The two officers rose to their feet, marched on-
ward, resumed their count of the paces. To right
and left of them rose ghostly figures, stumbling for-
ward. On and on they went, bruising themselves
on sudden obstacles in the black night, the dim uni-
form whiteness of the snow a bewilderment to the
vision. Far away in the mountains of the Austrian
position a livid flash leaped to the sky. The rever-
beration of a gun's discharge rolled heavily and
ominously to their ears, the long hurrying whine of
a shell approached them. There was an instant of
suspense. Were they after all discovered ? The
shell passed overhead to burst far behind, in-
audible. The trench in front was invisible in the
180 PER LA PIU GRANDE ITALIA !
darkness — not a flare, not a rifle -spurt marked its
" Seven hundred ! " Both officers murmured the
number at the same moment.
" Alt ! " The whispered order was passed to right
and left. The line of ghostly figures sank down, was
merged in the ice and snow under the twinkling stars.
" Baionett 9 cann ! " There was a faint rustling, a
just audible click and clink of bayonets being fixed.
Then again silence. The company might have ceased
The company commander and the staff-captain
gazed earnestly to their right front, towards the point
where the other company should be attacking. At
any moment now ! Their comrades had a quarter
of an hour's start, had a rather longer, more difficult
stretch to traverse. But they should have reached
their objective. At this moment stealthy white-clad
figures should be crawling among the stakes of the
entanglements, snipping at the wire. The two
officers stared in the fateful direction — in suspense
for the up-flung flare, the shouts and stabs of flame.
They stared at complete obscurity.
The searchlight on the trench in front leaped out
again to the night, its origin startlingly close. This
time as it swept over them, it illumined the short
heads of the stakes of the wire entanglement that cast
black shadows on the snow which all but submerged
them. They were very near. In the intense light
the white craters of the shellholes produced by the
afternoon's bombardment, hung with broken wire
from supports all askew, gleamed like craters of the
PER LA PIU GRANDE ITALIA ! 181
moon seen in uncanny proximity. Once more the
light swept the glacier, searched doubtfully and was
A sudden shot, off to the right front — a swift suc-
cession of loud reports — woke wild echoes from unseen
cliffs. High up on the glacier, to the left of the
Austrian position, flare after flare was flung into the
sky, eerily illuminant, plucking strange rock-forms
into grotesque relief. There was a fierce shout that
rolled in repeated reverberation, a wild tumult of
voices in a crisis of human lives, copfused shots,
isolated and in irregular volleys, the dull thudding ex-
plosions of bombs. The first company was attacking.
The two officers lying in the snow gazed with fixed
intensity towards the distant fight whose tumult
swelled louder and louder with every moment. The
wild flares continued to soar into the night, but as
yet no rocket — neither red nor green — had leaped
up to tell them of its fortunes. The searchlight in
front shot out again, swept quickly from side to side.
It illumined only the apparently empty, tumbled
desolation of the glacier. But it continued to blaze
out into the night. Both officers cursed it under
their breath. From the trenches they had left, far
behind, rifle-shots rang out, the rapid hammering of
a machine-gun. The reserve company was indulging
in a little tricky target -practice at the searchlight.
It was successful. The beam of light vanished.
At the same moment a little spark of trailing fire
went rushing skywards from the tumult of the flank
attack. It was watched with suspended breath —
green or red ? The rocket burst into an effulgence
182 PER LA PIU GRANDE ITALIA !
of uncanny green light. The cheer which came from
under it was like a ghostly utterance of the cheer
repressed on the lips of the men lying prone and
motionless on the glacier. The colonel's forecast
But now the uproar on the flank increased to a wild
intensity. Incessant were the sharp detonations of
the rifles, the dull thuds of the bombs, mingling with
a clamour of voices, shrieks and yells. No more flares
went up from the point of conflict, but from all along
the trench they soared into the air, symptomatic of
the nervousness of the unseen defenders. Machine-
guns began to rap out their streams of bullets in blind
hazard across the glacier.
The staff -captain pressed himself close to the snow,
Overhead cracked the rapid bullets of the Austrian
machine-guns. The wind that blew over the glacier,
ruffling the loose surface snow on to his face, was in-
tensely cold. He felt himself a heavy leaden thing,
frozen stiff. Over to his right front the savage
noises of the contest, weird and awe-inspiring on
this summit of the world that seemed so uncannily
near to the flashing stars, swelled hideously caco-
phonous. Livid bursts of flame flickered and were
reflected redly on snow surfaces, on black jagged
spires of rock. All along the trench the blindingly
white flares leaped upward, another soaring as its
predecessor circled down in a parabola that illumined
the unearthly confusion of the glacier surface. He
seemed a mortal for ever severed from his fellow-men,
set down in a world that was primitive Arctic chaos,
a paralysed spectator of a contest of fierce mountain
PER LA PIU GRANDE ITALIA ! 183
spirits fighting over spectral issues, remote from the
interests of humanity. A part of his mind harked
back to the warm summer, the green fields, the
somnolent little town of the valley he had left that
morning, and it seemed that those things belonged
to another existence. Yet all the time he gazed
fixedly to the point whence the next rocket should
shoot up. He awaited it as he would await the break-
ing of a spell.
At last ! The trailing spark of fire shot upwards,
burst into hanging globes of red light, the snow rosy
beneath them. On the instant the company was
erect, rushing forward. Leaping, soaring flares from
the trench revealed them — white moving figures
casting black shadows on the white glacier. Spurts of
livid flame, loud quick detonations darted from the
white ridge in front. " Avanti ! Avanti ! Italia !
Italia ! " shouted the commander. " Italia ! Italia !
Savoia ! " came the fierce antistrophe from the rush-
ing men flinging aside their alpenstocks, brandishing
their bayoneted rifles.
They were fighting their way through the deep
loose snow, the wreck of the wire entanglements.
The staff -captain floundered in a white shell -crater
pitilessly illumined by an overhanging flare. The
loose ends of the barbed wire tore at his clothes,
clutched round his legs like tentacles that would hold
him for death to strike. In front the spurts of flame
sprang from a wall of darkness above the white, high
up. Near him was the company commander, extri-
cating himself from the shell-hole, the last of the wire
safely passed. He had a sense of tensely struggling
184 PER LA PIU GRANDE ITALIA !
figures all around him. He, too, got clear of the wire.
He saw the company commander throw up his hands,
roll sideways over the snow, still shouting " Avanti !
Avanti ! Italia ! "
He passed him, took up the cry : " Avanti !
Avanti ! Italia ! La piii grande Italia ! " leading
the company that yelled behind him like a pack of
mountain wolves. He topped the snow parapet, saw
a fierce face glaring up at him in a strange light, a
rifle-barrel levelled. His revolver seemed to go off
of itself, a sharp autonomous detonation. The face
opened a black mouth, sank out of vision.
He sprang into the trench, shouting like a madman.
Behind him came the Italians, tumbling down in
fierce onslaught. One of them struck him violently
on the back as he slid down, knocked him face for-
ward into the snow. As he went he heard a sudden
heavy crash, saw a flare of lurid light. A bomb ! He
picked himself up, only half realising his escape,
fired at once into a dark body that wrestled with a
white-clad soldier. There was a confusion of blows,
of shots, of ear-splitting detonations — shouts, cries,
shrieks. At one moment he was in close contact with
a panting man, warm breath upon his face, eyes
flashing momentarily in the reflection of a rifle-shot,
looking into his — the next the man was gone, there
was space about him. The confusion cleared — there
were bodies underfoot — white -clad men about him
shouting unintelligibly. Further along the trench
another flare went up.
The staff-captain turned to his right along the
PER LA PIU GRANDE ITALIA ! 185
" Avanti ! Avanti ! A destra ! Italia! Italia!"
Behind him followed a rush of fiercely yelling
They were held up by a traverse of snow-covered
rock. A shower of bombs came over it. From a
communication trench a mass of dark figures rushed
at them, shouting with guttural voices. There was
bitter conflict — an ebb and flow in the surge of men.
Then another fierce shout : " Italia ! Italia !
Savoia t " It was the third company flinging itself
in the trench to support the attack.
In the midst of the tumult could be distinguished
the scream of Italian shells passing overhead to burst
dully on the Austrian avenues of approach.
Suddenly the angry dominant note of the babel of
voices changed. Accents of supplication rang out
amid the jarring reports : " Kamerad ! Kamerad ! "
The staff-captain made his way along the deep
dark gully in the snow where motionless figures stood
with arms stretched up above their heads, rifles at
their feet. Ghostly white figures who had retained
their weapons joked at them in rough patois. He met
the commander of the company which had attacked
upon the flank. The trench was completely captured.
There followed a period of fierce toil in the trench.
Under the twinkling stars in the black sky, men
delved at the snow of the parados, cutting fire-steps,
building it up into a breastwork. Behind them little
parties of prisoners, stretcher-bearers and slightly
wounded men, stumbled across the broken surface
of the glacier. The toiling men gave no thought to
186 PER LA PIU GRANDE ITALIA !
them as they laboured to prepare for the storm which
would surely burst.
It came. An ugly hissing rush heralded the first
Austrian shell. It exploded with re-echoing violence
and a great fount of upflung snow right on the newly-
strengthened breastwork. Another and another
followed in a methodical bombardment directed by
calmly judicial gunners ensconced in little huts far
back in the mountains. Amid the nerve -harrying
rush of ever new arrivals, constant explosions, the
men toiled frenziedly. Reserves of ammunition were
brought up. Machine-guns were put in position.
Telephone wires were laid. The fourth company took
up a post on the glacier whence it could rush into the
trench in a counter-attack if needed.
Suddenly the bombardment ceased. The Alpini
crouched behind the parapet, fingering their rifles
with gloved hands, peered out into the indistinctness
of the snow.
There was a rush of dimly-seen figures from the
obscurity, a blaze of fire from the trench. Near the
staff -captain the colonel sat speaking into the mouth-
piece of a telephone. Rush after rush of hurrying
shells passed overhead. Out there on the slope where
an Austrian battalion was surging to the attack,
shrapnel after shrapnel lit fierce sudden flares in the
dark sky. There was again a tumult of voices, a re-
echoing chaos of men at strife. It persisted, swelled,
The silence of an Alpine night rested once more
over the battleground, was broken only by the roar
of a distant avalanche.
PER LA PIU GRANDE ITALIA ! 187
In the twilight of approaching morn an officer made
his tour of the outposts on what had been Austria.
" Chi va la? " rang the sharp challenge of a white -
garbed sentry almost indistinguishable against the
44 Italia ! " came the proud response.
The first rays of the sun gilded the surrounding
summits in the glory of a new dawn.
Hauptmann von Waldhofer, Batteriechef of the
— th Battery Fussartillerie, stood, helmeted and with
buttoned coat, hastily sipping a cup of steaming hot
coffee in his dug-out. The electric light, fed from the
power-station at Cambrai, miles back, illumined a
cosy little apartment. Portraits of the Kaiser and
Hindenburg looked stiffly from the matchboard
walls in the incongruous company of a medley of
coloured pages from Simplicissimus, Jugend, and,
quaintly enough, the Vie Parisienne. One side was
fully occupied by an enormous large-scale map of
the Somme area, divided into numbered squares,
heavily scored with blue pencil here and there, across
which ran a great curve of red lines massed in intri-
cate pattern — the enemy trenches, and radiating
pin-supported coloured threads from a point slightly
E.S.E. of Flers fanwise far across the opposing line.
The battery-made bed, wiremesh stretched over a
wooden frame, sloping slightly from the head down-
wards towards the foot, on which lay blankets in the
disarray of recent use, bulked largely in the apart-
ment. But there was still room for a little table, on
which books and writing material were neatly
arranged, and two comfortable plush-covered arm-
chairs, besides the camp washstand in which the
PANZERKRAFTWAGEN ! 189
water yet steamed. A carpet, mudstained but thick
and soft to the tread, covered the floor. In the
corner remote from the bed was a stove whose long
pipe bent at right angles below the roof and followed
it until it ascended the steep stairway at the entrance.
The deliberate comfort of the dug-out indicated long
residence and the expectation of an indefinite stay.
Only the pick and shovel in readiness by the door
gave a hint of possible cataclysm.
An orderly stood stiffly at attention while his
master finished his coffee. The captain put down the
" What time is it ? " he asked sharply.
" A quarter to seven,* Herr Hauptmann."
" What sort of morning ? "
" Clear, Herr Hauptmann, but very cold."
" Any aeroplanes ? "
" None over the battery, Herr Hauptmann."
The captain gave a final glance at himself in the
French wall-mirror which hung over the table,
touched lightly with his finger-tips the black and
white ribbon of the Iron Cross upon his breast, as
though flickering away a speck of dust, and turned
to go. As he went the hanging calendar caught his
eye. He tore off the top leaf. The date revealed was
September 15th, 1916.
He climbed, with the heavy step of an oldish man,
the narrow steep thirty-tread stairway, and emerged
into the blue sky of a clear dawn. Around him was
bare rolling downlike country. About half a mile
* 6.45 German Summer Time, 5.45 English Summer Time, 4.45
reeqwich Time. The Summer Time was used in all the Armies,
190 PANZERKRAFTWAGEN !
directly in front of him the village of Flers huddled
itself among thin trees, its skeletal roofs silhouetted
against the blue. Between him and it, but close at
hand in a slight depression of the ground, the four
105* mm. guns of his battery stood spaced and
silent under veils of a gauzelike material tufted with
green and brown that blended well with the terrain.
Inconspicuous even to a side view, thus covered they
were invisible from above. Near them were stacks
of ammunition also shrouded. Save for a sentry
the guns were deserted. The personnel of the
battery was lined up in two queues, where the
smoke of a couple of field kitchens betokened
The battery dug-outs were excavated in the breast
of a slight swelling of the downs, their exits looking
N.W., on the flank of the gun positions. The battery
commander stood for a moment surveying his little
community banded for the service of the four veiled
idols lying unhuman and aloof from the domestic
needs of men. Then, following his morning habit, he
turned and climbed the little rise of ground. On his
accustomed view-point he stopped and gazed west-
ward. Before him, clear in the cold early light, the
undulating downs gathered themselves into a long,
fairly regular ridge, some two miles distant at the
summit. A maze of communication and support
trenches, just visible, criss-crossed their white lines in
the chalk of the hither slope. On the skyline of the
ridge directly west a large clump of bare, shell-
sharpened tree-stumps broke its emptiness. It was
* The well-known 4-2" gun.
PANZERKRAFTWAGEN ! 191
the Bois de Foureaux.* Further south a similar
group of stumps spiked up into the sky — the Bois de
Delville.* That clean-swept landscape mounting to
the desolate skyline was the great dominant fact in
his existence. Ever concrete in his mind, it claimed
his first waking vision even as the weather horizon
claims the first heed of the sailor, or Vesuvius the
morning glance of the Neapolitan. This morning it
lay cloudless — save for the towering smoke of an
occasional shell -burst in the vicinity of the Bois de
Foureaux — and strangely quiet. The whole wide
stretch would have seemed untenanted by man had
it not been for the occasional primrose twinkle of a
field-gun's flash. The reports of such guns came in
isolated slams at varying intervals. To his right an
English shell hurried with a long-drawn whine to
burst heavily in Flers. Far back several enemy
aeroplanes, tiny specks in the cold blue sky yellowing
to the dawn, were dodging like midges among a
smother of little brown shell puffs. From overhead
came the drone of a German machine. But, by con-
trast with the frequent uproar which welled out of this
region to translate itself into long thick smoke along
the ridge, the scene was curiously clear and silent.
Satisfied with his scrutiny, the Captain turned and
descended again to the battery position. He passed
along the line of dug-outs in the flank of the rise until
he reached one whose entrance bore the notice
" Fernsprecher und Befehls Unterstand "f neatly
* Known to the British Army as High Wood and Devil's Wood
t Telephone and Command Dug-out.
192 PANZERKRAFTWAGEN !
painted on a board. The Oberfeldwebel standing at
the doorway sprang to a precise, heel-clicking salute.
The officer acknowledged it curtly and dived into the
Here yellow electric light replaced the cool grey
dawn and tobacco smoke floated in long wreaths
about the bulb. A young lieutenant, seated at the
telephone instrument on the table, took the pipe out
of his mouth and rose smartly as his superior
" Good morning, Eberstein," said the captain.
" Anything fresh ? "
" Nothing, Herr Hauptmann," replied the lieu-
" Nothing of this rumoured attack ? "
The captain seated himself heavily at the table
and the lieutenant was at liberty to resume his
" And that frightful bombardment all last night,
Eberstein, what do you make of it ?" he asked as he
lit himself a cigarette.
The mouth under the fair moustache of the young
lieutenant twisted into a contemptuous smile.
" Bah ! the Englanders want to make us nervous
or to persuade themselves that their wonderful ' great
push ' is not played out."
The captain blew out a long puff of smoke and
nodded his head in dubious thought.
" And you think it is ? "
Von Waldhofer, a man of somewhat deliberate
mental processes, was never unwilling to discuss
PANZERKRAFTWAGEN ! 193
general topics with his subordinate. Eberstein's
cheering, if crude, optimism was a welcome stimulus
" Of course it is," said the lieutenant. " Since the
first rush they have been practically fought to a
standstill. Here it is two and a half months since the
offensive began and where are they ? Now in one
week on the Donajetz we "
" Yes, I know, Eberstein," his superior interrupted
him. " You did wonders. But it is the Somme and
not the Donajetz that interests us now." He removed
his helmet and passed his hand wearily over a high
semi -bald brow. " I wish I could be as certain as you.
These Englanders do not know when they are
beaten " He stopped, then broke out again with
the over -emphasis of a man wearied with long brood-
ing over a problem. " The colonel was so positive
last night ! And he had just come from the General
Staff. At dawn, he said, we might expect it. I can't
make it out. All night that frightful bombardment,
obviously preparation. Then this quiet ! I feel
something is coming." He shook his head. " We
are much too near in this position."
" If they come, so much the better ! " cried Eber-
stein. " We will annihilate them. But I do not for
a moment believe "
He was stopped by a heavy distant roar that com-
menced with the suddenness of a thunderclap and
continued in one never-ending roll.
" There we are ! " exclaimed von Waldhofer. He
looked at his watch. It marked 7 o'clock precisely.*
* 6 a m. English summer time.
194 PANZERKRAFTWAGEN !
A moment later the telephone bell rang in an
excavated offshoot of the main dug-out. The orderly
on duty there answered the call. " Message from the
observation officer ! " he announced in a loud voice.
Eberstein picked up the receiver lying on the table
in front of him.
11 Yes ? "
" Intense artillery fire all calibres upon entire
sector. Whole front being heavily bombarded.
Infantry attack expected momentarily."
Eberstein repeated the message, and ere he had
finished the battery commander had sprung to the
door of the dug-out, shouting his orders. He heard
them megaphoned on by the sergeant-major above.
Out there in the first rays of the sun the four squat
idols had shaken aside their veils, lay surrounded by
tensely waiting acolytes. The moment for their
dread speech was at hand.
In the electric-lit dug-out the two officers sat
silently listening to the distant storm. It rolled in
one unnerving continuous thunder. Not their duty
was it to reply. They were detailed for barrage upon
a particular sector. But near at hand the heavy
detonations of guns told off for counter -battery work
followed one another ever more quickly. Near at
hand, too, came the long whine and crash of the
English counter -battery shells hurled in reply.
Again the bell rang and again the telephone orderly
called out. " Speak to battalion commander,*
please ! "
* German Heavy Artillery is organised in ' ' Bataillons " of four
PANZERKRAFTWAGEN ! 195
This time von Waldhofer picked up the receiver
" J a, ja ! We are all ready ! " he said. " Yes.
It is coming this time. No. No further message.
Oh, yes, we are in communication. No ? Have you
heard anything definite ? No. I wonder if there's
any truth in it ? Good-bye." He put down the
receiver and turned to Eberstein, stopping for a
moment to listen to the roll of the hostile bombard-
" That old story again !* You remember we heard
it before the first of July ? Some wonderful invention
the Englanders are supposed to have for annihilating
us all. I wonder if there's anything in it ? "
The lieutenant laughed mockingly.
" The Englanders invent anything ? Not they !
Besides, I don't believe in the possibility of any new
invention that can revolutionise war. Just think !
Here have all the nations of the world been fighting
for two years, and what new inventions have we
seen ? None ! There have been perfections and the
rediscovery of old methods — that's all. What is the
Zeppelin but a perfected Montgolfier ? It is neither
the first nor the only dirigible even ! Poison gas and
liquid fire — what are they but the stinkpots and
Greek fire of the middle ages, rediscovered and
brought up to date ? There is nothing, can be nothing
really new ! "
* The Germans had apparently heard rumours of the coming of
the "Tanks." It was asserted in the Army on the 16th September,
that a motor-cyclist carrying a definite warning had been killed by
one of our shells in the early morning of the 15th, on his way from
H.Q. to the front line.
196 PANZERKRAFTWAGEN !
Von Waldhofer shook his head.
" You are very positive in all your ideas, Eberstein.
I don't know. The English do get hold of new things
sometimes — it is true that generally they leave it to
us to make use of them. But these rumours are so
persistent ! They are vague, I admit. Yet where
there is so much smoke there is generally a fire. We
are very close here. Just listen to that bombard-