And this is the report of what happened at daylight:
"At daylight on the first of June the battle fleet, being southward of Horn Reef, turned northward in search of the enemy vessels, and for the purpose of collecting our own cruisers and torpedo-boat destroyers. The visibility early on the first of June was three to four miles less than on May 31, and the torpedo-boat destroyers, being out of visual touch, did not rejoin the fleet until 9 a. m. The British fleet remained in the proximity of the battle field and near the line of approach to German ports until 11 a. m., in spite of the disadvantages of long distances from fleet bases and the danger incurred in waters adjacent to the enemy's coasts from submarines and torpedo craft.
"The enemy, however, made no sign, and I was reluctantly compelled to the conclusion that the High Sea Fleet had returned into port. Subsequent events proved this assumption to have been correct. Our position must have been known to the enemy, as, at 4 a. m., the fleet engaged a Zeppelin about five minutes, during which time she had ample opportunity to note and subsequently report the position and course of the British fleet."
Here is the mystery of the Battle of Horn Reef, and here we may place our finger on the point at which the explanation lies (if we could only make out what the explanation is) of the reason why this battle cannot take rank, either in its conduct or in its results, with the greatest naval battles of history—with Trafalgar and the Nile, to speak only of English history. It is an unfinished battle; inconclusive, indecisive. And in this respect it cannot be changed by later news of greater losses than are now known. When Jellicoe, with a force materially superior to that commanded by Von Scheer and with higher speed, had interposed between the latter and his base, it would seem that there should have been no escape for the German fleet from absolute destruction. It should have been "played" during the night, and either held or driven northward. How it could work around the flank of the British fleet and be out of sight at dawn is impossible of comprehension even when we have made due allowance for low visibility. And its disappearance was complete. The only German force that was seen was a lone Zeppelin, which was engaged for five minutes. The mystery is increased by Jellicoe's statement that at daylight he "turned northward in search of the enemy's vessels."
His story ends with something in the nature of a reproach for the Germans because they did not return, although "our position must have been known to them."
Let us consider what the situation actually was at daylight. The German fleet, as a whole, had a maximum speed of perhaps 18 knots when fresh from port, and with every ship in perfect condition. According to the English account it had suffered very severely, many of its units being badly crippled. It is inconceivable that it was in a condition when Jellicoe lost touch with it at ten o'clock at night to make anything like its maximum speed without deserting these cripples. Let us suppose, however, that it could and did make 18 knots in some direction between 10 p. m. and 4 a. m. It would run in that time 108 miles. If, therefore, we draw a circle around the point at which it was known to have been at ten o'clock, with 108 miles as a radius, we shall have a circle beyond which it cannot have passed at 4 a. m. (Plate IX).
If we assume a lower limit for its speed, say 12 knots, we may draw another circle with 72 miles as a radius, and say that in all probability the fleet has passed beyond this circle, in some direction, by 4 a. m. We have now narrowed the space within which the German fleet may be at 4 a. m. of June 1, 1916, to the narrow area between our two circles.
But we know that the fleet, if it is in reality badly crippled, will be under the necessity of making its way back to a base at once, and that the detour which it makes to avoid the British fleet will accordingly be as slight as possible. It certainly will not attempt to reach Helgoland by running north or east. It will doubtless start off toward the west or southwest and swing around to the south and southeast as soon as Von Scheer feels confident of having cleared the western flank of the British fleet. We may then draw two bounding lines from the point which the Germans are known to have occupied at ten o'clock, and feel reasonably sure that four o'clock will find them between these lines. In other words, Jellicoe knew with almost mathematical certainty that at four o'clock on the morning of June 1, 1916, the German fleet was within the area A, B, C, D, Plate IX. His own more powerful fleet was at E and F, still between the Germans and their base, with an excess of speed of at least three knots, and probably much more than this. He searched to the north, and not finding them there, "was reluctantly compelled to the conclusion that the High Sea Fleet had returned into port." He accordingly returned to port himself.
THE GERMAN TACTICS
If it is true that the British blundered in allowing the Germans to escape from a trap from which escape should have been impossible, it is equally true that the Germans blundered in allowing themselves to be caught in such a trap. In the early part of the battle the German tactics were all that they should have been. In turning south, when Beatty's force was sighted, Von Hipper was right from every point of view, for he was closing with Von Scheer while drawing Beatty away from Jellicoe. He was equally sound a little later when he turned north, for he did not turn until he had been joined by Von Scheer. He was still sound when at six o'clock he turned east, refusing to be capped, for there was as yet no threat of any important increase in the force to which he was opposed. His mistake—or that of his superior, Von Scheer—came when the British battleships were sighted to the northeastward, heading down across his course. He knew, or should have known, that he was now opposed by a force overwhelmingly superior to his own and with considerably higher speed; and yet he not only did not attempt to withdraw, but held his course and allowed himself to be capped, thus deliberately accepting battle with a greatly superior force and with conditions the most unfavorable that could have been devised. That he suffered much at this point, as he undoubtedly did, was the result of his own bad tactics. That he suffered less than he deserved was the result of the equally bad tactics on the part of his opponent.
As soon as the British battleships were seen approaching the German fleet should have turned south and proceeded at full speed (Plate X), not necessarily with intent to refuse battle permanently, but with intent to refuse it until conditions could be made more favorable than they were at this time. There would have been no difficulty about reproducing on a larger scale the parallel fight which had marked the earlier phases of the battle; and with night coming on and the weather thickening, this would have reduced the British advantage to a minimum. This plan would, moreover, have led the British straight toward the mine and submarine area of the Helgoland Bight; or, if they refused to be so led, would have made it necessary for them to abandon the fight.
It is true, of course, that they did abandon the fight in spite of the great advantage which the German tactics gave them, but it is equally true that the German admiral had no reason to hope for anything so amazingly fortunate for his reputation as a tactician.
DEATH OF LORD KITCHENER—OTHER EVENTS OF THE SECOND YEAR
The night of June 7, 1916, a storm raged along the Scottish shore. There was wind, rain, and high seas. Toward dusk a British cruiser approached a point on the extreme northerly end of the coast and took aboard Earl Kitchener, Secretary of State for War, and his staff. Among those with him were Lieutenant Colonel Oswald Arthur Fitzgerald, his military secretary; Brigadier General Arthur Ellershaw, one of the war secretary's advisers; Sir Hay Frederick Donaldson, munitions expert, and Hugh James O'Beirne, former counselor at the British embassy in Petrograd and for some time secretary of the embassy in Washington.
The cruiser, which was the Hampshire, of an old class, put to sea and headed for Archangel, whence Lord Kitchener was to travel to Petrograd for a war council with the czar and his generals. About eight o'clock, only an hour after the party embarked, a mine or torpedo struck the Hampshire when she was two miles from land between Merwick Head and Borough Brisay, west of the Orkney Islands. It is supposed that the cruiser's magazine blew up. Persons on shore saw a fire break out amidships, and many craft went to her assistance, although a northwest gale was blowing and the sea was rough.
Four boats got away from the Hampshire, all of which were swamped. According to one report Lord Kitchener and his staff were lost after leaving the cruiser, but a survivor said that he was last seen on the bridge with Captain Herbert J. Savill, her commander. According to this man Kitchener had on a raincoat and held a walking stick in his hand. He said that the two men calmly watched preparations for departure and saw at least two lifeboats smashed against the ship's side.
Twenty minutes after being torpedoed the Hampshire sank, with a loss of 300 lives.
On July 9, 1916, two days after the Hampshire went down, eleven men of the cruiser reached the Orkneys, after forty-eight hours buffeting by the waves upon a raft. The body of Colonel Fitzgerald was washed ashore the same day of the sinking, but the sea did not give up Kitchener or any of the other members of his staff.
The Italian admiralty made known June 9, 1916, that the transport Principe Umberto had fallen victim to a submarine in the Adriatic with a large loss of life. Estimates of the dead ran from 400 to 500.
King George and Queen Mary attended a memorial service at St. Paul's in honor of Kitchener on June 13, 1916, when many of the most prominent officials and citizens of the realm were present. They had a large military escort to and from the cathedral in respect to the dead war minister. Other services were held at Canterbury and in many cities through the kingdom.
On the night of June 18, 1916, a squadron of Russian submarines, destroyers and torpedo boats surprised a German convoy of merchant vessels at a point southeast of Stockholm and not far from Swedish waters. Owing to the heavy losses of German shipping in the Baltic practically all Teuton ships in that sea traveled under escort only, and there was a dozen or more vessels in the convoy. An engagement took place lasting forty-five minutes, during which the Russians sank the auxiliary cruiser Herzmann, capturing her crew and two other craft, one of which was believed to have been a destroyer. In the confusion all of the merchant ships reached the Swedish coast and other destroyers and armed trawlers accompanying them made good their escape. Berlin admitted the loss, adding that the Herzmann's commander and most of her crew were saved.
During the night of June 16, 1916, the British destroyer Eden collided with the transport France in the English Channel and sank. Thirty-one men and officers escaped.
The German submarine U-35, commanded by Lieutenant von Arnauld, put into Cartagena, Spain, June 21, 1916, after a 1,500 mile run from Pola with a personal letter to King Alfonso, signed by Kaiser Wilhelm. The missive bore thanks for the treatment of German refugees from the Kameruns who had been interned in Spain, and the submarine also brought hospital supplies for the fugitives. Its arrival made a strong impression on the Spanish public and was taken as a new sign of Germany's power. No such trip ever had been made before for such a purpose. It was a precedent in the communication of kings.
The British steamship Brussels, carrying freight and a number of passengers, most of whom were Belgian refugees bound from Rotterdam to Tillbury, a London suburb, was captured in the channel by German destroyers and taken to Zeebrugge, Belgium on the night of June 23, 1916. The incident proved that German warcraft were again far afield. It was said that the capture had been made by means of previous information as to the time of the Brussels's sailing and with the aid of a spy. Her course lay about forty miles north of Zeebrugge, and a suspected passenger was seen to wave a lantern several times before the destroyers came up.
Captain Fryatt attempted to ram the nearest vessel and escape, but the effort failed and he was arrested and charged with piracy. Germany had announced early in the war that she would consider any merchant captain who made a hostile move, even in defense of his vessel, as a franc-tireur.
Loss of the Italian auxiliary cruiser Citta di Messina, 3,495 tons, and the French destroyer Fourche was announced by Paris June 25, 1916. The Messina was carrying troops across the Strait of Otranto when a submarine torpedoed her. The Fourche, serving as a convoy, gave pursuit without result, then turned back to save such survivors as she could. Within a few minutes she was struck by a second torpedo and sunk. All on board the two vessels, probably 300 men, were drowned.
The Austrians lost two transports in the harbor of Durazzo, June 26, 1916, when Italian submarines succeeded in passing the forts and inflicting a heavy blow. Both ships had troops, arms and ammunition aboard, according to a Rome report. The casualties were unknown.
Petrograd announced that Russian torpedo craft intercepted a large convoy of Turkish sailing vessels in the Black Sea on June 29, 1916, and destroyed fifty-four ships. The attack took place off the Anatolian coast, and several hundred men were believed to have been drowned. If the number of ships sunk was correct it established a record for the war.
The former German warship Goeben, renamed the Sultan Selim, shelled Tournose, a Russian Black Sea port, on July 3, 1916, and did considerable damage. One steamship in the harbor went down as a result of shell fire and large oil works near the city broke into flames. The Breslau, called the Midullu by the Turks, bombarded Scotchy, a near-by port, about the same time. Several fires started in the latter city and there were some casualties at both points.
A second Russian hospital ship, the Vperiode, was torpedoed in the Black Sea, July 9, 1916, with a loss of seven lives. She was a ship of 850 tons, having accommodations for about 120 wounded. Like the Portugal, sunk by a submarine some weeks before the Vperiode was plainly marked with the usual Red Cross emblem. The attack came in daylight and was accepted by the Russians as having been deliberately made, which once more aroused the indignation of the Russian people.
Berlin announced July 7, 1916, that the British steamer Lestris, outward bound from Liverpool had been captured near the British East Coast and taken to a German port. This second capture in the channel within a few days caused considerable criticism in England.
As dawn was breaking on July 10, 1916, a submarine came alongside a tug in Hampton Roads and asked for a pilot. The pilot went aboard and found himself on the subsea freighter Deutschland, first merchant submarine to be built and the first to make a voyage. She came from Bremerhaven, a distance of 4,000 miles, in sixteen days. Reports had been current since the U-35 made her trip to Cartagena that the kaiser would send a message to President Wilson by an undersea boat. The American public scouted the idea as being impossible of accomplishment, but the report persisted, and cities along the Atlantic Coast line had been on the watch for several days. The Deutschland eventually turned into Hampton Roads, piloted by a waiting tug, and tied up at a Baltimore dock.
The submarine, which was the largest ever seen in American waters, became a seven days' wonder. Captain Paul Koenig and his twenty-nine men and officers told some interesting stories of their trip across the ocean. It was said that the Deutschland could remain submerged for four days. When they got into the English Channel there was a cordon of warships barring exit to the Atlantic that made them extremely cautious. So Captain Koenig let his vessel lay on the bottom of the channel for a day and a night while the men enjoyed themselves with a phonograph and rousing German songs. When their enemies thinned out to some extent the submarine started again on her way and headed directly for Baltimore, which she reached without special incident.
The Deutschland immediately received the name of supersubmarine. Some thousand tons of dyes and other valuable products filled her hold. They were reported to be worth $1,000,000. The vessel was able to make twelve knots an hour on the surface and about seven knots when submerged. She traveled most of the way across on the surface, being under water about one-third of the time. In addition to her valuable cargo, she brought a special message from Kaiser Wilhelm to the president.
No other submarine, so far as known, had made a trip of such distance as the Deutschland up to that time. Longer voyages have been accredited to several British submarines, but they were either made with a convoy or broken by stops enroute. Soon after the beginning of the war, several Australian submarines journeyed from their far-away home ports to the Dardanelles, traveling 13,000 miles. They called at various points in the two Americas. Submarines built in America and assembled in Canada proceeded from Newfoundland to Liverpool before the Deutschland crossed the Atlantic, but they had another ship as convoy.
The Sultan Selim and the Midullu clashed with Russian ships in the Black Sea, July 11, 1916, sinking four merchant vessels. They also bombarded harbor works on the Caucasian Coast near Puab. Both attacking vessels made their escape without injury.
Vienna reported on the same day the sinking of five British patrol boats in the Otranto Road, between Italy and Albania, by the cruiser Novara. Only nine men were saved.
Seaham Harbor, a small coal port near Sunderland, on the British Channel coast, was shelled by a submarine the night of July 11, 1916. Thirty rounds of shrapnel started several fires and caused the death of one woman. Berlin also claimed the sinking of a British auxiliary cruiser of 7,000 tons and three patrol vessels on the night of that day. The statement was never denied in London, and no details were made public as to the fate of the crews.
The Italian destroyer Impetuoso was torpedoed in the Adriatic, July 16, 1916, with a loss of 125 lives.
In retaliation for Turkish attacks upon her hospital ships, Russia announced July 21, 1916, that she would no longer respect hospital ships of the Ottomans. It was pointed out that hitherto all vessels bearing the markings of the Red Crescent Society, which is the Turkish equivalent of the Red Cross, had been uniformly respected. This declaration by Russia implied a depth of resentment that had swept through all of the allied countries because of deeds said to have been committed by the Teutons and their Turkish cohorts. Some few reprisals were taken by France in the way of air raids in retaliation for the bombardment of open cities. But this was the first recorded step of Russia in that direction and foretold a war in which all quarter would disappear.
Two years of fighting had cost both sides heavily upon the sea. Up to August 1, 1915, according to the best available figures, the allied navies lost seventy-one warships, with a tonnage of 326,855. Great Britain was a sufferer to the extent of forty-two ships in that first year, aggregating 254,494 tons, represented by eight battleships, three armored cruisers, four protected cruisers, four light cruisers, and twenty-three smaller craft. In the same period France lost twelve ships of 28,027 tons; Russia six ships of 21,775 tons; Japan seven ships of 4,801, and Italy four ships of 17,758 tons.
The losses of Germany, Austria and Turkey in 1915 were placed at eighty-nine ships, with a gross tonnage of 262,791. Of these Germany lost sixty-nine vessels, aggregating 238,904 tons, and consisting of one battle cruiser, five armored cruisers, ten protected cruisers and fifty smaller craft. Austria lost seven ships of 7,397 tons, and Turkey thirteen ships of 16,490 tons.
Curiously enough the second year's figures show smaller losses for both sides. The Allies are accredited with forty-one ships having a tonnage of 202,600, and the Teutonic allies with thirty-three ships, having a tonnage of 125,120. Thirty-four British ships were sunk, including two battleships, three battle cruisers, seven protected cruisers, two light cruisers, and seventeen smaller craft. The other losses were distributed between her partners in arms.
Germany's loss in 1916 was twenty-six ships—four battleships, one battle cruiser, six protected cruisers, and fifteen smaller craft, approximating 114,620 tons. The remaining casualties on the German side were divided between Austria and Turkey.
These figures do not take into account several vessels claimed to have been sunk by both sides but are predicated upon known sea casualties. During the two years Germany sustained a reduction of 18.5 of her strength in battleships and battle cruisers of the dreadnought era, which means ships built since 1904, and these are the units that really count in modern warfare. Britain is believed to have lost 6.6 of similar vessels. In light cruisers her loss was only 5.2 per cent, while Germany was weakened nearly 45 per cent in that class of vessel. The figures shift for vessels of an older type, showing a ratio of about two to one against Great Britain. This is due largely to the Dardanelles enterprise and because in some instances older craft were assigned to many dangerous undertakings where the newer ships were held in reserve.
In every engagement of any consequence that took place during the first two years of war, with the single exception of the fight off Chile, Britain won and Germany lost. But Germany inflicted greater injury upon her opponent than any other nation in all the years of Britain's maritime supremacy. The actual material loss to her enemies was larger than her own. Despite this and the fact of Germany's strongest efforts Britain still ruled the waves.
PART III—CAMPAIGN ON THE EASTERN FRONT
THE EASTERN FRONT AT THE APPROACH OF SPRING, 1916
In the preceding volumes we have followed the fates of the Austrian, German, and Russian armies from the beginning of the war up to March 1, 1916. Although spring weather does not set in in any part of the country through which the eastern front ran until considerable time after that date, events along the western front, where the Germans were then hammering away at the gates of Verdun, had shaped themselves in such a manner that they were bound to influence the plans of the Russian General Staff. It was, therefore, not much of a surprise that a Russian offensive should set in previous to the actual arrival of spring.
As we shall see shortly, the first two weeks or so of March, 1916, saw a renewal of active fighting at many points along the entire eastern front. But most of this was restricted during this period to engagements between small bodies of troops and in most instances amounted to little more than clashes between patrols. This preliminary period of reconnoitering was followed by another short period of preparatory work on the part of the Russian armies consisting of artillery attacks on certain selected points and undertaken with a violence and an apparently unlimited supply of guns and ammunition such as had not been displayed by the Russian forces on any previous occasion, and when, after these preliminaries the actual offensive was launched, the number of men employed was proportionally immense.
Before we follow in detail developments along the eastern front, it will be well for a fuller understanding of these, to visualize again its location and to determine once more the distribution of the forces maintaining it on both sides. In its location the eastern front had experienced very little change since the winter of 1915 had set in and ended active campaigning. Its northern end now rested on the southwest shore of the Gulf of Riga at a point about ten miles northwest of the Baltic town of Pukkum on the Riga-Windau railroad and about thirty miles northwest of Riga itself. From these it ran in a southeasterly direction through Schlock, crossed the river Aa where it touches Lake Babit, passed to the north of the village of Oley and only about five miles south of Riga, and reached the Dvina about halfway between Uxkull and Riga. From there it followed more or less closely the left bank of the Dvina, passed Friedrichstadt and Jacobstadt to a point just west of Kalkuhnen, a little town on the bend of the Dvina, opposite Dvinsk. There it continued, generally speaking, in a southerly direction, at some points with a slight twist to the east, at others with a similarly slight turn to the west. It thus passed just east of Lake Drisviaty, crossed the Disna River at Koziany, then ran through Postavy and just east of Lake Narotch, crossed the Viliya River and the Vilna-Minsk railroad at Smorgon, and reached the Niemen at Lubcha. From thence it passed by the towns of Korelitchy, Zirin, Luchowtchy and entered the Pripet Marshes at Lipsk. About ten miles south of the latter town the line crossed the Oginsky Canal and followed along its west bank through the town of Teletshany to about the point where the canal joins the Jasiolda River. From that point the Germans still maintained their salient that swings about five miles to the east of the city of Pinsk.
Up to just south of the Pinsk salient, where the line crossed the Pripet River, it was held, for the Central Powers, almost exclusively by German troops. Below that point its defense was almost entirely in the hands of Austro-Hungarian regiments. Soon after crossing the Pripet River the line reached the Styr River and followed its many turns for some thirty miles, now on its western bank and then again on its eastern shore. This river was crossed between Czartorysk and Kolki. About thirty miles south of Kolki, just to the east of the village of Olyka the Russians had succeeded in maintaining a small salient, the apex of which was directed toward their lost fortress of Lutsk almost twenty miles to the west, while the southern side passed very close to that other fortress, Dubno, even though it ran still some distance to the east of it. Crossing then the Lemberg-Rovno railroad, the line ran along both banks of the Sokal River to Ikva and crossed the Galician border near Novo Alexinez.
A short distance south of the border, about twenty miles, it crossed the Lemberg-Tarnopol railroad, at Jesierne, a little town about sixty miles east of Lemberg and less than twenty miles west of Tarnopol. Ten miles further south the Strypa River was crossed and followed within a mile or so along its west bank for a distance of some twenty miles, passing west of Burkanow and Buczacz. Just south of the latter town the line overspread both banks of the Strypa up to its junction with the Dniester, thence along the banks of this stream for almost twenty miles to a point about ten miles west of the junction of the Sereth River with the Dniester. At that point the line took another slight turn to the east, passing just east of the city of Czernowitz, and crossing at that point the river Pruth into the Austrian province of Bukowina. Less than ten miles southeast of Czernovitz the border of Rumania was reached near Wama and thereby the end of the line.
As the crow flies, the length of this line, from the Gulf of Riga to the Rumanian border was six hundred and twenty miles. Actually, counting its many turns and twists and salients, it covered more than seven hundred and fifty miles. From the Gulf to the Pripet River the eastern front was held by German troops with one single exception.
From there an Austrian army corps with only a very slight admixture of German troops completed the front of the Central Empires down to the Bessarabian border.
From the Gulf of Riga down to the Oginski Canal five distinct German army corps were facing the Russians. The most northern of these covered the Gulf section and the Dvina front down to a point near Friedrichstadt. The second group was lined up from that point on down to somewhere just south of Lake Drisviaty, the third from Lake Drisviaty to the Viliya River, the fourth from the Viliya River to the Niemen River, and the fifth from the Niemen to the Oginski Canal. Generals von Scholz, von Eichhorn, von Fabeck, and von Woyrsch, were in command of these difficult units, with Field Marshal von Hindenburg in supreme command. The sector south of the Oginski Canal and up to the Pripet River was held by another army group under the command of Field Marshal Prince Leopold of Bavaria.
The first Austrian army corps, forming the left wing of the front held by the Austro-Hungarian forces, was commanded by Archduke Joseph Ferdinand. Later on, as the rapid success of the Russian offensive made it necessary for German troops to come to the assistance of their sorely pressed allies, General von Linsingen was dispatched from the north with reenforcements and assumed supreme command of this group of armies located in Volhynia. The command of the Galician front was in the hands of the Bavarian general, Count von Bothmer, while the forces fighting in the Bukowina were directed by General Pflanzer.
On the Russian side of the line General Kuropatkin, well known from the Russo-Japanese War, was in command of the northern half of the front. Of course, there were a number of other generals under him in charge of the various sectors of this long line. But on account of the comparative inactivity which was maintained most of the time along this line, their names did not figure largely. South of the Pripet Marshes General Alexeieff was in supreme command. Under him were General Brussilov and General Kaledin in Volhynia, General Sakharoff in Galicia, and the Cossack General Lechitsky in the Bukowina along the Dniester. Here, too, of course were a number of other commanders who, however, came into prominence only occasionally.
An intimate view of some of the Russian generals and their troops is presented in the following description from the pen of the official English press representative:
"The head of the higher command, General Alexeieff, early in the Galician campaign clearly proved, as chief of staff to General Ivanoff, his extraordinary capacity to direct an advance. As commander on the Warsaw front he made it evident that he could, with an army short of all material things, hold until the last moment an enemy equipped with everything, and then escape the enemy's clutches. At Vilna he showed his technique by again eluding the enemy.
"General Kaledin, the commander of the army on the Kovel front, is relatively a new figure in important operations. At the beginning of the war, as commander of a cavalry division, his universal competence in all operations committed to his care brought him rapid promotion, until now he is the head of this huge army. Meeting him frequently as a guest, I have come to feel great confidence in this resolute, quiet man, who is surrounded by a sober, serious staff, each officer picked for his past performance.
"I note an infinite improvement since last year in the army. In the first place I see no troops without rifles, and there is no shortage of ammunition apparent. Then there is an extraordinary improvement in the organization of the transport. In spite of the large volume of troops on this front they are moving with less confusion than the transport of single corps entailed two years ago. The compact organization of munition columns and the absence of wasted time have speeded up communications fully fifty per cent., enabling three units to be moved as easily as two last year.
"The transport has been further improved by the addition of motor vehicles. The staff organization is incomparably better than at the beginning of the war, and I have not seen a single staff on this front which is not entirely competent. The system of transporting the wounded has been well organized, and vast numbers are being cleared from the front stations without confusion or congestion.
"In comparison I can recall the early Galician days when unimagined numbers of wounded, both our own and Austrian, flooded Lemberg in a few days, and there were countless casualties. In spite of the numbers of wounded here I have not seen any congestion, and I find all the clearing stations cleared within a few hours after every fight, the wounded passing to base hospitals and being evacuated into the interior of Russia with great promptness.
"Owing to the few good roads and the distance from the railway of much of the fighting, in many places the wounded have been obliged to make trips of two or three days in peasants' carts before reaching the railways.
"Finally, the morale of the army has reached an unexampled pitch. In the hospitals which I inspected with the general many of the wounded, even those near death, called for news of the front, asking if the trenches were taken, and saying they were willing to die if the Germans were only beaten. Such sentiments typify the extent to which this conflict is now rooted in the hearts of the Russian army and people."
THE RUSSIAN MARCH—OFFENSIVE FROM RIGA TO PINSK
Beginning with March 1, 1916, active campaigning was renewed along the eastern front. Climatic conditions, of course, made any extensive movements impossible as yet. But from here and there reports came of local attacks, of more frequent clashes between patrols, and of renewed artillery activity. Some of these occurred in the Bukowina, in Bessarabia, and in Galicia, others in the neighborhood of Baranovitchy, north of the Pripet Marshes, and, later, toward the middle of March, 1916, fighting took place at the northernmost point of the line, near Lake Babit.
It was not until March 17, 1916, however, that it became more apparent what was the purpose of the many encounters between Russian and German patrols that had been officially reported with considerable regularity since the beginning of March. On March 17, 1916, both the German and Austro-Hungarian official statements reported increased Russian artillery fire all along the line. On the following day, March 18, 1916, the Russians started a series of violent attacks. The first of these was launched in the sector south of Dvinsk. This is the region covered with a number of small marshy lakes that had seen a great deal of the most desperate fighting in 1915. With great violence Russian infantry was thrown against the German lines that ran from Lake Drisviaty south to the town of Postavy; another attack of equal strength developed still further south along both banks of Lake Narotch. But the German lines not only held, but threw back the attacking forces with heavy losses which, according to the German official statement of that day were claimed to have numbered at Lake Narotch alone more than 9,000 in dead.
In spite of these heavy losses and of the determined German resistance, the Russians repeated the attack with even increased force on March 19, 1916. At Lake Drisviaty, in the neighborhood of Postavy and between Lake Vishnieff and Lake Narotch attack after attack was launched with the greatest abandon. This time the Germans not only repulsed all these attacks, but promptly launched a counterattack near Vidzy, a little country town on the Vilna-Dvinsk post road, capturing thereby some 300 men. The German official statement claimed that these prisoners belonged to seven different Russian regiments, giving thereby an indication of the comparatively large masses of troops employed on the Russian side.
Again on March 30, 1916, new attacks were launched in the same locality. At one point the Germans were forced to withdraw a narrow salient which protruded to a considerable distance just south of Lake Narotch. Russian machine guns had been placed in such positions that they enfiladed the salient in three directions and made it untenable. The German line here was withdrawn a few hundred feet toward the heights of Blisuiki. During the night of March 20, 1916, especially violent attacks were again launched against the German lines between Postavy and Vileity, a small village to the northwest of that town. There the Russians succeeded in gaining a foothold in the German trenches. During the afternoon the Russians attempted to extend this success. With renewed violence they trained their guns on the German positions. In order to throw back a strong German counterattack, a curtain of fire was laid before the trenches stormed earlier in the day. At the same time German artillery strongly supported the attack of their infantry. On both sides the gunfire became so violent that single shots could not be distinguished any longer. Shrapnel exploded without cessation and rifle fire became so rapid that it sounded hardly less loudly than the gunfire. Late in the afternoon the Germans succeeded in retaking the trenches which they had lost in the morning, capturing at that time the Russian victors of the morning to the number of 600.
On the same day, March 21, 1916, the Russians extended the sphere of their attack. At the same time that they were hammering away at the German lines south of Dvinsk other attacks were launched all along the northern front. In the Riga region, near the village of Plakanen, as well as in the district south of Dahlen Island, heavy engagements were fought. Farther south, between Friedrichstadt and Jacobstadt, on the south bank of the Dvina River the Russians captured a Village and wood east of Augustinhof.
At many other points, along the entire eastern front from Lake Narotch south attacks developed. In most of these the Russians assumed the initiative. But here and there—near Tverietch, just south of Vidzy; along Lake Miadziol, just north of Lake Narotch, and around Lake Narotch itself—the Germans attempted a series of counterattacks which, however, yielded no tangible results. All in all, the day's fighting made little change in the respective positions and the losses in men were about evenly divided.
The violence and energy with which the Russian attacks during March were executed may readily be seen from reports of special correspondents, who were behind the German lines at that period. Their collective testimony also tends to confirm the German claims that very large Russian forces were used and that their losses were immense.
"From Riga to the Rumanian border," says one of these eye-witnesses, "thundered the crashing of guns.... About seventy miles northeast of Mitau, a chain of lakes runs through the wooded, swampy country, narrow, long bodies of water follow the course of Mjadsjolke River, a natural trench in a region that is otherwise a very difficult territory by nature. In the south the chain is closed by Lake Narotch, a large secluded body of water of some thirty-five square miles, through which now runs the front. In the north of this chain of lakes, near the village of Postavy, a thundering of guns commenced on the morning of March 18, 1916, such as the eastern front had hardly ever heard before. Russian drum fire! From out of the woods, across the ice and snow water of the swamps, line after line came storming against the German trenches.... On the same day, farther south, between Lakes Narotch and Vishnieff another Russian attack was launched.... The losses of the Russians are immense. More than 5,000 dead and wounded must be lying before our positions only about ten miles wide. During the night a lull came. But with the break of dawn the drum fire broke out once more, and again the waves of infantry rolled up against our positions.... During the night from March 19 to March 20, 1916, the drum fire of the Russian guns increased to veritable fury. As if the entire supply of ammunition collected throughout the winter months were to be used up all at once, shells continuously shrieked and howled through the darkness: 50,000 hits were counted in one single sector...."
Another correspondent writes: "The numbers of the Russians are immense. They have about sixty infantry divisions ready. Their losses are in proportion and were estimated on a front of about ninety miles to have been near to 80,000 men. For instance, against one German cavalry brigade there were thrown seven regiments with a very narrow front, but eight lines deep. Four times they came rushing on against the German barbed-wire obstacles without being able to break through, but losing some 3,000 men just the same.... On March 24, 1916, 6,000 Russian shells were counted in a small sector on the Dvinsk front."
In the latter sector and to the north of it, heavy fighting had developed on March 22 and 23, 1916. Especially around Jacobstadt, attack followed attack, both sides taking turns in assuming the offensive. The Russian attacks were particularly violent during the evening and night of March 22, 1916, and in some places resulted in the temporary invasion of the German first-line trenches. Especially hard was fighting along the Jacobstadt-Mitau railroad. Between Dvinsk and Lake Drisviaty a violent artillery and rifle duel was kept up almost continuously, resulting at one point, just below Dvinsk near Shishkovo, in the breaking up of a German attack. South of the lake, at the village of Mintsiouny, however, a German attack succeeded and drove the Russians out of some trenches which they had gained only the day before. Here, too, both artillery and rifle fire of great violence carried death into both the Russian and German ranks. At Vidzy, a few miles farther south, the Russians stormed four times in quick succession against the German positions. Northwest of Postavy another Russian attack failed, the Germans capturing over 900 men and officers at that particular point. On the other hand, a German attack still farther south and northwest of Lake Narotch was repulsed and the Russians made slight gains in the face of a most violent fire. Near the south shore of Lake Narotch a German attack supported by asphyxiating gas forced back the Russians on a very narrow front for a very short distance. From Lake Narotch down to the Pripet Marshes the Russians maintained a lively cannonade at many points without, however, making any attacks in force.
During March 23, 1916, a determined Russian attack against the bridgehead at Jacobstadt broke down under the heavy German gunfire. During the night repeated Russian attacks to the north of the Jacobstadt-Mitau railroad a surprise attack southwest of Dvinsk and violent attacks along the Dvinsk-Vidzy sector suffered the same fate, although in some instances the Russian troops succeeded in coming right up to the German barbed-wire obstacles. Between Lake Narotch and Lake Vishnieff the Russians captured some woods after driving out German forces which had constructed strong positions there.
Without cessation the Russian attacks continued day by day. Fresh troops were brought up continuously. The munition supply, which in the past had been one of the chief causes of Russian failure and disaster, seemed to have become suddenly inexhaustible. Not only was each attack carefully and extensively prepared by the most violent kind of artillery fire, but the latter was directed also against those German positions which at that time were immune from attack on account of the insurmountable natural difficulties brought about by climatic conditions. For by this time winter began to break up and ice and snow commenced to melt, signifying the rapid approach of the spring floods. To a certain extent these climatic conditions undoubtedly had an important influence on Russian plans. Almost along the entire northern part of the front the Germans possessed one great advantage. Their positions were located on higher and drier ground than those of the Russians, whose trenches were on low ground, and would become next to untenable, once thaw and spring floods would set in in earnest. There is little doubt that the great energy and superb disregard of human life which the Russian commanders developed throughout the March offensive were principally the result of their strong desire to get their forces on better ground before it was too late or too difficult, and from a tactical point of view the risks which they took at that time and the price which they seemed to be willing to pay to achieve their ends were not any too great.
In spite of the lack of any important success the Russian attacks against the Jacobstadt sector were renewed on March 24, 1916. But the German guns had shot themselves in so well that it availed nothing. Other attacks, attempted to the southwest of Dvinsk and at various points north of Vidzy suffered the same fate. In the neighborhood of Lake Narotch Russian activities on that day were restricted to artillery fire.
The Germans assumed the offensive on March 25, 1916, on the Riga-Dvinsk sector. Their guns were trained against Schlock, a small town on the south shore of the Gulf of Riga, just northwest of Lake Babit, against the bridgehead at Uxkull, fifteen miles southeast of Riga on the Dvina, and against a number of other positions between that point and Jacobstadt. A German attempt to gain ground north of the small sector of the Mitau-Jacobstadt railway, that was still in Russian hands, failed in the face of a devastating Russian cannonade. A German trench was captured by Russian infantry ably supported by artillery west of Dvinsk, but neither southwest nor south of this fortress were the Russians able to register any success. Northwest of Postavy and between Lake Narotch and Lake Vishnieff heavy fighting still continued and in some places developed into hand-to-hand fighting between smaller detachments. From Lake Narotch down to the Pripet Marshes German and Russian guns again raked the trenches facing them.
On March 26, 1916, the following day, the Russians attacked at many points. Northwest of Jacobstadt, near the village of Augustinhof, a most violent attack brought no results. Northwest of Postavy the Russians stormed two trenches. Southwest of Lake Narotch repeated heavy attacks were repulsed and some West Prussian regiments recovered an important observation point which they had lost a week before. Over 2,100 officers and men were captured that day by the Germans. Aeroplanes of the latter also resumed activity and dropped bombs on the stations at Dvinsk, and Vileika, as well as along the Baranovitchy-Minsk railroad.
Russian artillery carried death and destruction into the German trenches on March 27, 1916, before Oley, south of Riga, and before the Uxkull bridgehead. In the Jacobstadt sector, as well as near Postavy, violent engagements, launched now by the Germans and then again by the Russians, occurred all day long without yielding any results to either side. Southwest of Lake Narotch the Russians made a determined attack with two divisions against the positions captured by German regiments on the previous day, but were not able to dislodge the latter. Fighting also developed now in the Pripet Marshes and the territory immediately adjoining. Weather conditions were rapidly changing for the worse all along the eastern front. Thaw set in, and all marsh and lake ground was flooded. Everywhere, not only in the southern region, but also in the northern, the ice on the rivers and lakes became covered with water and was getting soft near the banks. Throughout the northern region the melting of the thickly lying snow in the roads was making the movements of troops and artillery extraordinarily difficult.
As a result of these conditions, which were growing more difficult every day, a decided decrease in activity became immediately noticeable on both sides. For quite a time fighting, of course, continued at various points. But both the numbers of men employed as well as the intensity of their effort steadily increased.
Before Dvinsk and just south of the fortress artillery fire formed the chief event on March 28, 1916. But south of Lake Narotch the Russians still kept up their attacks. At one point, where the Germans had gained a wood a few days ago the Russian forces attacked seven times in quick succession and thereby recovered the southern part of the forest. Along the Oginski Canal fighting was conducted at long range. German aeroplanes again dropped bombs, this time on the stations at Molodetchna on the Minsk-Vilna railroad, as well as at Politzy and Luniniets.
Both March 30 and 31, 1916, were marked by a noticeable cessation of attacks on either side. Long-range rifle fire and artillery cannonades, however, took place at many points from the Gulf down to the Pripet Marshes. German aeroplanes again attacked a number of stations on railroads leading out of Minsk to western points.
Of all the violent fighting which took place during the second half of March, 1916, along the northern half of the eastern front, the little village of Postavy, perhaps, saw more than any other point. The special correspondent of a Chicago newspaper witnessed a great deal of this remarkably desperate struggle during his stay with Field Marshal von Hindenburg's troops. His vivid description, which follows, will give a good idea of the valor displayed both by German and Russian troops, as well as of the immense losses incurred by the attackers during this series of battles lasting ten days.
"Despite the artillery, despite the machine guns and despite the infantry fire, the apparently inexhaustible regiments of Russians swept on over the dead, over the barbed-wire barriers before the German line, over the first trenches and routed the German soldiers, who were half frozen in the mud of their shattered shelters. A terrible hand-to-hand conflict followed. Hand grenades tore down scores of defenders and assailants' attacks. The men fought like maniacs with spades, bayonets, knives and clubbed guns.
"But the Russians won at a fearful price for so slight a gain. They stopped within a hundred feet of victory. It may have been lack of discipline, lack of officers or lack of reserves; no one knows.
"The Russians seemed helpless in the German trenches. Instead of sweeping on to the second lines they tried to intrench themselves in the wrecked German first line. Immediately German artillery hurled shells of the heaviest caliber into those lines and tore them into fragments.
"Then came the reserves and by nightfall the Russians had again been driven out.
"Four days later, suddenly without warning, a mud-colored wave began to pour forth from the forest. It was a line of Russians three ranks deep containing more than 1,000 men. Behind this was a second wave like the first, and then a third.
"The German artillery tore holes in the ranks, which merely closed up again, marched on, and made no attempt to fire. They marched as though on parade. 'It was magnificent but criminal!' said a German officer.
"When a fourth line emerged from the woods the German artillery dropped a curtain of fire behind it, and then a similar wall of shells ahead of those in front. They then moved these two walls closer together with a hail of shrapnel between them, while at the same time they cut loose with the machine guns.
"The splendid formation of Russians, trapped between the walls of fire, scattered heedlessly in vain. Shells gouged deep holes in the dissolving ranks. The air was filled with clamor and frantic shrieks were sometimes heard above the incessant roar and cracking of exploding projectiles.
"Defeated men sought to dig themselves into the ground in the foolish belief that they could find safety there from this deluge of shells. Others raced madly for the rear and some escaped in this way as if by a miracle. Still others ran toward the German lines only to be cut down by the German machine-gun fire.
"In less than twenty minutes the terrible dream was over. The attack had cost the Russians 4,000 lives, and yet not a Russian soldier had come within 600 yards of the German line."
Another important feature of the March offensive, especially in its early phases, was the patrol work, executed on both sides. This required not only courage of the highest order, but also a high degree of intelligence on the part of the leader as well as of the men working under him. The results obtained by patrol work are, of course, of the greatest importance to the respective commanding officers, and many times the way in which such a mission is carried out is the decisive factor in bringing success or failure to an important movement. At the same time patrol work is, of course, a matter of chiefly local importance, and no matter how difficult the problem or how cleverly it is solved it is only on rare occasions that the result reaches the outside world, even though a collection of detailed reports which patrol leaders are able to make would form a story that would put to shadow the most impossible book of fiction or the most unbelievable adventure film.
The following two descriptions of such work, therefore, make not only a highly sensational story, but prove also that war in modern times relies almost as much on personal valor and initiative as in times gone by, all claims to the contrary notwithstanding, and in spite of the wonderful technical progress which military science of our times shares with all other sciences.
An American special newspaper correspondent with Von Hindenburg's army reports the following occurrences and also gives a vivid pen picture of conditions in the territory immediately behind the front:
"In a forest near the town of Lyntupy a patrol of thirteen Russian spies hid in an abandoned German dugout in the course of a night march southward to destroy a bridge over the river Viliya with high explosives.
"Desperate for food, they finally intrusted their safety to a Polish forester, ordering him to bring food. The forester promptly gave the Germans information. The Germans surrounded the dugout, throwing in three hand grenades. On entering the dugout they discovered ten Russians killed by grenades and three by bullets.
"The Russian lieutenant had shot two comrades not killed by grenades and then himself, in order to escape execution as spies, for the patrol was not in uniform.
"Another audacity was performed during a Russian attack on the German trenches. From the darkness came a voice calling in perfect German, 'What is the matter with you? Are you soldiers? Are you Germans? Are you men? Why don't you get forward and attack the Russians? Are you afraid?'
"Bewildered by these words coming up to them direct from the nearest wire entanglements, the Germans turned a searchlight in the direction, discovering the speaker to be a Russian officer who had taken his life in his hands on the chance of drawing the Germans from the trenches. His audacity cost him his life, for instantly he fell before a volley of bullets.
"The Germans speak well of the marksmanship of considerable bodies of the Russian infantry. Personally, I can say they shoot as well as I have any desire to have men shoot when aiming at me. Twice on Friday I was sent scurrying off exposed ridges by the waspish whisper of bullets coming from a Russian position jutting from the south shore of Lake Miadziol.
"There is not only railroad building, but also much farming going on around Karolinow. The land for a distance of thirty miles has been divided into thirteen farm districts by the Germans and planted to potatoes, rye, oats and summer barley. In many parts the Germans are taking a census, all their methodicalness contributing vastly to the troops' comfort and happiness. Their health is amazing. The records of one division show five sick men daily, which is not as many as one would find in any town of 20,000 in any part of the world.
"German caution and inventiveness also keep down the casualties marvelously. Records I saw to-day showed thirty-eight wounded in one division in the month of March, though the division was attacked twice during the offensive. The percentage of heavily wounded for all the German troops in this region in the last three months averages seven.
"Despite the horrible roads, Field Marshal von Hindenburg has penetrated to numerous villages on the front in the last few days to greet and thank the troops. Returning to his headquarters Von Hindenburg attended a banquet given by princes, nobles and generals of the empire to mark the fiftieth year of the field marshal's army service. Present amid the notables was a private soldier, in civil life a blacksmith, who was elected with two officers by their comrades to represent Von Hindenburg's old regiment at the banquet. The private was chosen because he had been in all the battles, but never had been wounded and never sick. He wears the Iron Cross of both classes."
RESUMPTION OF AUSTRO-RUSSIAN OPERATIONS
Just as was the case along the Russo-German line, considerable local fighting took place during the early part of March, to the south, along the Austro-Russian front. Here, too, much of it was between scouting parties and advanced outposts who attempted to feel out each other's strength. Occasionally one or the other side would launch an attack, with small forces, which, however, had little influence on general conditions, even though the fighting always was furious and violent.
On March 4, 1916, a detachment of Russian scouts belonging to General Ivanoff's army captured and occupied an advanced Austrian trench, close to the bridgehead of Michaleze, to the northeast of the town of Uscieszko on the Dniester River. Austrian forces immediately attempted to regain this position, launching three separate attacks against it. But the Russian troops held on to their slight gain. Near by, in the neighborhood of Zamnshin on the Dniester, Russian engineers had constructed elaborate mining works which were exploded on the same day, doing considerable damage to the Austrian defense works, and enabling the Russian forces to occupy some advanced Austrian trenches.
During the next two weeks considerable fighting of this nature occurred at many points along the front from the Pripet Marshes down to the Dniester. At no time, however, were the forces engaged on either side very numerous, nor did the results change the front materially. The various engagements coming so early in the year, quite some time before spring could be expected, signified, however, that there were more important undertakings in the air. The fact that the Russians were especially active in these scouting expeditions—for they really amounted to little more at that time—rather pointed toward an early resumption of the offensive on their part.
It was, therefore, not at all surprising that, before long, a considerable increase in Russian artillery activity became noticeable. About the middle of March, coincident with a similar increase of artillery attacks along the German-Russian front, the Russian guns in South Poland, Galicia, and the Bukowina began to thunder again as they had not done since the fall of 1915. This was especially done along the Dniester River and the Bessarabian front.
During the night of March 17, 1916, the Austrian position near Uscieszko, which had been attacked before in the early part of March, again was subjected to extensive attacks by means of mines and to a considerable amount of shelling. This was a strongly fortified position, guarding a bridgehead on the Dniester, which had been held by the Austrians ever since October, 1915. The mining operations were so successfully planned and executed that the Austrians, were forced to withdraw a short distance, when the Russians followed the explosion of their mines with a determined attack with hand grenades. In spite of this, however, the Austrians held the major part of this position until March 19, 1916.
How furious the fighting was on both sides is indicated in the official Austrian statement announcing on March 20, 1916, the final withdrawal from this position:
"Yesterday evening, after six months of brave defense, the destroyed bridge and fortifications to the northwest of Uscieszko (on the Dniester) were evacuated. Although the Russians succeeded in the morning in exploding a breach 330 yards in width, the garrison, which was attacked by an eightfold superior force, despite all losses held out for seven hours in a most violent gun and infantry fire.
"Only at 5 o'clock in the afternoon the commandant, Colonel Planckh, determined to evacuate the destroyed fortifications. Smaller detachments and the wounded reached the south bank of the Dniester by means of boats. Soon, however, this means of transport had to be given up, owing to the concentrated fire of the enemy.
"There remained for our brave troops, composed of the Kaiser Dragoons and sappers, only one outlet if they were to evade capture. They had to cut their way through Uscieszko, which was strongly occupied by the enemy, to our troops ensconced on the heights north of Zaleszczyki. The march through the enemy position succeeded. Under cover of night Colonel Planckh led his heroic men toward our advanced posts northwest of Zaleszczyki, where he arrived early this morning."
During the next few days the fire from the Russian batteries increased still more in violence. It did not, however, at any time or place assume the same strength which it had reached by that time at many points along the Russo-German front, north of the Pripet Marshes. Nor, indeed, did the Russians duplicate in the south their attempt at a determined offensive which they were making then in the north.
Considering the relative importance of Russian activities during the month of March, 1916, most of the engagements which took place in Galicia and Volhynia must be classed as unimportant. On March 21, 1916, it is true, almost the entire Austrian front was subjected to extensive artillery fire. But only at a few points was this followed by infantry attacks, and these were executed with small detachments only. Along the Strypa River Russian forces attempted to advance at various points, without gaining any ground.
Throughout the following days many engagements between individual outposts were again reported. On March 27, 1916, a Russian attempt to capture Austrian positions near Bojan, after destroying some of the fortifications by mines, failed. A similar fate met the attempt made during that night to cross the Strypa River at its junction with the Dniester. Other parts of the front, especially near Olyka and along the Bessarabian border, were again subjected to heavy artillery fire.
Although, generally speaking, the Austrians restricted themselves in most instances to a determined resistance against all Russian attacks, they took the offensive in some places, without, however, making any more headway than their adversaries. By the end of March, 1916, aeroplanes became more active on this part of the front, just as they did further north. On March 28, 1916, both sides report more or less successful bombing expeditions, which on that day seemed to bring better results to the Austrians than to the Russians, though these operations, too, must be considered of minor importance. Increasingly bad weather now began to hamper further undertakings, just as it did in the north, and by March 31, 1916, the Russian activities seemed to have lost most of their energy. Along the entire southeastern front thaw set in and the snows were melting. Although the territory along the Austro-Russian front, south of the Pripet Marshes, is not as difficult as further north, not being equally swampy, the fact that the line ran to a great extent along rivers and through a mountainous, or at least hilly country, resulted in difficulties hardly less serious. Rivers and creeks which only a few weeks before held little water suddenly became torrents and caused a great deal of additional suffering to the troops on both sides by invading their trenches.
The Russian offensive had barely slowed down when the Austrians themselves promptly assumed offensive operations. But here, too, it must be borne in mind that, although we used the word offensive, operations were altogether on a minor scale and restricted to local engagements. Some of the heaviest fighting of this period occurred near the town of Olyka, on the Rovno-Brest-Litovsk railroad. Just south of this place repeated Austrian attacks were launched against a height held by the Russians, both on April 1 and 2, 1916, but they were promptly repulsed.
On April 3, 1916, another attack in that neighborhood, this time northeast of Olyka, near the villages of Bagnslavka and Bashlyki, also failed to carry the Austrians into the Russian trenches. On the same day Austrian attacks were reported northwest of Kremenets on the Ikva, along the Lemberg-Tarnopol railway and in the vicinity of Bojan. Against all of these the Russian troops successfully maintained their positions. Austrian aeroplanes continued their bombing expeditions against some of the more important places immediately to the rear of the Russian front, without, however, inflicting any very important damage.
Again a comparative lull set in. Of course, artillery duels as well as continuous fighting between scouting parties and outposts took place even during that period. But attacks in force were rare, and then restricted to local points only. The latter were made chiefly by the Austrians, but did not lead to anything of importance. The official Russian statements report such engagements on April 6, 1916, near Lake Sosno, south of Pinsk, along the upper Strypa in Galicia, and north of Bojan. On April 7, 1916, an Austrian offensive attack attempted with considerable force on the middle Strypa, east of Podgacie, in Galicia, did not even reach the first line of the Russian trenches. On April 9, 1916, the Russians captured some Austrian trenches in the region of the lower Strypa, and on April 11, 1916, repulsed Austrian attacks north and south of the railway station of Olyka. Once more comparative quiet set in along the southern part of the eastern front, broken only by engagements between outposts and by a considerable increase in aeroplane activity.
But on April 13, 1916, the Russians again began to hammer away against the Austrian lines. A violent artillery attack was launched against the Austrian positions on the lower Strypa, on the Dniester and to the northwest of Czernowitz, and the Austrians were forced to withdraw some of their advanced positions to their main position northeast of Jaslovietz. Southeast of Buczacz an Austrian counterattack failed. A height at the mouth of the Strypa, called Tomb of Popoff, fell into the hands of the Russian troops. Both Austrian and Russian aeroplanes dropped bombs, without however inflicting any serious damage, even though the Russians officially announced that as many as fifty bombs fell on Zuczka—about half a mile outside of Czernowitz—and on North Czernowitz.
On April 14, 1916, the Russian artillery attacks on the lower Strypa, along the Dniester and near Czernowitz, were repeated. Again the Russians launched attacks against the advanced Austrian trenches at the mouth of the Strypa and southeast of Buczacz. An advanced Russian position on the road between that town and Czortkov was occupied by the Austrians.
For the balance of April, 1916, comparative quiet again ruled along the southeastern front. The muddy condition of the roads made extensive movements practically impossible. Outposts engagements, artillery duels, aeroplane bombardments, isolated attacks on advanced trenches and field works, of course, continued right along. But both success and failure were only of local importance, so that the official reports in most cases did not even mention the location of these engagements.
On the last day of April, 1916, however, the army of Archduke Joseph Ferdinand started a new strong offensive movement north of Mouravitzy on the Ikva in Volhynia. Heavy and light artillery prepared the way for an attack in considerable force against Russian trenches which formed a salient at that point, west of the villages of Little and Great Boyarka. The Russians had to give ground, but soon afterward started a strong counterattack, supported by heavy artillery fire, and regained the lost ground, capturing some 600 officers and men. In the southern half of the eastern front, just as in the northern half, there was little change in the character of fighting with the coming of May and the improvement in the weather. Artillery duels, aeroplane attacks, scouting expeditions, and local infantry attacks of limited extent and strength were daily occurrences.
On May 1, 1916, Austro-Hungarian detachments were forced to withdraw from their advanced positions to the north of the village of Mlynow. This place is located on the Ikva River, some ten miles northwest of the fortress of Dubno. Here the Russians had made a slight gain on April 28, 1916, and when they made an attack with superior forces from their newly fortified positions, they were able to drive back the Austro-Hungarians still a little bit farther.
Twenty miles farther north, in the vicinity of Olyka, the little town about halfway between the fortress of Lutsk and Rovno, on the railway line connecting these two points, the Russian forces reported slight progress on May 2, 1916. Northwest of Kremenets, in the Ikva section, Austro-Hungarian engineers succeeded in exploding mines in front of the Russian trenches. But the Russians themselves promptly utilized this accomplishment by rushing out of their trenches and making an advanced trench of their own out of the mine craters dug for them by their enemies.
Two days later, on May 4, 1916, the Russians were able to improve still more their new positions southeast of Olyka station, and to gain some more ground there. Repeated Austro-Hungarian counterattacks were repulsed. The same fate was suffered by determined infantry attacks on the Russian trenches in the region of the Tarnopol-Pezerna railway, in spite of the fact that these attacks were made in considerable force and were supported by strong artillery and rifle fire. Later the same day an engagement between reconnoitering detachments in the same region, southwest of Tarnopol, resulted in the capture of one Russian officer and 100 men by their Austro-Hungarian opponents.
Minor engagements between scouting parties and outposts were the rule of the day on May 5, 1916. These were especially frequent in the region of Tzartorysk on the Styr, just south of the Kovel-Kieff railway and south of Olyka station where Austro-Hungarian troops were forced to evacuate the woods east of the village of Jeruistche. A slight gain was made on May 6, 1916, by Russian troops in Galicia, on the lower Strypa River, north of the village of Jaslovietz.
Extensive mining operations, which, of course, were carried on at all times at many places, culminated successfully for the Russians in the region northwest of Kremenets on the Ikva and south of Zboroff on the Tarnopol-Lemberg railway. In the latter place Russian troops crept through a mine crater toward a point where Austro-Hungarian engineering troops were preparing additional mines and dispersed the working parties by a shower of hand grenades.
Throughout the balance of May operations along the southern part of the eastern front consisted of continued artillery duels, of frequent aeroplane attacks, and of a series of unimportant though bitterly contested minor engagements at many points, most of which had no relation to each other, and were either attacks on enemy trenches or attempts at repulsing such attacks. Equally continuous, of course, also were scouting expeditions and mining operations. None of these operations, however, yielded any noticeable results for either side, and the story of one is practically the story of all. The result of the artillery duels frequently was the destruction of some advanced trenches, while occasionally a munitions or supply transport was caught, or an exposed battery silenced. Mining operations sometimes would also lead to the destruction of isolated trenches, and thus change slightly the location of the line. But what one side gained on a given day was often lost again the next day, and the net result left both Germans and Russians at the end of May practically where they had been at the beginning. Most of these minor engagements occurred in regions that had seen a great deal of fighting before. Again and again there appear in the official reports such well-known names as Tzartorysk, Kolki, Olyka, Kremenets, Novo Alecinez, Styr River, Ikva River, Strypa River. Inch by inch almost this ground, long ago drenched with the blood of brave men, was fought over and over again—and a gain of a few hundred feet was considered, indeed, a gain.
THAW AND SPRING FLOODS
With the coming of thaw and the resulting spring floods roads along the eastern front, not any too good under the most favorable climatic conditions, had become little else than rivers of mud. Many of them, it is true, had been considerably improved during the long winter months, especially on the German-Austrian side of the line. But in many instances this improvement consisted simply of covering them with planks in order to make it possible to move transports without having wheels sink into the mud up to the axles. When the creeks and rivers along the line were now suddenly transformed by the melting snows into streams and torrents, much of this improvement was carried away and many roads not only sank back into their former impossible state, but, becoming thoroughly soaked and saturated with water in many places became impassable even for infantry. Movements of large masses soon were out of the question. To shift artillery, especially of the heavier kind, as quickly as an offensive movement required, and to keep both guns and men sufficiently supplied with munitions, were out of the question. The natural result, therefore, of these conditions was the prompt cessation of the Russian offensive which had been started in March, 1916, just before the breaking up of a severe winter.
However, this did not mean everywhere a return to the trench warfare, such as had been carried on all winter, although in many parts of the front activities on both sides amounted to little more. At other points, however, offensive movements were kept up, even if they were restricted in extent and force. Throughout the months of April and May, 1916, no important changes took place anywhere on the eastern front. A great deal of the fighting, almost all, indeed, was the result of clashes between scouting detachments or else simply a struggle for the possession of the most advantageous points, involving in most instances only a trench here or another trench there, and always comparatively small numbers of soldiers.
Though the story of this series of minor engagements as it can be constructed from official reports and other sources offers few thrills and is lacking entirely in the sensational accomplishments which mark movements of greater extent and importance, this is due chiefly to the fact that few details become known about fighting of only local character. In spite of this it must be borne in mind that all of this fighting was of the most determined kind, was done under conditions requiring the greatest amount of endurance and courage, and resulted in innumerable individual heroic deeds, which, just because they were individual, almost always remained unknown to the outside world.
On April 1, 1916, a German attack against the bridgehead at Uxkull was repulsed by Russian artillery. Farther south, in the Dvinsk sector German positions were subjected to strong artillery bombardment at many points, especially at Mechkele, and just north of Vidzy. On the following day, April 2, 1916, fighting again took place in the Uxkull region. Mines were exploded near Novo Selki, south of Krevo, a town just south of the Viliya River. The Germans launched an attack north of the Baranovitchy railway station. This is the strategically important village through which both the Vilna-Rovno and the Minsk-Brest-Litovsk railways pass and around which a great deal of fighting had taken place in the past. Even though this attack was extensively supported by aeroplanes, which bombarded a number of railway stations on that part of the Minsk-Baranovitchy railway which was in the hands of the Russians, it was repulsed by the Russians.
April 3, 1916, brought a renewal of the German attacks against the Uxkull bridgehead. For over an hour and a half artillery of both heavy and light caliber prepared the way for this attack. But again the Russian lines held and the Germans had to desist. Before Dvinsk and to the south of the fortress artillery duels inflicted considerable damage without affecting the positions on either side. Just north of the Oginski Canal German troops crossed the Shara River and attacked the Russian positions west of the Vilna-Rovno railway, without being able to gain ground. All along the line aircraft were busily engaged in reconnoitering and in dropping bombs on railway stations.
The bombardment of the Uxkull region was again taken up on April 4, 1916, by the German artillery. South of Dvinsk, before the village of Malogolska, the German troops had to evacuate their first-line of trenches when the arising floods of neighboring rivers inundated them. German aeroplanes bombarded the town of Luchonitchy on the Vilna-Rovno railway, just southeast of Baranovitchy.
By April 5, 1916, the German artillery fire before Uxkull had spread to Riga and Jacobstadt, as well as to many points in the Dvinsk sector. Floods were still rising everywhere and the ice on the Dvina began to break up.
Again on April 7, 1916, the German guns thundered against the Russian front from Riga down to Dvinsk. Lake Narotch, where so many battles had already been fought, again was the scene of a Russian attack which resulted in the gain of a few advanced German positions. The next day the Germans promptly replied with a determined artillery attack which regained for their side some of the points lost the previous day. Artillery duels also were staged near Postavy, in the Jacobstadt sector, and at the northernmost end of the line where the German guns bombarded the city of Schlock.
All day on April 9, 1916, the guns of all calibers kept up their death-dealing work along the entire Dvina front, and in the Lake district south of Dvinsk. The railway stations at Remershaf and Dvinsk were bombarded by German aeroplanes, while other units of their aircraft visited the Russian lines along the Oginski Canal. Both on April 11 and 12, 1916, artillery activity on the Dvina was maintained. A German infantry attack against the Uxkull bridgehead, launched on the 11th, failed.
By this time the ice had all broken up and the floods had stopped rising. In the Pinsk Marshes considerable activity developed on both sides by means of boats. A vivid picture of conditions as they existed at this time in the Pripet Marshes may be formed from the following description from the pen of a special correspondent on the staff of the Russian paper "Russkoye Slovo":
"The marshes," he writes, "have awakened from their winter sleep. Even on the paved roads movement is all but impossible; to the right and left everything is submerged. The small river S——en has become enormously broad; its shores are lost in the distance.
"The marshes have awakened, and are taking their revenge on man for having disturbed the ordinary life of Poliessie. But however difficult the operation, the war must be continued and material obstacles must be overcome. Owing to the enormous area covered by water the inhabitants have taken to boat building. Sentries and patrols move in boats, reconnoitering parties travel in boats, fire on the enemy from boats, and escape in boats from the attentions of the German heavy guns.
"The great marshy basin of the S——en and the P—— is full of new boats, which are called 'baidaka.' These 'baidaka' are small, constructed to hold three or four men. The boats are flat-bottomed and steady. The scouts take the 'baidaka' on their shoulders, and as soon as they come to deep water launch their craft and row to the other side. Small oars or paddles are used, and punting operations are often necessary.
"On the S——en these boats move with great secrecy in the night; in the daytime they are hidden in rushes and reeds.
"It was a foggy day when we decided on making a voyage in a 'baidaka.' 'The Germans came very suddenly to this place,' said one of my companions. 'Our soldiers are concealed everywhere.' We decided to row near the forest, so that in case of necessity we might gain the shelter of the trees. The silence was broken by occasional rifle reports from the direction of Pinsk, and a big gun roared now and then. Once a shell flew overhead, hissing as it went. But this was very ordinary music to us.
"I was more interested in the intense silence of the marsh, for I knew that all this silence was false. Our secret posts abounded, and perhaps German scouts were in the vicinity. The marsh was full of men in hiding, and the waiting for a chance shot was more terrible than a continuous cannonade. Our sentinels fired twice close by; we did not know why. The shots resounded in the forest. We lay down in our boat and hid our heads. It was difficult for us to advance through the undergrowth as the spaces between the bushes were generally very narrow. We could not row, and we had to punt with our oars.
"We advanced in this fashion half an hour. Then we reached a lakelike expanse clear of growth. 'This is the river S——en,' I was further informed. 'The Germans are on the other side.'
"I could not see where the 'other side' was. The water spread to the horizon and ended only in the purple border of the forest. 'We must be quiet here,' one whispered. The boat moved along the river without a splash, and strange, unaccustomed outlines grew up as we proceeded. 'What place is that yonder?' I asked my neighbor. 'Pinsk,' he replied. I felt excited; we were near a town that was occupied by the Germans, and I wished that boat would turn back.
"We got into the rushes and moved through the jungle as though we were advancing in open water, for the path through the rushes had been prepared in the autumn. We advanced in this manner forty minutes until we could distinctly hear the whistling of steam engines and the bells ringing in the monastery at Pinsk. It was evident that the monks had remained. 'The kaiser himself was in Pinsk in November,' said one of my companions, 'and we knew it. The Germans blew horns all over the railway line and sang their national hymn. In Pinsk there was much animation.'
"A minute or two later the boat stopped and I was told it was dangerous to go farther. On the right we could see the outlines of houses and of the quay at Pinsk, only about a thousand paces distant. The town was covered by a thin mist and a faint fog was rising from the marsh.
"'There on your left are their heavy guns.' I could see nothing except some trenches near the quay.
"We took our leave of Pinsk. The twilight had arrived and it was necessary to retire."
Though the ice on the rivers and lakes had well broken up by the middle of April, thaw, of course, steadily increased, and with it the volume of water carried by the creeks and rivers. More and more difficult it became, therefore, to carry out military operations, and, as a result of these conditions, they were especially limited at this period.
In spite of this the Russians attempted local advance on April 13, 1916, in the region of Garbunovka, northwest of Dvinsk and south of Lake Narotch; however, though their losses were quite heavy, they could not gain any ground. This was also true of another local attack made against the army of Prince Leopold of Bavaria near Zirin, on the Servetsch River northeast of Baranovitchy. Similarly unsuccessful were German attacks made the same day between Lakes Sventen and Itzen. German artillery still kept up its work along the entire front, especially at Lake Miadziol, south of Dvinsk at Lake Narotch, and at Smorgon, the little railroad station south of the Viliya River on the Vilna-Minsk railway.
On the following day, April 14, 1916, the Russians repeated their efforts in the Servetsch region. After strong artillery preparation they launched another attack near Zirin, and southeast of Kovelitchy, but were again repulsed. The same fate was suffered by an attack attempted northwest of Dvinsk. South of Garbunovka, however, they registered a slight local success. After cutting down four lines of barbed-wire obstacles that had been erected by the Germans, they stormed and occupied two small hills west and south of this village. This gain was maintained in the face of strongly concentrated artillery and rifle fire, and repeated German counterattacks, which later proved very sanguinary to the German troops. German artillery again directed violent fire against the Russian positions between Lake Narotch and Lake Miadziol and near Smorgon. A German attack made northwest of the latter village broke down under Russian gunfire.
At this point the Germans resumed their offensive at daybreak on April 15, 1916, after strong artillery preparation accompanied by the use of asphyxiating gas. Concentrated fire from the Russian artillery, however, prohibited any noticeable advance. During the following day, April 16, 1916, both sides restricted themselves more or less to artillery bombardments, which became especially violent on the Dvina line, around the Uxkull bridgehead, and in the neighborhood of the Russian positions south of the village of Garbunovka, as well as between Lake Narotch and Lake Miadziol.
Two days later, on April 18, 1916, German detachments temporarily regained some of the ground lost about a week before south of Garbunovka. Again on that day the guns on both sides roared along the entire northern sector of the eastern front. On the 19th the bombardment became especially intense at the bridgehead at Uxkull and south of lake.
The artillery attack against the former was maintained throughout the following two days. German scouting parties which crossed the river Shara, north of the Oginski Canal, on April 22, 1916, were surrounded in the woods adjoining and practically annihilated. On the same day a German squadron of ten aeroplanes bombarded the Russian hangars on the island of Oesel, a small island in the Baltic across the entrance to the Gulf of Riga.
As if both sides had agreed to observe the Easter holidays, a lull set in during the next four or five days. Only occasional unimportant local attacks and artillery duels were reported. Aeroplanes were the only branch of the two armies which showed any marked activity. Dvinsk was visited repeatedly by German machines and extensively bombarded. On April 26, 1916, a German airship dropped bombs on the railway station at Duna-Muende, at the mouth of the Dvina, and caused considerable damage. Other railway stations and warehouses at various points, as well as a number of Russian flying depots, were attacked on April 27, 1916.
The end of April, 1916, brought one more important action, the most important, indeed, which had occurred anywhere on the eastern front since the Russian offensive of the latter half of March, 1916. On April 28, 1916, at dawn, German artillery began a very violent bombardment of the Russian positions south of Lake Narotch. There, between the village of Stavarotche and the extensive private estate of Stakhovtsy, the Germans had lost a series of important trenches on March 20, 1916, during the early part of the short Russian offensive. Part of these positions had been recaptured a few days later on March 26, 1916. Now, after a considerable artillery preparation, a strong attack was launched with the balance of the lost ground as an objective. Large bodies of German infantry came on against the Russian positions in close formation. They recaptured not only all of the ground lost previously but carried their attack successfully into the Russian trenches beyond. The most fierce hand-to-hand fighting resulted. Losses on both sides were severe, especially so on the part of the Russians, who attempted unsuccessfully during the night following to regain the lost positions by a series of violent counterattacks, executed by large forces of infantry, who, advancing in close formation over difficult ground, were terribly exposed to German machine-gun fire and lost heavily in killed and wounded. The Germans officially claimed to have captured as a result of this operation the remarkably large number of fifty-six officers, 5,600 men, five guns, twenty-eight machine guns and ten trench mortars. During the same day artillery attacks were directed against Schlock on the Gulf of Riga and Boersemnende near Riga, as well as against Smorgon, south of the Lake district. An infantry attack, preceded by considerable artillery preparation, near the village of Ginovka, west of Dvinsk, was met by severe fire from the Russian batteries and the Germans were forced to withdraw to their trenches. In the early morning hours German airships bombarded railway stations along the Riga-Petrograd railroad as far as Venden, about fifty miles northeast of Riga, and along the Dvinsk-Petrograd railway as far as Rzezytsa, about fifty miles northeast of Dvinsk. At the latter point considerable damage was done by a dirigible which dropped explosive and incendiary bombs.