THE GREAT RETREAT
SIR JOHN FRENCH
The transport of the troops from England both by sea and by rail was effected in the best order and without a check. Each unit arrived at its destination in this country well within the scheduled time.
[Sidenote: Disposition of British forces.]
The concentration was practically complete on the evening of Friday, September 21st, and I was able to make dispositions to move the force during Saturday, the 22d, to positions I considered most favorable from which to commence operations which the French Commander in Chief, General Joffre, requested me to undertake in pursuance of his plans in prosecution of the campaign.
The line taken up extended along the line of the canal from Conde on the west, through Mons and Binche on the east. This line was taken up as follows:
From Conde to Mons inclusive was assigned to the Second Corps, and to the right of the Second Corps from Mons the First Corps was posted. The Fifth Cavalry Brigade was placed at Binche.
In the absence of my Third Army Corps I desired to keep the cavalry division as much as possible as a reserve to act on my outer flank, or move in support of any threatened part of the line. The forward reconnoissance was intrusted to Brigadier General Sir Philip Chetwode with the Fifth Cavalry Brigade, but I directed General Allenby to send forward a few squadrons to assist in this work.
[Sidenote: Advance on Soignies.]
During the 22d and 23d these advanced squadrons did some excellent work, some of them penetrating as far as Soignies, and several encounters took place in which our troops showed to great advantage.
2. At 6 A. M. on August 23, I assembled the commanders of the First and Second Corps and cavalry division at a point close to the position and explained the general situation of the Allies, and what I understood to be General Joffre's plan. I discussed with them at some length the immediate situation in front of us.
From information I received from French Headquarters I understood that little more than one, or at most two, of the enemy's army corps, with perhaps one cavalry division, were in front of my position; and I was aware of no attempted outflanking movement by the enemy. I was confirmed in this opinion by the fact that my patrols encountered no undue opposition in their reconnoitring operations. The observations of my aeroplanes seemed also to bear out this estimate.
[Sidenote: Attack on Mons line.]
About 3 P. M. on Sunday, the 23d, reports began coming in to the effect that the enemy was commencing an attack on the Mons line, apparently in some strength, but that the right of the position from Mons and Bray was being particularly threatened.
The commander of the First Corps had pushed his flank back to some high ground south of Bray, and the Fifth Cavalry Brigade evacuated Binche, moving slightly south; the enemy thereupon occupied Binche.
[Sidenote: Germans gain passages of the Sambre.]
The right of the Third Division, under General Hamilton, was at Mons, which formed a somewhat dangerous salient; and I directed the commander of the Second Corps to be careful not to keep the troops on this salient too long, but, if threatened seriously, to draw back the centre behind Mons. This was done before dark. In the meantime, about 5 P. M., I received a most unexpected message from General Joffre by telegraph, telling me that at least three German corps, viz., a reserve corps, the Fourth Corps and the Ninth Corps, were moving on my position in front, and that the Second Corps was engaged in a turning movement from the direction of Tournay. He also informed me that the two reserve French divisions and the Fifth French Army on my right were retiring, the Germans having on the previous day gained possession of the passages of the Sambre between Charleroi and Namur.
3. In view of the possibility of my being driven from the Mons position, I had previously ordered a position in rear to be reconnoitred. This position rested on the fortress of Maubeuge on the right and extended west to Jenlain, southeast of Valenciennes, on the left. The position was reported difficult to hold, because standing crops and buildings made the siting of trenches very difficult and limited the field of fire in many important localities. It nevertheless afforded a few good artillery positions.
[Sidenote: British retire to Maubeuge position.]
When the news of the retirement of the French and the heavy German threatening on my front reached me, I endeavored to confirm it by aeroplane reconnoissance; and as a result of this I determined to effect a retirement to the Maubeuge position at daybreak on the 24th.
A certain amount of fighting continued along the whole line throughout the night and at daybreak on the 24th the Second Division from the neighborhood of Harmignies made a powerful demonstration as if to retake Binche. This was supported by the artillery of both the First and Second Divisions, while the First Division took up a supporting position in the neighborhood of Peissant. Under cover of this demonstration the Second Corps retired on the line Dour-Quarouble-Frameries. The Third Division on the right of the corps suffered considerable loss in this operation from the enemy, who had retaken Mons.
The Second Corps halted on this line, where they partially intrenched themselves, enabling Sir Douglas Haig with the First Corps gradually to withdraw to the new position; and he effected this without much further loss, reaching the line Bavai-Maubeuge about 7 P. M. Toward midday the enemy appeared to be directing his principal effort against our left.
I had previously ordered General Allenby with the cavalry to act vigorously in advance of my left front and endeavor to take the pressure off.
[Sidenote: General Allenby supports Fifth Division.]
About 7:30 A. M. General Allenby received a message from Sir Charles Fergusson, commanding the Fifth Division, saying that he was very hard pressed and in urgent need of support. On receipt of this message General Allenby drew in the cavalry and endeavored to bring direct support to the Fifth Division.
During the course of this operation General De Lisle, of the Second Cavalry Brigade, thought he saw a good opportunity to paralyze the further advance of the enemy's infantry by making a mounted attack on his flank. He formed up and advanced for this purpose, but was held up by wire about 500 yards from his objective, and the Ninth Lancers and the Eighteenth Hussars suffered severely in the retirement of the brigade.
The Nineteenth Infantry Brigade, which had been guarding the line of communications, was brought up by rail to Valenciennes on the 22d and 23d. On the morning of the 24th they were moved out to a position south of Quarouble to support the left flank of the Second Corps.
[Sidenote: Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien suffers great losses.]
With the assistance of the cavalry Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien was enabled to effect his retreat to a new position; although, having two corps of the enemy on his front and one threatening his flank, he suffered great losses in doing so.
At nightfall the position was occupied by the Second Corps to the west of Bavai, the First Corps to the right. The right was protected by the fortress of Maubeuge, the left by the Nineteenth Brigade in position between Jenlain and Bry, and the cavalry on the outer flank.
4. The French were still retiring, and I had no support except such as was afforded by the Fortress of Maubeuge; and the determined attempts of the enemy to get round my left flank assured me that it was his intention to hem me against that place and surround me. I felt that not a moment must be lost in retiring to another position.
I had every reason to believe that the enemy's forces were somewhat exhausted and I knew that they had suffered heavy losses. I hoped, therefore, that his pursuit would not be too vigorous to prevent me effecting my object.
The operation, however, was full of danger and difficulty, not only owing to the very superior force in my front, but also to the exhaustion of the troops.
The retirement was recommenced in the early morning of the 25th to a position in the neighborhood of Le Cateau, and rearguards were ordered to be clear of the Maubeuge-Bavai-Eth Road by 5:30 A. M.
[Sidenote: General Allenby covers west flank.]
Two cavalry brigades, with the divisional cavalry of the Second Corps, covered the movement of the Second Corps. The remainder of the cavalry division, with the Nineteenth Brigade, the whole under the command of General Allenby, covered the west flank.
The Fourth Division commenced its detrainment at Le Cateau on Sunday, the 23d, and by the morning of the 25th eleven battalions and a brigade of artillery with divisional staff were available for service.
I ordered General Snow to move out to take up a position with his right south of Solesmes, his left resting on the Cambrai-Le Cateau Road south of La Chaprie. In this position the division rendered great help to the effective retirement of the Second and First Corps to the new position.
Although the troops had been ordered to occupy the Cambrai-Le Cateau-Landrecies position, and the ground had, during the 25th, been partially prepared and intrenched, I had grave doubts—owing to the information I had received as to the accumulating strength of the enemy against me—as to the wisdom of standing there to fight.
[Sidenote: Retirement of French troops on right.]
Having regard to the continued retirement of the French on my right, my exposed left flank, the tendency of the enemy's western corps (II.) to envelop me, and, more than all, the exhausted condition of the troops, I determined to make a great effort to continue the retreat till I could put some substantial obstacle, such as the Somme or the Oise, between my troops and the enemy, and afford the former some opportunity of rest and reorganization. Orders were, therefore, sent to the corps commanders to continue their retreat as soon as they possibly could toward the general line Vermand-St. Quentin-Ribemont.
The cavalry, under General Allenby, were ordered to cover the retirement.
Throughout the 25th and far into the evening, the First Corps continued its march on Landrecies, following the road along the eastern border of the Foret de Mormal, and arrived at Landrecies about 10 o'clock. I had intended that the corps should come further west so as to fill up the gap between Le Cateau and Landrecies, but the men were exhausted and could not get further in without rest.
[Sidenote: British brigade in Landrecies.]
[Sidenote: French reserve divisions support First Corps.]
The enemy, however, would not allow them this rest, and about 9:30 P. M. a report was received that the Fourth Guards Brigade in Landrecies was heavily attacked by troops of the Ninth German Army Corps, who were coming through the forest on the north of the town. This brigade fought most gallantly, and caused the enemy to suffer tremendous loss in issuing from the forest into the narrow streets of the town. This loss has been estimated from reliable sources at from 700 to 1,000. At the same time information reached me from Sir Douglas Haig that his First Division was also heavily engaged south and east of Maroilles. I sent urgent messages to the commander of the two French reserve divisions on my right to come up to the assistance of the First Corps, which they eventually did. Partly owing to this assistance, but mainly to the skillful manner in which Sir Douglas Haig extricated his corps from an exceptionally difficult position in the darkness of the night, they were able at dawn to resume their march south toward Wassigny on Guise.
By about 6 P. M. the Second Corps had got into position with their right on Le Cateau, their left in the neighborhood of Caudry, and the line of defense was continued thence by the Fourth Division toward Seranvillers, the left being thrown back.
During the fighting on the 24th and 25th the cavalry became a good deal scattered, but by the early morning of the 26th General Allenby had succeeded in concentrating two brigades to the south of Cambrai.
The Fourth Division was placed under the orders of the general officer commanding the Second Army Corps.
On the 24th the French cavalry corps, consisting of three divisions under General Sordet, had been in billets north of Avesnes. On my way back from Bavai, which was my "Poste de Commandement" during the fighting of the 23d and 24th, I visited General Sordet, and earnestly requested his co-operation and support. He promised to obtain sanction from his army commander to act on my left flank, but said that his horses were too tired to move before the next day. Although he rendered me valuable assistance later on in the course of the retirement, he was unable for the reasons given to afford me any support on the most critical day of all, viz., the 26th.
[Sidenote: British Second Corps and Fourth Division heavily attacked.]
At daybreak it became apparent that the enemy was throwing the bulk of his strength against the left of the position occupied by the Second Corps and the Fourth Division.
At this time the guns of four German army corps were in position against them, and Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien reported to me that he judged it impossible to continue his retirement at daybreak (as ordered) in face of such an attack.
I sent him orders to use his utmost endeavors to break off the action and retire at the earliest possible moment, as it was impossible for me to send him any support, the First Corps being at the moment incapable of movement.
The French cavalry corps, under General Sordet, was coming up on our left rear early in the morning, and I sent an urgent message to him to do his utmost to come up and support the retirement of my left flank; but owing to the fatigue of his horses he found himself unable to intervene in any way.
There had been no time to intrench the position properly, but the troops showed a magnificent front to the terrible fire which confronted them.
[Sidenote: British artillery outmatched by four to one.]
The artillery, although outmatched by at least four to one, made a splendid fight, and inflicted heavy losses on their opponents.
At length it became apparent that, if complete annihilation was to be avoided, a retirement must be attempted; and the order was given to commence it about 3:30 P. M. The movement was covered with the most devoted intrepidity and determination by the artillery, which had itself suffered heavily, and the fine work done by the cavalry in the further retreat from the position assisted materially in the final completion of this most difficult and dangerous operation.
Fortunately the enemy had himself suffered too heavily to engage in an energetic pursuit.
[Sidenote: General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien cited for conspicuous service.]
I cannot close the brief account of this glorious stand of the British troops without putting on record my deep appreciation of the valuable services rendered by General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien.
I say without hesitation that the saving of the left wing of the army under my command on the morning of the 26th August could never have been accomplished unless a commander of rare and unusual coolness, intrepidity, and determination had been present to personally conduct the operation.
[Sidenote: British retreat holding on line Noyon-Chauny-La Fere.]
The retreat was continued far into the night of the 26th and through the 27th and 28th, on which date the troops halted on the line Noyon-Chauny-La Fere, having then thrown off the weight of the enemy's pursuit.
On the 27th and 28th August I was much indebted to General Sordet and the French cavalry division which he commands for materially assisting my retirement and successfully driving back some of the enemy on Cambrai.
General D'Amade also, with the Sixty-first and Sixty-second French Reserve Divisions, moved down from the neighborhood of Arras on the enemy's right flank and took much pressure off the rear of the British forces located there.
[Sidenote: End of four days' battle at Mons.]
This closes the period covering the heavy fighting which commenced at Mons on Sunday afternoon, 23d August, and which really constituted a four days' battle.
At this point, therefore, I propose to close the present dispatch.
[Sidenote: Serious losses in British forces.]
I deeply deplore the very serious losses which the British forces have suffered in this great battle; but they were inevitable in view of the fact that the British Army—only two days after a concentration by rail—was called upon to withstand a vigorous attack of five German army corps.
It is impossible for me to speak too highly of the skill evinced by the two general officers commanding army corps; the self-sacrificing and devoted exertions of their staffs; the direction of the troops by divisional, brigade, and regimental leaders; the command of the smaller units by their officers; and the magnificent fighting spirit displayed by non-commissioned officers and men.
[Sidenote: Royal Flying Corps cited for admirable work.]
I wish particularly to bring to your Lordship's notice the admirable work done by the Royal Flying Corps under Sir David Henderson. Their skill, energy, and perseverance have been beyond all praise. They have furnished me with the most complete and accurate information, which has been of incalculable value in the conduct of the operations. Fired at constantly both by friend and foe, and not hesitating to fly in every kind of weather, they have remained undaunted throughout.
Further, by actually fighting in the air, they have succeeded in destroying five of the enemy's machines.
I wish to acknowledge with deep gratitude the incalculable assistance I received from the General and Personal Staffs at Headquarters during this trying period.
[Sidenote: Lieutenant General Sir Archibald Murray, Major General Wilson, Brigade General Hon. Lambton cited for admirable work.]
Lieutenant General Sir Archibald Murray, Chief of the General Staff; Major General Wilson, Sub-Chief of the General Staff; and all under them have worked day and night unceasingly with the utmost skill, self-sacrifice, and devotion; and the same acknowledgment is due by me to Brigadier General Hon. W. Lambton, my Military Secretary, and the personal Staff.
[Sidenote: Major General Sir William Robertson cited for admirable work.]
In such operations as I have described the work of the Quartermaster General is of an extremely onerous nature. Major General Sir William Robertson has met what appeared to be almost insuperable difficulties with his characteristic energy, skill, and determination; and it is largely owing to his exertions that the hardships and sufferings of the troops—inseparable from such operations—were not much greater.
[Sidenote: Major General Sir Nevil Macready.]
Major General Sir Nevil Macready, the Adjutant General, has also been confronted with most onerous and difficult tasks in connection with disciplinary arrangements and the preparation of casualty lists. He has been indefatigable in his exertions to meet the difficult situations which arose.
THE BATTLE OF THE MARNE
SIR JOHN FRENCH
17th September, 1914.
My Lord: In continuation of my dispatch of September 7, I have the honor to report the further progress of the operations of the forces under my command from August 28.
On that evening the retirement of the force was followed closely by two of the enemy's cavalry columns, moving southeast from St. Quentin.
The retreat in this part of the field was being covered by the Third and Fifth Cavalry Brigades. South of the Somme General Gough, with the Third Cavalry Brigade, threw back the Uhlans of the Guard with considerable loss.
[Sidenote: General Chetwode routs German attack.]
General Chetwode, with the Fifth Cavalry Brigade, encountered the eastern column near Cerizy, moving south. The brigade attacked and routed the column, the leading German regiment suffering very severe casualties and being almost broken up.
The Seventh French Army Corps was now in course of being railed up from the south to the east of Amiens. On the 29th it nearly completed its detrainment, and the French Sixth Army got into position on my left, its right resting on Roye.
The Fifth French Army was behind the line of the Oise, between La Fere and Guise.
[Sidenote: Vigorous pursuit of retreating German forces.]
The pursuit of the enemy was very vigorous; some five or six German corps were on the Somme, facing the Fifth Army on the Oise. At least two corps were advancing toward my front, and were crossing the Somme east and west of Ham. Three or four more German corps were opposing the Sixth French Army on my left.
This was the situation at 1 o'clock on the 29th, when I received a visit from General Joffre at my headquarters.
I strongly represented my position to the French Commander in Chief, who was most kind, cordial, and sympathetic, as he has always been. He told me that he had directed the Fifth French Army on the Oise to move forward and attack the Germans on the Somme, with a view to checking pursuit. He also told me of the formation of the Sixth French Army on my left flank, composed of the Seventh Army Corps, four reserve divisions, and Sordet's corps of cavalry.
[Sidenote: Short retirement towards Compiegne-Soissons.]
I finally arranged with General Joffre to effect a further short retirement toward the line Compiegne-Soissons, promising him, however, to do my utmost to keep always within a day's march of him.
In pursuance of this arrangement the British forces retired to a position a few miles north of the line Compiegne-Soissons on the 29th.
[Sidenote: Right flank of German army in dangerous line of connection.]
The right flank of the Germany Army was now reaching a point which appeared seriously to endanger my line of communications with Havre. I had already evacuated Amiens, into which place a German reserve division was reported to have moved.
Orders were given to change the base to St. Nazaire, and establish an advance base at Le Mans. This operation was well carried out by the Inspector General of Communications.
[Sidenote: Retirement to the Marne ordered.]
In spite of a severe defeat inflicted upon the Guard Tenth and Guard Reserve Corps of the German Army by the First and Third French Corps on the right of the Fifth Army, it was not part of General Joffre's plan to pursue this advantage; and a general retirement to the line of the Marne was ordered, to which the French forces in the more eastern theatre were directed to conform.
A new Army (the Ninth) had been formed from three corps in the south by General Joffre, and moved into the space between the right of the Fifth and left of the Fourth Armies.
While closely adhering to his strategic conception to draw the enemy on at all points until a favorable situation was created from which to assume the offensive, General Joffre found it necessary to modify from day to day the methods by which he sought to attain this object, owing to the development of the enemy's plans and changes in the general situation.
In conformity with the movements of the French forces, my retirement continued practically from day to day. Although we were not severely pressed by the enemy, rearguard actions took place continually.
[Sidenote: Attack on British First Cavalry Brigade.]
On the 1st September, when retiring from the thickly wooded country to the south of Compiegne, the First Cavalry Brigade was overtaken by some German cavalry. They momentarily lost a horse artillery battery, and several officers and men were killed and wounded. With the help, however, of some detachments from the Third Corps operating on their left, they not only recovered their own guns, but succeeded in capturing twelve of the enemy's.
Similarly, to the eastward, the First Corps, retiring south, also got into some very difficult forest country, and a somewhat severe rearguard action ensued at Villers-Cotterets, in which the Fourth Guards Brigade suffered considerably.
[Sidenote: British forces in position south of the Marne.]
On September 3 the British forces were in position south of the Marne between Lagny and Signy-Signets. Up to this time I had been requested by General Joffre to defend the passages of the river as long as possible, and to blow up the bridges in my front. After I had made the necessary dispositions, and the destruction of the bridges had been effected, I was asked by the French Commander in Chief to continue my retirement to a point some twelve miles in rear of the position I then occupied, with a view to taking up a second position behind the Seine. This retirement was duly carried out. In the meantime the enemy had thrown bridges and crossed the Marne in considerable force, and was threatening the Allies all along the line of the British forces and the Fifth and Ninth French Armies. Consequently several small outpost actions took place.
On Saturday, September 5, I met the French Commander in Chief at his request, and he informed me of his intention to take the offensive forthwith, as he considered conditions very favorable to success.
[Sidenote: General Joffre announces intention to take offensive.]
General Joffre announced to me his intention of wheeling up the left flank of the Sixth Army, pivoting on the Marne and directing it to move on the Ourcq; cross and attack the flank of the First German Army, which was then moving in a southeasterly direction east of that river.
He requested me to effect a change of front to my right—my left resting on the Marne and my right on the Fifth Army—to fill the gap between that army and the Sixth. I was then to advance against the enemy in my front and join in the general offensive movement.
[Sidenote: Battle begins Sunday, September 6.]
These combined movements practically commenced on Sunday, September 6, at sunrise; and on that day it may be said that a great battle opened on a front extending from Ermenonville, which was just in front of the left flank of the Sixth French Army, through Lizy on the Marne, Mauperthuis, which was about the British centre, Courtecon, which was on the left of the Fifth French Army, to Esternay and Charleville, the left of the Ninth Army under General Foch, and so along the front of the Ninth, Fourth and Third French Armies to a point north of the fortress of Verdun.
[Sidenote: Battle concluded September 10. Germans driven to the line Soissons-Rheims.]
This battle, in so far as the Sixth French Army, the British Army, the Fifth French Army, and the Ninth French Army were concerned, may be said to have concluded on the evening of September 10, by which time the Germans had been driven back to the line Soissons-Rheims, with a loss of thousands of prisoners, many guns, and enormous masses of transport.
About September 3 the enemy appears to have changed his plans and to have determined to stop his advance south direct upon Paris, for on September 4 air reconnoissances showed that his main columns were moving in a southeasterly direction generally east of a line drawn through Nanteuil and Lizy on the Ourcq.
On September 5 several of these columns were observed to have crossed the Marne, while German troops, which were observed moving southeast up the left flank of the Ourcq on the 4th, were now reported to be halted and facing that river. Heads of the enemy's columns were seen crossing at Changis, La Ferte, Nogent, Chateau Thierry, and Mezy.
[Sidenote: German columns converging on Montmirail.]
Considerable German columns of all arms were seen to be converging on Montmirail, while before sunset large bivouacs of the enemy were located in the neighborhood of Coulommiers, south of Rebais, La Ferte-Gaucher, and Dagny.
I should conceive it to have been about noon on September 6, after the British forces had changed their front to the right and occupied the line Jouy-Le Chatel-Faremoutiers-Villeneuve Le Comte, and the advance of the Sixth French Army north of the Marne toward the Ourcq became apparent, that the enemy realized the powerful threat that was being made against the flank of his columns moving southeast, and began the great retreat which opened the battle above referred to.
[Sidenote: Position of allies and Germans on September 6.]
On the evening of September 6, therefore, the fronts and positions of the Allied Army were roughly as follows:
Sixth French Army.—Right on the Marne at Meux, left toward Betz.
British Forces.—On the line Dagny-Coulommiers-Maison.
Fifth French Army.—At Courtagon, right on Esternay.
Conneau's Cavalry Corps.—Between the right of the British and the left of the French Fifth Army.
The position of the German Army was as follows:
Fourth Reserve and Second Corps.—East of the Ourcq and facing that river.
Ninth Cavalry Division.—West of Crecy.
Second Cavalry Division.—North of Coulommiers.
Third and Seventh Corps.—Southwest of Montmirail.
[Sidenote: First and Second German army.]
All these troops constituted the First German Army, which was directed against the French Sixth Army on the Ourcq, and the British forces, and the left of the Fifth French Army south of the Marne.
The Second German Army (IX., X., X.R., and Guard) was moving against the centre and right of the Fifth French Army and the Ninth French Army.
On September 7 both the Fifth and Sixth French Armies were heavily engaged on our flank. The Second and Fourth Reserve German Corps on the Ourcq vigorously opposed the advance of the French toward that river, but did not prevent the Sixth Army from gaining some headway, the Germans themselves suffering serious losses. The French Fifth Army threw the enemy back to the line of the Petit Morin River after inflicting severe losses upon them, especially about Montceaux, which was carried at the point of the bayonet.
The enemy retreated before our advance, covered by his Second and Ninth and Guard Cavalry Divisions, which suffered severely.
Our cavalry acted with great vigor, especially General De Lisle's brigade, with the Ninth Lancers and Eighteenth Hussars.
[Sidenote: Germans retreat September 8.]
On September 8 the enemy continued his retreat northward, and our army was successfully engaged during the day with strong rearguards of all arms on the Petit Morin River, thereby materially assisting the progress of the French armies on our right and left, against whom the enemy was making his greatest efforts. On both sides the enemy was thrown back with very heavy loss. The First Army Corps encountered stubborn resistance at La Tretoire, (north of Rebais.) The enemy occupied a strong position with infantry and guns on the northern bank of the Petit Morin River; they were dislodged with considerable loss. Several machine guns and many prisoners were captured, and upward of 200 German dead were left on the ground.
[Sidenote: Forcing of Petit Morin September 9.]
The forcing of the Petit Morin at this point was much assisted by the cavalry and the First Division, which crossed higher up the stream.
Later in the day a counter-attack by the enemy was well repulsed by the First Army Corps, a great many prisoners and some guns again falling into our hands.
On this day (September 8) the Second Army Corps encountered considerable opposition, but drove back the enemy at all points with great loss, making considerable captures.
The Third Army Corps also drove back considerable bodies of the enemy's infantry and made some captures.
[Sidenote: British First and Second Army Corps forced passage of Marne.]
On September 9 the First and Second Army Corps forced the passage of the Marne and advanced some miles to the north of it. The Third Corps encountered considerable opposition, as the bridge at La Ferte was destroyed and the enemy held the town on the opposite bank in some strength, and thence persistently obstructed the construction of a bridge; so the passage was not effected until after nightfall.
During the day's pursuit the enemy suffered heavy loss in killed and wounded, some hundreds of prisoners fell into our hands and a battery of eight machine guns was captured by the Second Division.
[Sidenote: Sixth French Army heavily engaged west of River Ourcq.]
On this day the Sixth French Army was heavily engaged west of the River Ourcq. The enemy had largely increased his force opposing them; and very heavy fighting ensued, in which the French were successful throughout.
The left of the Fifth French Army reached the neighborhood of Chateau Thierry after the most severe fighting, having driven the enemy completely north of the river with great loss.
The fighting of this army in the neighborhood of Montmirail was very severe.
[Sidenote: British and French advance on the line of the Ourcq, September 10.]
The advance was resumed at daybreak on the 10th up to the line of the Ourcq, opposed by strong rearguards of all arms. The First and Second Corps, assisted by the cavalry divisions on the right, the Third and Fifth Cavalry Brigades on the left, drove the enemy northward. Thirteen guns, seven machine guns, about 2,000 prisoners, and quantities of transport fell into our hands. The enemy left many dead on the field. On this day the French Fifth and Sixth Armies had little opposition.
[Sidenote: First and Second German armies in full retreat.]
As the First and Second German Armies were now in full retreat, this evening marks the end of the battle which practically commenced on the morning of the 6th inst.; and it is at this point in the operations that I am concluding the present dispatch.
In concluding this dispatch I must call your Lordship's special attention to the fact that from Sunday, August 23, up to the present date, (September 17,) from Mons back almost to the Seine, and from the Seine to the Aisne, the army under my command has been ceaselessly engaged without one single day's halt or rest of any kind.
[Sidenote: Continuous fighting of British from Sunday, August 23, to September 17, from Mons to Seine and from Seine to the Aisne.]
[Sidenote: Amiens and Rheims captured.]
In the narratives preceding we have seen how the English forces conducted themselves during the Great Retreat and at the Marne. It must be remembered, however, that they comprised but a small proportion of the armies opposing the Germans. The French bore the brunt of the attack, and a French army turned the tide of battle. Beginning with the first days of September all other military events were overshadowed by the Great Retreat. On September 1 the Germans, in spite of French and British resistance, had reached Senlis. On September 4th Amiens was captured, and two days later the German army entered Rheims. In the following narrative is shown, through the official records, how the French armies bore themselves during the Great Retreat, the First Battle of the Marne, and in the fighting which marked the hurried return of the German armies to the banks of the Aisne which they had, with true foresight, fortified with such a possible situation in mind.
HOW THE FRENCH FOUGHT
THE FRENCH OFFICIAL ACCOUNT
The first month of the campaign began with successes and finished with defeats for the French troops. Under what circumstances did these come about?
[Sidenote: Two principal actions.]
Our plan of concentration had foreseen the possibility of two principal actions, one on the right between the Vosges and the Moselle, the other on the left to the north of Verdun-Toul line, this double possibility involving the eventual variation of our transport. On August 2, owing to the Germans passing through Belgium, our concentration was substantially modified by General Joffre in order that our principal effort might be directed to the north.
From the first week in August it was apparent that the length of time required for the British Army to begin to move would delay our action in connection with it. This delay is one of the reasons which explain our failures at the end of August.
[Sidenote: Mulhouse occupied.]
Awaiting the moment when the operations in the north could begin, and to prepare for it by retaining in Alsace the greatest possible number of German forces, the General in Chief ordered our troops to occupy Mulhouse, (Muelhousen,) to cut the bridges of the Rhine at Huningue and below, and then to flank the attack of our troops, operating in Lorraine.
This operation was badly carried out by a leader who was at once relieved of his command. Our troops, after having carried Mulhouse, lost it and were thrown back on Belfort. The work had, therefore, to be recommenced afresh, and this was done from August 14 under a new command.
[Sidenote: Enemy losses.]
Mulhouse was taken on the 19th, after a brilliant fight at Dornach. Twenty-four guns were captured from the enemy. On the 20th we held the approaches to Colmar, both by the plain and by the Vosges. The enemy had undergone enormous losses and abandoned great stores of shells and forage, but from this moment what was happening in Lorraine and on our left prevented us from carrying our successes further, for our troops in Alsace were needed elsewhere.
On August 28 the Alsace army was broken up, only a small part remaining to hold the region of Thann and the Vosges.
The purpose of the operations in Alsace was, namely, to retain a large part of the enemy's forces far from the northern theatre of operations. It was for our offensive in Lorraine to pursue still more directly by holding before it the German army corps operating to the south of Metz.
This offensive began brilliantly on August 14. On the 19th we had reached the region of Saarburg and that of the Etangs, (lakes,) and we held Dieuze, Morhange, Delme, and Chateau Salins.
[Sidenote: French offensive stopped.]
On the 20th our success was stopped. The cause is to be found in the strong organization of the region, in the power of the enemy's artillery, operating over ground which had been minutely surveyed, and, finally, in the default of certain units.
[Sidenote: German reinforcements.]
On the 22d, in spite of the splendid behavior of several of our army corps, notably that of Nancy, our troops were brought back on to the Grand Couronne, while on the 23d and 24th the Germans concentrated reinforcements—three army corps, at least—in the region of Luneville and forced us to retire to the south.
This retreat, however, was only momentary. On the 25th, after two vigorous counter-attacks, one from south to north and the other from west to east, the enemy had to fall back. From that time a sort of balance was established on this terrain between the Germans and ourselves. Maintained for fifteen days, it was afterward, as will be seen, modified to our advantage.
[Sidenote: Battle of the north.]
There remained the principal business, the battle of the north—postponed owing to the necessity of waiting for the British Army. On August 20 the concentration of our lines was finished and the General in Chief gave orders for our centre and our left to take the offensive. Our centre comprised two armies. Our left consisted of a third army, reinforced to the extent of two army corps, a corps of cavalry, the reserve divisions, the British Army, and the Belgian Army, which had already been engaged for the previous three weeks at Liege, Namur, and Louvain.
The German plan on that date was as follows: From seven to eight army corps and four cavalry divisions were endeavoring to pass between Givet and Brussels, and even to prolong their movements more to the west. Our object was, therefore, in the first place, to hold and dispose of the enemy's centre and afterward to throw ourselves with all available forces on the left flank of the German grouping of troops in the north.
[Sidenote: The offensive fails.]
On August 21 our offensive in the centre began with ten army corps. On August 22 it failed, and this reverse appeared serious.
The reasons for it are complex. There were in this affair individual and collective failures, imprudences committed under the fire of the enemy, divisions ill-engaged, rash deployments, precipitate retreats, a premature waste of men, and, finally, the inadequacy of certain of our troops and their leaders, both as regards the use of infantry and artillery.
In consequence of these lapses the enemy, turning to account the difficult terrain, was able to secure the maximum of profit from the advantages which the superiority of his subaltern complements gave him.
[Sidenote: Enemy crosses the Sambre.]
In spite of this defeat our manoeuvre had still a chance of success, if our left and the British Army obtained a decisive result. This was unfortunately not the case. On August 22, at the cost of great losses, the enemy succeeded in crossing the Sambre and our left army fell back on the 24th upon Beaumont-Givet, being perturbed by the belief that the enemy was threatening its right.
On the same day, (the 24th,) the British Army fell back after a German attack upon the Maubeuge-Valenciennes line. On the 25th and 26th its retreat became more hurried. After Landrecies and Le Cateau it fell back southward by forced marches. It could not from this time keep its hold until after crossing the Marne.
[Sidenote: The British retreat.]
The rapid retreat of the English, coinciding with the defeat sustained in Belgian Luxembourg, allowed the enemy to cross the Meuse and to accelerate, by fortifying it, the action of his right.
The situation at this moment may be thus summed up: Either our frontier had to be defended on the spot under conditions which the British retreat rendered extremely perilous, or we had to execute a strategic retirement which, while delivering up to the enemy a part of the national soil, would permit us, on the other hand, to resume the offensive at our own time with a favorable disposition of troops, still intact, which we had at our command. The General in Chief determined on the second alternative.
[Sidenote: New offensive planned.]
Henceforward the French command devoted its efforts to preparing the offensive. To this end three conditions had to be fulfilled:
1. The retreat had to be carried out in order under a succession of counter-attacks which would keep the enemy busy.
2. The extreme point of this retreat must be fixed in such a way that the different armies should reach it simultaneously, ready at the moment of occupying it to resume the offensive all together.
3. Every circumstance permitting of a resumption of the offensive before this point should be reached must be utilized by the whole of our forces and the British forces.
The counter-attacks, executed during the retreat, were brilliant and often fruitful. On August 20 we successfully attacked St. Quentin to disengage the British Army. Two other corps and a reserve division engaged the Prussian Guard and the Tenth German Army Corps, which was debouching from Guise. By the end of the day, after various fluctuations, the enemy was thrown back on the Oise and the British front was freed.
On August 27 we had also succeeded in throwing back upon the Meuse the enemy, who was endeavoring to gain a foothold on the left bank. Our successes continued on the 28th in the woods of Marfee and of Jaulnay. Thanks to them we were able, in accordance with the orders of the General in Chief, to fall back on the Buzancy-Le Chesne-Bouvellemont line.
Further to the right another army took part in the same movement and carried out successful attacks on August 25 on the Othain and in the region of Spincourt.
[Sidenote: Recrossing the Meuse.]
On the 26th these different units recrossed the Meuse without being disturbed and were able to join in the action of our centre. Our armies were, therefore, again intact and available for the offensive.
On August 26 a new army composed of two army corps, five reserve divisions, and a Moorish brigade was constituted. This army was to assemble in the region of Amiens between August 27 and September 1 and take the offensive against the German right, uniting its action with that of the British Army, operating on the line of Ham-Bray-sur-Somme.
[Sidenote: The retreat continues.]
The hope of resuming the offensive was from this moment rendered vain by the rapidity of the march of the German right wing. This rapidity had two consequences, which we had to parry before thinking of advancing. On the one hand, our new army had not time to complete its detraining, and, on the other hand, the British Army, forced back further by the enemy, uncovered on August 31 our left flank. Our line, thus modified, contained waves which had to be redressed before we could pass to the offensive.
To understand this it is sufficient to consider the situation created by the quick advance of the enemy on the evening of September 2.
A corps of cavalry had crossed the Oise and advanced as far as Chateau-Thierry. The First Army, (General von Kluck,) comprising four active army corps and a reserve corps, had passed Compiegne.
The Second Army, (General von Buelow,) with three active army corps and two reserve corps, was reaching the Laon region.
The Third Army, (General von Hausen,) with two active army corps and a reserve corps, had crossed the Aisne between the Chateau Porcien and Attigny.
[Sidenote: The German armies.]
More to the east the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Armies, namely, twelve army corps, four reserve corps, and numerous Ersatz formations, were in contact with our troops, the Fourth and Fifth Armies between Vouziers and Verdun and the others in the positions which have been indicated above, from Verdun to the Vosges.
[Sidenote: The left in peril.]
It will, therefore, be seen that our left, if we accepted battle, might be in great peril through the British forces and the new French Army, operating more to the westward, having given way.
A defeat in these conditions would have cut off our armies from Paris and from the British forces and at the same time from the new army which had been constituted to the left of the English. We should thus be running the risk of losing by a single stroke the advantage of the assistance which Russia later on was to furnish.
General Joffre chose resolutely for the solution which disposed of these risks, that is to say, for postponing the offensive and the continuance of the retreat. In this way he remained on ground which he had chosen. He waited only until he could engage in better conditions.
[Sidenote: The limit of the retreat.]
In consequence, on September 1, he fixed as an extreme limit for the movement of retreat, which was still going on, the line of Bray-sur-Seine, Nogent-sur-Seine, Arcis-sur-Aube, Vitry-le-Francois, and the region to the north of Bar-le-Duc. This line might be reached if the troops were compelled to go back so far. They would attack before reaching it, as soon as there was a possibility of bringing about an offensive disposition, permitting the co-operation of the whole of our forces.
On September 5 it appeared that this desired situation existed.
The First German Army, carrying audacity to temerity, had continued its endeavor to envelop our left, had crossed the Grand Morin, and reached the region of Chauffry, to the north of Rebaix and of Esternay. It aimed then at cutting our armies off from Paris, in order to begin the investment of the capital.
[Sidenote: The German lines.]
The Second Army had its head on the line Champaubert, Etoges, Bergeres, and Vertus.
The Third and Fourth Armies reached to Chalons-sur-Marne and Bussy-le-Repos. The Fifth Army was advancing on one side and the other from the Argonne as far as Triacourt-les-Islettes and Juivecourt. The Sixth and Seventh Armies were attacking more to the east.
But—and here is a capital difference between the situation of September 5 and that of September 2—the envelopment of our left was no longer possible.
In the first place, our left army had been able to occupy the line of Sezanne, Villers-St. Georges and Courchamps. Furthermore, the British forces, gathered between the Seine and the Marne, flanked on their left by the newly created army, were closely connected with the rest of our forces.
[Sidenote: Allies' armies ready.]
This was precisely the disposition which the General in Chief had wished to see achieved. On the 4th he decided to take advantage of it, and ordered all the armies to hold themselves ready. He had taken from his right two new army corps, two divisions of infantry, and two divisions of cavalry, which were distributed between his left and his centre.
On the evening of the 5th he addressed to all the commanders of armies a message ordering them to attack.
[Sidenote: Joffre orders the advance.]
"The hour has come," he wrote, "to advance at all costs, and to die where you stand rather than give way."
If one examines on the map the respective positions of the German and French armies on September 6 as previously described, it will be seen that by his inflection toward Meaux and Coulommiers General von Kluck was exposing his right to the offensive action of our left. This is the starting point of the victory of the Marne.
[Sidenote: The Battle of the Marne.]
On the evening of September 5 our left army had reached the front Penchard-Saint-Soutlet-Ver. On the 6th and 7th it continued its attacks vigorously with the Ourcq as objective. On the evening of the 7th it was some kilometers from the Ourcq, on the front Chambry-Marcilly-Lisieux-Acy-en-Multien. On the 8th, the Germans, who had in great haste reinforced their right by bringing their Second and Fourth Army Corps back to the north, obtained some successes by attacks of extreme violence. They occupied Betz, Thury-en-Valois, and Nanteuil-le-Haudouin. But in spite of this pressure our troops held their ground well. In a brilliant action they took three standards, and, being reinforced, prepared a new attack for the 10th. At the moment that this attack was about to begin the enemy was already in retreat toward the north. The attack became a pursuit, and on the 12th we established ourselves on the Aisne.
[Sidenote: Enemy left exposed.]
Why did the German forces which were confronting us and on the evening before attacking so furiously retreat on the morning of the 10th? Because in bringing back on the 6th several army corps from the south to the north to face our left the enemy had exposed his left to the attacks of the British Army, which had immediately faced around toward the north, and to those of our armies which were prolonging the English lines to the right. This is what the French command had sought to bring about. This is what happened on September 8 and allowed the development and rehabilitation which it was to effect.
[Sidenote: The part of the British.]
On the 6th the British Army had set out from the line Rozcy-Lagny and had that evening reached the southward bank of the Grand Morin. On the 7th and 8th it continued its march, and on the 9th had debouched to the north of the Marne below Chateau-Thierry, taking in flank the German forces which on that day were opposing, on the Ourcq, our left army. Then it was that these forces began to retreat, while the British Army, going in pursuit and capturing seven guns and many prisoners, reached the Aisne between Soissons and Longueval.
[Sidenote: The role of the French army.]
The role of the French Army, which was operating to the right of the British Army, was threefold. It had to support the British attacking on its left. It had on its right to support our centre, which from September 7 had been subjected to a German attack of great violence. Finally, its mission was to throw back the three active army corps and the reserve corps which faced it.
On the 7th it made a leap forward, and on the following days reached and crossed the Marne, seizing, after desperate fighting, guns, howitzers, mitrailleuses, and 1,300,000 cartridges. On the 12th it established itself on the north edge of the Montagne-de-Reime in contact with our centre, which for its part had just forced the enemy to retreat in haste.
[Sidenote: Attack on the French centre.]
Our centre consisted of a new army created on August 29 and of one of those which at the beginning of the campaign had been engaged in Belgian Luxembourg. The first had retreated on August 29 to September 5 from the Aisne to the north of the Marne and occupied the general front Sezanne-Mailly.
The second, more to the east, had drawn back to the south of the line Humbauville-Chateau-Beauchamp-Bignicourt-Blesmes-Maurupt-le-Montoy.
[Sidenote: A further retreat.]
The enemy, in view of his right being arrested and the defeat of his enveloping movement, made a desperate effort from the 7th to the 10th to pierce our centre to the west and to the east of Fere-Champenoise. On the 8th he succeeded in forcing back the right of our new army, which retired as far as Gouragancon. On the 9th, at 6 o'clock in the morning, there was a further retreat to the south of that village, while on the left the other army corps also had to go back to the line Allemant-Connantre.
[Sidenote: Foch out-man[oe]uvres Germans.]
Despite this retreat the General commanding the army ordered a general offensive for the same day. With the Morocco Division, whose behavior was heroic, he met a furious assault of the Germans on his left toward the marshes of Saint Gond. Then with the division which had just victoriously overcome the attacks of the enemy to the north of Sezanne, and with the whole of his left army corps, he made a flanking attack in the evening of the 9th upon the German forces, and notably the guard, which had thrown back his right army corps. The enemy, taken by surprise by this bold man[oe]uvre, did not resist, and beat a hasty retreat.
[Sidenote: Centre armies established.]
On the 11th we crossed the Marne between Tours-sur-Marne and Sarry, driving the Germans in front of us in disorder. On the 12th we were in contact with the enemy to the north of the Camp de Chalons. Our other army of the centre, acting on the right of the one just referred to, had been intrusted with the mission during the 7th, 8th, and 9th of disengaging its neighbor, and it was only on the 10th that, being reinforced by an army corps from the east, it was able to make its action effectively felt. On the 11th the Germans retired. But, perceiving their danger, they fought desperately, with enormous expenditure of projectiles, behind strong intrenchments. On the 12th the result had none the less been attained, and our two centre armies were solidly established on the ground gained.
To the right of these two armies were three others. They had orders to cover themselves to the north and to debouch toward the west on the flank of the enemy, which was operating to the west of the Argonne. But a wide interval in which the Germans were in force separated them from our centre. The attack took place, nevertheless, with very brilliant success for our artillery, which destroyed eleven batteries of the Sixteenth German Army Corps.
[Sidenote: Germans retreat on the right.]
On the 10th inst. the Eighth and Fifteenth German Army Corps counter-attacked, but were repulsed. On the 11th our progress continued with new successes, and on the 12th we were able to face round toward the north in expectation of the near and inevitable retreat of the enemy, which, in fact, took place from the 13th.
The withdrawal of the mass of the German force involved also that of the left. From the 12th onward the forces of the enemy operating between Nancy and the Vosges retreated in a hurry before our two armies of the East, which immediately occupied the positions that the enemy had evacuated. The offensive of our right had thus prepared and consolidated in the most useful way the result secured by our left and our centre.
Such was this seven days' battle, in which more than two millions of men were engaged. Each army gained ground step by step, opening the road to its neighbor, supported at once by it, taking in flank the adversary which the day before it had attacked in front, the efforts of one articulating closely with those of the other, a perfect unity of intention and method animating the supreme command.
[Sidenote: Meaning of the victory.]
To give this victory all its meaning it is necessary to add that it was gained by troops which for two weeks had been retreating, and which, when the order for the offensive was given, were found to be as ardent as on the first day. It has also to be said that these troops had to meet the whole German army, and that from the time they marched forward they never again fell back. Under their pressure the German retreat at certain times had the appearance of a rout.
[Sidenote: Numbers of German prisoners.]
In spite of the fatigue of our men, in spite of the power of the German heavy artillery, we took colors, guns, mitrailleuses, shells, more than a million cartridges, and thousands of prisoners. A German corps lost almost the whole of its artillery, which, from information brought by our airmen, was destroyed by our guns.
* * * * *
[Sidenote: The next objective is the Channel ports.]
After the failure of the German drive against Paris, whose capture was the first objective in the plan of campaign of the German General Staff, preparations were made to carry out the plans for the second objective, the capture of the Channel seaports, and the control of the coasts. The Allied commanders were quite aware of this purpose, and made plans to circumvent it. Then followed the famous Race for the Channel, which is described by official French observers in the pages that follow.
THE RACE FOR THE CHANNEL
FRENCH OFFICIAL ACCOUNT
As early as September 11 the Commander in Chief had directed our left army to have as important forces as possible on the right bank of the Oise. On September 17 he made that instruction more precise by ordering "a mass to be constituted on the left wing of our disposition, capable of coping with the outflanking movement of the enemy." Everything led us to expect that flanking movement, for the Germans are lacking in invention. Indeed, their effort at that time tended to a renewal of their manoeuvre of August. In the parallel race the opponents were bound in the end to be stopped only by the sea; that is what happened about October 20.
[Sidenote: Allies in the race to the sea.]
The Germans had an advantage over us, which is obvious from a glance at the map—the concentric form of their front, which shortened the length of their transports. In spite of this initial inferiority we arrived in time.
From the middle of September to the last week in October fighting went on continually to the north of the Oise, but all the time we were fighting we were slipping northward. On the German side this movement brought into line more than eighteen new army corps (twelve active army corps, six reserve corps, four cavalry corps). On our side it ended in the constitution of three fresh armies on our left and in the transport into the same district of the British Army and the Belgian Army from Antwerp.
[Sidenote: Resistance in Battle of Flanders.]
For the conception and realization of this fresh and extended disposition the French command, in the first place, had to reduce to a minimum the needs for effectives of our armies to the east of the Oise, and afterwards to utilize to the utmost our means of transport. It succeeded in this, and when, at the end of October, the battle of Flanders opened, when the Germans, having completed the concentration of their forces, attempted with fierce energy to turn or to pierce our left, they flung themselves upon a resistance which inflicted upon them a complete defeat.
The movement began on our side only with the resources of the army which had held the left of our front during the battle of the Marne, reinforced on September 15 by one army corps.
This reinforcement, not being sufficient to hold the enemy's offensive (district of Vaudelincourt-Mouchy-Uaugy), a fresh army was transported more to the left, with the task "of acting against the German right wing in order to disengage its neighbor, * * * while preserving a flanking direction in its march in relation to the fresh units that the enemy might be able to put into line."
[Sidenote: Reinforcements for the First Army.]
To cover the detrainments of this fresh army in the district Clermont-Beauvais-Boix a cavalry corps and four territorial divisions were ordered to establish themselves on both banks of the Somme. In the wooded hills, however, which extend between the Oise and Lassigny the enemy displayed increasing activity. Nevertheless, the order still further to broaden the movement toward the left was maintained, while the territorial divisions were to move toward Bethune and Aubigny. The march to the sea went on.
[Sidenote: Alternate reverse and success.]
From the 21st to the 26th all our forces were engaged in the district Lassigny-Roye-Peronne, with alternations of reverse and success.
It was the first act of the great struggle which was to spread as it went on. On the 26th the whole of the Sixth German Army was deployed against us. We retained all our positions, but we could do no more; consequently there was still the risk that the enemy, by means of a fresh afflux of forces, might succeed in turning us.
Once more reinforcements, two army corps, were directed no longer on Beauvais, but toward Amiens. The front was then again to extend. A fresh army was constituted more to the north.
From September 30 onward we could not but observe that the enemy, already strongly posted on the plateau of Thiepval, was continually slipping his forces from south to north, and everywhere confronting us with remarkable energy.
[Sidenote: Cavalry operations.]
Accordingly, on October 1 two cavalry corps were directed to make a leap forward and, operating on both flanks of the Scarpe, to put themselves in touch with the garrison of Dunkirk, which, on its side, had pushed forward as far as Douai.
But on October 2 and 3 the bulk of our fresh army was very strongly attacked in the district of Arras and Lens. Confronting it were two corps of cavalry, the guards, four active army corps, and two reserve corps. A fresh army corps was immediately transported and detrained in the Lille district.
But once more the attacks became more pressing, and on October 4 it was a question whether, in view of the enemy's activity both west of the Oise and south of the Somme, and also further to the north, a retreat would not have to be made. General Joffre resolutely put this hypothesis aside and ordered the offensive to be resumed with the reinforcements that had arrived. It was, however, clear that, despite the efforts of all, our front, extended to the sea as it was by a mere ribbon of troops, did not possess the solidity to enable it to resist with complete safety a German attack, the violence of which could well be foreseen.
[Sidenote: Transport of the British Army.]
In the Arras district the position was fairly good. But between the Oise and Arras we were holding our own only with difficulty. Finally, to the north, on the Lille-Estaires-Merville-Hazebrouck-Cassel front, our cavalry and our territorials had their work cut out against eight divisions of German cavalry, with very strong infantry supports. It was at this moment that the transport of the British Army to the northern theatre of operations began.
[Sidenote: British Army taken from the Aisne.]
Field Marshal French had, as early as the end of September, expressed the wish to see his army resume its initial place on the left of the allied armies. He explained this wish on the ground of the greater facility of which his communications would have the advantage in this new position, and also of the impending arrival of two divisions of infantry from home and of two infantry divisions and a cavalry division from India, which would be able to deploy more easily on that terrain. In spite of the difficulties which such a removal involved, owing to the intensive use of the railways by our own units, General Joffre decided at the beginning of October to meet the Field Marshal's wishes and to have the British Army removed from the Aisne.
It was clearly specified that on the northern terrain the British Army should co-operate to the same end as ourselves, the stopping of the German right. In other terms, the British Army was to prolong the front of the general disposition without a break, attacking as soon as possible, and at the same time seeking touch with the Belgian Army.
But the detraining took longer than had been expected, and it was not possible to attack the Germans during the time when they had only cavalry in the Lille district and further to the north.
[Sidenote: Wearied Belgian troops.]
There remained the Belgian Army. On leaving Antwerp on October 9 the Belgian Army, which was covered by 8,000 British bluejackets and 6,000 French bluejackets, at first intended to retire as far as to the north of Calais, but afterwards determined to make a stand in Belgian territory. Unfortunately, the condition of the Belgian troops, exhausted by a struggle of more than three months, did not allow any immediate hopes to be based upon them. This situation weighed on our plans and delayed their execution.
On the 16th we made progress to the east of Ypres. On the 18th our cavalry even reached Roulers and Cortemark. But it was now evident that, in view of the continual reinforcing of the German right, our left was not capable of maintaining the advantages obtained during the previous few days. To attain our end and make our front inviolable a fresh effort was necessary. That effort was immediately made by the dispatch to the north of the Lys of considerable French forces, which formed the French Army of Belgium.
The French Army of Belgium consisted, to begin with, of two territorial divisions, four divisions of cavalry, and a naval brigade. Directly after its constitution it was strengthened by elements from other points on the front whose arrival extended from October 27 to November 11. These reinforcements were equivalent altogether in value to five army corps, a division of cavalry, a territorial division, and sixteen regiments of cavalry, plus sixty pieces of heavy artillery.
Thus was completed the strategic manoeuvre defined by the instructions of the General in Chief on September 11 and developed during the five following weeks with the ampleness we have just seen. The movements of troops carried out during this period were methodically combined with the pursuit of operations, both defensive and offensive, from the Oise to the North Sea.
[Sidenote: Five armies co-ordinated.]
On October 22 our left, bounded six weeks earlier by the Noyon district, rested on Nieuport, thanks to the successive deployment of five fresh armies—three French armies, the British Army, and the Belgian Army.
Thus the co-ordination decided upon by the General in Chief attained its end. The barrier was established. It remained to maintain it against the enemy's offensive. That was the object and the result of the battle of Flanders, October 22 to November 15.
The German attack in Flanders was conducted strategically and tactically with remarkable energy. The complete and indisputable defeat in which it resulted is therefore significant.
The forces of which the enemy disposed for this operation between the sea and the Lys comprised:
[Sidenote: German forces between the sea and the Lys.]
(1) The entire Fourth Army commanded by the Duke of Wuerttemberg, consisting of one naval division, one division of Ersatz Reserve, (men who had received no training before the war,) which was liberated by the fall of Antwerp; the Twenty-second, Twenty-third, Twenty-sixth and Twenty-seventh Reserve Corps, and the Forty-eighth Division belonging to the Twenty-fourth Reserve Corps.
(2) A portion of another army under General von Fabeck, consisting of the Fifteenth Corps, two Bavarian corps and three (unspecified) divisions.
(3) Part of the Sixth Army under the command of the Crown Prince of Bavaria. This army, more than a third of which took part in the battle of Flanders, comprised the Nineteenth Army Corps, portions of the Thirteenth Corps and the Eighteenth Reserve Corps, the Seventh and Fourteenth Corps, the First Bavarian Reserve Corps, the Guards, and the Fourth Army Corps.
(4) Four highly mobile cavalry corps prepared and supported the action of the troops enumerated above. Everything possible had been done to fortify the "morale" of the troops. At the beginning of October the Crown Prince of Bavaria in a proclamation had exhorted his soldiers "to make the decisive effort against the French left wing," and "to settle thus the fate of the great battle which has lasted for weeks."
[Sidenote: Importance of thrusts in Flanders.]
[Sidenote: German plan in Flanders.]
On October 28, Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria declared in an army order that his troops "had just been fighting under very difficult conditions," and he added: "It is our business now not to let the struggle with our most detested enemy drag on longer * * * The decisive blow is still to be struck." On October 30, General von Deimling, commanding the Fifteenth Army Corps (belonging to General von Fabeck's command), issued an order declaring that "the thrust against Ypres will be of decisive importance." It should be noted also that the Emperor proceeded in person to Thielt and Courtrai to exalt by his presence the ardor of his troops. Finally, at the close of October, the entire German press incessantly proclaimed the importance of the "Battle of Calais." It is superfluous to add that events in Poland explain in a large measure the passionate resolve of the German General Staff to obtain a decision in the Western theatre of operations at all costs. This decision would be obtained if our left were pierced or driven in. To reach Calais, that is, to break our left; to carry Ypres, that is, to cut it in half; through both points to menace the communications and supplies of the British expeditionary corps, perhaps even to threaten Britain in her island—such was the German plan in the Battle of Flanders. It was a plan that could not be executed.
[Sidenote: Dunkirk the first objective.]
The enemy, who had at his disposal a considerable quantity of heavy artillery, directed his efforts at first upon the coast and the country to the north of Dixmude. His objective was manifestly the capture of Dunkirk, then of Calais and Boulogne, and this objective he pursued until November 1.
[Sidenote: Ramscapelle retaken.]
[Sidenote: Allies win the Battle of Calais.]
On October 23 the Belgians along the railway line from Nieuport to Dixmude were strengthened by a French division. Dixmude was occupied by our marines (fusiliers marins). During the subsequent day our forces along the railway developed a significant resistance against an enemy superior in number and backed by heavy artillery. On the 29th the inundations effected between the canal and the railway line spread along our front. On the 30th we recaptured Ramscapelle, the only point on the railway which Belgians had lost. On the 1st and 2d of November the enemy bombarded Furnes, but began to show signs of weariness. On the 2d he evacuated the ground between the Yser and the railway, abandoning cannon, dead and wounded. On the 3d our troops were able to re-enter the Dixmude district. The success achieved by the enemy at Dixmude at this juncture was without fruit. They succeeded in taking the town. They could not debouch from it. The coastal attack had thus proved a total failure. Since then it has never been renewed. The Battle of Calais, so noisily announced by the German press, amounted to a decided reverse for the Germans.
The enemy had now begun an attack more important than its predecessor, in view of the numbers engaged in it. This attack was intended as a renewal to the south of the effort which had just been shattered in the north. Instead of turning our flank on the coast, it was now sought to drive in the right of our northern army under the shock of powerful masses. This was the Battle of Ypres.
[Sidenote: Importance of the Ypres position.]
[Sidenote: British cavalry a connecting link.]
In order to understand this long, desperate, and furious battle we must hark back a few days in point of time. At the moment when our cavalry reached Roulers and Cortemark (October 28) our territorial divisions from Dunkirk, under General Biden, had occupied and organized a defensive position at Ypres. It was a point d'appui, enabling us to prepare and maintain our connections with the Belgian Army. From October 23 two British and French army corps were in occupation of this position, which was to be the base of their forward march in the direction of Roulers-Menin. The delays already explained and the strength of the forces brought up by the enemy soon brought to a standstill our progress along the line Poelcapelle, Paschendaele, Zandvorde, and Gheluvelt. But in spite of the stoppage here, Ypres was solidly covered, and the connections of all the allied forces were established. Against the line thus formed the German attack was hurled from October 25 to November 13, to the north, the east, and the south of Ypres. From October 26 on the attacks were renewed daily with extraordinary violence, obliging us to employ our reinforcements at the most threatened points as soon as they came up. Thus, on October 31, we were obliged to send supports to the British cavalry, then to the two British corps between which the cavalry formed the connecting link, and finally to intercalate between these two corps a force equivalent to two army corps. Between October 30 and November 6 Ypres was several times in danger. The British lost Zandvorde, Gheluvelt, Messines, and Wytschaete. The front of the Allies, thus contracted, was all the more difficult to defend; but defended it was without a recoil.
[Sidenote: French reinforcements.]
The arrival of three French divisions in our line enabled us to resume from the 4th to the 8th a vigorous offensive. On the 10th and 11th this offensive, brought up against fresh and sharper German attacks, was checked. Before it could be renewed the arrival of fresh reinforcements had to be awaited, which were dispatched to the north on November 12. By the 14th our troops had again begun to progress, barring the road to Ypres against the German attacks, and inflicting on the enemy, who advanced in massed formation, losses which were especially terrible in consequence of the fact that the French artillery had crowded nearly 300 guns on to these few kilometers of front.
Thus the main mass of the Germans sustained the same defeat as the detachments operating further to the north along the coast. The support which, according to the idea of the German General Staff, the attack on Ypres was to render to the coastal attack, was as futile as that attack itself had been.
[Sidenote: Losses of the enemy.]
During the second half of November the enemy, exhausted and having lost in the Battle of Ypres alone more than 150,000 men, did not attempt to renew his effort, but confined himself to an intermittent cannonade. We, on the contrary, achieved appreciable progress to the north and south of Ypres, and insured definitely by a powerful defensive organization of the position the inviolability of our front.
* * * * *
[Sidenote: The war in Belgium.]
[Sidenote: Siege of Antwerp.]
[Sidenote: Belgian troops retreat to Ostend.]
[Sidenote: The territory left to the Belgians.]
We have seen that, with the fall of Liege the German armies swept through Belgium on their way to Paris. Brussels was abandoned as the capital, and the Government moved hastily to Antwerp, where a portion of the Belgian army also gathered to defend the city. The remainder of the Belgian forces, under the leadership of their gallant King, opposed as stoutly as their numbers would permit the advance of the Germans. Battles were fought at Alost and Termonde in which the Germans were, for the time, repulsed, but their ever-increasing reinforcements enabled them to advance despite the efforts of the Belgians to check them. Ghent was captured on September 5 and the Belgians, in an effort to stay the German advance on Antwerp, opened the dikes and let in the waters of the North Sea. Termonde fell on September 13, and seven days later the German armies began the siege of Antwerp. The military authorities in command of the city had taken whatever measures were possible for defense. A body of British marines was hurried to the beleaguered city and preparations were made for a long siege. The Germans brought up guns of heavy caliber, with which they bombarded the city at long range. After a brave defense of two weeks, during which the inhabitants endured many hardships, it was plain that further resistance was useless, and the city was surrendered on October 10. The Belgian troops in the city, and many of the noncombatants escaped. The Belgian troops retreated to Ostend, which they reached on October 11 and 12, after having been greatly harassed by the pursuing Germans. On the 13th, Ostend was evacuated, and was occupied by the Germans, and Bruges on the following day. The German forces now controlled the whole of Belgium, with the exception of the northwest corner, north of Ypres, to the coast of the Channel. This little slip of territory they held throughout the entire war, and at what a cost! But the heroic defense of this territory by the Belgians saved the French coast cities and prevented the Germans from breaking through the line which extended now from the North Sea to Belgium.
THE LAST DITCH IN BELGIUM
Copyright, World's Work, January, 1915.
[Sidenote: The Yser the Belgian's last ditch.]
A little piece of the Low Countries, so small I walked across it in two hours, was all that remained of Belgium in the last days of October. A tide-water stream, the Yser, ebbed and flowed through the sunken fields, and there King Albert with his remnant of an army stopped the German military machine in its advance on Calais. If he and his forty thousand men had been crushed back ten miles farther they would have been fighting on French soil. The Yser was the last ditch in Belgium.
The Belgians were able to hold that mere strip of land against more men and better artillery because they had determined to die there. Some of those who had not yet paid the price of death told me. They were not tragic about it. There was no display of heroics. They said it seriously, but they smiled a little, too, over their wine glasses, and the next morning they were back in the firing-line.
I counted on my American passport and my permit de sejour in Paris seeing me through the zone of the fighting, and they did. At the station at Dunkirk, when I admitted I had no laisser passer, an obliging gendarme led me to his commander, and he placed his visee on my passport without question. He asked me whether I was a correspondent, and I confessed to it, but it seemed only to facilitate the affair. Earlier experiences had made me feel that the French gendarmes were my natural enemies, but I have had a kindlier regard for them since.
[Sidenote: Troop trains.]
The train I was on had ten cars full of French and Belgian soldiers. The Belgians had all been recently re-equipped. On other troop trains which passed us going forward there were many more Belgian soldiers, some of whom I had seen only a few hours earlier in the streets of Calais without rifles. As their trains passed now I could see them studying the mechanism and fondling their new firearms.
Coming in through the suburbs of Dunkirk we passed hundreds of children perched on the fences singing the Marseillaise. Nor were their voices flat and colorless like most school children's. They felt every word they sang, and they put their little hearts into it. Looking back along the side of the cars at the faces of soldiers leaning out, I could see they were touched by the faith of the children.
[Sidenote: In Dunkirk.]
As I rattled along on the cobbles of Dunkirk half an hour later I heard an explosion with a note unfamiliar to me. It sounded close, too, but it did not seem to bother the people of the street. A few children ran behind their mothers' skirts and a young girl hurried from the middle of the street to the protection of an archway, but that was all.
Standing up in the fiacre I could see a thin smoke about three hundred feet away in a garden in the direction from which the explosion came, and high in the evening sky I could barely make out an aeroplane. "A German bomb?" I asked the driver in some excitement.
"Oh, yes," he replied, cracking his whip, "we usually get three or four every afternoon about this time, but they have not hurt any one."
Dunkirk that night answered the description of what a threatened town which was not afraid should look like. It had none of the depressing atmosphere of Calais. All the refugees and the wounded were passed on to a safer place. It was full of French, English, and Belgian soldiers, with a scattering of sailors and breezy officers from both the French and English navies. They kept the waiters in the cafes on the run, and there was only an occasional bandage showing from under a cap or around a hand to indicate these men were engaged in any more serious business than a man[oe]uvre.
[Sidenote: Armored motor-car.]
In the street, however, in front of the statue of Jean Bart, an armored Belgian motor-car was standing. It was built with a turret where the tonneau usually is and it was covered with thick sheet steel right down to the ground. Just in front of the driver was a slit with a lip extending over it, giving it somewhat the effect of the casque belonging to an ancient suit of armor. That was the only opening except the one for the barrel of the rapid-fire gun in the turret. The armor was dented in a dozen places where bullets had glanced off, but it had only been penetrated at one spot, about six inches from the muzzle of the gun. From the soldier at the steering gear I learned that that bullet had passed over the shoulder of the man in the turret.
[Sidenote: Bombardment of Nieuport.]
Twenty-four hours later, at Nieuport, when the German shells seemed to be falling in every street and on every house, I saw this car again, going forward at not less than forty miles an hour. The turret was being swung to bring the gun-muzzle forward, as if the gunner were expecting to go into action almost immediately. As the last of the Belgian trenches were just the other side of the town, I have no doubt that he did.
[Sidenote: A walk to the firing line.]
Getting out of Dunkirk was rather more of a problem than going in. To obtain permission to ride toward the Belgian line in any kind of conveyance was an elaborate performance, and quite properly so, as I soon learned. There were preparations for defence going on there which should not have been publicly known. The country was full of spies. Four suspects had been picked up on the boat coming from Folkestone. If I had realized what I was to see in the next few miles I would not have attempted what I did. But, as I was anxious to get on and the firing-line was only twenty miles away, I decided to walk.
A French hat and a French suit of clothes, I think, were alone responsible for my success in passing through the city gate. Two military automobiles were stopped and forced to show their credentials, but I strolled through unmolested. Once outside, the reservists guarding the various barricades let me pass as soon as I showed them my passport vised in Dunkirk. I was stopped many times, too, trying each time not to give an appearance of too great interest in the works of defence being built all around me.
[Sidenote: Sand-dune barricades.]
Even though this cannot be published for some time I do not feel free to tell what these defences were. I have no doubt there are complete descriptions of these works in the hands of the German army, their spy system is so thorough, but I would not care to have any military secrets escape through anything I write. I think I can go so far as to say, though, that I received a liberal education in how to barricade sand-dunes and low-lying fields.
Ten miles out of Dunkirk I was surprised to see a civilian on a bicycle, as civilians were no longer permitted to go near the theatre of war on bicycles, a precaution taken against spies. As he approached I recognized Mr. J. Obels, the Belgian correspondent of the Chicago Daily News, whom I had last seen under arrest near Brussels when the German army first passed through Belgium. He told me he had been kept in prison seventeen days by the German military governor of Brussels, but, once released, was given every possible kind of pass. I was relieved to see him alive and free.
As Obels left me to continue his journey to Dunkirk and on to London to deliver his own "copy," he advised me to go directly to Furnes, the most considerable town in what was left of Belgium, and have my passport vised again. So I continued down the long, flat highway, bordered on both sides by sunken fields, toward the cannonading I could now hear ahead. The road had been fairly full of automobiles, motor-trucks, motorcycles, and bicycles over its whole length, but it became crowded now with the addition of a long string of Parisian motor-buses taking several infantry regiments forward. A whole artillery division of yellow French "Schneiders" also took up its share of the wide road, and at the barricades there were traffic blockades lasting at times for ten minutes.
[Sidenote: The road to Furnes.]
All the way from Dunkirk I had been struck by the character of the land. As I approached Furnes, the dykes were being opened and half the fields were already inundated. It seemed a poor country for military operations. There were at most three highways, all defended. They could only be taken at a price no army could afford, and any departure from them meant being mired in the heavy fields, now being hastily harvested of a bumper crop of sugar-beets: at one place a whole French regiment in uniform was gathering the beets preparatory to inundation. With the dykes open these fields would be covered with four feet of water half the time. The only possible course for an army was over the sand-dunes, which lay a mile to the north, looking like the imitation mountains you see in the scenic-railways at every amusement resort in the United States.
[Sidenote: Tommies' battles on the sand-dunes.]
A reservist with whom I walked a mile or so told me Dunkirk had never been successfully attacked except over those sand-dunes, and the English and French had fought some of the bloodiest battles of history there against the Spanish, when they held Dunkirk. I doubt, though, that they were as bloody as the battle I was to see within a few hours.
[Sidenote: Belgian soldiers.]
The old Flemish town of Furnes had much less military precision about it than Dunkirk. It was on the very edge of the battle, and an occasional shell was dropping in the town. One exploded as I crossed the bridge and entered a narrow street, but it was on the far side of town, too far away for the soldiers halted in the street to notice. These were tired and dirty men, but not too tired to be courteous. They were also passing jokes among themselves, and laughing. By that, even if I had not known their uniforms, I could have told they were Belgians.
[Sidenote: The enemy held at the Yser.]
Every street and every courtyard in Furnes was full of Belgian soldiers. They were resting for the day, waiting to go forward at night-fall to relieve the men on the firing line only five miles away. Even above the noises of the street I could hear the answer of their small field artillery to the heavy assault of the German guns. Nothing I heard the soldiers say, however, would have given the idea that the Belgians considered themselves outclassed by their enemy. They seemed superbly unconscious of the absurdity of their position. This was the tenth day they had held the Germans at the Yser, and they had done it with rifles and machine guns, taking punishment every minute from the big fieldpieces the Germans had brought against them. So far they had lost twelve thousand men at that ditch, but the thought of giving it up had evidently not even occurred to them. They could not give it up, one of them explained to me later, it was all they had left. There was a little irritation in his tone, too, as he said it, such as one might feel toward a child who was slow at grasping a simple fact.
[Sidenote: Military automobiles and wagons.]
The town square was full of military automobiles and a few provision wagons. I did not see any fieldpieces or machine guns. Every last one was right up on the firing-line. My feet were tired from walking over the Belgian blocks, and I held tenaciously to the sidewalk passing around the square, though it was mostly taken up with cafe tables and bay trees in boxes. At one point the tables were empty and a single sentry was sauntering up and down. I stopped to ask him the way to the gendarmerie, and, in the middle of giving me the directions, he came to attention, as a door opened behind me, and saluted.
[Sidenote: Two Belgian generals.]
Two men came out of the door, one rather tall, with an easy manner, and smartly dressed as a general in the Belgian army. The other was older, also a general, wearing, if anything, the more gold braid of the two. They entered a waiting automobile and drove off as casually as two men at home might leave their office for their club.
Something about the first of the two men impressed me as familiar. I had only seen his back, but that had arrested my attention. I thought possibly I had seen him at the beginning of the war in Brussels, so I asked the sentry his name.
[Sidenote: King Albert.]
"That is our king, Albert," he said quite simply.
During the next couple of days I saw the King of Belgium a number of times. He spent his nights at a small villa on the seashore at La Panne, a hundred yards possibly beyond the hotel where I spent mine. He passed through the streets as unnoticed as any one of the other Belgians who had retreated from Antwerp and Ghent ahead of the army, but preferred the chilly nights in an unheated seaside hotel in Belgium to comfort somewhere beyond. It seemed to be a point of courtesy on the part of the Belgians not to bother their king with ceremony at this trying time. I doubt if he cares much for ceremony, anyhow. Searching around for a single adjective to describe him, I should call him off-handed. His manner, even then, while alert, was casual. It is easy to see why the Belgians love him. If kings had always been as simple and direct as Albert, I am inclined to think democracy would have languished.
[Sidenote: Luncheon at La Panne.]
At La Panne, which I reached at noon on a little steam railway running from Furnes, I had luncheon with several Belgian soldiers and a Belgian in civilian clothes, who told me I would see all the fighting I was looking for at Nieuport, just beyond. The civilian, a tall youth with a blond beard, volunteered to show me the way to the beach, the shortest route, and ended by going all the way. He told me he was recovering from an "attack of Congo," which I take to be an intermittent fever. He had just been mustered out of the civic guard and was waiting for a uniform to join the army. He had the afternoon free and his Belgian sense of hospitality impelled him to see that the stranger was properly looked after.
For several miles along the wide, flat beach, which stretches unobstructed as far as Ostend, except for the piers at Nieuport-les-Bains and Westende, there were Belgian soldiers bathing in the shallow water. Some of them, cavalrymen, were riding naked into the deeper water, and this, mind you, was late October. They were even playing jokes on one another, and did not seem to be paying any attention to the fifteen English and French cruisers and gunboats which were standing off the shore almost opposite them, keeping up a steady stream of fire obliquely along the beach at the sand dunes just beyond the pier at Nieuport-les-Bains. In these dunes, five miles away, big German guns were hidden.
[Sidenote: Fishermen unconcerned.]
Farther on, and even right up to the pier at Nieuport, we passed, along the beach behind the shrimp fishermen, who seemed even less interested in the novel fight on land and sea. The barelegged men and women were as industriously taking advantage of the low-tide as if nothing at all were happening. The French and English warships were directly opposite them, and, by this time, they were drawing the German fire. German shells, probably from siege guns, were plumping down into the water all around them only a couple of miles off-shore, but, though the shrimpers looked up occasionally when the explosion of a shell fairly shook the face of the ocean, their attention would be directed again to their work before the column of water raised by the shell had had time to fall again. The shelling kept up about an hour, but none of the warships was struck. They kept moving at full-speed in an uneven line, making it impossible to get their range.
[Sidenote: A panorama of battle.]
[Sidenote: Germans try to cross the Yser.]
Just before we reached the pier heavy cannonading began inland. We climbed the sand dunes and there we came suddenly upon a perfect panoramic view of the battle all the way from the dunes across the inundated fields to Dixmude in the distance. The whole line of battle for ten miles was in the midst of a German attack, covered by a terrific artillery fire. Over the white, red-tiled cottages of the fishermen, almost lost among the lesser sand dunes, we could make out the Belgian line by the fire of their rifle and machine guns. At two points we could see the Yser Canal and at one of these the Germans were trying to throw across a pontoon bridge.
We could see it only through the smoke of breaking shells, but it was the most exciting event I have ever witnessed. At three miles or more, though, the figures of the men were so small, it was hard to keep the fact in mind that those who dropped were not merely stooping, but had been shot. Eager to get closer, we ran over the sand dunes, but never got another view of it.
[Sidenote: Running to see a battle.]
My Belgian friend knew his way and we trotted along a raised path among the fields toward Nieuport. It was under fire, but it seemed worth the risk to get close enough so we could see the pontoons being rushed into the water. As we neared Nieuport, however, the firing became much more active and we stopped for second thought. After catching our breath, we decided to pass through the edge of Nieuport and to go on to the village of Ramscapelle to the south of it. Few shells seemed to be breaking there.
[Sidenote: Almost under fire.]
Along the cross road we took, alternately running and walking. The Belgian trenches were perhaps a half mile beyond us, and we could make out the tap-tap of the rifle fire which had been only a continuous cracking a mile in the rear. Into this the machine guns cut with a whir. Spent bullets dropped here and there in the inundated field to the west of us, but the German shell fire must have been right in the trenches.
Somewhere before we reached Ramscapelle we crossed a road with military automobiles going both ways, but my desire to get behind the sheltering buildings of Ramscapelle was too strong at the moment to take it in.
[Sidenote: Fires and explosions in Ramscapelle.]
About a hundred yards from the village there was a house on the edge of a canal, and we stopped behind it, safe from bullet-fire, to catch our breath again. It was as far as we were destined to get. All at once shells began dropping on the village, and I have not seen shells drop so fast in so small an area. In the first minute there must have been twenty. Three fires broke out almost at once. Between the explosions we could hear the falling tiles.
The short October day grew unexpectedly dusk and the fires in the village reflected in the water on the fields. After the bombarding had been going on without the least let-up for fully fifteen minutes, a bent old woman, a man perhaps older but less bent, and a younger woman appeared on the road to Furnes just beyond us, hurrying along without once looking back. They were the only people we saw and the destruction of the town looked like the most ruthless piece of vandalism. It had a military purpose, however. The Germans were concentrating an attack on it with the hope of reaching Furnes. They occupied it that night, but were later driven out again. I have learned since some of the villagers remained through that bombardment, and were killed in their houses.
[Sidenote: Destruction of Ramscapelle.]
While we stood sheltered by the house on the canal, speculating as to which one of the houses still standing in Ramscapelle would be hit next, the light from those on fire reflected on the dark, brackish water of the canal, which was running in with the tide. Presently we noticed something in the water, and, stooping down in the twilight, we made out the body of a man face downward. The color of the coat and the little short skirt to it showed it was the body of a German soldier. It passed on and was followed by three more before we left. They had been in the water several days.