The Story of the Great War, Volume V (of 8)
by Francis J. (Francis Joseph) Reynolds, Allen L. (Allen Leon)
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Joffre, accordingly, decided to continue the retreat and brought all his forces that were west of the Meuse, in good order and no longer heavily pressed back behind the Marne and on a line from Paris, through Meaux, Sezanne, La Fere Champenoise, Vitry-le-Francois, Bar-le-Duc, and thence north to Verdun. He thus stood with his forces in a semicircle, the concave side toward the Germans and his flanks resting upon Paris and Verdun, whose forts covered these flanks. (Vol. II, 83.)

By September I, 1914, it was plain to the Germans that the French army had escaped its embrace and that no envelopment was longer possible. It remained possible to destroy them by main force, since German numbers were still superior, German artillery unchallenged, and the early successes productive of unbounded confidence. The German armies thus leaped forward for the final decisive battle, which had been just missed at the French frontier. (Vol. II, 84, 85.)

But the new situation imposed new strategy. It was no longer possible to envelop the Allies, and accordingly, Kluck, on the western flank, turned southeast and marched across the face of Paris, crossing the Marne near Meaux and leaving only one corps to guard his flank toward Paris. This was a sound maneuver, if the French troops in Paris were too few or too broken to strike; it was perilous in the extreme, if the opposite were the case. And it was the case, for Joffre had concentrated behind Paris a new army, Manoury's, which was now to attack.

On September 5, 1914, the Germans having now fallen into Joffre's trap, the French commander in chief issued his famous order, and the whole Anglo-French army suddenly passed from the defensive to the offensive. (Vol. II, 102.) The first shots of the conflict, the great Battle of the Marne, were fired by some German field pieces, at Monthyon, just north of the Marne and less than twenty miles from Paris. They greeted the advance of Manoury's army coming east out of Paris and striking at Kluck's open flank. (Vol. II, 103.)

The next day Manoury rolled up Kluck's flank, drove his troops in on the Ourcq River, and threatened his army with destruction. Kluck saved himself by extraordinary clever work, he drew his troops back from the front of the British south of the Marne, put them in against Manoury and by September 10, 1914, had driven Manoury back toward Paris and was threatening him. The first blow had failed, but it had brought a chain of consequences fatal to German plans. (Vol. II, 99-110.)

First of all the British, once Kluck had drawn his main masses from their front, began somewhat tardily to advance, threatening Kluck's other flank, and Franchet d'Esperey's army, to the east, about Montmirail, in turn, attacked Buelow's, whose position had been made dangerous by the retreat of Kluck. Buelow had to go back north of the Marne, suffering severe losses and his retirement uncovered the flank of Hausen's army fighting to the east from La Fere Champenoise to Vitry. (Vol. II, 107.)

Meantime things had been going badly on this line for the French, and their troops under Foch had been driven back many miles. The Germans, feeling the danger from the west, were making one final effort to break the French center and win the decisive contest. But Buelow's retreat opened the way for a supreme piece of strategy on the part of Foch, who descended from the heights, struck Hausen, almost routed him and sent him in quick retreat beyond the Marne. (Vol. II, 120, 121.)

This settled the battle. Kluck, Buelow, and Hausen were now forced to retreat, their retreat communicated itself all along the line and by September 13, 1914, the Germans were all withdrawing, Kluck was over seventy miles north of the Grand Morin, just taking root behind the Aisne, the Battle of the Marne was over, and the great German plan to deal with France in six weeks had been completely wrecked. Actually the first phase of the war was over, unless the Germans could regain the offensive and restore the conditions existing before the Marne. (Vol. II, 120-123.)


In this the Germans failed. They did succeed in rallying and beating down the Anglo-French pursuit with great skill and promptitude. The Battle of the Aisne (Vol. II, 130-146) marked the beginning of the deadlock and the Germans took the positions they were to hold for the next two years between the Oise and the Meuse.

But the effort to renew the attack failed. It began with an effort, made by troops brought from before Nancy, where a new French defensive success had saved the Lorraine capital, to come south to Paris along the west bank of the Oise. It was continued in the so-called "race to the sea," when French and German commanders tried to outflank their opponents along the Oise, the Somme, and the Lys. But this resulted only in extending the lines of parallel trenches which now stretched to the Belgian frontier from Noyon.

Finally, having beaten down the Belgian resistance and taken Antwerp in the second week of October (Vol. II, 168-172), the Germans made a last attempt to interpose between the Allies and the sea, take Calais and Boulogne and come south through Artois and Picardy.

They were halted in the desperate battles along the Yser and the Lys. (Vol. II, 169-175.) The Belgian army, escaping from Antwerp, stood solidly behind the Yser, the British just managed to cling to Ypres (Vol. II, 171-172), and the French under Foch performed new miracles on the defensive. Two months after the German defeat at the Marne, the loss of the western campaign was made absolute by the unsuccessful termination of the Battle of Flanders and a war of movement had fallen to a war of trenches, a state of deadlock had succeeded to the operations in the open field and the German tide had been permanently checked. (Vol. II, 174-177.) But actually the check had been at the Marne and in this battle the original German plan had been decisively defeated. France had not been disposed of in two months, but had won the decisive battle that German strategy had prepared. But she had lacked the numbers and the artillery to turn the victory to best account and had failed wholly in the attempt to free her own territory as she was to continue to fail for two years.


We have seen that it was the plan of the German General Staff to hold the Russian armies while the great attack upon France was being made. To do this the Germans had left a very small force in East Prussia, but had practically assigned to Austria the task of holding up Russia. (Vol. II, 371.)

German calculations as to Russian mobilization proved sadly inaccurate. While the German troops were still in Belgium and the Battle of Charleroi unfought, Russian troops crossed the East Prussian boundary and began an invasion which produced something approximating a panic. (Vol. II, 434.) One Russian army came due west from the Niemen, another north from Warsaw, and all of Germany east of the Vistula seemed in grave peril. (Vol. II, 437.)


It was then that the kaiser summoned Hindenburg, gave him the task of defending East Prussia, and thus introduced one of the few famous and successful soldiers of the war. (Vol. II, 438.) Hindenburg cleverly concentrated his forces, leaving only a screen in front of the Russian army coming from the Niemen toward Koenigsberg, practically surrounded the other Russian army in the marshes about Tannenberg, brought into action great parks of German heavy artillery, and routed and destroyed the Russian army about September 1, 1914. (Vol. II, 438-441.)

On "Sedantag" Germany was able to celebrate one of the most decisive of all her many victories, and the Russian peril in East Prussia had been quickly abolished.

But the East Prussian incident was only a detail, due, it is still insisted, to the prompt yielding of Russian strategy to Allied appeals for some action in the east that might relieve the terrible pressure now being exerted upon the Anglo-French forces in the west. And if the East Prussian invasion did not, as was asserted at the time, compel the Germans to send troops from Belgium to East Prussia, it did hold up new formations and seriously complicate the German problem, contributing materially to the French victory at the Marne thereby.

The real Russian blow was delivered against Austria. Faithful to her agreement, Austria had promptly undertaken the invasion of southern Poland and in the third week of August an Austrian army was approaching Lublin, while another stood in a wide circle about the Galician city of Lemberg. (Vol. II, 376-379.)

Ignoring the first army, the Russians sent their main masses westward on a front extending from the Rumanian boundary to the Kiev-Lemberg railroad. Before Lemberg the Austrian army was overwhelmed in a terrible rout, which ended in a wild flight, costing some 300,000 prisoners and almost destroying the Austrian military establishment. (Vol. II, 385, 386.)

The Austrian army, which had advanced into Poland was left in the air, and its retreat was transformed into a new disaster. Lemberg fell about September 1, 1914, and meantime a Serbian victory at the Jedar had destroyed still another Austrian army and emphasized the weakness of Hapsburg military power. (Vol. II, 329-335.)

At about the time the German blow at France was failing along the Marne, the Russian victories were mounting, Russian armies were sweeping through Galicia and approaching the San. (Vol. II, 398.) Serbian armies were across the Bosnia frontier, (Vol. II, 323), and the eastern situation was becoming perilous in the extreme for the Central Powers, despite the great victory of Tannenberg, which had cost the Russians an army of 100,000 men. (Vol. II, 438-450.) Thus in the first six weeks of the war the whole German conception had been defeated, France had not been destroyed by one great blow, and Russia had not been held up by Austria, pending the delivery of this blow and the return of the German troops who had delivered it.


October brought the plain necessity to the Germans of coming to the aid of their ally. While they were still endeavoring to reopen the decision in the west it was necessary to send troops to Hindenburg and to take pressure off Austria. The blow took the form of a rapid advance upon Warsaw through Central Poland, which was destitute of Russian troops. (Vol. II, 454-461.)

The thrust almost succeeded, German troops reached the suburbs of Warsaw, German guns were heard by the citizens of the town and Warsaw was in deadly peril, but Siberian troops arrived in the nick of time and Hindenburg was obliged to retire. (Vol. II, 462-466.) Still his main purpose was achieved. Russian armies in Galicia had been weakened to save Warsaw and were compelled to retire behind the San and the Vistula. (Vol. II, 420-427.)

Hindenburg's retreat was masterly, he flowed back upon Cracow and Breslau, pursued by a great Russian army. (Vol. II, 458-462.) Meantime the Russian armies in Galicia again took the offensive and November saw Russian armies at the outskirts of Cracow and approaching the boundary of Silesia. (Vol. II, 413-423.) Taken in connection with the German repulses all along the western front and the defeat in Flanders, which disclosed the final collapse of the original German plan, this moment marked the high-water stage of allied fortunes for many, many months.

Having led the Russian army after him to the German frontier, Hindenburg quickly moved his troops on strategic railroads to the north, invaded Poland again between the Vistula and the Warta (Vol. II, 462-481), almost succeeded in interposing between the Russian army and Warsaw, and won the great victory of Lodz. (Vol. II, 466, 467.) But Russian numbers saved the day. After terrific fighting and tremendous losses the Russians got back to the Bzura line, which they were to hold for nearly a year and the German advance was beaten down in fighting wholly similar to that in Flanders. (Vol. II, 471-478.)


Once more the Russian advance in Galicia was resumed. (Vol. III, 264.) Russian armies never again approached Cracow, but they did come to the Dunajec line, while to the south they began the slow ascent of the Carpathians (Vol. III, 261-264), across which raiding forces of Cossacks had several times passed. They also concentrated against the fortress of Przemysl, the last Austrian stronghold along the San. This campaign endured throughout the winter. Finally Przemysl, with a garrison of 125,000 men, surrendered in early March (Vol. III, 249-257), and Russia was at last free to strike either at Cracow or through the Carpathians for the Hungarian Plain.

Her decision to go south was probably influenced by the great victory of the Serbs at Valievo. While German aid was taking pressure off the Austrians a new Hapsburg thrust had been delivered at Serbia, Austro-Hungarian troops had passed the Drina and penetrated deeply into Serbia, Belgrade had fallen, and the end of Serbia seemed in sight. But new Russian attacks having compelled Austria to recall many of her troops, the remaining Hapsburg forces in Serbia were almost destroyed in the bloody defeat of Valievo in December. (Vol. II, 325-357.)

To offset this the Germans soon won one more great victory in East Prussia, at the Mazurian Lakes, where another Russian army was well-nigh destroyed by the quick-marching, better-trained German troops. And this victory beat down another Russian invasion of East Prussia and, as it turned out, closed the period of immediate peril for the German territories in the east.

In March and April the Galician campaign reached its climax in the bloody battles of the Carpathians and Russian armies seemed slowly but surely pushing their way over the mountains and descending into the Hungarian Plain. (Vol. III, 235-276.) It was at this moment that Italy had chosen to enter the war on the allied side, and there was every reason to believe that Rumania would follow.


Instead there came a sudden and tremendous German victory which was to prove the prelude to more victories and to a summer of unparalleled success for German arms. This victory was won at the Battle of the Dunajec—named Gorlice by the Germans—which may well rank with the Marne as the second great struggle of the war, since it saved Austria, brought Russia to the edge of ruin and wholly transformed the horizons of the conflict. (Vol. III, 264-276.)

It will be recalled that at the outset of the war the German General Staff had to choose between two possible operations, an offensive against France or an offensive against Russia. It had chosen to attack France and had lost the campaign. It had in addition failed measurably in its defensive against Russia and the result had been the loss of most of Galicia with the incidental Austrian disasters.

But the campaign in the west had resulted in the occupation of advantageous positions far within French territory and in the conquest of most of Belgium.

Now the German General Staff was again able to decide whether it would turn its entire energies for the summer of 1915 against France or against Russia. If it chose to attack Russia there was solid reason for believing that neither in munitions nor in numbers would the Allies in the west reach a point where they would become dangerous before autumn and between May and October Germany could hope to put Russia out of the war, particularly as Germany knew what the rest of the world did not, that Russia was at the end of her munitions, and her long and terrible campaigns in Galicia, together with her defeats in East Prussia, had temporarily much reduced the fighting value of her armies.

Accordingly Germany decided to get east and put Russia out of the war as she had undertaken nine months before to go west and had tried and failed to put France out of the war. But she was again faced with the fact that failure would expose her to new perils, this time on the west.

For her first attack Germany selected the point in the Russian line between the Vistula and the Carpathians, about Tarnow, where the Russian line stood behind the Dunajec River. If the Russian line should be suddenly broken here, the German General Staff might hope to sweep up all the Russian armies which were facing south and endeavoring to push through the Carpathians.

Just about May 1, 1915, the blow fell and Germany, massing hitherto unheard-of numbers of heavy guns on a narrow front, and using untold ammunition, not merely routed, but abolished Radko Dmitrieff's army (Vol. III, 267-276), and moved rapidly in on the rear of the Russian Carpathian armies. With difficulty these extricated themselves and retired behind the San. (Vol. III, 276.) But they were unable here to withstand Mackensen who had assumed command in all this field, and fell back first upon Lemberg and then upon the Volhynian triangle of fortresses within the Russian frontier. Przemysl fell, Lemberg was lost and Dubno and Lutsk, two of the three Volhynian fortresses, fell. (Vol. III, 276-312.)

Having thus disposed of the Galician armies, Mackensen turned northeast from the San, struck at Lublin and Cholm (Vol. III, 357-365), and through them at Brest-Litovsk, far in the rear of the Russian armies in Poland. At the same time Hindenburg in East Prussia moved south, aiming at Grodno and Vilna, also behind the Warsaw front (Vol. III, 256-361), while a third Germany army invaded the Courland and aimed at Riga. (Vol. III, 337.)

The Russian armies in Poland were thus threatened with complete envelopment; they were caught between the closing jaws of the pincers, which were Mackensen and Hindenburg. For a certain time it was not clear whether the gigantic double thrust might not result in the capture of the whole Russian army in Poland. But this did not happen. Warsaw was evacuated (Vol. III, 356), Ivangorod, Novo Georgievsk, the fortresses along the Bobr-Narew-Niemen barrier fell (Vol. IV, 176-181), but the Russian armies drew back upon Riga, Vilna, and Brest-Litovsk. (Vol. IV, 186-188.)


At Brest-Litovsk there was only a brief halt and then the Russians resumed their retreat upon Pinsk and the Pripet Marshes. Behind the Dvina from Riga to Dvinsk the northern army stood fast. But the central armies, retiring upon Vilna, were nearly trapped and once were actually cut off by German cavalry. (Vol. IV, 193-223.)

By September the great campaign approached its end. The Russians at last took root on a line from Riga, through the Pripet Marshes to Rovno and thence to the Rumanian boundary. (Vol. IV, 184-255.) The czar sent the grand duke to the Caucasus and took command himself (Vol. IV, 188), an allied offensive in the west in Champagne and Artois (Vol. IV, 52-81) made sudden demands upon German man power, as the Russian advance in East Prussia and Galicia had taxed German man power in the days of the Marne, and so, by October, it was plain that the second great German effort had also failed. Russia had not been destroyed, she had not been put out of the war for any long period; Russian armies were to resume the offensive the following June.

As in the west, Germany had conquered wide territories, she had taken fortresses, provinces, vast numbers of prisoners and guns, but a decision had escaped her. She was still confronted by the certainty that at some future time all her foes, superior in numbers and munitions, would beat upon all her fronts at once. But she was no longer able to push eastward to follow the pathway of Napoleon and meet a Russian winter on the road; moreover the situation in the Balkans demanded attention and the Italian offensive along the Isonzo, as well as Anglo-French pressure in the west, also claimed notice.


Early in the spring the Anglo-French fleets had made a desperate and almost successful attempt to force the Dardanelles. (Vol. III, 423-437.) Their failure had been followed by a land expedition, which took root at the southern tip of the Gallipoli Peninsula, made slight progress inward and was halted only a short distance south and west of the commanding hills. (Vol. III, 429-437.)

A new effort in August directed from the Gulf of Saros through Suvla Bay had also just missed supreme success, through failures in preparation and command which were beginning to show in all British operations. (Vol. IV, 344.)

For the moment Turkey had saved Constantinople, but the Turks' supplies of munitions were running short and there was reason to believe that the Gallipoli thrust might presently end in victory and open the straits to Russia, if Germany did not take a hand.

Thus spurred, Germany and Austria planned and executed the most successful single campaign of the war. German diplomacy succeeded in enlisting Bulgaria. (Vol. IV, 269-274.) Allied diplomacy chained Serbian action while there was yet time for Serbia to save herself, Greece deserted her old ally and in November a great Austro-German army under Mackensen suddenly burst into Serbia from the north and west (Vol. IV, 268-269), while a Bulgarian army entered from the east. (Vol. IV, 269-273.) The result was inevitable. Serbia was crushed. Her gallant army fled over the mountains after heroic resistance and reached the Adriatic, but as a mob rather than as an army. (Vol. IV, 263-307.)

Tardy Allied efforts to come to the rescue through Saloniki were blocked by the Bulgarians south of Uskub (Vol. IV, 308-316), all Macedonia was taken (Vol. IV, 267-334), and the Anglo-French expedition was driven south under the very shadow of the old walls of Saloniki, and the roads to Constantinople and to Albania were opened to Germany and Austria, the Balkans were conquered at a blow and Berlin began to forecast a German-led drive upon Egypt by Suez and even upon India by Bagdad.

As for the Gallipoli troops, December saw them hurriedly withdrawn after great losses and terrible suffering. (Vol. IV, 369-380.) Germany and Austria had now broken the iron circle about them; for the moment Germany had realized the German dream of expansion to the Near East, the conception of a Central Empire, a Mittel-Europa, fronting the Baltic and the Adriatic, overflowing the Sea of Marmora into Asia Minor and bound by the German-built railroad uniting Berlin, Vienna, and Constantinople with Bagdad and Hamburg and Antwerp with Suez and the Persian Gulf. Here at last was a solid gain, a real victory after two great disappointments.


Meantime there had been a long trench struggle in the west. The German attack at the outset of the war had terminated in Flanders. It was not for several months that the Allies felt able to undertake any offensive. Then in rapid succession came French attacks in Alsace, in Champagne, and south of St. Mihiel (Vol. III, 151-169), while the British made a desperate drive about Neuve Chapelle. (Vol. III, 83-98.) All these were checked by the Germans who passed to the offensive themselves in April, and made a new attack about Ypres, marked by the first use of poison gas. (Vol. III, 99-115.)

German success was inconsiderable, but it did reveal the fact that the Allies were not yet dangerous and Germany turned her whole attention toward the great Russian campaign just beginning. In May and June the French made terrific attacks under Foch in Artois (Vol. III, 121-125), and won some ground north of Arras. (Vol. III, 155.) But the attacks had to be abandoned because they were too costly in men, while a British attempt to support the French failed dismally.

Not until late September, when Russia was just at the lowest ebb in her fortunes, did the western Allies try again. Then, starting on September 25, 1915, they launched terrific drives in Champagne and Artois, came within an ace of piercing the German lines, captured some 30,000 prisoners and many guns, but in the end failed to get through. (Vol. IV, 61-131.) German troops were recalled from Russia and Russia's escape was made certain, but this was the only considerable consequence of the Allied attack, preparation for which had consumed many months. Again it was demonstrated that England was not ready and France, alone, could not free her own territory.


Italy had entered the war just as Russia was suffering her first terrible defeats in Galicia. (Vol. III, 382-392.) Had Italian decision been reached a few months earlier the effect might have been decisive. As it was, Italy came too late, her attack was halted south of Trent and along the Isonzo, after inconsiderable progress. A certain number of Austrian divisions, which conceivably might have been directed against Russia and contributed to making the outcome of that campaign decisive, were drawn off to the south. (Vol. III, 392-402.)

In September, and again when the Austro-German attack upon Serbia was at its height, Italy attacked along the Isonzo. (Vol. IV, 415-417.) Once more the result was limited to drawing off certain divisions, a useful but not highly important service. In opening another front Italy had contributed to the further consumption of the reserves of the Central Powers, she had begun an operation to be compared with that of Britain in Spain in the later days of the First Empire. She was taking off a portion of the weight that France and Russia were carrying, she was contributing to the exhaustion of Austria, but neither in the first nor the second year of the war was the contribution to be considerable and Italy was presently to require aid from Russia, when at last Austria decided to pass to the offensive in the Trentino.


With the coming of winter the German General Staff had to face a new situation, full of menace. Their first great conception, the destruction of the military power of France, had failed, although it had won much territory and provided an admirable defensive position far beyond their own frontiers. Their second major conception, the elimination of Russia from the war, had failed, but it had also given them much territory and they were not overoptimistic in assuming that their victories would keep Russia on the defensive for many months; their actual mistake, it turned out, was in overestimating the length of time.

Again, then, there was offered the original choice: Should the next blow be postponed until spring and directed at Petrograd or Moscow, or should it be prepared and delivered before spring and in the west? The decision for the west was made. Apparently the German reasoning was this: Britain was not yet ready, winter and defeat had reduced the value of Russia so low that it was safe to turn the best of their troops from the east to the west. Actually the whole weight of the military machine could be exerted against France.

From this second blow at France the Germans expected to derive the benefits missed at the Marne. If the French lines were broken, as the Russian had been at the Dunajec, then a wide swinging advance would carry German troops deep into the French territory, end French hope and compel French surrender. This was the maximum of possibility.

On the other hand, if there were no actual and deep piercing of the French lines, the pressure upon the French would lead them to call upon the British for help. British attack, while the British force was still unready, would lead to great losses and would exhaust the reserves in men and munitions of both France and Britain. At the worst this would mean that neither France nor Britain would be ready to take the field in their long-promised general offensive in 1916.

There was, of course, the possibility that the German attack would be repulsed, that the French and British would not undertake a premature offensive, and that Russia would rally and be able to storm the eastern lines stripped of reserves to strengthen the western attack.

If all these things happened then Germany might herself lose the offensive and conceivably the war. But no German soldier could believe these things would happen and the remote possibility did not weigh against the apparent opportunity to win a sweeping and decisive victory, while the British and Russians were still unready and France alone in the field.


Accordingly Germany decided to attack in the west. She selected Verdun as the objective for reasons not at first clear but now well known. Verdun was in the public mind a great fortress, surrounded by impregnable works, the strongest point on the French front. In fact it was the weakest sector. The forts had been evacuated, the first line defenses some miles north of the town were strong, but the second and third had been neglected. The line was held by less than two army corps of territorials; there were other faults in preparation chargeable to the politicians. Worst of all of these was the lack of rail communications due to failure to build new lines to replace those cut by the Germans, who at St. Mihiel blocked the north and south line from the Paris-Nancy trunk line and at Montfaucon and Varennes interrupted the Paris-Verdun railroad by indirect fire.

There was every reason why the Germans could expect that a sudden and terrific blow would permit them to get to Verdun, take the forts on the east bank, and possibly cut clear through the French lines and break them into two parts. Not impossibly this would mean retirement as far as the old Marne battle field: certainly it would mean the extinction of French hope. So the Germans reasoned.

The first blow fell on February 21, 1916. The initial attack was made east of the Meuse on a very narrow front; it resulted in an immediate local success. The French trenches were abolished, the French line was threatened, and the German army overflowed south in great force. The possibility of a repetition of the Dunajec success was at this time plain.

Worst of all, from the allied point of view, there now came a difference in opinion between the French General Staff and the French Civil Government. The former wished to retire behind the Meuse and evacuate the eastern forts and trenches, thereby gaining a strong defensive line, but surrendering Verdun. The Government felt that such a retreat would be accepted as a grave disaster, would depress the French people, and result in a political overturn.

At the outset the general staff seems to have adhered to its view, and for some days the German advance was steady. Even Fort Douaumont, on the outer rim of the old permanent fortifications, was lost, and the German press announced the fall of the city itself. But in the end the army listened to the Government, Castelnau and Petain went to the front to organize the defense. By the middle of March the first crisis was about over and the French had restored their line, the most expensive detail in their defense. But they had not been able to retake Douaumont, and German possession was to prove a thorn in their side thenceforth.

With the great general attack of April 9, 1916, the first phase of the battle for Verdun was over. This check abolished all chance of a piercing of the French lines, of a second Dunajec. It assured to the French time to complete their second- and third-line defenses, and it gave ample evidence that the dangers of the first hours, due to failures and errors which cost many generals their positions, were at an end. Above all, it demonstrated that the wonderful motor-transport system which had been improvised had proved adequate to save a city deprived of all railroad communications.


Still the Germans kept on. Halted on the east bank, they transferred their attack to the west, and Hill 304 and Le Mort Homme became famous the world over. But their advances were slight and their losses were tremendous. French tactics were now disclosed. It was the purpose of the French to exact the very heaviest price for each piece of ground that they defended, but they held their lines with very small contingents, and, save in the case of a few vital points, surrendered the positions whenever the cost of holding them was too great.

German high command had seen its larger aims fail. Why did it continue to assail Verdun after the chance of piercing the French lines had passed and when the cost was so terrific? The answer is not wholly clear, but we do know that the concentration of artillery and men had taken months; these could not quickly be moved elsewhere. Such a change in plans would mean the loss of several months, which would be improved by the British and the Russians; it would give France the "lift" of a great victory.

Conversely it was clear that, while the French lines could not be pierced, Verdun might be taken and the moral value of the capture would be enormous in Germany, France, and the neutral world, although the military value would be just nothing. Again, there remained the fair chance that the continued pressure upon France would lead the French to ask the British to attack, and the premature attack would spoil the allied offensive, obviously preparing.

Against this chance the Germans had massed not less than 800,000 troops along the British front. Meantime they told the world that Verdun was exhausting France, that it was making an allied offensive impossible, and they used their slow but considerable advances, which resulted from the French policy of "selling" their positions at the maximum of cost to the Germans and minimum of loss to themselves, to convince the world that they were systematically approaching Verdun and would take it at the proper moment.

This phase lasted from April 9, 1916, down to the opening of July. During that time the Germans pushed out from Douaumont and captured Vaux; they crowded up and over Dead Man's Hill and up the slope of Hill 304; by July 1, 1916, they had pushed the French right back to the extreme edge of the hills, on the east bank of the Meuse, and the French were just holding the inside line of forts—Belleville, Souville, and Tavannes—with their backs to the river and with German trenches coming right up to the ditches of these three forts.

By July 1, 1915, the French were in their last ditch before Verdun—that is, on the east bank—but on July 1, 1916, there began that allied offensive at the Somme which changed the whole face of the western operations. Thus, by August 1, 1916, the Germans had been compelled to remove many troops from Verdun and the French were able to take the offensive here again, and by August 6, 1916, had made material progress in retaking portions of the ground they had "sold" the Germans for so great a price in previous weeks.


After the German checks in April the French compared the Verdun fight to Gettysburg. General Delacroix used that example to me in March, but it was not until June that General Joffre was ready to adopt it. By this time it was well established in all minds. Gettysburg had been the final effort of the South to win a decision on the field while superior organization gave her advantage over a foe that had superiority in ultimate resources, both of money and men. The failure at Gettysburg was promptly followed by the loss of the initiative, the North passed to the attack, and the rest of the war consisted in the steady wearing out of the Confederacy.

A victory at Gettysburg would probably have won the Civil War for the South. A victory of the Dunajec style might have won the Great War for the Germans. But the victory did not come, the struggle went on for many months, and presently the consequence of stripping the eastern lines was disclosed in new Russian victories, while the absolute failure to provoke a premature offensive in the west, or prevent any offensive, was disclosed in the Battle of the Somme.

Verdun, then, was the third failure of Germany to win the war by a major thrust. It was a failure which was wholly similar to the failures at the Marne and in Russia. Relatively speaking, it was a far greater failure, because it brought no incidental profit as did the other campaigns: it won only a few square miles of storm-swept hills, it has cost not less than 250,000 casualties, and allied statements placed the cost at half a million. From the military, the moral, the political points of view, Verdun was a defeat for the Germans of the first magnitude. Conversely, the French victory filled the world with admiration. The French success at the Marne had been won in complete darkness, and after two years the world still has only a vague notion of the facts of this grandiose conflict. But there never was any possibility of concealment about Verdun. The fight was in the open, the issue was unmistakable, and French courage and skill, French steadiness and endurance, surprised the world once more.


While the German attack upon Verdun was still in its more prosperous phase the Austrians delivered a wholly similar attack upon Italy. (Vol. V, 244-264.) Precisely as the Russian defeats had enabled Germany to turn many troops west, they had provided Austria for the first time with reserves that could be used against Italy. Conceivably, success would put Italy out of the war, for it was plain Italian sentiment was wearying of the long strain of sterile sacrifice.

For the attack the Austrians selected the Trentino district. If they could drive their masses through the Italian lines between the Adige and the Brenta, and enter the Venetian Plain, taking Verona and Vicenza, all the Italian forces to the eastward along the Isonzo would have to retreat and might be captured. At the least, Austria might hope to carry her front to the Po and the Adige, and thus stand on the defensive far within Italian frontiers, as Germany stood within French frontiers.

The same artillery preparation was made here as before Verdun, the battle opened in the same way (Vol. V, 244), and for many weeks, until June 1, 1916, the Austrian advance was steady, and finally passed the old frontier and actually approached the Venetian Plain about Vicenza. (Vol. V, 260.) For the first time Austria seemed within reach of a great victory, and Italian apprehension was great. As for the moral effect, an Italian ministry fell because of the reverses, and many Italian generals were retired.

By June 1, 1916, the Italian situation had become critical, (Vol. V, 258), just as the French situation about Verdun became critical on July 1, 1916. But at this point the Russian attack upon the east front changed the whole face of affairs, and Austria was forced shortly to abandon her offensive in Venetia and hurry her reserves eastward. (Vol. V, 265-291.) Accordingly, in a brief time Italian troops were advancing again and regaining the lost ground. The Verdun attack actually failed in all but local value, the Trentino thrust was still succeeding when it had to be abandoned, but in abandoning it Austria confessed her great preparations and considerable sacrifices had been vain. Compared with Verdun, it was a minor defeat; but coming with Verdun, it was a further blow to Austro-German prestige.


At the outset of the war Germany found herself with greater numbers, superior artillery, and possessing a mechanical efficiency surpassing anything that war had known. She was able to mobilize more men, transport them more quickly, and employ them more effectively than her opponents. Her heavy artillery gave her a decisive advantage both in the matter of enemy fortresses and enemy armies. But they did not quite avail to give her the decisive victory she had expected.

The second year of the war revealed the enormous resources of Germany and the incredible fashion in which her people had been disciplined and her preparations made. The collapse of Austria and the defeat of the Marne did not deprive her of the offensive, and the weight of her initial blow sufficed to hold her western foes incapable of effective action, while she reorganized Austrian resources, put new armies in the field, and won the great battles in the Russian field, which carried her advance to the Beresina and the Dvina.

But the Russian operation in 1914 had been sufficient to deprive her of the troops needed to deliver the final blow in the west, and the French, Italian, and British attacks in September, 1915, had compelled her to stay her hand against Russia at the critical hour. When she chose to attack France at Verdun she had always to recognize that sooner or later Russia would again take the field, and that unless her second blow at France had already succeeded before this time came her position would be difficult, while if her blow at France did not suffice to prevent an allied offensive in the west, she might at last have to fight a defensive war on both fronts.

Hitherto she had been able to fight offensively on one front while holding on the other. Hitherto she had been able to move her reserves from one front to the other whenever the need was urgent. She reckoned that Russia would be incapable of a real offensive in 1916; she reckoned that Britain would not be able to train her armies for effective action in the same year, and she gambled on the probability that her blows at Verdun would dispose of France. In addition, she reckoned the Austrian attack upon Italy would dispose of Italian threats for the summer.

But long before the war Bernhardi had foretold a German defeat in her next conflict if all her foes were able to get their forces into the field at one time, and Germany should fail to dispose of at least one of her enemies before all were ready. It is not the time or the place to assert that what Bernhardi forecast has now come true, but it is clear that Germany, temporarily or permanently, as it may prove, lost the initiative following her defeat at Verdun, that she was compelled to accept the defensive on all fronts by July, and that up to the date this article is written, August 8, 1916, she has been losing ground on all fronts.


Very briefly, now, in the remaining space allowed me, I purpose to discuss the remarkable change in the whole face of the war that had come by the second anniversary of the outbreak of the conflict. The first authentic sign of this change was the great Russian success in Volhynia and Galicia about June 1, 1916. (Vol. V, 154.) As far back as February Russian successes in Asia Minor had suggested that the Russian army was regaining power and receiving adequate munitions. The captures of Erzerum and Trebizond were a warning that deserved, but did not earn, attention in Berlin and the British failure and surrender at Kut-el-Amara served to obscure the Eastern situation. (Vol. V, 318-326.)

But about June 1, 1916, Russia suddenly stepped out and assailed the whole Austro-German line with fire and steel. The weight of the blow fell between the Pripet Marshes and the Rumanian frontier. From this front Germany had drawn many troops to aid in her Verdun operation, Austria had made similar drafts to swell her forces attacking Italy. Too late Berlin and Vienna realized that they had weakened their line beyond the danger point and had hopelessly underestimated the recuperative power of the Slav.

By July 1, 1916, the magnitude of the Russian success was no longer hidden from German or Austrian. An advance of over forty miles in the north threatened Kovel and Lemberg, twice as extensive an advance in the south had reconquered Bukowina (Vol. V, 162-182), brought Cossacks to the Carpathians, and threatened Lemberg from the south. (Vol. V, 192-198.) Lutsk (Vol. V, 159), Dubno (Vol. V, 163), and Czernowitz (Vol. V, 162) had been taken, Kolomea and Stanislau were threatened and were soon to fall. Upward of 400,000 prisoners were claimed by the Russians, whose estimates of prisoners had hitherto proved reliable; guns, supplies, munitions had been captured in incredible amounts, and an Austrian collapse like to that of Lemberg seemed at hand.

In this situation Germany, seemingly on the point of taking Verdun, had to turn her attention toward the east and direct new troops and new reserves of munitions and guns to Volhynia and Galicia to save Lemberg. (Vol. V, 198.) This effort was temporarily successful, and July saw the Russian sweep slowing down, although by no means halted. (Vol. V, 207-212.) Since the German victory at the Dunajec there had been no such single success, and save for the Russian victory at Lemberg, the Allies had won no such offensive victory.


But on July 1, 1916, just as the Russian drive was slowing down and while Germany was straining every nerve to meet the eastern crisis, the French and British along the Somme suddenly broke out in a terrific attack over twenty miles of front. The French rapidly approached Peronne, the British more slowly by steadily moving toward Bapaume. Here was the answer to the German assertion that Verdun had exhausted France and made an allied offensive in the west impossible. It was as complete a refutation of reckonings for the west as the Russian victory had been of the German calculations for the east.

And after six weeks the Somme drive is continuing, slowly, but steadily, actually recalling in every detail the slow but steady advance of the Germans before Verdun. Meantime about Verdun itself a new operation has begun, the Germans have been forced to recall troops to use at the Somme and the French, passing to the offensive, have temporarily, at least, retaken much ground and abolished the grave danger that existed on July 1, 1915, when they stood in their last ditch, with the river at their backs.


The Russian blow had fallen in the first days of June, 1916; the Anglo-French attack had opened in the early days of July, 1916; now, in the first week of August, 1916, Italy suddenly launched against the Gorizia bridgehead, the gateway into Austria between the sea and the Julian Alps, which recalls in a grandiose fashion the Spartan position at Thermopylae, the most considerable and the most successful military effort in modern Italian history.

On a front of thirty miles from the Alps to the Adriatic, their flanks secured by the mountains and the sea, the Austrians had erected a formidable system of trenches which closed the Italian road to Austria and to Trieste, twenty miles to the south. (Vol. V, 288-290.) Monte Sabotino on the north, Podgora Hill in the center, Monte San Michele on the south at the edge of the Carso Plateau were the main features of this position, and Gorizia lay in the cuplike valley of the Wippach behind Podgora.

After some days of bombardment, first directed at the whole front and then concentrated upon Sabotino and San Michele, the Italians swept forward, took both hills, turned the Austrians out of Podgora and Gorizia, took 15,000 prisoners and a vast booty of guns and munitions. They had completed the first phase of their task by August 7, 1916. It remained to be seen—and it remains to be seen now on August 15, 1916, when these lines are written—whether they will get Trieste and force the Austrians back from the whole position between the Adriatic and the Alps. If they do, then an invasion of Austria on a wide front will be inevitable; if they fail, they will have won a great local victory and made a new draft upon Austrian man power.

Finally, in the Balkans a great Anglo-French-Serb army is standing before Saloniki (Vol. V, 212-215), only waiting until Germany shall have recalled her troops from the Peninsula and Austria summoned back her contingents to strike the Bulgarians and strive to reopen the road from the AEgean to Belgrade, thus cutting the railroad that binds Berlin to Byzantium and the Osmanli to the Teuton. Similarly the victorious Russians have passed Erzingan in Asia Minor (Vol. V, 337), completed the conquest of Armenia, and are pushing on toward Sivas and the Bagdad railroad. (Vol. V, 335-339.)


For the first time since the war broke out Germany and her allies are everywhere on the defensive, and everywhere they have been and are ceding ground. Their enemies, imperfectly prepared two years ago, are now the rivals of Germany in preparation; England has millions of men where she had hundreds of thousands in August, 1914; France and Britain both have heavy artillery, and Russia is demonstrating her wealth of munitions and her resources in men. Such is the great transition that has come as the third year of the Great War begins.

Conceivably, Germany may still be able to forge a new thunderbolt, to pass to the offensive again, and win the war; conceivably she can hold her present lines until the fury of the Allies abates and losses and economic strain impose a drawn battle and a peace without victory for any contestant. But all these considerations are for the future. What it is now important to recognize is that the three great efforts of Germany to win the war in the Napoleonic fashion have failed. She has had neither an Austerlitz, a Jena, nor a Friedland. She has instead the Marne, Verdun, and the Russian failure. She has failed to eliminate any one of her great foes as Napoleon eliminated, first Austria, then Prussia, and then Russia. She has failed to win the war while she had superior numbers, incomparably greater resources in equipment, and unrivaled supremacy in artillery. She is outnumbered, outgunned, and her foes control the sea and possess vastly greater resources in money than she can boast.

The parallel of Napoleon before Leipzig, of the Confederacy after Gettysburg, is in many men's minds to-day. But it is for the future to disclose whether the parallel be true or false. What is clear as the third year of the war opens is that all three of Germany's major conceptions have gone wrong; all three of her great campaigns have failed to accomplish their main purpose, and that, as a consequence, Germany is now on the defensive on all fronts for the first time in the war.

A moment ago I mentioned Bernhardi's words. Perhaps they will serve as the best comment with which to close this review. The quotation is from his book, "On War of To-day":

"If at some future time Germany is involved in the slowly threatening war, she need not recoil before the numerical superiority of her enemies. But so far as human nature is able to tell, she can only rely on being successful if she is resolutely determined to break the superiority of her enemies by a victory over one or the other of them before their total strength can come into action, and if she prepares for war to that effect, and acts at the decisive moment in that spirit which made the great Prussian king once seize the sword against a world in arms."


Statements from the British, French, and German Ambassadors to the United States



July 19, 1916.


I beg to acknowledge with thanks your courteous invitation to my government to make a statement concerning the war on the occasion of the second anniversary of its outbreak.

My government fully appreciates your kindness and courtesy in placing at its service the Review which has already contributed to such an honourable extent to the world's knowledge of the great events which are now passing before us. Had the policy of my government undergone any change since the war's commencement I have no doubt that a statement explaining such a change would have been issued. But the policy of the British government is now what it was when the war first began under circumstances with which your readers are entirely familiar. To quote Sir Edward Grey's words: "Is there anyone who thinks it possible that we could have sat still and looked on without eternal disgrace?"

Yours faithfully, CECIL SPRING RICE.

The Editor Collier's Weekly, NEW YORK.


WASHINGTON, le July 10, 1916.


I had not failed to forward to my Government your request for a statement concerning the war on the occasion of its impending second anniversary.

I am instructed to convey to you, in answer, the expression of the Prime Minister's regret at his inability to comply with the wish of a review so honorably known as Collier's Weekly. The case of France is so plain that it is not felt there can be need for explanations, much less for pleadings; and it is enough to refer to public documents.

They show how that war, which France had done her utmost to prevent, was declared on her by the Germans on the 3rd of August, 1914, for such frivolous motives as a shelling by her aeros of places as distant as Nurenberg: an imaginary deed of which she never dreamt, which she has never been able to duplicate, and which an inspection of the local newspapers has proved to have passed unmentioned by them and unnoticed by the inhabitants. As she was considered a prey to be dealt with at once and at all cost, the invasion of her territory was effected through Belgium, and that invasion, entailing on the Belgian and French populations untold misery, still continues.

It still continues; not for very long, a day will soon dawn which will be the day of Justice.

I have the honor to be, dear Sir, Sincerely yours, JUSSERAND.

The Editor Collier's Weekly, NEW YORK.




NEW YORK, August 28, 1916.

P. F. COLLIER & SON, Publishers.


With reference to previous conversations I beg to send you the enclosed statement for the "Story of the Great War". It has been written by Baron Mumm von Schwarzenstein, former Ambassador to Japan, now attached to the Foreign Office in Berlin.

Yours very sincerely, F. BERNSTORFF.


In order to appreciate what Germany has accomplished during two years of war, one has to recall to mind the great expectations which her enemies had attached to this war, into which their powerful coalition, after years of political scheming and thorough military preparations, had enmeshed the prosperous Empire.

At the outset, the avowed purpose of Germany's enemies was to annihilate her,—her army, her fleet, her commerce and her industry. France hoped to regain Alsace Lorraine and the western bank of the Rhine. Russia expected to gratify her desire for territorial expansion by conquering the provinces of East and West Prussia and Posen, which probably were to receive the blessings of Russian culture. Austria-Hungary was to be dismembered; the Balkan states were to be rendered tributary to the Czar; Constantinople and the Dardanelles were to be added to the Romanoff's dominions. As for England, she deliberately entered this war because she thought that she would run small risk in helping to bring the war to a speedy termination.

The world will remember the vainglorious way in which Germany's enemies foretold that before long their armies would meet in the heart of Germany, where Cossacks would parade the streets of Berlin and Indian lancers and Gurkhas would stroll through the parks of Potsdam. The German fleet, it was asserted, would be at the bottom of the sea before it had time to think. When this fond hope was not realized, the German fleet was to be dug out like a rat of a rat-hole. In their expectations our enemies saw German industry ruined. Germany was soon to be paralyzed, nay, would soon be passing away.

Such were the expectations of the enemies, attacking us from all sides. Germany was drawn into a war of self-defense. Her fight is a fight for national existence. And to-day how do matters stand?

Have the hopes and plots of our enemies been realized? Has Germany successfully fought her war of self-defense or has she not?

Excepting one small corner of the Empire, the only enemy soldiers on German soil are vast numbers of prisoners of war. The war is fought on enemy soil. Germany and her allies occupy three independent kingdoms. They hold vast areas of enemy territory in east and west. They hold these territories firmly and without fear of losing them by force of arms.

Consider the efforts that our enemies have made on the west front. In their unsuccessful attempts at Loos and in Champagne last autumn they suffered terrible losses and made no headway. In the spring Germany took up the offensive against Verdun. Step by step, and with but small losses, we are steadily gaining ground; the French positions, although defended with desperate courage, are crumbling away one by one.

Thanks to the genius of Hindenburg, East Germany is no longer threatened by Russia. Last year, in cooperation with our valiant ally, Austria-Hungary, we drove back the Russians, overwhelming their armies as well as their strongholds. We took possession of Courland, Lithuania and Poland. For the last two months, it is true, the Russians have resumed the offensive. But, although they have gained considerable local advantages at terrible cost, they have not succeeded in breaking through our lines.

Even at the very moment when our enemies, after months of careful preparation, seek to bring to bear their greatest possible pressure on both German fronts they attain nothing but terrible losses. They achieve but little substantial gain. They have in no material way deranged our general position on the western front. The tide has turned again. Our enemies will probably realize in time that they are biting on granite and that partial successes will sooner or later lead to their exhaustion without materially changing the military situation. To-day Germany awaits the outcome of the present combined offensive of the Allies with calmness and confidence. Then her turn may come once more. The Allies have been rejoicing over the collapse of Germany. They have repeatedly and positively prophesied it. Repeatedly it has been postponed. It seems now as if it would have to be adjourned ad Kalendas Graecas.

Last autumn the world saw the rapid conquest of Serbia and Montenegro by German, Austro-Hungarian and Bulgarian troops. The result was the establishment of direct communication between Berlin and Bagdad. Who can underestimate the political, military and economic importance of this feat to Germany and to her allies?

Bulgaria joined the alliance of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Turkey because she realized that theirs was to be the ultimate victory. The four Central Powers form a solid and powerful political combination; they adjoin each other and are bound together by economic interests.

Let us now consider the naval situation. Instead of the German fleet being at the bottom of the sea, considerably more British than German men-of-war find themselves in that position. Since the great battle of the Skagerrak, where the German High Sea Fleet successfully fought against the entire British Grand Fleet, the British losses have increased alarmingly. The German Navy is young, but it has proved its merit; more than that, it has proved that the proud British fleet is by no means invincible. Our submarines have shown to the world that Germany possesses a powerful weapon against England, even though, out of consideration for neutral interests, this arm of her navy has not yet been fully tested against the illegal methods adopted by England in her effort to starve Germany's entire civilian population. The exploits of the Emden, the Moewe and the Appam are still fresh in everybody's memory. To them can now be added the achievements of the submersible Deutschland, by means of which we have begun to resume our trade relations with the United States despite the so-called British blockade.

For two years we have been fighting for the freedom of the seas. Doubtless, Great Britain's sea power, which has caused us the loss of our distant colonies and the suspension of most of our maritime trade, is not yet broken. Nevertheless, to-day British prestige is not what it used to be.

British sea power has caused Germany and the neutral nations of the world many inconveniences, and it will no doubt continue to do so until the end of the war. But we know that this will not advance our enemies' cause. Victory does not lie this way. Germany has learned to live on her resources during the war. All the raw materials necessary for her economic life she produces herself. For such as are not accessible at present, she has found substitutes. Our food supply is ample for the maintenance of our military forces as well as for our civilian population. The skillfully organized distribution of food, recently introduced, will enable us to hold out in spite of the British blockade, even if our harvest, which promises to be excellent, should not come up to our expectations.

Looking back upon her achievements during the last two years, Germany enters into the third year of the war with unaltered confidence in her final triumph. Germany is willing to terminate this terrible bloodshed, she is willing to make an honorable peace on condition that her legitimate interests are safeguarded; but she is prepared to continue the struggle with the same dogged determination that she has manifested up to now, since her enemies are still virtually resolved to annihilate her, even if, for appearance's sake, they have of late somewhat modified their war aims by declaring that they merely intend to wipe out what they call German "Militarism."

Germany is fighting against the greatest odds known in history. She is not only fighting against the most powerful combination of enemies, but at the same time has to contend with a world of prejudice, skillfully created against her, as well as with lukewarmness toward our enemies' tyranny on the part of the neutral nations. Sometimes we wonder at this; but unerringly we go on fighting for our cause.


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