Current History, Vol. VIII, No. 3, June 1918 online

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All these operations on the German northern salient, which is gradually
coming to be called the Lys salient, have shown no indication of being
intended to pave the way for a renewal of the general offensive in
Flanders. Their success might, and probably would, have forced the
evacuation of Ypres and affected the Picardy salient with its vertex
near Amiens, forcing the evacuation of Arras. But, as we have seen, the
operations on the Lys salient, meeting with an overwhelming obstruction
on April 29, did not achieve these results. Throughout the next three
weeks the manoeuvres of the enemy in Picardy afforded excellent
opportunities for counterattacks on the part of the Allies, whose object
here has been to punish the enemy as much as possible and to consolidate
every strategic position on a broad front in anticipation of a renewal
of Germany's original scheme to isolate the allied armies north of the
Somme by a dash to the mouth of that river via Amiens.

In these circumstances, the enemy on April 30 launched heavy attacks on
the French lines in the region of Hangard and Noyon. These fell down,
and on May 2 the French made distinct gains in Hangard Wood and near
Mailly-Raineval. The next day the French advanced their lines between
Hailles and Castel, south of the Avre, and captured Hill 82. On the 6th
the British advanced their lines between the Somme and the Ancre,
southwest of Morlancourt, and in the neighborhood of Locon and the Lawe
River, taking prisoners in both places. On the 11th skirmishes southwest
of Mailly-Raineval, between Hangard and Montdidier, developed into a
pitched battle, in which the French at first lost ground and then
recovered it. On May 14 the Germans, after an intense local bombardment,
delivered a spirited attack on a mile front of the British southwest of
Morlancourt, gaining a footing in their first trenches. Instantly some
Australian troops counterattacked and completely re-established the
British positions. On the 16th and 17th the enemy showed impressive and
portentous artillery activity along the Avre and at Rollott, on the
Abbéville road, south of Montdidier, similar in character to that
observed north of Kemmel, on the Lys salient.

There are now believed to be over half a million American rifles on the
western front, either at definite places or available as reserves. On
April 20 a battalion of Germans made a raid on our eight-mile sector
south of the Woeuvre, and succeeded in reaching the front-line trenches
and taking the village of Seicheprey. Our losses were between 200 and
300; 300 German dead were counted. A detachment of our army, principally
artillery, holds a sector of five miles with the French infantry east of
Montdidier, on the Picardy front, protecting the Beauvais-Amiens road.
Here their fire is principally employed in breaking up German
concentrations and transport in and around Montdidier.


The German submarine bases at Zeebrugge and Ostend on the Belgian coast
have been repeatedly bombed from the sea and shelled by British monitors
with indifferent results. With the adding of super-U-boats to the German
submarine fleet and the increased transatlantic traffic of the Allies
the necessity for effectually sealing these bases has long been
apparent. Theoretically the nature of the entrance to the harbors of
both places, resembling the neck of a bottle, about 250 feet wide, made
such a task easy by the sinking of block ships. Practically it was most
difficult, on account of both sea obstructions and the shore batteries.

On the night of April 22-23 British naval forces, commanded by Vice
Admiral Keyes, with the co-operation of French destroyers, and hidden by
a newly devised smoke-screen, invented and here employed by
Wing-Commander Brock, attempted to seal up the harbors. At Zeebrugge the
enterprise was entirely successful. The Intrepid and Iphigenia were sunk
well within and across the narrow channel, the Thetis at the entrance.
All three were loaded with cement, which became solid concrete after
contact with the water and can be removed only by submarine blasting. A
detachment of troops was also landed on the mole from the Vindictive and
engaged the crews of the German machine gun batteries stationed there.
An old submarine was placed under the bridge of the mole and detonated.
A German destroyer and some small craft were sunk. Before the blockships
were placed a torpedo had been driven against the lock gates which lead
from the channel into the inner harbors. The expedition retired with the
loss of fifty officers and 538 men, of whom sixteen officers and 144 men
had been killed.

At Ostend, the entrance to whose harbor is protected by no mole, the
block ships Sirius and Brilliant were not effectively placed. Against
this port the experiment was, therefore, repeated on the night of May
9-10. The Vindictive, with a cargo of concrete, was planted and sunk at
the entrance to the channel, but not entirely blocking it.


Another naval exploit of the month worthy of record was the sinking in
the Austrian Harbor of Pola of a dreadnought of the Viribus Unitis class
(20,000 tons) by Italian naval forces, in the morning of May 15. The
achievement was similar to that performed by the President of the
Anaconda Copper Company, who has been appointed Director of Aircraft
Production for the United States Army] Italians on the night of Dec.
9-10, when a destroyer sawed her way through the steel net protecting
the Harbor of Trieste and torpedoed the predreadnoughts Wien and
Monarch, (5,000 tons each,) sinking the former. The Harbor of Pola,
however, is much more difficult to penetrate. It is three miles deep and
entered by a two-mile channel, at certain places less than half a mile
wide, and protected along its entire course by strong defenses. A mole
covers its mouth, making the channel here less than 1,000 yards wide.
Forts Cristo and Musil guard the entrance.

[Illustration: CHARLES M. SCHWAB

Head of the Bethlehem Steel Works, who has been appointed Director
General of the Emergency Fleet Corporation to carry out the Government's
shipbuilding program

(© _Harris & Ewing_)]

[Illustration: JOHN D. RYAN


Save for the reports which have come to hand denoting the steady
progress of the British forces in Palestine and Mesopotamia, little of
importance has occurred in the Near East. Still the Teutonizing of the
Black Sea goes steadily on. On May 2 it was announced that a German
force had occupied the great Russian fortress of Sebastopol, famous for
its protracted siege by the British and French in 1855, and until then
considered impregnable. On May 12 part of the Russian Black Sea fleet
was taken possession of by the Germans at that place, while the
remainder escaped to Novorossysk. Among the captured vessels only the
battleship Volga and the protected cruiser Pamiat Merkuria were in
serviceable condition. At Odessa a new dreadnought and two protected
cruisers had already been seized by the Germans as they lay in their

In Macedonia the huge allied forces under the French General,
Guillaumat, are still waiting on events. The Greek Army is still in
process of reconstruction under the Venizelos Administration. The month,
however, has not been barren of engagements on this battleline. On April
28 the Serbians beat back attempts of the Bulgars to capture fortified
positions in the Vetrenik region; the French and British did the same in
regard to German attacks aimed at points west of Makovo and south of
Lake Doiran. So it has been all the month, the monotony only varied on
April 27, when there was intense artillery fire by the allied guns in
the neighborhood of Monastir, on the Cerna, and, in the Vetrenik region,
a Serbian assault annihilated a Bulgar section.



There has been no serious attempt on the part of the Turks during the
month to oppose the expansion of General Allenby's front beyond
Jerusalem or the triumphant march of General Marshall up the Euphrates
and the Tigris - on the latter river now sixty miles below Mosul,
Marshall's obvious objective. The objective of Allenby is Aleppo, where
there is said to be a single division of German troops in addition to
the Turks, who have been forced north from Jerusalem. Allenby and
Marshall are advancing along parallel lines with a desert space of about
400 miles between. The Turks and their ally still have possession of the
caravan trail and the partly built and entirely surveyed Bagdad Railway,
which intersect the prospective parallel paths of Allenby and Marshall,
whose lines of communication already reach hundreds of miles to the
rear. But while Allenby has a lateral sea communication with Syrian
ports, no such advantage is enjoyed by Marshall, who must get all his
supplies from the head of the Persian Gulf, 450 miles to the south.
Whatever be the force at the disposition of the enemy, it is evident
that he will continue to possess a predominating tactical and strategic
advantage until he has been decisively defeated at both Aleppo and Mosul
or a junction has been established between Allenby and Marshall, or


The former's line, which is a sixty-mile front, extending from Arsuf el
Haram on the Mediterranean east to the Jordan, took Es-Salt with
thirty-three German and 317 Turkish prisoners on May 1 - twenty miles
north of Jerusalem - which was first occupied by Allenby early in

Marshall's advance has been much more rapid. In the week of May 1 his
cavalry, in pursuit of the fleeing Turks, advanced twenty miles and
captured 1,000 prisoners. On May 7 he was 80 miles from Mosul; on May 10
he was within 60 miles. Allenby is 300 miles from Aleppo and 110 miles
from Damascus.


Without any large movements of troops taking place, several things have
occurred since April 18 to invite attention to the Italian front, and
much speculation by military men has been indulged in as to whether the
resumption of the Teutonic offensive would be from the Piave or south
from the Astico-Piave line lying across the Sette Comuni and the Brenta,
or from the west of the Adige and the Lago di Garda, in an attempt to
reach Brescia and the metallurgic centre of Italy.

And most of the things in question which have occurred have served to
restore and augment the confidence of the Italians in their position. A
new 2d Army has taken the place of the old, annihilated in the
Capporetto campaign. All the lost guns have been replaced and new
heavies added. Revolution is, at any moment, expected to break out in
Austria-Hungary, while the Congress of Jugoslavs in Rome on April 9-11
has secured the adhesion to the Allies of the subjects of the Hapsburgs
and enabled the Italian Government to make use of them as a fighting
force. There are now believed to be no German divisions on the Italian
front, where the entire enemy strength, not measurably increased since
the snows have disappeared in the north, consists of 800
Austro-Hungarian battalions, or less than 1,000,000 men.

But what has promoted most satisfaction in the Italian Government and
people was the decree issued by the Interallied Supreme Council of War
at Abbéville on May 3, giving General Foch authority to include the
Italian front under his supreme command, that front thereby becoming the
right wing of the allied battle line in Europe - now "one army, one
front, and one supreme command."

That is the way Bonaparte fought his victorious battles in the days of
the First Republic, alternately on the Rhine and the Adige. Moreau could
not win without Bonaparte, nor Bonaparte without Moreau, while Carnot,
in the centre, was the vehicle of transit.

Before the snows made manoeuvres impossible the Italians had closed two
gates which threatened the plains of Veneto from the north - one at the
junction of the front with the Piave, one at the angle of the Frenzela
Torrent and the Brenta River.

Gunfire had been steadily augmenting on the front when, on May 10, they
closed another, and on May 15 still another. The first of these was the
capture of Monte Corno, which commanded the part up the Vallarsa, the
second was a partial recovery of Monte Asolone, between the Brenta and
the Piave, sufficient to cover the path up the Val San Lorenzo. Both
mountains are really plateaus of about two square miles area each, whose
irregular summits the enemy had strongly fortified in order to clear the
valleys below. In both places subsequent Austrian counterattacks were
broken up.

Meanwhile, Italian aircraft dominate from above. On May 14 the enemy
lost eleven airplanes with no losses to the Italians and the British,
who were assisting them.

Premier Lloyd George on German Autocracy

Premier Lloyd George wrote the following preface for a volume containing
extracts from speeches he delivered during the war:

I have never believed that the war would be a short war, or that in
some mysterious way, by negotiation or compromise, we would free
Europe from the malignant military autocracy which is endeavoring to
trample it into submission and moral death. I have always believed
that the machine which has established its despotic control over the
minds and the bodies of its victims and then organized and driven
them to slaughter in order to extend that control over the rest of
the world, would only be destroyed if the free peoples proved
themselves strong and steadfast enough to defeat its attempt in
arms. The events of the last few weeks must have made it plain to
every thinking man that there is no longer room for compromise
between the ideals for which we and our enemies stood. Democracy and
autocracy have come to death grips. One or the other will fasten its
hold on mankind. It is a clear realization of this issue which will
be our strength in the trials to come. I have no doubt that freedom
will triumph. But whether it will triumph soon or late, after a
final supreme effort in the next few months or a long-drawn agony,
depends on the vigor and self-sacrifice with which the children of
liberty, and especially those behind the lines, dedicate themselves
to the struggle. There is no time for ease or delay or debate. The
call is imperative. The choice is clear. It is for each free citizen
to do his part.

The Greatest Battle of the War

Second Month of the Desperate Fighting in Flanders and Picardy

By Philip Gibbs

_Special Correspondent With the British Armies_ [Copyrighted in United
States of America]

_The May issue of Current History Magazine contained Philip Gibbs's
story of the great German offensive up to April 18, 1918. At that time
the Germans were seeking to break the British lines in front of Ypres,
as part of their drive for Amiens and the British Channel ports,
generally known as the battle of Picardy. The pages here presented are a
continuation of his eyewitness narrative of the most sanguinary battle
in history._

April 18. - The arrival of French troops on our northern front is the
most important act that has happened during the last three or four days,
and it was with deep satisfaction that we met these troops on the roads
and knew that at last our poor, tired men would get support and help
against their overwhelming odds.

Beside the khaki army of the British has grown very quickly an army in
blue, the cornflower blue of the French poilus. They are splendid men,
hard and solid fellows, who have been war-worn and weather-worn during
these three and a half years past, and look the great fighting men who
have gone many times into battle and know all that war can teach them in
endurance and cunning and quick attack.

As they came marching up the roads to the front they were like a
streaming river of blue - blue helmets and coats and blue carts and blue
lorries, all blending into one tone through these April mists as they
went winding over the countryside and through French market towns, where
their own people waved to them, and then through the villages on the
edge of the Flanders battlefields, where they waited to go into action
under shell-broken walls or under hedges above which British shellfire
traveled, or in fields where they made their bivouacs, and fragrant
steams arose to one's nostrils as cuistots lifted the lids of stewpans
and hungry men gathered around after a long march.

The attack this morning from Robecq, below St. Venant, down to Givenchy,
is a serious effort to gain La Bassée Canal and form a strong defensive
flank for the enemy while he proceeds with his battles further north and
also to get more elbow room from the salient in which he is narrowly
wedged below Merville.

For this purpose he brought up several more divisions, including the
239th, which was in the Somme fighting of March, but not heavily
engaged. This one attacked the British at Robecq and was repulsed with
heavy losses. It was at a place called La Bacquerolles Farm, near
Robecq, where after heavy shelling last night the enemy rushed one of
the outposts at 10 o'clock. In order to facilitate the attack this
morning of German divisions north and south at 4 o'clock the German guns
began a heavy bombardment of the British lines as far down as Givenchy
and maintained it for five hours, using large numbers of gas shells, on
account of the east wind, which was in their favor.

His guns shelled the bridges across the canal in the hope of preventing
the British supports going up. Then his troops came forward in waves on
a wide front. They were in immense numbers as usual, with many mixed
battalions. One of the British units today took prisoners from ten
different regiments. There were some ten German divisions facing four
British ones north of Béthune, and all along the line the troops were
much outnumbered; nevertheless, the enemy was repulsed at all but a few
points of attack and beaten back bloodily.


In this battle one regiment of the 42d German Division has lost over 50
per cent. of its strength, and other losses are on a similar scale.
These ghastly casualties have been piling up along this line between
Merville and Béthune since the 13th of this month, when the Germans made
a series of small attacks as a prelude to today's battle, owing, it
seems, to battalion officers taking the initiative without orders from
the High Command, in order to push forward and break the British lines
if they could find weakness there.

On the 13th and 14th some of the South Country troops were attacked by
strong forces repeatedly, and on the second day for five hours at a
stretch the enemy endeavored to come across from houses and inclosures
west of Merville toward St. Venant. For those five hours the South
Country lads fired with rifles, Lewis guns, and machine guns into solid
bodies of Germans, and their field guns tore gaps in the enemy's
formations and broke up their assemblies before the attacks could
proceed. One advance in five waves was mown down before it could make
any progress, and others were dealt with in the same way.

_Mr. Gibbs describes the German repulse between Robecq and Givenchy as a
"black day for the enemy," and continues:_

April 19. - At the end of the day all the enemy's efforts ended in bloody
failure, in spite of the daring and courage of his troops, who
sacrificed themselves under the British fire, but were only able to gain
a few bits of trench work and one or two outposts below the fortified
works at Givenchy, which are quite useless to them for immediate or
future use.

It was a big attack, for which they had prepared in a formidable way.
After the shock of their repulse by the Lancashire men of the 55th
Division they increased their strength of heavy artillery by three times
bringing up large numbers of howitzers, including eleven-inch monsters.
They were massed in divisions in front of us and determined to smash
through in the wake of a tremendous bombardment.


For five hours, as I said, this storm went on with high explosives and
gas, and the devoted British had to suffer this infernal thing, the
worst ordeal human beings may be called upon to bear, this standing to
while all the earth upheaved and the air was thick with shell splinters.

But when the bombardment had passed and the German infantry came forward
the British received them with blasts of machine-gun fire, incessant
volleys of rifle fire, and a trench mortar bombardment that burst with
the deadliest effect among the attacking troops.

This trench mortar barrage of the British was one of the most awful
means of slaughter yesterday, especially when the enemy tried to cross
La Bassée Canal further north, and in that sector the infantry and
gunner officers say more Germans were killed yesterday along the canal
bank than on any other day since the fighting in this neighborhood. One
battery of trench mortars did most deadly execution until their pits
were surrounded, and only two of their crews were able to escape.

The machine gunners fought out in the open after some of their positions
had been wiped out by gunfire, caught the enemy waves at fifty yards'
range, and mowed them down; but the enemy was not checked for a long
time, despite his losses, and when one body fell another came up to fill
its place and press on into any gap that had been made by their
artillery or their own machine-gun sections.

There was one such momentary gap between a body of the Black Watch, who
had been weakened by shellfire, and some of their comrades further
north, and into this the enemy tried to force a way. Other Scottish
troops were in reserve, and when it became clear that a portion of the
line was endangered by this turning movement they came forward with grim
intent, and by a fierce counterattack swept through the gap and flung
back the enemy, so that the position was restored.

Further north some Gloucesters were fighting the enemy both ways, as
once before in history, when they fought back to back, thereby winning
the honor of wearing their cap badge back and front, which they do to
this day. The Germans had worked behind them as well as in front of
them, and they were in a tight corner, but did not yield, and finally,
after hard fighting, cleared the ground about them.

Meanwhile further south some Lancashire troops on the canal lost some
parts of their front line under an intense bombardment, but still fought
on in the open, repulsing every effort to drive them back and smashing
the enemy out of their positions, so that only remnants of the German
outposts clung on until late last night, up to which time there was
savage strife on both sides.


Extraordinary scenes took place on the canal bank when the enemy tried
to cross. In the twilight of early dawn a party came out of a wood and
tried to get across the water, but was seen by the British machine
gunners and shot down.

Then another body of men advanced and carried with them a floating
bridge, but when those who were not hit reached the water's edge they
found the bridge as fixed did not reach to the other side. Some of them
walked on it, expecting perhaps to jump the gap, but were shot off, and
other men on the bank also were caught under British fire.

A Corporal went down to the canal edge and flung hand grenades at the
Germans still struggling to fix the bridge, and then a Lieutenant and a
few men rushed down and pulled the bridge on to their side of the bank.

Later this young officer saw one of the British pontoons drifting down
and swam to it and made it fast beyond the enemy's reach, but in a
position so that some of his men ran across and caught the enemy under
their fire on his side of the canal.

At 7 o'clock yesterday morning, while a handkerchief was hoisted by the
enemy, three hundred of them made signs of surrender. Some of them
changed their minds at the last moment and ran away, but 150 gave
themselves up, and some of them swam the canal in order to reach our
side for this purpose. They were shivering in their wet clothes and in
the northeast wind, which lashed over the battle lines yesterday, and
they were very miserable men.


_Mr. Gibbs declares that had the Germans been able to pass Givenchy or
cross the canal north of Béthune on the 18th and 19th the result would
have proved disastrous. He gives credit for the repulse to the British

Online LibraryVariousCurrent History, Vol. VIII, No. 3, June 1918 → online text (page 3 of 30)