G.

The last lap online

. (page 1 of 5)
Online LibraryGThe last lap → online text (page 1 of 5)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


THE LAST LAP



THE LAST LAP



"G"

WITH PREFACE BY E. B. O.






LONDON : ANDREW MELROSE, LTD.

3 YORK STREET, COVENT GARDEN, W.C.2

1917



First published in 191 7



PREFACE

THE articles which are collected in this
little volume appeared in the Morn-
ing Post and many other journals of conse-
quence in England, Scotland, Wales, and
Ireland, and in the Overseas Dominions.
They were written with the sole intention
of explaining the precise position in the
Western theatre of warfare, and convincing
the man in the street and the man at the
club window that the defeat of Germany
is inevitable, if only the necessary efforts
are made by the people of this country.
They have already helped to strengthen
the national '' will-to- win," and it is hoped
that republication in a more permanent
form will widen the scope of their appeal.
The initial *' G '' veils the personal
identity of one who, though not a soldier,
has lived with soldiers for most of his Hfe,

7

- ^-42982



PREFACE

and is the keenest student I know of war
in all its aspects. His studies have been
carried on, not in libraries, but on the field
of battle — for he has served as a war
correspondent in many parts of the world
and seen the evolution of modern methods
with his own eyes. At the same time he is
conversant with the treatises of the true
war experts— ^.^. the soldiers — and is an
admirer of Clausewitz, whose great work on
the scope and intention of national warfare
— as distinguished from the dynastic war-
fare of the eighteenth century and earlier
ages — is indispensable to all students of
the military art.

'' G " himself would probably flatly
refuse to be classed as a war expert. If,
however, it is possible for anybody who
has not led an army on the field to be a
war expert (which I take leave to doubt),
then '' G's/' long and varied experience
and his unquestioned capacity for the life-
work he chose, or which chose him, entitle
him to that somewhat perilous appellation.
I should like to set down here some of the

8



PREFACE

tributes which I have heard paid to the
man and his work by officers of high rank.
But he has a soldierly distaste for personal
compliments, and I have no wish to risk
the loss of a friendship which I value
highly.

'' G '* is one of those men who would
sooner do anything than write — something !
Only a patriotic sense of national necessity
could ever have persuaded him to write a
whole series of articles embodying all that
he has seen and heard in the course of
recent visits to the Western front. That
his survey of the position there, and of the
prospects of the Allies, meets a national
necessity seems to me an undeniable fact.
It will count for more than any pronounce-
ment on the part of the politicians who, it
must be confessed, are somewhat cold and
chary in their appreciation of the glorious
deeds of the British Army. In the near past,
again, the comments of high-placed poli-
ticians on questions of military fact — e.g. in
regard to the Dardanelles — have so often
turned out to be dictated by political con-

9



PREFACE

siderations that we have got into the habit
of drastically discounting their eloquence.
Even the German mark has not depreciated
to the same extent as political oratory in
this country.

Where, then, are we to find a trustworthy
guide to the facts of the situation ? Pessi-
mists and optimists pour into us an enfilad-
ing fire of fallacy and falsehood ; every day
breeds its bewildering rumour ; and the
greater stresses that are now beginning
have made many of us the victims of war
weariness. The national reserve of nerve
power is already being drawn upon ; as is
evident from the great excitement caused
by the recent air raids, though they did not
result in any military advantage to the
enemy. At such a time and in such cir-
cumstances ''G's" articles, so obviously
the work of a competent and disinterested
observer, with no politics at the back of
his mind, come like a breath of fresh air
into a sick-room. He tells us that the
British Army is winning the war, has
already got the Boche beaten. Our men

10



PREFACE

are superior at every point of the game to
the Germans ; even in material equipment
they have an advantage which is bound
to increase, as time goes on, provided our
workers at home do their duty by their
brothers at the front.

The Old Army, alas ! is no more. It was
the Nation in miniature and it died glori-
ously, having first saved England's honour
and the world's civilisation. The Old
Army is no more — but its soul goes march-
ing on and is embodied in the New Army,
which is the whole nation, and ever since
the Somme advance has been winning the
most amazing victories. All this '' G "
tells us with the simple sincerity which
lends to words and phrases the weight and
power of things and actions. Not only
does he tell us we are winning, but he also
explains the how and why of it all. He
gives us hard facts and clear figures.
Above all, he confutes that popular fallacy,
rooted in civilian ignorance of the con-
ditions of fortress-warfare with millions of
men on either side and thousands of guns,

II



PREFACE

which assumes that an army is unde-
feated as long as it can avoid a war of
manoeuvre.

The German line is still, it is true, con-
tinuously held. That is because, as '' G''
tells us, the utterly wrecked areas which
are abandoned by the enemy, whenever
and wherever a British thurst is driven
home, must be organised, before they can
be occupied and made the starting-point of
a fresh attack. This gives the enemy time
to prepare other lines, which, however, are
necessarily inferior to the old ones in
strength; so that he steadily goes from
bad to worse. Once the true nature of this
multitudinous ultra-modern form of warfare
is grasped, it is evident that the Boche
is being beaten — that the immobilisation
which Bloch intelligently anticipated is
slowly but surely breaking up. " G's " doc-
trine is confirmed by all the famous French
authorities. Their final verdict is the same
as his — On les aura, pourvu que les civils
tiennent. (We have them, if only the
civilians stick it out.)

12



PREFACE

It is in his final article, a summary of
the situation as a whole in what has been
called '' The Battle of Europe," that the
duty of the men at the back is most clearly
indicated. The men at the front are all
doing their duty, and stand in no need
of exhortation. Sir Douglas Haig, having
forged a weapon of power and precision,
is proving that he can use it to good purpose.
The Allies hold together staunchly ; Russia
will never make a separate peace, and now
shows signs of a drastic reorganisation.
The war is won, if we will only win it.
But complete victory is only possible if
England makes any and every effort and
makes it now.

Germany will not go down without a
ruthless use of all her remaining resources.
The fate of the Hohenzollern dynasty, and
of the system it has created and controls,
is in the balance. No sacrifice will be
grudged to save this last of the autocratic
thrones. Meanwhile the desperation of
Germany is shown by their '' f rightfulness "
by land and on the sea and in the air. The
13



PREFACE

'* U ''-boat campaign, which the extremists
insisted on, was the first act in a ruthless
endeavour to force England into a mood
favourable to submission and so apply the
third axiom of absolute war according to
Clausewitz. The air raids over London
form another part of the same plan of
terrorisation.

There will be new horrors, no doubt ; the
resources of Germany's scientific savagery
are not yet exhausted. But all this fright-
fulness will achieve nothing, or less than
nothing, if the civilian population keeps its
nerves steady, and insists that all the re-
quirements in men and munitions of the
army are supplied without loss of time.
*' G " shows us that loss of time is the great
thing to be avoided. '' I will give you
anything but time," said Napoleon, who
knew that delay was the deadliest sin in
war. And ''G" makes an all-important
point in his final article when he rebukes
the men who govern us for not understand-
ing the nature of the men governed, who
have never in all their history failed to give

14



PREFACE

a splendid response to any honest, frank
appeal for sacrifices in a great cause.

That the war is won, if we will only win
it, is ''G's" inspiring message to the
nation. But the final defeat of a desperate
Germany can only be achieved, if we go all
out for victory. Chess, the most exacting
of all games of skill, supplies a parallel.
Experts often speak of a '' won " game
at chess ; meaning that, taking into con-
sideration the forces and disposition of
forces on either side, the one player has
only to use his advantages aright to beat
the other. But the chess expert invariably
adds that there is nothing so hard as to
win a '* won" game at chess. It is so as
regards this war ; when the German people
awake, as they appear to be awaking, to
the real position, the probability is that
they will put up a tremendous struggle
against the inevitable. It will be hard
indeed to win this ''won" war. But if
those who govern and those who are
governed follow ''G's" advice, nothing
can prevent us from reaping the fruits of a
15



PREFACE

great and glorious victory and bequeathing
to our children and children's children a
century of peace and prosperity. The
alternative is an indecisive peace which
would leave Germany firmly seated astride
Europe and sooner or later enable her to
wage a war of extermination against us.
Shall we sell the victory prepared for us
by so many deaths for the unreal comfort
of a peace guaranteed only by yet another
'' scrap of paper " ? Or shall we follow
'' G's'' advice, and dare and endure until
a felon enemy is powerless for future mis-
chief ? There can be only one answer.

E. B. O.



i6



CONTENTS



PA6B

7



Preface

Introductory: The Main Strategy 21



CBAPTER

I. Man behind the Front

II. How We Stand in the West

HI. Our Infantry

rv. Messines

V. German Man-power

VI. The German Moral

VII. The " Will to Win



39
53
63

n

93
107
127



B



17



^



INTRODUCTORY: THE MAIN
STRATEGY



19



INTRODUCTORY : THE MAIN
STRATEGY

THE title of this book requires some
explanation, without which, per-
haps, the succeeding chapters would fail
to give the right perspective. The question
which the reader would naturally put to
himself is whether we are in the last phase
of the war, and, if so, what is the reasoning
that leads me to this conclusion. I will
try to set forth the arguments for the
assumption that we are nearing the end,
and the reader can judge for himself
whether they are convincing or not.

Before everything, it is necessary to
judge this war not merely by its present
results, but by the intentions of the enemy.
Has he succeeded up to the present, or has
he failed ? These are the questions which
every student of war must ask, for they go

21



INTRODUCTORY :

to the root of the matter. The man who
sets out to walk forty miles at a stretch
and completes thirty-five has done very
well, but he has failed in his original plan
all the same. Germany did not begin
this war without having a very definite
plan and a most elaborate time-table.
She had prepared for the conflict a long
time ahead. Nothing was left to chance,
and as far as the most perfectly organised
General Staff, working at their ease, with
the great advantage of being able to choose
their own moment for striking, could
foresee there was no contingency for which
ample provision had not been made.

Let us examine closely the German plan
of campaign. A good deal more is known
about it than most people think. Captured
documents and the frank statements of
German officers have confirmed the in-
formation already in possession of the
General Staffs of the Entente. The in-
tention, roughly speaking, was to hold
the Russians until the main German forces
destroyed the French armies. There was

22



THE MAIN STRATEGY

no question of making Paris the main
objective. The Germans plainly realised
that the whole of France, Paris included,
would fall into their hands once they had
utterly defeated and destroyed its organised
defenders. The advent of England into
the struggle may not have been foreseen
by the German diplomacy, but it was
taken into account as a likely contingency
by the German General Staff. The Higher
Command argued that within the period
fixed for the utter defeat of France, the
small British Army would hardly matter
one way or another. It might, as it did,
oblige them to use a few extra corps, but
this additional force they always had '' up
their sleeve'' as it were.

Whatever offensive naval operations
against France which the German Ad-
miralty had planned, were admittedly frus-
trated by England's declaration of war.
This aspect of our part in helping our
gallant French ally has never yet been
properly studied. No one would wish
to belittle the part played by those
23



INTRODUCTORY :

splendid first divisions of ours, for they
have won undying fame in the world and
the eternal gratitude of France ; but our
Navy not merely conveyed the Expedi-
tionary Force, but freed the left flank of
the French and British armies from all
anxiety. It might be turned on land (and
it was very nearly) , but it could never be
turned from the sea. How far the plans
of the German General Staff were dis-
located by this we do not know, but we
may be quite sure that alternative plans
to |meet and defeat on land the British
intervention were in the pigeon-holes of
the German War Office.

The first phase of the war was the defeat
of the German General Staff plans, con-
ceived years before and studied in the
minutest details. The Boche armies in
France were given a definite plan and a
definite date when they were to finish
their work. By November 21st, 1914 —
that was the date fixed — it was decreed
that the French armies were to be utterly
defeated, that France was to be overrun
24



THE MAIN STRATEGY

and sternly held, and that by the spring
or summer of 1915 the Russians were to
be brought to their knees. It was to be
a short, sharp war, to last eight or nine
months.

How these plans were defeated at the
Marne we all know, but we do not all know
that it was not abandoned by the Germans
as impracticable until November 21st.
After retreating to the north of the Aisne,
the Germans made a wonderful effort to
carry out the time-table. Holding the
bulk of the French armies in trenches
from Alsace to Soissons, they swung round
their left in an endeavour to outflank
them on the west, and roll them up. They
proclaimed to the world that their object
was to take Calais, but of course their
object remained the same as it was when
they invaded Belgium — the defeat and
destruction of the enemy forces in France.

The story of the failure of this magnifi-
cent effort does not need to be told. At
Ypres the British and French forces stayed
the onslaught and the position was saved.

25



INTRODUCTORY :

To the day and the hour of the time-table,
November 21st, the Germans began to
move their divisions east, in spite of the
fact that they had failed, and failed badly,
to carry out the original scheme. This
ends what must be regarded as the first
phase in the great war.

The winter of 1914-15 was occupied by
the Higher Command in revising com-
pletely their war plans. All was not lost
in their eyes, because of the failure of
their campaign in France. There still
remained Russia to be dealt with, and,
if possible, to be defeated. Accordingly
the attack on her eastern enemy was
prepared with Teutonic thoroughness. It
must always be borne in mind that it is
invariably the object of all military opera-
tions to defeat the enemy's forces in the
field and render them impotent. Mere
gains of territory follow as a result, but are
not the main object. This is well set forth
by Clausewitz :

** We have already said that the aim of
all action in war is to disarm the enemy,
26



THE MAIN STRATEGY

and we shall now show that this, theo-
retically at least, is indispensable.

" If our opponent is to be made to comply
with our will, we must place him in a situa-
tion which is more oppressive to him than
the sacrifice which we demand ; but the
disadvantages of this position must natur-
ally not be of a transitory nature, at least
in appearance, otherwise the enemy, in-
stead of yielding, will hold out, in the
prospect of a change for the better. Every
change in this position which is produced
by a continuation of the war should there-
fore be a change for the worse. The worst
condition in which a belligerent can be
placed is that of being completely dis-
armed. If, therefore, the enemy is to
be reduced to submission by an act of
war, he must either be positively disarmed
or placed in such a position that he is
threatened with it. From this it follows
that the disarming or overthrow of the
enemy, whichever we call it, must always
be the aim of warfare.''

The Germans failed to achieve this in
27



INTRODUCTORY :

their 1915 campaign against Russia. They
gained great tracts of territory, obtained
innumerable advantages, but, thanks to the
skilful handling of the Russian armies,
they did not succeed in getting their
objective. We may therefore say that it
was an abortive campaign.

But it did not mark a distinct phase in
the war because the Central Powers still
retained the initiative and their enemy
was still on the defensive. It is true
that both the French and the British
undertook offensive operations on the
Western Front in 1915. But although we
attacked at Neuve Chapelle, and the French
in Champagne, in March, the Germans,
with their new diabolical gas invention,
took the offensive at Ypres with some
success. The French made progress and
on the Dame de Lorette took Souchez a
little after we made the attack at Loos.
But all these affairs were of minor import-
ance, though they showed that the British-
French armies were not content to remain
altogether on the defensive.
28



THE MAIN STRATEGY

The Central Powers still, however, re-
tained the initiative and the power and
will to undertake great offensive opera-
tions. The Higher Command having failed
to bring Russia to her knees in 1915,
devoted the winter to the study of another
great movement which, had it been at-
tended with success, would undoubtedly
have had very great results. The French
armies had been sorely tried, but the
growing strength of the British forces
had become an increasing cause of anxiety.
Falkenhayn, who was at that time Chief
of the German General Staff, decided on
a very bold attempt to smash right through
the French line just where it was con-
sidered to be the strongest.

The German attack on Verdun began
in February igi6, and lasted some four
months. The heroic defence of the French
frustrated the intention of the Higher
Comm^and, and for his failure Falkenhayn
was dismissed and Hindenburg took his
place.

We are still too near the chief events of
29



INTRODUCTORY :

this war to be able to see things quite
in their proper perspective ; but Verdun
stands out unmistakably as the end of the
second phase of this awful war. And for
two reasons chiefly. It was the last great
offensive movement of the German armies
in the West, and it proved, beyond all
question, that the Frenchman was a better
man than the German.

Falkenhayn's conception was not merely
bold, but it also had a tinge of genius in it.
Verdun had stood the assaults of 1914,
and, to a lesser extent, of 1915. It was
in the eyes of the French an impregnable
position. To force lines of such strength
and to beat through the defences in a
direct line to the south-west, was calculated
to dispirit the whole of the French armies.
The boldest course is often the best, and
Falkenhayn's thrust was one of magnificent
audacity. It failed, not for lack of prepara-
tion or of foresight or for any defects in
the planning of it, but simply because the
French would not give way, whatever the
cost. How they stood, and |later regained

30



THE MAIN STRATEGY

all their losses, will be to the glory of France
for all time.

But the greater the effort the greater
the reaction. Germany tried, and tried
hard, and failed. She sought a decision
at all costs and found none. Henceforth
she was thrown on the defensive, and the
initiative passed from her hands into the
hands of her enemies. While the fires of
Verdun were still smouldering, Sir Douglas
Haig and the French launched their great
offensive on the Somme.

It was the turning of the tide. It marked
the beginning of the last phase. At last
England was ready. Guns, munitions, men,
were there in plenty to ease the gallant
Frenchman of some of his burdens. For
the first time the German tasted the quality
of the British soldier, no longer hampered
by lack of munitions but able to send
over shell for shell, and a good deal more.
The German took it badly in a few cases,
and in all cases showed that, with the
tables turned, he was by no means a super-
man. It is a curious and remarkable fact
31



INTRODUCTORY :

that from the earUest days of the war
(I was near Ypres in 1914) our men never
would concede to the German soldier any
sort of personal superiority. A sergeant
of a battalion that had come out of that
awful carnage in the final fighting at
Ypres in 1914 some 120 strong, in recount-
ing his adventures, remarked at the end :
'' But, mind you, sir, we are the better
man/' Thenceforward one heard it every
day.

Now it would be a great mistake to
undervalue the qualities of the German
soldier. I have frequently seen prisoners
come in, and, on looking at their faces,
dull, uninspired, and in many cases brutal,
the first thought that comes is : *' Your
discipline exactly suits you." And in this
case the first thought is right. These men
require and deserve a discipline that no
civilised nation would stand. The sense
of instant obedience is part of their nature.
Kindness from their officers would be
misunderstood for weakness. They seem
to regard life as an ordered thing. If

3^



THE MAIN STRATEGY

they are ordered to die, they will go and
die. If they are ordered to fire on their
surrendering comrades they will do it
without a qualm. But once the restraint
is off, and they are free from the menace
of their own officers, they surrender freely
and joyously. They are most tractable
when captured, and the only difficulty is
to keep them from fighting among them-
selves. With some few exceptions, they
hate the war, and those in their own
country who are responsible for it. But
they will never become revolutionaries.
They simply have not got it in them.

But the iron discipline remains. We
must make no mistake about it. That
discipline is an enormous factor in the
fighting, and it makes the German fight
stoutly and resolutely. If it ever goes,
the German Army will crack up like an
empty walnut-shell. But it will continue
as long as Germany is ruled as she is at
present. The German must be hammered,
and well hammered. That is the only
thing which appeals to him. We have
c 33



INTRODUCTORY :

got to make him more frightened of our
guns, machine-guns, and men than he is of
his officers, and then we may see a debacle.

The third and last phase of the war
began with the great Somme battle. The
immediate result of it, speaking in military
terms, was the retreat on to the Hindenburg
Line and the liberation of a large tract of
French territory. Always bear in mind
this retreat, for it marks a very distinct
step in the German degringolade. To go
back, in some places, as much as twenty
miles, was no triumph for Hindenburg and
the Pan-German party in Germany. It
was the greatest blow they had received
during the war, and it was felt very keenly.
In studying the German Press of that
period, one came across every now and
again an expression of a feeling that was
almost despair. But the Press was well
drilled and it was claimed as a '* Hin-
denburg trap'' — which, by the way, the
majority of the German people never be-
lieved.

The winter of 1916-17 found the Higher

34



THE MAIN STRATEGY

Command in Germany for the fiYst time in
the history of the war devoting their atten-
tion mainly to the details of a retreat and
the preparation of a defensive warfare. In
March 191 7 the German Army was stronger


1 3 4 5

Online LibraryGThe last lap → online text (page 1 of 5)