« AnteriorContinuar »
But the most desperate of all these assaults on the line from the Somme to the sea was the attempt to drive in the bulge of the line toward the east of Ypres, (pronounced Wipers by the British soldier.) Here the British Army, aided from time to time by French reinforcements, struggled desperately for a month against overwhelming numbers, suffering and inflicting terrible slaughter in what may prove to be the most sanguinary battle recorded in the pages of military history.
The time between the end of November and the Winter weather, which suspended general operations, was passed by the two armies in preparing and consolidating their great trench fortresses and in sporadic attempts to break each other's line less desperate than the great struggles of the Marne and the Aisne in September or the sustained effort of the Germans to break through to Calais in October and November.
Military Affairs-Eastern Front
One who attempts to give a summary account of the fighting on the eastern front finds difficulties which he does not meet in discussing the western campaign. The line is enormously longer, over 1,000 miles compared to 260, and, in addition, it is not so continuous that it moves as a unit. When the French centre and left flank went back at the beginning of the war the entire line from Verdun had to swing with it. When von Kluck's army on the right flank was defeated on the south bank of the Marne the entire German line had to swing back, and could make no attempt at a final stand until it reached the north bank of the Aisne. But in the east we find one part of the line driven back in defeat for many miles, while another section of the line is triumphantly advancing.
Sept. 1 saw the right flank of the Russian Army falling back after the terrible disaster of Tannenberg, while further to the south, sweeping the Austrians before them in a rapid advance, they began on Sept. 1 the great battle which won for them the City of Lemberg, the capital of Galicia, and a very large number of prisoners and material of war. A week later Vol. II
the invading Austrians were almost entirely driven out of Poland and compelled to take refuge in their great fortress of Przemysl.
This success encouraged the Russians to march upon Cracow, the chief city of Russian Poland, and a strategic point for an advance either upon Vienna or Berlin. But before they reached it the whole Teutonic line was reorganized. General von Hindenburg, the brilliant victor in the battle of Tannenberg, was appointed to the supreme command of the joint Austrian and German army. His strategic disposition threatened the communication of the advancing Russians, and they were compelled to fall back into Russian Poland about the beginning of October.
It was now the turn of the Germans to advance. Von Hindenburg determined to strike for Warsaw, the capital of Russian Poland, which has in the last fifty years grown to be a city of nearly a million inhabitants. The Russians fell back before him to the line of the great River Vistula, on which the city is situated, and on Oct. 16 the fight for Warsaw was joined. It lasted for three days and ended with the retreat of the Germans, not because they were beaten in the battle but because Russian movements on their right and left flanks threatened the whole German line in Poland with disaster. By the end of October von Hindenburg was in full retreat, destroying all roads and railroads behind him as he fell back.
Once more the Russians attempted to advance the southern part of their line and strike at Cracow. Early in December a portion of their forces reached the outskirts of the city. South of Cracow runs the line of the Carpathian Mountains, extending in a general east and west direction and separating Hungary from the Province of Galicia. Although not very high, they are impassable by an army except through certain passes, and in Winter not passable by a large army at all over many miles of their extent. Across this range of hills, whose passes had not been held in sufficient strength by the Russians as they marched by them, the Austrian Army moved up from the south, threatening to come down into
the plain on the Russian left flank and even in their rear. By Christmas, therefore, the Russian Army had withdrawn to a point that no longer immediately threatened Cracow and was holding in force the openings of those passes on the northern side of the Carpathians.
Meantime, to the north, von Hindenburg was again striking at Warsaw. The Russians once more fell back before him as he advanced, abandoning to him in the beginning of December the great City of Lodz with 500,000 inhabitants. The Russians dug their trenches and made their final stand on the line of a little river running from south to north into the Vistula, called in its northern stretches the Rawka and in the southern part the Bzura. Against these trenches, dug just outside of Warsaw, the Germans hurled themselves for six days in vain, and by Christmas it was evident that they were not strong enough to force them. Both sides settled down to holding their trenches and worrying the enemy. Military Affairs-The Danubian Front
We must not forget the heroic achievements of the Serbians; surely among the most remarkable recorded in the annals of fighting man. The failure of the first Austrian invasion, which was driven back with heavy losses, was followed on the part of the Serbians by an actual invasion of Austria, in the early part of September, which silenced the hostile batteries which had been bombarding Belgrade from the other side of the Danube. This was followed by an attempt with moderate Austrian forces to invade Serbia across the Bosnian border, which was driven back or checked. It was the end of October before Austria was really ready to deal with Serbia, and then she poured about 300,000 men across the boundary. The Serbians, who were outnumbered, did not dare to face this force in the lowlands, but fell back to the hills. As the Austrians advanced to attack them the Serbian Army attacked in its turn and drove them down the slope in a two days' fight. On Dec. 6 the Austrian line broke in hopeless rout, which became a disaster as complete and crush
ing as that inflicted upon the Russians at Tannenberg. By Dec. 15 old fighting King Peter was back in the capital of Belgrade and Serbian soil was freed from the foot of the invader.
During the first months of the war German merchant ships were either. swept from the seas or interned in neutral ports, while the German fleet, outnumbered more than two to one by the English battle fleet, was unable to do anything to help them. It was not until the middle of September that Germany was able to strike back on the sea. She possessed in the Pacific, in the neighborhood of her Chinese colony of KiaoChau, a squadron consisting of two armored cruisers of 11,000 tons each and five swift light cruisers of about 3,000 tons each. The Admiral sent one of these light cruisers, the Emden, to the Indian Ocean and the other, the Karlsruhe, to the South Atlantic Ocean to prey upon commerce, while the other five ships of his squadron steamed to the western coast of South America. The boldness and skill of the Emden's commander brought her remarkable success, for in the two months of her career she captured seventeen merchantmen, and, sailing into the harbor of Penang, torpedoed a Russian cruiser and a French destroyer at their anchorage. On Nov. 9 the cruiser Sydney of the Australian Navy found her at the Direction Islands, where she was destroying the cable station, and after an hour and forty minutes of unequal running fight drove her ashore in flames.
An English squadron consisting of a battleship, two armed cruisers, a swift light cruiser, and an armed merchantman reached the western coast of South America in the end of October looking for the German squadron. The English fleet, steaming in advance of its battleships, met the Germans and at once attacked them. The two larger English ships were sunk within an hour without inflicting any particular damage upon the Germans, and their two smaller ships escaped only by flight.
A squadron consisting of two power
ful battle cruisers, three armored cruisers, and two light cruisers was then sent in search of the Germans. The British ships waited for them in the Falkland Islands, and when they appeared on Dec. 8 sunk three of them, the light cruiser, the Dresden, escaping for a few months.
One of the most unusual and interesting naval operations of this period was the assistance given to the Belgians by the British fleet in the battle of the Yser. At the outbreak of the war there were in England three vessels which had been completed for the Brazilian Government for use on the waters of the Amazon. They were heavily armored and carried good guns, but they drew only about four and a half feet of water. The British Government had bought these ships and they were able to sail into the shoal water off the Belgian coast and effectively bombard the German line during the battle, while larger battleships, mounting heavier guns, fired from a greater distance off shore. Submarines could not operate in the shallow water, and the extreme left of the British defenses was held by the British fleet.
Many years ago the poet Tennyson prophesied that in some future war there would be " aerial navies grappling in the central blue," and the German people had expected great things from their Zeppelins or huge dirigible balloons. No other nation had reposed very great confidence in these monstrous airships, and Germany was the only one of the belligerents which was planning to make any very extensive use of them.
From the very beginning, however, all the belligerent nations perceived the enormous importance of the heavierthan-air flying machine. In his very first report, sent home on Sept. 7, Sir John French emphasizes "the admirable work done by the Royal Flying Corps. Their skill, energy, and perseverance have been beyond all praise. They have furnished me with the most complete and accurate information, which has been of incalculable value in the conduct of the operations." The important change in the German direction of march on Sept. 3, which gave General Joffre his chance to strike, was reported by the airmen. They proved themselves of the utmost importance also in directing the fire of the artillery, particularly the larger field pieces, in which the Germans were at this stage of the war superior. This duty of acting as the eyes of the army was to prove the real function of the airmen, and in carrying it out the pilots of both sides were to show a reckless courage in combat among the clouds which makes the reader wish to forget the slaughter which has followed their dropping of bombs upon helpless cities.
Defensive Measures and Domestic Conditions
One of the defensive measures in which the public took the greatest interest was the means taken to frustrate espionage. So far as the writer can judge from the various countries which he visited at the beginning of the war, the terrors which at first chiefly obsessed the average civilian were not at all the terrors of the ordinary risks of war, for he saw Paris under the bombs
of the German airplanes aroused not only to anger, but rather a mysterious anxiety from some unknown danger that might come from the operations of countless spies. The official action taken by Germany and France to meet this danger and relieve this fear has not been described for us, but we have in the communication of the British Home Office on Oct. 9, (printed on Page 790,) an interesting account of what the English Government did. It describes the means taken before the war to ascertain the existing German spy system in England and the means taken since to break it up and prevent the establishment of a new one. These ultimately included the registration of all aliens, restrictions upon the possession of wireless apparatus or carrier pigeons, extension of the powers of the police in all cases of suspected espionage, and the extension of the postal and cable censorship to correspondence with neutrals. There is good reason to accept the conclusion of this document that the amount of actual damage which has been done to the English operations of war by German spies has been vastly exaggerated in the public mind.
One of the most terrible of the domestic conditions of this war is the intense and bitter hatred which has sprung up between the peoples engaged in it. This hatred is far deeper and bitterer than that which marked the last European war in 1870, and, indeed, it is doubtful if any war of modern times has been marked for centuries by such a depth and intensity of hatred. This hatred was principally the product of the first four months of the war. It certainly has not increased since, and there are some things to indicate that it may have somewhat declined in intensity. On the side of the Allies it is chiefly the result of the reports of the conduct of the German armies in the invasion of Belgium and France, of which a specimen may be found in this volume, while discussions of the evidence in the case may be found from both sides in later volumes. One of the most remarkable examples of this passion is the hatred which apred in Germany during these months
against England. It is difficult for an outsider to put his finger exactly upon the cause of this, but it seems to be that the Germans, believing that they were attacked in this war, consider England the cause of the attack. This feeling became incarnate in Ernst Lissauer's "Hymn of Hate," which the reader will find on Page 984.
Economic and Social
The most marked economic effect of the war upon the world during these four months was, perhaps, the progressive and all but complete destruction of the export trade of the Teutonic Empire; for, although it was possible for Austria and Germany to trade with each other, and for Germany to trade by land with Switzerland and by sea with the Scandinavian countries, the paths of the Mediterranean and the Atlantic Ocean were sealed to both of them, and the great port of Hamburg, by the end of 1914, had gone far toward that condition of affairs which today makes her streets almost as dead as those of Pompeii. This has artificially produced a sort of laboratory experiment in political economy on a huge scale; a great nation shut up within an economic ring and reduced to trading with itself, which presents to the professors of that science an extraordinary opportunity for observation and deduction.
In France, where the coalfields and great manufacturing districts of the north fell into the hands of the invader almost immediately, the dislocation of industrial life was enormous. During these months of which we are writing most of the factory chimneys were cold and the spindles still. It was not until the year 1915 that France behind the trenches began, by the use of her women and the reorganization of all her remaining industrial forces, to resume somewhat a normal economic life. In Russia, also, as indicated by the document on Page 834, the war brought an enormous dislocation of industrial life. Poland, with its great manufacturing cities, suffered terribly from the passing and repassing of the Austrian, German, and Russian armies. And in other parts of the empire the lack of fuel, the lack of
transportation, the lack of capital, the lack of raw material, the shutting off of the Austrian and German markets wrought terrible havoc.
One enormous blessing, however, which was both economic and social did come to Russia with the war. A great curse of the Russian people had been the habit of drinking vodka, a fiery spirit whose sale was a monopoly of the Government. The sale of vodka was abolished by imperial decree, and this meant not only the saving of a thousand millions a year, but the prevention of an unmeasurable flood of wasted energy. A similar work was accomplished in France, though on a much smaller scale, by the prohibition of the manufacture and sale of absinthe, a poison disguised as a beverage, of which enormous quantities were consumed by some portions of the French people.
The nation whose economic and social life was the least disturbed, during the months we are now considering, was undoubtedly England. A fleet kept the paths of the sea open to her commerce and relieved her of all fear of invasion, so that she had leisure to prepare for the task before here.
While the Emden and two or three other German commerce raiders still kept the seas, insurance rates rose in England, but after the destruction of these ships rates fell to a very little above the normal level. This low rate was maintained by the action of the Government, which agreed to assume 80 per cent. of the risk which might arise from the acts of the public enemy. An insurance association announced that during a six months' period it had received in premiums over $7,500,000 and paid out in losses only a little over half that sum. Paralysis of banking, which was one of the immediate results of the war throughout the entire European world, was, therefore, very brief in England, and in September she was about the only country in Europe where it was possible to present a check at a bank and obtain gold for it. Indeed, in France not only gold but also silver disappeared entirely. As France had no paper smaller than the value of a $10 bill, the result was an inconceivable degree of inconvenience in Vol. II
the small business of life, which was only alleviated by the issuance from the Government of the equivalent of $1 bills and of a local fractional currency like the old American shinplasters, by all sorts of financial authorities in all parts of France. Never did Gresham's law that, when there are two sorts of money, the bad money will always drive out the good, work so instantaneously as in the early months of the war in France.
The member of the Entente Alliance whose internal condition was most seriously affected by the early months of the war was Belgium. During the period we are considering, all of Belgium, except a little strip in the northwest, was conquered by the Germans, and the resulting condition of the Belgians has been of enormous meaning, not only for the Belgians themselves, but for all the rest of the world. Indeed, whatever view one may choose to adopt as to the causes of the condition of Belgium in German hands, it still remains evident that the devastation of Belgium has produced upon the world in general the most important psychological reaction of the entire war.
Although the Belgians fought with desperate courage, they were unable to do more than delay for a short time the overwhelming armies of Germany. Their once powerful fortresses, built before the latest developments in projectile warfare had begun, proved, before the heavy artillery of the invaders, little more than death traps for their defenders. This was a surprise to the man in the street, but no surprise to the military experts on either side. But the devastation of Belgium has not seemed to the greater part of the outside world simply the devastation incident to the terrible nature of modern weapons. Millions of Belgians fled from their country during August, September, and October, (more than a million into Holland alone,) and they brought with them tales of plundering. burning, and killing of noncombatants. Some suggestion of what the facts of the case are may be gained from the unimpeachable testimony of Cardinal Mercier, a Belgian prelate whose character put his intention to be truthful beyond