HotFreeBooks.com
A Short History of the Great War
by A.F. Pollard
1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

A SHORT HISTORY OF THE GREAT WAR BY

A. F. POLLARD M.A., Litt.D.

FELLOW OF ALL SOULS COLLEGE, OXFORD PROFESSOR OF ENGLISH HISTORY IN THE UNIVERSITY OF LONDON

WITH NINETEEN MAPS

METHUEN & CO. LTD. 36 ESSEX STREET W.C. LONDON

First Published in 1920

CONTENTS CHAP. I. THE BREACH OF THE PEACE II. THE GERMAN INVASION III. RUSSIA MOVES IV. THE WAR ON AND BEYOND THE SEAS V. ESTABLISHING THE WESTERN FRONT VI. THE FIRST WINTER OF THE WAR VII. THE FAILURE OF THE ALLIED OFFENSIVE VIII. THE DEFEAT OF RUSSIA IX. THE CLIMAX OF GERMAN SUCCESS X. THE SECOND WINTER OF THE WAR XI. THE SECOND GERMAN OFFENSIVE IN THE WEST XII. THE ALLIED COUNTER-OFFENSIVE XIII. THE BALKANS AND POLITICAL REACTIONS XIV. THE TURN OF THE TIDE XV. HOPE DEFERRED XVI. THE BALANCE OF POWER XVII. THE EVE OF THE FINAL STRUGGLE XVIII. THE LAST GERMAN OFFENSIVE XIX. THE VICTORY OF THE ENTENTE XX. THE FOUNDATIONS OF PEACE INDEX

LIST OF MAPS 1. THE GERMAN INVASION OF FRANCE 2. THE BATTLES OF THE AISNE 3. THE CAMPAIGNS IN ARTOIS 4. THE DARDANELLES 5. THE RUSSIAN FRONT 6. THE BALKANS 7. MESOPOTAMIA 8. THE CAUCASUS 9. THE ATTACK ON VERDUN 10. THE BATTLE OF THE SOMME 11. THE RUMANIAN CAMPAIGN 12. THE CONQUEST OF EAST AFRICA 13. THE BALTIC CAMPAIGNS 14. THE BATTLES IN FLANDERS 15. THE ITALIAN FRONT 16. THE BATTLES OF ARRAS AND CAMBRAI 17. THE LAST GERMAN OFFENSIVE 18. THE CONQUEST OF SYRIA 19. FOCH'S CAMPAIGN

NOTE The manuscript of this book, except the last chapter, was finished on 21 May 1919, and the revision of the last chapter was completed in October. It may be some relief to a public, distracted by the apologetic deluge which has followed on the peace, to find how little the broad and familiar outlines of the war have thereby been affected.

A. F. P.

A SHORT HISTORY OF THE GREAT WAR CHAPTER I

THE BREACH OF THE PEACE On 28 June 1914 the Archduke Francis Ferdinand, heir-presumptive to the Hapsburg throne, was shot in the streets of Serajevo, the capital of the Austrian province of Bosnia. Redeemed by the Russo-Turkish war of 1876-7 from Ottoman rule, Bosnia had by the Congress of Berlin in 1878 been entrusted to Austrian administration; but in 1908, fearing lest a Turkey rejuvenated by the Young Turk revolution should seek to revive its claims on Bosnia, the Austrian Government annexed on its own authority a province confided to its care by a European mandate. This arbitrary act was only challenged on paper at the time; but the striking success of Serbia in the Balkan wars of 1912-13 brought out the dangers and defects of Austrian policy. For the Serbs were kin to the great majority of the Bosnian people and to millions of other South Slavs who were subject to the Austrian crown and discontented with its repressive government; and the growing prestige of Serbia bred hopes and feelings of Slav nationality on both sides of the Hapsburg frontier. The would-be and the real assassins of the Archduke, while technically Austrian subjects, were Slavs by birth, and the murder brought to a head the antagonism between a race becoming conscious of its possibilities and a government determined to repress them. The crime gave a moral advantage to the oppressor, but the guilt has yet to be apportioned, and instigation may have come from secret sources within the Hapsburg empire; for the Archduke was hated by dominant cliques on account of his alleged pro-Slav sympathies and his suspected intention of admitting his future Slav subjects to a share in political power.

For some weeks after the murder it bade fair to pass without a European crisis, for the public was unaware of what happened at a secret conclave held at Potsdam on 5 July. It was there decided that Germany should support to the uttermost whatever claims Austria might think fit to make on Serbia for redress, and she was encouraged to put them so high as either to ensure the domination of the Balkans by the Central Empires through Serbian submission, or to provoke a war by which alone the German militarists thought that German aims could be achieved. That was the purport of the demands presented to Serbia on 23 July: acceptance would have reduced her to a dependence less formal but little less real than that of Bosnia, while the delay in presenting the demands was used to complete the preparations for war which rejection would provoke. It was not, however, against Serbia that the German moves were planned. She could be left to Austria, while Germany dealt with the Powers which would certainly be involved by the attack on Serbian independence.

The great Power immediately concerned was Russia, which had long aspired to an outlet into European waters not blocked by winter ice or controlled by Baltic States. For that and for the less interested reasons of religion and racial sympathy she had fought scores of campaigns against the Turks which culminated in the liberation of most of the Balkans in 1878; and she could not stand idle while the fruits of her age-long efforts were gathered by the Central Empires and she herself was cut off from the Mediterranean by an obstacle more fatal than Turkish dominion in the form of a Teutonic corridor from Berlin to Baghdad. Serbia, too, Orthodox in religion and Slav in race, was more closely bound to Russia than was any other Balkan State; and an attack on Serbia was a deadly affront to the Russian Empire. It was not intended as anything else. Russia was slowly recovering from her defeat in the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-5 and from the revolutionary outbreaks which had followed; and there was little doubt that sooner or later she would seek compensation for the rebuffs she had suffered from the mailed fist during her impotence. Conscience made Germany sensitive to the Slav peril, and her militarist philosophy taught her that the best defence was to get her blow in first. Her diplomacy in July was directed towards combining this advantage with the appearance, needed to bemuse her people and the world at large, of acting in self-defence.

But Russia was the object of Germany's diplomatic activity rather than of her military preparations. It was thought that Russia could not mobilize in less than six weeks or strike effectively in less than two or three months, and that that interval would suffice for the crushing of France, who was bound by treaty to intervene if Russia were attacked. The German mobilization was therefore directed first against France, defence against Russia being left to second-line German troops and to an Austrian offensive. The defeat of France was not, however, regarded by Germans as a mere incident in a war against Russia; for it was a cardinal point in the programme of the militarists, whose mind was indiscreetly revealed by Bernhardi, that France must be so completely crushed that she could never again cross Germany's path. To Frenchmen the war appeared to be mainly a continuation of the national duel which had been waged since the sixteenth century. To Great Britain it appeared, on the other hand, as the forcible culmination of a new rivalry for colonial empire and the dominion of the seas. But these were in truth but local aspects of a comprehensive German ambition expressed in the antithesis Weltmacht oder Niedergang. Bismarck had made the German Empire and raised it to the first place as a European Power. Europe, it was discovered, was a small portion of the globe; and Bismarck's successful methods were now to be used on a wider scale to raise Germany to a similar predominance in the world. The Serbian plot was merely the lever to set the whole machinery working, and German activities all the world over from Belgrade and Petrograd to Constantinople, Ulster, and Mexico were parts in a comprehensive piece.

But while the German sword was pointed everywhere, its hilt was in Berlin. Prussia supplied the mind which conceived the policy and controlled its execution; and in the circumstances of the Prussian Government must be sought the mainspring of the war. The cause of the war was not the Serbian imbroglio nor even German rivalry with Russia, France, or Britain. These were the occasions of its outbreak and extension; but national rivalries always exist and occasions for war are never wanting. They only result in war when one of the parties to the dispute wants to break the peace; and the Prussian will-to-war was due to the domestic situation of a Prussian government which had been made by the sword and had realized before 1914 that it could not be maintained without a further use of the sword. That government was the work of Bismarck, who had been called to power in 1863 to save the Hohenzollerns from subjection to Parliament and had found in the Danish and Austrian wars of 1864 and 1866 the means of solving the constitutional issue at Berlin. The cannon of Kniggratz proved more convincing than Liberal arguments; and the methods of blood and iron, by which Bismarck, Moltke, and Roon conquered Denmark, Austria, and France and annexed to Prussia the greater part of German soil, impressed upon Germany a constitution in which the rule of the sword was merely concealed behind a skilfully emasculated parliamentary system. The Reichstag with its universal suffrage was the scabbard of the Prussian sword, and it was because the sword could not do the work required of it while it lay in the scabbard that it was drawn in 1914.

Since 1871 the object of every Prussian Government had been to reconcile the German people to the veiled rule of the sword by exhibiting results which, it was contended, could not otherwise have been secured. Historians dwelt on the failure of the German Parliament at Frankfurt to promote a national unity which was left for Prussian arms to achieve, and philosophers deduced from that example a comprehensive creed of might. More material arguments were provided for the man in business and in the street by the skilful activities of the Government in promoting trade, industry, and social welfare; and the wealth, which would in any case have accrued from the removal of the tariff-walls and other barriers between the thirty-nine independent States of Germany, was credited to the particular method of war by which the unification had been accomplished. No State had hitherto made such economic progress as did the German Empire in the generation after Metz and Sedan, and the success of their rulers led most of the German people to place implicit reliance on the testimony those rulers bore to the virtue of their means. The means did not, however, commend themselves to the rest of the world with equal conviction; and an increasing aversion to the mailed fist on the part of other countries led to what Germans called the hostile encirclement of their Fatherland. Gradually it became clearer that Prussian autocracy could not reproduce in the sphere of world-ambitions the success which had attended it in Germany unless it could reduce the world to the same submission by the use of similar arguments.

But still the Prussian Government was driven towards imperialistic expansion by the ever-increasing force of public opinion and popular discontent. It could only purchase renewed leases of autocratic power at home, with its perquisites for those who wielded and supported autocracy, by feeding the minds of the people with diplomatic triumphs and their bodies with new markets for commercial and industrial expansion; and the incidents of military domination grew ever more irksome to the populace. The middle classes were fairly content, and the parties which represented them in the Reichstag offered no real opposition to Prussian ideas of government. But the Social Democrats were more radical in their principles and were regarded by Prussian statesmen as open enemies of the Prussian State. Rather than submit to social democracy Prussians avowed their intention of making war, and war abroad would serve their turn a great deal better than civil strife. The hour was rapidly advancing two years before the war broke out. The German rebuff over Agadir in 1911 was followed by a general election in 1912 at which the Social Democrats polled nearly a third of the votes and secured by far the largest representation of any party in the Reichstag. In 1913, after a particularly violent expression of militarism called "the Zabern incident," the Reichstag summoned up courage for the first time in its history to pass a vote of censure on the Government. The ground was slipping from under the feet of Prussian militarism; it must either fortify its position by fresh victories or take the risk of revolution. It preferred the chances of European war, and found in the Serbian incident a means of provoking a war the blame for which could be laid at others' doors.

The German Kaiser played but a secondary part in these transactions. It is true that the German constitution placed in his hands the command of the German Army and Navy and the control of foreign policy; but no paper or parchment could give him the intellect to direct the course of human affairs. He had indeed dismissed Bismarck in 1890, but dropping the pilot did not qualify him to guide the ship of state, and he was himself in 1906 compelled to submit to the guidance of his ministers. The shallow waters of his mind spread over too vast a sphere of activity to attain any depth, and he had the foibles of Frederick the Great without his courage or his capacity. His barbaric love of pomp betrayed the poverty of his spirit and exhibited a monarchy reduced from power to a pageant. He was not without his generous impulses or exalted sentiments, and there was no section of the British public, from Mr. Ramsay Macdonald to Mr. Rudyard Kipling and the "Daily Mail," to which one or other of his guises had not commended itself; it pleased him to pose as the guardian of the peace of Europe, the champion of civilization against the Boxers, and of society against red revolution. But vanity lay at the root of all these manifestations, and he took himself not less seriously as an arbiter of letters, art, and religion than as a divinely appointed ruler of the State. The many parts he played were signs of versatile emotion rather than of power; and his significance in history is that he was the crest of a wave, its superficial froth and foam without its massive strength. A little man in a great position, he was powerless to ride the whirlwind or direct the storm, and he figured largely in the public eye because he vented through an imperial megaphone the fleeting catchwords of the vulgar mind.

After Agadir he had often been called a coward behind his back, and it was whispered that his throne would be in danger if that surrender were repeated. He had merited these reproaches because no one had done more than he to inflate the arrogance of his people, and his eldest son took the lead in exasperating public opinion behind the scenes. The militarists, with considerable backing from financial and commercial groups, were bent on war, and war appeals to the men in the streets of all but the weakest countries. The mass of the people had not made up their mind for a war that was not defensive; but modern governments have ample means for tuning public opinion, and with a people so accustomed as the Germans to accept the truth from above, their rulers would have little difficulty, when once they had agreed upon war, in representing it as one of defence. It is, however, impossible to say when, if ever, the rulers of Germany agreed to attack; and to the last the Imperial Chancellor, Bethmann-Hollweg, struggled to delay if not to avert the breach. But he gradually lost his grip on the Kaiser. The decisive factor in the Emperor's mind may have been the rout in 1912-13 of the Turks, on whom Germany had staked her credit in return for control of the Berlin-Baghdad route; for the free Balkan confederation, which loomed on the horizon, would bar for ever German expansion towards the East. The Balkan States themselves provided the German opportunity; the Treaty of Bukarest in 1913 entrenched discord in their hearts and reopened a path for German ambition and intrigue. Austria, not without the usual instigation, proposed to Italy a joint attack upon Serbia; the offer was not accepted, but by the winter of 1913-14 the Kaiser had gone over to the party which had resolved upon war and was seeking an occasion to palliate the cause.

The immeasurable distance between the cause and the occasion was shown by the fact that Belgium was the first to suffer in an Austro-Serbian dispute; and the universal character of the issue was foreshadowed by the breach of its neutrality. Germany would not have planned for two years past an offensive through that inoffensive, unconcerned, and distant country, had the cause of the war been a murder at Serajevo. The cause was a comprehensive determination on the German part to settle international issues by the sword, and it involved the destinies of civilization. The blow was aimed directly or indirectly at the whole world, and Germany's only prospect of success lay in the chance that most of the world would fail to perceive its implications or delay too long its effective intervention. It was the defect of her self-idolatry and concentration that she could not develop an international mind or fathom the mentality of other peoples. She could not conceive how England would act on a "scrap of paper," and never dreamt of American participation. But she saw that Russia and France would inevitably and immediately be involved in war by the attempt at armed dictation in the Balkans, and that the issue would decide the fate of Europe. The war would therefore be European and could only be won by the defeat of France and Russia. Serbia would be merely the scene of local and unimportant operations, and, Russia being the slower to move, the bulk of the German forces were concentrated on the Rhine for the purpose of overwhelming France.

The condition of French politics was one of the temptations which led the Prussian militarists to embark upon the hazard. France had had her troubles with militarism, and its excesses over the Dreyfus case had produced a reaction from which both the army command and its political ally the Church had suffered. A wave of national secularism carried a law against ecclesiastical associations which drove religious orders from France, and international Socialism found vent in a pacifist agitation against the terms of military service. A rapid succession of unstable ministries, which the group system in French parliamentary politics encouraged, militated against sound and continuous administration; and in April 1914 a series of revelations in the Senate had thrown an unpleasant light upon the efficiency of the army organization. On military grounds alone there was much to be said for the German calculation that in six weeks the French armies could be crushed and Paris reached. But the Germans paid the French the compliment of believing that this success could not be achieved before Russia made her weight felt, unless the Germans broke the international guarantees on which the French relied, and sought in Belgium an easier and less protected line of advance than through the Vosges.

For that crime public opinion was not prepared either in France or England, but it had for two years at least been the settled policy of the German military staff, and it had even been foretold in England a year before that the German attack would proceed by way of Lige and Namur. There had also been military "conversations" between Belgian and British officers with regard to possible British assistance in the event of Germany's violation of Belgian neutrality. But the Belgian Ministry was naturally reluctant to proceed far on that assumption, which might have been treated as an insult by an honest or dishonest German Government; and it was impossible for England to press its assistance upon a neutralized State which could not even discuss it without casting a slur upon the honour of its most powerful neighbour. Nor was England bound by treaty to defend the neutrality of Belgium. She had been so bound by a treaty concluded during the Franco-Prussian War; but that treaty expired in the following year, and the treaty of 1839, which regulated the international situation of Belgium, merely bound the five great signatory Powers not to violate Belgian neutrality without obliging them individually or collectively to resist its violation. It was not in fact regarded in 1839 as conceivable that any of the Great Powers would ever violate so solemn a pledge, and there was some complacent satisfaction that by thus neutralizing a land which had for centuries been the cockpit of Europe, the Powers had laid the foundations of permanent peace. But the bond of international morality was loosened during the next half-century, and in the eighties even English newspapers argued in favour of a German right-of-way through Belgium for the purposes of war with France. It does not appear that the treaty was ever regarded as a serious obstacle by the German military staff; for neither treaties nor morality belong to the curricula of military science which had concluded that encirclement was the only way to defeat a modern army, and that through Belgium alone could the French defence be encircled. The Chancellor admitted that technically Germany was wrong, and promised full reparation after the war. But he was never forgiven the admission, even by German jurists, who argued that treaties were only binding rebus sic stantibus, while the conditions in which they were signed remained substantially the same; and Germans had long cast covetous eyes on the Congo State, the possession of which, they contended, was inconsistent with Belgium's legal immunity from attack in Europe.

The opposition of Bethmann-Hollweg and the German foreign office was accordingly brushed aside, and the army made all preparations for an invasion of France through Belgium. The diplomatists would have made a stouter resistance had they anticipated the attitude England was to adopt. But the German ambassador in London, Prince Lichnowsky, failed to convince his Government that there was anything to fear from the British Empire. Mr. Lloyd George has claimed it as one of the advantages we derive from the British press that it misleads public opinion abroad, and a study of "The Times," the only British newspaper that carries much weight in foreign countries, may well have persuaded the German Government in 1914 that eight years of Liberal administration were not likely to have provided England with the means, or left it the spirit, to challenge the might of Germany. She was known to have entered into no binding alliance with France or Russia; the peace had never in all their history been broken between the two great Protestant Powers; and, while there had been serious naval and colonial rivalry and some diplomatic friction, relations in 1913-14 seemed to have entered calmer waters. Germany had been well satisfied with the efforts and sacrifices England had made to prevent the Balkan crisis from developing into a European war; and Lichnowsky was successfully negotiating treaties which gave Germany unexpected advantages with regard to the Baghdad railway and African colonization. On the eve of war the English were hailed as cousins in Berlin, and the earliest draft of the German official apology, intended for American consumption, spoke of Great Britain and Germany labouring shoulder to shoulder to preserve the peace against Russian aggression. The anger of the Kaiser, the agitation of the Chancellor, and the fury of the populace when England declared war showed that Germany had no present intention of adding the British Empire to her list of enemies and little fear that it would intervene unless it were attacked. Any anxiety she may have felt was soothed by the studied assumption that England's desire, if any, to intervene would be effectively checked by her domestic situation. Agents from Ulster were buying munitions to fight Home Rule with official connivance in Germany, and it was confidently expected that war would shake a ramshackle British Empire to its foundations; there would be rebellions in Ireland, India, and South Africa, and the self-governing Dominions would at least refuse to participate in Great Britain's European adventures. In such circumstances "the flannelled fool at the wicket and the muddied oaf at the goal" might be trusted to hug his island security and stick to his idle sports; and the most windy and patriotic of popular British weeklies was at the end of July placarding the streets of London with the imprecation "To hell with Servia."

The object of German diplomacy was to avoid offence to British susceptibilities, and the first requisite was to keep behind the scenes. The Kaiser went off on a yachting cruise to Norway, where, however, he was kept in constant touch with affairs, while Austria on 23 July presented her ultimatum to the Serbian Government. The terms amounted to a demand for the virtual surrender of Serbian independence, and were in fact intended to be rejected. Serbia, however, acting on Russian and other advice, accepted them all except two, which she asked should be referred to the Hague Tribunal. Austria refused on the ground that the dispute was not of a justiciable nature; and the meagre five days' grace having expired on the 28th, Austrian troops crossed the Save and occupied Belgrade, the Serbians withdrawing without resistance. Meanwhile feverish activity agitated the chancelleries of Europe. The terms of the ultimatum had been discussed by the British Cabinet on Friday the 24th, and the British Fleet, which had been reviewed at Spithead on the previous Saturday, was, instead of dispersing at Portland, kept together, and then, on the 29th, dispatched to its war stations in the North Sea. Simultaneously the German High Seas Fleet withdrew on the 26th to Kiel and Wilhelmshaven. Russia replied to the Austrian invasion of Serbia by mobilizing her southern command and extending the mobilization, as the hand of Germany became more apparent, to her northern armies. Sir Edward Grey made unceasing efforts to avert the clash of arms by peaceable negotiation, and proposed a conference of the four Great Powers not immediately concerned in the dispute—Germany, France, Italy, and Great Britain. Germany, knowing that she would stand alone in the conference, declined. The dispute, she pretended, was merely a local affair between Austria and Serbia, in which no other Power had the right to intervene. But she refused to localize the dispute to the extent of regarding it as a Balkan conflict between the interests of Austria and Russia. Austria was less unyielding when it became evident that Russia would draw the sword rather than acquiesce in Serbia's subjection, and on the 30th it seemed that the way had been opened for a settlement by direct negotiation between Vienna and Petrograd. At that moment Germany threw off the diplomatic disguise of being a pacific second to her Austrian friend, and cut the web of argument by an ultimatum to Russia on the 31st. Fear lest the diplomatists should baulk them of their war had already led the German militarists to publish in their press the unauthorized news of a complete German mobilization, and on 1-2 August German armies crossed the frontiers. It was not till some days later that war was declared between Austria and any of the Allies; the war from first to last was made in Germany.

Throughout that week-end the British Cabinet remained in anxious conclave. The Unionist leaders early assured it of their support in any measures they might think fit to take to vindicate Great Britain's honour and obligations; but they could not relieve it of its own responsibility, and the question did not seem as easy to answer as it has done since the conduct of Germany and the nature of her ambitions have been revealed. A purely Balkan conflict did not appear to be an issue on which to stake the fortunes of the British Empire. We were not even bound to intervene in a trial of strength between the Central Empires and Russia and France, for on 1 August Italy decided that the action of the Central Empires was aggressive and that therefore she was not required by the Triple Alliance to participate. There had in the past been a tendency on the part of France to use both the Russian alliance and English friendship for purposes in Morocco and elsewhere which had not been quite relished in England; and intervention in continental wars between two balanced alliances would have found few friends but for recent German chauvinism. It might well seem that in the absence of definite obligations and after having exhausted all means of averting war, Great Britain was entitled to maintain an attitude of benevolent neutrality, reserving her efforts for a later period when better prepared she might intervene with greater effect between the exhausted belligerents.

Such arguments, if they were used, were swept aside by indignation at Germany's conduct. Doubts might exist of the purely defensive intentions of France and Russia; each State had its ultra-patriots who had done their best to give away their country's case; and if Russia was suspect of Panslavist ambition, France was accused of building up a colonial empire in North Africa in order to throw millions of coloured troops into the scale for the recovery of Alsace-Lorraine. But no such charge could be brought against Belgium. She had no interest and no intention but to live in peace with her neighbours, and that peace had been guaranteed her by international contract. If such a title to peace was insecure there could be no security for the world and nothing but subservience for little nations. The public sense which for a century had been accustomed to welcome national independence wherever it raised its head—in Greece, the Balkans, Italy, Hungary, Poland, the South American Republics—revolted at its denial to Belgium in the interest of German military aggression; and censure of the breach of international contract was converted to passion by the wrong wantonly done to a weak and peaceful by a mighty and ambitious Power. Great Britain was not literally bound to intervene; but if ever there was a moral obligation on a country, it lay upon her now, and the instant meeting of that obligation implied an instinctive recognition of the character of the war that was to be fought. Mixed and confused though the national issues might be in various quarters, the war, so far as concerned the two Powers who were to be mainly instrumental in its winning, was a civil war of mankind to determine the principle upon which international relations should repose.

That issue was not for every one to see, and there were many to whom the struggle was merely national rivalry in which the interests of England happened to coincide with those of France and in which we should have intervened just the same without any question of Belgium's neutrality. Whether it might have been so can never be determined. But it is certain that no such struggle would have enlisted the united sympathies and whole-hearted devotion of the British realms, still less those of the United States, and in it we might well have been defeated. From that division and possible defeat we and the world were saved by Germany's decision that military advantage outweighed moral considerations. The invasion of Belgium and Luxemburg united the British Empire on the question of intervention. Three ministers alone out of more than forty—Lord Morley, Mr. John Burns, and Mr. C. P. Trevelyan—dissented from the Cabinet's decision, and the minority in the nation was of still more slender proportions. Parliament supported the Ministry without a division when on 4 August England declared war.

Had we counted the cost? the German Chancellor asked our ambassador in Berlin on the eve of the declaration. The cost would not have affected our decision, but it was certainly not anticipated, and the Entente was ill-prepared to cope with the strength displayed by Germany. The British Navy was, indeed, as ready as the German Army, and the command of the sea passed automatically into our hands when the German Fleet withdrew from the North Sea on 26 July. But for that circumstance not a single division could have been sent across the sea, and the war would have been over in a few months. Nor was the British Army unprepared for the task that had been allotted to it in anticipation. It was the judgment not only of our own but of Allied Staffs that an expeditionary force of six divisions would suffice to balance German superiority in the West; and that force, consisting of better material better trained than any other army in the field, was in its place in the line of battle hundreds of miles from its base within three weeks of the declaration of war. The real miscalculation was of the respective strength of France and Germany, and no one had foreseen that it would ultimately require three times the force that France could put in the field to liberate French soil from the German invader. The National Service League would have provided us with a large army; but even its proposals were vitiated by their assumption that these forces were needed to do the navy's work of home-defence, and by the absence of provision for munitions, without which sending masses of men into battle was sending them to useless slaughter. Time was needed to remedy these miscalculations, but time was provided by our command of the sea, about which there had been no misjudgment and no lack of pre-vision. We made our mistakes before, and during the war, but neither Mr. Asquith's Governments nor that of his successor need fear comparison with those of our Allies or our enemies on that account; and it is merely a modest foible of the people, which has hardly lost a war for nearly four hundred years, to ascribe its escape to fortune, and to envy the prescience and the science which have lightened the path of its enemies to destruction.

CHAPTER II

THE GERMAN INVASION Germany began the war on the Western front before it was declared, and on 1-2 August German cavalry crossed the French frontier between Luxemburg and Switzerland at three points in the direction of Longwy, Lunville, and Belfort. But these were only feints designed to prolong the delusion that Germany would attack on the only front legitimately open to warfare and to delay the reconstruction of the French defence required to meet the real offensive. The reasons for German strategy were conclusive to the General Staff, and they were frankly explained by Bethmann-Hollweg to the British ambassador. There was no time to lose if France was to be defeated before an effective Russian move, and time would be lost by a frontal attack. The best railways and roads from Berlin to Paris ran through Belgium; the Vosges protected more than half of the French frontier south of Luxemburg, Belfort defended the narrow gap between them and Switzerland, and even the wider thirty miles' gap between the northern slopes of the Vosges and Luxemburg was too narrow for the deployment of Germany's strength; the way was also barred by the elaborate fortifications of Verdun, Toul, and Nancy. Strategy pointed conclusively to the Belgian route, and its advantages were clinched by the fact that France was relying on the illusory scrap of paper. Her dispositions assumed an attack in Lorraine, and her northern fortifications round Lille, Maubeuge, and Hirson were feeble compared with those of Belfort, Toul, and Verdun. Given a rapid and easy march through Belgium, the German armies would turn the left flank of the French defence and cut it off from the capital. Hence the resistance of Belgium had a great military importance apart from its moral value. To its lasting honour the Belgian Government had scorned the German proposal for connivance even in the attractive form which would have limited the German use of Belgian territory to the eastern bank of the Meuse.

Haste and contempt for the Belgian Army, whose imperfect organization was due to a natural reliance on the neutrality which Germany had guaranteed, accounted for the first derangement of German plans. The invasion began towards Vis, near the Dutch frontier where the direct road from Aix to Brussels crosses the Meuse, but the main advance-guard followed the trunk railway from Berlin to Paris via Venders and Lige. It was, however, inadequately mobilized and equipped, and was only intended to clear away an opposition which was not expected to be serious. The Belgians fought more stubbornly than was anticipated; and aided by Brialmont's fortification of Lige, although his plans for defence were not properly executed, they held up the Germans for two days in front of the city. It was entered on 7 August, but its fall did not give the Germans the free passage they wanted; for the forts on the heights to the north commanded the railway, and the Germans contented themselves with bringing up their transport and 11 2 in. howitzers. Brialmont had not foreseen the explosive force of modern shells, and two days' bombardment on the 13th-15th reduced the remaining forts, in spite of their construction underground, to a mass of shell-holes with a handful of wounded or unconscious survivors. The last to be reduced was Fort Loncin, whose gallant commander, General Leman, was found poisoned and half-dead from suffocation. He had succeeded in delaying the German advance for a momentous week.

No more could be done with the forces at his disposal, and the German masses of infantry were pouring across the Meuse at Vis, towards Lige by Verviers, up the right bank of the Meuse towards Namur, and farther south through the Ardennes. The German cavalry which spread over the country east and north-east of Brussels and was sometimes repulsed by the Belgians, was merely a screen, which defective air-work failed to penetrate, and the frequent engagements were merely the brushes of outposts. Within a week from the fall of Fort Loncin half of Belgium was overrun and the real menace revealed. Belgium was powerless before the avalanche, and its only hope lay in France. But the French Army was still mobilizing on its northern front, and its incursions into Alsace and Lorraine did nothing to relieve the pressure. The Belgians had to fall back towards Antwerp, uncovering Brussels, which was occupied by the Germans on the 20th and mulcted in a preliminary levy of eight million pounds, and leaving to the fortifications of Namur the task of barring the German advance to the northern frontiers of France. Namur proved a broken reed. The troops which paraded through Brussels with impressive pomp and regularity were only a detail of the extreme right wing of the invading force; the mass was advancing along the north bank of the Meuse and overrunning the whole of Belgium south and east of the river. On the 15th an attempt to seize Dinant and the river crossing above Namur was repulsed by French artillery; but there was apparently no cavalry to follow up this success, and the Germans were allowed to bring up their heavy howitzers for the bombardment of Namur without disturbance. It began on the 20th, and, unsupported by the Allied assistance for which they looked, the Belgians were panic-stricken; on the 23rd the city and most of the forts were in German hands though two resisted until the 26th. The Germans had not, as at Lige, wasted their infantry in premature attacks, and with little loss to them, a fortress reputed impregnable had been captured, the greater part of the southern Belgian Army destroyed, and the provisional plan of French defence frustrated. The fall of Namur was the first resounding success of the Germans in the war.

Its loss was not redeemed by the French offensive in Alsace and Lorraine. On 7 August a weak French force advanced through the Belfort gap and, finding still weaker forces to oppose it, proceeded to occupy Altkirch and Mulhouse, while a proclamation by General Joffre announced the approaching liberation of the provinces torn from France in 1870. It was a feeble and ill-conceived effort to snatch a political advantage out of a forbidding military situation. German reinforcements swept up from Colmar and Neu Breisach, and on the both the French were back within a few miles of the frontier, leaving their sympathizers to the vengeance of their enemies. More legitimate though not more successful was the French thrust in Lorraine. It had other motives than the political: it would, if pushed home, menace the left of the German armies in Belgium and disturb their communications; and a smaller success would avert the danger of a German advance in Lorraine which would threaten the right of the French on the Meuse. Accordingly, Generals Pau and de Castelnau, commanding the armies of Alsace and Lorraine respectively, ordered a general advance on the 10th. At first it met with success: the chief passes of the Vosges from Mt. Donon on the north to the Belfort gap were seized; counter-thrusts by the Germans towards Spincourt and Blamont in the plain of Lorraine were parried; Thann was captured, Mulhouse was re-occupied, and the Germans looked like losing Alsace as far north as Colmar. German Lorraine seemed equally insecure, for on the 18th Castelnau's troops were in Saarburg cutting the rail and roads between Strassburg and Metz. The Germans, however, were not unprepared: their Fifth Army, under the Crown Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria, came down from Metz and fell upon the exposed French left, which was routed with great losses in guns and prisoners on the 21st. Not only did the invasion collapse, but the Bavarians pushed across the French frontier nearly as far as Toul and occupied Lunville, compelling also a French retreat from the passes of the Vosges. General Pau had soon to follow suit and retire again from Mulhouse and all but the south-west corner of Alsace.

The operations in Alsace and Lorraine had dismally failed to discount the advance of the Germans through Belgium or even to impede the march of their centre through Luxemburg and the Ardennes. At the end of three weeks France was still in the throes of mobilization: the original scheme of defence along the Franco-German frontier had been upset by the German attack through Belgium; and second thoughts had fared little better at Namur. The shortest line of defence after the Germans had broken through at Lige was one running from Antwerp to Namur, and the shortest line is imperative for the weaker combatant. But the Germans were well across it when they entered Brussels, and with the fall of Namur the hinge upon which depended the defence of the northern frontier of France was broken. It was to an almost forlorn hope that the British Army was committed when it took its place on the left of the French northern armies at Mons to encounter for the first time since Waterloo the shock of a first-rate European force. But for its valour and the distraction caused by the Russian invasion of East Prussia, Paris and possibly the French armies might not have been saved.

It was a meagre force for so great a responsibility, but far from the "contemptible little army" it was falsely believed to have been called by the Kaiser. The men were all volunteers who had enlisted for seven years' service with the colours as against the three years' service of the Germans and the French; and on an average they had seen far more actual fighting than the Germans, who contemptuously dismissed this experience as colonial warfare. If in the science of tactics and strategy the British was inferior to the German Army, its marksmanship and individual steadiness were unequalled; and under anything like equal conditions British troops proved themselves the better men. But the conditions were never equal during the first two years of the war owing to the German superiority in numbers and in artillery; and there was a third cause of inequality due to the different military systems of the two countries. Universal service enabled Germany to select the ablest men—at least from the middle and upper classes—to officer and command her armies. In England before the war only an infinitesimal fraction of her youthful ability found its way into the army. Independent means and social position rather than brains were the common qualifications for a commission; and what there was to be said for such a system so long as fighting was mainly a matter of physical courage and individual leadership lost its validity when war became a matter of science and mechanical ingenuity. The fact that four of the six British army-commanders (Plumer, Byng, Rawlinson, Cavan) in the West at the end of the war were old Etonians, testifies to more things than their military skill; and it was a characteristic irony that from first to last the British armies should have been commanded by cavalry officers in a war in which cavalry played hardly any part.

The commander-in-chief was Sir John French, who had made his reputation as a cavalry leader in the Boer War and had been chief of the imperial staff since 1911. As inspector-general of the forces from 1907 to 1911 he had a good deal to do with Lord Haldane's reorganization of the British Army, and as chief of the staff he was largely responsible for the equipment of the Expeditionary Force and the agreement with the French Government with regard to its dimensions and the way in which it should be used. He was the obvious general to command it when it came to the test. With similar unanimity the popular voice approved of the appointment of Lord Kitchener as Secretary of State for War on 5 August. The Expeditionary Force consisted of three army corps, each comprising two divisions, and a cavalry division under Allenby. The First Army Corps was commanded by Sir Douglas Haig, the youngest lieutenant-general in the army, and the second by Sir James Grierson, its most accomplished student. Unhappily Grierson died suddenly soon after the landing, and he was succeeded by Sir H. Smith-Dorrien, who, like French, had made his name in South Africa. The Third Corps, under Sir W. Pulteney, came later into the field. The embarkation began on 7 August, less than three days after war had been declared, and the Government showed a sound confidence in our little-understood command of the sea when it risked the whole of our effective fighting force by sending it across the Channel to assist the French and thus abandoning the defence of British shores to the British Navy. By the 16th the transportation had been accomplished without a hitch or loss of any kind. It was an achievement which even domestic faction failed to belittle until time itself had effaced it from popular recollection.

From Boulogne and from other ports the troops were sent up to the wavering line of battle along the Franco-Belgian frontier. They came not to win a victory but to save an army from disaster. The mass of French reserves were in Lorraine or far away to the south, and the safety of the French line on the northern front had depended upon the assumed impregnability of Namur and an equally fallacious underestimate of the number of German troops in Belgium. Three French armies, the Third, the Fourth, and the Fifth, were strung along the frontier from Montmdy across the Meuse and the Sambre to a point north-west of Charleroi, where the British took up their position stretching through Binche, Mons, and along the canal from Mons to Cond. Far away to the south-west was a French Territorial corps in front of Arras, and at Maubeuge behind the British centre was a French cavalry corps under General Sordet. The French staff anticipated a defeat of the German attack on these lines and then a successful offensive, and military critics in England even wrote of the hopeless position of the Germans under Von Buelow and Von Kluck thrust far forward into a cul-de-sac in Belgium with the French on their left at Charleroi, the British on their right front at Mons, and the Belgians on their right rear before Antwerp. The German calculation was that the Belgians had been effectively masked by a corps detached north-westwards from Brussels, that the Duke of Wrttemberg and Von Hausen had troops enough to force the Meuse, drive in the French right, and threaten the centre at Charleroi, and that Von Buelow could cross the Sambre and Von Kluck encircle the British flank. The strength which the Germans developed in Belgium and the extension of their right wing are said to have been an afterthought due to the intervention of the British Expeditionary Force; but the original German plan required some such modification when the presence of British troops lengthened the line of French defence.

The first two army corps, under Haig to the right and Smith-Dorrien to the left, were in position on Saturday the 22nd hard at work throwing up entrenchments and clearing the ground of obstacles to their fire. That day was more eventful for the French, and it is not quite clear why they were not assisted by a British offensive on their left. On the right, the Third and Fourth French armies under Ruffey and Langle de Cary had advanced from the Meuse to attack the Germans across the Semois. They were severely checked and withdrew behind the Meuse, while an unsuspected army of Saxons under Von Hausen attacked the right flank of the Fifth French army under Lanrezac which lay along the Sambre with its right flank resting on the Meuse. The fall of Namur in the angle of the two rivers made Von Hausen's task comparatively easy, and the Fifth army, which was also attacked by Von Buelow in front, fell back in some confusion. A breach was thus made in the French line, and Von Hausen turned left to roll up the Fourth and Third armies of Langle de Cary and Ruffey; they, too, in their turn retreated in some haste, and the Germans were free to concentrate on the British. They had cleared their left and centre of danger, and Von Kluck was able on the 23rd not only to face our troops with superior forces in front, but to outflank them towards the west and bring Von Buelow down upon them from Charleroi on the east. He had at least four army corps with which to crush the British two, and our 75,000 men were spread out on a line of twenty-five miles thinner far than the French line just broken at Charleroi. Finally, owing to defective staff-work and the confusion of the French retreat, they were left in utter ignorance of what had happened, and faced the German attack as if they were part of one unbroken front instead of being a fragment round which the tide of battle surged, and under the impression conveyed to them on their arrival at the scene of action that their opponents numbered little more than one or at most two army corps.

Fighting began at 12.40 p.m. on Sunday the 23rd with a bombardment from between five and six hundred German guns along the whole twenty-five miles of front. It did surprisingly little damage in spite of the spotting by German aeroplanes; and when the German infantry came forward in massed formation, they discovered that their shelling had had no effect upon the moral of our troops or the accuracy of their rifle-fire. The Germans fought, of course, with obstinate courage and advanced again and again into the murderous fire of our rifles and machine guns and against occasional bayonet charges. But their own shooting went to pieces under the stress, and the frontal attack was a failure. Success there could not, however, ward off Von Buelow's threat to our right flank, and under the converging pressure Binche and then Mons itself had to be evacuated. But it was the long-delayed news of the French defeat and withdrawal on the whole of the rest of the line, coupled with more accurate information about the size of the German force, that determined the abandonment of the British position. Sir John French had to hold on till nightfall, but orders were given to prepare the way for retreat. The weary troops were to have a few hours' rest and start at daybreak. Their retreat was covered by a counter-attack soon after dawn by the First Division on the right which suggested to the Germans that we had been strongly reinforced and intended an offensive. Meanwhile Smith-Dorrien moved back five miles from the Canal, and then stood to protect the withdrawal of the First Division after its feint attack. It was a heavy task, and the 9th Lancers suffered severely in an attempt to hold up the Germans at Audregnies. But by Monday afternoon Haig's First Army Corps was back on the line between Maubeuge and Bavai, and Smith-Dorrien fell into line from Bavai westwards to Bry.

The design was to offer a second battle in this position, and entrenchments were begun. The fortress of Maubeuge and the Sambre gave some protection to the British right, but the Sambre was only of use in front if the Meuse was held by the French on the right and Von Kluck could not outflank on the left. Neither of these conditions was fulfilled: Von Kluck had seized Tournai and captured the whole of the French Territorial brigade which attempted to defend it, while the Meuse had been forced and the three French armies were in full retreat. A battle on the Maubeuge-Bry line would invite an encirclement from which the British had barely escaped at Mons, and the retreat was reluctantly continued to Le Cateau. Marching, the First Army Corps along the east of the Forest of Mormal and the Second along the west, our troops reached at nightfall on the 25th a line running from Maroilles through Landrecies and Le Cateau to Serainvilliers near Cambrai; but they had little rest. About 10 p.m., amid rain and darkness, the Germans got into Landrecies. In the fierce hand-to-hand struggle which ensued, the individual resourcefulness of our men gave them the advantage, and the Germans were driven out by detachments of the Grenadier, Coldstream, and 1st Irish Guards. They were simultaneously repulsed at Maroilles with some French assistance; but daybreak saw a third and more powerful attack delivered on Le Cateau. Sir John French had told Smith-Dorrien the night before that he was risking a second Sedan by a stand. But Smith-Dorrien thought he had no option. For eight hours on the 26th his men, reinforced by Snow's Division, but outnumbered in guns by nearly four to one, held their own, until another envelopment was threatened by Von Kluck. Fortunately the struggle had apparently exhausted the Germans; Sordet's cavalry had ridden across Smith-Dorrien's front and protected his left from envelopment; and the remnants of the three divisions were able to withdraw. The retreat was harrowing enough, and the 1st Gordons, missing their way in the dark, fell into the hands of the Germans and were all killed, wounded, or taken prisoners. But Le Cateau had taken the sting out of the German pursuit, and touch was at last regained with French forces to the east, with a newly-formed corps under D'Amade to the west, and with a Sixth French army which Maunoury was collecting on the Somme. On the evening of Friday the 28th Smith-Dorrien reached the Oise between Chauny and Noyon and Haig at La Fre. The First Army Corps had marched by Guise; the loss of a detachment of Munsters by misadventure early on the 27th was redeemed by the defeat on the 28th of two German columns by two brigades of Allenby's cavalry led by Gough and Chetwode. That night the Expeditionary Force had its first real sleep since Sunday, and next day there were no marching orders.

The British Army had saved itself and a good deal else by its courage, skill, and, above all, its endurance. But there was much that was lost in men, material, and ground. The fortification of the French frontier south and west of Mons was obsolete, and the country had been denuded of troops save a few Territorials in the process of mobilization. Maubeuge was the only fortress that made a stand, and Uhlans swept across Belgium as far as the Lys and down upon Lille and Arras with the object of cutting communications between the British Army and its bases at Boulogne and Dieppe. Some resistance was offered at Bapaume, where the arrival of a British detachment delayed the German advance until Amiens had been evacuated and the rolling stock removed. But the threat was sufficiently serious to induce Sir John French to move his base as far south as St. Nazaire at the mouth of the Loire, and the Germans could, had they been so minded, have occupied the Channel ports as far as the Seine. But they were not calculating on a long war or a serious contest with British forces for the control of Flanders, and their object was to destroy the French armies and dictate a peace at Paris before the autumn leaves began to fall.

They seemed to be making excellent progress towards that end. Sir J. French, indeed, took a sombre view of our losses at Le Cateau, and apparently it needed a visitation from Lord Kitchener on 1st September to retain the British Army in co-operation with the French. The fall of Namur, the battles of Charleroi and Mons, and the defeat of the French on the Semois were followed by the rout of Ruffey's and Langle's armies on the Meuse. They stretched north-westwards from Montmdy by way of Sedan and Mezires down the Meuse towards Dinant and Namur. But their left flank had been turned by Von Hausen's victory and the fall of Namur; and on the 27th Von Hausen, wheeling to his left, rolled up the French left wing while the Duke of Wrttemberg and the Crown Prince attacked all along the front. Ruffey had to seek safety in the Argonne, while Langle's army made for Rethel on the Aisne. On the 28th Longwy, the last French fortress north of Verdun, capitulated after a stout resistance. The defence of the frontier had collapsed, and the hopes that were entertained of resistance along the upper Aisne and thence by Laon and La Fre towards St. Quentin, proved delusive. Lanrezac's Fifth army turned on the 29th between Vervins and Ribemont, and near Guise inflicted on the Germans the most serious check to their advance. This reaction was not helped by the British retreat on Lanrezac's left, and its principal value was to protect that withdrawal. Nor was it better supported on the right. The Third and Fourth French armies were too severely hustled in their retreat to make a stand, and the reserves were still far away to the south. On the 28th-29th the Aisne was forced at Rethel, and Reims and Chalons were abandoned to the enemy; and La Fre and Laon followed on the 30th.

The British fell back from the Aisne and the Oise through the forests of Villers-Cotterets and Compigne towards the Marne. At Nry on 1 September a battery of Royal Horse Artillery was almost wiped out, and the guns were only saved by a gallant cavalry charge of the 1st Brigade; and on the same day a hard rearguard defence had to be fought by the 4th Guards Brigade. On the 3rd they reached the Marne, but it too was abandoned farther east without resistance, and on the 5th the Expeditionary Force was concentrated behind the Grand Morin. A retreat, upon the successful conduct of which depended the existence of the Force, the security of France, and the cause of the Entente, had been successfully accomplished by the skill of its commanders and still more by the fortitude and unquenchable spirit of the men. The French, too, showed a steadiness in misfortune for which their enemies had not looked; their reverses had been more severe, and their preparation less complete than our own, and a high morale was required for armies to react against such a run of ill-success with the effectiveness that was presently displayed upon the Marne.

A public on both sides of the Channel which was unfamiliar with the elements of military science and history, looked, as soon as it was allowed to learn the facts about the German advance, for the investment of Paris and regarded the French capital as the objective of the German invasion. But Napoleon's maxim that fortresses are captured on the field of battle was even truer in 1914 than it was a century earlier; for only the dispersal of the enemy enables an army to bring up the heavy artillery needed to batter down modern fortifications, and the great war saw no sieges worth the name because, the armies being once driven off, no forts could stand prolonged bombardment by the artillery which followed in the victor's train. The cities that suffered were not isolated units, they were merely knotty points in the lines of battle, and there could be no siege of Paris so long as Joffre's armies kept in line along the Marne or anywhere in contact with the capital. There was therefore no change of plan and no mystery when Von Kluck's right veered in the direction of its advance from south-west to south and then south-east. It was both avoiding an obstacle and pursuing its original design of outflanking the Entente's left. Not that Paris was without its strategic value. It and the line of the Seine impeded the encirclement, offered a nucleus of resistance, and provided a screen behind which could be organized a blow against the right flank of the deflected German march. Still, there was no certainty that Joffre could hold the Marne, and the French Government took the somewhat alarming precaution of removing to Bordeaux.

The presence of the British on the French left, the spectacular threat to Paris, and the comparative proximity of these operations to our own shores have possibly led to too great an emphasis being placed upon Von Kluck's attempt to outflank the left, or at least to too little weight being attached to the German effort to turn the right in Lorraine. The Crown Prince was in front of Verdun and the Kaiser himself went to stimulate the Bavarians at Lunville and Nancy, and it was not the imperial habit to bestow the light of the imperial countenance upon scenes of secondary importance. Lunville had been occupied on the 22nd after the French failure on the Saar, and on the 23rd fighting began for the Grand Couronn de Nancy defended by Castelnau. The line of battle stretched from St. Di to Pont—Mousson; but although the fiercest attack was still to come, the German thrust had been decisively checked at Mirecourt before Joffre determined to stand on the Marne. At last the French seemed to have a security on their right flank, the lack of which had proved fatal at Charleroi and on the Meuse. Paris on the one wing and Nancy on the other forbade the threat of encirclement which had hitherto compelled retreat; and the French armies were also at last in touch with their reserves.

There were other elements in the situation to encourage resistance The momentum of the German rush was somewhat spent in its rapidity, and the Germans were to illustrate the defect in their own maxim that the essence of war is violence; for violence is not the same as force and often wastes it. Moreover, the Russian invasion of East Prussia, if it did not actually compel the transference of divisions from France to the Eastern front, diverted thither reserves which might otherwise have appeared on the Marne or released the troops detained until 7 September by the siege of Maubeuge. Assuredly Joffre seized the right moment when on the 4th he decided to strike his blow. Two new armies of reserves had come into line, Foch's Ninth and Maunoury's Sixth; and two old armies had new commanders, the Third with Sarrail instead of Ruffey and the Fifth with Franchet d'Esperey instead of Lanrezac. In the east Castelnau and Sarrail stood almost back to back along the eastern and western heights of the Meuse above Verdun. On Sarrail's left was Langle's Fourth army behind Vitry, and the line was continued westwards by Foch behind Sezanne and the marshes of St. Gond. Next came D'Esperey's Fifth at La Fert-Gaucher, and cavalry linked his left with the British guarded by the Crecy forest. Thence north-westward stretched across the Paris front the new Sixth army of Maunoury.

As early as 31 August Von Kluck had turned south-east at a right angle to his south-western march from Brussels to Amiens; but he had not thereby replaced his enveloping design by a stroke at Joffre's centre. For he thought he had disposed of the British at Le Cateau and of Maunoury on the Somme, and that D'Esperey's Fifth had thus become the flank of Joffre's forces. He was merely curving his claws to grip, and by the night of the 5th he had crossed the Marne, the Petit Morin, and the Grand Morin, and his patrols had reached the Seine. It was a brief and solitary glimpse of the river on which stood the capital of France. The battle began, like that of Mons, on a Sunday, the 6th of September reached its climax on the 9th, and was over by the 12th, The fighting extended in a curved line from Meaux, which is almost a suburb of Paris, to Lunville, which is almost on the German frontier; and Joffre hoped that this line was too strong to be broken, and could be gradually drawn tighter until the head of the German invasion was squeezed out of the cul-de-sac into which, in the German anxiety for a prompt decision, it had been thrust. The German object, of course, was, as soon as Von Kluck discovered that Maunoury's new and the British returning armies forbade the enveloping plan, to break the line where it bent the most, that is, towards the south-east, and the weight of attack was thrown against Foch and Langle in Champagne. The business of those two generals was to stand fast while the right flank of the Germans was exposed to the counter-offensive of Maunoury and the British.

Von Kluck had committed the error of underrating his foes, and assuming that they had been broken beyond the chance of reaction; for to march across the front of an army that is still able to strike is inviting disaster, and Joffre had at last been able to shift his weight from east to west to cope with Von Kluck's unexpected attack through Belgium. Maunoury's army debouched from Meaux and began fighting its way to the Ourcq, a little river which runs southwards into the Marne at Lizy, while the British emerged from the Crecy forest and drove the Germans back to the Grand Morin. D'Esperey made headway against the bulk of Von Kluck's army between La Fert-Gaucher and Esternay, while Foch held his own against Von Buelow and Von Hausen's right, and Langle against the Duke of Wrttemberg. Sarrail's Third army had, however, to give a little ground along the Meuse. The morrow's tale was similar: most progress was made by the British, who drove the Germans across the Grand Morin at Coulommiers, and thus enabled D'Esperey to do the like with Von Kluck's centre. On the 8th, however, Maunoury was hard pressed by Von Kluck's desperate efforts to deal with this sudden danger; but reinforcements poured out from Paris, the British gained the Petit Morin from Trilport to La Trtoire, while D'Esperey carried victory farther east and captured Montmirail. By 11 a.m. on the 9th Von Kluck's army was ordered to retreat, thus exposing Von Buelow's right, and giving Foch his opportunity for the decisive stroke of the battle.

It consisted of two blows, right and left, and both came off late on the 9th. Maunoury's counter-attack on the left had compelled the Germans to weaken their centre. Not only was Von Buelow's right exposed, but a gap had been left between his left and Von Hausen's right, possibly for troops which were detained at Maubeuge or had been diverted to East Prussia. Nor was this all, for his centre was bogged in the famous marshes of St. Gond. Foch struck hard at Von Buelow's centre, right, and left, and by the morning of the 10th he had smashed the keystone of the German arch. Meanwhile, on the 9th Maunoury had cleared the Germans from the Ourcq, the British had crossed the Marne at Chngis, and reached it at Chteau-Thierry, and D'Esperey farther east. Von Kluck now received considerable reinforcements which Von Buelow needed more, and the latter's rapid retreat made even reinforcements useless for holding the Ourcq. It was equally fatal to success against Langle and Sarrail, and on the 10th the German retreat became general. By the end of the week the Germans were back on a line running nearly due east from a point on the Oise behind Compigne to the Aisne, along it to Berry-au-Bac, and thence across Champagne and the Argonne to Verdun. They had failed in Lorraine as well, where the climax of their attack was from the 6th to the 9th. Castelnau then took the offensive, and by the 12th had driven the Bavarians from before Nancy beyond the Meurthe, and out of Lunville and St. Di.

The German right had fallen back thirty-five miles and the centre nearly fifty; but the retreat was not a rout, and the losses in guns and prisoners were meagre. The first battle of the Marne was important by reason of what it prevented the Germans from doing, rather than by reason of what the Allies achieved, and they had to wait nearly four years for that precipitate evacuation of France which it was hoped would follow upon the German repulse from the Marne in September 1914. Nevertheless it was one of the decisive battles and turning-points of the war. The German surprise, so long and so carefully prepared, had failed, and the knockout blow had been parried. The Allied victory had not decided how the war would end, but it had decided that the war would be long—a test of endurance rather than of generalship, a struggle of peoples and a conflict of principles rather than duel between professional armies. There would be time for peaceful and even unarmed nations to gird themselves in defence; and the cause of democracy would not go down because military autocrats had thought to dispose of France before her allies could effectively intervene.

CHAPTER III

RUSSIA MOVES The first month of the war in the West had coincided more nearly with German plans than with Entente hopes, but both Germany and the Western Allies agreed in miscalculating Russia. The great Moltke had remarked early in his career that Russia had a habit of appearing too late on the field and then coming too strong. The war was to prove that to be a fault of democracy rather than of autocrats, and Russia intervened with an unexpected promptitude which was to be followed in time by an equally unexpected collapse. The forecasting of the course of wars is commonly left to military experts, and military experts commonly err through ignoring the moral and political factors which determine the weight and distribution of military forces. The soldier, so far as he looks behind armies at all, only looks to the numbers from which those armies may be recruited, and pays scant regard to the political, moral, social, and economic conditions which may make havoc of armies, evoke them where they do not exist, or transfer them to unforeseen scales in the military balance. Russia appeared to the strategist as a vast reservoir of food for powder which would take time to mobilize, but prove almost irresistible if it were given time. Both these calculations proved fallacious, and still less was it foreseen that the reservoir would revolt. The first misjudgment deranged the German plans, the second those of the Allies, while the third upset the minds of the world.

The outbreak of war found Russia with a peace-strength of over a million men, a war-strength of four millions, and reserves which were limited not by her population but by her capacity for transport, organization, and production of munitions. Her Prussian frontiers were guarded by no natural defences, but neither were Prussia's. Nature, it has been said, did not foresee Prussia; Prussia is the work of men's hands. Nor had Nature foreseen Russia, and men's hands had not made up the deficiency. Mechanical means had remedied the natural defects of Prussia's frontier, but not those of the Russian; and Russia's defence consisted mainly in distance, mud, and lack of communications. The value of these varied, of course, with the seasons, and the motor-transport, which atoned to some extent for the lack of railways, told in favour of German science and industry, and against the backward Russians. Apart from the absence of natural defences, the Russian frontier had been artificially drawn so as to make her Polish province an indefensible salient, though properly organized it would have been an almost intolerable threat alike to East Prussia and to Austrian Galicia. But for her preoccupation in the West, Germany could have conquered Poland in a fortnight, and Russian plans, indeed, contemplated a withdrawal as far as the line of Brest-Litovsk. As it was, the German offensive in Belgium and France left the defence of Prussia to the chances of an Austrian offensive against Lublin, a containing army of some 200,000 first-line and 300,000 second-line troops, and the delays in Russian mobilization.

Two of these proved to be broken reeds. Russian troops were almost as prompt in invading East Prussia as German troops in crossing the frontiers of France and Belgium, and by the end of the first week in August a flight to Berlin had begun. The shortest way from the Russian frontier to Berlin was by Posen, and it lay through a country peopled with Poles who were bitterly hostile to their German masters. But it was impossible to exploit these advantages at the expense of deepening the Polish salient with its already too narrow base, and the flanks in East Prussia and Galicia had first to be cleared. Under the supreme command of the Grand Duke Nicholas, who in spite of his rank was a competent professional soldier, and the more immediate direction of Rennenkampf, one of the few Russian officers to emerge with enchanced reputation from the Japanese War, the Russians proceed to concentrate on East Prussia (see Map). On the east Gumbinnen was captured after a battle on the 20th, and the important junction of Insterburg occupied by Rennenkampf, while on the south Samsonov on the 21st turned the German right, threatened Allenstein and drove the fugitives, as Rennenkampf had done, into the lines of Knigsberg. East Prussia lay at Russia's feet, and something like a panic alarmed Berlin. The Teutonic cause was faring even worse in Galicia and Poland. Austria had a million troops in Galicia, but her offensive under Dankl towards Lublin only produced a strategic Russia retirement, while Ruszky and Brussilov overran the eastern borders and menaced Lemberg.

Fortunately for the Germans their own right hand proved a stronger defence. The incompetent General von Franois, who had been driven into Knigsberg, was superseded by Hindenburg, a retired veteran of nearly seventy, whose military career had made so slight an impression on the German mind that his name was not even included in the German "Who's Who." Nevertheless he had commanded corps on the Prussian frontier, and even after his retirement made the study of its defence his hobby. He knew every yard of the intricate mixture of land and water which made up the district of the Masurian Lakes, and had, unfortunately for Russia, defeated a German financial scheme for draining the country and turning it into land over which an invader could safely march. Within five days of Samsonov's victory, Hindenburg, taking advantage of the magnificent system of German strategic railways, had collected some 150,000 men from the fortresses on the Vistula and concentrated them on a strong position stretching from near Allenstein south-west towards Soldau, his left resting on the railway from Eylau to Insterburg and his right on that from Eylau to Warsaw. In front of him were marshes with the ways through which he was, but Samsonov was not, familiar; and the railways enabled him to threaten either of the enemy's flanks.

Samsonov was practically isolated. Rightly ignoring the strong defences of Knigsberg but wrongly getting out of touch with Rennenkampf, he had pushed on, thinking there could be no serious resistance east of the Vistula and hoping to seize the bridge at Graudenz. Hindenburg made a feint on his right, but pushed his real outflanking movement along the railway on his left. But the feint was enough to outflank Samsonov's left and close the retreat towards Warsaw. It also diverted his reserves from his centre and from his right, which on the 27th was cut off from a possible junction with Rennenkampf. A gallant attempt by Gourko to relieve him on the 30th came too late. The only exit was along a narrow strip of land between the marshes leading to Ortelsburg, and here between the 28th and the 31st the Russian forces were almost annihilated. Less than a third escaped, and the loss of guns was even greater. Over eighty thousand prisoners were taken, and the Germans who had missed their Sedan in the West secured a passable imitation in the East. Samsonov perished in the retreat. The Russian censorship suppressed the news, and what was allowed to come through from Germany was treated in Entente countries as a German lie. For more than a fortnight little was known of a victory which, save for Allenby's four years later, was the completest in the war. The relief in Berlin was immense; Hindenburg became the popular idol, Field-Marshal, and Generalissimo of the Teutonic armies in the East; and a little village, which lay behind Hindenburg's centre, was selected to give its name to the battle and to commemorate a national revenge for that defeat at Tannenberg five centuries before when the Slavonic kingdom of Poland had broken the power of the Teutonic Order in Prussia.

Russia, however, was a different power from the Teutonic Order, and Austrian generals were not Hindenburgs; Ruszky and Brussilov, too, were better leaders than Samsonov, and though Rennenkampf had to evacuate East Prussia before Hindenburg's advance, the Austrians were driven like chaff before their enemies in Galicia. The object of Russian strategy was to straighten the serpentine line of the frontier for military purposes. Hence, while pushing forward her wings in East Prussia and Galicia, she would merely stand on guard or withdraw in the Polish centre, and the Germans encountered little opposition when they seized Czenstochowa and Kalisch and pushed towards the Warta, or the Austrians when they advanced by Zamosc towards the Bug. The advance in East Prussia was also represented as a chivalrous attempt to reduce the pressure in France by a threat to Berlin, and the real Russian effort was the sweep westwards from the eastern Galician frontier, where the Second Russian army under Ruszky and the Third farther south under Brussilov were already threatening the envelopment of Lemberg (or Lwow [Footnote: Pronounced and sometimes spelt Lvoff.]) and the Austrians under Von Auffenberg. Ruszky, formerly like Foch a professor in a military academy, was perhaps the most scientific of Russian generals; Brussilov showed his strategy two years later at Luck; [Footnote: Pronounced Lutsk: the Slavonic "c" = "ts" "cz" = "ch" and "sz" = "sh."] and Radko Dmitrieff was a Bulgarian general, now in Russian service, who in the Balkan wars had won the battle of Kirk Kilisse and helped to win that of Lule-Burgas. There was not an abler trio in any field of the war.

By the end of August Brussilov had captured Tarnopol and Halicz and forced the successive rivers which guarded the right flank of Lemberg and Von Auffenberg's forces and protected their communications with the Carpathian passes; and on 1 September the battle for the capital of eastern Galicia began. It lasted for nearly three days, and was almost as decisive as that of Tannenberg. Brussilov's outflanking movement was continued with success, but the coup de grce was given here, as at Charleroi and the Marne, by isolating a central group and thus breaking the line. Thrusting forward his right, Ruszky outflanked Lemberg and interposed between Von Auffenberg and the Austrian army in Poland. On the 3rd Lemberg was evacuated, and the retreat, which was for a time protected by the entrenched camp at Grodek, gradually became more disorderly. Over 70,000 prisoners were taken, mostly, no doubt, Czecho-Slovaks and Jugo-Slavs who had more sympathy with the Russians than with their Teutonic masters, and masses of machine guns and artillery. The victory was brilliantly and promptly followed up. While Brussilov pressed on to Stryj and the Carpathians, Ruszky and Dmitrieff beat Von Auffenberg again at Rawa Ruska near the frontier on the 10th, and Ivanoff, who had taken command in Poland, drove Dankl and the Archduke Joseph Ferdinand from the line they held between Lublin and the borders. The whole of the Austrian forces fell back behind the Vistula and the San, Von Auffenberg finding safety in Przemysl, and others a more temporary refuge at Jaroslav, while the van of the retreating army did not stop short of Cracow. The German detachments in Poland had to conform, and by the middle of September Poland had been cleared as far as the Warta, and Galicia was defenceless, save for invested Przemysl, as far south as the Carpathians and as far west as the Dunajec. The days of the Marne were even more sombre for the Central Empires on the Vistula and the San.

Their gloom was relieved by the halo which shone round Hindenburg's head. Rennenkampf was gone and all the faculties of the University of Knigsberg conferred degrees on the victor to celebrate its escape. Reinforcements were sent to the frontier, and on 7 September Russia was invaded. The object of the offensive is not clear except on the assumption that Hindenburg's strategic acumen was defective, and that he thought he could turn the Russian right by an advance across the Niemen. But the difficulties were insuperable and the distances were vast. Even if he got to Kovno it would need far greater forces than he possessed to cover and control the illimitable land beyond; and between him and success lay swamps more extensive then the Masurian Lakes and the heavily fortified line of the Narew. He was, indeed, in his turn falling into Samsonov's error, and seems to have been saved from his fate mainly by the prematurely successful Russian defence. He was allowed to reach the Niemen at various points between Kovno and Grodno, but was unhappily prevented from committing his fortunes to the eastern bank by the Russian artillery, which repeatedly destroyed his pontoons as soon as they were constructed. Lower down on his right an attempt on the fortress of Ossowiec proved equally futile, because the Germans could find no ground within range solid enough to bear the weight of their artillery. The inevitable retreat began on the 27th, and it was sadly harassed by the pursuing Russians, especially in the forest of Augustowo, where Rennenkampf claimed to have inflicted losses amounting to 60,000 men in killed, prisoners, and wounded. By 1 October the Russian cavalry was again across the German frontier, and Hindenburg was called south to attempt in Poland to frustrate the Russian advance on Cracow which his turning movement in the north had failed to check.

The call was urgent, for the conquest of Galicia portended disaster to the Central Empires. Cracow was a key both to Berlin and Vienna; its possession would turn the Oder and open the door to Silesia, which was hardly less vital to Germany than Westphalia as a mining and manufacturing district. It would also give access to Vienna and facilitate the separation of Hungary, and all that that meant in the Balkans, from the Teutonic alliance. Even without the loss of Cracow, that of the rest of Galicia was serious enough; her oil-wells were the main sources of the German supply of petroleum, and her Slav population, once assured of the solidity of Russian success, would throw off its allegiance to the Hapsburgs and entice the Czecho-Slovaks on its borders to do the same. These prospects were not visionary in September 1914. Jaroslav fell on the 23rd and Przemysl was invested. Russian cavalry rode through the Carpathian passes into the Hungarian plain, and west of the San patrols penetrated within a hundred miles of Cracow. In her own interests as well as in those of her ally, Germany was compelled to throw more of her weight against the Russian front. The German and Austrian commands were unified under Hindenburg, and having failed on the north he now tried to stop the Russians by a blow at their centre in Poland. Here Ruszky was now in command, while Ivanoff with Brussilov and Dmitrieff as his two lieutenants controlled the armies in Galicia.

1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9     Next Part
Home - Random Browse