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Fifteen Minutes on the Yser
Scene of Desperate Fighting
"N BELGIUM, Dec. 12, 1914, (Dispatch to The London Daily News.)-Fighting of an exceedingly desperate character has been taking place during the latter portion of the week along the line which extends between the Yser and the Lys. Success has attended the efforts of both Germans and French in turn; but the losses of the enemy have been by far the greater, and the French have in places gained a slight advantage. This is particularly noteworthy when it is considered that the Germans on Thursday especially attacked in overwhelming force time after time. Their movement was concentrated on a zigzag line of trenches not far from the village of Dichebusch, which, as it happened, was not particularly strongly held by the French.
A terrific prelude to the attack was made by the German artillery, which concentrated a furious shrapnel fire upon the French position. At this point the trenches of the Germans were only seventy yards from the French, and for fear of hitting their own men the German guns were aimed fairly high, so that the Frenchmen in the rear trenches suffered most heavily. Those in the front trench huddled against its sides while the storm of shot and shell raged over them. There was nothing else for them to do at the moment, and, as it proved, it was extremely fortunate for the Allies that the German guns spared these men.
The French seventy-fives raked the German batteries in answer, and things were going hot and strong when the German infantrymen suddenly became active. From their trenches seventy yards away a shower of hand grenades came bowling over toward the first French trench. Many of them fell short, and few did any damage; but hardly had this second plague come to an end when
out from the trenches climbed a swarm of Germans rushing furiously toward the Frenchmen. At last the men in that first trench had something to do. They jumped to their loopholes and blazed magazine fire into this raging, tearing attack. Every bullet seemed to find its mark; it could hardly have done otherwise at such a range.
The advance line wavered, stumbled over prostrate parts of itself, and then swept onward again. There was no time for the Frenchmen to reload their rifles; besides they did not want to do So. They simply climbed out of the trenches and met the Germans with the bayonet. The German guns were still roaring to prevent the arrival of French reinforcements; but the reinforcements came quickly, suffering heavily in coming.
The few Frenchmen still struggled sturdily with their enemies, who outnumbered them three to one, and eventually the Germans who survived the attack turned and bolted back to their trenches, with the Frenchmen, seeing red, at their heels.
It was as furious a fifteen minutes as could be conceived. The No Man's Land between the trenches was heaped with men tangled and twisted in death or writhing with wounds which unmercifully let them live. Neither side dared venture across to aid these sufferers, so they were left in their agony.
But this one desperate charge did not end the day's work. The French mortars thumped away incessantly, and showers of hand grenades were exchanged. One more attack was made by the Germans in daylight, with a like result. The ground was piled high in places with bodies. Then, when night had fallen, yet another attack was made. One mighty mass of Germans came
charging over the narrow space. By sheer weight of numbers they overwhelmed the French and took the trench for which they had paid such a ghastly price. They held it only for a few hours. By converging on it from three points at once the French retook it soon after midnight.
On Friday morning a wonderful French bayonet charge at length drove out the Germans, who had fought most gallantly and stubbornly throughout the day and during the night and the terrible morning which followed. The Red Cross workers were busy without ceasing; but many men had bled to death, lacking surgical aid, in that strip of ground between the trenches.
This is the kind of warfare which is going to be waged in this seemingly inevitable battle between the two rivers. It may last as long as the battle of the Yser or the Aisne, and we may wait day after day again for the verdict. the Allies can press forward just three or four miles before the year is out they will have done extraordinarily well. Hereabout the German artillery is in greater strength than anywhere else along the whole line of battle.
Progress will undoubtedly be slow because the Germans have taken such tremendous pains to pave (in a literal sense) with concrete trenches the way of retreat. British airmen report line upon line of intrenchments where the Germans have defensively furrowed the land behind them for miles. As the Allies advance and they indubitably will advance- -these trenches will in turn be stubbornly defended. It is going to be, I am afraid, a long, weary, and bloody business. Those in England who sometimes complain at the absence of decisive victories may have to wait a long time yet before it can be said that the Germans are in full retreat; for full retreat is the very thing they have guarded against most carefully.
In the semicircle of slaughter around Ypres the trenches of the Allies and the Germans are at nearly all points extraordinarily close together. This means an immense strain on the men. They remain for hours together in cramped, unnatural positions, knowing from experience that an unwise move will bring a bullet from crack marksmen told off to snipe them.
This close proximity of the rival forces confounds all the theories of the military writers of the past. According to the army textbooks this war is being conducted in a grossly unprofessional manner. For bringing his men so close to the enemy many a young company commander has received a severe dressing down on manoeuvres.
Of course under such circumstances abuse and bandinage are continually being bandied across the intervening spaces between the trenches, and the quickwitted Frenchmen generally get the better of it in the war of words.
One of them, who came back from the Ypres neighborhood a few days ago, told me a delightful story of a practical joke played upon the Germans, who were intrenched only about thirty or forty yards away from his platoon. One bright spirit was lecturing the enemy and making dialectical rings round them.
"Hola, bosches," he cried, "your Kaiser is very brave, isn't he? He wears the Iron Cross, but he doesn't come into your trenches. Tomorrow M. Poincaré, our President, will visit us. He does not wear an Iron Cross, but he isn't afraid."
On the morrow the Germans saw a top hat come bobbing and bowing along the French trench and heard loud cries of "Vive le President!" Time after time they riddled that top hat with bullets, and still it went bobbing along until the French took it off the spade handle, threw it into the air and howled in derision.
Nieuport Under Shell Fire
By an Eyewitness
URNES, Dec. 21, 1914, (Dispatch to The London Daily News.)For several days I have been in possession of an authorization from the French commandant permitting me to penetrate to Nieuport.
This town has been under bombardment by the Germans since Oct. 20. There were days, however, when no shells fell in the town and a walk in the streets presented no danger, though this was by no means the case last week, when, after a period of calm, an event of considerable importance occurred. The Allies took up the offensive in an effort to drive the Germans from the coast and recapture Ostend and Zeebrugge.
Along the whole front from the Yser to the sea there were important movements of troops. These I am not at liberty to describe, but they have for the most part only a small significance in relation to the events described in this letter. For eight days the struggle has been very severe on the Yser, and night and day hundreds of guns have been sending shells across the space dividing the two armies. Since the end of October the Germans had been established at St. Georges and Lombartzyde, close to Nieuport, and their trenches between Nieuport and Nieuport-les-Bains were separated from those of the French and Belgians only by a canal twenty yards wide running from Furnes through Nieuport to the sea.
I left Furnes on a French motor truck carrying bread and meat to the troops at Nieuport. For about three miles the truck followed the canal, passing the village of Wulpen, and then came to a stop. We had arrived near the bridge over which we must pass to reach Nieuport. As we slowly approached the bridge I asked the chauffeur: "What is
delaying us?" "It is a little too warm for the moment,” he replied.
When a soldier admits that things are warm it is certain that there is serious fighting afoot. To the right and left over the fields we could see the inundations. On the roads our soldiers were moving and the guns of the Allies were filling the air with thunder. In the intervals one could hear the spitting of quickfirers and the lesser chorus of rifle fire. Just ahead on a little bridge were a few soldiers of the engineer corps busily at work under the direction of a Lieutenant.
Suddenly I saw them fall flat on the ground. At the same moment a shell whistled over their heads and buried itself in the canal bank only forty yards from us.
"Shelter your machine behind the house," shouted the Lieutenant, and the chauffeur did not want a second telling. He backed the truck a few yards to place it against a house opposite the bridge at the corner of the road from Ramscapelle.
I left the truck and stood with some soldiers close against the wall. In five minutes fifteen shells fell within a radius of 100 yards of the bridge, but not one struck the bridge itself. We could hear them come shrieking toward us, and the only comment of the soldiers each time was 66 Here comes another."
We passed over the bridge and advanced along the canal bank in the direction of the Germans. As we approached the trenches near the Dixmude railway bridge we were able to survey the plain of St. Georges, which is now completely under water. For a moment the firing between the trenches had ceased, and we were able to take a leisurely view of the scene from the height of the bridge over an area half
a mile square. The water is three feet deep, and in the centre of the lake stands a farmhouse surrounded by trees. French and Belgian soldiers had crossed the water, advancing under the protection of artillery fire, and had captured the houses standing on the far side.
Returning to our motor, we quickly reached Nieuport. The aspect of the place was strange. The houses, as in all ancient fortified towns, press closely one against another. The streets, however, are wide and regular. They were as empty as the streets of a dead city. In the roofs of the houses were large holes. Windows and doors had been destroyed, and blinds and curtains were floating out on the wind.
To my great surprise I learned that four or five houses were still occupied. About twenty inhabitants, I was told, were still living in their cellars after the two months' bombardment. The soldiers did what they could to feed these people, who said that rather than leave their homes they would perish in the ruins. The rest of the inhabitants, about 4,000, had fled, taking with them only what they could carry in their hands. In every house one could see broken furniture covered with dust. In many of them gaping holes had been torn by shells, while some of the front walls had been carried clean away. Bedsteads and wardrobes were seen standing awry on the upper floors, ready to fall into the street. Of other houses, reduced, one may say, to powder, only heaps of rubbish remain, in which one can distinguish among pieces of tiles and brick and plaster chests of drawers, pianos, sideboards, sewing machines, and so forth, broken and mixed with what is left of household linen and crockery. Family portraits, as if in mockery, remain hanging in places and contemplate the scene of ruin. The contents of the shops have been scattered over the floors, and whatever has not been destroyed by shells, shrapnel, and bombs, has been left to rot under the rain which comes through the roofs and ceilings. All sorts of merchandise was lying about in confusion on the pavements.
The church, one of the oldest Gothic monuments in the country, has been completely demolished. The belfry tower is torn open, and one broken bell is lying on the ground at the edge of a pit some thirty feet in width, made by the explosion of an enormous German shell. A
large wooden crucifix by the side of the church has been torn from the ground and lies in a ditch.
There is a layer three feet deep of pieces of wood covering the floor of the church. This was once the roof and furniture of the old Gothic temple.
The cemetery, furrowed by shells, contains fresh graves covered with flowers. These are graves of officers and soldiers. On one of them are a soldier's coat and cap; on another a small Belgian flag. The second grave was dug only this morning, the young soldier, I was told by a Sergeant, having arrived at 8 o'clock and having been killed by a German shell at 10.
Only one structure in Nieuport remained intact, the Templars' Tower, a very solid piece of masonry, five centuries old.
Groups of officers and men were moving about among the ruins of the town. They were all young men, whose laughter and jokes contrasted grimly with the terrible howl of the guns and the crash of the projectiles which were still falling in the town. The French batteries added to the noise. Nothing can describe the terrible power of the heavy French artillery. The voice of the guns pierced my ear drums. Though they were posted at a considerable distance, one might almost think them close at hand. As a shell. passes over your head it reminds you of a hurricane blowing through the bare branches of a forest.
Accompanied by my chauffeur, I ran through streets which he pointed out as being more dangerous than others. They were being shelled from the flank by the Germans, and sometimes, I was told, accidents would occur; that is, somebody would be killed by a shell flying along the street from one end to the other. One feels one's self much more at ease in the
streets which intersect these thoroughfares at right angles.
In one spot I met a Red Cross motor ambulance laden with wounded, and going in the midst of the gravest danger in the direction of Furnes. At another
point we saw a French Captain, who, in a stern voice, ordered his soldiers to keep away from the middle of the street. These men were not on duty for the moment and were chatting as merrily as if they were in no danger.
Raid on Scarborough Seen From a Window
By Ruth Kauffmann
LOUGHTON, Scarborough, England, Dec. 17, 1914.-It's a very curious thing to watch a bombardment from your house.
Everybody knew the Kaiser would do it. But there was a little doubt about the date, and then somehow the spyhunting sport took up general attention. When the Kaiser did send his card here yesterday morning it was quite as much of a surprise as most Christmas cardsfrom a friend forgotten.
Eighteen people were killed yesterday morning between 8 o'clock and 8:30 in the streets and houses of Scarborough by German shrapnel, 200 were wounded, and more than 200 houses were damaged or demolished.
A little before 8 o'clock three dreadnought cruisers were seen to cut through the light fog, which was just lifting, and, hugging the cliffs opposite our house, scuttle south to Scarborough. From our windows we could not at that hour quite make out the contour of the ruined castle, which is generally plainly visible. Our attention was called to the fact that
there was "practicing" going on, and we could, at 8:07, see quick flashes. That these flashes pointed directly at Scarborough we did not for a few minutes comprehend. Then, the fog slowly
lifting, we saw a fog that was partly smoke. The castle grew into its place in the six miles' distance. It seemed for a moment that the eight-foot-thick Norman walls tottered; but no, whatever tottered was behind the keep. Curiously enough we could barely hear the cannonading, for the wind was keen in the opposite direction, yet we could, as the minutes crept by and the air cleared, see distinctly the flashes from the boats and the flashes in the city.
After about fifteen minutes there was a cessation, or perhaps a hesitation, that lasted two minutes; then the flashes continued. Ten minutes more and the boats began to move again. One cruiser disappeared completely from sight, sailing south by east. The other two rushed, like fast trains, north again, again close to our cliffs; and in another half hour we heard all too plainly the cannonading which had almost escaped our ears from Scarborough. We thought it was Robin Hood's Bay, as far north of us as Scarborough is south; but afterward we learned that the boats omitted this pretty red-roofed town and concentrated their remaining energy on Whitby, fifteen miles north; the wind blowing toward us brought us the vibrating boom. We drove to Scarborough. We had not