Thomas Herbert Russell.

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neighborhood of Neuve Chapelle.

"Before noon we captured the whole village of Neuve Chapelle. Our
infantry at once proceeded to confirm and extend the local advantage
gained. By dusk the whole labyrinth of trenches on a front about 4,
yards was in our hands. We had established ourselves about 1,200 yards
beyond the enemy's advanced trenches.

"During the 11th the enemy made repeated efforts to recover the ground
lost. All his counter-attacks were repulsed with heavy loss.

"We continue to make steady progress and hard fighting continues. The
local initiative displayed by our troops daily is admirable. It says
much for the spirit which animates the army. The success achieved on the
10th and 11th is a striking example." "THE END OF THE WORLD"

An officer who was wounded in the fighting thus vividly describes the
battle of Neuve Chapelle:

"Modern warfare is such an infernal business that any man who is not
killed ought to be cheerful. It all seems like a wild dream to me.
I never heard such a row in all my life. And the bullets and the
shells - it was like passing through the most awful hail storm.

"We were in our trenches at dawn when suddenly a most infernal din
commenced. You never saw such a sight; you never heard such a noise. I
heard one of my men say, 'This is the end of the world,' and I did not
blame him for thinking so. We could see in the distance great masses of
flame, earth and brick in great clouds of smoke, all ascending together
as enormous shells screamed over our heads and burst among the German
entrenchments and the houses of the village. At the end of a half-hour's
bombardment the fire ceased as suddenly as it had begun.

"All this time we were awaiting the order to advance towards Aubers. At
length we jumped out into the open. The air seemed alive with bullets
and shells. There was a buzzing noise, such as you hear in a tropical
forest on a hot summer day. On we moved, until we came to an open
stretch, which was being swept by an infernal shell fire. We crossed
this in rushes to gain the shelter of a few houses, losing some 40 or
men. There we remained for some little time, reforming the battalion and
awaiting further orders. When these came we moved forward over rough,
open ground, coming upon lots of our poor fellows lying dead. They were
from the only battalion which had preceded us.

"Then we entered the German trenches which had been captured. Again we
halted. All this time our shells, German shells and rifle and machine
gun bullets were shrieking overhead.

"Thank goodness, in an action like this you seem to lose your senses!
A kind of elevation above all ordinary feelings comes over you and
you feel as though you were rushing through air. There is so much to
frighten you that you cease to be afraid. Then your senses gradually
come back. That is why all infantry attacks should be carried through
with one overwhelming rush."


On March 12 two German armies were on the move in Poland, seeking to
pierce the Russian lines. One of these armies was advancing along the
road to Przasnysz with the bank of the River Narew as its objective.
This was the main German attack and inaugurated one of the biggest
battles of the war.

Farther south, on the Pilica, a German feint was in progress with
the object of weakening the Russian defense in the north. But while
Petrograd seemed to be resigning itself to the idea of a second
withdrawal from before Przasnysz, there was little doubt of the ultimate
outcome of this German attempt to gain a firm footing on Russian soil.
The German troops were moved forward in close order and only in the
daytime, and were entirely dependent on what natural cover they could
find between the rushes, as the ground was frozen too hard to permit the
use of intrenching tools.

These tactics naturally involved very heavy losses. The German
casualties are also understood to have been extremely severe around
Simno, especially on their extreme left, where they lost the greater
part of their transport. It appeared certain that the Russians had
fallen back before an onrush of forces of overwhelming numerical
superiority, but it was equally certain that with every yard of the
German advance from their railways the shock of their impact weakened
while the Russian powers of resistance were enhanced.


Just as the French attacked the Germans in the western campaign when
Field Marshal von Hindenburg made his rush from East Prussia in
February, so the British army operating in Flanders undertook the task
of relieving the pressure on its Russian ally when the Russians again
were attacked in north Poland. This was part of the general plan of the
allied generals. When one was attacked the other attacked, so as to
compel the Germans and Austrians to keep strong forces at every point,
and endeavor to prevent them from sending new troops where they could do
the most good.

In March the Germans were occupied in an attempt to crush the Russians.
For this purpose they had an army estimated at nearly half a million men
marching along the roads toward Przasnysz. To prevent this army from
being further strengthened the British began to thrust at the German
line north of La Bassée, and besides reporting the capture of the
village of Neuve Chapelle, they advanced beyond that town.


On March 12 the Admiralty issued a report of the loss of the large
British auxiliary cruiser Bayano while on naval patrol duty in the
Irish Sea. Evidence pointed to her having been torpedoed by a German
submarine. Only 27 of the Bayano's crew of 250 were saved. Fourteen
officers, including the commander, went down with the ship. The Bayano
was a new twin screw steel steamer of 5,948 tons. The survivors were
afloat on a raft when rescued. The loss of the Bayano was the most
serious of the submarine blockade of the British coasts up to that time.


For several months British warships in the South Atlantic and South
Pacific oceans sought in vain for the German cruiser Dresden, one of the
German squadron defeated off the Falkland Islands by Admiral Sturdee in
December, when she was the only German vessel to escape. On February
she sank the British ship Conway Castle off Corral in the South Pacific,
and on March 14 she was caught near Juan Fernandez Island by the British
cruisers Glasgow and Kent and the auxiliary cruiser Orama. An action
ensued and after five minutes' fighting the Dresden hauled down her
flag. She was much damaged and set on fire, and after she had been
burning for some time her magazine exploded and she sank. The crew were
saved. Fifteen badly wounded Germans were landed at Valparaiso, and the
remainder of the crew were taken on board the auxiliary cruiser Orama as
prisoners of war.

The Dresden was a sister ship of the famous Emden, and was commissioned
in October, 1907. In the spring of 1914 the Dresden was on the Caribbean
station, and was lying off Tampico when the American forces captured
Vera Cruz. Later on in the summer the Dresden was the vessel on which
Victoriano Huerta, upon abandoning Mexico, traveled from Puerta to
Jamaica. Upon the outbreak of the war the Dresden was still stationed in
Central American waters, and for a time was hunted by the British and
French cruisers in the North Atlantic. She steamed south, however, and
after sinking the British steamer Hyades and the Holmwood off the coast
of Brazil, respectively, on August 16 and 26, went through the Strait
of Magellan and joined Admiral Count Von Spee's fleet in the southern

The sinking of the Dresden left at large on the high seas, so far as was
known, only the German cruiser Karlsruhe, last reported as operating in
the West Indies, and the auxiliary cruiser Kronprinz Wilhelm, which was
still raiding commerce in the South Atlantic.


On March 22 the long siege of Przemysl, the formidable Galician fortress
that had been called the "key to the Austrian empire," ended with the
surrender of the city to the Russians. The siege stands as the fifth
longest in 136 years, having lasted 185 days, surpassed in duration only
by the sieges of Gibraltar, Sebastopol, Vicksburg, Richmond and Port
Arthur. The news of the Austrians' surrender was the most important that
had come from the eastern front in weeks. For six months the stronghold
had withstood assault, remaining a constant menace in the rear of the
Russian advance in Galicia. From 120,000 to 150,000 Russians had been
held in the neighborhood by the necessity of masking the fortress.
Numerous efforts had been made to reach the beleaguered city by
relieving armies, but each in turn proved unavailing, though for a time
in December it appeared likely that a combined German and Austrian army
would succeed in raising the siege.

The fall of Przemysl was preceded by a sortie of the garrison in a last
desperate attempt to hack its way through the enemy's lines. After a
seven hours' battle they were compelled to retreat with a loss of nearly
4,000 prisoners. Only three days' rations were left. In the surrender of
the city the Russians announced the taking of nearly 120,000 prisoners,
including nine generals, 93 officers of the general staff, 2,
officers and officials, and 117,000 soldiers.

Twenty-four thousand soldiers of the Przemysl garrison were killed
during the long siege, according to dispatches from Petrograd. Twenty
thousand more were wounded making the total casualties of the Austrian
defenders 44,000 men. Depleted by disease, subsisting on horseflesh, and
surrounded by a superior force of Russians, the garrison of Przemysl was
forced to surrender, but fell with honor, the gallant character of the
defense under General von Kusmanek being conceded on all sides. The
Russian commander who received the surrender was General Seliwanoff. In
the early days of the siege a Bulgarian, General Radko Dimitrieff, was
in command of the investing forces. General Seliwanoff commanded the
Russian forces at Vladivostok during the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-05.

The duration of the siege compared with the length of time it took the
Germans to capture such strongholds as Liège, Namur and Antwerp was due
to two causes, one being the desire of the Russians to keep the loss of
life among the besieging army at a minimum, the other to the lack of
great guns which the Germans had in Belgium.

The investment was not a close one, the garrison having had a radius
of about twelve miles in which to move about. An aeroplane post was
maintained almost up to the last, and it is said that even some scanty
food supplies were carried in by aeroplane.

Although the victory was a big one, it cost the Russians dearly. It
is estimated that 150,000 Russians were killed and wounded during the
months that the siege went on. Not only were many Russians killed by the
efficient fire of the Austrian gunners, but the fierce sorties
where attackers and defenders fought hand-to-hand resulted in heavy

Przemysl was the greatest fortress in the Austrian empire. Hill, rock,
marsh and river combined to give it strength and the work of nature had
been supplemented by the labors of the finest military engineers in
central Europe. The gallant defense which the garrison put up for
days is recorded as Austria's most noteworthy contribution to the war.
For a long time the fortress had faced famine.

With the fall of Przemysl the only important fortified town in Austrian
Galicia which was not in the hands of the Russians was Cracow, close to
the German border. A large Russian army with artillery was released for
action. The Russian left wing stretched from the province of Bukowina on
the southeast to Tarnow and the Vistula River near Cracow on the west.

On the eastern front of the stupendous battle line in March the most
sanguinary fighting of the war occurred. Losses on both sides were
appalling, while the gains in territorial acquisition amounted to little
or nothing.

Describing the enormous losses on both sides in Poland, a neutral
observer, Mr. Stanley Washburn, said in the American Review of Reviews:

"The German program contemplated taking both Warsaw and Ivangorod and
the holding for the winter of the line between the two formed by the
Vistula. The Russians took the offensive from Ivangorod, crossed the
river, and after hideous fighting fairly drove Austrians and Germans
from positions of great strength around the quaint little Polish town of
Kozienice. From this town for perhaps ten miles west, and I know not how
far north and south there is a belt of forest of fir and spruce. Near
Kozienice the Russian infantry, attacking in flank and front, fairly
wrested the enemy's position and drove him back into this jungle. The
Russians simply sent their troops in after them.

"The fight was now over a front of perhaps twenty kilometers; there
was no strategy. It was all very simple. In this belt were Germans and
Austrians. They were to be driven out if it took a month. Then began the
carnage. Day after day the Russians fed troops in on their side of
the wood. Companies, battalions, regiments, and even brigades, were
absolutely cut off from all communication. None knew what was going on
anywhere but a few feet in front. All knew that the only thing required
of them was to keep advancing.

"Yard by yard the ranks and lines of the Austrians were driven back, but
the nearer their retreat brought them to the open country west of the
wood the hotter was the contest waged. The last two kilometers of the
woody belt are something incredible to behold; there seems hardly an
acre that is not sown like the scene of a paperchase - only here with
bloody bandages and bits of uniform. Men fighting hand to hand with
clubbed muskets and bayonets contested each tree and ditch. The end was,
of course, inevitable. The troops of the dual alliance could not fill
their losses, and the Russians could. "At last came the day when the
dirty, grimy, bloody soldiers of the Czar pushed their antagonists out
of the far side of the woodland - and what a scene occurred in that
open bit of country with the quaint little village of Augustowo at the
crossroads! Once out in the open the hungry guns of the Russians, so
long yapping ineffectively without knowing what their shells were doing,
had their chance. Down every road through the forest came the six-horse
teams with the guns jumping and jingling behind, with their accompanying
caissons heavy with death-charged shrapnel, and the moment the enemy
were in the clear these batteries, eight guns to a unit, were unlimbered
on the fringe of the wood and pouring out their death and destruction on
the wretched enemy now retreating hastily across the open. And the place
where the Russians first turned loose on the retreat is a place to

"Dead horses, bits of men, blue uniforms, shattered transport,
overturned gun-carriages, bones, broken skulls, and grisly bits of
humanity strew every acre of the ground.


"A Russian officer who seemed to be in authority on this gruesome spot
volunteered the information that already they had buried at Kozienice,
in the wood and on this open spot, 16,000 dead. Those that had fallen in
the open and along the road had been decently interred, as the forests
of crosses for ten miles along that bloody way clearly indicated, but
back in the woods themselves were hundreds and hundreds of bodies that
lay as they had fallen. Sixteen thousand dead means at least 70,
casualties all told, or 35,000 on a side if losses were equally
distributed. And this, figured on the basis of the 16,000 dead already
buried, without allowing for the numbers of the fallen that still lie
about in the woods. And yet here is a battle the name of which is hardly
more than known in America, yet the losses on both sides amount to more
than the entire army that General Meade commanded at the Battle of

"He who has the heart to walk about in this ghastly place can read the
last sad moments of almost every corpse. Here one sees a blue-coated
Austrian with leg shattered by a jagged bit of a shell. The trouser
perhaps has been ripped open and clumsy attempts been made to dress the
wound, while a great splotch of red shows where the fading strength was
exhausted before the flow of life's stream could be checked. Here again
is a body with a ghastly rip in the chest, made perhaps by bayonet or
shell fragment. Frantic hands now stiffened in death are seen trying to
hold together great wounds from which life must have flowed in a few
great spurts of blood. And here it is no fiction about the ground being
soaked with gore. One can see it, - coagulated like bits of raw liver,
while great chunks of sand and earth are in lumps, held together by this
human glue. Other bodies lie in absolute peace and serenity. Struck dead
with a rifle ball through the heart or some other instantly vital spot.
These lie like men asleep, and on their faces is the peace of absolute
rest and relaxation, but of these alas! there are few compared to the
ones upon whose pallid, blood-stained faces one reads the last frantic
agony of death.

"The soldiers themselves go on from battlefield to battlefield, from
one scene of carnage to another. They see their regiments dwindle to
nothing, their officers decimated, three-fourths of their comrades
dead or wounded, and yet each night they gather about their bivouacs
apparently undisturbed by it all. One sees them on the road the day
after one of these desperate fights marching cheerfully along, singing
songs and laughing and joking with one another. This is _morale_ and it
is of the stuff that victories are made. And of such is the fiber of the
Russian soldier, scattered over these hundreds of miles of front to-day.
He exists in millions and has abiding faith in his companions, in his
officers, and in his cause."


Writing of the desperate fighting in Poland in midwinter when the
Germans made a tremendous effort to pierce the Russian lines on the
Bzura and Rawka front, with Warsaw as their objective point, an American
correspondent, Mr. John F. Bass, said: "The fighting was terrific.
The detonations of the cannon came in such rapid succession that they
sounded like giant machine guns and the windows of the dressing stations
for the wounded shook as if from an earthquake. It was not possible to
distinguish individual gun explosions from the Battle of the infantry
fire. All were mingled in one inarticulate battle shriek. At
night, as in a furious thunderstorm, the darkness was pierced with the
unintermittent flashes of the guns, while sickly green rockets shed a
ghastly light over the fighting lines. The wounded brought in filled the
hospitals to overflowing.

"It was estimated by the Russians that the Germans lost 60,000 men. I
was told by an officer that the bodies of German soldiers were piled up
before the Russian trenches in many of the assaults so high that German
shells bursting among them threw mangled pieces of human beings into the
trenches among the Russians.

"At night, under the glare of search-lights, the undulating mass of
wounded made efforts to extricate themselves. Then, toward 2 o'clock in
the morning, they moved no more." The winter cold had done its deadly


In the Champagne country of northern France the month of March was
marked by almost continuous fighting of the fiercest character. French
advices from Chalons-sur-Marne on March 29 were to the effect that
11,000 German dead had been taken from the trenches won by the French in
the previous twenty days and that the total German losses during that
time in the Champagne district exceeded 50,000 in killed, wounded and


All through the month of April the days were crowded with important
occurrences east and west along the battle lines. The Russian movement
across the Carpathians was pressed with vigor and some of the fiercest
fighting of the war resulted, as the combined German and Austrian troops
resisted the Russian advance into Hungary.

Early in the spring the British forces gained a notable victory at
Neuve Chapelle in the western theater of war. Then the German forces
in Flanders were heavily reinforced until it was estimated that they
numbered not less than half a million men, gathered for the purpose of
smashing the line of the Allies at the strategic point where the British
and the Belgian troops were in touch with one another. Here, for three
days, the Germans succeeded in pushing forward, driving a wedge for
several miles into the line of the allied armies of England, France
and Belgium. And here, too, the Canadian division of the British army
covered itself with glory and once more demonstrated the value to the
British empire of the "lion's whelps." On one notable occasion, destined
to be recorded in history as a red-letter day for Canadian arms, the
gallant fellows from the great Dominion "saved the situation," to quote
from the report of Field Marshal French, by a splendid charge, during
which they recaptured from the Germans four of their field guns that had
been lost the day before.


_From Sir Max Aitken's official account of the battle of Ypres._

"It did not seem that any human being could live in the shower of shot
and shell which began to play on the advancing troops. They suffered
terrible casualties. For a short time every other man seemed to fall,
but the attack was pressed even closer and closer. The 4th Canadian
battalion at one moment came under a particularly withering fire. For a
moment it wavered.

"Its most gallant commanding officer, Lieut.-Col. Birchall, carrying,
after an old fashion, a light cane, coolly and cheerfully rallied his
men and at the very moment when his example had infected them, fell dead
at the head of his battalion.

"With a cry of anger they sprang forward as if to avenge his death. The
astonishing attack which followed, pushed home in the face of direct
frontal fire made in broad daylight by battalions whose names should
live forever in the memories of soldiers, was carried to the first line
of German trenches. After a hand-to-hand struggle the last German who
resisted was bayoneted and the trench was won.

"It was clear that several German divisions were attempting to crush or
drive back the Third Brigade and to sweep around and overwhelm our left
wing. The last attempt partially succeeded. German troops swung past the
unsupported left of the brigade and, slipping in between the wood and
St. Julien, added to our torturing anxieties by apparently isolating us
from the brigade base.

"In the exertions made by the Third Brigade during this supreme crisis,
Major Norsworthy, already almost disabled by a bullet wound, was
bayoneted and killed. Captain McQuaig of the same battalion was
seriously wounded.

"General Curry flung his left flank around and in the crisis of this
immense struggle held his trenches from Thursday afternoon until Sunday
afternoon. He did not abandon them then. There were none left. They had
been obliterated by artillery.

"He withdrew his undefeated troops from the fragments of his field
fortifications and the hearts of his men were as completely unbroken as
the parapets of his trenches were completely broken.

"The Ninetieth Winnipeg Rifles, which held the extreme left of the
brigade position at the most critical moment, was expelled from the
trenches early Friday morning by an emission of poisonous gas, but
recovering in three-quarters of an hour it counter-attacked, retook the
trenches it had abandoned and bayoneted the enemy.

"General Alderson, commanding the reinforcements, directed an advance by
a British brigade which had been brought up in support.

"As the troops making it swept through the Canadian left and center,
many of them going to certain death, they paused for an instant with
deep-throated cheers for Canada, indicating the warm admiration which
the Canadians' exertions had excited in the British army.

"On Monday morning General Curry was again called upon to lead his
shrunken Second Brigade, reduced to a quarter of its original strength,
into action at the apex of the line, which position the brigade held all
that day. On Wednesday it was relieved and retired to the rear. 'Not a
Canadian gun was lost in the long battle of retreat.'"

Concluding his account, Sir Max wrote: "The empire is engaged in a

Online LibraryThomas Herbert RussellAmerica's War for Humanity → online text (page 34 of 49)