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at bay, 1916



478



EUROPE SINCE 1870



The last
great
Russian
offensive



A contest of
exhaustion



The Ger-
man sub-
marines



cult for Germany to detach any troops, saved the Aus-
trians from destruction. The Russians were finally
halted, but the position of the Central Powers now seemed
so dangerous that in the last days of August Rumania
joined the Allies. The position of Germany, however, was
still enormously strong. The Somme offensive was soon
to come to an end, and the Russians had not only ex-
hausted their strength, but were now a prey to traitors and
revolutionists, and were soon to drop out of the war. Ac-
cordingly, Rumania, attacked from the side of Bulgaria
and from the north by a powerful German army, was
mostly overrun, and crushed almost as completely as
Servia had been the year before. So, for the Allies, the
campaign of 1916 ended as darkly as that of the previous
year.

The war had for some time resolved itself into a dead-
lock between Germany, flushed with success and gorged
with conquests, and the Allies hoping to defeat her and
wrest from her what she had taken. It was evidently to
be a contest of resources, a contest in which time and attri-
tion would make the weaker succumb. The best judges
now thought that Germany could never be defeated by
England and France, without further aid, and that at
best the fighting must end in a draw. But the Germans
had undertaken to win thoroughly and quickly by means
of another device. With it, they came near to success, but
in the end it brought their own ruin.

They undertook to cut the communications of the Allies
and starve England out by sinking all Allied ships by
means of submarines. The communications of the Ger-
mans were on land. If ever they were cut, as they were
about to be when hostilities ceased, Germany would be de-
feated. The most vital communications of the Allies were
by sea. France depended on Great Britain, and the British
people could not continue the struggle, nay, they could only
feed themselves a few weeks, when they were no longer able



THE GREAT WAR



479



to hririK over the seas their food and their raw materials.
Had the Germans ever been able to defeat the IJritisli
fleet, they would have quickly won, and won completely;
but this they were never able to do. The British (J rand
Fleet kept undisputed conunand of the surface of the seas.
Early in 1915, however, the Germans began using their
submarines not only to sink warships, which was legiti-
mate, but to destroy unarmed vessels as well; and in May
of that year the giant liner Lusitanki was sunk and
great numbers of passengers, including many Americans,
drowned. The Germans maintained that since the British
were trying by the blockade to starve them, especially
their women and children, and so trying to force them to
submit, it was very proper for them to retaliate, and try
to blockade England with their submarines, starve her into
submission, and so end a hideous conflict.

This contention was accepted by few outside of Ger-
many, since in accordance with past usage it was per-
fectly proper for Britain, in command of the seas, to
blockade Germany, as it would have been for Germany to
cut off England if her warships had got command of the
seas. On the other hand, it had gradually come to be one
of the fundamental maxims of procedure at sea that no
ship should be sunk without saving the crew, in case they
were wilHng to surrender; and it was soon seen that usually
submarines sank ships without warning, and that they
could not, because of their small size, save the crews if
they would. Germans declared that the submarine was
a new weapon, and that new rules were applicable to it;
but all over the world public sentiment ran strongly
against the use of a weapon which could not from its nature
be used in accordance with primary principles of humanity
and mercy.

None the less, the Germans used this device increasingly,
hampered somewhat by the protests of neutrals and some-
what more by various devices which the Allied navies



The British
dependent
upon sea-
borne traflBc



Sinking of

merchant

ships



480



EUROPE SINCE 1870



Unrestricted
submarine
warfare,
1917



A year of
disaster,
1917



employed. But they paid little attention to the one and
largely avoided the other, and presently the menace be-
came very grave. Great Britain went into the conflict
with enormous shipping tonnage, but month after month
vessels carrying supplies were sunk by submarines until
not only the great loss of money and materials was felt
severely, but presently it was necessary to restrict im-
ports, since the war greatly increased the demands upon
her merchant marine at the same time that the under-
sea boats were sinking so many ships. Germany still
hesitated to put forth her full effort in this manner, but
by the end of 1916, when the strain of the contest had
begun to tell terribly on both sides, it was evident that
if the sinking of Allied vessels continued at the rate
then prevailing. Great Britain must after some time be
forced out of the war, and that if the rate of destruction
could be largely increased, the end might come quickly.
The principal obstacle was that the people and govern-
ment of the United States were strongly opposed, and
might conceivably be brought into the war against Ger-
many. After much hesitation the choice was made, and
January 31, 1917, the Imperial Government announced
that it would begin unrestricted submarine warfare. The
German people believed that Britain would be starved
within a few months.

This year, 1917, was a year of disaster and despair for
the Allies. At no time did the cause of the Allies and of
the democratic civilization of the West seem so dark. When
the weather permitted, the British and the French began
another offensive, to try again to break through the Ger-
man lines. The Allies were hampered by the German
retreat which had left an area of terrible desolation over
which an attack could not well be made; but in April the
British took the immensely strong position of Vimy, and
in June, with a huge explosive charge, they blew up
the supposedly impregnable position of Messines Ridge.



THE GREAT WAR



481



Farther north they desperately strove to break down into
the plain of Fhinders and compel the evacuation of the
seaports of Belgium, whence the submarines constantly
issued. Several times they seemed to haw <,'()od chance
of success; but they fought with a fatal ill-fortune, and
when the season came to an end they had endured fearful
losses, some 800,000 men, and taken from the Germans
nothing that compelled an important retreat. During
the summer the French made another effort to shatter
the German lines. Near Laon they broke through the
Chemin des Dames- positions, and gained a brilliant local
victory, but because of terrible losses, gave up the effort
before anything decisive was accomplished. Later events
were to show that this was the last great offensive effort
the French could make by themselves. They had long
borne the brunt of the fighting, and their losses had been
so appalling that they were now almost at the point of
despair. That they did not falter and accept a German
peace, which some tried to persuade them to accept, was
due to the efforts of their great man, Clemenceau, and most
of all to their ow^n unconquerable spirit.

If there was in this year doleful lack of success in the
west, there was absolute downfall in the east. Russia
now dropped out of the war. The Russians had fought
almost as long as they could. A great agricultural state,
with comparatively few railroads and scanty industrial
development, its people, however brave, were not able
unaided to carry on for a long time a great modern war.
The Russian soldiers fought with a courage that should
be for a long time remembered. At first they won im-
portant victories, and, it may be, saved the Allied cause;
but presently their trained officers were mostly gone and
they had no reserve, while, worst of all, most of their equip-
ment was lost or worn out, and they could no longer get
enough of the machine guns and wire and cannon and shells,
without which no campaign can now be waged. Their



The British
fail



The French
exhausted



The collapse
of Russia



482



EUROPE SINCE 1870



Heroic
efforts of
the Russian
soldiers



The Treaty
of Brest-
Litovsk,
1918



government was inefficient and corrupt, and constantly
military plans were betrayed to the German spies. And
yet, the Russians fought on beyond expectation. Again
and again the simple peasants laid down their lives in
hopeless attacks. Without artillery preparation they
went forth against the enemy lines, torn by heavy shells
from a distance, shattered by the light artillery as they
came nearer, riddled by machine-gun fire nearer at hand,
and played upon with liquid fire as they attacked the en-
trenchments. Meanwhile, the entire industrial and eco-
nomic life of the country was disorganized. It was as
though an entire nation, long suffering some grievous
malady, had suffered to the extreme of endurance, and
was approaching near to dissolution. The end came now.
The government, an autocracy, efficient formerly in hold-
ing down its people, was overthrown. This revolution
began in March. For a while it was hoped that under
a new liberal government Russia might become strong
again, and once more take an important part in the war.
But actually the people would endure nothing further, and
they fell a prey to visionaries and radicals, who, if they
were not traitors, wished to establish in the distracted
country new systems such as had never before existed ex-
cept in the minds of theorists and writers. Under the Bol-
shevihi Russia withdrew from the war. In the following
year, March, 1918, they signed the terrible Peace of Brest-
Litovsk, by which Russia was dismembered and cut off
from the sea, and reduced to impotence. They now
applied themselves to the establishment of the extremest
socialism, seeming to care little for the fact that Russia
had lost by the treaty what her leaders had striven for
ages to gain. At last the Germans were completely free
in the east. Now they could devote all their strength to
one more crushing blow in the west.

In October, 1917, there was an indication of what they
could do when Italy was struck and almost destroyed at



THE GREAT WAR



483



a blow. The Italians had had much success in spite of The Austro-

difficulties incredible and elsewhere scarce understood. J*^''^"

.... 4 • TT II frontier

Most of Italy's territory adjoining' Austria-JIun^Mry ended

at the very foothills of the Alps. Innnediately beyond,

held by the enemy and strongly fortified in advance, rose

tier on tier of giant mountains, until the ramparts at last




30. AUSTRO-ITALIAN FRONTIER



were high above the snow and the clouds. To the south,
at the head of the Adriatic Sea, was the Carso Plateau,
littered with rocks, honeycombed with caves, treeless,
without water, blazing under the sun. Through all these
defences the Italians with undaunted courage had slowly
battered their way. They had mastered the Carso, and
now were near to Trieste. They had captured Monte



The Italians
batter their
way through



484



EUROPE SINCE 1870



The Italians
defeated:
Caporetto,
1917



Destruction
of shipping



The United
States joins
the Allies



Santo, and might soon strike through to open country
at Laibach, and then march on toward Vienna. But the
Austrians, reinforced by Germans, now massed against
them, and, corrupting some of the discontented soldiers
and thus making a weak point in the Hne, suddenly at-
tacked with overwhelming numbers and with the fearful
"mustard gas." They burst completely through, utterly
defeating the Italians. The result of this battle of Capo-
retto was that a large part of the Italian army was cap-
tured and half of its artillery, with all the territory that it
had gained in weary months of fighting. The Teutonic
armies did not stop until they were nearly in sight of Venice;
but then the Italians rallied with the courage of despair,
and, by a magnificent effort, finally saved their country by
standing along the little River Piave. None the less, Italy
was now thoroughly discouraged, and almost persuaded to
abandon the struggle.

But more awful than any of these things was the
havoc wrought by the submarines. As soon as un-
restricted warfare was begun the losses were terrible. In
February, 1917, 800,000 tons of shipping was destroyed,
and the Mediterranean and the waters about the British
Isles became a veritable graveyard of ships. If destruc-
tion at this rate could be continued, then there was no
doubt that the cause of the Allies was doomed, and that
the end was not very far off.

Against all this was to be set one great factor, which, in
the end, was to counterbalance all the others: the United
States had entered the conflict against Germany and her
partners. When the Great War broke out there, were
probably not many Americans who believed that their
country would ever be drawn into it. Many of the people
understood little about the causes or issues of the struggle,
and nearly all of them dreaded foreign complications and
hated the thought of a war. But in less than three years
the opinion of the great majority had changed profoundly,



THE GREAT WAR



485



and by the beginning of 1917 they wilhngly followed their
leader into the contest. There were several reasons for
this. From the beginning people were struck with horror
at the methods that the Germans employed. In Servia,
in Poland, in Belgium, and in France, they began im-
mediately to do harsh and terrible things. Civilians,
including even women and children, were shot down;
hostages were seized, ruinous fines were imposed for small
offences. There was plundering and there was wild excess
on the part of German soldiers. Evidently much of it was
being done with the idea of organizing terror and striking
into the hearts of the people such unreasoning fear that
they would not dare in the smallest degree to interfere
with the conquest of their country, and would perhaps
flee away in wild disorder, clogging the roads and impeding
the movements of their own armies. Many of the deeds
perpetrated were so contrary to principles of humanity
and to the spirit of western civilization, that at first the
reports concerning them were not believed; but soon
evidence accumulated in such manner that many of
them could not be doubted. For an alleged offence,
never proved and probably not committed, the great and
ancient towTi of Louvain was fired and a large part of it
burned to the ground. The German ambassador in
Constantinople declared that if necessary the entire
French nation would be held as hostage and starved to
death in order to make England abandon the war. In
Belgium the Germans methodically seized all the resources
of the country, callously leaving the people to starve; and
before long the Belgians would most probably have died
of hunger had they not been fed by the charity of the
British, the French, and the people of the United States.
"In the Name of God the Father," ran the appeals for
these people, while the disgraceful spectacle continued of a
captive nation being fed not by the conquerors but by other
nations. To Poland, outside relief could not come, and it



Sentiment
affected by
German
procedure



Treatment
of Belgium



486



EUROPE SINCE 1870



Frightful-
ness



Danger to
American
ideals



was not long before the appalling conditions there had
caused the death of the old people and many of the children.
This was commenced not when the Germans themselves
were starving, but almost at the beginning of the war.

The Cathedral of Rheims, one of the supreme examples
of Gothic architecture and religious art, something that
had been loved and admired for centuries, which could not
be replaced, was not far from the line of battle. Because,
as they said, it was used by the French as an observation
post, the Germans deliberately ruined it with shells from
their cannon. From the very beginning the great Ger-
man airships, the Zeppelins, sailed aloft over the cities of
England and France, dropping high explosives with fearful
effect. Some military advantage was thereby procured,
but the nature of air raids was such that the bombs were
more apt to drop upon civilians than upon fortifications.
In the same way German warships dashed out when
they could and bombarded undefended coast towns, de-
claring that they were fortresses, but actually for the
purpose of striking terror into the people. The aversion
with which all this was regarded was enhanced by dreadful
stories told of the way in which prisoners in Germany
were starved and abused; while the spectacle, constantly
more frequent, of men, and even women and children,
being drowned at sea, with no hope of rescue, and,
indeed, the desire that they should be sunk "without a
trace," constantly increased sympathy for the Allies and
horror and dislike of the Germans. Finally, nothing
did more to prejudice neutral opinion from the start than
the manner in which the rights of Belgium were treated
as "a scrap of paper" and that unhappy little country
trampled in the dust.

These were the things which gradually swayed the feel-
ings of the mass of the people in the United States and
elsewhere. But with the leaders there were considerations
still more important. It was felt instinctively, and it was



THE GREAT WxVR



487



realized more and more clearly, that the people of France
and England stood for much the same things that Ameri-
cans did, and that the Germans represented a different
system. Evidently there was now going on in Europe a
death struggle between the two. If the ideals of democ-
racy, individualism, and personal liberty went down to
destruction across the Atlantic, they would afterward
most probably be in grave danger in the United States.
Then, in the opinion of many, the American people would
later on have to fight against German encroachment even
as the people of France and England were fighting now.
By the beginning of 1917 it began to seem that Allied vic-
tory was not to be hoped for. Therefore, every considera-
tion of prudence seemed to urge that Americans join in
the conflict and fight along with their friends, rather than
later on fight alone against a mightier, triumphant Ger-
man Empire. These feelings became constantly stronger,
and at last many people felt that it was not only shameful
but very dangerous for the United States to remain neutral
so long. It will always be matter of opinion whether the
American Government might not better have declared war
sooner than it did; but perhaps the President was right
in waiting for public sentiment to support him. Early in
1917 he himself took the lead, and when the German
ambassador delivered his note announcing unrestricted
submarine warfare President Wilson advised that rela-
tions with Germany be severed, and that assistance be
given to the Allies with all of America's resources. April
6, 1917, the United States declared war. It was one of
the most momentous events in the history of the American
people. Their intervention was destined to determine the
issue of the struggle.

America alone could supply the vast resources needed
to defeat the Central Powers. The Germans had not
only the advantage of position and the shorter lines, but
greater resources in iron and coal, and hence in munitions



Dangerous
for America
to remain out
of the war



The
United
States
prepares



488



EUROPE SINCE 1870



Immense
resources
of the
United
States



The sub-
marines
checked



of war. But with the accession of the United States the
Allies again became definitely superior in these basic re-
sources, and if only there were still enough time and if
only they did not lose heart and give up the struggle,
victory would almost certainly be theirs. At first, how-
ever, it seemed that there might not be time for the
United States to assemble her resources and bring them
to bear in Europe, and that she had, indeed, entered the
struggle too late. It had taken England two years to
bring her great strength to bear; it would probably take
the Americans as long. They did begin with an energy
and immensity of effort that left no doubt that they had re-
solved to give themselves entirely to the task; but through-
out 1917, while the Allies were meeting with such disaster in
Europe, the work of the United States was almost entirely
preparation. Great armies were raised by compulsory
service; the making of rifles, cannon, shells, and the build-
ing of ships were begun on an unheard-of scale, but nothing
would be ready for some time. Meanwhile, the Germans
hoped to win the war by means of their submarines, or
else by one more great stroke in the west.

By the beginning of 1918 the Germans had definitely
failed in one respect. No single device was ever found
for disposing of the submarines, but gradually they were
subdued. The protection of warships had long since
been effected by putting around them a screen of fast-
moving destroyers. As soon as the United States entered
the lists her navy joined in the work. The naval supe-
riority of the Allies was for the first time beyond all ques-
tion, and the addition of the American destroyers made it
possible to protect "convoys" of merchant ships also. The
rate of destruction was now much diminished. Moreover,
a new and terrible device was employed with considerable
effect, the depth bomb, which exploded beneath the water
with fearful effect. Furthermore, a vast "barrage" of
mines was laid in the North Sea, hindering the exit of the



THE GREAT WAR 489

German submarfnos, and in 1918 the Britlsli, in daring

raids, succeeded in partly blocking tlie Belgian liarbors

out of which the submarines came. Finally, the Allied

submarines lay in wait for those of the enemy, and,

assisted by airplanes, destroyed a large number of them.

Altogether, the German under-water craft became much

less dangerous and effective, and while they continued to

be a serious menace until the end of the war, yet by the

beginning of 1918 the Germans could no longer hope to

win by them solely.

Thus the Allies would have time, and time was now on Exhaustion

their side. There might still be a long and costly war if near

the Germans stood on the defensive and fought with the

protection of their fortified lines; though if the attack was

resolutely pushed their ultimate defeat was certain. On

the other hand, they still had one chance to win: if they

could strike on the west front before American aid arrived,

it might be that they would do what they had failed to do

in the beginning, and that victory would still be theirs.

This chance they resolved to take, and all through the

winter of 1917-18 there was a constant movement of

troops and guns from the east to the west. Russia was

completely broken, and only such forces were left there

as were needed to guard the conquests and get such scanty

supplies as that ruined country could furnish. In truth

the war had reached the stage where all the contestants

were nearly exhausted. Italy was recovering from the The

defeat of Caporetto, but she was profoundly discouraged, strength of
_ 11,11 11 PI ° the combat-

France, who had so long borne the brunt oi the struggle, ants nearly

had lost a great part of all her young men, and French- gone

men, though unwilling to yield, were beginning to despair

of ever defeating the foe. Britain also was nearly sunk

beneath the burdens she bore, and the fearful fighting

of 1917 had greatly depleted her armies in France. On

the other side Austria was at her last gasp and able to

do little more. Germany, with all her strength organized



490



EUROPE SINCE 1870



The Ger-
man offen-
sive, 1918



The Battle
of Picardy



The British
with "backs
to the wall"



for war, might fight on for some time, perhaps, and might
even conquer by a sudden blow, but if she struck the blow
and failed, then, as after events were to show, her power
would crash down at once into ruin.

As Napoleon had once done, Germany's leaders resolved
to stake all upon one stroke. In the spring of 1918 she
took the offensive and struck out with a blow that was like
unloosing the forces of hell. March 21, the Germans
attacked from St. Quentin, at a point where the British
had recently taken over the lines from the French. The



Online LibraryEdward Raymond TurnerEurope since 1870 → online text (page 40 of 49)