National Geographic Magazine/Volume 31/Number 4/The Burden France Has Borne

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The Burden France Has Borne[edit]

By Granville Fortescue


American Press Association

MUNITIONS MANUFACTURING IS NO RESPECTER OF AGE

Many of the women of France who are doing their bit in the production of large-caliber shells for the big guns at the front have completed their allotted threescore years and ten, yet they gladly give the closing days of their lives “for France.” In many cases their labor is all that they have left to give, for grandsons, sons, and husbands already have been sacrificed on the firing line.

American Press Association

WEARING GAS MASKS AT THE BENCHES

It is not alone in the trench that the soldier must guard against poisonous gas and dust. These women soldiers of the munitions plants must be similarly protected.

American Press Association

FRENCH WOMEN WORKING IN AMMUNITION FACTORIES

Mythology relates that Jupiter, as a reward for the excellence of the thunderbolts forged by his crippled son, Vulcan, bestowed upon him the hand of the fairest of the immortals—Venus. The daughters of France have inherited their beauty from the Cytherean goddess and their skill in making modern thunderbolts of battle from the Olympian blacksmith.

Paul Thompson

WOMEN ENGAGED IN RESEARCH WORK FOR THE BENEFIT OF FRENCH SOLDIERS

This war has given women their opportunity, which they have not been slow to seize upon; but in no sphere of usefulness has this been more pronounced than in Red Cross work. Here nurses are seen engaged in research work to benefit the particular cases they have in hand.

American Press Association

THE FAIR CHAUFFEUSE OF A SHELL SEDAN

This is the type of electric cart used in the munitions factories for the transportation of shells. It requires a steady hand and a sure eye to pilot this machine when it is laden with a cargo of canned death.

Paul Thompson

FARES TO THE FAIR

Among the many occupations which the women of France are pursuing, in order that men may be released for service in the army, are those connected with the street railway systems of Paris and other cities. Motorwomen, girl conductors, ticket sellers, and ticket takers are now the rule rather than the exception. Here a young girl is seen wearing the uniform cap of a surface-car conductor. From her shoulders hangs the big leather bag in which she deposits the passengers' sous and centimes.

Paul Thompson

WOMEN IN THE COAL MINES OF GARD, A DEPARTMENT OF SOUTHERN FRANCE

It has been due to the unremitting toil of such service armies as this that the fuel shortage in the north of France has not been even more serious than it now is. “If he slackens or fails, armies and statesmen are helpless,” said President Wilson in his appeal to the American miner. This has been no less true in France, and the women miners have courageously assumed the vast responsibility. The blocks on the left are “briquettes” of coal.

BORDEAUX-BEGLES: GENERAL WAREHOUSES OF THE HEALTH SERVICE

Like her chief munitions works at Le Creusot, France finds it expedient to keep her principal stores of surgical cottons and health-service supplies far removed from the immediate scenes of hostility. Not only are these warehouses beyond the zone of possible airplane raids, but, being at Bordeaux, they are convenient depots for the receipt of Red Cross shipments from England and America.

Paul Thompson

BOUND FOR PARIS

A French Red Cross train bearing sick and woulded soldiers to Paris after passing through a field hospital. One of the nurses is making a tour of the train, distributing coffee to the slightly wounded and sick men.

THE SHOWER BATH

Judging by this contraption, the French soldier has developed a modicum of Yankee ingenuity. A water-wheel motor operates a hydraulic lift, which supplies a bucket reservoir with the “makings” of a sprinkle. The apparatus works, but it looks as if it might have been modeled after a comic cartoonist's distorted dream.

Paul Thompson

ISSUING A FOOD TICKET TO TOMMY ATKINS

The offices of the Gare du Nord, Paris, have been converted to the uses of organizations for the relief of suffering among the refugees and victims of the war. A British soldier is seen accepting an order for a meal.

PILING UP SHELL CASES FOR 75-MILLIMETER GUNS

“The French ‘soixante-quinze’ gun is a marvel of fitted mechanism. In the process of loading and firing it gives the impression of some sentient organism rather than a machine of turned steel. This impression is heightened by the short, dry sound of the explosion when the shell is fired—a sound that awes and electrifies.”

VIEW OF YPRES: PHOTOGRAPH TAKEN FROM A FLYING MACHINE

The pitiful ghost of one of ravaged Belgium's most beautiful and historic cities. In the central foreground may be seen the roofless remains of the famous Cloth Hall, the largest edifice of its kind in the kingdom, begun by Count Baldwin IX of Flanders in the year 1200. Just beyond looms the scarred and desecrated Cathedral of St. Martin. On all sides are ruin and desolation, where three summers ago dwelt nearly 20,000 happy, thrifty people, engaged chiefly in the peaceful pursuit of making Valenciennes lace.

RESERVES CROSSING A RIVER ON THE WAY TO VERDUN

“They shall not pass” is a phrase which for all time will be associated with the heroic defense of Verdun. To future generations of French people it will bring a thrill of pride even surpassing that enkindled by the glorious “The Old Guard dies, it never surrenders.” The guardians of the great fortress on the Meuse have proved themselves invincible in attack, invulnerable in defense.

Paul Thompson

A WAGON-LOAD OF HELMETS OR CASQUES FOR FRENCH SOLDIERS LEAVING THE FACTORY

At the outbreak of the world war the French fighting man wore a long-visored, tall-crowned cap, but this picturesque headgear soon yielded to the utility of the metal headpiece, which furnishes a certain degree of protection for the shrapnel that bursts above the trenches and sows the seeds of destruction in the furrows of death.

Paul Thompson

HEAVY TRAINING FOR FRENCH SOLDIERS

The making of men taken from civilian life into well-trained soldiers has been a problem in England as in France. Business hours left the Frenchman with little time for exercise. Their training in the manner here shown quickly made them fit, and soon after leaving the counter, lathe, or desk they have proved themselves able to undertake with endurance the long marches and successful offensives against the common enemy with complete success. Every Frenchman entering the army undergoes a preparation in gymnastics as here shown, where men of the new armies are being made fit at the Physical Training School near Vincennes.

Paul Thompson

HOW TO TAKE A BUILDING BY STORM: A LESSON AT THE PHYSICAL TRAINING SCHOOL OF VINCENNES

Although there have been innumerable new engines of destruction employed in the present world war, such as the submarine, the airplane, and the high-explosive shell, the fighting forces of Europe have also hied back to ancient and medieval principles of warfare with astonishing frequency. For example, we have seen the recrudescence of the “Greek fire” idea in “liquid fire,” the evolution of the Chinese stinkpot in the new poisonous gas, the reappearance of the armored knight in the soldier wearing a steel helmet, and the glorification of the battering ram in the lumbering new “tank.” As shown in the above illustration, the modern soldier is trained to scale walls, just as were the soldiers of Darius the Great, Alexander the Great, Alfred the Great, and Charlemagne. There are variations, but no new principles, in the crude art of destroying human life.

A CHURCH CONVERTED INTO AN EMERGENCY HOSPITAL: THE OPERATING TABLE

“With so much of its skill and thought applied to the development and perfection of her killing power, France has not neglected the complement of war destruction—healing. The best surgical and medical minds of the country have wrestled with and mastered the problem of saving all that is possible from the human wreckage of modern battle.”

HOSPITAL UNPREPAREDNESS: AN OBJECT-LESSON FOR AMERICA

In the early days of the war, before the French Red Cross had fully organized its resources, it frequently happened that straw strewn upon marble flags was the only make-shift for beds which could be provided for the wounded. This straw proved most unfortunate for the wounded, as it was often infected with tetanus germs. Here, beneath the altar of their faith, in the Church of Aubigny, converted into a hospital, the fighting men of France reconsecrated their lives to the cause.

WOMEN IN THE DEPARTMENT OF MEURTHE AND MOSELLE EMPLOYED IN FASHIONING DEFENSE WORK FOR THE SOLDIERS

These screens of brushwood have a variety of uses, including their employment as masks for concealed batteries and dugouts. The ancestors of these weavers of twigs and saplings made France famous as weavers of the matchless Gobelin tapestries.

Paul Thompson

BARRELS OF PORCELAIN AT THE DOORS OF A FRENCH FACTORY READY FOR SHIPMENT TO THE UNITED STATES: LIMOGES, FRANCE

Those industrial institutions whose skilled workmen were required neither for the trenches nor for the munition factories France has endeavored to operate without interruption. The ceramic establishments which were not requisitioned for the manufacture of crucibles needed in producing high explosives have continued to make beautiful porcelain, thus contributing their bit toward the financial welfare of the nation.

France has taken war's foulest blows full on her breast. During the first two years of conflict German armies spread across her most productive provinces like a gray corroding acid, eating through farm, orchard, factory, home, destroying the most valuable property and most useful lives of the French nation.

But this scorification did not crush the spirit of France. Rather the enemy outrages—ruined cathedrals, ransacked homes, ravaged women—roused the French people to a terrible realization of the German threat against the world.

For the French man and woman, love of France, under the scourge of war, became a religion—a religion where fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, claimed the highest privilege accorded the Crusader and the ultimate sacrifice that gained the martyr's crown.

The battle which checked the greatest expression of organized savagery the world has seen in 3,000 years is often called the Miracle of the Marne. Surely it was a miracle. During three days lustful Uhlan outguards pointed their bloodstained lance tips at the Eiffel Tower, saying confidently, “Within the week and our flag will float from the highest pinnacle in France.” But the God who weaves the world's destiny in mystery heard the prayers of France. The miracle was performed. Paris, the most beautiful achievement of man on earth, was saved from sack and rapine.

Interpreting French patriotism[edit]

It is no easy task to try to interpret French patriotism to our home-staying Americans. Only sympathetic hands can inscribe the long, sad stories of sacrifice which mark the stations of the war in France. When one has lived in the sacred atmosphere of a people daily immolated on the altar of patriotism, one feels a certain unworthiness in sounding the depths of this feeling, of analyzing its springs, of calculating its results.

When the earth's last judgment is given on this great war, France will be deemed to have saved the world from despotism. Diplomats, during many years, have prophesied the contest between democracy and despotism for the domination of the world. In the struggle that endures France is the true champion of democracy, and no better expression of this democratic spirit exists than the French army.

When the French army is mentioned today, the French people is implied, for the whole nation is bound by the most sacred ties to the trials and triumphs of the fighting section of the populace.

The ideals of France[edit]

Contrasting the French with the German army, we discover, though both are grounded on conscription, they are radically different in their inspiration of service. The French and the German armies are completely separate in soul. History gives us the analogue of variance between the French and German military systems in the story of Greece and Rome. The Roman armies were organized for conquest, with the aim of spreading Roman “kultur” to the southernmost boundaries of Carthage and the northernmost villages of Gaul. The Roman eagle, like his Prussian descendant, sank his beak into the breast of the world. Roman power, like Prussian power, sprang from the will of the Emperor.

In Greece, in the age of Pericles, the demos was the fountain of power, and the army was the guardian of the freedom of the people. The ideals which inspired the Athenians, honor gained in serving the country, is today the ideal inspiring the soldiers of France.

In analyzing the spirit of the French soldier, bear in mind this vital fact—fighting is an emotional act; and it is admitted that an emotion springing from an ideal is necessarily finer than one founded on a person. The German goes to battle with the Kaiser's sparkling figure in the back of his mind, while the Frenchman fights for all that is connoted in the one word—France.

Frankly, the German honors, reveres, sanctifies war; the Frenchman hates, despises, abhors war. I have seen the soldiers of both nations in battle. I have studied them and talked with them after battle. I have watched for some unconscious expression that would give the clue to the real feelings of the French and German soldier, and when some phrase of the lips or flare of the eye marked the true state of the inward soul, I have noted it.

In countless ways the German shows it is the Kaiser he fights for; that dominant, disdainful figure symbolizes the Teutonic system, inspiring the German race to the ultimate sacrifice in the effort to spread that system over the face of the earth.

Never has the French soldier given any indication other than that he fights for his country, his cities, his farms, his homes. Never does he give way to the lust of battle for battle's sake. He sees in this war an evil, a scourge laying waste his beloved country, and he conceives it to be his duty to his forefathers, himself, and his children to rid the earth of this plague. The cultivated Frenchman will take pains to explain to you how illogical, unintelligent, uncivilized is war; yet you will see this same cultivated Frenchman wearing the uniform of his motherland racing like a fighting fury to the muzzles of the machine-guns.

The true hero of war[edit]

Will not the man who recognizes the brutal side of war, still does not hesitate to pay its penalty, merit more the title of hero than he who fights to gratify ambition?

The paradox of the French way of thinking about war and acting in war is carried out in the organization of the army. The wide, unbridgable chasm of caste which exists between the officer and the private in the German company is but the step of necessity in French battalions. French soldiers recognize the need for discipline, of the value of team-work, and the urgency of obeying in battle, as the very foundation of their worth as citizen soldiers. They know also that they of their own volition have created the authority behind the officer, and for this reason there can be nothing degrading in the surrender of personal privilege in the crisis of war.

Discipline is not maintained through fear, but by public opinion. Each private soldier recognizes that his individual efficiency and effectiveness, and consequently the efficiency and effectiveness of the whole French army, is based on his prompt and intelligent obedience of orders delivered by military superiors.

He knows that his officers are trained specialists in war, and he puts himself freely in their hands, so that the nation's will in war may be accomplished. He understands the successive limitations of military authority—the private to the sergeant, the sergeant to the lieutenant, the lieutenant to the captain, the captain to the major, and so on through grade after grade, up to General Nivelle, who in turn is responsible to France. With this conception of his duty, the most difficult part of military instruction is readily instilled into the French recruit.

High standards of performance[edit]

Thoroughly to appreciate the relations of officer to soldier in the French army, they must be seen together in the trenches. The captain watches over his men like a father. He shows a sympathetic understanding of their difficulties, while demanding in the common cause a rigorous adherence to their duties. The officer sets the highest standard of performance for himself and exacts the best each of his men can do.

But the soldier knows he can go to his officer with his private troubles and receive helpful advice. He knows he will never meet with intentional injustice. And what gives him supreme confidence is the knowledge that he will be led with intelligence and skill.

The French officer is constantly alert to take advantage of the enemy and safeguard his own men. The greatest crime in the officer's calendar is wantonly to waste the life of a subordinate. Circumstances may call for the last sacrifice at times, but short of this condition the French commander husbands the lives of his men as a miser his pieces of gold. In an attack he will plan how they must creep from shell-hole to shell-hole, keeping as safe as possible from the enemy's artillery fire. He will study the ground in front of his trench for every available bit of cover, and so maneuver his men that they will gain its every advantage. He will elaborate trench and sap until his men are as safe as the battle front permits, feeling his duty to his country demands not only that he defeat the enemy, but that he defeat him with the minimum expenditure of the lives under his command.

Men learn quickly to appreciate this quality in their officers, and this appreciation brings about a sense of loyalty which closely knits an army into an unbeatable whole.

The test of the trenches[edit]

The test of the trenches also brings out the indomitable spirit of France as could no other circumstance. I saw this spirit in its concrete cheerfulness during a visit to the battle line beyond the Somme.

It had rained for two weeks and it still rained. The battle ground, a great patch of black, desolate earth, looked as if for an age it had been submerged beneath the slimy waters of some flood. Gaunt and murky tree stumps marked the residue of woodlands. A thousand shell pits pocked the ground. Into these drained the top soil of the earth in flux.

The Germans kept up a sullen shelling of the French trenches, zigzagging across these fields of desolation. Depression hung like a lowering cloud over the scene. Yet as I passed along the communication trenches I heard a voice in blithe song issuing from the depths of a dug-out. A sodden rain was falling, adding the last dismal touch to conditions, yet the singer chanted gaily:

“Elle a perdu son parapluie, tant pis pour elle.”

In a moment a mud-spattered soldier appeared from the dark of the cave.

“Good morning,” he said, cheerily throwing the carcasses of two huge rats over the parapet. “There goes the night hunting.”

The cheerfulness of this soldier personified the spirit of France.

War's awful cost to France[edit]

In the proportion to her population, France has given more of her citizens to battle than any other nation. It would be valuable information to the enemy to give the exact figures of losses, so the French general staff publishes no record of the cost of victory. But from a study of such data as is available an estimate can be made. Counting the dead, the permanently disabled, and the prisoners, France's contribution to the holocaust of war is more than two millions.

The price France pays in flesh and blood is a greater sacrifice than has been yet demanded from any of the allied nations. In computing the value of this sacrifice, all the conditions of French population must be taken into account. Chief among these must be placed the abnormally low annual increase in the number of French citizens. Taking only the figures for native-born Americans during the last forty years, and the increase in population in the United States has been over thirty millions, while during the same period in France the increase has been less than three millions.

If the loss continues at the same rate, in another year France will lose the total surplus in citizens she has gained since the war of 1870. And it must be remembered that the death lists today are not compiled from the aged and sickly, but from the youth and health of the land.

Through the sacrifices in men lost during the early battles of the war France was able to check the German rush and gain time for England to prepare.

The French army met the German army at its full strength and defeated it. The victory of the Marne was due to the tactics employed and the blows struck by the French army. When the facts are finally revealed, history will grant France this honor. But it is an honor paid for in the best blood of the country.

Up to the present it has been the French army, the French citizen soldier, who has saved the world from German conquest.

A Spartan mother and wife[edit]

As an example of what France gives, let me quote the story of General Castleneau. He is a valiant, generous gentleman—a soldier with the soul of a Spartan.

He and his sons were among the first to draw their sabers in defense of their land. During the first year of the war, when he was pressed down with the cares of one of the most important commands in the French army, news was brought to General Castleneau, first, that one of his sons had been killed; then in a few months a second died for his country.

The third son fought in the army commanded by his father. He was his father's favorite. Little more than a boy, in the first battles he had shown a courage that won him honor and rapid promotion. Then in one of those attacks, where regiment upon regiment charged through the fields of death, this third son was mortally wounded.

Upon the death of this boy, broken by his sorrows and the strain of war, General Castleneau thought to give up his high command and live out his last days on his home farm. Then his wife came to him. He told her his thought.

“No,” said this French wife and mother, “you have given the best of yourself to your country. You have nothing left to give save these last years. We must keep up the fight.” General Castleneau today is still at his post of duty.

Resourceful France meets new conditions[edit]

Not only has France given the bodies of her sons in the sacrifice of battle, but she has also given the fruits of their brains. The trained professional officers of the French army have been the intelligence which directed the military operations of the Entente armies. These officers were instructors in the art of war to the allied forces, and, while acting in this capacity they evolved new tactics which so effectively thwarted German ambitions.

The new tactics were the outcome of trench warfare, which had brought into use weapons long since discarded in modern armies. When the war opened French battalions, a thousand strong, had the organization common to most armies, namely, four companies and a mitrailleuse section of two guns. The men were armed wholly with rifle and bayonet; but French ingenuity was quick to see the changes of organization and armament made necessary by the new warfare.

Today half the battalion have discarded the rifle and carry grenades or one-man machine-guns. Three of the original companies are still infantry, while the fourth has been changed to a machine-gun company with eight mitrailleuses.

The infantry companies are subdivided into sections and armed with special weapons: first, the hand-grenade throwers; second, the rifle grenade soldiers, who, instead of throwing the grenade, fire it from their guns; third, the soldiers firing automatic rifles, and these are followed by the ordinary infantry, using rifle or bayonet.

The machine-guns as employed by the Germans were the great bugbear of the trenches. These weapons would mow down a whole company of advancing soldiers in the charge. French officers set themselves to solving this problem and devised the small cannon to be used in the assault. The gun, 1½-inch caliber rapid fire, was dragged forward with the charging line. When brought into action it soon mastered the fire of any hidden machine-gun.

The work of the rifle grenade[edit]

That ingenious weapon, the rifle grenade, merits special citation. It consists of an iron receptacle, clamped to the end of the regular rifle, in which a special type of grenade is placed, and the rifle fired. The explosion sends the grenade about 200 yards through the air, while the rifle bullet, piercing the center of the bomb, sets free the fulminate, which causes the grenade to expIode on landing.

I have no intention of going into a technical discussion of the French infantry in attack, and only give the outline of tactical changes in order to indicate how the French people are fighting with their intellects. They have no belief in brute force in war; if they had, they long ago would have surrendered to the Germans. Their faith is pinned to their own finesse—a finesse which exasperates and thwarts the enemy.

As instructors, French officers have been of inestimable value to the English. In the beginning of the war the British army was deficient in artillery—a deficiency which was rapidly remedied in material, for England turned out guns for the army from the naval-gun foundries. But gunners, who are soldier specialists, were not available for the batteries.

In this dilemma England turned to France, the country that had developed the finest corps of artillerists the world has ever seen. French officers were detailed to the English batteries, and English officers also were taken into French artillery units and learned their art in the actual practice of war under the tutelage of the most competent teachers.

I have referred to French artillerists as the finest in the world. The statement is made without qualification; and were I seeking the factor of greatest single importance in the military strength of France, I should decide upon the artillery.

A human machine in action[edit]

It was given me to see the French guns go into action in one of the early attacks of the war—the engagement at Dinant. Aside from its spectacular interest, the performance was one of the most perfect exhibitions of artillery technique I have ever witnessed. The guns were driven, wheeled, and unlimbered with the precision of parade-ground maneuvers. The men dropped into their appointed places like the parts of a geared machine. Then guns were loaded, aimed, fired, reloaded, without an ounce of lost motion. When the projectiles exploded, and I could see the effect through my binoculars, I wanted to cheer for the gunners of France. They had scored four direct hits.

The guns of this battery were the “soixante quinze” caliber, since become the most famous cannon of the war.

The construction of this cannon was a jealously guarded military secret up until the time of the opening of hostilities. Other nations knew that France possessed a field gun of exceptional properties, and while they had hints of its effectiveness, as demonstrated in peace, it needed the brutal test of war to prove the superiority of this weapon above all similar makes of artillery.

It is readily understood that, with a cannon which shoots farther and faster than the enemy, the French army possessed an asset of great military advantage.

I have heard French artillerymen state that the superiority of their “soixante quinze” batteries made up for the German preponderance of numbers in the beginning of the war, and that the destructiveness of these guns was so great that they almost equalized the tactical value of the forces of France and Germany after several hours of actual fighting.

The gun is a marvel of fitted mechanism; breech-block, recoil cylinders, sighting apparatus, all the puzzling pieces of hardened steel which open and close the cartridge chamber, function with the smoothness of a dynamo.

In the process of loading and firing, it gives the impression of some sentient organism rather than a machine of turned steel. This impression is heightened by the short, dry sound of the explosion when the shell is fired—a sound that awes and electrifies when first heard, and which has come to be far more characteristic of battle than the conventional “boom” supposed to convey the noise of cannon.

Germany beaten at the artillery game[edit]

As soon as the superiority of the French cannon was recognized, the great arms factories of France were enlarged and worked to the limit of capacity, not only to furnish new guns for the French army, but also to supply the enormous demands of the Russian army. Later Serbia and Roumania were also supplied with field batteries from French foundries, and in these countries officers and men accompanied the guns to insure efficient handling.

From the above it is seen how generously France came to the support of her allies in the most important branch of military science; and when we reflect on the enormous amount of material destroyed during the two and one-half years of war, we begin to perceive what a drain this has been on the resources of France.

Reliance upon the decisive effect of artillery in battle has been a tradition with the French army since the victories of the first Napoleon. He it was who originally employed artillery in a massed formation. At Wagram, at Lutzen, at Hanau, this maneuver of concentrated artillery fire gave the victory to the armies of France. Napoleon III tried to continue the theories of his brilliant ancestor, but failed; yet the influence of the great master of tactics continued; so it is but natural that the use of artillery in war should reach its highest perfection through French development.

The French have relied for success in the fighting today on the ancient maneuver of the Napoleonic era—a mass of guns firing at a given point in the enemy line. At the same time they endeavored to make the practice of concentrated fire more effective through increased speed and accuracy of fire.

The big gun vs. the lighter one[edit]

Before the opening of the great war there were two schools of artillery tactics—the French, which believed in the above theory of rapid field-gun shelling, and the German, which pinned its faith to the effectiveness of huge guns having a greater range than the ordinary field gun and of course throwing a far more destructive exploding charge. The extreme of the German theory was the widely advertised 42-centimeter cannon, supposed to be able to reduce the strongest fortress to ruin with three well-directed shots.

The actual practice of war and the peculiarities of trench fighting developed the fact that neither of these schools was wholly right. The light French guns were ineffective against troops hidden in well-constructed trenches, while the difficulties of transportation involved in moving the giant German guns from point to point outbalanced their ultimate effectiveness.

French artillery experts began at once to experiment toward developing the most serviceable gun under actual conditions of war, and the result of this experiment can be gauged by the different caliber of cannon now used in the French army. Here is the list given in meters and the approximate caliber in inches:

First the 75 millimeter, the standard field gun, 3-inch caliber; the 95 millimeter, 3½ inch; 305 millimeter, 12 inch; 370 millimeter, 15 inch; 400 millimeter, 16 inch, and last the largest cannon in the world, 520 millimeter, or 20 inches.

I give the list in full to impress upon my reader the extraordinary complication of industry involved in the casting, turning, and assembling of these various types of cannon. Special machinery must be employed in each instance where there is a variation in caliber. Complete foundries are given over to the manufacture of the separate parts of the gun and gun carriage. The industrial organization for one size of gun alone is greater today than the total pre-war ordnance organization.

The 20-inch cannon of France[edit]

From the failures of the Germans the French found that the problem of heavy artillery in the field was transportation; so French artillery experts began at once to try to solve this difficulty. They have succeeded in their task. Their triumph is the construction of a railroad truck upon which is mounted a 20-inch cannon, the heaviest piece of artillery in the world.

The marvelous manner in which the French have overcome the mechanical difficulties that hitherto confined heavy artillery to fortress or siege operations is a striking example of what French brains are doing in this war. Firing a 12-inch gun from a foundation built along a spur of railway was considered a mechanical impossibility before General Joffre's expert artillerists demonstrated the success of the idea.

It was not only in the construction of these guns that France showed her skill, but in their operation. French gunners first developed indirect fire—the art of hitting an unseen target—and in this war they have brought indirect fire to technical perfection and even applied its principles in new ways.

Undoubtedly, in accounts of present-day battles in Europe, the reader has met the phrase curtain or barrage fire. He may have guessed something of the nature of this artillery expedient.

The phrase means, in untechnical language, the art of aiming a mass of cannon in a manner that the projectiles from all of them fall in a given area in such a shower as to form a curtain or barrage of exploding iron.

This curtain may be dropped behind an enemy position so that reinforcements cannot come to his aid when attacked, or it may be used to check an advance.

The synchronized fire of 400 guns[edit]

Accurately to synchronize the action of 50 or 100 batteries, 200 or 400 guns, so that while firing from widely separated positions at a target that is not in view the projectiles arrive simultaneously along a defined and predetermined line, is a matter of the highest technical skill and calculation. To the French belongs the honor of first employing this effective artillery principle.

I have seen these great pieces of ordnance, equal in size to the major guns of a battleship, moving from point to point along specially built lines of lateral railroads, running in rear of the trench position on the Somme. At the will of the commander they are brought into action wherever the press of battle warrants.

This development and operation of artillery is the most impressive manifestation of the colossal expansion of modern war. Consider the tons of metal molded into each of these great cannon, and then reflect that wherever the trucks upon which they are mounted move, bridges, culverts, even the road-bed itself, of the railroad line must be strengthened to support the load.

Further, in order that the giant cannon shall have the mobility for effective use, new sections of railroad must be built whenever the army advances.

If you analyze the process of manufacture and the details of transportation involved in the creating and bringing of each one of the new heavy field guns to the front, you arrive at an understanding of the important part played in the war by the French industrial organizations.

A wonderful production of shells[edit]

I was witness to another phase of the effectiveness of this organization, as shown in the munition industry in France. Taking the number of units produced daily as a standard, the greatest single business of the war is the making of shells. This comes about through the enormous disproportion in the time consumed in the production and the distribution of shells compared with the time needed to expend them.

Consider the making and the breaking of the shell. One is a tedious, toilsome, exacting, and complicated process, beginning with the digging of iron ore from the earth, its transportation to steel mills, its transfusion and casting into ingots.

These ingots are the raw material of the shell casing only. The production of the explosive that serves as the bursting charge is an industry in itself, while the construction of the mechanism of the fuses requires almost as much skill as watch-making.

In the first year of the war, the critical period of the conflict, France led all the Entente nations in the production of shells. As was the case with guns, France had to supply her ally, Russia, with the munitions so necessary to the effectiveness of the armies fighting in Poland and the Carpathians. To meet this drain the industries of the country were reorganized. The products of peace gave way before the demands of war.

The concrete example of this is the transformation of the plants of the Renault automobile works to the making of munitions. In one factory, formerly wholly concerned with the forging and fitting of motor machinery, 15,000 men and 4,000 women are now employed 24 hours of each day grinding and filling high-explosive shells. The work, divided into shifts, never halts, and from this one plant 11,000 projectiles are daily sent forward to the front.

The vastness of the expenditure of steel[edit]

But during periods of heavy fighting, when the cannon is playing its important part in the tragedy of battle, the calculated average expenditure of ammunition by one army corps is 29,000 shells per day. So the total effort of 19,000 workers employed during 24 hours furnishes somewhat more than one-third the ammunition used by a small part of the army.

The number of army corps holding the front in France is a military secret, and as the United States is now ranged on the side of France in the war, it would be injudicious to try and probe that secret. We violate no confidence when we state that it is more than thirty. This figure will give us a basis for calculating the number of shells produced by the munitions factories of France.

There are long periods when the expenditure of ammunition in no way approximates the figures given above, and it is during these periods when the guns are comparatively silent that production catches up with consumption.

It may be true that England is gradually approaching France, both in the manufacture of heavy guns and the production of munitions; but this condition appears after two and a half years of war. During those two and a half years it was the French cannon, French shells, French soldiers, and French brains that checked the military ambitions of Germany.

New miracles of surgery[edit]

With all this effort applied to improve her killing power, France did not neglect the complement of war destruction—healing. The best surgical and medical minds of the country pondered long on the problem of saving all that was possible from the human wreckage of war.

The fruit of this thought is exemplified in the work of Doctor Carrel, whose achievements under the Rockefeller Foundation are well known in the United States, and Doctor Dakin.

These two men put all their efforts into curing the evil of infection. They had found in their work among the wounded that 75 per cent of deaths, after the first 24 hours, were due to infection; that 80 per cent of amputations were due to infection, and that 95 per cent of secondary hemorrhage came through infection.

While the work incidental to healing the wounded was going on, Doctors Carrel and Dakin established a research laboratory in conjunction with their military hospital at Compeigne.

It is not necessary to give the details of the experiments of these two scientists. Today, by the application of the Carrel-Dakin method of sterilizing wounds, one amputation is performed where formerly twenty were necessary, and where there were ten deaths one now occurs, and the time of convalescence is reduced from three to six months to four or, at the most, six weeks.

It has been found that the method of Doctor Carrel applied to the formula of Doctor Dakin has not only shortened convalescence, but in consequence reduced the strain on doctors and nurses and the cost of hospital maintenance; also it has minimized pain. But more than all this, it has resulted in a great saving of limbs and lives to France.

The heroism of the French women[edit]

Turning from the purely military side of war to the economic side, we find another picture of French sacrifice. In this picture the French woman holds the foreground. In the time of war every physically fit male in France can be called upon to shoulder rifle and fight the battles of his country. When this call sounds, it might be thought that the agricultural and industrial structure of the nation would be reduced to chaos.

But for the sturdy heroism of the women of France such might have been the case. When the men were called to the colors, the women came forward to fill the gaps in the farming and manufacturing armies.

French women, aided by their children, plowed the fields, sowed the seed, harvested the crops that during two years have fed the soldiers of France. French women tended the vines, gathered the grapes, and pressed the wine which France exports throughout the world. French women became conductors, motor operators, ticket-sellers on the subways of Paris; they took the positions vacated by men in the post-office department; they were employed in the street-cleaning and other municipal departments.

In all industries, public or private, women replaced the men called to the front, and, what is much more to the point, they made good in their new work.

Unremitting toil for a free France[edit]

As farmers, as vintners, as laborers, as munition workers, French women toil without ceasing to save France and take some of the burden of war from the shoulders of the men. In their own field, as housewives who understand the importance of thrift, they have saved the economic situation.

The enormous financial burden which war has so unjustly thrown on France has been lightened by the thousand economies put into practice by French women in their homes. All the little dainties of table, the little coquetries of dress, the little temptations of amusement, have been sternly put aside for the duration of the war.

Sugar means money spent abroad; therefore the French woman gives up pastries, sweets, and reduces the amount of sugar used in the household. Coal is needed to keep the munition factories up to the maximum of production, so the French woman reduces the amount of gas and electricity used in her home, as these are the products of coal.

Thus French women, through practicing direct and indirect economies, actually reduce the cost of the war to France; and, more than this, when any money is saved to them from these economies they invest the saving in government war loan, making every copper do double work in the defense of the country.

In this article I have outlined what France has done in the war. I have mentioned the work of the army which met and turned the heaviest blows the military power of Germany could muster. I have mentioned how the artillery, the product of French brains, bulwarked the efforts of the soldiers. I have referred to the work of the women of France and their splendid stand under the strain of war, and I have mentioned the spirit of France.

An unconquerable spirit[edit]

In conclusion, I must again allude to that spirit. French men and women know that the resources of their nation in property and lives are being consumed in the furnace of war. They know what the death of their soldiers means to the nation in the future. They realize the terrible consequences of German occupation. Yet in the face of all these bitter trials the people have never faltered.

Throughout the misery, the suffering, the brutal injustice of this war, France has fought valiantly for one ideal—the ideal upon which that nation and our own is founded—the right of the citizen to liberty.

Each day as the French armies press the enemy back from the territory so long occupied, the sacrifices of France are proved with greater poignancy.

The band of blackened land now given over to desolation is the visual testimony of the what the war has meant to France. But it is not only the losses of today, but what those losses mean in the future, that must be reckoned as part of the burden France bears. This is a sacrifice no man can gauge.

When democracy rises triumphant from the struggle with despotism, and when the last page of war history is written, the world will gladly acknowledge its debt to France.

Source: Granville Fortescue (April 1917), “The Burden France Has Borne”, The National Geographic Magazine 31(4): 323–344.