At 7.30 exactly there was a short lull in the bombardment—just long enough for the gunners everywhere to lengthen their range, and then the fire became a barrage. The staff officers, who had been studying their watches, now gave the order, and along the twenty-five mile front the Allies' infantry left the trenches and advanced to attack.
In this opening stage of the battle the British aim was the German first position. The section selected for attack ran from north to south, covering Gommecourt, passing east of Hebuterne and following the high ground before Serre and Beaumont-Hamel, crossed the Ancre northwest of Thiepval. From this point it stretched for about a mile and a quarter to the east of Albert. Passing south around Fricourt, it turned at right angles to the east, covering Mametz and Montauban. Midway between Maricourt and Hardecourt it turned south, covering Curlu, crossing the Somme at a marshy place near Vaux, and finally passed east of Frise, Dompierre, and Soyecourt, to leave east of Lihons the sector in which the Allied offensive was in progress which we are describing.
The disposition of the British forces on the front of attack was as follows: The right wing of Sir Edmund Allenby's Third Army and General Hunter-Weston's Eighth Corps lay opposite Gommecourt, and down to a point just south of Beaumont-Hamel. North of Ancre to Authuille was General Morland's Tenth Corps, and east of Albert General Pulteney's Third Corps, a division directed against La Boiselle, and another against Ovillers. Adjoining the French forces on the British right flank lay General Congreve's Thirteenth Corps.
The Allies' attack was not unexpected by the Germans, and they were not entirely wrong as to the area in which the blow would be delivered. From Arras to Albert they had concentrated large forces of men and many guns, but south of Albert they were less strongly prepared. Their weakest point was south of the Somme, where the Allies had all the advantage. In recording the history of the day's fighting two separate actions must be described, in the north and in the south. The Allies failed in the first of these, but in the second they gained a substantial victory over the German hosts. The most desperate struggle of the day was fought between Gommecourt and Thiepval.
Three of the British divisions in action here were from the New Army; one was a Territorial brigade and the two others had seen hard fighting in Flanders and Gallipoli. They confronted a series of strongly fortified villages—Gommecourt Serre, Beaumont-Hamel, and Thiepval—with underground caves that could shelter whole battalions. A network of underground passages led to sheltered places to the rear of the fighting line, and deep pits had been dug in which, in time of bombardment, the machine guns could be hidden. The Germans had also direct observation from the rear of these strongholds, where their guns were massed in large numbers.
Occupying such strong positions with every advantage in their favor, it is easy to understand why the British troops that attacked from Gommecourt to Thiepval failed to attain their objective. If the British bombardment had reached a high pitch of intensity on the morning of July 1, 1916, the German guns were no less active, and having the advantage of direct observation, their explosive shells soon obliterated parts of the British front trenches, compelling the British to form up in the open ground. A hot barrage fire of shrapnel accurately directed followed the British troops as they advanced over no-man's-land. Into a very hell of shrapnel, high explosives, rifle and machine-gun fire they pushed on in ordered lines. Soon the devastating storm of German artillery fire cut great gaps in their formation, yet not a man hung back or wavered. And this destructive German fire, accurate and relentless, the British soldiers faced unflinchingly from early dawn to high noon. Here and there the German position was penetrated by the more adventurous spirits, some detachments even forcing their way through it, but they could not hold their ground. The attack was checked everywhere, and by evening what was left of the British troops from Gommecourt to Thiepval struggled back to their old line.
The British had failed to win their objective, but the day had not been wholly wasted; they had struck deep into the heart of the German defense and inspired in the enemy a wholesome respect for their fighting powers. In this stubborn attack nearly every English, Scotch, and Irish regiment was represented—a Newfoundland battalion, a little company of Rhodesians, as well as London and Midland Territorials—all of whom displayed high courage. Again and again the German position was pierced. Part of one British division broke through south of Beaumont-Hamel and penetrated to the Station road on the other side of the quarry, a desperate adventure that cost many lives. It was at Beaumont-Hamel, under the Hawthorne Redoubt, that exactly at 7.30 a. m., the hour of attack, the British exploded a mine which they had been excavating for seven months. It was the work of Lancashire miners, the largest mine constructed thus far in the campaign. It was a success. Half the village and acres of land sprang into the air, blotting out for a time the light of the sun on the scene and hiding in a pall of dust and smoke the rapidly advancing British troops.
In the day's fighting the Irish soldiers were especially distinguished for many remarkable acts of bravery. The Royal Irish Fusiliers were the first to leave the trenches. To the north of Thiepval the Ulster Division broke through the German position at a point called "The Crucifix," holding for a time the formidable Schwaben Redoubt, and some even penetrated the outskirts of Grandcourt. The Royal Irish Rifles swept over the German parapet, and, assisted by the Inniskillings, cleared the trenches and destroyed the machine gunners. Through the enemy lines they swept, enfiladed on three sides, and losing so heavily that only a few escaped from the desperate venture. But the gallant remnant that struggled back to their own line took 600 prisoners, one trooper alone bringing in fifteen through the enemy's own barrage.
The village of Fricourt, as will be seen by the map, forms a prominent salient, and the British command decided to cut it off by attacking on two sides. An advance was planned on the strongly fortified villages of Ovillers and La Boiselle. The British on the first day won the outskirts and carried all the intrenchments before them, but had not gained control of the ruins, though a part of a brigade had actually entered La Boiselle and held a portion of the place. To complete the operation of cutting off Fricourt it was necessary to carry Mametz on the south; this accomplished, the forces would unite in the north at La Boiselle and Ovillers and, following the long depression popularly known as Sausage Valley toward Contalmaison, would be able to squeeze Fricourt so hard that it must be abandoned by the enemy. The British plans worked out successfully. A division that had been sorely punished at Loos and was now occupying a position west of Fricourt had now an opportunity to avenge its previous disaster. With grim determination to clean up the old score against the Germans, they advanced rapidly into the angle east of Sausage Valley, carrying two small woods and attacking Fricourt from the north and occupying a formidable position that threatened Fricourt.
The strongly fortified village of Montauban fell early in the day of July 1, 1916. Reduced to ruins, it crowned a ridge below the position of the British lines in a hollow north of the Peronne road at Carnoy. The British artillery had done effective work, and the attack on Montauban resulted in an easier victory than had been expected. The Sixth Bavarian Regiment which defended the place was said to have lost 3,000 out of the 8,500 who had entered the battle. Here for the first time in the campaign was witnessed the advance in line of the soldiers of Britain and France.
It was a moving sight that thrilled and heartened all the combatants. The Twentieth Corps of the French army lay on the British right, while the Thirty-ninth Division under General Nourisson marched in line with the khaki-clad Britons.
Only after surveying the captured ground did the French and British realize what a seemingly impregnable stronghold had been won. Endless labor had been expended by the Germans not only in fortifying the place but in constructing dugouts that were well furnished and homelike. The best of these were papered, with linoleum on the floor, pictures on the wall, and contained bathrooms, electric lights and electric bells. There were also at convenient points bolt holes from which the occupants could escape in case of surprise. Some of the dugouts had two stories, the first being reached by a thirty-foot staircase. Another stairway about as long communicated with the lower floor. Every preparation seemed to have been made for permanent occupation. The Germans had good reasons for believing that their position was impregnable. The utmost ingenuity had been employed to fortify every point. Carefully screened manholes used by the snipers were reached by long tunnels from the trenches. The most notable piece of military engineering was a heavily timbered communication trench 300 feet long, and of such a depth that those passing through it were safe from even the heaviest shells.
Late in the afternoon Mametz fell, after it had been reduced to a group of ruined walls, above which rose a rough pile of broken masonry that represented the village church. The Germans who occupied trench lines on the southern side had shattered the British trenches opposite Mametz so completely that the British infantry were forced to advance over open ground.
THE FRENCH ATTACKS NORTH AND SOUTH OF THE SOMME
From the hamlet of Vaux, ruined by German artillery, on the right bank of the Somme, part of the battle field, with the configuration of a long crest, looks like a foaming sea stretching away to the horizon.
Against the whitish yellow background the woods resolve into dark patches and the quarries into vast geometric figures. In the valley the Somme zigzags among the poplars; its marshy bed is covered with rushes and aquatic plants; on the left stand crumbled walls surrounding an orchard whose trees were shattered by German shells. This is the mill of Fargny through which the French line passes. A little beyond at a place called Chapeau-de-Gendarme was the first German trench, and farther still in the valley stands the village of Curlu, its surrounding gardens occupied by Bavarian troops. To the eastward, half hidden by the trees, a glimpse could be had of the walls of the village of Hem. In the distance a solitary church spire marked the site of Peronne, a fortress surrounded by its moat of three streams.
General Foch had planned his advance in the same methodical manner as the British command. At half past 7 on the morning of July 1, 1916, the French infantry dashed forward to assault the German trenches. During a period of nearly two years the Germans had been allowed leisure to strongly fortify their positions. At different points there were two, three and four lines of trenches bounded by deep ditches, with the woods and the village of Curlu organized for defense. But the magnificent driving power of the French infantry carried all before it, and by a single dash they overran and captured the foremost German works. Mounting the steep ascent of the height that is called Chapeau-de-Gendarme the young soldiers of the class of 1916, who then and there received their baptism of fire, waved their hats and handkerchiefs and shouted "Vive la France!"
The French troops had reached the first houses of the village of Curlu occupied by Bavarian troops, who offered a most stubborn resistance. Machine guns and mitrailleuses, which the French bombardment had not destroyed, appeared suddenly on the roofs of houses, in the ventholes of the cellars, and in every available opening.
The French infantry, obedient to the orders they had received, at once stopped their advance and crouched on the ground while the French artillery recommenced a terrible bombardment of the village. In about half an hour most of the houses in the place had been razed to the ground, and the enemy guns were silenced. This time without pause the French infantry went forward and Curlu was captured without a single casualty. The Germans later attempted a counterattack, but the village remained in French hands.
There were found in the ruined houses a large number of packages which had been put together by the Bavarians, consisting of articles of dress, pieces of furniture, household ornaments, and a great variety of objects stolen from the inhabitants of the village. The sudden attack of the French troops did not allow the Bavarians time to escape with their loot.
During the three days that followed the French were entirely occupied with organizing and consolidating the positions they had conquered.
At 7 a. m. on July 5, 1916, they began a fresh offensive. In a few hours' fighting the village of Hem and all the surrounding trenches had been captured. About noon the few houses in the village to which the Germans had clung tenaciously were evacuated.
Thanks to the prudence of the French command and the wisdom of their plans and the rapidity with which the attack had been carried out, the casualties were less than had been anticipated and out of all proportion to the value of the conquered positions.
While the French were thus forcing the pace and winning successes north of the Somme, their brothers in arms south of the river were carrying out some important operations with neatness and dispatch.
In this area the French launched their attack on July 1, 1916, at 9.30 a. m., on a front of almost ten kilometers from the village of Frise to a point opposite the village of Estrees.
Here it was that a Colonial corps that had especially distinguished itself during the war delivered an assault that was entirely successful. The Germans were taken by surprise. The French captured German officers engaged in the act of shaving or making their toilet in the dugouts; whole battalions were rounded up, and all this was done with the minimum of loss. One French regiment had only two casualties, and the total for one division was 800. The villages of Dompierre, Becquincourt, and Bussu were in French hands before nightfall, and about five miles had been gouged out of the German front. Southward the Bretons of the Thirty-fifth Corps, splendid fighters all, had captured Fay. Between them the Allies had captured on this day the enemy's first position without a break, a front of fourteen miles stretching from Mametz to Fay. They had taken about 6,000 prisoners and a vast quantity of guns and military stores.
On July 2, 1916, the French infantry attacked the village of Frise, and by noon the Germans were forced to evacuate the place. Here the French captured a battery of seventy-sevens which the enemy had not had time to destroy. Pushing rapidly on, the French took the wood of Mereaucourt. The village of Herbecourt, a little more to the south, was captured by the French after an hour's fighting. By early dark the entire group of German defenses was taken, thus linking Herbecourt to the village of Assevillers.
Between this last place and the river they broke into the German second position. Fayolle's left now commanded the light railway from Combles to Peronne, his center held the great loop of the Somme at Frise village, while his right was only four miles from Peronne itself.
During the day of July 3, 1916, the French continued their victorious advance, capturing Assevillers and Flaucourt. During the night their cavalry advanced as far as the village of Barleux, which was strongly held by the Germans. On the day following, July 4, 1916, the Foreign Legion of the Colonial Corps had taken Belloy-en-Santerre, a point in the third line. On July 5, 1916, the Thirty-fifth Corps occupied the greater part of Estrees and were only three miles distant from Peronne.
The Germans attempted several counterattacks, aided by their Seventeenth Division, which had been hurried to support, but these were futile, and finally the German railhead was moved from Peronne to Chaulnes.
There followed a few days' pause, employed by the French in consolidating their gains and in minor operations. On the night of July 9, 1916, the French commander Fayolle took the village of Biaches, only a mile from Peronne. The German losses had been very great since the beginning of the French offensive, and at this place an entire regiment was destroyed. On July 10, 1916, the French succeeded in reaching La Maisonette, the highest point in that part of the country, and held a front from there to Barleux—a position beyond the third German line. In this sector nothing now confronted Fayolle but the line of the upper Somme, south of the river. North of the stream some points in the second line had been won, but it had been only partly carried northward from Hem.
The French attacks north and south of the Somme had at all points won their objectives and something more. In less than two weeks Fayolle had, on a front ten miles long and having a maximum depth of six and a half miles, carried fifty square miles of territory, containing military works, trenches, and fortified villages. The French had also captured a large amount of booty which included 85 cannon, some of the largest size, 100 mitrailleuses, 26 "Minenwerfer," and stores of ammunition and war material. They took prisoner 236 officers and 12,000 men.
It might well be said that this was a very splendid result. But it only marked the first stage in the French assault.
The measured and sustained regularity of this advance, the precision and order of the entire maneuver, are deserving of a more detailed description. If we examine what might be called its strategic mechanism, it will be noted that south of the Somme the French line turned with its left on a pivot placed at its right in front of Estrees.
The longer the battle continued the more this turning movement became accentuated. On July 3, 1916, the extreme left advanced from Mericourt to Buscourt, the left from Herbecourt to Flaucourt, which was taken, while the center occupied Assevillers.
On the 4th the right, abandoning in its turn the role of fixed point, moved forward and took the two villages of Estrees and Belloy. Thus in the first four days of July, 1916, the French forces operating south of the Somme constantly marched with the left in advance.
After a pause for rest and to consolidate positions won, the attack was again resumed by the left wing on the 9th, and carried before Peronne, Biaches, and La Maisonette.
It will be seen by this outline of operations that the maneuver, which began early in an easterly direction, developed into a movement toward the south. The object as stated in the official communique was to clear the interior of the angle of the Somme and to cover the right of the French troops operating north of the river. This delicate maneuver involved great difficulty and risk, inasmuch as the French right flank became the target for an enfilading fire from the south. By consulting the map it will be seen that the artillery positions south of Villers direct an enfilading fire on the plateau of Flaucourt and points near by. The French General Staff showed keen foresight in parrying this danger by advancing the right at the proper moment.
By these operations the French had reached the actual suburbs of the old fortified city of Peronne, occupying a strong strategic position above the angle made by the Somme between Bray and Ham.
It is a natural and necessary road of passage for all armies coming from the north or south that want to cross the river. Bluecher in his pursuit of the French armies after the Battle of Waterloo crossed the Somme exactly at this point.
As a matter of fact at this time both adversaries were astride of the river, the Allies facing the east and the Germans facing toward the west. It is interesting to note that this is exactly the situation that prevailed in the war of 1870, but with the roles reversed. At that time the Germans were attacking Peronne as the French forces were attacking it in July, 1916; they came, however, from the direction of Amiens, precisely as the French came on this occasion.
The French, on the other hand, were in the positions of the Germans—they came from the north. The army of Faidherbe had its bases at Lille and Cambrai as the Crown Prince of Bavaria had his in the present war.
THE BRITISH ATTACK (CONTINUED)
The British captured the fortified villages of Mametz and Montauban on July 1, 1916. This success, as will have been noted, put the British right wing well in advance of their center; and to make the gap in the German position uniform over a broad enough front it was necessary to move forward the left part of the British line from Thiepval to Fricourt. At this time the extreme British left was inactive, in the circumstances it seemed doubtful that a new attack would be profitable, so what was left of the advanced guard of the Ulster Division retired from the Schwaben Redoubt to its original line. The front had now become too large for a single commander to manage successfully, so to General Hubert Gough of the Reserve, or Fifth Army, was given the ground north of the Albert-Bapaume road, including the area of the Fourth and Eighth Corps.
Sunday, July 2, 1916, was a day of steady heat and blinding dust, and the troops suffered severely. At Ovillers and La Boiselle the Third Corps sustained all day long a desperate struggle. Two new divisions which had been brought forward to support now joined the fighting. One of these divisions successfully carried the trenches before Ovillers and the other in the night penetrated the ruins of the village of La Boiselle.
The Germans had evidently not recovered from their surprise in the south, for no counterattacks were attempted, nor had any reserve divisions been brought to their support. Throughout the long, stifling July day squadrons of Allied aeroplanes were industriously bombing depots and lines of communication back of the German front. The much-lauded Fokkers were flitting here and there, doing little damage. Two were sent to earth by Allied airmen before the day was over. The Allies had a great number of kite balloons ("sausages") in the air, but only one belonging to the Germans was in evidence.
With the capture of Mametz and positions in Fricourt Wood to the east, Fricourt could not hold out, and about noon on July 2, 1916, the place was in British hands. Evidently the Germans had anticipated the fall of the village, for a majority of the garrison had escaped during the night. But when the British entered the village, bombing their way from building to building, they captured Germans in sufficiently large numbers to make the victory profitable.
On Monday, July 3, 1916, General von Below issued an order to his troops which showed that the German officers appreciated the seriousness of the Allied offensive:
"The decisive issue of the war depends on the victory of the Second Army on the Somme. We must win this battle in spite of the enemy's temporary superiority in artillery and infantry. The important ground lost in certain places will be recaptured by our attack after the arrival of reenforcements. The vital thing is to hold on to our present positions at all costs and to improve them. I forbid the voluntary evacuation of trenches. The will to stand firm must be impressed on every man in the army. The enemy should have to carve his way over heaps of corpses...."
To understand the exact position of the British forces on July 3, 1916, the alignment of the new front must be described in detail.
The first section extended from Thiepval to Fricourt, between which the Albert-Bapaume road ran in a straight line over the watershed. Thiepval, Ovillers, and La Boiselle were positions in the German front line. East of the last place the fortified village of Contalmaison occupied high ground, forming as it were a pivot in the German intermediate line covering their field guns.
The British second position ran through Pozieres to the two Bazentins and as far as Guillemont. Thiepval and Ovillers had not yet been taken, and only a portion of La Boiselle, but the British had broken through the first position south of that place and had pushed well along on the road to Contalmaison. This northern section had been transformed by warfare into a scene of desolation, bare, and forbidding, seamed with trenches and pitted with shell holes. The few trees along the roads had been razed—the only vegetation to be seen being coarse grass and weeds and thistles.
The southern section between Fricourt and Montauban presented a more inviting prospect. A line of woods extended from the first village in a northeasterly direction, a second line running from Montauban around Longueval. In this sector all the German first positions had been captured. The second position ran through a heavily wooded country and the villages of the Bazentins, Longueval, and Guillemont.
During the night of July 2, 1916, the British had penetrated La Boiselle, and throughout the following day the battle raged around that place and Ovillers. The fighting was of the most desperate character, every foot of ground being contested by the opposing forces. The struggle seesawed back and forth, here and there the Germans gaining a little ground, only to lose it a little later when a vigorous British attack forced them to fall back, and so the tide of battle ebbed and flowed.
On July 4, 1916, the heat wave was broken by violent thunderstorms and a heavy rain that transformed the dusty terrain into quagmires, through which Briton and German fought on with undiminished spirit and equal valor. On the morning of July 5, 1916, the British, after one of the bloodiest struggles in this sector, captured La Boiselle and carried forward their attack toward Bailiff Wood and Contalmaison.
In the five days' fighting since they assumed the offensive the British had been hard hit at some points, but at others had registered substantial gains. They had captured a good part of the German first line and carried by assault strongly fortified villages defended stubbornly by valiant troops. The total number of prisoners taken by the British was by this time more than 5,000. These first engagements had for the British one exceedingly important result: it gave to the troops an absolute confidence in their fighting powers. They had shown successfully that they could measure themselves with the best soldiers of the kaiser and beat them.
During the day of July 5, 1916, the British repulsed several counterattacks and fortified the ground that they had already won. On this date Horseshoe Trench, the main defense of Contalmaison from the west, was attacked, and here a battalion of West Yorks fought with distinction and succeeded in making a substantial advance.
There was a pause in the fighting during the day of July 6, 1916, as welcome to the Germans as to the British, for some rest was imperative.
On Friday, July 7, 1916, the British began an attack on Contalmaison from Sausage Valley on the southwest, and from the labyrinth of copses north of Fricourt through which ran the Contalmaison-Fricourt highroad.
South of Thiepval there was a salient which the Germans had organized and strongly fortified during twenty months' preparation. After a violent bombardment the British attacked and captured this formidable stronghold. More to the south they took German trenches on the outskirts of Ovillers.
The attack ranged from the Leipzig Redoubt and the environs of Ovillers to the skirts of Contalmaison. After an intense bombardment the British infantry advanced on Contalmaison and on the right from two points of the wood. Behind them the German barrage fire, beating time methodically, entirely hid from view the attacking columns.
By noon the British infantry, having carried Bailiff Wood by storm, captured the greater part of Contalmaison. There they found a small body of British soldiers belonging to the Northumberland Fusiliers who had been made prisoners by the Germans a few days before and were penned up in a shelter in the village. The British were opposed by the Third Prussian Guard Division—the famous "Cockchafers"—who lost 700 men as prisoners during the attack. In the afternoon of the same day, July 7, 1916, the Germans delivered a strong counterattack, and the British, unable to secure reenforcements, and not strong enough to maintain the position, were forced out of the village, though able to keep hold of the southern corner.
On the following day, July 8, 1916, the British struggled for the possession of Ovillers, now a conglomeration of shattered trenches, shell holes and ruined walls. Every yard of ground was fought over with varying fortunes by the combatants. While this stubborn fight was under way the British were driving out the Germans from their fortified positions among the groves and copses around Contalmaison, and consolidating their gains.
In the night of July 10, 1916, the British, advancing from Bailiff Wood on the west side of Contalmaison, pressed forward in four successive waves, their guns pouring a flood of shells before them, and breaking into the northwest corner, and after a desperate hand-to-hand conflict, during which prodigies of valor were performed on both sides, drove out the Germans and occupied the entire village. The victory had not been won without considerable cost in casualties. The British captured 189 prisoners, including a commander of a battalion.
Ovillers, where the most violent fighting had raged for some days, continued to hold out, though surrounded and cut off from all relief from the outside. Knowing this the German garrison still fought on, and it was not until July 16, 1916, that the brave remnant consisting of two officers and 124 guardsmen surrendered.
We now turn to the British operations in the southern sector where they were trying to clear out the fortified woods that intervened between them and the German second line.
On July 3, 1916, the ground east of Fricourt Wood was clear of Germans and the way opened to Mametz Wood. During the day the Germans attempted a counterattack, and incidentally the British enjoyed "a good time." A fresh German division had just arrived at Montauban, which received such a cruel welcome from the British guns that it must have depressed their fighting spirit. East of Mametz a battalion from the Champagne front appeared and was destroyed, or made prisoner, a short time after detraining at the railhead. The British took a thousand prisoners within a small area of this sector. An eyewitness describes seeing 600 German prisoners being led to the rear by three ragged soldiers of a Scotch regiment "like pipers at the head of a battalion."
The British entered the wood of Mametz to the north of Mametz village on July 4, 1916, and captured the wood of Barnafay. These positions were not carried without stiff fighting, for the Germans had fortified the woods in every conceivable manner. Machine-gun redoubts connected by hidden trenches were everywhere, even in the trees there were machine guns, while the thick bushes and dense undergrowth impeded every movement. In such a jungle the fighting was largely a matter of hand-to-hand conflicts. The German guns were well served, and every position won by the British was at once subjected to a heavy counterbombardment. Indeed from July 4, 1916, onward, there was scarcely any cessation to the German fire on the entire British front, and around Fricourt, Mametz, and Montauban in the background.
On July 7, 1916, the British General Staff informed the French high command that they would make an attack on Trones Wood on the following morning, asking for their cooperation. Assisted by the flanking fire of the French guns, the British penetrated Trones Wood, and obtained a foothold there, seizing a line of trenches and capturing 130 prisoners and several mitrailleuses. On the same day the French on the British right were pushing forward toward Maltzhorn Farm.
Trones Wood which for some days was to be the scene of the hottest fighting in the southern British sector, is triangular in form and about 1,400 meters in length, running north and south. Its southern side is about forty meters. The Germans directed against it a violent bombardment with shells of every caliber.
Owing to its peculiar position every advantage was in favor of the defense. Maltzhorn Ridge commanded the southern part, and the German position at Longueval commanded the northern portion. The German second line in a semicircle extended around the wood north and east, and as the covert was heavy, organized movement was impossible while the German artillery had free play.
The British, however, continued to advance slowly and stubbornly from the southern point where they had obtained a foothold, but it was not until the fire of the German guns had been diverted by pressure elsewhere that they were able to make any appreciable gains on their way northward.
On July 9, 1916, at 8 o'clock the Germans launched desperate counterattacks directed from the east to the southeast. The first failed; the second succeeded in landing them in the southern part of the wood, but they were ultimately repulsed with heavy losses. During the night there was a fresh German attack strongly delivered that was broken by British fire. Of the six counterattacks delivered by the Germans between Sunday night and Monday afternoon, July 9-10, 1916, the last enabled them to gain some ground in the wood, but it was at a heavy cost. They did not long enjoy even this small success, for on Tuesday, July 11, 1916, the British had recaptured the entire wood excepting a small portion in the extreme northern corner.
On the same date the British advanced to the north end of Mametz Wood, and by evening of July 12, 1916, had captured virtually the whole of it, gathering in some hundreds of German prisoners in the operation. The place had not been easily won, for while the whole wood did not comprise more than two hundred acres or so, there was a perfect network of trenches and apparently miles of barbed-wire entanglements, while machine guns were everywhere. It was only after the British succeeded in clearing out machine-gun positions on the north side, and enfiladed every advance, that they were able to get through the wood and to face at last the main German second position. This ran, as will have been noted, from Pozieres through the Bazentins and Longueval to Guillemont. The capture of Contalmaison was a necessary preliminary to the next stage of the British advance. After the fall of this place Sir Douglas Haig issued a summary of the first of the gains made by the Allies since the beginning of the offensive:
"After ten days and nights of continuous fighting our troops have completed the methodical capture of the whole of the enemy's first system of defense on a front of 14,000 yards. This system of defense consisted of numerous and continuous lines of fire trenches, extending to various depths of from 2,000 to 4,000 yards and included five strongly fortified villages, numerous heavily wired and intrenched woods, and a large number of immensely strong redoubts. The capture of each of these trenches represented an operation of some importance, and the whole of them are now in our hands."
General Haig's summary of what had been accomplished in the first stage of the battle of the Somme was modest in its claims. The British had failed in the north from Thiepval to Gommecourt, but in the south they had cut their way through almost impregnable defenses and now occupied a strong position that promised well for the next offensive. At the close of the first phase of the battle the number of prisoners in the hands of the British had risen to 7,500. The French had captured 11,000. The vigor with which the offensive had been pushed by the Allies caused the Germans to bring forward the bulk of their reserves, but they were unable to check the advance and lost heavily.
THE SECOND PHASE OF THE BATTLE OF THE SOMME
British commanders are methodical and believe in preparing thoroughly before an attack, but they are ready at times to take a gambler's chance if the moment seems opportune to win by striking the enemy a sudden and unexpected blow.
At half past three in the morning of July 14, 1916, the British started an attack with full knowledge of the risk involved, but hoping to find the Germans poorly prepared. At Contalmaison Villa and Mametz Wood they held positions within a few hundred yards of the German line. It was the section from Bazentin-le-Grand and Longueval where the danger lay, for here there was a long advance to be made, as far as a mile in some places, up the slopes north of Caterpillar Valley.
French officers are not inclined to err on the side of overcaution, but on this occasion more than one of them expressed a doubt that the projected British attack would succeed.
The 14th of July is a national holiday in France, the anniversary of the fall of the Bastille. Paris was in gala attire, the scene of a great parade, such as that city had not witnessed in its varied history, when the Allied troops, Belgians, Russians, British, and the blue-clad warriors of France, were reviewed by the President of the Republic amid the frantic acclamations of delighted crowds. On this day so dear to the heart of every French patriot the British troops in Picardy were dealing hammer blows to the German line with the rallying cry of "Vive la France" that made up in sincerity what it lacked in Parisian accent.
The front selected for the British attack was a space of about four miles from a point southeast of Longueval, Pozieres to Longueval, and Delville Wood. The work cut out for the British right flank to perform was the clearing out of Trones Wood still partly occupied by the Germans. The two Bazentins, Longueval, and the wood of Delville were either sheltered by a wood, or there was one close by that was always a nest of cunningly hidden guns. More than a mile beyond the center of the German position, High Wood, locally known as Fourneaux, formed a dark wall in the background.
The British had only consolidated their new line on the day before the attack of July 14, 1916, so every preparation was hurried at topmost speed. In the first hours of the morning they began a furious bombardment of the German positions. This was continued until 3.20 a. m., when the hurricane of fire abated. The Germans, as it developed later, were not expecting an assault, such bombardments being of frequent occurrence, a part of the day's program intended to impress them, or to hide some stupid British strategy.
At 3.25 a. m., when the day was breaking and a faint light covered the scene from a cloudy sky, the British infantry attacked. The Germans were so completely surprised that the battalions which were assigned to strike at the most distant points, hardly suffered a casualty before they were within a few hundred yards of the enemy's defensive wires. When the Germans did awake to their danger and loosed their barrage fire, it fell to the rear of the attackers.
Success crowned the British efforts at every point on the line of attack, though in such places where the German defenses had not been destroyed the advance was necessarily slow. It may be of interest to cite one instance to show how the British military machine worked on this important day in the history of the battle of the Somme. In one division there were two attacking brigades, each composed of two battalions of the New Army, and two of the old regulars. It might appear a hazardous experiment that the British command should have placed the four battalions of the New Army in the first line, but the inexperienced troops justified the confidence that had been placed in them. They went forward with the dogged determination of old veterans, and shortly after noon had triumphantly carried out the work assigned to them. They had captured their part of the line and taken 662 unwounded men and 36 officers (among whom was a battalion commander), while the booty included four howitzers, four field guns, and fourteen machine guns and quantities of military stores.
By nightfall the British had captured the whole of the German second line from Bazentin-le-Petit to Longueval, a front of over three miles, and had netted over 2,000 prisoners. Many of these belonged to the Third Division of the German Guard, and included the commander of a regiment. The commander of the Ninety-first Bavarian Regiment was discovered by the British at the bottom of his dugout.
One of the most striking incidents of the day occurred on the British right flank in Trones Wood. On the night of July 13, 1916, an attack had been delivered there when 170 men belonging to the Royal West Kents were separated from their battalion. Having a few machine guns, and being well supplied with ammunition, they fortified one or more positions, and in spite of vigorous German attacks, were able to maintain their posts all night until the British advance in the morning gathered them in.
It was a bit of good luck that these men had strayed away from their regiment, for the positions they had fortified now proved of great value in clearing the Germans out of the wood.
One of the most picturesque episodes of the day's fighting was a brilliant cavalry charge. This was the first time since the battle of the Marne that the British had any opportunity to engage the enemy on horseback. The French, however, had employed two squadrons in their offensive in Champagne in September, 1915.
A British division, pushing their way northward against the Tenth Bavarian Division, had penetrated the third German position at High Wood supported by cavalry—a troop of the Dragoon Guard and a troop of Deccan Horse. The mounted men proceeded to show their mettle and to share in the fighting honors of the day. Beyond Bazentin-le-Grand on the valley slopes they found cover for a time in the growing corn. About eight in the evening the cavalry set out on their last advance on foot and on horseback through the corn, riding down the enemy, or cutting him down with lance and saber, and capturing a number of prisoners. Their rapid success had a heartening effect on the whole British line. Having reached their objective, the cavalry proceeded to intrench, in order to protect the British infantry that was advancing from High Wood.
Throughout the day's fighting the British airmen had been constantly active despite the haze which hampered observation. In twenty-four hours they had destroyed four Fokkers, three biplanes, and a double-engined plane without the loss of a single British machine.
On July 15, 1916, the British consolidated the new ground they had won, while their left advancing to the outskirts of Pozieres attacked the Leipzig Redoubt, and renewed the struggle for Ovillers which had been fought over with scarcely any pause since July 7, 1916. Strong counterattacks by the German Seventh Division forced the British out of High Wood, or the greater portion of it, but the loss was not serious, the place having served its purpose as a screen for the British while consolidating their line.
Perhaps the fiercest struggle in this area was waged around Longueval and Delville Wood, which became popularly known by the soldiers as "Devil Wood." The struggle started there on the morning of July 14, 1916, and continued almost without pause for thirteen days. The losses on both sides reached a formidable figure.
A better situation for defense could not have been selected. Delville Wood presented a frightful jungle of shattered tree trunks and ragged bushes interspersed with shell holes. There were cuttings through it along which ranged the German trenches. Some seventy yards from the trees on the north and east sides the Germans had a strong trench that was crowded with machine guns, and the whole interior of the wood was incessantly bombarded. Longueval, a straggling village to the southwest of the wood, was a less troublesome problem.
Brigadier General Lukin's South African Brigade, which had been ordered to clear the wood, succeeded in carrying it completely about midday.
Those brigades which had been assigned the task of capturing Longueval only gained a portion of it, and the Germans launching a counterattack from the north end of the village, succeeded in forcing the British back. Lukin's South Africans tried again on the 16th and 17th, but failed with heavy losses, hanging on stubbornly to the southern corner, where they were not relieved until the 20th.
It was during the four days' fighting in and around Delville Wood that Lieutenant Colonel Thackera from the Transvaal, of the Third Battalion, with Scots of other formations, made a desperate and heroic defense. Without food or water the remnant clung to the position, undismayed even when the withering fire of the enemy had thinned their ranks and at last killed or wounded all the officers of one battalion. But even under these depressing conditions the spirit of those who remained had not weakened, and an attack subsequently made by Brandenburgers of the Fifth Division was repulsed with considerable losses.
The splendid courage displayed by the British New Army during these days of intense fighting, and when all the odds were in favor of the enemy, had done much to sustain the courage of the British command and to offset the effect caused by heavy losses. The New Army for some days had been trying conclusions with the German Third Guard Division brought over from the Russian front in the spring, and considered by the kaiser as the very flower of his forces. This division included the Lehr Regiment, the Ninth Grenadiers, and the Guards Fusiliers. Their reputation had preceded them, but the New Army were not disposed to take them overseriously, and fought against them with as grim determination as if they had been ordinary soldiers and not distinguished soldiers of the War Lord. The crack regiments fought in the main bravely, but the comparatively green troops of England made up in initiative and audacity what they lacked in military experience, and were more than a match for them. Each of these famous German formations lost heavily.
Ovillers which had been bravely defended for some days was finally captured by the British on July 16, 1916, thus clearing out the principal obstacle in the way of a general assault on Pozieres. On this day the British were also successful in taking Waterlot Farm, about midway between Longueval and Guillemont, which cut another slice out of the German front. For three days a heavy rain and low mists hindered the observation of the British airmen, who were unable to detect the positions of the new batteries they knew the enemy was setting up. The Germans had all the advantage, as the British were now occupying their old trench lines and they had the register.
On July 20, 1916, the British Seventh Division attacked again at High Wood in the hopes of extending their situation at Longueval, which by this time was exposed to the enemy's attacks. They carried the entire wood, but a portion to the north, where the Eighth Division of the Fourth Magdeburg Corps were intrenched, and where for many weeks they defied every effort of the British to oust them.
At this stage in the battle of the Somme the total of unwounded prisoners captured by the British numbered 189 officers and 10,779 men. The German losses in guns included five 8-inch and three 6-inch howitzers, four 6-inch guns, five other heavies, thirty-seven field guns, sixty-six machine guns, and thirty trench mortars.
No exact estimate of the German losses in dead and wounded could be made, but captured letters spoke of desperate conditions and of terrible slaughter. One German battalion was reduced to three officers and twenty-one men, and there was mention in these letters of several other formations which had broken down through exhaustion and retired from action.
* * * * *
It was imperative now for the British to finish off their capture of the German second position and to prepare for a German attack which might develop at any moment. From east of Pozieres to Delville Wood the enemy had lost their second line and were forced to construct a switch line to establish a connection between the third position and an uncaptured point, such as Pozieres, in his second position.
There was stubborn fighting among the orchards of Longueval and the outskirts of Delville, where the British made little headway, but registered some gains. All their hopes were centered at this time on their chief objectives, Guillemont and Pozieres. The latter was especially important, for it formed a part of the plateau of Thiepval. If the British succeeded in gaining the crest of the ridge all the country to the east would come under direct observation. The most important points on the watershed were Mouquet Farm, between Thiepval and Pozieres, the Windmill east of the last place, High Wood, and the high ground that lay directly east of Longueval. It was important that the British should capture Guillemont in order to align the next advance with the French forces. This task presented many difficulties, for the advance from Trones Wood must be made over a bare and shelterless country that was under the Germans' direct observation from Leuze Wood. There was also a strongly fortified quarry on its western edge and a ravine to the south of it between Maltzhorn and Falfemont Farms, while Angle Wood in the center was a German stronghold.
The difficulties of the British position were summarized by Sir Douglas Haig:
"The line of demarkation agreed upon by the French commander and myself ran from Maltzhorn Farm due eastward to the Combles Valley, and then northeastward up the valley to a point midway between Sailly-Saillisel and Morval. These two villages had been fixed upon as the objective respectively of the French left and my right. In order to advance in cooperation with my right and eventually to reach Sailly-Saillisel, our Allies had still to fight their way up that portion of the main ridge which lies between Combles Valley on the west and the river Tortille on the east. To do so they had in the first place to capture the strongly fortified villages of Maurepas, Le Forest, Rancourt, and Fregicourt, besides many woods and strong systems of trenches. As the high ground on each side of the Combles Valley commands the slopes of the ridge on the opposite side, it was essential that the advance of the two armies should be simultaneous and made in the closest cooperation."
The British made an attack on Guillemont from Trones Wood on July 19, 1916. It was a rainy, foggy day, that hampered military operations, and they failed to advance.
On the day following the French made a general attack that achieved brilliant results. North of the Somme over a front of five kilometers from Ridge 139 (800 meters north of Hardecourt) the French carried the first German trenches. They reached as far as the slope east of the height of Hardecourt. Their line passed the boundary of Maurepas, and followed the highway from Maurepas to Feuillieres. South of the Somme they carried the whole of the German defense system from Barleux to Vermandovillers. During the two following days the British guns incessantly bombarded the entire German front. Two new corps had been joined with the Fifth Army, the Second and First Anzac, which occupied ground between the Ancre and south of the Albert-Bapaume road.
On July 23, 1916, the British launched a strong attack over a wide front. The heaviest blows were centered on Pozieres and the Windmill on the left. The village was now a mass of rubble, but amid the ruins the Germans had fortified almost every yard of ground, there were deep and carefully prepared dugouts, cunningly concealed machine-gun emplacements, and lines of covered trenches on every hand.
The British forces began the movement about midnight, delivering the assault from two sides. A division of Midland Territorials advanced from the southwest over the ground between Pozieres and Ovillers. About the same time an Anzac division advanced from the southeast. German defenses south of the village were rapidly cleared by the Midland "Terriers," who then occupied a line in the outskirts of the village extending toward Thiepval.
To the Australian troops which had displayed such valor at Gallipoli was assigned the most difficult task in this assault, for there was first a sunken road heavily organized to capture which ran parallel with the highway, then a strong line of trenches, and finally the highway itself which ran through the center of the village in a direct line.
The Australians gave a good account of themselves, and added to the reputation they had gained on many fields early in the war. They were of one opinion that they had never tackled a more dangerous job or come under a hotter fire than in this attack. It was only after intense fighting that they won the highway and established a line so near the enemy that only the width of the road separated them. Instances of personal bravery were many and a number of Victoria Crosses were awarded for especially heroic deeds, a few of which deserve special mention. Private Thomas Cooke, a machine gunner, continued to fire after all his companions had been killed and was found dead beside his gun. Second Lieutenant Blackburn having led four parties of bombers against a formidable enemy position, captured 250 yards of trench, then after crawling forward and reconnoitering returned and led his men to the capture of another long trench. Of all the Australians who won the V. C. on this day none was more deserving of the honor than Private John Leak. He was one of a party that had captured a strongly fortified place. Noticing that the German bombs were outranging the British he sprang from the trench and dashing forward under hot machine-gun fire at short range, after bombing the enemy's post, leaped in and bayoneted three German bombers.
Private John Leak's bravery received special mention in the official report. "His courage was amazing, and had such an effect on the enemy that, on the arrival of reenforcements, the whole trench was recaptured."
The battle continued almost without pause, and by evening of July 24, 1916, the British had captured the greater part of Pozieres. In the morning of the following day the entire place was in their hands. The Midland Territorials having taken two lines of trenches, linked up with the Australians at the north corner of the village, where they established themselves in a cemetery. As the Germans still held the Windmill on much higher ground, they had good observation, and made the most of it, bombarding the British position unceasingly until it seemed smothered in smoke and fire. It seemed incredible that anything could live in such a zone of death.
Captain C. W. Bean, who was with the Australians, has recorded his impressions of the German bombardment in a few graphic lines.
"Hour after hour, day and night, with increasing intensity as the time went on, the enemy rained heavy shell into the area. Now he would send them crashing in on a line south of the road—eight heavy shells at a time, minute after minute followed by a burst of shrapnel. Now he would place a curtain straight across this valley or that till the sky and landscape were blotted out.... Day and night the men worked through it, fighting the horrid machinery far over the horizon as if they were fighting Germans hand to hand, building up whatever it battered down, burying some of them, not once, but again and again and again. What is a barrage against such troops? They went through it as you would go through a summer shower, too proud to bend their heads, many of them, because their mates were looking. As one of the best of their officers said to me: 'I have to walk about as if I liked it; what else can you do when your own men teach you to?'"
PART IX—THE WAR IN THE AIR
THE VALUE OF ZEPPELINS IN LONG-DISTANCE RECONNOITERING—NAVAL AUXILIARIES
The growing intensity and fierceness of the gigantic struggle between the great nations of the world in the second half of the second year naturally was reflected in the extraordinary activities of the aerial fleets of the combatants. To give in detail the thousands of individual and mass attacks is manifestly impossible in a restricted work of this kind, and we shall have to be satisfied with a description of the more important events in this latest of all warfares.
Undoubtedly the most pronounced feature of aerial combat in 1916 was the complete rehabilitation of the Zeppelin type of rigid airship construction as an invaluable aid to the land and naval forces in the difficult and dangerous task of reconnoitering the enemy forces. There can be no doubt that the frequent raids of the eastern counties of Great Britain were undertaken far more with the idea of gaining as clear an idea as possible of the distribution of British naval units in the North Sea than with the desire of hurling destruction from the sky upon sleeping villages, towns, and, of course, harbors and factories which might be of value to the British military forces. And there also can be no doubt that for this purpose of reconnoitering over immense areas the Zeppelin airship stands to-day unchallenged by any other single means at the disposal of the army leaders.
The German Zeppelin airship carries at present a powerful wireless-sending apparatus, the electric current for which is furnished by one of the motors. These motors, five in number, are of the six-cylinder Mercedes type, furnishing a total of 1,200 horsepower. Four of the motors are usually in service, the fifth being held in reserve, and used in the meantime for furnishing the required electric current. The wireless equipment is stated to have an effective range of about 300 miles, due mainly to the great height of the "sending station." It was this wireless equipment which is now known to have precipitated the great naval battle off the Jutland coast, and to have sent the German fleet to its home base before the full force of the much superior British fleet had a chance to exercise its crushing power.
According to the report of the captain of one of the German battle cruisers, the Zeppelins, of which there were two in the early hours of the battle, sighted a strong British naval force in the North Sea, about two-thirds of the way from the British coast to Helgoland. The information was flashed to Helgoland by the leading Zeppelin, which was hovering more than two miles in the air, commanding an immense area of the North Sea. The approach of the German fleet was unknown to the British, although the Zeppelins could distinguish both fleets from their great height.
As the battle developed and the British battle cruiser squadron became sorely pressed by the superior forces opposed to them, calls for assistance were flashed from them to the main fleet. The Zeppelins, of course, caught the calls and set off at high speed northward with the intention of giving timely warning to the German squadron battling several thousand feet below them against the gradually increasing British force.
The mist which hung over the North Sea made it difficult for the Zeppelin commanders to distinguish objects clearly, but the same mist prevented the British ship crews from sighting the airships in the clouds. When the heavy black smoke from the battleships rushing south at their highest speed was sighted by the northernmost Zeppelin, word of the apparent strength of the reenforcements was flashed to the German commander in chief and the order for retreat was given. While the fleets executed their maneuvers, the British main forces arrived and the greatest battle in naval history took place. Had it not been for the timely warning from the Zeppelins hanging high in the air above the sea, the German fleet might have been overwhelmed by the huge forces rushing south to destroy it. Outnumbered by more than two to one, its only safety lay in retreat—and so heavy had been the fire, that the British commander did not press the pursuit too close. For while the Germans knew to a ship the strength of their adversary, the latter had to reckon with the unknown, hidden possibilities of forces not yet seen. It cannot be denied that the Jutland naval battle was a complete vindication of the use of Zeppelins as naval scouts, a value now recognized by every naval officer in the world.
The second field of action in which the Zeppelin airship has shown a certain measure of success is that of destroying small naval units of the enemy. And not only the German airships have had occasion to show their value, but the French have been especially successful in this work. For several months previous to February, 1916, little had been heard of the activities of the new French dirigibles, which were reported to have been built, although a number of them were continually cruising high in the air above Paris and in the district north of the capital. Occasionally hints were dropped here and there concerning their activity above the Channel and portions of the North Sea, and in the early summer a fairly substantial report reached this country to the effect that the new French lighter-than-air machines were utilized chiefly in "submarine hunting."
In the early stages of the war, when military and naval aviation was trying to adopt peace-time theories to war-time facts, Great Britain attempted to hunt the German submarines with aeroplanes, or hydroaeroplanes; but the method had its serious draw-backs. The aeroplane is of necessity a fast traveling machine; it must make at least forty miles an hour to be able to stay aloft. Whizzing through the air at such speed is not conducive to a careful scrutiny of the surface of the water below, necessary in order to detect the vague, dim outlines of a submerged submarine. At first the pilots of naval aeroplanes had considerable success in locating the submarines, and Germany lost quite a few of them, before the reason was discovered. Some one in Great Britain announced that it was easy to locate a submarine from an aeroplane by the peculiar reflection in the sunlight caused by the fine film of lubricating oil on the surface of the water. As soon as this "tip" was communicated to Germany, submarines discontinued the use of oil for lubrication, employing instead deflocculated graphite. The fuel oil used in the Diesel engines for propulsion on the surface is so thoroughly consumed and the exhaust now is so free of oil that an oil film as an indication of submarine proximity is no longer trustworthy. Besides, the submerged boat might be a friendly one, a fact which was borne upon the British authorities on two separate occasions when scouting aeroplanes reported submarines near, and speedy motor boats rushed to the attack. In one case the British submarine is reported to have been rammed, and in the other—so the story goes—the commander of the submarine liberated a little buoy attached to the outside of the boat, which rose to the surface and informed the watchers above that "a friend is down below—not an enemy!"
The system followed now in the locating and possible destruction of German submarines in the Channel and North Sea by French dirigibles is as follows: The airships, chiefly of the Astra type, travel at a height of not more than 500 feet above the surface of the ocean, while the observers constantly sweep the water within a radius of half a mile with their glasses. Usually the airships are sent ahead at low speed in spirals, or in a series of curves which enable them to cover every square mile of watery area below. As soon as one of these airships sights a submarine traveling submerged, it flashes the news by wireless to destroyers which at the time may be fifty or more miles away, and in the meantime endeavors to remain directly above the submerged boat. Soon the destroyers arrive and, following the direction of the airship, can ram or sink the submarine with almost certain success. The French admiralty claims to have accounted for a number of submarines by this method, but has found that the scheme no longer will work. The German naval department, learning of the airship patrol, has given its submarine commanders orders to travel at great depth during daylight hours in the Channel and the southwestern section of the North Sea, or to go to sleep on the bottom where the sea is too shallow. In the evening the boat makes its escape from the dangerous neighborhood.
The third field of action of airships—devastating hostile countries—is the least valuable, although perhaps the most spectacular of the activities of airships of the Zeppelin type. The damage caused by the numerous Zeppelin raids over England, for instance, is a subject of so much dispute that a true appreciation of their value cannot be formed at present. While the German official bulletins repeatedly declare that great material damage was done by the bombs to military establishments, factories, harbor works, etc., the British statements dwell more upon the number of noncombatants who were killed, and deny the infliction of any material damage.
Information of this kind is considered legitimate secrecy and it is only when files of the British local and trade papers are examined that an inkling of the real damage is obtained. Fires, boiler explosions, railway traffic suspensions, and similar highly suggestive items fill the columns of the papers, after every one of the Zeppelin raids. On only one occasion, February 2, 1916, has the British War Office admitted serious military damage in its official communication. This communication was issued after exaggerated reports of the damage caused had appeared in the German and neutral press, covering the Zeppelin raids of January 30-31, 1916, and February 1, 1916, and admitted officially the following: Bombs dropped totaled 393; buildings destroyed: three railway sheds, three breweries, one tube factory, one lamp factory, one blacksmith shop; damaged by explosions: one munition factory, two iron works, a crane factory, a harness factory, railway grain shed, colliery and a pumping station. "One of the spectacular incidents of this raid was the chase of an express train by the Zeppelin, the train rushing at its utmost speed of seventy miles an hour into a tunnel, disappearing just as the first bombs began to drop. The train remained in the tunnel for more than an hour, waiting for the Zeppelin to fly away!" The official figures of killed and wounded in this raid are given as sixty-seven killed, and 117 injured.
During the month of July, reports of the new German super-Zeppelins began to appear in British reports, and a number of neutral correspondents endeavored to obtain authentic data concerning them. Conflicting descriptions arrived from many sources, and it was not until a Swiss reporter, equipped with extremely powerful glasses, watched the trial flights of two of these super-Zeppelins above Lake Constance, that fairly reliable information could be compiled.
One of these airships leaves Friedrichshafen every week for duty in the North Sea, and the factory on the shore of Lake Constance expects to be able to complete five machines every month after July, 1916. The super-Zeppelin has two armored gondolas, without a visible connection, although it is highly probable that such communication is provided for within the outer envelope. Each gondola carries six machine guns and, in addition, two quick-firing guns, as well as an aerial torpedo-launching device, which was first used in the extensive air raids on England in the last week of July.
The super-Zeppelin contains approximately 1,000,000 cubic feet of gas and has a capacity of ten tons useful load. Of this load, about four tons can be composed of bombs or other munitions, the remainder being needed for fuel, machinery, and the crew, as well as ballast and provisions. The gross weight of a fully equipped and loaded super-Zeppelin is thirty tons, or roughly, 60,000 pounds. The envelope, which heretofore has been painted gray with liquid aluminum paint, now is impregnated thoroughly with finely divided metal, by means of the Schoop metal-coating process, which is heralded as one of the most far-reaching improvements in aerial navigation. By its means the airship envelope is made absolutely impervious to atmospheric influences.
For its protection against antiaircraft fire the new super-Zeppelins carry apparatus in each gondola, producing artificial clouds of such size and intensity as to envelop and shroud completely the entire airship, rendering it absolutely invisible from below. While this cloud expands and gradually grows thinner, the airship rises rapidly in a vertical direction, speeding away while under protection of the self-made clouds.
The motors of the latest Zeppelins weigh only 595 pounds each, although developing 240 horsepower, which means that one horsepower is developed for every three and three-quarter pounds of metal used. They are fitted with twin pumps, double jet carburetors, and are usually operated on mixtures consisting of one part benzol with one part alcohol.
AEROPLANE IMPROVEMENTS—GIANT MACHINES—TECHNICAL DEVELOPMENTS
The experience gathered in the first eighteen months of the war by the aviators of the hostile armies has done more for the development of aeroplanes than many years of peaceful improvements could possibly have accomplished. The ever increasing size, power and stability of the heavier-than-air machine is plainly shown in the latest types of battle planes, in which a spread of wings exceeding seventy-five feet is no longer a novelty. True, the heralded approach of the gigantic German battle triplanes did not take place in the second year of the Great War, although it is an incontrovertible fact that such machines have been built and are being used for some purpose. But none of them took part in the fighting on the western front, nor has one of them been seen on the Russian battle lines. There is reason to believe, however, that these planes are used in naval reconnoitering, and their great size permits of the carrying of large supplies of fuel, giving them a great cruising radius. Reports from steamers plying the Baltic state that gigantic aeroplanes have been sighted high up in the air by captains and officers on Swedish and Danish ships, seemingly maintaining a careful patrol of that sea against possible Russian and British naval exploits.
There have been numerous unconfirmed reports concerning the use of cellon, a tough and yet completely transparent material, in the construction of aeroplanes on the German side, and occasional hints of new "invisible" machines were dropped now and then. The reports probably are based on some foundation of fact, but there is little to show that cellon is used to any large extent by the Teuton forces. Samples of the material reached New York late in 1915, but the actual uses to which it was put were not known at the time.
The tendency in recent months, especially on the western battle front, has been the "attack in squadrons," instead of the individual combats which made international heroes out of Boillot, Immelmann, Boelke, Warneford and Navarre. The squadron attack was first employed by the Germans in the Verdun operations. Previous to that time, only bombing expeditions had been undertaken en masse, as many as sixty aeroplanes taking part in a single attack. But actual aerial combat usually engaged only two or four aviators.
Early in February of the second year of the war, several famous French aviators fell victims to the new mode of warfare. It seems that as soon as a machine would appear above the trenches in that section, six or more German machines would rise quickly and surround the Frenchman. Outnumbered and surrounded on all sides the French machines rarely got back safely to their lines, among the first to be lost being George Boillot, world-famous as an automobile racer.
The German tactics at once were imitated and improved on by the allied forces, and by July, 1916, the French had perfected a system of defense which, paradoxically speaking, may be termed "air-tight." French aviation squadrons would be held in readiness at all times to repel attacks, and twenty machines usually were considered a "unit." At first sign of a hostile aeroplane approaching, ten French machines would rise at top speed to a height of 10,000 feet, while five minutes later the second ten would follow, rising to 5,000 feet. The attacking machine usually would be found at a height intermediate between the upper and lower French squadrons, both of which would attack the invader vigorously, and with highly satisfactory results.
One of the lessons of these true aerial battles between opposing squadrons has been the efficiency of the biplane, as compared with that of the monoplane. When the war started the monoplane was considered the machine par excellence for war use; its high speed and quick maneuvering being cited as most important for fighting in the air. Eighteen months of aerial battles have shown that for all-round fighting, bombing and reconnoitering the biplane is far more effective, and the construction of new monoplanes has been practically abandoned by the allied governments. The Germans, it is true, have found the Fokker type of monoplane a very efficient one, but the number of Fokkers in use is comparatively small, when the great fleets of Aviatiks and other well-known types of German biplanes are remembered.
Exact statistics regarding the number of aeroplanes at present in use along the various battle fronts are not available, but estimates made by aviation officers, by correspondents and from notes in the respective publications devoted to aviation abroad, fix it as in excess of 12,000 machines. More than half of these are used by the Allies on the western front; Germany is credited with 3,000 aeroplanes, Russia with about 1,000, Austria with 1,500, and Bulgaria and Turkey with 500. In a statement made in the British House of Commons, Mr. Tennant, speaking of the Royal British Flying Corps, declared that 835 officers and 521 civilians were on the waiting list of the Flying Corps in the last week of February, 1916.
France has definitely discontinued the use of monoplanes and is manufacturing them solely for the British forces, as some of the British aviators greatly prefer the monoplane. One of the reasons given by the French for their action is the construction of Fokker monoplanes by the Germans, which are so accurate a copy of the earlier Morane monoplanes of the French that they could not be distinguished from them in the air. Furthermore, the German copy of the Morane was far speedier and could easily outdistance or overtake the French machines of the same type. In place of the original Morane France now has three types of speed planes, the Maurice Farman, a 110 mph. biplane, the Morane-Saulnier, 111 mph., and Spad, 107 mph. The older Nieuports, too, are fast machines, being capable of more than 100 miles per hour.
The new Maurice Farman speed plane is a biplane of small wing area, the upper plane overhanging the lower. It is equipped with a new type of Renault-Mercedes eight-cylinder motor, giving 240 horsepower at the highest crank shaft speed. The Morane-Saulnier and the Spad are both monoplanes, but of different shape and construction from the original Morane; it is of the so-called monocoque type, made familiar to Americans by the Duperdessin monocoques which took part in the Gordon Bennett Cup race in Chicago in 1912. It is equipped with a device which was first used in Germany and which permits the firing of the gun through the propeller. It is an electric synchronizing device which fires the gun at the exact moment when the bullet will pass between the propeller blades.
Following the destructive raids of the German naval Zeppelins over the eastern counties of England during the last days of January, 1916, there came a period of retaliation flights by Allied aviators over German cities, attacks on railway stations and munition depots, culminating in the great attack of the coast of Schleswig-Holstein by a fleet of British aeroplanes. On a certain section of this coast the Germans have erected a series of Zeppelin hangars behind one of the most elaborate systems of defenses known at present. According to information which had reached the British admiralty, the German coast north of the Kiel Canal is protected at intervals by the most powerful antiaircraft artillery, including 4.1-inch guns, capable of firing thirty-five pound shells to a height of 26,000 feet at the rate of ten every minute. The risk which the British sea planes underwent was great, but there seems to have been no hesitation on the part of the aviators to fly to the attack.
Early in the morning of March 25, 1916, two sea-plane "mother ships," accompanied by a squadron of eight protected cruisers and fast destroyers under the command of Commodore Tyrwhitt, started from the east coast of England. When about fifty miles from Schleswig-Holstein five sea planes and one "battle aeroplane" (according to the German version of the attack) rose from the mother ships and flew toward shore. What happened during the next two hours is still a matter of doubt. Only two of the machines returned from the invasion, torn and riddled with bullets and shrapnel, reporting the most terrific shell fire from batteries of antiaircraft guns. The aviators declared, however, that they "successfully bombarded the airship sheds." The subsequent German report denied the claim, stating that none of the machines succeeded in even reaching the Zeppelin stations, which were several miles inland. Three of the sea planes were shot down by the German guns, and the aviators were made prisoners. It was a gallant attempt against heavy odds on the part of the British Flying Corps, and its failure probably was due to the small number of machines employed. If fifty or sixty machines had taken part in the attack, ten or twelve might have been lost, but the others would probably have been able to reach the sheds and do great damage to the Zeppelins stationed there.
It was from the same sheds that three days later the Zeppelins arose for their tremendous raids of England, during the week of March 30 to April 4, 1916, as many as seven of the airships appearing over the British Isles at the same time. During this series of raids London was visited by one of the airship squadrons, the visit resulting in twenty-eight deaths and forty-four injuries. Another squadron turned northward and dropped bombs on Stowmarket, Lowestoft, and Cambridge, while a third section of the air fleet attacked the northeast coast. One of the attacking air cruisers was hit by gunfire, as well as by bombs thrown from an aeroplane piloted by Lieutenant Brandon to a height of several hundred feet above the Zeppelin. This ship, believed to be the L-15, was so severely damaged that it was forced to descend in the mouth of the Thames, after dropping overboard portions of its machinery, gun, ammunition, and gasoline tank. The loss of the airship was admitted by the German admiralty in a statement issued on April 2, 1916, which said: "In spite of violent bombardment all the airships returned, with the exception of L-15, which, according to report, was compelled to descend in the waters of the Thames River. Searches instituted by our naval forces have, up to the present, not been productive of any result."
Zeppelin raids followed each other in quick succession, no less than forty having been chronicled by July 31, 1916. They became so common, in fact, that the people of England lost much of their first terror and began to view the spectacle of a bombardment from the air as something that was quite "interesting" to watch! How great the damage caused to manufacturing and to railroads and shipping has been in the course of these two-score air raids is something that the British censor has jealously guarded. That such damage has been done is but natural, for tons of explosives cannot be hurled from heights of two miles upon a thickly populated district without doing considerable harm. In one case, it is known, the first bomb dropped upon the power house of the manufacturing town which was attacked, and put the entire electric power and light supply out of business for a week.
Another Zeppelin raid, in which the attacking squadron suffered the loss of an airship, took place on February 22, 1916, in the neighborhood of Verdun. The Zeppelin L-77, one of the largest and latest of the German air fleet, crossed the French battle lines at a height of about 2,500 yards, when it was picked up by searchlights stationed in the rear. A violent bombardment immediately began and one of the exploding shells damaged the motor of the rear gondola. The speed of the Zeppelin was reduced by the failure of the motor, and one of the new French incendiary shells struck the gas bag near its center, causing a violent explosion. The two ends of the big gas bag dropped and as the gondolas hit the ground the entire load of bombs exploded, tearing the ship and its crew to shreds. Two other Zeppelins, flying at greater height, about ten miles to the north of the scene of the accident, watched the destruction and then continued inland over the French positions, dropping bombs for more than an hour. They returned undamaged to the German lines.
Still another Zeppelin, L-19, was lost in the North Sea, on February 2, 1916, while returning from an "invasion" of England. Hit by gunfire from the British antiaircraft batteries—or by the Dutch, as some reports have it, for crossing over Dutch territory—the L-19 gradually dropped lower and lower until it floated on the surface of the sea. The British trawler, King Stephen, appeared and the crew of the Zeppelin asked to be taken off, and offered to surrender. The captain of the trawler frankly declared that he would not take the chance of rescuing twenty-eight well-armed German sailors, as his own crew only amounted to nine men, unarmed. He steamed away, leaving the Zeppelin crew to drown. When destroyers of the British fleet appeared later on, guided to the spot by the trawler captain's report, the Zeppelin and its crew had vanished.
LOSSES AND CASUALTIES IN AERIAL WARFARE—DISCREPANCIES IN OFFICIAL REPORTS—"DRIVEN DOWN" AND "DESTROYED"
To tabulate or chronicle accurately the losses and casualties suffered by the various armies in their aerial warfare is absolutely impossible. Not so much because of censorship or secrecy, but because of the fact that when an aeroplane is "driven down" by the French behind the German lines, it cannot be said that this aeroplane is actually destroyed or even damaged, or that its pilot has received a wound. Similarly when German machines attack and force a French or British machine to descend swiftly behind its own lines. The reporting of machines "driven down" among those "destroyed" is the cause of all the discrepancies between the official reports of the contending forces.
The following figures have been gathered with the greatest care from the British "Roll of Honor," covering the killed, missing and wounded members of the Royal British Flying Corps. They are for the month of February, 1916, a month of comparative quiet, and there can be no doubt that proportionately larger casualty lists could be compiled from the more active months of the summer of 1916. The first week of February resulted in nine officers killed, one wounded, and five "missing"; two noncommissioned officers were also reported "missing." The second week six officers were killed, two wounded, while one noncommissioned officer was killed and another wounded. During the third week three flight lieutenants were killed, five wounded, and two captured by the enemy, while eight noncommissioned officers were wounded. In the last week of the month there were three officers killed, five wounded, and six "missing," while three noncommissioned men were listed as killed. The total losses for the month on the short battle line held by the British forces were therefore: twenty-one officers killed, thirteen wounded, and thirteen missing; fifteen noncommissioned officers killed or wounded. The losses among German aviators, taken from the regularly published casualty lists issued by the German Government, were twenty-four killed, and eleven wounded, during the month of January.
The casualty lists become a deep mystery when compared with the losses of machines admitted by the respective war departments. During the month of February, for instance, the British announced the loss of six aeroplanes—yet the casualty lists showed a loss of sixty-two officers and men! During the same month the French lost six machines, the Germans eight, the Russians three, Austria one, and Italy one.
Statistics for the four months from April to July, 1916, gathered from the periodical press of Great Britain and Germany, and probably far more accurate than the occasional "estimates" made by the war departments themselves, show the following losses in officers killed in aerial combats: