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The greatest shock came from the North, where the Isonzo was first
crossed by the enemy. At this point there occurred a weakening of
certain troops of the second Italian army, which gave the overwhelming
German contingents an opportunity to pass forward between a portion of
the army on the North and that on a line farther South. Then began the
double exposure of the Southern force to fire in the front and on the
flank which required a steady falling back until the entire Italian
army was moving towards newly-established positions farther West. The
commanding height of Monte Nero, which the Italians had occupied after
deeds of great valor, was defended against onslaughts from three
sides which gradually resulted in envelopment and the capture of many
thousands of Italian troops and hundreds of guns.

A general retreat of the Italian forces was then carried out, with
shielding operations by rear guards, and the main body of General
Cadorna's army retired to the Tagliamento. The Germans encountered
stubborn resistance on the Bainsizza Plateau and heaps of enemy dead
marked the lines of their advance. In one of the mountain passes a small
village, commanding the pass, was taken and retaken eight times during
desperate artillery, infantry and hand-to-hand fighting.

Goritz was shelled heavily and what remained of the city was further
reduced to a mass of debris. One of the main bridges from Goritz across
the Isonzo was blown up by the Italians and the enemy movement thus was
further impeded.

West of Goritz the town of Cormons also was shelled heavily. The great
German guns opened enormous craters and literally tore the towns to

The heaviest pressure began to be felt on the Carso front on Friday,
October 26. The Teutons then increased their bombardment to deafening
intensity and supplemented this with huge volumes of poison gas and
tear-shells. The humid air and light winds permitted great waves of the
deadly gases to creep low toward the Italian lines, the rear guards
protecting themselves with gas masks and by hiding in caverns.

Amid the onslaught of overwhelming masses of the enemy, the Italians
fell back slowly. The retreat, as in other instances of the war, was
the most terrible for the civilian inhabitants. There was an enormous
movement Westward. All the roads were packed with dense traffic, with
four or five lines abreast of teams, automobiles, motor trucks, pack
mules, artillery wagons, and ox carts. The soldiers marched or rode,
singly, in groups, in regiments, in brigades, or in divisions.

"It was such a time as the world has seldom witnessed," said a Red Cross
spectator. "Even fields and by-roads were utilized for the colossal
migration. The only wonder was that the great army was able to withdraw
at all and establish itself along the new line of defense.

"Many heartrending scenes were witnessed along the route, as the
torrential rain and the vast zone of mud increased the misery of the
moving multitude. Food was scarce and many went without it for days,
while sleep was impossible as the throng trudged westward. The military
hospitals were evacuated, with all other establishments, and pale and
wounded patients obliged to join in the rearguard march or fall into the
hands of the enemy. The roads were strewn with dead horses.

"Families with eight or ten children, the youngest clinging tightly to
the grandfather, trudged amid ranks of soldiers of many descriptions."
The safe retirement of the Tagliamento was due to the unexampled heroism
of large bodies of Italians, of such spirit as the Alpine troops on
Monte Nero, who refused to surrender, and the regiments of Bersaglieri
at Monte Maggiore, the members of which perished to the last man rather
than yield ground. It was by such resistance in the face of overwhelming
forces of the enemy that the civil population was able to retire. And it
was owing to the valor of Italian aviators, combating the Austro-German
army of the air, that the fleeing women, children and old men, who
crowded the roads, were not struck down by bursting bombs.

By November 1 General Cadorna's forces had effected their retirement
behind the Tagliamento River line, but at the cost of tremendous losses,
aggregating 180,000 prisoners and 1,500 guns. It was soon seen, however,
that the Tagliamento line could not be successfully held against the
enemy and a further retirement was carried out, Southward through the
mountainous country to a shorter line along the Piave River East of
Venice and Northwesterly to the Trentino boundary. This gave French and
British reinforcements the opportunity to arrive in sufficient numbers
to aid in checking the invaders.

As one result of the Italian reverses, General Cadorna was relieved of
the chief command, though he was credited with a masterly retreat. He
was succeeded by General Diaz.

The Austro-German offensive continued steadily for three weeks and on
November 21 was being pressed on three main fronts: First, along the
Piave River; second, from the Piave to the Brenta; third, from the
Brenta across the Asiago Plateau. The Italian troops were holding firm
and inflicting heavy losses on the enemy. The spirit of the Italian
people was calm and public opinion strongly supported the most stubborn
resistance to the invader. Although all the fruits of Italy's two years
of strife had been swept away in a single month and a dread enemy was
reaching ever forward, seeking her most treasured possessions of art and
industry, the internal dissensions which Germany probably hoped to start
had not appeared. The population of Venice, however, had been reduced
from 160,000 to 20,000.


The Imperial government of Russia, headed by Premier Kerensky, was
ousted on November 7, when a period of practical anarchy set in. On the
evening of that day a congress of workmen's and soldiers' delegates
assembled in Petrograd, with 560 delegates in attendance. Without
preliminary discussion the congress elected officers pledged to make
"a democratic peace." They included fourteen so-called Maximalists
or members of the Bolsheviki (majority), the radical Socialist party
suspected of pro-German tendencies, headed by Nikolai Lenine and Leon
Trotzky; also seven revolutionary Socialists. These leaders at once
sent an ultimatum to the Kerensky government, demanding their surrender
within 20 minutes. The government replied indirectly, refusing to
recognize the Bolsheviki committee. Rioting then broke out and the
Winter Palace, headquarters of the provisional government, was besieged
by troops favorable to the rebels. The cruiser Aurora, firing from
the Neva River, and the guns of the St. Peter and St. Paul fortress
bombarded the palace and early next morning compelled the surrender of
the government forces defending it. Women of the "Battalion of Death,"
armed with machine guns and rifles, were among the defenders, who held
out for four hours. Soon the Bolsheviki were in complete control of
the city, Kerensky was in flight, several members of his cabinet were
arrested by the rebels, and the provisional government was no more.

Several weeks of political and industrial chaos in Russia followed
the Lenine coup d' etat, which was a triumph, probably temporary,
of extremists. A number of the commissioners appointed by the
Lenine-Trotzky faction to carry on the government, gave up their posts
within a few days, characterizing the Bolsheviki regime as "impossible"
and as inevitably involving "the destruction of the revolution and the

On November 23, Leon Trotzky, styling himself "National Commissioner for
foreign affairs," addressed to the embassies of the Allies in Petrograd
a note proposing "an immediate armistice on all fronts and the immediate
opening of peace negotiations." An official announcement was also made
that the Bolsheviki government had decided to undertake without delay
the reduction of the Russian armies, beginning with the release from
their military duties of all citizen soldiers conscripted in 1899.


The second "Liberty Loan" of the United States war bond issues was
largely oversubscribed by the patriotic citizens of the country. When
the books closed on October 27 it was announced that the subscriptions
received from approximately 9,000,000 persons amounted to over
$5,000,000,000, the amount of the bond issue being $3,000,000,000.


By a series of attacks on the morning of November 21 that took the
German enemy completely by surprise, the British Third army, under
command of Lieut.-Gen. Sir Julian Byng, broke through the Hindenburg
line on a front of 32 miles between St Quentin and the Scarpe. The
following day, when they consolidated the new positions gained, 10,
German prisoners were sent to the rear, with a large number of guns and
quantities of material abandoned by the astonished enemy, while at one
point the victorious troops were 6-1/2 miles in advance of their former
positions and the city of Cambrai was brought within easy range of their

It was the greatest and most successful surprise of the war. There was
no preliminary bombardment to warn the enemy, and the advance continued
steadily for two days, when the towns of Masnieres, Marcoing, Ribecourt,
Havrincourt, Graincourt, and Flesquieres, long occupied by the enemy,
all were behind the British lines.

Just before dawn on the 20th there was absolute quiet along the whole
line. A few minutes later British tanks were rumbling along over "No
Man's Land" flanked and followed by the infantry. The tanks smashed down
the barbed wire entanglements and were atop the trenches and, dugouts
before their German defenders were aware of their peril.

The German artillery could lay down no barrage, and line after line of
trenches had been captured before they got into action. Then the British
guns opened, but not for barrage purposes. They were shelling and
silencing the enemy artillery.

Following through the gaps made by the tanks, English, Scottish, and
Irish regiments swept over the enemy's outposts and stormed the first
defensive system of the Hindenburg line on the whole front.

The infantry and tanks then swept on in accordance with the program and
captured the German second system of defense, more than a mile beyond.
This latter was known as the Hindenburg support line.

English rifle regiments and light infantry captured La Vacquerie and
the formidable defense on the spur known as Welsh ridge. Other English
county troops stormed the village of Ribecourt and fought their way
through Coillet wood.

In severe hand-to-hand fighting at Flesquieres near Cambrai, on the
21st, British troops, preceded by tanks, stormed the town. The Germans
fired on the tanks with seven big guns at short range. The British
infantry charged the guns, captured them, and killed the crews. Three
other big guns were captured in a similar manner at Premy Chapelle.
British cavalry captured a battery at Rumilly, sabering the crews.

Highland territorial battalions crossed the Grand ravine and entered
Flesquieres, where fighting took place. West Biding terriorials captured
Havrincourt and the German trench, systems north of the village, while
the Ulster battalions, covering the latter's left flank, moved Northward
up the West bank of the Canal du Nord.

Later in the day the advance was continued and rapid progress was made
at all points, English, Scottish, Irish, and Welsh battalions secured
the crossings on the canal at Masnieres and captured Marcoing and Neuf
Wood. On the following day, Wednesday, November 21, reinforcements which
the enemy hurried up to the battlefield to oppose the British advance
were driven out of a further series of villages and other fortified

Thousands of cavalry co-operated with the great army of tanks and
infantry in continuing the successful assault begun on November 20. Open
fighting went on at many places and the mounted troops, who long had
waited for a chance to vindicate their existence in this war, rendered
invaluable services in "mopping up".


A special American Commission, headed by Colonel Edward M. House,
personal friend and trusted adviser of President Wilson, arrived in
London on November 8, on its way to attend the Allies' conference which
met in Paris November 22, to perfect a system of co-ordination among the
nations at war with Germany and secure a better understanding of their
respective needs.


On November 24 the British forces contending against the Turks in
Palestine had advanced to the suburbs of Jerusalem, after inflicting
a severe defeat upon the enemy at Askelon, with Turkish casualties of
10,000. More than seventy guns were captured at Askelon, and the British
subsequently occupied the ancient port of Jaffa (Poppa). The fall of
Jerusalem was then considered imminent and the end of Turkish dominion
in the Holy Land was plainly in sight.

[Illustration: ITALIAN BATTLE FRONT, MAY 4, 1918.

The Heavy Line Shows the Position of the Hostile Armies, When the
Austrians Threatened A New Drive in 1918. The Shaded Line Shows the
Italian Positions Before the Austro-German Offensive, in the Fall of


For the first time since the war began England celebrated on November
the victory of Field Marshal Haig and General Byng at Cambrai, in the
old-fashioned way, by the ringing of bells in London and other cities.
Heavy fighting continued for several days at the apex of the wedge
driven into the German line, especially at Bourlon Wood and the village
of Fontaine, where attacks and counter-attacks followed in rapid

Up to November 30 the British held their gains near Cambrai and that
city lay under their guns. Then the Germans in a determined attack
surprised the British in their turn, and forced them, back from
their new positions for a distance of about two miles, nearly to the
Bapaume-Cambrai road.

Next day, by fierce fighting, the British recaptured Gouzeau-court. The
battle then raged over a fifteen-mile front, desperate efforts being
made by the Germans to regain all the ground taken by the British west
and south of Cambrai. The British had had no chance to dig themselves in
and consolidate their positions in the ground won, and on December 1 and
2 the struggle was in the open, a fierce hand-to-hand conflict unlike
anything previously seen in the war. The British lost guns, for the
first time in more than thirty months. They also lost many men,
taken prisoner by the enemy, but soon succeeded in checking the

In their attempt to deliver a great simultaneous encircling attack,
to surround the victorious British in their new Cambrai salient, the
Germans sent forward great forces of infantry, supported by a terrific
bombardment. The British met the shock brilliantly, finally held their
own, and the German drive was declared to have missed its end, at
enormous sacrifice of life.

On the night of December 5 the British strengthened their line by
abandoning certain untenable positions near Cambrai, falling back
deliberately and successfully, unknown to the enemy, upon a well-chosen
line which ruled out the dangerous salient made by Bourlon Wood. Here
they prepared to maintain their hold upon the captured length of the
Hindenburg line against any pressure.

The German casualties in the battle of Cambrai were estimated at 100,
men, greatly exceeding those of the British in consequence of the nature
of the massed attacks made by infantry in the counteroffensive.

As the year 1917 closed there was a succession of German attacks and
counter-attacks by the British in the Cambrai sector, the British lines
holding firmly at all points and continuing to hold during the winter.

The British War Office issued the following statement of captures and
losses during 1917: Captures - prisoners on all fronts, 114,544; guns,
781. Losses - prisoners, 28,379; guns, 166.

The following figures, obtained from reliable sources, tell the real
story of Germany's "ruthless" submarine campaign against British
shipping. Tonnage of British, ships of more than 1,600 tons in August,
1914 - 16,841,519; loss by enemy action in 3-1/2 years, less new
construction, purchase, and captures, 2,750,000; remaining tonnage
January I,1918 - 14,091,519.

On December 3, 1917, it was announced officially in London that East
Africa had been completely cleared of the enemy. Every German-colony was
then occupied by Allied forces.


As the result of a collision in the harbor of Halifax, Nova Scotia,
between the French munition ship "Mont Blanc" and the Belgian relief
ship "Imo" on December 6, thousands of tons of high explosives blew up,
killing more than 1,260 persons, injuring thousands, and destroying
millions of dollars in property in the city.


Advancing steadily upon Jerusalem in the Palestine campaign against the
Turks, the British forces under General Allenby finally, on December 10,
captured the Holy City and restored it to Christendom. The Turks were
driven to the north, with heavy losses, the port of Joppa was occupied,
and Palestine was slowly but surely freed from Mussulman dominion.
General Allenby formally entered and took possession of Jerusalem on
December 11 with a small representative force of British and colonial
troops, being received and welcomed with impressive ceremonies by the


The United Stages Congress on December 7, 1917, passed a resolution
declaring a state of war to exist with Austria-Hungary. Austrian aliens,
however, were permitted free movement in the United States, only Germans
being classed as alien enemies and subjected to restrictions as such.

It was announced by the Secretary of War during the winter that 500,
American troops would be on the fighting line in France in the spring of
1918 and that a total of 1,500,000 men would be available for the front
during the year.

A portion of the French front was taken over by the United States troops
under General Pershing early in 1918 and in a number of trench raids and
patrol engagements in the last weeks of winter they gave a good account
of themselves, receiving their baptism of enemy fire and gas with the
utmost gallantry and winning several minor engagements. A small number
of Americans were captured in German raids up to March 10, but the
losses inflicted upon the enemy more than counterbalanced those


On November 28, a few days after German emissaries had been sent to
Petrograd to parley with the peace faction in disorganized Russia, the
Bolshevik _de facto_ government under Nicolai Lenine and Leon Trotzky
began negotiations for an armistice with Germany; and on December 3 an
armistice was arranged. The Cossacks under General Kaledines and General
Korniloff began a revolt against the Bolsheviki, who organized their
forces as Red Guards, and a virtual reign of terror was inaugurated in
Russia while negotiations for a separate peace with Germany proceeded
with numerous interruptions. The administration of Lenine and Trotzky
became an absolutely despotic regime, all forms of opposition, being
summarily dealt with, while crime was rampant and blood flowed freely in
Petrograd and Moscow. The Ukrainian provinces formed a separate republic
and proceeded to make peace with Germany and Austria.

Formal announcement of the armistice with the Petrograd government was
made at Berlin December 16, with the statement that peace negotiations
would begin immediately at Brest-Litovsk on the Eastern front. Russia
thus violated her pledge to the Allies not to make a separate peace.

The peace delegates of Russia and Germany began their sessions December
23. On Christmas Day Ensign Krylenko, the Bolshevik commander-in-chief,
reported that the Germans were transferring large numbers of troops to
the Western front against the Allies, contrary to one of the Russian
conditions of the armistice. Early in the new year, January 2. 1918, the
negotiations at Brest-Litovsk were suspended for several days, owing
to the nature of the German terms of peace, which demanded that Russia
surrender to Germany the territory including Poland, Courland, Esthonia
and Lithuania. Foreign Minister Trotzky declared that the Russian
workers would not accept the German terms.

Germany, however, stood pat and on January 10 negotiations were resumed,
continuing at intervals for several weeks. In the middle of February the
Bolshevik government announced that it had withdrawn Russia from the
war with the Central Empires and had ordered the demobilization of
the Russian armies, but refused to sign a formal treaty of peace with
Germany. Premature rejoicing ensued in Germany, and on February
Berlin announced a resumption of war with Russia. Two days later the
German armies began an advance into Russia along the whole front from
Riga south to Lutsk; occupying the latter city without fighting.

A complete surrender to Germany followed. Lenine and Trotzky stating
that they would sign the peace treaty on the German terms, which
included all the territory claimed by Germany along the eastern coast of
the Baltic Sea, comprising the western part of Esthonia, Courland with
the Moon Islands in the Gulf of Riga, most of the provinces of Kovno
and Grodno, and nearly all of Vilna, with a huge indemnity. Despite the
surrender, the Germans continued their invasion of Russia, with an
eye to booty, and captured without organized resistance of any kind
thousands of guns and vast quantities of rolling stock, motor trucks,
automobiles, and munitions of war. The invasion continued well into the
month of March in the general direction of Petrograd, while to the south
Austria, at first seemingly reluctant to join the German incursion
into helpless territory, also invaded the Ukraine on the pretense of
"restoring order."


The first serious disaster to American troops on the voyage to France
occurred on February 5, when the steamship "Tuscania," a British
transport with 2,179 United States troops on board, was torpedoed and
sunk by a German submarine off the north coast of Ireland. The close
proximity of British convoy and patrol boats enabled most of those on
board to be rescued, 1912 survivors being landed within a few hours at
Buncrana and Larne in Ireland. The lives lost included 267 American
soldiers besides a number of the crew. The attacking submarine is
believed to have been destroyed by the British patrol before the
"Tuscania" sank.


Early in 1918, while the Russian debacle complicated the war situation
in Europe and the United States hummed with war activities, a series of
speeches by statesmen of the powers at war resulted in demonstrating the
futility of all hopes of a general peace.

In an address to Congress on January 8 President Wilson, following and
indorsing a notable speech by the English premier, Mr. Lloyd-George,
laid down fourteen definite peace and war aims of the United States,
closely agreeing with the expressed aims of the European Allies; "and
for these," said Mr. Wilson, "we will fight to the death." Subsequently,
in February, Mr. Wilson stated four general principles on which the
nations at war should agree in seeking a satisfactory peace. The German
chancellor, Von Hertling, addressing the Reichstag, declared that
Germany could agree to Mr. Wilson's basic principles of peace, but
British and French statesmen promptly pointed out that the German
practices in Russia, and elsewhere as opportunity offered, failed to
agree with Von Hertling's profession of the Wilson principles. German
suggestions of an informal discussion of peace terms were therefore
declined by the allied powers, and in March, 1918, all eyes were turned
toward the Western front in anticipation of a long-threatened German


All previous battles of the Great War paled into comparative
insignificance when the German offensive of 1918 opened on the Western
front, March 21, with a desperate and partially successful attempt of a
million men to break through the British line, attacking fiercely from
the Ailette to the Scarpe, along a front of sixty miles. For weeks the
battle raged over the territory of the Somme, and when a second German
drive occurred farther north, from Givenchy to Ypres, fully 3,000,
men were engaged on both sides, and all records of human combat were

Online LibraryThomas Herbert RussellAmerica's War for Humanity → online text (page 7 of 49)