Edward Raymond Turner.

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Struggle for
the Channel
Ports :

The line in
the east

1915 the Germans seemed to have definitely won the war
on the continent of Europe. Russia was not able to re-
cover; but France, supplied from abroad with materials
for war, continued the struggle. This was possible only
because of the work of the British navy.

The French and the British lacked the heavy artillery
and the shells with which to drive the Germans back from
the Aisne, but they wisely extended their own lines north-
ward just in time to keep the Germans from occupying,
as they might easily have done, the Channel ports, espe-
cially Calais and Dunkirk, the gateway to England. All
too late the Germans realized the supreme importance
of these places, and launched a series of mass attacks
upon the British and the French in an effort to break
through at all costs. At Ypres, where the British held
against terrible odds, and along the Yser River, where the
British, Belgians, and French were almost annihilated
but held out until the country was flooded and warships
with long-range guns joined in the defence, the Germans
were held back from their goal. The result of this action
was almost as important as the victory of the Marne.

So, for a while, in the west the great movements came to
an end. The Germans had won mighty triumphs, but
they had failed to win the war quickly. Both sides now
settled down in long, fortified lines, which reached from Swit-
zerland to the North Sea, which left to the French a small
part of German Alsace, but left within the German lines
northeastern France and almost all of Belgium, These
lines were constantly made stronger on both sides, until
at last it seemed impossible that they could ever be broken.

Meanwhile, great things had been happening in the east.
While Germany hurled herself upon France, she left her
eastern borders nearly unprotected, believing that the
Russians could not immediately do much damage, and
relying on the Austrians, meantime, to meet them. But
the Russians surprised their enemies by the speed with





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which they commenced their campaign. The Austrians
did, indeed, begin an offensive into Russian Pohuid, hut
they were at once met by the advancing Russian arnn'e.s,
and thrown back in disastrous defeat. After a series of
great batth'S the Russians overran nearly all of Gahciji,
the exposed part of Austria-Hungary, drove on the Aus-
trian armies in precipitate rout, and captured all but one
of the Galician fortresses. Austria had utterly failed to
check the Russians, and in a short time was calling for
assistance from the Germans.

While the Austrians were being driven back from
Poland another Russian army invaded Germany itself.
In a short time part of East Prussia had been crossed.
At once a strong force was sent across Germany, and this
army under Von Hindenburg caught the Russians in the
region of the IVIazurian marshes and lakes, and there at the
battle of Tannenberg a force of 250,000 Russians was scat-
tered or destroyed. Some escaped, many thousands were
captured, and subsequently paraded in triumph through
Berlin, but a host of them had been killed by the great
shells or smothered in the marshes. It was as complete a
triumph as the victory of Hannibal over the Romans at
Cannae, but such were the proportions of the Great War
that Tannenberg was merely an episode in the struggle.
East Prussia was cleared of the foe; but it is believed that
the absence from the west front of the German soldiers
who did this had some connection with the victory of the
French at the jMarne.

In 1915 the Germans, holding the initiative as before,
changed their general plan. They had intended to over-
whelm France and then destroy Russia at their leisure.
In this they had failed. They now determined to hold
France and Britain, standing on the defensive in their en-
trenchments in the west, and turn their principal effort
to destroying the Russians completely. During the winter
of 1914-15 there was terrible and dreary fighting in the

The Rus-
sians de-
feated in
East Prussia

Struggle in
the east,



in Poland
and Galicia


east as the Germans came to the aid of their demoraUzed
Austrian aUies. On the wintry plains of Poland, and
farther north along the Russian border, great battles were
fought, until presently the two sides settled down in lines
of entrenchments longer but less strong than those in the
west. In March, the Russians took the great fortress of
Przemysl, the last stronghold in Galicia, together with a
huge Austrian army. All through the winter they had
been fighting in the heights of the Carpathian Mountains
for possession of the passes ; now they had all but the most
important one of them, and threatened to pour in a tor-
rent down into Hungary. They were also near to the
great fortress of Cracow, the fall of which might open the
way into the German Empire.

But as spring began the Germans and Austrians were
ready for a decisive blow. About the center of the long,
irregular line, not far from Cracow, an immense con-
centration of men and cannons was made. May 2,
after a fearful bombardment, the like of which had never
before been seen, which annihilated the Russians and
completely obliterated their lines for a space of some miles,
the Teutonic armies, launching a great attack, broke
completely through the Russian position. The only hope
was rapid retreat until the parts disunited could join.
This the Russians attempted, and on the whole their back-
ward movement was well carried out; it never turned into
rout, nor was their main force ever surrounded and cap-
tured. But the danger was very terrible. When the
break through occurred at the Dunajec River, the Russian
forces in Galicia and in the Carpathians were in imminent
danger of being cut off; and while they were being pressed
by Teutonic armies under Von Mackensen, farther north
they were being attacked by the German armies of Von

So began a great and disastrous retreat. The Russians
fled from the Carpathian Mountains; they quickly aban-






doned nearly all of Galicia together with the great for-
tresses which they had captured after so much effort;
and at the same time they were retreating back through
Poland, fighting bitter rear-guard actions, but never really
able to halt the pursuit. The outlying Polish fortresses
were taken; then Warsaw, the capital; then the second-hne
fortresses; presently Brest-Litovsk, the center of the Rus-
sian system of defence; and even cities and strong points
beyond. When at last the retreat came to an end it was
found that the Germans had, indeed, fallen short of entire
success, for they had not completely destroyed the Rus-
sian armies, nor had they put Russia utterly out of the
war. But it was afterward seen that Russia was virtually
eliminated in this camj^aign. A vast number of her
soldiers had been killed or disabled, and an equally great
number taken prisoners by the Germans. JNIost of the
trained officers with whom Russia had begun the war
were now captive or dead. Most of the war material was
worn out or lost, and Russia was neither an industrial na-
tion capable of making arms and ammunition on a great
scale, nor was she so situated that she could, like France,
easily procure great supplies from outside. Moreover,
her railroads, best adapted for military purpose, were
now in the enemy's hands. Russia did continue to fight
valiantly for a time, and she accomplished some great
things in the following year; but as we see it now, she was
definitively defeated in the campaign that began on the

Thus, in the course of little more than a year, for Brest-
Litovsk fell in August and Yilna in September, 1915,
Germany had greatly, though not completely, succeeded
in the west, and far more greatly succeeded in the east.
In the autumn she turned her attention to the south, and
soon accomplished the task for which she had begun the
war: getting control of the Balkans. The hour of Servia
had come. Thus far the Serbs had been able to defend

Retreat of
the Rus-

The Central
Powers get
control of
the Balkans





Allied fleet
at the


themselves. Twice had the Austrians, occupied as they
were in their contest with Russia, sent expeditions over
the Danube ; twice had they been driven back in shame-
ful defeat and disaster. But now a third invasion was
undertiiken by the Germans, at a time when Russia
could give no more help, and, worse still, as the little
country was struck from the side by Bulgaria, who now
entered the war on the side of the Central Powers. The
exliausted Serbs were ground to pieces by the Teutons
from the north and the vengeful Bulgarians from the
east; their country was completely subjugated; and only
a part of the Servian army, and a few of the people escaped
over the mountains, in a horrible retreat. They were
taken to islands off the coast by Allied warships.

Meanwhile, the Allies had suffered a great defeat. In
November, 1914, Turkey had entered the war on the side
of Germany and Austria. This more than balanced the
decision of Italy not to assist the Central Powers, for
it almost completely cut off Russia from her western part-
ners, making it very difficult for them to obtain her wheat,
which they badly needed, and just as hard for her to
obtain from them the war supplies without which she
could not long play an important part. Accordingly, it
was of the greatest importance that communications be
opened up again by forcing the Dardanelles and after-
ward taking Constantinople. Moreover, this would not
only assist Russia, but it would be a momentous success in
itself, and bring to an end, perhaps, the German dream of
mastery in the Balkans and Asiatic Turkey. Therefore,
in February, 1915, British and French warships attempted
to force the strait of the Dardanelles. After severe
losses they desisted, though it is said that victory was
within reach if they had attacked again the next day. A
great expedition was now sent out to take the positions
which guarded the entrance, and in April a landing was
effected on the Gallipoli Peninsula.



In all the war there was no more glorious and disastrous
enterprise than this attempt to scale the barren, roeky
mountains which guarded the strait. Even drinking
water had to be brought from a long distance, and numbers
went insane from thirst. Many a heroic attempt was
made, and the fighting went on all through the time

defense by
the Turks

«I5> Bntnh Lindlng

♦ Fofts


when the Russians were being defeated far to the north.
One day Allied soldiers won to the top and saw the blue
waters of IMarmora in the distance; but they were soon
driven back. The Turks fought with stubborn courage
until the Germans, having put Russia out of the way and
destroyed Servia, were coming to relieve them. Then
Gallipoli was evacuated, and the attempt ended in com-

The Allies



Position of
the Teu-
tonic powers

The Allies
keep control
of the sea

plete failure. The troops thus withdrawn were taken to
the Greek city of Salonica, the most important position
on the ^gean, to which they had been invited by the
Greek Government, though the invitation was withdrawn
by the Greek king. There they constituted a potential
threat against Bulgaria and Turkey, though for a long
time they had to remain inactive, and accomplished vir-
tually nothing.

On land now the Germans seemed to have won the
contest completely. They had obtained what they began
the war for, and they had conquered much besides. If
they could only hold what they had seized, they would
come out of the struggle incomparably the greatest power
in the world. Accordingly, they chose this moment to
let it be known that they would listen to proposals for
peace. But however great the disasters that had come
to the Allies thus far, the consequences of such a peace
as Germany would be willing to make seemed too terrible,
and the German suggestions were not even considered.
Besides, it still seemed to many that the future lay with
the Allies; that they had been taken unprepared, and that
soon they would be able to fight on equal terms, and get
the victory shortly thereafter.

One great success they had obtained: Germany's ship-
ping had been swept from the seas. All her commerce
had vanished; and her warships stayed close to the forti-
fications of Helgoland and the Kiel Canal. German
submarines did some execution against British warships
at first, but this soon came to an end. German cruisers
made daring raids, but only for a while. At first much
damage was done to Allied shipping by German raiders,
but one by one they were hunted down, and this also came
to an end. In November, 1914, in the Far East, the Ger-
man naval base of Tsingtao (Kiao-chau) had been taken
by the Japanese. A German fleet did destroy an inferior
British fleet off the coast of Chile, but shortly after it was



completely destroyed by a superior British force off the
Falkland Islands. Meanwhile, the British and the French
fleets had entire control of the oceans, over which their
commerce flowed in unceasing stream.

There was but one great battle on the sea. May 31,1910,
the German High Seas Fleet cruising off the coast of Den-
mark was overtaken by a part of the British Grand Fleet.
The powerful but lightly armored British battle cruisers en-
gaged the enemy, hoping to hold him until the remainder
of the British fleet arrived. The Germans fought with
great skill and superior speed and equipment, and in-
flicted losses. As the rest of the British ships arrived the
German fleet withdrew, and in the failing light of the even-
ing, behind a screen of submarines and destroyers, it made
good its escape. It had done more damage than it suf-
fered, and the German Government proclaimed a great
victory won. After a few days, however, it was seen that
the action was essentially a British victory, for Britain's
hold on the seas continued unshaken. The German
battleships had withdrawn to their haven, and the spirit
of the crews declined. They did not again come forth
to fight for control of the waters. When they next came
out it was in ignominious surrender.

The French fleet and later the Italian fleet in the Medi-
terranean, and in the latter part of the war the powerful
American fleet, contributed materially in maintaining the
Allied mastery of the seas. But this command of the
waters was kept primarily by the warships of the British
Empire. Since there was only one great naval battle
during these years, there was little of the spectacular
about the Grand Fleet's service, and the importance of
what it did may easily be overlooked. Silently, and
with not much said about what was being done, in the fair
weather of sunmier and in the storms and sleet and cold
of the North Sea winters, unfaltering and with vigilance
unceasing, the prolonged watch was kept. Always there

The Battle
of Jutland,

The British
Grand Fleet



ant work of
the British

Slow prog-
ress of the
Allies on

was danger from the mines which Germans strewed in the
sea; always the submarines were lurking to send in their
deadly torpedoes. There was the blockade to maintain,
by which Germany was slowly weakened and reduced;
there was the all-important line of communication across
to France to be kept open; there were the sea-routes to
be kept safe between the parts of the widely scattered
Empire and with the other countries from which came
indispensable supplies; the German warships were to be
watched lest they raid the coasts of England, or lest some
of them dash out into the open sea to prey upon Allied
commerce; and above all the High Seas Fleet of the Ger-
man Empire was to be waited for and met if ever it dared
to come forth. And on this faithful watch and ward the
whole AHied cause depended. If ever the Grand Fleet
were destroyed or beaten, in a short time the British Em-
pire would be starved into complete surrender, and then
triumphant Germany could dictate to the rest of the world
such conditions as pleased her. Now that the Great War
is over, the work of the British seamen stands out in its true
proportions and grandeur.

It had been supposed that sea power would finally be
decisive, and so it proved in the end. But for some time
it seemed that Germany had won such mighty victories
on land that she could win the war in spite of the naval
superiority of the Allies. It was evident that the Central
Powers could not be starved into submission by the block-
ade, but must be beaten also on land. At first it was
hoped that this could be done when the powers of the
Entente were more fully prepared. Britain was arming
and would presently be ready, and in May, 1915, Italy,
partly through real sympathy with the Western Powers
and horror at German methods, and partly through desire
of getting from Austria-Hungary Italia Irredenta and
stronger position on the Adriatic, declared war on the
Dual Monarchy. But Italy was at once halted by the



terrible obstacle of the Alps aiul made scarcely any prog-
ress, and it required more tiian a year for Britain to put
a great army in France. So, in 1915, while Russia was
being defeated and Servia destroyed, the Allies ac-
complished almost nothing in the west. The British made
some little progress at Neuve Chapelle, but inunediately
the Germans, using for the first time their horrible poison
gas, attacked nearby at Ypres, and nearly broke through
to the ports of the Channel. That they failed to do this
was because the Canadians, who had thrown themselves
heart and soul into the struggle along with Great Britain,
closed up the gap and held the line. In September, the
French attacking in the Champagne after tremendous
artillery preparation, tried to break the German lines as
the Germans had broken the Russian, but after some suc-
cess in the beginning they were brought to a halt with
nothing of importance accomplished. In all respects 1915
was a year of Allied failure and German success.

Slow as it seemed, Britain was really assembling a great
army in northern France, well drilled and fully equipped.
Some time in 1916 she would be ready for her first great
effort. Again, so well was she organized and prepared,
Germany was ready to take the initiative and deal the
first stroke. Having disposed of Russia she resolved to
make a second thrust at France, and possibly destroy her
before England could throw in her might. Therefore,
near to the key fortress of Verdun, very secretly an
enormous concentration of artillery was made, and sud-
denly, toward the end of February, 1916, a terrible bom-
bardment was begun from thousands of cannon. This
was followed by an attack which at once carried all the
environs of the fortress on the side assaulted. So quickly
was this accomplished that it seemed for a moment that
the Germans would take Verdun just as they had taken
Antwerp and Warsaw. Indeed the railroad communica-
tions with the fortress were now largely cut, and there

The Italians
halted by
the Alps




The French
in mortal

The Battle
of the

was no small danger that a French army with all its stores
and cannon might be trapped there. It is said that the
French military authorities had resolved to abandon
the position, but for sentimental reasons it was finally
decided to hold on. Supplies were brought in by a
wonderful system of motor transport, hastily arranged,
and the new German methods of attack were countered
by new methods of defence. The Germans came on with
the utmost bravery, but were met with an unconquerable
courage. "They shall not pass!" was the cry; and so it
was. Other strong positions were taken, but the German
progress now was very slow. Month after month, through
the spring and into the summer, the fighting went on.
There were savage struggles in underground passages, and
scenes of slaughter too horrible to describe. Every little
hill in the neighborhood was fought over and soaked with
blood. More than half a million Germans were killed
and wounded, and the number of Frenchmen was perhaps
not much less. In July, the Germans were forced to
slacken their efforts because of danger threatening else-
where. Later on, after superb artillery preparation, the
French retook in two days all the important positions for
which the Germans had struggled so long. The attack on
Verdun resulted in a great German failure.

The Germans had been forced to desist because at last
the British were about ready, to the north. July 1, the
British and the French, making the kind of artillery
preparation that now preceded all great attacks, began
an offensive to break through the German lines. For
days the bombardment continued, and the distant thunder
of the cannons could be heard over the Channel, in Eng-
land. The attack was in the region of the River Somme,
and was directed at the towns of Bapaume and Peronne,
and the more important centers of St. Quentin, Cambrai,
and Laon behind them. If these places were taken, most
probably the Germans would have to retreat out of France.



The German j)o.siti()iis were immensely .siron<^. Tliere
were many little trenches and strong little forts for ma-
chine gunners, protected in front by tangles of thick harhed
wire. Behind them were deep underground places of
refuge, extending down several stories, in which armies
could be sheltered while the great shells were falling. Un-
less these defences were largely obliterated beforehand, the
attacking infantry would be mown down by machine
guns as they came forward. AYhen the infantry did
advance, the French at once reached the outskirts of
Peronne, but the British, more strongly opposed, made al-
most no progress. Thereafter, all through the summer,
the armies were locked in a death struggle, the Allies
slowly advancing a little, but suffering fearful losses, and
the Germans losing almost as many. The autumn rains
and the deep mud put an end to the offensive, and it
seemed that the Allies had gained almost nothing. They
had taken no important town, and the German lines were
nowhere broken. But actually the Germans did make a
considerable retreat in the following spring, and they now
knew that England and France were not ready to aban-
don the contest because of discouragement at German
victories, but that a terrible struggle must continue, wear-
ing down the strength of both sides, until one or the other
gave up through exhaustion.

During the course of this summer the hopes of the
Allies ran high for a time. In May, the Austrians began
an attack upon the Italians from the Trentino, but after
some success were forced to desist; and later the Italians
captured Gorizia, and made great progress through the
mountain barrier and on the way to Trieste. The Aus-
trians had drawn back because in June the Russians
under General Brusilov, making their last great effort,
completely shattered the Austrian lines in the east, took
a huge number of captives, and pressed on so far that
only strong German assistance, at a time when it was diffi-

Strength of
the German


Online LibraryEdward Raymond TurnerEurope since 1870 → online text (page 39 of 49)