[Sidenote: Divisions are brought from Russia.]
The middle of March found Germany at the height of her man power. Never before since the outbreak of war had the opportunity been presented for the concentration on the western front of practically her entire effective strength in both men and guns. For this, of course, Russia was responsible. The divisions which were holding the Russian lines had been carefully picked over, and from men thus selected new divisions were formed and old ones filled up. All were sent to France as rapidly as possible, the movement occupying the time from September, 1917, to March of this year. Similarly, all available artillery was concentrated in the west, the eastern front being practically denuded. Germany then was in immediate danger of being diverted by activities of the Allies in other fields.
[Sidenote: America could not furnish numbers in 1917.]
The Allies on the other hand were by no means at their full strength. America, who stepped into the war just in time to take Russia's place, still remained impotent, unable to place in Europe numbers in any way commensurate with the situation. But America was gathering impetus as she went. And while she was a negligible force in 1917—except in the matters of food and money—and would probably be a negligible force in 1918 subject to the same exception, in 1919 she was almost certain to turn the tide strongly against the Central Powers. Even in 1918 there could be expected a steady though small stream of men across the ocean, who being fresh, eager, and unwearied, might cause trouble. Germany then had the one chance to win, and that chance demanded that she strike with all her power before America reached the field. To delay meant not a drawn game but certain defeat. For if Germany is ever confronted in Europe with the full strength of America in men and in the machinery of war, she will be crushed.
[Sidenote: Germany must strike before America reaches the field.]
[Sidenote: The Russian situation is disquieting.]
Finally, the situation in Russia boded ill for Germany. Great rejoicing has taken place in Berlin and in Vienna over peace with Russia. But it is a peace which has not altered Germany's inability to keep faith with any Power. Her persistent worship of materialism and force has created a situation in Russia not at all to Germany's liking. Once the Russian border was absolutely undefended and the way to Petrograd and Moscow wide open, Germany could not resist the temptation to march on in continued aggression, regardless of treaty or promises or peace or morality. And Russia has furnished strong evidence that she is not at all complacent under such aggression.
[Sidenote: A new Russian national army is formed.]
[Sidenote: Danger of guerilla warfare.]
The Russians are in a stage of transition, and are, therefore, unstable, mentally unsettled. They are completely dissatisfied at Germany's interpretation of the peace terms. They see themselves being starved that Germany may fatten on their granaries. They are reaching the point where organized resistance is the only answer of which the situation is capable. Steps have already been taken to form a new national army, to offer organized resistance to further encroachments. There are also large elements which have never accepted the unconditional surrender and which never will. At any moment in this land of instability, the fires which have been kindled by German bad faith and duplicity may break into a conflagration. There is no danger at the present time—there is danger that before the year is out public dissatisfaction and unrest may crystallize and Germany be faced with the most colossal guerilla war the world has seen; and while warfare of this kind cannot defeat Germany, it can neutralize many divisions of German troops and pin them down to the eastern front while the Allies make the finishing stroke in the west. This situation, out of which anything can grow, made it strongly advisable that Germany should act before the crystallization should take place.
[Sidenote: Ready for a great blow in the West.]
Realizing that she could not wait without serious danger to herself, Germany mustered all her resources in the west for the great blow she was to deliver. The problem which confronted the German General Staff was to destroy one of the two great armies, that of France or that of England. Both could not be handled together. Germany did not have the strength. The attack had to be delivered against one or the other. Which should it be?
[Sidenote: The French losses much greater than the British.]
An attack against the French had certain advantages. The French army was unmistakably the weaker of the two. In the early days of the war, while the British army was being formed, it was the French who had to stand the brunt of the fighting. At Verdun it was the French who from February to July beat back the German assaults along the Meuse time after time in the most tremendous duel of the war. In the Battle of the Somme it was the French who fought their way forward south of the river to the outskirts of Peronne and Chaulnes. The French losses had, therefore, been very much greater than the British. As the populations of France and of the United Kingdom are about the same, the French people had, therefore, suffered much more than had the British, and were correspondingly less able to stand such a blow as Germany was able to deliver.
[Sidenote: Much of French front is invulnerable.]
But there was one great disadvantage in attacking France. The blow could not be delivered against the front from St. Mihiel to the Swiss frontiers. This front is vulnerable only where the Vosges Mountains are broken by the great gaps at Belfort, Epinal, and Nancy; and these gaps are easy to defend and well backed up in rear by great bases of supply excellently served by many radiating railroad lines. It could not be delivered at Verdun, because France had not only retaken all the ground of military value which had been lost; but Verdun had become to France a religion, a fanaticism. To France it was a symbol of French love of country, of French patriotism. Verdun meant France. Germany, therefore, had no desire to test this fortified area again. This left only the Champagne line between the Argonne Forest and Rheims.
[Sidenote: Reasons for not striking on the Champagne line.]
[Sidenote: The Allied armies would be left intact.]
If Germany had attacked this front, the British army, the stronger of her enemies, would soon have struck, and whether Germany so elected or not, she would nevertheless be running two major operations at the same time—one offensive in Champagne, the other defensive in Picardy or in Flanders. Again, suppose her army did bend the French line back, as it undoubtedly would, how far back would it have to go in order for Germany to reach a complete military decision? There would indeed be no such decision in sight, almost regardless of the depth of penetration. The lines might have to be rectified; Verdun might have to be abandoned; the Vosges frontier line might have to be drawn in. But even so the French and British armies would both be intact; both biding their time when, with full force of their own and a million or more American troops, Germany could be beaten. In short, an attack against the French at any point, while promising new gains in territory, promised nothing in the way of a decision, and, be it remembered, this is Germany's last effort; it must reach either victory or defeat. The Battle of Picardy must and will produce a definite, positive result. It cannot end in indecision.
[Sidenote: British army trained only for trench warfare.]
[Sidenote: The French positions.]
[Sidenote: The British railway connections might be taken.]
An attack against the British offered none of the disadvantages which attended an attack against the French. The British were stronger it is true. But this army, unlike that of the French, was trained for but one thing—trench warfare. If Germany could restore war in the open—a war of movement—this strength might be offset by a wider experience. In attacking the British, the French could be held in check by defensive tactics with not a great deal of difficulty; as in such operations the terrain was greatly in Germany's favor. To take a hurried glimpse of the French positions, we find them in the valley of the Ailette north of the Chemin des Dames facing the high slopes of the plateau on which is found Laon. In the Champagne they are facing a high rolling country, studded with good artillery positions and points of observation. In the Vosges, their problem is identical with that of the Germans—forcing the gaps in a barrier otherwise impassable. There would be then a minimum of danger from the French while Germany was engaged on the British front. Moreover, behind the British line was, first, Amiens, through which passed the great railroad systems from Calais, Boulogne, and Abbeville, binding together the British north of the Somme to the French in the south. With Amiens in German hands this connection would be badly ruptured. And farther on still was the sea, which, if Germany could reach it, would physically separate the great Allied army into two armies, without connection, each of which could be dealt with separately. And unlike an advance through Champagne, the farther the Germans pushed through, the closer the Allies came to total disaster and defeat. Germany, therefore, selected the British front for attack and took up the task of destroying the British army.
[Sidenote: The main blow is to fall along the Oise.]
[Sidenote: Plan to drive through Amiens.]
[Sidenote: High ground near Lens and Ypres to be retaken.]
The German plan of campaign was simple in its essence, although involving great numbers of men and an inconceivable mass of material. It was to strike the main blow along the Oise on the front between St. Quentin and La Fere, while a subsidiary attack was to be simultaneously delivered on the northern side of the Cambrai salient between Cambrai and Arras. This subsidiary attack was designed to break the salient and destroy the danger of a flank attack against the movement to the south. In the main attack, delivered with 15,000 men to the mile of front, it was intended to break the connection between the British and the French along the Oise, push a great wedge through at the point of rupture, and then roll the British line back to the north, leaving the French to be taken care of later. Failing in this (and Germany had taken into account the possibility of failure), the British were to be forced back through Amiens to the sea, and the split in the armies accomplished by interposing between the parts a section of the seacoast. This operation would automatically flank the positions held by the British at Arras, force the British to fall back from Vimy Ridge, and from Lens toward St. Pol, and, as they retreated, to uncover the Ypres salient and the positions held in the high ground to the east and south of Ypres—that is, the Messines and the Passchendaele ridges.
[Sidenote: The Germans use eighty divisions the first day.]
[Sidenote: The Allies retreat.]
After a brief but very intense bombardment the German infantry went forward on March 21, 1918. They were favored by a heavy mist which concealed their movements until they were within fifty yards of the British trenches, between La Fere and St. Quentin. By sheer weight of numbers these trenches were overrun and the German infantry poured through the gap. The line to the north was at once affected by the break in the southern line, and taken in flank, was also forced to fall back. But a few hours after the attack was launched, the entire fifty miles of line north of La Fere was ablaze and the British were in retreat. In this attack the Germans threw in on the first day 80 divisions—about one million men—nearly 20,000 men to the mile—a heavier concentration of men than had ever been used in an attack since the war began. Against this number the British, in the opening attack could oppose only 5,000 men to the mile. It is not surprising in view of this disparity in numbers that the British were completely overwhelmed. In spite of the rapidity of the initial German advance and the strength of the German attack, the hoped-for rupture of the Allied line at the Oise did not occur. The British and French, though retreating steadily, kept in close touch and preserved intact the continuity of their line.
[Sidenote: The French extend their left to keep in touch with the British.]
As the British section of the line withdrew, the French, in order to preserve this continuity, were necessarily affected. The French extreme left withdrew behind the Oise to throw this defensive screen before the German attack, gradually extending their left as the British retreat continued, passed Noyons and Pont l'Eveque. As the Allies in their retreat approached the Somme River, the German progress became slower, the efforts were labored. From this point indeed, the huge battle took on something of the nature of the battle of Verdun. It became a fight for limited objectives. Each village offered resistance and became the object of an independent battle. The German advance, however, though slow was not the less persistent and steady.
[Sidenote: The Somme divides the field into two areas.]
[Sidenote: Montdidier falls.]
[Sidenote: French check the Germans at Villers-Bretonneux.]
With the crossing of the Somme and the Somme-Aisne Canal on the front between Peronne and Noyons, the battle was automatically divided into two well defined areas by the east and west course of the Somme between Peronne and Amiens. In the southern area, the Allied line was held by both British and French in about equal proportions. But the French were not yet in great force. The Germans, having passed both the Somme and the Canal, fought their way westward step by step, in total disregard of losses, until the line of the Avre River was reached. Here the French, who held the line from the Luce River south and then east, made a position stand, and a series of pitched battles occurred for the river crossing. The first of these to fall was Montdidier at the head waters of the Avre. This enabled the German army to reach westward of the river and spread out after crossing to flank the defenses to the north. Gradually the left bank of the river was cleared as far north as Moreuil. Here the high ground on the left bank between Moreuil and the mouth of the Luce enabled the French to beat off all German attacks for several days. Finally, however, both Moreuil and Morisel were taken and later the village of Cassel, the Avre being thus cleared of the Allied troops as far north as the mouth of the Luce. From Cassel to the Somme, however, the German forces found themselves in serious difficulties. About Hangard, particularly, the fighting was exceptionally heavy; but after changing hands several times, the Germans were finally thrown across to the southern bank of the Luce and there held in place. From Hangard north to the Somme the result was the same. After struggling for days against the troops on the high plateau of which Villers-Bretonneux is the centre, the Germans were brought to a standstill in their attempts to approach Amiens by way of the Avre-Somme angle.
[Sidenote: The British retire behind the Ancre.]
[Sidenote: Albert is taken; but Germans are soon held.]
In the battlefield north of the Somme, the British retired slowly until they were safely behind the Ancre River, which figured so prominently in the battle of the Somme in 1916. Taking Albert, an important British base, the Germans tried desperately to push beyond and reach the railroad which runs along the lower Ancre from Amiens to Albert. Failing in this, they struck heavily in the angle between the Somme and the Ancre in order to flank the line north of Albert from the high ground north-east of Corbie. Here also they met with defeat, so that from Beaumont-Hamel southward the Allied line became stationary.
[Sidenote: The situation of the Germans.]
[Sidenote: To win peace the Germans must destroy an army.]
At this point in the battle the Germans found themselves in this situation: from Montdidier westward the French lines were firmly established first along a series of small but well defined heights as far as Noyons and thence along the southern bank of the Oise as far as the lower forest of Coucy. This side of the wedge was firmly fixed and capable of great resistance. Moreover, to expend time and men in an attack on this front would mean a serious departure from the German plan, as success here would mean an advance toward Paris instead of toward the sea. And at this stage of the war, peace cannot be obtained by the capture of any city, even the French capital. The price of peace is the destruction of an army, either that of the British or that of the French. This can be accomplished only through reaching the sea at some central point such as Abbeville at the mouth of the Somme.
Therefore, the German problem had of necessity to find its solution north of Montdidier—between that town and Albert. There is not much doubt that by concentrating sufficient artillery and by the expenditure of sufficient men, the German leaders would be able to push their way farther westward, even beyond Amiens. But as the wedge deepened it would gradually draw down to a point so that the ultimate situation would be that the German lines would form an acute angle, the vortex of which would be on the Somme at or west of Amiens, one side passing through Albert, or possibly through the village of Bucquoy, the other through Montdidier. Such a formation would mean positive disaster. It would be worth a quarter of a million men to the Allies to strike both north and south across the base of this angle and snuff it out. It would mean to Germany the loss of a mass of artillery and tens of thousands of men. And the Allies would not be slow to see this opportunity and strike. The German High Command, therefore, did not dare to take the chance with matters as they then were.
[Sidenote: Necessary to advance north of the Somme.]
[Sidenote: The defenses of the British northern wing.]
[Sidenote: The fight for Vimy and Notre Dame de Lorette.]
In order that the German army might continue its march to the sea then, it was necessary that the line north of the Somme should advance, synchronizing its movement with the point of the wedge along the river. Thus only would the wedge be sufficiently wide to avoid disaster. But the entire northern wing of the British army was guarded by Vimy Ridge and the heights of Notre Dame de Lorette. It was impossible that the advance could be made, leaving these positions directly on the flank. The combination of these two heights forms a huge semicircle concave toward the south. The British batteries posted on these heights could continue to rake the German advancing troops in flank and rear with most destructive effect. Therefore, after the fighting in the south came to a halt, the Germans undertook to open the way by forcing these two positions. Using seven divisions—about 90,000 men—the Germans attacked on a front not exceeding ten miles from Arleux to Fampoux on the Scarpe. The attack continued for two days, but was an absolute failure. The German advance had to be made down the slopes of one hill, across a stretch of flat, open valley, and up the sides of another. Down in the valley were the British outpost positions which were overwhelmed and driven in. But in attempting to cross the valley floor the Germans literally withered under machine gun and rifle fire. At the end of two days' fighting, during which the greater part of these divisions were cut to pieces, the attack had to be abandoned. The fighting then from Lens southward to the Avre came to an end with the Germans completely halted. The first definite stage of the decisive battle of the war was thus concluded.
[Sidenote: The attack about Bucquoy.]
[Sidenote: Considerable initial successes.]
[Sidenote: A stand at the edge of the Forest of Nieppe.]
[Sidenote: The Germans take Messines Ridge.]
But the Germans were by no means ready to acknowledge defeat. The Lens-Arras sector had to be cleared up. The attack from the south, crystallizing about Bucquoy, and from the east both having broken down, there remained but to attack from the north. Utilizing to the utmost the advantages of the great railroad system which parallels this front, connecting in a single chain all of their great advance bases, the Germans effected a heavy concentration at Lille, and, using about twenty divisions (which were afterward increased to thirty), struck the British line between Givenchy—just north of La Bassee—and Warneton on the Lys River. The initial successes were considerable. The Germans penetrated to a maximum depth of more than four miles in the centre, although on both right and left the line held fast. North of Armentieres, however, the British line gave ground, which enabled the Germans to pocket this city and to capture it on the second day of the attack. On the succeeding days, the British centre continued to give way until the edge of the Forest of Nieppe was reached. The German position at this point in the attack became practically untenable. The northern side of this wedge was lined with heights from which the British artillery was pouring a devastating plunging fire. These heights, beginning farther east, began with the famous Messines-Wytschaete Ridge and extended due west through Kemmel to Cassel. Moreover, in falling back the British pivoted on Messines, which left this strong bastion from which to strike out against the very heart of the salient. Accordingly, to remove this danger the German leaders swung the attack north against the Messines Ridge. After days of fighting in which Bailleul was taken and the foot of the Kemmel series of hills was reached, the Messines Ridge was taken in reverse and the British line was withdrawn until it passed over the ridge just north of Wytschaete. Still pressing on the north, the Germans attacked the Kemmel position, but the British, now reinforced by the French, threw the attacks back as rapidly as they formed. Failing here and at the centre in Nieppe Forest, still another attack was delivered, this time against the southern side of the wedge from Givenchy to St. Venant. The first two days of this fighting was also disastrous to the Germans who were entirely unable to dent the British positions. In brief, the Germans were then enclosed in a huge semicircle about fifteen miles in diameter. All parts of the area enclosed were subject to artillery fire from three sides and the Germans were striking first on one side then on the other in frantic efforts to break the Allies' grip—and giving no indication of sufficient power to succeed.
[Sidenote: Objectives of the Germans in the North.]
[Sidenote: The British gradually retire about Ypres.]
The objects of the German effort in the north were several. Primarily it was intended as a means of breaking the defenses of Arras and of Lens by cutting in behind the heights of Notre Dame de Lorette and Vimy Ridge. Again it was intended to take Hazebrouck, Bethune, St. Pol, Aire, and St. Omer, through which the distribution of supplies and men landing at Calais is effected. Finally it was intended to take from the British the high ground in Flanders, uncover Ypres, and open the way to the coast. But for many reasons, now that the Allies had caught their breath for a moment, so to speak, the advantage appeared to have passed from German hands. The element of surprise, so essential to success even in trench warfare, was no longer possible. The gradual retirements of the British around Ypres were not costly nor did they "open a way" to the channel ports as the Germans hoped. The Germans had fixed the points of attack—and these were the only possible points: southern Flanders and from the Avre to the Scarpe. Germany had already used in the offense 130 divisions out of 204; and of these 50 had been in action twice—while the British had been heavily engaged from the outset, the French have had but few divisions in action. There was, therefore, apparently much greater reserve strength behind the Allies' battle line than Germany could possibly muster. And it is reserve strength which must ultimately decide the issue.
[Sidenote: The crisis of the Great War is at hand.]
Germany has taken the great plunge—the concentration and utilization of her entire resources in man power in a final effort to win. It is Germany's last bid for victory before the peace propaganda is launched. Germany must win or go down to defeat. But Germany cannot stop. She must go on and on regardless of cost. She has expended literally hundreds of thousands of men, not for territorial conquest as the German press has pointed out and emphasized, but to destroy the British army. What figment of pretense is left if the battle remains indecisive? None the less, for the Allies as well the situation is serious though not critical. The crisis of the Great War is truly at hand. None can doubt the outcome who has any belief in honor and justice among civilized nations.
Copyright, World's Work, June, 1918.
* * * * *
For many months prior to the end of the war Bulgaria had sought an opportunity to make peace. The people were wearied with fighting and it was plain to them that a German victory was hopeless. Finally a complete collapse occurred, King Ferdinand fled, and Bulgaria surrendered, as is described in the following pages.
[Sidenote: "Mitteleuropa" crumbles.]
Bulgaria's withdrawal from the Teutonic block and her frank capitulation to the Allies is easily the most dramatic episode of the World War. Almost overnight the massive bridge of "Mitteleuropa" has crumbled at its central span, leaving exhausted Turkey foredoomed to speedy surrender and laying distracted Austria open to the combined assaults of Allied arms and domestic revolution. So stupendous are the possibilities flowing from the Allies' September offensive in Macedonia that we are almost tempted to believe that the age of miracles is come again.
[Sidenote: The war-spirit of Bulgaria weakens.]
Yet in such hours we should clarify our vision by insistent remembrance of Clausewitz's famous saying that war is but the extension of politics. For brilliant as was the Franco-Serbian escalade of mid-September, storming successive mountain walls as though they were mere trench lines and shearing through war-hardened Bulgarian divisions like a knife through rotten cheese, there was more than fighting involved. For the last year and even longer a combination of circumstances had been weaning Bulgaria from her former solidarity with the Central powers, and this disruptive process, proceeding with special rapidity during the last few months, had been steadily sapping the morale of the Bulgarian people and the war-spirit of the Bulgarian soldiery. From the broader point of view, therefore, the Allies' Macedonian offensive must be deemed not merely a skilful military operation, but even more a well-timed garnering of fruits ripe for the plucking. In such masterly combinations of strategy and politics lies the secret of decisive victory.
[Sidenote: Bulgaria's political evolution.]
The accurate gaging by Allied statesmanship of Bulgaria's political evolution is specially noteworthy because that evolution was both complicated and obscure. In fact, its roots reach down to the fundamental aspirations of the Bulgarian people. Bulgaria's present volte-face is no chance product of panic, but a logical step in her national policy. Its consequences thus promise to be not ephemeral, but lasting. An understanding of the factors that brought about the existing situation is therefore worth careful study.
[Sidenote: The Prussians of the Balkans.]
[Sidenote: Desire to attain race unity.]
The Bulgarians have often been called the Prussians of the Balkans, and in this characterization there is a large measure of truth. A hard-working, tenacious folk, capable of great patience, docile to iron discipline, and appreciative of governmental efficiency, the material progress made by the Bulgarians during their forty years of independence is as striking in its way as the similar progress of the German people. Unfortunately, the Bulgarians resemble the Prussians not only in their virtues, but in their most unlovely qualities as well. There are the same tactlessness, brutality, overweening ambition, and cynical indifference to the means by which those ambitions are to be attained. This has shown itself clearly throughout Bulgarian history. When Bulgaria gained her independence of Turkey in 1878 she started with a perfectly legitimate ambition, the attainment of Bulgarian race-unity through the annexation of those Bulgar-inhabited portions of Macedonia that remained under Turkish rule. For this the Bulgarian people toiled and taxed themselves without stint. For this they built up a military machine relatively the most formidable on earth.
[Sidenote: Projects of the leaders.]
But that was by no means the whole story. Race-unity may have been the goal for which the simple Bulgarian peasant drilled and delved. His leaders had more grandiose projects in view. This was specially true of the Bulgarian monarch, Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, a man of great political sagacity, but of a cynical unscrupulousness rivaling Machiavelli's "Prince." Ferdinand's dream was a great Bulgarian empire embracing the entire Balkan Peninsula, with its seat at Constantinople and his exalted self occupying the imperial throne. This implied both the expulsion of the Turks from Europe and the subjugation of the other Christian Balkan peoples. In the Balkan War of 1912 Bulgaria's hour seemed to have struck, but Ferdinand for once overplayed his hand, and Bulgaria's Balkan rivals beat her on the battle-field and forced her to the humiliating Peace of Bukharest in 1913.
[Sidenote: the Peace of Bukharest.]
The Peace of Bukharest was not a constructive settlement. It was an attempt on the part of embittered enemies to punish Bulgaria's ambitions and keep her permanently down. The result was most unfortunate. Playing upon their balked desire for race-unity, Ferdinand bound his subjects to his wider imperialistic designs. Raging under their humiliations and their failure to redeem their Macedonian brethren, the Bulgarians declared themselves ready to league with the devil if they might thereby tear up the Bukharest parchment and revenge themselves upon their enemies.
[Sidenote: The opportunity for revenge.]
The opportunity was not long in coming. The Pan-German devil was already preparing his stroke for world dominion, and when the blow fell in 1914, Bulgaria's alinement was almost a foregone conclusion. The military losses in the recent Balkan Wars had of course so weakened her that cautious diplomatic jockeying was a preliminary necessity, but when Russia had succumbed to Hindenburg's hammer-strokes in the summer of 1915 and the Germanic hosts menaced Serbia in the autumn, Bulgaria threw off the mask, struck Serbia from the rear, and joined the Teutonic powers. Thus did the "Berlin-Bagdad" dream grow into solid fact, and Mitteleuropa became a hard reality.
[Sidenote: The people give hearty assent.]
[Sidenote: Germany promises cessions from Turkey.]
[Sidenote: Victory over Serbia and Rumania.]
There can be no question that when Bulgaria entered the war on the Teutonic side in the autumn of 1915 she did so with the hearty assent of the vast majority of her people. The Germans had promised Bulgaria those things which Bulgarians most desired. A Teutonic alliance offered Bulgaria immediate possession of Serbian Macedonia, where lived the bulk of the Bulgarian element still outside Bulgaria's political frontiers, together with the practical destruction of the Serbian arch-enemy. The Teutonic alliance likewise offered prospects of reclaiming the Bulgarian populations of Greek Macedonia and of the southern Dobrudja, annexed by Rumania, in 1913, should Greece and Rumania, both notoriously pro-Ally, strike in on the Entente side. Lastly, the German Government agreed to use its good offices with its ally, Turkey, to obtain for Bulgaria a Turkish cession of the Demotika district of Thrace west of the Maritza River, thereby giving Bulgaria direct railroad communication with Dedeagatch, her one practicable outlet on the AEgean Sea. All these things presently came to pass. Serbia lay crushed, and Serbian Macedonia was under Bulgarian control before the close of 1915. Turkey soon yielded Demotika. In the spring of 1916 the quarrel between the Greek King Constantine and the Entente powers permitted Bulgaria to occupy the coveted Drama-Serres-Kavala districts of Greek Macedonia, while that same autumn Rumania's intervention on the Allied side resulted in her speedy defeat, with Bulgarian troops overrunning the whole Dobrudja as far as the Danube mouth, and Bulgarian regiments triumphantly parading through the streets of Bukharest. Small wonder that up to the close of 1916 Bulgaria remained a loyal member of Mitteleuropa, thoroughly contented with her bargain.
[Sidenote: Effects of defeats on Russia.]
[Sidenote: The Russian Revolution.]
[Sidenote: Bulgaria only a link in Mitteleuropa.]
The year 1917, however, saw the beginning of that estrangement from Germany which has finally caused Bulgaria's abandonment of the Teutonic cause. The first rift in the lute was the Russian Revolution. This event was a great shock to Ferdinand and the Sofia politicians. When Bulgaria had joined Germany in the autumn of 1915 her political leaders had divined the fact that Russia's war spirit was broken by the crushing defeats inflicted upon her by the Germans and that she would ultimately retire from the war. But Sofia had looked forward to a Russian retirement under imperial auspices and thereafter to a Russo-German rapprochement in which Bulgaria should be the connecting-link, extracting a profitable brokerage by playing off one against the other in Balkan affairs. The idea was subtle, yet not without reason when we remember that it was toward this very state of things that the last czarist governments of Stuermer and Golytzin were feeling their way. However, Bulgarian expectations were completely dashed by the credo of Revolutionary Russia, which renounced imperialism and eschewed all those near-Eastern ambitions which had been the watchword of the old regime. Now, Bulgaria did not like the new situation. For though Russia was definitely out of the Balkans, Germany and Austria were emphatically not, and their weight was too heavy to be borne pleasantly even by their friends. It was one thing for Bulgaria to be the connecting link of Mitteleuropa, with mighty Russia always potentially present to redress the balance. It was quite another matter to be just the link. That this was to be Bulgaria's future role in Mitteleuropa, Germany's new attitude made increasingly plain. The progressive disintegration of Russia through 1917 riveted Teutonic domination on the Balkans and even offered alternative routes to the East. This meant that Germany no longer needed to show Bulgaria special consideration, and what that fact implied to Teutonic minds was quickly shown by the series of bitter disillusionments that Bulgaria had to experience.
[Sidenote: Germany disposes of the Dobrudja.]
The first shock came regarding the Dobrudja. When the Teuton-Bulgar armies had swept the Rumanians out of the Dobrudja at the close of 1916, Bulgaria had expected to acquire the entire peninsula. But Germany soon showed that she had other ideas on the matter. The Dobrudja not only controlled the mouth of the Danube, but also contained the port terminus of the main railroad trunk-line from Central Europe to the Black Sea. These things Germany had no intention of placing in Bulgarian hands. Accordingly, Bulgaria was given only the southern Dobrudja, the rest of the peninsula being held "in common." And when in the spring of 1918 Russia's final collapse forced Rumania to make peace with the Central powers, it was to them, and not to Bulgaria, that Rumania ceded the Dobrudja prize. Of course Germany temporized, and extended the Dobrudja "condominium" until the final peace settlement, but Bulgaria could see with half an eye that her hopes in this quarter would never be realized.
[Sidenote: The dispute with Turkey about Thrace.]
A second shock was presently administered by Turkey. In return for Bulgaria's extension of territory in the southern Dobrudja, Turkey demanded compensation by Bulgaria's retrocession of the Demotika district of Thrace. This district, it will be remembered, was vital to Bulgaria's railway communications with her AEgean seaboard. Bulgaria therefore angrily rejected the proposal, Turkey as vehemently insisted, and by the beginning of 1918 a very pretty quarrel was on between the two allies, culminating in at least one bloody mix-up between Turkish and Bulgarian troops. In these circumstances Bulgaria appealed to Germany, but was deeply chagrined to receive from the Wilhelmstrasse a Delphic utterance which might have been interpreted as an indorsement of Turkish claims. The reason for this was that Germany was then overrunning the Ukraine preparatory to the occupation of Transcaucasia and the penetration of the middle East. For such far-flung projects zealous Turkish cooperation was a prime necessity. Accordingly, Turkey had to be favored in every possible way. As for Bulgaria, she must not embarrass Germany in her march to world dominion.
[Sidenote: Germany does not promise Saloniki.]
[Sidenote: Reservation regarding Macedonia.]
A third shock was in store. Ever since the spring of 1916 Bulgaria had occupied the Drama-Serres-Kavala districts of Greek Macedonia. In 1916, Greece was clinging to an ambiguous neutrality, but a year later the Entente powers deposed King Constantine, and Greece ranged herself squarely on the Allied side, with a declaration of war against Bulgaria as one of the first consequences. Thereupon Bulgaria urged Germany to allow her definitely to annex the occupied districts and to promise her Saloniki when victory should crown the Teuton-Bulgar arms. But here again Bulgaria discovered that Germany had other fish to fry. Ex-King Constantine and the Greek royalists might yet be very useful to Berlin. Therefore they must not be alienated by giving Bulgaria territories which would render every Greek an irreconcilable foe to Mitteleuropa. Also Saloniki, the great AEgean outlet of central Europe was far too valuable a prize to be committed exclusively to Bulgarian hands. But Saloniki could be reached from central Europe only across Macedonia. Therefore in the final Balkan settlement there must be reserves regarding Bulgaria's control of the Macedonian railroad system. For that matter, this might have to be applied to Bulgaria's own railroad system, since it was the trunk-line from central Europe to the East.
[Sidenote: German interests first.]
So reasoned the suave German diplomats. The effect upon Bulgarian sensibilities can be imagined. How far removed was this drab reality from roseate dreams of imperial Bulgaria dominating the entire Balkans and treating with Teutonic partners as a respected equal! The grim truth was this: Bulgaria's promised gains were being whittled away according to the shifting exigencies of German policy. Was anything certain for the future? No. Because German interests came first, and the junior colleagues must "do their part." Here once more appeared the Nemesis of Prussian Realpolitik, that sinister heresy the crowning demerit of which is that it is not even "real," since it reposes on short-sighted egoism and disregards those moral "imponderables," good faith, fair-dealing, etc., which weigh most heavily in the end. Having turned the neutral world into enemies, Realpolitik was now ready to turn Germany's allies into neutrals.
[Sidenote: Bulgaria is discontented.]
[Sidenote: Bulgaria suffers also from previous wars.]
Thus by the opening months of 1918 Bulgaria was no longer a contented member of central Europe. Most of her political leaders were profoundly disillusioned, and uncertain as to the future. Of course these political matters were still somewhat veiled from the masses. But meanwhile the Bulgarian peasant had been undergoing a little educative process of his own. German diplomats might ask Bulgaria to make sacrifices. The Bulgarian peasant could answer roundly that this was already the case. For Bulgaria was suffering—suffering in every fiber of her being. When she entered the European struggle in 1915, Bulgaria was still weak from two bloody wars. True, the Bulgarian conscripts had marched gladly enough once more, because they were told that it was a matter of a single short campaign, ending in a speedy peace. But two long years had now passed, and Bulgaria's manhood still stood mobilized in distant Macedonia, while at home the fields went fallow, and the scanty harvests, reaped by women and children, had to be shared with the German. Everywhere there was increasing want, sometimes semi-starvation. Bulgaria, like Russia, was proving that a primitive agricultural people may make a fine campaign, but cannot wage prolonged modern war.
[Sidenote: Premier Radoslavov resigns.]
All this discontent, both above and below, presently focused itself in the parliamentary situation. The opposition groups in the Bulgarian Sobranje steadily gained strength until on June 17, 1918, Premier Radoslavov was forced to resign. Radoslavov had been in power since 1913. He had been the architect of the Teuton-Bulgar alliance and was known to be a firm believer in the Mitteleuropa idea. His successor, Malinov, naturally gave lip-service to the same program, but his past leaning had been toward Russia, and he had never displayed marked enthusiasm for the Teutons.
Of course this change of ministry did not mean that Bulgaria was then ready to make a separate peace with the Entente Allies. Every Bulgarian knew that such an act would mean the abandonment of Bulgaria's whole imperialistic dream and the immediate relinquishment of supremely prized Macedonia. But it did mean that Bulgaria was discontented with her present situation and that she was resolved to take a more independent stand toward her Teutonic allies even though Germany was in the full flush of her great Western offensive and dreaming of a speedy entry into Paris.
[Sidenote: The changes of fortune in the West.]
[Sidenote: Peace demonstrations.]
[Sidenote: The tales of Bulgarian prisoners.]
[Sidenote: The capitulation.]
But just a month after Malinov's accession came the dramatic shift of fortune in the West. The German offensive broke down, and the Allies began their astounding succession of victories. Instantly the Balkan situation altered. Bulgaria knew that the spring offensive had been Germany's supreme bid for victory. To fill the ranks for the rush on Paris and the channel ports the last German veterans had been withdrawn from the East. Gone were those field-gray divisions which had stiffened the Macedonian front and kept down popular discontent by garrisoning Bulgarian towns. The peasant voice was at last free to speak, and it spoke in no uncertain terms for an end of the war. Agrarian disturbances increased in frequency. Peace demonstrations occurred in Sofia. In fact, some of these demonstrations were tinged with revolutionary red. Bolshevism, that wild revolt against the whole existing order to-day manifest in every quarter of the globe, had not passed Bulgaria by. Of course there was the army, but the army itself was not immune. By early July, Bulgarian deserters and prisoners taken on the Macedonian front were telling the Allied intelligence officers strange tales—tales of midnight soldiers' meetings at which "delegates" were chosen in true Russian fashion, and which Bulgarian regimental officers found it wisest to ignore. Such was the situation in early summer. By the first days of autumn Bulgaria was cracking from end to end. It was in mid-September that General Franchet d'Esperey, the Allied commander, ordered the Macedonian offensive. Small wonder that within a fortnight Bulgaria had surrendered and retired from the war.
[Sidenote: Turkey's doom sealed.]
The consequences of Bulgaria's capitulation should be both momentous and far-reaching. In the first place, Turkey's doom is sealed. Cut off from direct communication with the Teutonic powers save by the Black Sea water-route and staggering under her Palestine defeats, Turkey is now menaced at her very heart. By the terms of the recent armistice Bulgaria has agreed to allow the Allies free passage across her territory, including the full use of her railways. This means that the Allies can move through Bulgaria upon Turkish Thrace, the sole land bastion protecting Constantinople. Turkey's military situation is thus hopeless, and it is not impossible that before these lines appear in print Turkey will have followed Bulgaria's example and will have thrown up the sponge.
[Sidenote: Rumania to be freed.]
A second possibility is the liberation of Rumania. The "peace" imposed upon Rumania by the Central powers last spring was one of the most shameless acts of international brigandage in the annals of modern history, and though dire necessity compelled Rumania to sign, it was plain that she would submit to her new slavery only so long as the Teutonic pistol was held to her head. This pistol took the form of a Teutonic army of ten divisions camped upon her soil. But to-day Rumania is thrilling to the great news, and when Allied bayonets begin flashing south of the Danube these heliographs of liberty will light a flame of revolt which second-rate German divisions will be unable to stamp out. With the ground burning under their feet the Teutons will probably evacuate Rumania with only the most perfunctory resistance to the advancing Allies.
[Sidenote: German prestige in the East crumbles.]
And southern Russia is in much the same case. To-day it is bowed beneath the Teuton yoke, yet the Teutonic corps of occupation are mere islets lost in its vast immensity and ruling more by prestige than by physical power. But German prestige is crumbling fast, and when Turkey's surrender opens the Black Sea to the Allied fleets, southern Russia, like Rumania, should be in a blaze. From the Ukraine to the Caucasus the land is already seething with disaffection. The Don Cossacks have never been subdued. Will the Germans dare to hold their thin communication lines till the guns of Entente warships are thundering off Odessa and Batum?
[Sidenote: Austria's condition is desperate.]
Lastly, there is Austria-Hungary. Bulgaria's capitulation opens the way for the liberation of Serbia and an Allied push to the Austrian border on the middle Danube. Beyond lie whole provinces full of mutinous Jugoslavs and Rumanians. For that matter, all the non-German and non-Magyar peoples of the Dual Empire are in a state of suppressed revolt, held down by armies largely composed of their disaffected brethren. Perhaps the Balkan winter may delay the Allied advance, perhaps Germany may find enough troops to stifle Austrian disaffection, but the condition of the Hapsburg realm is at best a desperate one, full of explosive possibilities.
[Sidenote: Bulgars are disillusioned about Germany.]
[Sidenote: There may be a Balkan confederation.]
These are the major consequences which seem likely to flow from Bulgaria's surrender. There remains the question of the future attitude of Bulgaria herself. Will she remain a passive spectator of these momentous happenings, or will she, striking in on the Allies' side, do her share toward bringing them to pass? The latter eventuality is more than possible. The Bulgarians, from czar to peasant lad, are realists, not given to vain sacrifices. They see that Germany's game is up and that her Balkan grip is broken forever. They have also been bitterly disillusioned about Mitteleuropa, and must to-day realize that under Mitteleuropa whatever Balkan territories might have been colored "Bulgarian" upon the map, they themselves would have been virtually serfs of a Germany whose idea of empire was the outworn concept of a master race lording it over submissive slaves. With their eyes thus opened, the Bulgarians are in a position to appreciate the Allies' profession of faith with its program of freedom for the smallest peoples and fair-dealing even toward the foe. Imperialistic dreams must of course be banished forever. But solicitude for race-brethren outside Bulgaria's present frontiers is a sentiment which the Allies recognize as wholly legitimate and which they are pledged to satisfy either by permitting annexation to the homeland or, where this is impossible owing to superior claims of intervening races, by assuring the unredeemed Bulgars full cultural liberty. The Allies' hope is a Balkan confederation in which its varied races may pull together in common interest and mutual respect instead of rending one another in vain dreams of barren empire achieved through blood and iron. Is it too much to hope that so level-headed a people as the Bulgarians will come to realize that in such a Balkan settlement their lasting interests will be far safer than in a Balkans precariously dominated by a Bulgarian minority holding down a majority of sullen and vengeful race enemies?
Copyright, Century, December, 1918.
* * * * *
The most picturesque army raised during the great war was that formed by large numbers of Czecho-Slovaks, formerly prisoners of war in Russia and deserters from the Austrian armies. This force fought its way through Russia and Siberia, opposed by the Bolsheviks who had promised them safe conduct to France. A description of these famous fighters is contained in the following pages.
THE FIGHTING CZECHO-SLOVAKS
MAYNARD OWEN WILLIAMS
[Sidenote: The romantic Czecho-Slovak army.]
The Czecho-Slovak Expeditionary Force is one of the most romantic armies of the ages and an important step toward world democracy and idealism. I learned to know the Czechs in a journey across Siberia on one of their trains. They furnished me a bed when beds were scarce, transportation when transportation was scarcer, and shoes when shoes were necessary. I have never seen a real Czech that I could not endorse.
[Sidenote: Two methods of travel in Russia.]
[Sidenote: A journey on a Czecho-Slovak train.]
Last March there were two ways to travel in Russia. If one was an American—relief worker, correspondent, Y.M.C.A. man—one could get a private car. Many Americans rode that way for a trifling cost and without inconvenience. And it was in such cars that some of Russia's severest critics traveled. The other way was intimate travel with the common herd. I started thus. It was at Irtishevo, a junction point near the lower Volga, that I changed. In a crowded station in the Russian disorder, I suddenly found myself looking into the eyes of a spirited, smiling young officer, who had evidently learned that I was an American journalist and who was explaining to me in three languages that there was no way out of my riding to Vladivostok with his military train. He wore a red and white ribbon. His alert bearing and enthusiasm marked him in the numbers of nondescript soldiers who were still traveling in the Russian chaos of last spring. I was about to protest mildly in French when three of his fellow soldiers of fortune seized my baggage, carried it around a countless number of trains and stowed it away in a compartment from which another officer, warned of our arrival just in time, was removing his personal effects. He may have stood up all night. Anyway, I was a quite willing captive on one of the forty odd trains of the Czecho-Slovaks which had started to cross Russia and Siberia to fight for their liberty in France.
My friend was of medium height, well knit, deep chested, smart in bearing. The red and white ribbon on his cap was the badge of the Czechs. Before I had left them at Vladivostok five weeks later I could have picked a Czech out from any crowd by his air of determination backed by an enthusiastic good cheer which everywhere won its way from Austrian prisoner to warmhearted Russian peasant woman. All that night I heard them singing in that splendid, low, group chorus of theirs along the entire line of the train.
[Sidenote: The Czechs are finely disciplined.]
I found these finely disciplined fellows next morning sitting in the doorways of their freight cars. Some were playing on violins they had whittled out in the prison camps. The future of their cross country jaunt to the Pacific worried them not at all. They had fought their way out of the Ukraine, where German elements had tried to stop them. As former citizens of the Central Powers, they were quite happy in the chance to fight again for what their ancestors of five centuries before had stood. Bolsheviks there were among them. But a Czech Bolshevik differs from a Russian in that he shaves and thinks before he acts. Never have I seen more sharp salutes or stricter discipline, and these men were in Russia where discipline was a curiosity. A Czech is so anxious to accomplish that he is willing to discipline himself. When a Czech marches, he marches irresistibly. In theory, he may be a Socialist. In action, he is a patriot.
[Sidenote: Teaching English to Czech officers.]
I found my place on the expedition as teacher of English to a group of Czech officers and members of the National Assembly. My class wanted English in order to be able to understand President Wilson's speeches as they traveled across the United States, for they rank the President with their own national leader, Masaryk. The Czech is literate in several languages, and if he wants another he gives a week-end to it. In my class were university graduates, artisans, engineers and musicians. The Czech is a natural-born good mixer.
[Sidenote: The young men make friends everywhere.]
When our train would reach a town, these young men of action won friends wherever they went. Milk woman and bread seller all along the Trans-Siberian liked them, for they pay spot cash, deal honorably and don't know what ruffianism means.
The miracle accomplished by the Czechs is the result of discipline and courage rather than strategy. Their rise to power was on their own initiative. They could have stayed passive as have so many times their number among the prisoners from other parts of Austria. But their stand for freedom from the Austrian yoke is uncompromising. They started out determined to fight for France and victory. The great bulk of the remaining Austrian prisoners are completely satisfied if only they can keep away from war. The Czechs are passionate in their burning patriotism. The Austrian prisoners in Russia who still feel a certain degree of loyalty to Austria are passive in their sentiment. Most of them shrink from enforced military service—either back in Austria or in a German-Austrian prisoner offensive on the spot in Siberia.
[Sidenote: Groups that have no love for the Germans.]
[Sidenote: Willing to join the Czechs.]
This Czechish heart centre of virile independence acted as a powerful magnet wherever their bands moved. All through Russia and Siberia, there are refugee groups from Poland, Lithuania, Courland and the Riga District. These people have no love for the Germans who drove them from their homes nor for the Junkers of their own communities who handed their lands over to the Germans rather than have them divided by the Bolsheviks. Germany is finding that there is a difference between saving landed proprietors from hostile peasants and workingmen and the huge task of enslaving these same peasants under the Prussian yoke. Hundreds of these elements in Russia's great refugee population wanted to enter the Czech expedition, but these fighters were compelled to keep their army small, compact and homogeneous. Transportation was insufficient. Even Czech artisans were refused a place in the trains unless they could pass rigid examinations. The willingness of other forces to unite with the Czechs may well be counted on when the call for them comes in Siberia and Russia.
[Sidenote: The National Assembly of Bohemia.]
[Sidenote: Attractive decorations of the cars.]
The General Staff train on which I rode carried, in addition to the cars for officers and men, a hall for the National Assembly meetings, a complete printing outfit, a photographic dark-room, with full equipment for still and motion pictures, a bakery, kitchens and a laundry. It was on this moving train, all parts of which were connected by telephone with the car of the commanding officer, that the plans for a New Bohemia were being worked out. A daily four-page newspaper was published on the General Staff train. It gave the ideals of the expedition, the current news translated into Czechish, lessons in French for the use of the forces on landing in France, and quotations from Professor Masaryk. About four thousand copies of this paper were printed every day and distributed not only among the Czechs but among many of the Austrian war prisoners, who were thus informed of the ambitious plans these fighting independents saw before them. Their trains showed their versatility and love for decoration and home-making. Not only were they clean, but hundreds of the cars were decorated with life-size drawings, and with quaint designs in evergreens. To enable the men to find their friends, a roster of the occupants of the car was printed on the red flanks of their freight wagons. On the roofs, model aeroplanes and wind-mills spun in the breeze. A Czech train reminded me of a picnic, and, aside from the earnestness, it was.
[Sidenote: Study and athletic contests.]
For some travelers, the Trans-Siberian trip is monotonous. It was not for the Czechs. They read and studied. They were always busy—even before their clashes with the Bolsheviks began to take up some time. The Y.M.C.A. had secretaries with some of the trains and sent supplies of literature and games. The Bohemians are the champion gymnasts of the world and athletic contests were arranged at every station, until at the call of a bugle the train would pull out, picking up sweating, happy men as it gathered speed.
[Sidenote: The Czechs distribute President Wilson's speeches.]
At the larger stations we spent sometimes hours, sometimes days. That gave a chance for the Czechs to mix with the Russian people. It gave the people an awakening sense of acquaintance with this happy race, who, while going from war to war around the world, were distributing the words of President Wilson to prove the sanity of their cause and the folly of the Russian collapse. The President's speeches were widely read and much appreciated. But these enthusiastic, friendly Czech soldiers were the living examples of the President's rather abstruse lessons of democracy. President Wilson might seem a political Messiah, but the Czechs were the John the Baptists who made the initial impression upon the Russian and Siberian peasants.
An Austrian prisoner at a Siberian station shouted one day so all could hear: "What is this freedom that you talk about?"
Immediately a thick-chested Czech strode forward.
"It is the one thing that makes a man a man," he replied. "It is the thing that links men together without weakening them individually. It is the thing that will wipe out tyranny, because a free man won't stand a tyrant."
As he talked to the slow-minded Russians and the slouching Austrian, this ruddy-cheeked Czech exemplified the advantages he preached. There was no slouch in his body, or character. The power that had gathered together a group which had been dispersed all over Russia and welded it into a fighting unit was not only passionate desire for freedom and willingness to fight for it, but the power of self-discipline which made both possible.
[Sidenote: The spirit of crusaders.]
The Czech army was gay without license. In Irkutsk, during the Easter holidays, it ate ice-cream sandwiches or went up in tiny Ferris wheels in the true spirit of the reveler at a dry-town carnival. In Omsk one night it stood silent for hours, listening to the art of a Czech violinist playing for the wounded in the Red Cross car. It paraded the streets with a smile and an air of pride. It is boyish, open-hearted, lovable. It makes friends. Neat in dress, erect in bearing, enthusiastic in outlook—the Czechs win the Russian masses. There is the spirit of the Crusaders in these fighters, a spirit of personal and national cleanliness. Liberty to them is not a thing to wave a flag over but to die for, if necessary. They are too sincere to be dramatic.
[Sidenote: A force in establishing confidence.]
Having come out of Armenia, with its remnant race of human wrecks, and after months of the demoralizing fatalism and moral laxity of the Russian, I was astounded by the miracle of stability of the tiny Czech force in establishing an economic frontier between the Germanophile sections of Russia and freedom-loving Siberia. Not only is this force the key to the military problem of opposing Germany in Siberia. But from the standpoint of sympathetic friendship between confused Russia and America, the Czecho-Slovaks offer the most helpful force in establishing confidence and turning into fact the good will which America bears to Russian citizenry.
They can best tell their own story. Lieutenant B—— of my English class was typical.
"When war was declared, I was in Switzerland," he told me. "Late in July I climbed to the heights overlooking Austria. I could throw a stone over into that land of oppression. That very day, when I went down into the Swiss village, I heard that the Austrian mobilization had been ordered. I could not believe that war would come. I returned to the land I hated and in two days I had joined my class. We were to fight Russia. This was unthinkable. Better to mutiny against our German and Magyar officers than murder our brother Slavs.
[Sidenote: Czech regiments went over to Russia by companies.]
"And so it was that the word was secretly passed through whole regiments of our men to desert to the Russians. The opportunity came when we faced Brusiloff's army. The Russians knew and were ready to receive us. We walked over in companies, with banners flying and bands playing and men falling before the shots that rang out behind us. We hoped to turn and fight against our oppressors. And for a while some of us did. But one by one those of us who had entered the Russian ranks were removed and sent to prison camps, whence we were scattered among the homes and factories of Russia. My own band of companies was soon thoroughly broken up and dispersed from Turkestan and the Caucasus to Tobolsk and Irkutsk. As German influences strengthened at the Russian court we were sent to worse and worse positions, malarial and barren territories. But we prospered in spite of all that was done to oppress us.
[Sidenote: Waiting the time to strike for liberty.]
"For a while I managed a cotton factory in Turkestan and later I went to open some mines further in the country. But all the while we kept in touch with one another and day by day we waited for the time when we could strike for liberty and Bohemia. Professor Masaryk was to give the signal for the blow for liberty.
[Sidenote: The Russian Revolution.]
[Sidenote: Czechs ask to go to France.]
"Then came the Russian Revolution. With the Czar, the German influences at Court were overthrown. We left our farm work and our shop benches. We poured out of the dark mines and united in Czech battalions to fight in the armies of Kerensky. At Zborov, we pierced six enemy lines but were forced to retreat because the other fighters failed to advance as fast as we. Then came the long wait for the time when Russia should find herself, as she is still trying to do. The Slav is not a coward once his mind is trained. There is hope for his ultimate recovery. The power of Czardom was enforced ignorance, and this made possible the infamous treaty of Brest-Litovsk. But we saw that there was no hope for a mere handful of us to hold the Russian front, and to attempt this would be to antagonize the Russian people. So we applied for permission to leave Russia and go to France.
[Sidenote: The journey to Vladivostok.]
"Everyone said that it could not be done. It meant going almost round the world. But we were determined and soon we had gained the support of the French Government and the permission of the Bolshevik leaders, who were glad enough to get us out of the country. They feared we would start a counter-revolution. But here we are in Siberia and the hardest part of our journey is over. Two weeks more should find us in Vladivostok and from there we can go very quickly to France, where thousands of our fellows are already fighting for the cause of liberty."
[Sidenote: The men are classified by occupation.]
Captain H—— was in Omsk. Behind him, as I talked with him, was a card index file showing the occupation and residence of forty thousand Czech artisans resident in Siberia. Typewriters clicked in the bright office and outside a Czech wagon arrived with a ton of meat en route to the cold storage cellar which he had built in the outskirts of Omsk.
[Sidenote: Food is obtained at high prices.]
"I arrived here alone and with only a few rubles," said Captain H——. "But I heard that some day my fellows would come through on their way to France. So I began organizing our resources. Many of our men have made much money as prisoners in Russia. They were generous. Men began to flock in and we took off their Austrian uniforms and put them into Russian uniforms—the uniform of our expeditionary force. Fighting men were listed and trained. Artisans we merely listed, and there are forty thousand names classified by occupation and residence in those files. In three weeks we have taken in 610 Czech prisoners and sent them out in the uniform of the expeditionary force to France. Every shoe and belt and uniform is utilized and nothing is wasted except the hated Austrian uniform, which is in most cases worn to shreds anyway. We have established friendly relations with the people. Theoretically we are not supposed to be doing this. Theoretically, we are not securing food. But actually we are getting enough and to spare. Ten trains a week get several days' supplies here. Only in disorganized Russia could such things be. But we have to pay the secret agents of the local Soviet sixty-five rubles for meat. Its market price is thirty-five."
[Sidenote: Professor Masaryk in America is the leader.]
In my note-book, I cannot find the names of a dozen leaders of the Czech expedition. In a sense, there were no leaders. The outstanding fact in the Czech army is the democracy of it. The leaders are men who have been trained, but they owe their position to popular choice. Yet there is no foolish idea that military decisions can be made by a committee of soldiers. The Czech sacrifices personal ambition to his cause and that is why his cause is worth fighting for. The Russian cause, a thing of chaos, is losing force every day. I might almost say that the Czechs, in Siberia, were led by Professor Masaryk, in America, through the influence of his words in the daily paper. As prominent a figure among the Czechs as any one man in the expedition is Kenneth Miller of New York, director of the Y.M.C.A., and held on a high pedestal in the affection of 10,000 men. He has had much to do with the moving of the Czech trains in all their complicated travel arrangements.
[Sidenote: How the Czechs came to control Siberia.]
The democracy of the Czech army and the ease with which it made friends continually surprise me. The officer who induced me to join them was a mere lieutenant, yet he never consulted anyone about taking me in. Was I not an American? Each day some officer was told off to arrange matters with the station masters. They moved their trains without bluff or bluster. Sometimes the Soviets hindered them in order to get what guns and supplies they could. But not till weeks after they started did any Soviet have the temerity to try to stop or disarm the men. The Russian masses were quickly won to friendship for the Czechs and the only force that tried to interfere was the Bolshevik battalions who acted under orders from distant points, where the man who gave the order enjoyed comparative safety. The way that their control of Siberia through an attempt to disarm them came about is as romantic as any feature of their story.
[Sidenote: They have passes to leave the country.]
The presence of forty thousand well-disciplined Czech soldiers whose loyalty to the cause of freedom was stronger than that of the rapidly changing Russian proletariat made it seem desirable to the Bolshevik authorities to rid the country of men so willing to fight and so little subject to the extreme socialistic doctrines then rife in Russia. Both Lenine and Trotzky by agreement with Professor Masaryk furnished these men with passes for leaving the country and in spite of the chaotic condition of transportation ample rolling stock, amounting to about sixty trains of forty freight cars each, was placed at their disposal or secured by the Czechs through their own efforts. Arrangements had already been made with representatives of the French Government so that plenty of money was provided for provisioning, equipping and transporting a minimum of forty thousand men over about six thousand miles.
[Sidenote: Military equipment being taken away.]
[Sidenote: The Czechs resist.]
Before these trains had gone far one local Soviet after another had insisted on their leaving behind the armored motor cars, aeroplanes, machine-guns and other military equipment which had been allotted to them by the Russian Government during the Kerensky offensive. By the time Penza—one day's run west of the Volga—was reached, after machine-guns had been mounted on the engines in fighting their way through the Germanized Ukrainian districts, the arms of each train had been reduced to 140 rifles and ammunition. But the Czechs knew enough about Russian conditions to realize the necessity for at least one gun to a man and when the Bolsheviki, early in June, started to disarm them, guns and rifles appeared from secret hiding places, to the extreme consternation of the disarmers.
[Sidenote: Siberian Soviets delay the Czechs.]
[Sidenote: The Czechs overcome their captors.]
The reason for their being in the district of the Urals is one part of the romance of their adventurous life. Out across Siberia, near the Manchurian frontier, during April and May, the Cossack General Semenoff was operating. He had closed to traffic the Trans-Siberian line by way of Harbin, so that the first twelve thousand Czechs had had to use the single track Amur Railway line to the north by way of Khabarovsk. By May 4 an international proletariat army thoroughly mercenary in character and numbering possibly three thousand men, largely Austrian prisoners of war, was enlisted to repulse Semenoff from the region of the railway junction at Karuimskaya. Obviously since it was known that the Czechs were financed by France and that France favored intervention in Siberia it was indiscreet to allow thousands of Czech soldiers whose bravery was unquestioned to pass within fourteen miles of the army under the command of Semenoff. Fictitious floods on the Amur and some well-founded stories of the poor condition of the single track Amur line were conjured up by the Siberian Soviets as a reason for temporarily preventing the Czechs from proceeding to France. The only real service performed by Semenoff's provocative army of mercenaries and Chinese and Japanese irregulars, was the indirect one of detaining the Czechs in Siberia, a service on which the Cossack leader never figured. There is no question but that to get to France was the sincere desire of the Czechs and there was no suggestion that their forces could be or desired to be used in Siberia. Having left the Austrian army rather than fire on their brother Slavs the Czechs could scarcely be expected to have much enthusiasm for fighting Russians over an ill-defined intervention program through thousands of miles of Siberia. Chafing under the enforced delay, these soldiers insisted that they be allowed to proceed to France. This seemed out of the question to the Bolsheviki whose only alternative was to disarm them. The Czechs who had carefully avoided any aggression upon Russians until then, immediately set up a stout resistance, quickly overcoming their would-be captors and thus almost miraculously putting the small force which had then probably reached one hundred thousand men in control of thousands of miles of railway reaching from Novo Nikolayevsk to Tcheliabinsk and thence along the two branches leading to Ekaterinburg and Zlatoust. This virtually established an economic boundary between Siberia and Russia along the line of the Urals, since the unsettled condition of the country makes the railway the only practicable line of communication.
[Sidenote: How control of the railway is secured.]
[Sidenote: The Russian peasants friendly.]
The control of the railways was easily secured. At each of the important stations Czech trains held the sidings. Due to the delay the trains which should have been en route to France piled up at the stations, and even in European Russia at Samara, Simbirsk and Suizran, a sufficient number of Czechs held the station points to make their capture by Bolsheviki forces a difficult matter. The Czechs made no attempt to seize the towns located some distance from the stations or any other territory. They wanted only to make secure their railroad travel. The high prices which they paid for their necessarily large supplies of provisions and the fact that they paid cash while the Bolshevik forces and Soviets often requisitioned food supplies, likewise their good cheer and personal magnetism, won for them the friendship of the peasant and artisan classes in many of the villages so that when the clash came only such Bolshevik forces as were definitely put to the task of disarming them were actually hostile. The easy-going and friendly Russian peasant, supine under the violent political changes, is a traditional friend and an unwilling enemy. This characteristic, which the Allied Governments have harshly criticized, may be counted upon to work to the advantage of the Allies under any fair scheme for economic aid and peaceful penetration which does not give grounds upon which active German propaganda could construct open hostility.
One may well wonder why the hundreds of thousands of Austrian war prisoners in Siberia have not blown up tunnels, destroyed tracks and otherwise tried to stop the Czech expedition. It may be that the Austrians secretly admired these men and were too tired of war to take the initiative in Siberia.
[Sidenote: Seizure of Vladivostok.]
[Sidenote: The people welcome the Czechs.]
The seizure of Vladivostok by the Czechs was characteristic. From their arrival, they attracted the attention and admiration of the people, many of whom were planning an anti-Bolshevik demonstration. Every ship commander in the harbor had his men ready for landing parties in case of trouble. But there was no disorder on the day of the demonstration and not till a month later did a Bolshevik disturbance give the Czechs a chance to free an anti-Bolshevik city from its oppressors. Japanese, Chinese, English or Americans from the war-ships could have done it. But when the Czechs did it, a Slavic, Russian-speaking people gained control of a city that gladly welcomed their intervention. The same idea explains their marvelous success in Russia. Having braved death rather than fight Russians, the Czechs can now fight oppressive Russian elements without having their motives misunderstood or their plans opposed.
[Sidenote: Marriages of war prisoners and peasant women.]
Siberia has afforded an interesting race study ever since the Teuton prisoners began to arrive. From the very first, German and Austrian prisoners mated with the sturdy peasant women of Siberia and settled to a happy and unhampered life in the undeveloped lands of the great plains. Some of the women had husbands at the front, but nichevo never means "never mind" to a greater extent than it does in Russian marital affairs. A man's a man for a' that, and there was little trouble until the two parents of different nationality and language discussed which language the children should be taught. German and Russian produce the same tow-headed stock. With the downfall of the Russian army the Russian husband sometimes returned and though quite willing to assume responsibility for the new offspring, insisted on asking the Austrian substitute at his bed and board to leave. As often as not the Austrian left. There were always a better farm and frau to be had elsewhere, and some Russian women are tiresome anyway.
[Sidenote: Many Austrians do not go home.]
When conditions are like this in Siberia, why should an Austrian return to a hungry country to fight a heroic enemy? A happy home in Siberia, which some other man has founded, or starvation in Austria? No wonder the Austrians in Siberia are a mercenary and unpatriotic lot. I saw many in the Bolshevik army. Most of those I talked with were under arms for the sake of the 200 rubles per month, equipment and food they were paid by the Bolsheviks, without, as they told me, planning to run any unnecessary chances of losing their lives in actual fighting against the Czechs or any other enemy of the Bolsheviks for that amount of money, if they could avoid it; not a very difficult matter.
Allied military support of the Czechs in Siberia is not Japanese intervention, and sentiment in Russia and Siberia against intervention to-day is now what it was six months ago. If the Bolsheviki do not represent the people of Russia, the only way the Russian people can develop confidence in themselves, and strength, is to throw off the Bolsheviki. The Archangel and Siberian regions have started such moves.
Siberia seems ready to welcome the Czechs, and if the Allied forces in Siberia keep themselves sufficiently in the background, Siberia will probably welcome the friends of the Czechs. The Allies have failed in Russia in the past because they have trusted upon material equipment rather than upon education of the people in the ideals of our cause. A certain amount of military intervention is necessary in Siberia if we are to protect the Czechs and protect the supplies which an economic mission would furnish. The danger lies in taking the control of that military intervention out of the hands of the Czechs. If my observation among all classes in Siberia counts for anything, the day the non-Slavic forces of the Allies, especially the Japanese, whom the Russians despise, move ahead of the Czechs who have already the confidence of the Russians as no Allied army could, that day the Allied army will encounter difficulties. This may spell tragedy for the cause of democracy.
[Sidenote: Siberia differs from Russia.]
In general the Volga divides Siberia, the home of the freedom-seeking exile, from Russia, in which for years German ideas have been encouraged to the exclusion of French and English. Whole sections of Russia and Siberia will starve this winter. If we follow the Czechs into Siberia with economic aid, repairing and consolidating the railroad lines behind them, installing modern methods of distribution we can then say to the stricken people—"Some of you are starving, but this is in spite of all the aid we can give." But across the Volga in Russia the people will say to Germany—"We are starving because you took our food, because you forced disorganization which has ruined us." Spring will allow the intelligent Russian peasant to compare such Americanism with the blight of Prussianism. Never fear that the object lesson will be in vain!
[Sidenote: A nucleus for the forces of freedom.]
Can the Czechs become an actual nucleus for the forces of freedom in Russia and Siberia? They already are. The extent of their influence in Siberia, in the region of the Don and in the heart of the Central Powers themselves, is only limited by the support they receive from the Allies and the restraint of the latter in independent action. The fate of history may depend on the working out of the Czecho-Slovak miracle—a plain gift of fortune to the cause of freedom.
Copyright, Asia, Journal of the American Asiatic Association, September, 1918.
* * * * *
The spirit which animated the American soldiers in France was a revelation to the Allies, although it was precisely the spirit which Americans at home knew would inspire them when they reached the actual fighting line. Some instances of this spirit, and of experiences on the American firing line, are told in the following pages.
SIX DAYS ON THE AMERICAN FIRING LINE
CORPORAL H.J. BURBACH
"We have arrived!"
[Sidenote: We reach the front.]
The French Army officer, who, skilled through years of actual artillery service on the French fronts, had been my instructor through weeks of training, and my guide up to the Front, stood still and spoke most casually, as if our destination had been a Chicago restaurant.
[Sidenote: My comrades are hidden in the fog.]
"Yes, sir." I tried to be as casual, but could not disguise the excitement that filled me. "Shall—the guns—" and I stopped, startled at the tone of my own voice. It sounded as if it were coming from some person a dozen feet away. And as I stood there a sense of elation, that was possibly partly fear, swept over me. I looked about me, toward the direction of the French officer who had spoken, toward the fellows of my battery who had accompanied me up to the Front. I say toward their direction, for I could not see my comrades—the fog that had come over the land at sunset was too heavy to allow one to see an arm's length.
The officer snickered.
"Is this all that there is to it? Are we really on the firing line?" I asked aloud. "Why, it's as quiet here as the Michigan woods!"
The officer laughed again.
"At this minute, yes," he said; then, "Wait here, I will be back directly, and no noise!"
[Sidenote: The firing line seems a lonely place.]
He went off through the fog, and I have never experienced such a feeling of loneliness as swept over me at that minute—loneliness, and I really believe disappointment,—for I had imagined the firing line to be a place of constant terror.
"Gee, this is what we've been training for all these months!" I heard one of the fellows say. "Well, all I've got to say is it won't be so quiet over on the Boches' land when we get started," and they all laughed.
[Sidenote: An experience of many sensations.]
It is absolutely impossible to describe the sensations that come over a fellow when he realizes that he is going under fire. I think that you pass through various stages that include every sensation in life. You are frightened, you are glad to get into the fight. You are anxious to begin—you wish you had a few weeks' longer training to become a better shot.
I am not sure how long we stood there waiting for the return of the French officer who was tutoring us for our baptism of fire, but suddenly he was at my side.
[Sidenote: The first need is a signal station.]
"The battery is to be over there," he pointed through the night, "and we will set up a signal station right here. The first thing to do is to dig in the telephone wires, for headquarters reports that there is considerable rifle fire about here in the daytime. Order a detachment of men to help you!"
[Sidenote: Digging in the telephone wires.]
"Yes, sir," and I went quickly back toward where I knew the men were waiting, happy to think that there was work to be done at once. I gave the orders that had been handed to me, and in about twenty minutes we were turning over the earth. While we were working others were just as busy, for our battery was being placed in position, and some fifty feet behind the battery the others of the signal service detachment, of which I was a member, were setting up a receiving station. As I helped in the digging of that small trench for telephone wires my heart sang, and I lived again the months that I had served in order that I might be fit for the service I was performing that minute.
It might be well, before going further into this narrative, to say that the fellows who had accompanied me were the first American troops to take charge of a sector of the French line, a sector which some day will be moved into the heart of Germany and make old friend Hun wish that there was a way for him to change his nationality and viewpoint.
[Sidenote: The artillery training camp.]
The training camp where we had prepared for the front after our arrival in France had been purchased by the United States from the French, and had been in use since the beginning of the war for the purpose of putting the high spots on the training of men belonging to both the heavy and light artillery. It was a spacious place; we had comfortable quarters and lots of good food. I had been on the Mexican border, so that sound of the heavy guns that were being used for training purposes did not annoy me, though to about ninety per cent. of the rest of the fellows this was a new sound, and orders were issued that cotton was to be put in the ears.
[Sidenote: The French officers are fine fellows.]
Except for the return fire, we might have been at the front, for the camp was an exact duplication of conditions under fire. Our equipment was largely French, and the officers who tutored us in modern warfare were all French—and as fine a bunch of fellows as ever lived.
[Sidenote: Buying a village for a target.]
One of the exciting incidents of the Camp was the day that news arrived that the American government had purchased a small village just beyond the Camp (France is honeycombed with small villages,—it is almost impossible to walk a mile without passing through a village) and that it was to be used as a target for the American boys.
We practiced in turn, a battery going out for a few hours' work, and then returning. Both light and heavy Artillery used the village as a target, and it was not long before there was only a heap of rubbish to tell where there had once been houses.
[Sidenote: The instructors praise American marksmanship.]
One of the things that the American fellows felt proud of was the fact that they were constantly being praised by their French instructors because of their very superior marksmanship. Several men told me that the American troopers learned in two weeks' time as much of the craftsmanship of war as the French learned in three months. As the story was on themselves, I guess it must be true.
[Sidenote: Good care close to the firing line.]
[Sidenote: A question of high prices.]
We worked hard in camp, but the fellows liked it. We had good food, lots of fresh vegetables, and meat. It is a fact that the closer you get to the firing line the better care you get. There was plenty of recreation through the Y.M.C.A. activities, but we did not have many furloughs. Remember that at the time I am writing of, the American boys were new in France. One of the reasons for the lack of furloughs was that in many of the towns near the great camps that were set apart for the Americans the merchants had decided that it was harvest time, and prices had gone very high. General Pershing himself ordered that no member of the American force should buy anything in these towns until the matter of prices was adjusted, and this was speedily done.
[Sidenote: A journey in motor trucks.]
[Sidenote: Making the new quarters sanitary.]
I had been in the training camp about a month, making a special study of telephone work as carried on between the front-line trenches and outposts regimental headquarters, and the various gun batteries of the regiment. At the end of that time I was detached from my regular battery and assigned as Signal Sergeant to work with another battery proceeding immediately to the American sector of the Front. We did not travel forward in gradual stages as is the usual custom of approaching the firing line for the first time, but made the journey as quickly as possible, in motor trucks—a never-to-be-forgotten journey. Our destination was a village between five and ten miles from the Front, where we were to be billeted, and where the American troops would spend their time while not actively in the trenches. We got there in the afternoon, and a batch of the men were detached to make the place clean and perfectly sanitary. It needed their work. The village had been used by the French soldiers for some time, and there had been no time or opportunity for repair work. With the coming of the Americans it was different. Cleanliness is a strictly enforced rule with the fellows of our fighting force, and from a standpoint of sanitation we are literally introducing soap, water and whitewash into France.
[Sidenote: The order to advance.]
Later that afternoon, when it was growing dusk, came the orders to go forward—and at nightfall I found myself walking beside the French officer across rough ground, a very occasional dull boom telling us that there was an enemy before us—but all other sounds seemed natural.
As I said before, it is impossible to accurately describe the sensations that come over a fellow when he discovers that he is on the firing line, and I welcomed the work to which I was so quickly assigned, and which we rapidly accomplished. I marveled at the precision with which I had gone to work that first night on the front, but everyone had their work to do, and did it so quickly and coolly that we had no time to think of personal feelings.
[Sidenote: An interesting day on the firing line.]
The first day on the firing line was very interesting. The battery kept up a constant fire, getting range from the map which is issued daily—as well as the given ranges, targets, etc. (which arrived over the field telephone). That night we stood ready to do any work required, but no orders came through, and I had my first experience in sleeping in a gun pit.
Our food, by the way, was brought up daily from the headquarters at the village and was prepared in rolling field kitchens.
[Sidenote: Food is good and abundant.]
As an example of the care that the fellows are getting, I might say that we were given bread and milk, fruit, excellent coffee, eggs, or possibly hash, and, of course, bread for breakfast; a heavy meal of soup, steak or some roast meat, potatoes and vegetables, coffee and sweets, came next, with a meal of canned foods for supper. All of it well cooked and mighty tasty. Believe me, Uncle Sam was taking mighty fine care of his soldier boys!
[Sidenote: The telephone system is demolished.]
The following day started as the first, but in the middle of the afternoon the telephone system of our sector was demolished by rifle and it was impossible to get into communication with either the headquarters or the trenches.
"That stops work for today!" the officer told me. "No more gun fire till we get it fixed."
I can remember asking anxiously what we could do.
"Nothing just this minute," he laughed at my eagerness, "but tonight you and I will crawl out on our bellies and find that broken wire. Then we will fix it, and unless they find us with a shell we'll crawl back."
[Sidenote: We go out to mend the wire.]
The prospect was exciting, and I waited anxiously for night. Then, armed with the necessary tools, we started to crawl along the trench containing the wires. We had no light, we could not stand upright. We went about a half mile, feeling every inch of wire for the break, and then suddenly I ran my hand along the wire that suddenly came to a point. We had found the break.
"I've got it," I called in my best whisper, but before I could receive a reply there was a noise from the German trenches.
"Star shell, star shell," my French companion called excitedly.
[Sidenote: A star shell bursts above us.]
Suddenly the shell burst above us, and it was more brilliant than day. Frightened! Say, that light is so great and the knowledge that if the Germans spot you you're a goner, makes you just lie there and forget to breathe! It does not take many seconds for a star shell to die away to a glow, but in those seconds you go right through life and back to the present. When the light was gone I lay there fairly panting for breath.
"We'll have to work quickly," came the inspiring voice at my elbow, and we did. We had not finished work before a new star shell was sent up.
[Sidenote: The repair work is finished.]
The repair work did not take many minutes, and we started back again. We were halted several times by star shells, and after the second or third time I began to reassure myself by saying that the Germans did not know I was out there, that they had nothing against me individually. Afterwards I heard one of the officers say that they were probably suspicious because of the sudden cessation of the gun fire that afternoon, and were looking for a raiding party to cross no-man's-land.
[Sidenote: The noise of the shells.]
During the time that I was at the front, it was the custom for men to spend six days at the front, then go back to the village in which they were billeted—always well beyond the firing line—and there rest for about two weeks. By the end of my third day I had become quite acclimated to the noise. One afternoon a scouting aeroplane must have reported some fancied movement of troops in a village two or three miles back of us, for the Germans started a heavy barrage which went singing over our heads. The shells went high, but just the same they made everyone uncomfortable for a few minutes. Fellows that have been on the line, however, will tell you that you don't mind the noise of shell fire—for you figure it out that the bullet that hits you is the bullet you never hear—and while that doesn't seem a very comfortable thought, you soon forget to think of danger.
[Sidenote: Shifting the gun's position.]
Perhaps the most exciting incident, and at the same time the one that sent more terror to our hearts than any other, occurred late one afternoon. It was foggy, though fog always hung over our battery—in fact, the climate of the front that has been assigned to our troops is notorious for its winter fogginess. Orders had been sent out to shift the position of our gun, and as the afternoon wore away—and the thick smoke-like pall that hung over us made it impossible to recognize the fellow standing next to you when he was half a dozen feet away—it was decided that there was no use to wait till night, but that we could shift the gun at once.
[Sidenote: A German aeroplane right overhead.]
All the crowd started to work, the new gun pit was ready, and the signal station was all moved. It was just as we got the gun into the position and were straightening it into position that a faint breeze came stealing down from the mountains. In a minute the breeze was stronger, and we could see a hundred yards away. In another minute we could see three times that distance, and at the end of the third minute we could see clear up into the heavens—and there was a German plane flying straight for us.
Did you ever stand waiting for death? I suppose not—but that was what happened to our gun crews. The plane swooped low and seemed to hang right over us. We waited, hardly daring to breathe. I saw the perspiration running from one fellow's face, and guess it was running down mine. I know that I had a most pressing desire to run—anywhere, so long as I was moving. As I was looking down I glanced at my wrist watch about every thirty seconds and lived minutes between each glance. No one spoke—it was as if we had suddenly been turned to wood. Then after fifteen minutes of observation the Hun plane circled away from us—and we had lived several lifetimes in that short time.
[Sidenote: Army trucks take us back to the village.]
It was the fog that got me—and sent me back to the United States. Two years before, coming home from drill at the armory (I was then a member of the National Guard) I fell asleep on the train and contracted a severe cold. The cold never seemed to leave me, and now, after a week of fog, after sleeping in a gun pit, I grew hoarse and developed a nasty cough. I was not really sick when I left the firing line after my six days and returned to the billet, but I felt pretty miserable. I can remember being glad when, after a several miles' walk back of the lines, we found the army trucks ready to carry us to the village where we were quartered.
[Sidenote: A month at the base hospital.]
I spent four days in the billet receiving further instruction from my French officer, and then after ten days I started back to the training camp, where I was to help in the instruction of the fellows of my division who had not as yet been under fire. By the time I reached the camp I was what might be termed all in, down and out. I went to the hospital, and when I was able I was moved in an ambulance to a U.S. Army Base hospital far removed from the firing line. I was at the base hospital a month, and spent most of the time in the sunshine trying to get rid of the heavy bronchial condition that had fastened itself to me. The hospital was full—but not with Americans. I was surrounded by fellows from all the allied nations, and had the chance to talk with them. They're a great lot, and anybody who has any doubt about whether we are going to win this war needs only a few minutes' conversation with some of the chaps that have been over there for years. You bet we're going to win—there isn't a thought of anything else but victory.