Thomas Herbert Russell.

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the ditches, which were, for the greater part, dry; nor do I know how
long we remained there or what was happening. We were perfectly hidden
from view, lying flat down on our stomachs, but we were also unable to
see anything. Everybody's ears were attentive, every nerve was strained.
The sun was rising. It promised to be a hot day.


"Suddenly we heard a shot, at a distance of what seemed to be a mile or
so, followed by several other shots. I ventured to lift my body up in
order to see what was happening. But the next moment my sergeant, who
was close by me, warned me with a knock on my shoulder not to move, and
the whispered order ran, 'Keep quiet! Hide yourself!' Still, the short
glance had been sufficient to see what was going on. Our troops,
probably those who had been left behind in the forest, were crossing the
plain and shooting at the Germans on the crest of the hill, who returned
the fire.

"The silence was gone. We heard the rushing of feet at a short distance;
then, suddenly, it ceased when the attacking soldiers dropped to aim and
shoot. Some firing was heard, and then again a swift rush followed. This
seemed to last a long time, but it was broken by distant cries, coming
apparently from the enemy. I was wondering all the time why we kept
hidden and did not share in the assault.

"The rifle fire was incessant. I saw nothing of the battle. Would, our
troops be able to repulse the Germans? How strong were the enemy! They
seemed to have no guns, but the number of our soldiers in that field was
not very large.


"A piercing yell rose from the enemy. Was it a cry of triumph? A short
command rang over the field in French, an order to retreat. A swift rush
followed; our troops were being pursued by the enemy. What on earth were
we waiting for in our ditches? A bugle signal, clear and bright. We
sprang to our feet, and 'At the bayonet!' the order came. We threw
ourselves on the enemy, who were at the same time attacked on the other
side by the division which formed the other 'leg' of the V, while the
'fleeing' French soldiers turned and made a savage attack.

"It is impossible to say or to describe what one feels at such a moment.
I believe one is in a state of temporary madness, of perfect rage. It is
terrible, and if we could see ourselves in such a state I feel sure we
would shrink with horror.

"In a few minutes the field was covered with dead and wounded men,
almost all of them Germans, and our hands and bayonets were dripping
with blood. I felt hot spurts of blood in my face, of other men's blood,
and as I paused to wipe them off, I saw a narrow stream of blood running
along the barrel of my rifle.

"Such was the beginning of a summer day."


Writing from Sezanne a few days after the battle of the Marne a visitor
to the battlefield described the conditions at that time as follows:

"The territory over which the battle of the Marne was fought is now
a picture of devastation, abomination and death almost too awful to

"Many sons of the fatherland are sleeping their last sleep in the open
fields and in ditches where they fell or under hedges where they crawled
after being caught by a rifle bullet or piece of shell, or where they
sought shelter from the mad rush of the franc-tireurs, who have not
lost their natural dexterity with the knife and who at close quarters
frequently throw away their rifles and fight hand to hand.

"The German prisoners are being used on the battlefield in searching
for and burying their dead comrades. Over the greater part of the huge
battlefield there have been buried at least those who died in open
trenches on the plateaus or on the high roads. The extensive forest
area, however, has hardly been searched for bodies, although hundreds
of both French and Germans must have sought refuge and died there.
The difficulty of finding bodies is considerable on account of the

"Long lines of newly broken brown earth mark the graves of the victims.
Some of these burial trenches are 150 yards long. The dead are placed
shoulder to shoulder and often in layers. This gives some idea of the
slaughter that took place in this battle.

"The peasants, who are rapidly coming back to the scene, are marking the
grave trenches with crosses and planting flowers above or placing on
them simple bouquets of dahlias, sunflowers and roses.


"Some of the hottest fighting of the prolonged battle took place around
the beautiful chateau of Mondement, on a hill six miles east of Sezanne.
This relic of the architectural art of Louis XIV occupied a position
which both sides regarded as strategically important.

"To the east it looked down into a great declivity in the shape of
an immense Greek lamp, with the concealed marshes of St. Sond at
the bottom. Beyond are the downs and heaths of Epernay, Rheims and
Champagne, while the heights of Argonne stand out boldly in the
distance. To the west is a rich agricultural country.

"The possession of the ridge of Mondement was vital to either the
attackers or the defenders. The conflict here was of furnace intensity
for four days. The Germans drove the French out in a terrific assault,
and then the French guns were brought to bear, followed by hand-to-hand
fighting on the gardens and lawns of the chateau and even through the
breached walls.

"Frenchmen again held the building for a few hours, only to retire
before another determined German attack. On the fourth day they swept
the Germans out again with shell fire, under which the walls of the
chateau, although two or three feet thick, crumpled like paper."

The same correspondent described evidences on the battlefields of how
abundantly the Germans were equipped with ammunition and other material.
He saw pyramid after pyramid of shrapnel shells abandoned in the rout,
also innumerable paniers for carrying such ammunition. These paniers are
carefully constructed of wicker and hold three shells in exactly fitting
tubes so that there can be no movement.

The villages of Oyes, Villeneuve, Chatillon and Soizy-aux-Bois were all
bombarded and completely destroyed. Some fantastic capers were played by
the shells, such as blowing away half a house and leaving the other half
intact; going through a window and out by the back wall without damaging
the interior, or going a few inches into the wall and remaining fast
without exploding.

Villeneuve, which was retaken three times, was, including its fine old
church, in absolute ruins.


The battle line along the Marne was so extended that the four-days'
fighting from Sunday, September 6, to Thursday morning, September 10,
when the Germans were in full retreat, comprised a series of bloody
engagements, each worthy of being called a battle. There were hot
encounters south of the Marne at Crecy, Montmirail and other points. At
Chalons-sur-Marne the French fought for twenty-four hours and inflicted
heavy losses on the enemy. General Exelmans, one of France's most
brilliant cavalry leaders, was dangerously wounded in leading a charge.

There was hard fighting on September 7 between Lagny and Meaux, on the
Trilport and Crecy-en-Brie line, the Germans under General von Kluck
being compelled to give way and retire on Meaux, at which point their
resistance was broken on the 9th.

General French's army advanced to meet the German hosts with forced
marches from their temporary base to the southeast of Paris.

The whole British army, except cavalry, passed through Lagny, and
the incoming troops were so wearied that many of them at the first
opportunity lay down in the dust and slept where they were.

But a few hours' rest worked a great change, and a little later the
British troops were following the German retreat up the valley with
bulldog tenacity.

The British artillery did notable work in those days, according to the
French military surgeons who were stationed at Lagny. At points near
there the bodies of slain Germans who fell before the British gunners
still littered the ground on September 10, and the grim crop was still
heavier on the soil farther up the valley, where the fighting was more

As far as possible the bodies were buried at night, each attending to
its own fallen.


Sanguinary incidents were plentiful in the week of fighting to the south
of the Marne. In an engagement not far from Lagny the British captured
thirty Germans who had given up their arms and were standing under guard
when, encouraged by a sudden forward effort of the German front, they
made a dash for their rifles. They were cut down by a volley from their
British guards before they could reach their weapons.

"Among dramatic incidents in the fighting," according to an English
correspondent, "may be mentioned the grim work at the ancient fishponds
near Ermenonville. These ponds are shut in by high trees. Driving the
enemy through the woods, a Scotch regiment hustled its foes right into
the fishponds, the Scotchmen jumping in after the Germans up to the
middle to finish them in the water, which was packed with their bodies."
This scene is illustrated on another page.


Some idea of how the Germans were harassed by artillery fire during
their retreat was obtained on a visit to the fields near Meaux, the
scene of severe fighting. The German infantry had taken a position in a
sunken road, on either side of which were stretched in extended lines
hummocks, some of them natural and some the work of spades in the hands
of German soldiers.

The sunken road was littered with bodies. Sprawling in ghastly fashion,
the faces had almost the same greenish-gray hue as the uniforms worn.
The road is lined with poplars, the branches of which, severed by
fragments of shells, were strewn among the dead. In places whole tops of
trees had been torn away by the artillery fire.

Beside many bodies were forty or fifty empty cartridge shells, while
fragments of clothing, caps and knapsacks were scattered about. This
destruction was wrought by batteries a little more than three miles
distant. Straggling clumps of wood intervened between the batteries
and their mark, but the range had been determined by an officer on an
elevation a mile from the gunners. He telephoned directions for the
firing and through glasses watched the bursting shells.


A graphic picture of the fight in Crecy wood was given by a
correspondent who said: The French and English in overwhelming numbers
had poured in from Lagny toward the River Marne to reinforce the
flanking skirmishers. One of the smaller woods southeast of Crecy
furnished cover for the enemy for a time, but led to their undoing. The
Allies' patrols discovered them in the night as the Germans were moving
about with lanterns.

Suddenly the invaders found their twinkling glow-worms the mark for a
foe of whom they had been unaware. Without warning a midnight hail storm
from Maxims screamed through the trees. The next morning scores of
lanterns were picked up in the wood, with the glasses shattered. A
dashing cavalry charge by the British finally cleared the tragic wood of
the Germans.


At Lagny one of the sights of the town was a shattered bridge, which was
blown up by General French as soon as he got his army across it. At that
time British infantry and artillery had poured through the town and over
the bridge for several days. General French's idea was to keep raiding
detachments of German cavalry from incursions into the beautiful villas
and gardens of the western suburbs.

Fifteen minutes after the bridge had been reduced to a twisted mass
of steel and broken masonry a belated order came to save it, but the
British engineers who had received the order to destroy it had done
their work well.

The inhabitants were cleared out of all the neighboring houses, which
were shaken by the terrific explosion when the charge was set off. Every
window in the nearby houses was shattered.

The people of Lagny took the destruction of their beautiful bridge in
good part. They were too grateful for their deliverance from the Germans
to grumble about the wrecked bridge.


There is no doubt that the German losses in the engagements at the Marne
far exceeded those of the Allies and were most severe, in both men and
material. The Germans made incredible efforts to cross the Marne. The
French having destroyed all the bridges, the Germans tried to construct
three bridges of boats. Sixteen times the bridges were on the point of
completion, but each time they were reduced to matchwood by the French

"There is not the slightest doubt," said a reliable correspondent, "that
but for the superb handling of the German right by General von Kluck, a
large part of Emperor William's forces would have been captured at the
Marne. The allied cavalry did wonders, and three or four additional
divisions of cavalry could have contributed towards a complete rout of
the Germans."

The general direction of the German retirement was northeast, and it was
continued for seventy miles, to a line drawn between Soissons, Rheims
and Verdun.

A week after the battle the field around Meaux had been cleared of dead
and wounded, and only little mounds with tiny crosses, flowers and
tricolored flags recalled the terrible struggle.

The inhabitants of neighboring villages soon returned to their homes and
resumed their ordinary occupations.


While the fighting at the Marne was in progress, German troops achieved
some successes in other parts of the theater of war. Thus, the fortified
French town of Maubeuge, on the Sambre river midway between Namur in
Belgium and St. Quentin, France, fell to the Germans on September 7. The
investment began on August 25. More than a thousand shells fell in one
night near the railway station and the Rue de France was partially
destroyed. The loss of life, however, was comparatively slight.

At 11:50 o'clock on the morning of September 7 a white flag was hoisted
on the church tower and trumpets sounded "cease firing," but the firing
only ceased at 3:08 o'clock that afternoon. In the meantime the greater
part of the garrison succeeded in evacuating the town. The German forces
marched in at 7:08 o'clock that evening.

The retreat of the German forces from the Marne ended the second stage
of the great war.



_Slow Mobilization of Troops - Invasion of German and Austrian
Territory - Cossacks Lead the Van - Early Successes
in East Prussia - "On to Berlin" - Heavy
Losses Inflicted on Austrians - German Troops Rushed
to the Defense of the Eastern Territory_.

When at 7:30 o'clock on the evening of August 1, 1914, the German
Ambassador at St. Petersburg handed the declaration of war to the
Russian foreign minister, the immediate reason was that Russia had
refused to stop mobilizing her army, as requested by Germany on July 30.

The general mobilization of the Russian army and fleet was proclaimed
on July 31 and martial law was proclaimed forthwith in Germany. The
government of the Kaiser had given Russia twenty-four hours in which
to reply to its ultimatum of the 30th. Russia paid no attention to the
ultimatum, but M. Goremykin, president of the Council of the Russian
Empire, issued a manifesto which read:

"Russia is determined not to allow Servia to be crushed and will fulfill
its duty in regard to that small kingdom, which has already suffered so
much at Austria's hands."

Austria-Hungary declared war against Russia on August 6. From that
time on the Russian army had two main objectives - first, the Austrian
province of Galicia, and second the eastern frontier of Germany, across
which lay the territory known as East Prussia. And while the early days
of the great conflict saw a German host pouring into Belgium, animated
by the battle-cry, "On to Paris!" the gathering legions of the Czar
headed to the west and crossed the Prussian frontier with hoarse,
resounding shouts of "On to Berlin!"


The mobilization of the Russian army was slow compared with that
of Germany, France and Austria, and some weeks elapsed after the
declaration of war before Russia was prepared to attack Germany with
the full force of which it was capable. The immense distances to be
traversed by troops proceeding to the frontier and by the reserves to
their respective depots caused delays that were unavoidable but were
minimized by the eagerness of the Russian soldiery to get to the front.
In Russia, as in all the other great countries engaged in the conflict,
with the probable exception of Austria, the war was popular and a wave
of patriotic enthusiasm and martial ardor swept over the land, from the
Baltic to the Black Sea, from St. Petersburg to Siberia.

In Russia military service is universal and begins at the age of 20,
continuing for twenty-three years. There are three divisions of the
Russian army - the European, Caucasian and Asiatic armies. Military
service of the Russian consists of three years in the first line,
fourteen years in the reserve (during which time he has to undergo two
periods of training of six weeks each) and five years in the territorial
reserve. The Cossacks, however, hold their land by military tenure and
are liable to serve at any time in the army. They provide their own
horses and accouterments. The total strength of the Russian army is
about 5,500,000 men; the field force of the European army consists of
1,000,000 soldiers with about the same number in the second line. There
were besides at the beginning of the war over 5,000,000 men unorganized
but available for duty.


Since the disastrous war with Japan the Russian army has been
reorganized and it has profited largely by the harsh experience of the
Manchurian campaign.

The physique of the Russian infantryman is second to none in Europe. The
Russian "moujik" (peasant) is from childhood accustomed to cover long
distances on foot, so that marches of from 30 to 40 miles are covered
without fatigue by even the youngest recruits. They wear long boots,
which are made of excellent soft leather, so that sore feet were quite
the exception even in Manchuria, where very long marches were undergone
by many of the units.

Each regiment of infantry contains four battalions commanded by a major
or lieutenant-colonel. The battalion consists of four companies of
men, commanded by a captain, so that each regiment on a war footing
numbers upwards of 2,000 men.

The Russian cavalry is divided into two main categories. There are the
heavy regiments of the Guard, which consist mainly of Lancer regiments,
and there are also numberless Cossack or irregular cavalry regiments,
which are recruited chiefly from the districts of the River Don and the
highlands of the Caucasus.

The horses of the Russian horse and field artillery are distinctly poor
and very inferior to those of the cavalry. The artillery is
therefore somewhat slow in coming into action. But the horses, while
weedy-looking, are very hardy and pull the guns up steep gradients.
The Russian gunners prefer to take up "indirect" rather than "direct"
positions. Batteries are also rather slow in changing positions and in
moving up in support of their infantry units.


What the Uhlans are to the German army, the Cossacks of the Don and the
Caucasus are to the Russians - scouts, advance guards and "covering"
cavalry. They are good all-round fighters, capable of long-continued
effort and tireless in the saddle; they are also trained to fight in
dismounted action.

As a soldier the Cossack is altogether unique; his ways are his own and
his confidence in his officers and himself is perfect. His passionate
love of horses makes his work a pleasure. The Cossack seat on horseback
is on a high pad-saddle, with the knee almost vertical and the heel well
drawn back. Spurs are not worn, and another remarkable thing is that
he has absolutely no guard to his sword. The Russian soldier scorns
buttons; he says, "They are a nuisance; they have to be cleaned, they
wear away the cloth, they are heavy, and they attract the attention of
the enemy."

The Cossack pony is a quaint little beast to look at, but the finest
animal living for his work, and very remarkable for his wonderful powers
of endurance. The Cossack and his mount have been likened to a clever
nurse and a spoilt child - each understands and loves the other, but
neither is completely under control. The Cossack does not want his horse
to be a slave, and recognizes perfectly that horses, like children, have
their whims and humors and must be coaxed and reasoned with, but rarely
punished. The famous knout (whip) is carried by the Cossacks at the end
of a strap across the left shoulder. Most of the men are bearded and in
full dress, with the high fur cap stuck jauntily on the head of square
cut hair, the Cossack presents a picturesque and martial figure. The
appearance of these men is quite different from that of the clean-shaven
regular infantryman of the Russian army.


"While the direct objective of the Russians was Berlin, there were
many reasons why a bee-line course could not be followed. Germany had
prepared an elaborate defense system to cover the direct approaches to
Berlin, and the fortresses of Danzig, Graudenz, Thorn, and Posen were
important points in this scheme. The nature of the country also adapts
itself to these defensive works and would make progress slow for an

Moreover, as Austria and her forces mobilized before Russia, a diversion
was created by the Austrian invasion of south Poland, in which the
Germans also took the offensive. Under these circumstances the Russian
plan of campaign resolved itself into three parts: -

(1) A northern movement from Kovno and Grodno on Insterburg and
Königsberg as a counter-attack.

(2) A central movement from Warsaw towards Posen with supporting
movements north and south.

(3) A southern movement on Lublin in Poland to repulse the invaders
combined with a movement from the east on Lemberg in order to turn the
Austrian flank.

The first purpose of Russia was to clear Poland of enemies, as they
threatened the Russian left flank. At the same time Russia took the
offensive by an invasion of Prussia in the north. This latter movement
led to a victory at Gumbinnen and the investment of Königsberg. Later
came victory at Lublin, rolling back the Austrians, and the capture of
Lemberg, which signalized the Russian invasion of Austrian territory.
Thus Russia was for awhile clear of the enemy, while she established a
strong footing in both Prussia and Austria.

[Illustration: THE RUSSIAN PLAN OF CAMPAIGN In the above view the German
lines of defense are shown black, the Austrian lines of defense are
indicated by crossed lines, and the Russian advances are shown by

We can now understand the main Russian plan a little better. In the
north the army was to advance from Königsberg and endeavor to cut off
Danzig and break the line of defenses between that place and Thorn, thus
leaving this fortress in the rear. In the south the Austrians, already
heavily punished, would be driven back on the Carpathian passes to
the south, and westward also toward Cracow, which is the key to the
situation. If Cracow fell Russia would have a good route into Germany,
and the move would be supported by advances from Warsaw, thus
threatening Breslau from two sides.


Early in September, however, the danger of the Russian advance into
Germany, which apparently had given the German general staff but little
concern at first, was fully realized and large bodies of German troops
were detached from the western theater of war and hurried to the eastern
frontier. Germany had evidently reckoned on Austria being able to hold
its ground better, and was badly prepared for a flanking move on Breslau
so early in the campaign. But the Servian and Russian defeats of Austria
left Germany to bear the full force of the terrific Russian onslaught,
and her forces proved equal to the occasion. Under General von
Hindenberg the German army of the east soon repelled the Russian
invaders and forced them to retire from East Prussia across their own
border, where they were followed by the Germans. A series of engagements
on Russian soil followed, in which the advantage lay as a rule with the

Online LibraryThomas Herbert RussellAmerica's War for Humanity → online text (page 19 of 49)