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potentially or immediately available. Russia had great
numbers of men, but scant facilities for training and
equipping them as soldiers. Germany could put into the
field in a short time 4,000,000 soldiers, without superiors
in the world. Military tradition and years of training
were needed to make such fighting men as hers, and having
them thus ready for a sudden stroke, it was extremely
probable that her army could conquer any combination,
while her enemies were trying to create forces to fight her.

If it required two or three years to make well-trained
soldiers, it took much longer to produce capable officers.
Without skilled ofiicers to lead the men no great war can
be won, and without a large force of reserve oflBcers no
conflict can long be carried on with any success. One
reason for the failure of the Russian armies after the first
year was that then most of the trained oflBcers with whom
Russia began the war were dead or in German prison
camps. In 1914 Germany, of all the powers, had the
largest number of trained oflBcers, and by far the largest
number of officers in reserve.

Much more difficult than the getting of capable officers
or well-trained soldiers was the building up of general
military organization, creating a general staflF, and finding
commanders who could lead large numbers of men. All
the Great Powers had attempted to do this, and some of
them Hke Russia, and especially France, had achieved
much success. But in Germany the prevalence of military
atmosphere and the long-continued military tradition
and devotion to the science of war had given the largest
number of higher commanders possessed by any nation.
In the end it was seen that no German general displayed
that sort of genius which entitled him to be remembered
among the first military captains of the world, none like



THE GREAT WAR



453



the great Erencliman, Focli; ])ut no (jtlicr i)()\vor had so
many leaders of corps and divisions and armies who had all
the advantages given by patient study of military things.
In this, the result of generations of work, Germany had
something which none of her enemies could create in a
short time when the need came.

When the conflict began Germany had tlic largest
amount of military equii)nient in the world, and the
greatest facilities for immediately adding to her stock.
Men and leaders are indispensable for winning wars,
but the bravest soldiers only give themselves up to slaugh-
ter if, without proper weapons, they fight against enenu'es
well equipped. Millions of Russians were to fall because
the Russian armies were often half armed. Modern ar-
maments are very different from those of earlier times.
In the Middle Ages weapons were comparatively simj)le,
easier to make, and less expensive. Man}- a man had his
sword or bow then, and armies could be quickly raised
because men could quickly get weapons and assemble to-
gether. But the scientific and industrial development of
modern times, especially the latter part of the nineteenth
century, introduced many strange, complicated, and
costly devices, which were not generally in the possession
of the men of the commonwealth, could not be quickly
made, and were only to be got by skilled workmen laboring
for a long time. Rifles, shells, cannon, explosives often
required a year or two years to make. When the United
States entered the war later on, the first year was largel}'
spent in preliminary preparations and getting the delicate
tools, and it was two years before Great Britain was able
to have in France a large army provided with rifles and
cannon. Indeed, the great service of France was to be
that in the west she would hold Germany back while
England, and later America, prepared themselves to fight.
In the east Russia, not similarly defended, was almost
completely destroyed in the first two years. It is clear



Material
for war



War
material
difficult
to obtain



454



EUROPE SINCE 1870



Immense

superiority
of the nation
possessing
war
materials



Railroads
in war



now that a nation provided with the enormous and terrible
death-dealing de\aces of the latest age can probably con-
quer all of its enemies unprepared before they have time
to equip themselves with the implements needed for de-
fense. That is what made the Great War such a critical
period in the history of civilization: had Germany
triumphed, she might have conquered all her rivals and
then never allowed them to arm themselves, and so main-
tained her domination for ages. At all events, it seems
that Germany had prepared for the contest so thoroughly
that when she took the field she had more of the material
of war than existed then in all the rest of the world.
Where the Russians had one rifle for each three soldiers,
she had three rifles for each soldier of hers. In heavy
cannon she was beyond all others, and she had accumu-
lated shells, barbed wire, and military apparatus in quan*
titles incredible and undreamed of.

Germany had the best system of military railroads in
the world. Strategy is essentially the moving of armies.
Napoleon and other great commanders won their principal
victories by swiftly putting superior forces where they
could take the enemy at a disadvantage — in the flank, or
across his communications in the rear, or putting two or
three men where the enemy had one. Formerly this had
been done by the marching of infantry, as quickly as
possible over the best roads. But in the latter part of the
nineteenth century, by which time the best land com-
munication was over railroads, it was evident that rail-
ways would be of immense importance in the moving of
armies, and this was indeed seen to be the case in the
American Civil War (1861-5). Nowhere was this lesson
taken to heart so well as in Germany, where more and
more the railroads were laid out with respect to military
considerations. By 1914 there was a magnificent system,
controlled by the government and, when necessary,
completely subject to the military authorities, radiating



THE GREAT WAR



45;



out from Berlin 1o all Ihc irnporlaiit f(jrl resscs and points
near the frontiers, while just within the boundaries, some-
thing like the rim of a wheel, ran eonnecting lines along
which bodies of men might be swiftly moved back and
forth. Russia and France had their military railroad
systems also, but not so well-developerl as the (Jerman.
It was by means of this system thai (icniiaii\- inuhvi at
Belgium the nn'ghty army which so nearly cni^licd France
at the beginning of the war. Because of it her armies in
East Prussia were repeatedly able to disconcert larger
bodies of Russians moving more slowly. And, because of
the advantages which her railroads gave her, Gennany was
soon able to take from France and Russia the best of their
railroads available for campaigns against her, thus [)aralyz-
ing them almost completely.

Germany had at the beginning of the war the most ex-
tensive system of spying and secret propaganda in the
world — though all the great nations employed these de-
vices, and some had them highly developed. In Belgium
the work of the armies had been prei)ared in advance.
Artillery distances had been very accurately measured,
and concrete foundations for great cannons had been put
under tennis courts or factory buildings. In France,
socialists were encouraged to prevent or confuse mobiliza-
tion. In Egypt, Morocco, India, and Ireland malcon-
tents had long been urged and were now encouraged to
rise against England or France. In Russia, it is said,
huge bribes were offered to commanders who would sell
their fortresses, and it was afterward learned that most
of the plans of the Russian annies were sold by traitors
to German spies, who also paid bribes to keep munitions
from being dispatched to the Russian armies.

The Central Powers had the advantage of position.
They were adjacent, and could easily act together; the
Allies were separated, and for a long time acted separately.
The Germans had the central position and tlie "inner



The German

railway

system



Spies



Central
position



456



EUROPE SINCE 1870



The

Entente has
command of
the sea



Superior
resources



lines," much as France had had in the War of the Spanish
Succession. The Germans could move over short lines
and strike in anj' direction quickly; the Allies had the
longer lines. Roughly- speaking, the Germans could move
along the radii of a circle, the Allies had to move around
the outside.

On the other hand, the Allies had certain advantages
which often seemed too little to bring them success against
the victories of the German armies, but which, in the end,
jaelded complete triumph. Above all, they had command
of the sea. The Allies were more or less widely separated.
Their essential communications with one another lay over
the water. If these communications were ever cut, they
could certainly be beaten one after the other. That
period of the war which seemed most hopeless for the
Allies was when German submarines threatened to sever
their lines of communications on the water. But the
Allies always kept command of the sea. In this work the
vital and indispensable factor was the British navy.

The Allies had greater resources. At the beginning of
the war it looked as if Germany and Austria-Hungary
were hopelessly outmatched in population and resources
of materials and money. Germany was, however, ready
for a sudden stroke, and she was so successful at the
start, that by the end of the first year she had taken
possession of districts in Belgium, France, and Russia
which were of immense importance for the carrying on of
a European war, and which gave her for a time a
decisive advantage. The resources she then had under
her control enabled her to make twice as much steel
and hence twice as much armament and munition, as all
her opponents combined. In 1916 and 1917 many of the
best judges thought it impossible that Germany could ever
be defeated. All this was changed by the entrance of the
United States into the conflict, after which presently the
Allies once more had decisive superiority in resources.



THE GREAT WAR



4.57



However many factors may have entered inlo tJie war,
the conflict presently assumed the charjieter of a e(jnlest
between two different types of civilization and mind, in
which the democratic systems of France, Britain, and
America, with their larj^e allowance of personal liberty
and individual initiative, were matched against the su-
perbly organized and efficient autocracy of the German
Empire. In the end it was found that the democratic peo-
ples showed greater tenacity of purpose, higher intelli-
gence, and far greater power of adaptability and invention.
Every one of the frightful devices, such as poison gas and
submarines used against merchant ships, was met, and
checked, and in the end excelled by new devices more
effective still.

Such were German methods and German ideals that it
seemed to the Allies that a German victory would bring
the destruction of the democratic and humanitarian
systems toward which men had so long been striving. The
Allies seemed almost hopelessly defeated after two years
of the war, but always the cause for which they were
struggling nerved them to hold fast and fight on longer.
Backward Russia was the only one of the Great Powers on
the Allied side to drop out. It seemed to the Allies that
the world would scarcely be a fit place to live in if what
the Germans had done was sealed with success. And
always, too, they were supported by the evident sympathy
of most of the neutral peoples, and by the fact that,
one after the other, neutrals were joining to support
their cause. The Germans had no such moral support as
this. They believed their cause a good one, but in a
different way. They were strong in courage and con-
fidence, in the midst of success, but when the war began
to go against them decisively, they did not persist as
France had done, almost against all hope, but collapsed
completely before the fighting even reached their frontiers.

The German plan of campaigoi had been arranged long



Initiative
and

inventive-
ness



Tenacity
and moral
courage



458



EUROPE SINCE 1870



The German
plan of
campaign



Entrance
into France



before 1914. The armies of the Empire could be
mobiHzed more quickly than those of any other power,
so that Germany could always strike before any of her
foes. This advantage, joined with the advantage of in-
terior position, enabled her to strike at her enemies as she
chose, and attempt to destroy them separately. She had
planned to crush first the enemy most immediately dan-
gerous, and afterward turn upon those who could not
move so quickly, and destroy them also. The first attack,
then, must be upon France, who had an army not so large
as the German, but exceedingly good, and who could,
perhaps, mobilize almost as rapidly as she. Therefore,
the Germans designed to make an immediate and terrible
thrust, hoping that France would be crushed in less than
two months, after which would come the turn of the
Russians, slow moving but mighty, who would in any
event be held by the Austrians while France was meet-
ing her fate.

But for the success of this plan the indispensable condi-
tion, it was thought, was that France should be over-
whelmed without any delay; and it would not be easy to
do this, since the frontier between France and Germany
was short, and strongly fortified on both sides — on the
French side there was a line of fortresses from Verdun
do^Ti to Belfort, just as across the frontier on the German
side they stretched from Strassburg down to Neubreisach.
Here the French were prepared to resist, and probably
their positions could be forced only after delay and enor-
mous losses. Accordingly, for some years it had seemed
possible that when Germany next attacked France her
armies would march through the valley of the Meuse, the
best of all entrances into France from Germany, even
though this line of march lay across the territory of
Belgium, whose neutralization had been guaranteed by the
German Empire along with the other Great Powers. If
Germany abided by her word, then France would not be



THE GREAT WAR



459



attacked by way of Belgium; but if the Germans con-
sidered only their military advantapo, then France nn'ght
be attacked either from Alsace-Lorraine or tlinjufi:h
the Meuse Valley. Unfortunately, she could not know
whether the Germans would keep their enga<^ement. In
any event, however, France could concentrate at the
beginning for defence only about half as many troops as
Germany could use in the thrust against her, and in ac-
cordance with well-known principles of strategy, it was
wisest for her to keep most of them concentrated in one
large body. So the French determined to ignore the
possibility of an attack through Belgium, concentrate
against Alsace-Lorraine, and following the best prin-
ciples of military science, take the offensive, if they could.
This they did, in the earliest days of the war, attacking
through the Lost Provinces, and gaining some slight suc-
cess. But they were soon repulsed in Alsace and badly
defeated in Lorraine, this being due partly to misman-
agement and very largely to German superiority in ma-
chine guns and heavy artillery.

The Germans were merely holding their lines with com-
paratively small forces in the south. It was soon evident
that their great effort was to be through Belgium, straight
at the heart of France. August 4, immediately after their
demand had been rejected, they poured into Belgium.
Their line of march through the INIeuse Valley was barred
by the strong fortresses of Liege and Namur, with Ant-
werp, supposedly impregnable, threatening their flank
from the north. Against the avalanche of German soldiers
the brave little Belgian army could do nothing but fight
retarding actions, but it was hoped that the fortresses
would hold until assistance came from England and
France. The Germans were, indeed, checked for a
moment at Liege, but immediately they revealed to the
world one of the great surprises of the war. Against
Liege they quickly brought incredibly large cannon, which



Easy en-
trance into
France from
Belgium



Invasion of
Belgium by
the Ger-
mans



460



EUROPE SINCE 1870



The British

and the
French de-
feated in
Belgium



France at
the brink of
destruction



they moved easily, on great broad wheels, up to positions
prepared by secret agents in advance; and, having ready
at hand the exact distances, dropped 10- and 12-inch
shells of incredible power upon the forts, reducing the
fortress in a few days. Then, bringing up their monstrous
42-centimeter guns, which fired 16-inch shells, they cap-
tured Namur. All the western world was appalled at the
news that this fortress had fallen in one day, and that the
way into France was open.

Through Belgium, by forced marches, came such an
army as the world had never seen before — gray-clad sol-
diers in unending stream, equipped to the last detail; and
accompanied by the most fearful engines of destruction.
The Belgian army was flung aside upon Antwerp, which
was masked, and which the Germans took two months
later, when they had leisure to bring up their heavy cannon.
Brussels surrendered without resistance, and when the
campaign was over it was found that all of Belgium, ex-
cept for one little section on the Channel, adjoining France,
had been conquered at a stroke. The British and the
French did try to come to the rescue, but they could not
send strong forces at once, and those which they sent
came too late. The French were heavily defeated at
Charleroi and the British at Mons, narrowly escaping
destruction as they retreated precipitately, back into
France.

For France the situation rapidly became almost hope-
less. Her army, smaller than the German, was far away,
in the wrong place. Shifting a large number of soldiers
is one of the most complicated and difiicult tasks in the
world; and it was very doubtful whether the French
commanders could do it, with the Germans rushing down
now upon Paris. In the course of three weeks, almost
by a miracle, they accomplished the maneuver, but by the
end of September, when this had been done, the French
armies had undergone a succession of disastrous defeats



THE GREAT WAR



461



and everywhere had had to retreat before the foe. The
French Government moved from Paris to Bordeaux, and
it was evident that one of the great crises in Europe's
history was at hand. The Germans beHeved that they
would soon have the French army cut off and surrounded,
and would soon capture Paris. It almost seemed that
they would crush France in six weeks, even as they had
boasted.

The French people did not despair, 'i'hey rose now to a
height of grandeur which surprised their enemies and their
friends, something that had before happened not seldom
in the history of France The frontier fortresses held
from Belfort northward, above all the immensely im-
portant pivot position at Verdun. Between Verdun and
the huge entrenched camp at Paris the retreating French
armies were forced back until their line bulged far down in
the center and threatened to burst asunder, while the
Germans under Von Kluck threatened to outflank the
French line near Paris. September 5 the matter at
last came to issue. German horsemen had just ridden
into the outskirts of Paris, but Von Kluck, confronting the
fortress of Paris and a French army not yet destroyed, had
turned aside from the capital, and thus left his own flank
exposed. Joffre, commander of the French, unable to
stand at first, had retreated steadily to positions which he
considered favorable for a battle. He had reached them
now, just when the French could go back no farther. " The
hour has come," he said, in a famous order, "to hold at
all costs and allow oneself to be slain rather than give
way. . . . Everything depends on the result of to-
morrow."

September 6 began the series of mortal combats ex-
tending for a great distance, and fought between 1,500,000
Germans with 4,000 cannons besides their heavy guns,
and 1,000,000 Frenchmen with a small but excellent
British force. From the river that flows through this



Retreat of
the French
army



The Battle
of the Marne



462



EUROPE SINCE 1870



The French
against the
Germans:
wager of
battle



Immense
importance
of the battle



part of the country the conflict is known as the Battle of
the Mame. The Germans were superior in numbers
and equipment and flushed with a mighty triumph. The
French were numerically inferior and disheartened by
disaster. But the Germans were now wearied from
their rapid advance and far from their base, while the
French were close to their own, in favorable positions.
For four days the great battle raged. The Germans
fought bravely and well, but the French soldiers, with
backs to the wall, with everything now and in the future at
stake, rose to prodigies of valor. Everywhere the strug-
gle was desperate and prolonged. Generally the French
line held at all points, and the battle was decided by two
great German reverses. Near Paris their line was de-
feated after a terrible combat, they were nearly out-
flanked, and saved themselves only by precipitate retreat,
at times almost like a rout, and their backward movement
gradually compelled other German armies near by to give
ground and go back with them. Meanwhile, in the center
the Germans nearly broke through, and threatened to
cut the French line, but General Foch, four times attacking
them in turn, and four times defeated, declared that
"the situation is excellent," attacked them again, com-
pletely defeated the Prussian Guard, and broke through
the German line. By September 10, the decision had
come; and by the middle of the month the Germans had
retreated from a large part of the conquests they had
made, Paris was safe, and the French army was saved.

The Battle of the Marne was the most decisive incident
in the Great War. It was the most decisive struggle
in the history of Europe since the Battle of Blen-
heim (1704). Had the Germans won, the French army
would almost certainly have been destroyed, or at best
driven south of the Loire, leaving Paris and all north and
east France, including the principal railways and indus-
trial regions, in the enemy's hands, completely cutting off



THE GREAT WAR



4G3



what remained of France from pood connection with Eng-
land, and exposing Enghmd, unprepared, to nmch more
dangerous menace than she afterward had to meet. Most
probably the Germans could then have held their lines in
the west with few troops, turned on Russia and soon
destroyed her, as they did anyhow somewhat later, then
come back to the west, completed the destruction of
France, and undertaken the conquest of England. If
England and the British fleet had passed under their sway,
no other nation could have resisted their aggression; and
the "world power," which Bernhardi had spoken of, might
conceivably have been theirs for a great while to come. So
great was the military strength of the Germans in 1914
that they could defeat all other powers if those powers
were not given time to prepare. The British Empire and
the United States could defeat the Germans later on, but
not without some years to raise their armies and equip
them. They had the necessary time only because mean-
while the French held the lines in the west, and this would
have been impossible except for triumph on the ^Nlarne.

Such was the Battle of the Marne, in larger perspective.
Actually, at the time, it seemed to the Germans that they
had been merely repulsed, not badly defeated, and that
later on they would return and then not fail. Moreover,
in the campaign they had enormous success. After their
defeat they went back from the vicinity of Paris, and
evacuated a considerable portion of France; but they
halted along the Aisne River, and there entrenching, defied
every attack of the Allies. They had conquered and they
held behind their lines the richest industrial district of
France and the principal source of France's supply of
coal and iron-ore. No longer, except for outside assist-
ance, could the French make sufficient munitions. "\Mien,
in the following year, in the east, the Germans had taken
from the Russians Poland and the districts near by, very
similar was the case of Russians, and by the autunm of



The Ger-
mans pre-
vented from
quickly
winning the
war



Great suc-
cess of the
Germans



464



EUROPE SINCE 1870



Online LibraryEdward Raymond TurnerEurope since 1870 → online text (page 38 of 49)