Thomas Herbert Russell.

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country to remain neutral - but his protest was offset by the facts that
the great majority of the people of Greece were favorable to the Allies
and that their landing at Saloniki was for the purpose of aiding Serbia,
Greece's friend and ally, which Greece had notably failed to do.
Frequent threats of the bombardment of Saloniki by the Germans or by the
Bulgars were made during January, but up to February 10 the threatened
attack had failed to materialize and the Allies were strongly intrenched
in a 30-mile arc around the town, while the guns of a powerful fleet
of British and French warships commanded the approaches and protected
transports and landings.


On December 30 the Peninsular & Oriental liner Persia was torpedoed by
a submarine, probably Austrian, in the Mediterranean about 300 miles
northwest of Alexandria, and sank in five minutes. One hundred and
fifty-five out of the 400 passengers and crew were landed at Alexandria
on January 1, and eleven others were subsequently reported safe. Among
those lost was Robert N. McNeely, who was on his way to take up his
duties as American consul at Aden.


By the middle of January German engineers had succeeded in repairing the
railroad bridges and roadbed destroyed during the Serbian campaign and
thus reopened direct communication between Berlin and Constantinople.


On the night of February 3 the beautiful Gothic structure which housed
the Canadian Parliament at Ottawa - the architectural pride of the
Dominion - was wrecked by a fire which started in a reading room adjacent
to the chamber of the House of Commons. Six persons, two of them women
friends of the Speaker's family, lost their lives. The House was in
session when the fire broke out, and many members and other occupants of
the building escaped narrowly and with great difficulty. The money loss
from the fire was enormous, and priceless paintings, books and national
documents were destroyed.

Opinions differed as to the causes of the fire, but the occurrence
about the same time of several highly suspicious fires in Canadian
munition factories and the unexplained rapidity with which the
Parliament Building fire spread with mysterious volumes of suffocating
smoke, caused widespread suspicion that the disaster was of incendiary
and enemy origin. A tidal wave of resentment flooded the Dominion and
deep feeling was aroused against men of German birth or extraction
remaining in Canada, some of them occupying public positions of
responsibility. A Commission was appointed by the Government to
investigate the causes of the fire, and, pending its report, official
denials were made that German spies had anything to do with the burning
of the Houses of Parliament. These denials, however, failed to convince
the Canadian people that German sympathizers were entirely innocent of
any participation in the origin of the conflagration.

The ruined building was the central structure of the magnificent group
of Government buildings at Ottawa, and one of the finest examples
of Gothic architecture on the Continent. The Library of Parliament,
occupying a separate structure in the rear of the building wrecked, was
fortunately spared by the fire. It was announced by the Premier, Sir
Robert Borden, that steps would be taken to replace the Parliament
Building with a still finer structure, and the Houses of Parliament
continued their sessions in temporary quarters. One immediate result of
the fire and of the suspicions attached to its origin was to stimulate
recruiting in the Dominion and stiffen the resolve of the Canadian
people to do their utmost to aid the success of British arms at the
European front. Canada became more than ever an armed camp of determined
patriots. The general sentiment was expressed by the Toronto Globe,
which said: "If German agents see a way to injure Canada, they will stop
at nothing to compass their ends. Arson to them is a commonplace and
murder an incident in the day's work. The destruction of the Parliament
Building may have been the result of an accident, but the general belief
at Ottawa is that it was the work of an incendiary."


On February 15, following a five days' siege, Erzerum, the great
Armenian fortress, where the main Turkish army of the Caucasus had taken
refuge, fell into the hands of the Russians. The Turkish army numbered
160,000 men and was under the chief command of the German general, Field
Marshal von der Goltz, formerly military governor of Belgium. The main
body of the Turks managed to avoid capture at Erzerum, but the Russians
took 15,000 prisoners there, besides hundreds of guns and immense
quantities of munitions and supplies. Then began a determined and deadly
pursuit of the Turkish army, with the object of driving it out of
Armenia, and the efforts of the Russians met with continued successes.
Turkish opposition in Asia Minor was swiftly broken down, and steps
were taken by the Russians to relieve the British force which had been
beleagured by the Turks at Kut-el-Amara, in Mesopatamia, 150 miles from

On February 27-28 the Turks hastily evacuated the important Black Sea
port of Trebizond and neighboring cities before the victorious Russian
advance. On March 1 two Russian armies were moving rapidly on Trebizond,
one along the shores of the Black Sea through Rizeh, and the other in
a northwesterly direction from Erzerum. The capture of Erzerum was
effected in bitter wintry weather. During the assault on the fortress
several Turkish regiments were annihilated or taken prisoners with all
their officers. Many Turks perished from the cold.


One of the greatest and most sanguinary battles of the war began before
Verdun on February 20, when the army of the Crown Prince of Germany, in
the presence of the Kaiser, started a determined and desperate drive
against the great French fortress. Ever since the battle of the Marne
halted the German advance on Paris early in September, 1914, the forces
of the Crown Prince had been striving unsuccessfully to break through
the French lines north and east of Verdun, but the fortress had well
maintained its reputation for impregnability and continued to bar the
high road to Paris.

For ten days the battle raged on the plains, in the forests and on the
hills before Verdun, and the loss of life was appalling on both sides.
By February 26, after six days of continuous fighting, the Germans had
penetrated the French lines along several miles of front, had occupied
several villages a few miles north of Verdun, driven the French from the
peninsula of the Meuse formed by a bend of the river about six miles
from the city, and carried by storm the outlying fort of Douaumont, at
the northeast corner of the Verdun fortifications. But their advance
was then halted by the French in a series of the most brilliant
counter-attacks, and the German offensive appeared to die down by March
1, when their losses in the ten days' battle were estimated at 175,000,
including between 40,000 and 50,000 killed. The French losses were
heavy, but the nature of the German attacks, in which huge masses of men
were hurled against the French entrenchments, exposed the Teuton
forces "to the most withering and destructive fire from the French
75-centimeters and machine guns. The battle exceeded in violence and
losses even the great battle of the Yser earlier in the war. Heavy
reinforcements had been brought to the Verdun front by the Germans, and
it was estimated that their forces engaged in the attack numbered at
least 500,000 men, supported by numerous 15-inch and 17-inch Austrian
mortars, with all the heavy German artillery used in the Serbian
campaign and part of that formerly employed on the Russian front.

While the battle of Verdun was in progress, the Germans also made
determined attacks in the Champagne region, graining some ground; but on
March 1 the Allied lines were holding fast all along the western front.

Wounded soldiers returning from the front during the bloody struggle
before Verdun told tragic tales of the fighting. "I watched the assault
of the Germans upon the village of Milancourt, near the Meuse," said a
wounded Frenchman. "They came in solid ranks, without a word, loading
and reloading their rifles without cessation. Our seventy-fives fell
among them, and then the mitrailleuses entered into action. It was no
longer a battalion. It was a few scattered groups of men that one saw,
torn by a rain of shells and bullets, squeezing close against each other
as though for mutual protection.

"On the border of Montfaucon I saw one of these groups disappear at
one blow, as if they had been swallowed into a marsh. Our shells! What
frightful work they did. Never will I forget those fragments of human
beings that fell just at my feet. Never can I forget that terrible

"I followed the attack on Haumont and Samogneux. The field of battle
was lighted as if in full day by star shells. Black masses of Germans
advanced, protected by their artillery, while ours remained silent.
Finally our artillery began, and then the enemy ranks wavered, halted
and disappeared.

"Our guns had waited until the Germans were in a little hollow all
arranged for the massacre. In a little while there lay the bodies of
some 2,000 or 3,000 Germans. They occupied some villages, but their
attack on Verdun has failed after terrible losses."


The sinking of British and French ships, and sometimes neutral vessels,
by German and Austrian submarines continued during the month of
February. On February 27 the Peninsular & Oriental Line steamship
Maloja, of 12,431 tons, was sunk by a torpedo or mine only two miles off
the Admiralty pier at Dover, with a loss of 155 lives, including many
passengers, men, women and children, en route to India. Dozens of
craft went at once to the rescue, and one of them, the Empress of Fort
William, a vessel of 2,181 tons, was also torpedoed or struck a mine and
sank nearby. Of the Maloja's passengers and crew, 260 were rescued.

On February 28 the great French liner La Provence was sunk in the
Mediterranean with a loss estimated at 900 lives. It had a displacement
of 19,200 tons, length 602 feet, beam 65 feet, and had been in the
service of the French Government as a troop transport.

Under new orders to their submarine commanders, in spite of protests by
the United States Government, Germany and Austria inaugurated on March
1 the policy of sinking without warning all Allied merchant vessels
believed to carry any armament for defensive purposes, and the world
waited with bated breath for fresh developments of the Teutonic campaign
of frightfulness.



_Prolonged Battle of Verdun the Most Terrible in History -
Enormous Losses on Both Sides - _Submarine Activity
Imperils Relations of America and Germany_.

Beginning with the first infantry attack by the Germans on Monday,
February 21, after twenty-four hours of continuous bombardment, the
battles incident to the siege of Verdun were fought at brief intervals
during the next two months, down to the middle of April, and marked
the climax of the War. The losses on both sides were enormous and
extraordinary, and taken as a whole the struggle on the semicircular
front north and east of the great French stronghold fully justified its
description as "the most terrible battle in the world's history."

When spring of 1916 arrived, the struggle seemed to be a pretty even
draw, but the end was not in sight. Both sides showed the greatest
confidence in the outcome. In France the confidence of the nation found
expression in the voice of M. Alexandre Ribot, the veteran minister
of finance, who, having Verdun before his eyes, told the Chamber of
Deputies: "We have reached the decisive hour. We can say without
exaggeration, without illusion, and without vain optimism, that we now
see the end of this horrible war."

But while the French were certain that victory would ultimately be
theirs, the German papers and people were just as fully persuaded that
this finest of the fortresses of France would finally fall before the
determined assaults of the Kaiser's army, which no fort had, as yet,

Both sides recognized that this was the supreme moment of the War. The
Germans had gained by April 15 from three to five miles along a front of
about 15 miles, but had taken only two of the ring of minor forts around
Verdun. The French claimed that the configuration of the ground occupied
by the contending forces at that time made their line impregnable.
Although Verdun was said by the German military experts to be only an
incident in the German offensive which was planned to secure the final
"decision," they realized the importance of Verdun to their whole line
on the Western front, and knew its value too well not to make the most
desperate and exhaustive efforts for its conquest.


For many weeks the battle for Verdun was signalized by the most terrific
artillery fire in history. No words can tell of the ear-stunning roar of
the guns, or depict the horror of the tons of steel daily crashing and
splintering amid massed bodies of men, while the softly-falling snows of
late winter covered, but could not conceal, the ensanguined landscape.
Modern warfare was seen at Verdun in all its panoply of terror. Amid
fire and fury, the rich and fertile countryside was transformed into
a vast scene of ruin and desolation, while heroism and self-sacrifice
abounded on both sides, men were maddened by the frenzy of the fight and
the ghastly horrors of night and day, and Death stalked gloatingly and
glutted, but never surfeited, over the bloody field.

The German attacks followed one another so fast and so furiously that
the weeks of fighting became one prolonged battle, and a description of
one attack will almost serve for all. Thus, a wounded French officer
said of the seven days of continuous fighting which opened the German
offensive against Verdun: "The first symptom of the battle favorable
to the French was the inability of the Germans to silence the French
artillery. The attack opened with strong reconnoitering parties
advancing, wherein was noted an unusually large proportion of officers.
For the first time the German officers were seen to be leading their men
into battle, instead of driving them, as had been the rule - and this was
said to be at the behest of the watching Kaiser. Then came the infantry
in great numbers. During the next two days the fighting waxed fiercer
and fiercer.

"At first fourteen German divisions were engaged, then sixteen, and
finally seventeen divisions (340,000 men). The French command at this
point carried out a maneuver which will be recorded as a masterpiece in
military history.

"If the Germans had been only fifteen yards away, the French could
have been submerged by the attack, providing the attacking forces were
prepared to make any sacrifice, but the distance being 1,500 yards there
was little chance for the Germans against the opposing artillery. The
French troops were accordingly swung back to positions from which they
could see the Germans approaching over exposed ground. The effect was
that the immediate front of the attack, which was originally twenty-five
miles in extent, was reduced to nine miles, but even this soon proved
too wide. The German losses were so great that the attack could not be
kept up at all points; and at the end of the seventh day the offensive
dwindled to fragmentary attacks, - but only to be renewed with added
vigor after a brief period of rest for the infantry on both sides, while
the artillery kept up its daily and nightly duel without ceasing, until
the entire terrain became an earthly inferno, thickly scattered over
with the dead and the dying."


Frightful in result, too, was the tragic stratagem played on the Germans
in Caures Wood, near the village of Beaumont. The whole wood had been
mined by the French, and was connected electrically with a station in
the village. When the Germans had advanced, fully a division strong, to
attack the wood, the French regiment holding it ran, as if seized with
panic, back toward the village. The Germans pursued them with shouts of
victory. Soon the last Frenchman had emerged from the trees, but the
French commander waited until the Germans were all in the mined area.
They were just beginning to debouch on the other side when he pressed
the button. There was a tremendous roar, drowning for a moment even the
boom of the cannon. The wood was covered with a cloud of smoke, and even
on the French trenches in Beaumont "there rained a ghastly dew." When
the French re-entered the wood, unopposed, they found not a single
German unwounded, and hardly a score alive.


The German successes during the weeks of fighting in the vicinity of
Verdun, consisting of a series of advances along the front, without
any decisive result so far as the strength of the defense of the main
fortress was concerned, were gained at the cost of enormous losses in
killed and wounded. These losses were estimated on April 7 to have
reached the huge total of 200,000 - one of the greatest battle losses in
the whole range of warfare. During the period from February 21, when the
battle of Verdun began, to April 1, it was said that two German army
corps had been withdrawn from the front, having lost in the first
attacks at least one-third of their force. They subsequently reappeared
and again suffered like losses, the German reinforcements being
practically used up as fast as they were put in line.

Declarations gathered from prisoners and the observations of the French
staff led the latter to estimate that at least one-third of the total
number of men engaged were the minimum losses of the German infantry
during the first forty days of the battle, or 150,000 men of the first
fighting line alone.

Concerning the German losses before Verdun, Col. Feyler, a Swiss
military expert, wrote on April 10 as follows: "It is certain that the
first great attacks in February and March caused the German assailants
very exceptional losses. The 18th army corps lost 17,000 men and the 3d
corps lost 22,000. These are figures which in the history of wars will
form a magnificent eulogy on the heroism of these troops. It will become
a classic example, like that of the Prussian Guard at St. Privat,
France, August 18, 1870. It is probable that before Verdun, as at St.
Privat, the leaders underestimated the defenders' strength, especially
in cannon and machine guns.

"There are other examples. In the unfruitful attack on Fort Vaux, the
7th reserve regiment was literally mowed down by machine guns, while the
60th regiment lost 60 per cent of its effectives. In the attack on the
Malancourt and Avocourt woods, March 20, three regiments of the
11th Bavarian division, whose record in this war seems to have been
particularly praiseworthy, lost about 50 per cent of their men."


While the greater bulk of the total losses in killed and wounded before
Verdun was sustained by the Germans, however, it must not be imagined
for an instant that the French defenders of the fortress escaped
lightly. On the contrary, their losses were likewise enormous, being
estimated by the German general staff at a total of not less than
110,000 from February 20 to April 1. A considerable number of French
troops, officers and men, were also captured by the Germans during the
numerous attacks in February, March and April upon the French trenches
and other positions before Verdun.


Some idea of the tremendous forces engaged on both sides in what will
probably be called in history "the Siege of Verdun," may be gained from
the brief summary made on April 1 by an observer present with the
army of the Crown Prince of Germany on the north front of the Verdun
battlefield, from which point of vantage he telegraphed as follows:

"Probably not far from a million men are battling on both sides around
Verdun. Never in the history of the world have such enormous masses of
military been engaged in battle at one point.

"On the forty-mile semicircular firing-line around the French fortress,
from the River Meuse above St. Mihiel to Avocourt, the Germans probably
have several thousand guns, at least 2,500, in action or reserve. Were
each gun fired only once an hour, there would be a shot every second.

"As probably half the guns are of middle and heavy caliber, the average
weight per shell is certain to be more than twenty-five pounds. It
follows that even in desultory firing about 160,000 pounds of iron, or
from four to five carloads, are raining on the French positions every
hour. And this is magnified many times when the fire is increased to the
intensity which the artillerymen call 'drumming' the positions of the

"To the German guns must be added the tremendous amount of artillery
used by the French in their defense, estimated to be almost as large now
as that of the Germans. The conclusion is that more than 6,000 cannon,
varying from 3-inch field guns to 42-centimeter (16-inch) siege mortars,
are engaged in hurling thousands of high explosive shells hourly in
the never-ceasing, thunderous artillery duels of the mighty battle of


The stories told by those who, on the German side, lay in trenches
under shell-fire before Verdun for days at a time and week after week,
freezing, thirsting, in mud and water, between the dead and the dying,
thrilled the hearer with their pathos and devotion. These were the men
who, like the waves of the sea, beat almost incessantly against the
obstinate fortifications of Verdun, and there learned a new respect for
the French enemy. Such a story was written from the front in April by a
German officer named Ross - a man of Scottish descent - who, before
the war, was editor of a newspaper in Munich. In the Berlin Vossische
Zeitung he said:

"It is a worthy, embittered foe against whom this last decisive struggle
is aimed. France is fighting for her existence. She is no weaker than we
are in men, guns, or munitions. Only one thing decides between us - will
and nerves. Every doubting, belittling word is a creeping poison which
kills joyful, strong hope and does more damage than a thousand foes.
Only if we are convinced to our marrow that we shall win, shall we

"In this colossal combat, where numbers and mechanical weapons are so
utterly alike, moral superiority is everything. We have more than once
had the experience that the effective result of a battle has depended
upon who considered himself the victor and acted accordingly. Often the
merest remnant of will and nerves was the factor that influenced the

"War, which only smoldered here and there during the endless trench
fighting, like damp wood, burns here with such all-consuming fire that
divisions have to be called up after days and hours in the trenches, and
are ground to pieces and burned up into so many cinders and ashes.

"Such intensity of battle as is here before Verdun is unheard of.
No picture, no comparison, can give the remotest conception of the
concentration of guns and shells with which the two antagonists are
raging against each other. I have seen troops who had held out in the
fire for days and weeks, to whom in exposed positions food could hardly
be brought, on whose bodies the clothes were not dry, who, yet reeking
with dirt and dampness, had the nerve for new storming operations."


Among the fiercer struggles before Verdun, the battle of Caillette Wood,
east of the fortress city, will have a place in history as one of the
most bloody and thrilling.

The position of the wood, to the right of Douaumont, was important
as part of the French line. It was carried by the Germans on Sunday
morning, April 2, after a bombardment of twelve hours, which seemed to
break even the record of Verdun for intensity. The French curtain
of fire had checked their further advance, according to a special
correspondent of the Chicago Herald, and a savage countercharge in
the afternoon had gained for the defenders a corpse-strewn welter of
splintered trees and shell-shattered ground that had been the southern
corner of the wood. Further charges had broken against a massive
barricade, the value of which as a defense paid good interest on the

Online LibraryThomas Herbert RussellAmerica's War for Humanity → online text (page 37 of 49)