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Turks to launch their futile blows at British power.

The builders of the British Empire, working according
to circumstances and without any fixed plan, built better
than they knew. Like an edifice whose facade is still in-
cumbered and incomplete, the fabric of British power
reveals but slowly its organic form and outline. In un-
conscious conformity with a mysterious design, the archi-
tects have reared a mighty vault, encompassing the Indian
Ocean with Australia and South Africa as bases, the Malay
and African possessions, Arabia and the Straits Settlements,
as voussoirs, and India as the keystone. The fabric owes
much to the element of Boer loyalty. "The stone which
the builders rejected, the same is become the head of
the corner."


The Autumn of 1917 in the West

Changing methods of warfare : the tactical problem in the West ; the
contest between offensive and defensive resources ; the original German
superiority in artillery superseded by the Allies ; various innovations in
the engines of war; the evolution of the German defensive system.
Disposition of the British armies in the summer of 1917. Continuation of
the Battle of Flanders : Allied attacks of August 16th, September 20th and
26th, October 4th, 9th, and 30th, and November 6th ; the results. The
summer of 1917 on the sector of the Aisne. French offensive in the Ver-
dun region. French autumn offensive on the Heights of the Aisne. The
British Cambrai offensive : new tactics applied in the attack, November
20, 1917; initial British successes; powerful German counter-offensive
and British retirement. The great Austro-Hungarian attack against Italy,
launched October 24th ; errors of the Italian High Command ; the Caporetto
disaster; Italian retreat to the Piave; the amazing reaction of the nation
and the army; failure of the renewed Teutonic efforts. Reflections on
the campaign.

Attention has been given in preceding volumes of this
work to the general methods of warfare prevailing in the
earlier stages of the conflict. But these methods underwent
fundamental changes in the subsequent course of oper-
ations and it would be impossible to grasp the culminating
events of the war without an understanding of the trans-
formation gradually evolved from the conflicting efforts of
the antagonists.

Although the center of interest shifted for a time from
the Western to the Eastern theater, the Western front
retained at all times the most elaborate organization. The
immense strength of the defensive lines in the West,
covering, as they did, the entire zone of conflict from
the North Sea to Switzerland, preventing any turning


28 The Great War

movements, the keenness with which every possible advan-
tage in this theater was seized upon and utilized, and the
lack for so long a time of a decisive superiority on either
side created in Belgium and France the most engrossing
problems of the whole war. The Western front became
the great experimental laboratory where the shrewdest
intellects on both sides vied in frenzied competition for the
progress of the science and the art of war. The tactical
evolution of the Great War must be studied principally in
the West, and the opposing aims of the contestants in this
theater furnish the logical basis for the investigation.

At the beginning of the war the movements of the
Germans were doubtless guided by purely military motives.
Believing that the conflict would soon end in a decisive
victory which would give them whatever they coveted,
the German leaders would scarcely have been influenced
by political objectives in devising the actual plan of military
operations. The German hosts were first launched with
terrible momentum against the most prompt of Germany's
antagonists, but, contrary to reasonable conjecture, France
threw back the invaders. Germany, loath to risk the
doubtful issue of a long struggle, for which it was imper-
fectly prepared, vainly drew its strength together for re-
newed efforts in the West. But after the failure in Flanders
in November, 1914, the first military power of Europe
virtually acknowledged that its original design had been
frustrated and turned its main aggressive force against its
Eastern assailant. The struggle in the West passed into a
warfare of positions lasting down to 1918, in which the
chief aim of Germany was to hold the Western Powers in
check and thus gain time to beat down the other oppo-
nents and win the prizes of victory in eastern and south-
eastern Europe, while the object of the French and British
was to crush the German barrier and expel the invaders

" Pigeons.

« ' Crapauds ' ' toads.

" Ordinaries/' general type with club handles. r/iree types of German hand grenades

captured by the French.

The Autumn of 1917 in the West 29

from Belgium and France. With the single great excep-
tion of the German offensive at Verdun we may consider
the action of the Allies as the chief impulsive force in the
development of the warfare of positions in the West.
The Allies' constant preoccupation was to surmount the
opposing physical obstacles and overcome their antagon-
ists' resistance, while the Germans were mainly engaged
in counteracting the successive efforts of the Allies and
in meeting every increase in hostile attacking power with
a corresponding augmentation in the effectiveness of their
own defensive.

The Great War came at a crucial moment in the devel-
opment of the applied sciences. Technical achievements
were just maturing which would inevitably revolutionize
the entire field of military tactics. No one had appreciated
in full the nature and extent of the approaching transfor-
mation and the first months of the war were a period of
uncertainty for all the belligerents. But the Germans, in
consequence, partly, of their own discernment, and partly,
of a casual combination of circumstances, were better pre-
pared than their adversaries for making the most of the
situation. The initial superiority of the Germans was
most marked in their artillery, which greatly exceeded the
French artillery in numbers and contained a vastly greater
proportion of heavy pieces. The Germans had already
become convinced of the great importance of long-range
field artillery of heavy caliber and they had not only far
outdistanced their adversaries in the strength of this class
of their artillery, but had developed the theory of fire and
become thoroughly proficient in the manipulation of the

At the beginning of the war the regular German field
artillery provided two regiments for each infantry divi-
sion, namely, three battalions (9 batteries) of the standard

30 The Great War

77-millimeter field guns and one battalion (3 batteries) of
the 105-millimeter field howitzers, altogether 144 light
guns and field howitzers for each army corps. Including
the 33 horse batteries (4 guns each) the light field artillery
of the active army numbered, therefore, more than 3,700

Upon mobilization, the twenty-five regiments of Fuss-
artillerie, heavy field, siege, and fortress artillery, each
regiment consisting of 2 battalions of 4 batteries each, pro-
vided the 25 battalions of 150-millimeter howitzers forming
the organic heavy artillery of the active army corps, 9 bat-
talions of 210-millimeter mortars attached to the armies,
12 battalions of siege and fortress artillery, likewise assigned
to the armies, and 4 battalions of coast artillery; altogether,
200 heavy batteries (800 pieces).

The lighter field artillery was immediately increased by
reserve and Landwehr units, while each active regiment of
the Fussartillerie mobilized a reserve regiment bearing the
same number, the process providing altogether 16 organic
battalions of the reserve army corps, 30 battalions of siege
and fortress artillery, and 4 battalions of coast artillery.
While the number of German infantry divisions was doub-
led from the close of mobilization down to December 1,
1917, the ratio of heavy artillery batteries of all kinds to
infantry divisions was more than doubled in the same

The Germans had already distinguished and studied the
two characteristic functions of the heavy artillery, the
destruction of the enemy organization before the attack
and the suppression of his artillery during action.

With the French the army corps had a complement of
120 75-millimeter field guns. The heavier artillery was all
assigned to the armies. In spite of the arguments of a
few earnest advocates of heavy field artillery, the French

The Autumn of 1917 in the West 31

command had remained comparatively indifferent to this
important development in the German army down to the
very eve of the Great War. The most influential French
authorities placed supreme confidence in the excellence of
their standard 75-millimeter field gun, w^hich was superior
to the German 77-millimeter piece in precision and rapidity
of fire. Prepossessed by the traditional faith in French
impetuosity as the dominant military quality, they stead-
fastly opposed giving an important place in the field to any
element that might detract from rapidity of movement.
The French army possessed several types of larger field
pieces which had to be mounted on platforms, involving at
least a day's delay. Howitzers of 120- and 155-millimeters
had been designed for firing without such special platforms,
but only one modern rapid-fire field piece of heavy cahber
had found a place in the regular organization of the French
army, namely, the 155-milHmeter Rimailho howitzer, in-
vented in 1904. The French had 21 batteries of Rimailhos,
or 84 pieces, as compared with the 400 pieces of similar cali-
ber in the heavy field artillery of the German active army
(25 battalions of 4 batteries with 4 pieces in each battery).
The Rimailho was rather cumbersome and itc range of
6,500 meters was distinctly inferior to that of the corre-
sponding German piece, which was of 8,500 meters. Alto-
gether the French had only about 300 heavy field pieces
as compared with 800 in the active German army alone.

French artillerists maintained that the effect of long-
range fire against unseen targets would not justify the
expenditure of ammunition involved. Their doctrine did
not recognize the possibility of destroying the enemy artil-
lery when it was under shelter. French field regulations,
drawn up as late as 1913, declared: "The infantry con-
quers and holds the ground .... Artillery fire has
only a minimum effect against enemy under cover. To

32 The Great War

compel the enemy to expose himself, he must be attacked
by the infantry." But in 1916 General Petain declared:
*'In the warfare of the present, the artillery conquers the
ground, the infantry occupies it." A revolution in theory
and practice intervened between these two statements.

At first the fundamental importance of the heavy field
artillery was somewhat obscured. The Germans, as well
as the French, had formed no adequate conjecture of the
enormous expenditure of ammunition by modern artillery.
Lack of ammunition for their heavy pieces was one of the
causes for the defeat of the Germans in the Battle of the
Marne. The Germans had assumed that 4,000 rounds of
ammunition would suffice for each heavy piece throughout
the war. Before the close of September, 1914, they faced
a veritable ammunition crisis. Nevertheless, their heavy
artillery thwarted the efforts of the Allies at the Aisne, and
the stabilization of the Western fronts brought the heavy
artillery on both sides into a unique position of importance.

The Germans, who dug themselves into the soil of
Belgium and France, had to be blasted out by explosives
dropped from the sky, projected from artillery, or dis-
charged in mines in the ground below. But for more
than two years attention centered on the heavy artillery
and the increasing offensive power of the Allies was
measured in terms of strength in this class of materiel.
The war in the West became a contest between the de-
structive capacity of fire and the resisting power of the
defensive organization.

The situation of France in the face of the vital problem
of the offensive was desperate. The Germans boasted
that they had deprived the French of 40% of their coal,
90^ of their iron-ore, 80% of their steel, and 80% of their
industrial equipment suitable for warlike purposes. Un-
dismayed by this appalling handicap, the French set out to

Field-marshal Sir Douglas Haig.
K. T., G. C. B., G. C. V. O., K. C. I. E.

The Autumn of 1917 in the West 33

revise their tactics, develop their w^ar industries, and make
up for Germany's enormous lead in the matter of artillery.
They accomplished a miracle of improvisation. The adap-
tation and development of French industry for purposes of
war was a splendid achievement of intelligence, fortitude,
and patience in the face of adverse physical conditions.
Skilled labor which had been mobilized was judiciously
transferred from the trenches to the factories. The num-
ber of women employed in munitions plants increased
from 41,000 on June 1, 1915, to 300,000 on January 1, 1917.
The Allied command of the sea enabled the French to im-
port coal and iron from England and Spain. The chemical
and powder industries, which had long been dependent on
Germany, were made self-sustaining. Plants utilizing the
water power of the South of France were established for
deriving nitrate from the air. The daily output of shells
was gradually increased from 5,000 to 250,000, of which
60,000 shells were of heavy caliber, and the earlier ratio
of three shrapnels to one shell was reversed to meet the
requirements of position warfare.

The conditions of trench warfare not only imposed a
complete change in the use of artillery but compelled the
French to create the scientific basis for the action of
their artillery. They had to win efficiency in all forms of
terrestrial and aerial observation, construct battle-maps of
all the enemy positions from the sea to the Swiss boundary,
develop the technique of fire adjustment on invisible tar-
gets by means of balloons and aeroplanes, improve their
signalling equipment to the point of installing wireless
telegraphy on aeroplanes, and organize their liaison system.
The native talent for precise calculation won for them a
position of preeminence in the science of ballistics. Most
of the natural sciences were ransacked for data bearing on
ballistic problems and as far as possible the efi^ects of all

34 The Great War

the natural factors that might influence the fire of artillery
were reduced to mathematical formulae. The theory and
practice of all the Allies in the n7atter of artillery were
largely derived from those of France.

The new French lOS-miUimeter field batteries made
their appearance at the Battle of the Yser. Early in 1915
tractor batteries of 155-millimeter guns and 220- and 270-
millimeter mortars were organized.

For the Champagne offensive in the winter of 1915 the
French concentrated only 100 pieces of a caliber of 95-
millimeters or larger. During the operations in Artois in
May and June, 1915, the number was still less than 400.
But more than 1,100 of the heavier pieces were engaged
in Artois and Champagne during the offensive of the fol-
lowing September. From August, 1914, to June, 1917,
the French heavy artillery organized in regiments was in-
creased from 300 to 6,000 pieces.

It was usually reckoned in 1916 and 1917 that the pre-
paration and execution of an attack required the expendi-
ture of 300-400 rounds for each piece of 75, 200-300 for
each piece of 155, and 80-100 for each piece of 220 or 270.
The enormous expenditure in demolition fire may be ap-
preciated by the estimated need of 300 shells of the 155-
millimeter guns for the destruction of every 100 meters of
trenches. Sometimes the total daily consumption of pro-
jectiles by the batteries of a single army corps with both
divisions engaged represented a weight of 1,200 tons.

But heavy artillery was generally unsuited for destroying
the first line trenches, because it could only be used at a
considerable distance and this involved dispersion of fire
and waste of ammunition. To meet this difiiculty the
Germans invented the Minenwerfer, or trench mortar,
soon after the institution of position warfare and the
Allies followed their example. Trench mortars are usually

The Autumn of 1917 in the West 35

smooth bore muzzle-loaders, of a great variety of calibers,
firing, at high angle and short range, projectiles with
powerful explosive charges. They are very destructive
of trenches and defenses of every sort. The projectiles
usually have vanes forming a tail-piece to maintain their
direction through the air.

In the period of the fully developed offensive tactics
with preliminary bombardment the mission of the various
forms of artillery was quite clearly distinguished. The
trench mortars, usually in or near the second trench line
of the first position, battered the enemy front lines; the
light field artillery, behind the first position, demolished
trenches, supported the assaulting waves of infantry with
barrages, and repulsed counter-attacks of the enemy; and
the heavy artillery, further to the rear and at various dis-
tances, according to its size and range, executed the demo-
lition fire for the destruction of the enemy works, the
deep shelters, redoubts, and communications. Eventually
the French had in the field thirty different types of heavy
artillery ranging up to 520-millimeters in caliber.

The British, like the French, had to be forced to the
conviction that victory was impossible without supremacy
in artillery. The War Office was slow to comprehend the
vastness and the real nature of the demands of the new
warfare and the censor left the public in complacent
ignorance of the perilous situation at the front. A coura-
geous journalist. Viscount Northcliffe (Alfred Harmsworth),
owner of the London Times and Daily Mail, defied popular
resentment and the rigors of the law in revealing the true
condition of affairs without the sanction of the censor,
reflecting upon the sagacity of Lord Kitchener, an idol of
the British people, and showing how thousands of troops
were being sacrificed through the obtuseness of the War
Office in sending largely shrapnel, which was almost useless

36 The Great War

in trench warfare, instead of the indispensable high power

The government was driven to far-reaching measures.
The preceding volume described the creation of the Min-
istry of Munitions in May, 1915, to be animated by the
quickening genius of Mr. Lloyd George, followed by the
Munitions Bill and the mobilization of British engineering
resources through the system of "controlled industries."
Towards the end of 1916 the weekly British output of
155-millimeter shells was three times, that of 200-milli-
meter shells five times, and that of 230-millimeter shells
three times as great as during the whole first year of the

The chief tactical innovation of the British was the tank,
conceived and built by Sir William Tritton and first used,
as we have seen, on September 15, 1916, in the Battle of
the Somme. The chief motive for its invention was the
impossibility of destroying all obstacles to the advance of
the infantry in attack, such as machine-gun nests and
barbed wire, by even the most thorough artillery prepar-
ation. The tanks, waddling across the contested terrain,
rooted out the enemy machine-gun nests with the remorse-
less imperturbability of swine devouring rattlesnakes. The
French made use of tanks for the first time in the fighting
on the Aisne, April 17, 1917. Their chief success was later
with quite small tanks carrying only two men.

It must not be supposed that during the period of posi-
tion warfare in the West the Germans merely responded
to the efforts of their opponents or were content with
simply keeping their original advantages. On the con-
trary, their action in defense was characterized at all times
by remarkable originality, initiative, and boldness, and, while
winning their most sensational victories elsewhere, they
matched the ingenuity of the Allies in France and Flanders.

British tank unable to climb out of a German trench near Cambrai.

Tankdrome and supplies.

The Autumn of 1917 in the West 37

Allusion has already been made to some of the German
innovations, such as the gas cloud. The Germans them-
selves improved on this device in their gas shells, bombs,
and hand grenades. The use of gas in projectiles was
generally more satisfactory than in the cloud, because so
used it could be applied with greater flexibility and pre-
cision and independently of the weather. The Allies fol-
lowed the Germans in the various uses of gas and in some
respects improved upon their methods. Gases of many
kinds were eventually produced, classified, according to
their effect, as lachrymatory, suffocating, and asphyxiating.

The effects of the Allied efforts and the adaptability of
the Germans were reflected in the evolution of the defen-
sive organization of the German front during the period of
position warfare in the West. The necessity of absorbing
the ever more violent shocks of the Allied offensives
brought about a gradual transformation from the earlier,
comparatively thin, hard-crusted front, described in pre-
ceding volumes of this work, to the later deep defensive
system with its chief resisting strength drawn back towards
the rear.

In a general way this evolution may be divided into the
following four stages:

I. The period down to October, 1915. The first posi-
tion with two or more lines of trenches and shelters was
backed by the reserve or supporting position, and about a
mile or more behind the latter there was usually a third
position. The excavated shelters were supported by
wooden beams and roofed with two or three layers of
logs, the space above being filled with earth. The greatest
stress was laid upon holding the first position and recover-
ing it at all costs if it were taken by the enemy.

II. October, 1915, to October, 1916. The Allied offen-
sive in September, 1915, had shown that the breaching of

38 The Great War

the German front was a physical possibility, and in fact at
one point a British unit had actually penetrated all three
positions. The events on the Somme in 1916 were a still
more cogent argument for increasing the power of re-
sistance of the front. A general reorganization was car-
ried out with much greater depth. The heavy artillery
and trench mortars compelled the defenders to bury them-
selves deeper. Shelters and casemates were now rebuilt in
reinforced concrete. Narrow-gauge tracks were exten-
sively laid for the replenishment of the front lines with
ammunition. Six hundred German position batteries were
organized from the autumn of 1915 to that of 1916. One
of the results of stationary warfare was the loosening of
the organic connection of the artillery battalions with the
army corps. The artillery unit performed its function at a
given point on the front rather than with a particular
army corps. The batteries usually remained in the same
positions when the army corps to which they had origin-
ally been attached were shifted. The Fussartillerie be-
came exclusively an organ of the army. The infantry
division received an amount of heavy artillery proportion-
ate to the activity on its sector. Batteries were assigned to
active sectors in the ratio of from four to six for each
kilometer of front, and to quiet stretches in the ratio of
six to eight for each divisional sector. Machine-gun nests
became increasingly numerous.

III. October, 1916, to June, 1917. The lessons of the
Battle of the Somme were now fully manifested in the
defensive organization. The fronts were deepened into
broad fortified zones in which the defensive was becom-
ing more and more elastic, the first position being only
slightly held. The cohesion of the hostile attacks was
broken by machine-gun nests in checkerboard forma-
tion before reaching the really vital defensive positions.

The Autumn of 1917 in the West 39

These machine-gun nests were known as pill-boxes by
the British.

IV. After June, 1917. The buffer system of absorbing
the force of the attack by echelonnement in great depth
now reached its fullest development. The continuous
first line was replaced by a series of detached positions
in shell-craters or small redoubts. Following these in
succession were the pill-box belt, a strong system of wire
entanglements, and usually three organized combat zones
usually two miles or more apart, so that artillery prepar-

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