support, could adjust the submarine issue in a way satisfactory alike to the United States and to the clamorous radical militarists upheld by a misled people.
The German Government brooded over the ultimatum of the United States for fifteen days before it decided upon a declaration that averted a rupture of diplomatic relations. The German note, dispatched May 5, 1916, grudgingly admitted "the possibility that the ship mentioned in the note of April 10, 1916, as having been torpedoed by a German submarine is actually identical with the Sussex." It characteristically withheld an unreserved admission, but "should it turn out that the commander was wrong in assuming the vessel to be a man-of-war, the German Government will not fail to draw the consequences resulting therefrom." This hesitating and qualified acknowledgment was accepted as about as near to a confession of guilt as Germany was then capable of making.
On the vital question of the conduct of submarine warfare, a change in which the United States was determined upon forcing Germany to make, the note was more explicit and thus yielded to the American demand:
"The German Government will only state that it has imposed far-reaching restraint upon the use of the submarine weapon, solely in consideration of neutrals' interests, in spite of the fact that these restrictions are necessarily of advantage to Germany's enemies. No such consideration has ever been shown neutrals by Great Britain and her allies.
"The German submarine forces have had, in fact, orders to conduct the submarine warfare in accordance with the general principles of visit and search and the destruction of merchant vessels recognized by international law, the sole exception being the conduct of warfare against enemy trade carried on enemy freight ships encountered in the war zone surrounding Great Britain.
"With regard to these no assurances have ever been given to the Government of the United States. No such assurances are contained in the declaration of February 8, 1916.
"The German Government cannot admit any doubt that these orders were given or are executed in good faith."
Having said so much, the German note proceeded to cloud the issue by virtually blaming the United States for the continued existence of conditions calling for the sea warfare Germany practiced:
"The German Government has made several proposals to the Government of the United States in order to reduce to a minimum for American travelers and goods the inherent dangers of naval warfare. Unfortunately, the Government of the United States decided not to accept the proposals. Had it accepted, the Government of the United States would have been instrumental in preventing the greater part of the accidents that American citizens have met with in the meantime.
"The German Government still stands by its offer to come to an agreement along these lines."
As though this reproach did not go far enough, the German note, while affirming that the German Government attached no less importance to the sacred principles of humanity than the American Government did, accused the United States of showing favoritism in its humanitarian sympathies:
"As matters stand, the German Government cannot but reiterate regret that the sentiments of humanity, which the Government of the United States extends with such fervor to the unhappy victims of submarine warfare, are not extended with the same warmth of feeling to many millions of women and children who, according to the avowed intention of the British Government, shall be starved, and who by sufferings shall force the victorious armies of the Central Powers into ignominious capitulation.
"The German Government, in agreement with the German people, fails to understand this discrimination, all the more as it has repeatedly and explicitly declared itself ready to use the submarine weapon in strict conformity with the rules of international law as recognized before the outbreak of the war, if Great Britain likewise was ready to adapt the conduct of warfare to these rules.
"The German people knows that the Government of the United States has the power to confine the war to armed forces of the belligerent countries, in the interest of humanity and maintenance of international law. The Government of the United States would have been certain of attaining this end had it been determined to insist against Great Britain on the incontrovertible rights to freedom of the seas. But, as matters stand, the German people is under the impression that the Government of the United States, while demanding that Germany, struggling for existence, shall restrain the use of an effective weapon and while making compliance with these demands a condition for maintenance of relations with Germany, confines itself to protest against illegal methods adopted by Germany's enemies. Moreover, the German people knows to what considerable extent its enemies are supplied with all kinds of war material from the United States.
"It will, therefore, be understood that the appeal made by the Government of the United States to sentiments of humanity and principles of international law cannot, under the circumstances, meet the same hearty response from the German people which such an appeal otherwise always is certain to find here."
This complaint was an allusion to the refusal of the United States to involve its issues with Great Britain with those it had with Germany or to mediate the proposal that Great Britain raise her food blockade against Germany, who would then discontinue her submarine war on British merchantmen. The tone of an injured party Germany assumed in taking this attitude, as though she had a just cause of complaint against the United States, was accepted as a plaintive prelude to her final surrender; but even this surrender she did not make without again clogging her concessions with the same proposal which the United States had already flatly rejected.
"The German Government, conscious of Germany's strength, twice within the last few months announced before the world its readiness to make peace on a basis safeguarding Germany's vital interests, thus indicating that it is not Germany's fault if peace is still withheld from the nations of Europe. The German Government feels all the more justified in declaring that responsibility could not be borne before the forum of mankind and in history if after twenty-one months of the war's duration the submarine question, under discussion between the German Government and the Government of the United States, were to take a turn seriously threatening maintenance of peace between the two nations.
"As far as lies with the German Government, it wishes to prevent things from taking such a course. The German Government, moreover, is prepared to do its utmost to confine operations of the war for the rest of its duration to the fighting forces of the belligerents, thereby also insuring the freedom of the seas, a principle upon which the German Government believes, now as before, that it is in agreement with the Government of the United States.
"The German Government, guided by this idea, notifies the Government of the United States that German naval forces have received the following orders:
"'In accordance with the general principles of visit and search and the destruction of merchant vessels, recognized by international law, such vessels, both within and without the area declared a naval war zone, shall not be sunk without warning and without saving human lives unless the ship attempts to escape or offer resistance.'
"But neutrals cannot expect that Germany, forced to fight for existence, shall, for the sake of neutral interests, restrict the use of an effective weapon if the enemy is permitted to continue to apply at will methods of warfare violating rules of international law. Such a demand would be incompatible with the character of neutrality, and the German Government is convinced that the Government of the United States does not think of making such a demand, knowing that the Government of the United States repeatedly declares that it is determined to restore the principle of freedom of the seas, from whatever quarter it has been violated.
"Accordingly, the German Government is confident, that in consequence of the new orders issued to the naval forces, the Government of the United States will also now consider all impediments removed which may have been in the way of a mutual cooperation toward restoration of the freedom of the seas during the war, as suggested in the note of July 23, 1915, and it does not doubt that the Government of the United States will now demand and insist that the British Government shall forthwith observe the rules of international law universally recognized before the war, as are laid down in the notes presented by the Government of the United States to the British Government, December 28, 1914, and Nov. 5, 1915.
"Should steps taken by the Government of the United States not attain the object it desires, to have the laws of humanity followed by all belligerent nations, the German Government would then be facing a new situation, in which it must reserve to itself complete liberty of decision."
The first feeling aroused by the German note, with its wounded tone and qualified compliance with the American demand, was one of irritation. But after closer study the President was willing to accept the German undertaking on probation, without taking a too liberal view of the phraseology employed, and to regard the intrusive strictures on the United States as intended for German, not for American reading. The disposition was to be charitable and to take cognizance of the matter rather than the manner of Germany's backdown, and to wait and see if her government would live up in good faith to its new instructions to submarine commanders, without recognizing the impossible conditions imposed.
But in the country at large public opinion was less ready to interpret the German note except as it read textually. It was denounced in scathing language as shuffling, arrogant and offensive, or as insulting and dishonest. One paper deemed its terms to be a series of studied insults added to a long inventory of injuries. Said another, Germany's mood is still that of a madman. A third comment on the note described it as "a disingenuous effort to have international petty larceny put on the same plane as international murder and visited with the same punishment." A fourth paper remarked: "If an American can read the note without his temples getting hot then his blood is poor or his understanding dense." The weight of American press opinion was against Germany, especially in the South, and either called for the breaking of diplomatic relations or considered such a course inevitable.
For the United States even to contemplate, as Germany proposed, "an alliance between Germany and the United States to break a British blockade that Germany cannot break" was viewed as unthinkable. Intellectual dishonesty, characteristic of Germany in its attitude toward the world since the war began, and especially shown in negotiations with the United States, was seen in the effort to place upon Great Britain the responsibility for wrongs committed by Germany against the United States and in the renewed attempt to convict the American Government of lapses because it has not controlled Great Britain's sea policy. In fact, the attempt to dictate the American attitude to Great Britain in return for a promise to restrict submarine warfare was generally resented as an impertinence.
When all was said, however, the German reply, although having the appearance of being as little conciliatory as words could make it, did in fact yield to President Wilson on the main issue.
The President, in considering this view, was guided by Ambassador Gerard's dispatches reporting his interview with the kaiser on the submarine crisis. The kaiser, he said, was animated by a keen desire that relations between the two Governments should continue amicable, but he felt that German public opinion must be considered in making concessions to the United States. From the kaiser's concern for popular approval the ambassador gathered that the German Government faced the necessity of so wording its answer to the United States that the German people would not feel that the Government had been forced to modify the rules under which submarines operated. The Administration received the impression that Germany would go to great length to avoid a rupture with the United States, and the German note must therefore be construed in the light of this feeling. The kaiser's views, as transmitted by the ambassador, tended to soften the irritating tone and language of the German note, and was not without effect on the President and cabinet when they determined to accept it provisionally.
The President decided to ignore the pointed suggestion of Germany that the United States should now seek to prevail on Great Britain to abandon her blockade of Germany. One source of irritation caused by the note was the statement that should the United States fail to raise the British embargo "the German Government would then be facing a new situation in which it must reserve to itself complete liberty of action." The Administration had no intention of accepting any conditional compliance with its demand for the abandoning of illegal submarine warfare; but the opinion officially prevailed that this effort of Germany to lecture the United States as to its duty toward another nation might be overlooked in view of the accomplishment of the main object for which the Administration had been contending.
Nor would the Government heed Germany's proposal that it undertake the role of peacemaker in the absence of any indication that the Allied Powers were willing to respond to Germany's willingness to make peace—presumably on Germany's own terms.
The promises in the German note were accepted per se, and the qualifications and animadversions Germany attached to them ignored. This determined upon, the intimation was made plain to Germany that should another ship be sunk in contravention of her new pledge no exchange of notes would ensue, but a severance of diplomatic relations would automatically be effected by the forbidden act. German submarine commanders held in their hands the key to the situation. Any infraction of Germany's latest word would not call for a disavowal or punishment of the commander; the United States would merely act on the presumption that Germany could not or would not control her own naval forces. Berlin would not be consulted again.
The American response to the German note was sent three days later. It was brief, and swept aside the considerable debating ground Germany had invitingly spread to inveigle the United States into discussing mediation in the war. Its principal passage ran:
"Accepting the Imperial Government's declaration of its abandonment of the policy which has so seriously menaced the good relations between the two countries, the Government of the United States will rely upon a scrupulous execution henceforth of the now altered policy of the Imperial Government, such as will remove the principal danger to an interruption of the good relations existing between the United States and Germany.
"The Government of the United States feels it necessary to state that it takes it for granted that the Imperial German Government does not intend to imply that the maintenance of its newly announced policy is in any way contingent upon the course or result of diplomatic negotiations between the Government of the United States and any other belligerent government, notwithstanding the fact that certain passages in the Imperial Government's note of the 4th instant might appear to be susceptible of that construction.
"In order, however, to avoid any possible misunderstanding, the Government of the United States notifies the Imperial Government that it cannot for a moment entertain, much less discuss, a suggestion that respect by German naval authorities for the rights of citizens of the United States upon the high seas should in any way or in the slightest degree be made contingent upon the conduct of any other government affecting the rights of neutrals and noncombatants. Responsibility in such matters is single, not joint; absolute, not relative."
Secretary Lansing, in a comment on this reply, said the German note was devoted to matters which the American Government could not discuss with the German Government. He took the ground, as the American reply indicated, that the only "questions of right" which could be discussed with the German Government were those arising out of German or American action exclusively, not out of those questions which were the subject of diplomatic exchanges between the United States and any other country.
"So long as she (Germany) lives up to this altered policy," he explained, "we can have no reason to quarrel with her on that score, though the losses resulting from the violation of American rights by German submarine commanders operating under the former policy will have to be settled.
"While our differences with Great Britain cannot form a subject of discussion with Germany, it should be stated that in our dealings with the British Government we are acting, as we are unquestionably bound to act, in view of the explicit treaty engagements with that Government. We have treaty obligations as to the manner in which matters in dispute between the two Governments are to be handled. We offered to assume mutually similar obligations with Germany, but the offer was declined."
Mr. Lansing's comment appeared to be more enlightening to German opinion than the official communication. But while the German was frankly puzzled by the American contention—holding that there was an intimate connection between England's "illegal blockade policy" and the submarine war—and wondered naively whether or not he was the simple victim of an American confidence game, or strongly suspected that he had been hoodwinked by President Wilson into parting with the effective submarine weapon, with no guarantee of getting any action against England in return, hard German common sense discerned through these doubts, and made the most of the one all-important fact it could comprehend—that the dreaded break had been avoided.
With the air thus cleared, the usual anticlimax came to the situation—the tumbling down of Germany's elaborate and grandiose defense of her misdeeds—by a tardy confession of error, which swept everything she had previously said into the discard. On May 8, 1916, the same day on which the American note had been dispatched, Germany sent a further communication acknowledging that, as result of further investigation, her previous contention "that the damage of the Sussex was to be traced back to a cause other than the attack of a German submarine cannot be maintained." It now seems that the Sussex had been mistaken by the submarine commander for a British transport. Nothing could be more complete than Germany's belated resort to an amende honorable after the United States had proved her guilt:
"In view of the general impression of all the facts at hand the German Government considers it beyond doubt that the commander of the submarine acted in the bona fide belief that he was facing an enemy warship. On the other hand, it cannot be denied that, misled by the appearance of the vessel under the pressure of the circumstances, he formed his judgment too hurriedly in establishing her character and did not, therefore, act fully in accordance with the strict instructions which called upon him to exercise particular care.
"In view of these circumstances the German Government frankly admits that the assurance given to the American Government, in accordance with which passenger vessels were not to be attacked without warning, has not been adhered to in the present case.... The German Government does not hesitate to draw from this resultant consequences. It therefore expresses to the American Government its sincere regret regarding the deplorable incident, and declares its readiness to pay an adequate indemnity to the injured American citizens. It also disapproved of the conduct of the commander, who has been appropriately punished."
TWO YEARS OF THE WAR
BY FRANK H. SIMONDS
The purpose of this article is to review rapidly and briefly the history of the military operations in the European conflict during the first two years, from the attack upon Liege to the opening of the first general Allied offensive. Necessarily, in view of the space limitations it will be confined to a summary of events in the three more considerable campaigns, that of Germany against France in 1914, that of Germany against Russia in 1915, and the second German attack upon France at Verdun in 1916. All other land operations have been subsidiary or minor and will claim only passing comment.
THE GERMAN PROBLEM
In the years that lay between the end of the Franco-Prussian War and the outbreak of the present conflict the Great General Staff of the German Army had carefully elaborated plans for that war on two fronts which the Franco-Russian alliance forecast. In company with the staffs of her two allies, Austria and Italy, Germany had formulated the methods by which she purposed to repeat the great success of 1870.
With Italy in the war, with Great Britain out of it, it was plain that with German efficiency and the numbers that she and her allies would possess, Germany could count on a permanent advantage in numbers as well as material. But the events of the early years of the century, the incidents beginning at Tangier in 1905, and extending to the Balkan Wars in 1913, clearly established the possibility that Italy might enter the war as an enemy, and the probability that Britain would decline to stay out while France was being destroyed.
If either of these things should happen, as both did, then German soldiers recognized that Germany and her Austrian ally would ultimately be outnumbered, although superior preparation would give them the advantage in the first and perhaps in the second years of the conflict. It was therefore the problem of German high command to prepare its plans in such fashion as to win the war, while it still possessed the advantage of numbers and before the enemy could equip and train its own forces.
In fact the problem was this: Should the Germans hurl the mass of their great army first at Russia or first at France, leaving only a small containing force on the other front? The question was much debated and remains a matter of dispute, now, when the attack ultimately decided upon has failed. (Vol. I, 85.)
The decision to attack France, which seems to have been reached well in advance of the actual coming of the war, involved new considerations. Russia's mobilization was notoriously known to be a slow thing, although it turned out far more rapid than Germany had calculated. But at the least German high command figured upon two months, during which it could safely turn all of its energies and resources against France. (Vol. I, 85.)
Unhappily in the years since the Franco-Prussian War France had built up a great barrier of fortresses from Luxembourg to Switzerland. Granted the great superiority of German heavy artillery, it was clear that this barrier could be forced, but defended by the mass of the French army this forcing would consume more than two months.
If France were to be attacked first, then it must be attacked by some other road than that leading from the valleys of the Rhine and the Moselle, the route of the 1870 invasion. And the route manifestly lay through Belgium. The fortresses of the Meuse were patently of little modern value, the Belgian army was weak in numbers and only at the beginning of a process of reorganization. By coming through Belgium the Germans could hope, even if the Belgians resisted, to get to Paris in six weeks, having delivered their decisive battle on the road. (Vol. I, 85.)
The element of additional opposition supplied by the Belgian army and the small British Expeditionary Army, if it came to the Continent, did not offset in the German mind the strength of the French barrier fortresses from Verdun to Belfort, and Belgium seemed the line of least resistance even if that resistance were to be reckoned at the maximum. If France were crushed within six weeks, it was safe to reckon that there would be time to turn east and deal with Russia, still unprepared and so far held up—if not defeated—by Austria. If Italy merely remained neutral up to the moment of the decisive battle in France, the outcome of this conflict would decide Italian policy. Here, briefly, is the basis of German strategy and the reason for German decision. (Vol. I, 86.)
THE BELGIAN PHASE
Germany declared war upon Russia on August 1, 1914. (Vol. I, 279.) She was already mobilizing, and in a more or less complete form all Europe had been mobilizing for at least a week. While there were delays in the exchange of other declarations, this date may be accepted as the real beginning of the world war. Moreover, when the declaration of war was sent to Russia, Germany was already aware that France purposed to stand by her ally. (Vol. I, 280.)
The first step in German action, then, was to seize the road through Belgium. It might be had by diplomacy, but this hope was speedily extinguished when King Albert revealed his determination to defend his country. (Vol. I, 280.) Liege, the most important outer barrier, might still be won by a quick blow, and thus the opening move of the struggle was the dash of a few thousand German troops, not yet put on a complete war basis, westward from Aix-la-Chapelle and along the main Berlin-Cologne-Brussels railroad to the environs of Liege. (Vol. II, 9.)
As a coup-de-main this attack upon Liege failed. The forts resisted. For several days Belgian field forces held the open spaces between the eastern forts, and the first German troops suffered bloody repulses and were presently compelled to pause until heavy artillery could be brought up. Meantime German troops moved north of the city and forced the crossing of the Meuse at Vise. Thereupon the Belgian field forces, which had been defending Liege, retired, to escape envelopment. The German army penetrated in the wide unfortified gaps between the Liege forts and occupied the city of Liege on August 7, 1914. The forts held out for another week, one by one succumbing to the new heavy German and Austrian howitzers, which were making their first noise in Europe. (Vol. II, 12-23.)
Meantime, behind Liege the German concentration was going forward, the main mass of the German army was getting ready for its great drive on Paris, while west of Liege German cavalry was slowly but methodically driving in the slender Belgian field forces, which took their stand behind the north and south flowing rivulets of the central Belgian plain. Here were fought some of the minor engagements which filled the press of the world in the early days, but had no actual value. (Vol. II, 9-11.)
Early in the third week of August, 1914, the German preparations were complete and one great German army under Kluck, crossing the Meuse about Liege moved directly west upon Brussels, while a second, under Buelow, crossed the Meuse about Huy, between Liege and Namur, and advanced upon the latter place. Still a third army, under Hausen, moved across the Ardennes toward the Meuse crossings southeast of Namur, while a fourth under the Crown Prince of Wuerttemberg aimed farther south through the Ardennes at the Meuse crossings in France. (Vol. II, 25, 26.)
Before this torrent the Belgian army was swept with little or no delay. (Vol. II, 27.) By August 19, 1914, it was fleeing back to the intrenched camp of Antwerp. (Vol. II, 27.) Brussels fell on August 20, 1914 (Vol. II, 30), and on August 22, 1914, the Belgian phase was over and the German troops had come to grips with French and British troops along the whole Belgian frontier from Luxemburg to Mons. (Vol. II, 37.) So far German plans had worked about as they had been expected to work, and at the end of the third week Germany was on the eve of the decisive battle, which she had planned.
THE FRENCH OFFENSIVE
Meantime the French had mobilized with expected speed and before mobilization was completed had pushed a raid into southern Alsace, wholly comparable to the German raid on Liege. (Vol. II, 38.) This advance had taken, lost and retaken Muelhausen by August 15, 1914. (Vol. II, 41-45.) At this time the French were approaching the Rhine, in this sector, and had crossed the Vosges and come down the Rhine affluents for some distance.
But this was a minor operation. The main thrust of the French General Staff, the answer to the German drive through Belgium, had long been prepared. It was to be a swift and heavy advance through Lorraine, between Metz and Strassburg, rolling up the German forces here, cutting communications between these fortresses, and moving down the Rhine Valley and menacing the rear of the German armies which had invaded Belgium. (Vol. II, 43.)
While the German armies were beginning their main advance upon Brussels and Namur, the French thrust was pushed out, was very successful for several days until the French had reached the main Metz-Strassburg railroad, and from Delme to Saarburg stood far within the German boundary. But at this point came the first real disaster. (Vol. II, 44.)
Resting on the hills of Delme and the marshes of the Seille, the Germans had constructed strong fortified lines and furnished them with heavy artillery. When the French reached these positions they were assailed by artillery which was beyond the reach of their own guns, they suffered heavy losses, were thrown into confusion, and presently were flowing back upon Nancy and Luneville in something approximating a rout, having lost flags, cannon, and many thousand prisoners. This was the Battle of Morhange, or of Metz—as the Germans name it—and it was over by August 22, 1914. (Vol. II, 44, 45.)
At the same time another French army had pushed across the Meuse into Belgium from the district between Sedan and Montmedy, it had won minor initial successes, and about Neufchateau it had suffered exactly the same sort of reverse that the French army to the south had met at Morhange, German heavy artillery had procured another French defeat, which again approximated a rout and this French army was also in rapid retreat, having lost flags and guns as well as many thousand prisoners.
Finally, still farther to the northeast, a French army had taken its stand in the angle between the Meuse and the Sambre, from Dinant, through Namur to Charleroi, and the British army prolonged the line to the east of Mons. Against this dike there now burst the full fury of the German advance made by the armies of Kluck and Buelow. (Vol. II, 46-49.) Again the French were defeated after a desperate battle about Charleroi (Vol. II, 54), this time without any rout and after having inflicted very heavy losses. But retreat was inevitable because the Germans succeeded in forcing the crossings of the Meuse at Dinant—that is, in the rear of the main army—while the fall of Namur (Vol. II, 55-59), another triumph for German heavy artillery and a complete surprise to the Allies, completed the ruin of their plans.
Meantime the British army about Mons, after a day of hard fighting which had compelled them to contract their lines somewhat, but left them unshaken, was thrown in the air by the French retreat from Charleroi (Vol. II, 60), tardily announced to it, and was compelled to begin its long and terrible retreat, which so nearly ended in destruction. (Vol. II, 66.)
By the middle of the third week in August, 1914, the Germans had then made good their way through Belgium, defeated the French counterthrust in Lorraine, routed two French armies and heavily defeated a third, together with its British supports. (Vol. II, 9-68.)
It was not yet clear whether the French armies could rally for another general battle, but it was clear that if this should happen, the Germans had still time, accepting their original time-table.
THE BATTLE OF THE MARNE
In the fourth week of August, 1914, Joffre, the French commander in chief, was compelled to make a momentous decision. All his first plans had failed, all his armies had been defeated. It very promptly turned out that none of the defeats had materially affected the fighting value of his armies. Thus the army defeated at Morhange was promptly reenforced by the troops drawn out of Muelhausen and in turn defeated and repulsed its conquerors before Nancy, in one of the bloodiest battles of the war. The army defeated at Neufchateau made good its position behind the Meuse from Verdun to Charleville and inflicted grave losses upon the Germans endeavoring to pass the river. Even the army defeated at Charleroi was able, a few days later at Guise, to pass to the offensive and throw back the Prussian Guard into the Oise. (Vol. II, 90-92.)
Meantime two new armies, one under Foch, the other under Manoury, were in the making and there was reason to believe that it would be possible to renew the battle on the line of the Aisne, the Oise, and the Somme. But there was one grave peril. German plans had not only taken the French by surprise in making the main thrust through Belgium, but had prepared to send this way a far greater number of men than France had expected and had sent them much farther to the west. The result was that the weight of the blow had fallen upon the British. The British army had been compelled to make a night and day retreat and had narrowly escaped destruction at Cambrai on August 26, 1914, "the most critical day." (Vol. II, 77.) The British army was too heavily outnumbered to meet the German attack, its retreat had been so rapid that the line of the Somme was about to be lost before the British could be supported by Manoury's army, which came up on its western flank too late. There was, therefore, the real danger that Kluck might get between Paris and the main mass of the Allied armies, enveloping them and producing a Sedan ten times greater than that which had wrecked the Third Empire.