Page:EB1922 - Volume 31.djvu/1112

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
1058
Natal

artillery fire and holding defences that were breastworks rather than trenches; and at nightfall the Russians drew back into the forests, having suffered enormous casualties without reaching the enemy's trenches at any point. Attacks on the village of Vileity, held by the right of the German 3rd Cav. Div., were equally futile. On the Naroch–Viszniev front also the assaults were fierce but disunited, and here too the artillery of the German 75th Res. Div. and 9th Cav. Div. could focus its efforts on each assailant in turn, even that of the III. Res. Corps S. of Lake Viszniev coöperating at times. In sum, the Russians, on the first day, suffered useless and terrible losses in regimental assaults delivered against steady infantry, uncut wire and skilfully handled artillery.

For the following night and day, the Russians changed their tactics. The artillery devoted itself to the demolition of trenches, to wire-cutting, and to the harassing of the billets in the villages behind the defenders' lines, with frequent small infantry attacks intended to force the defence to man its trenches and to march its reserves hither and thither. In this policy they were to some extent successful; the first of the German reinforcing divisions to arrive, the 107th, was put in piecemeal to stiffen the Vileity–Moscheiki front. Outside the battle-field, Russian threats at Vidzy, at Jakobstadt and elsewhere grew more serious. Then, in the night of March 19–20 massed attacks were delivered on the Vileity–Moscheiki front.

The weather conditions both for attackers and defenders had now become terrible. On March 15 a thaw had set in, which, but for Verdun, would probably have caused Ragosa to postpone the whole operation. By March 20 it had reached such a point that the ice on the lakes was covered by 2 ft. of water, while the German trenches in the marshes, no longer pumped out, were waist-deep, and the communications were mere mud. Exhausting as were these conditions for the German soldier, they were paralyzing for the Russian staff. In the forests, which were not seamed with tracks like an Argonne or a Bois le Prêtre, formation for attack and transmission of orders and supply became almost impossible. The night attack on Vileity and on the woods near Moscheiki was utter confusion for both sides. Part of the German defence system was overrun in the first assault, but in the haphazard, frequently hand-to-hand, fighting that followed, superior cohesion and coöperation defeated superior numbers, and the Germans regained the lost trenches, with the aid of parts of the 107th Div. On March 20 the Germans began to receive further reinforcements, the 86th Div. and half of the 85th Div. (170th Bde.). These, however, were held for the protection of the centre and the S. front of the salient, and only the 80th Res. Div. was moved somewhat to the north.

On the night of March 20–1 the night assault was repeated, this time with larger numbers and simultaneously on both the battle fronts. On the N. flank, the assault swept over parts of the defences as before and penetrated deep into the marsh-woods, seeking especially to drive S. and S.W. on to the higher ground behind Postavy. Again resolute counter-attacks stopped its progress, but this time the Russians retained possession of the captured front trenches. On the land-bridge S. of Lake Naroch, a wild assault swept completely over the German 75th Res. Div. holding the “apex,” and it was with difficulty that the defenders' line was reconstituted some kilometres farther back. Only on the Viszniev land-bridge was the assault definitely repulsed. The situation for the Germans became extremely critical. But again it was saved by counter-attack. On March 21 the last forces of the 107th Div., with the exhausted 42nd Div., retook the marsh trenches from the equally exhausted Russians; and on the Naroch land-bridge the putting-in of the whole 80th Div. (brought back from the N.), with parts of the 170th Bde. and 86th Div., not only stabilized the defence but gave it the upper hand. Then it became possible to relieve the exhausted 42nd and 75th Res. Divs. by fresh troops.

The battle continued for a week longer, on the same lines as in the critical days, but with decreasing intensity on the part of the Russians. Presently the lost “apex” was recovered by the Germans, and nearly a month later a local attack still further improved the position on the Naroch land-bridge. But by that time the whole front had become quiet. The last severe battle-day was March 26; after that date the Russian relief-offensive expired without having caused one German soldier to be brought over from France. The German Eastern Headquarters had passed through a period of extreme anxiety, and it is arguable that on March 17–8 they were taken by surprise. But, if so, their recovery was instant, and they managed to meet the calls of the defence out of their local reserves. For the Russians, the first offensive of the new armies was a disaster of far-reaching importance. Prepared, up to the moment of launching, with great adroitness, it had been “choked in blood and marsh” with an enormous cost in mass-casualties and mass-disillusionment.

Natal (see 19.252). — At the 1911 census the pop. of Natal, S. Africa, was 1,194,043, of whom 98,114 were whites, 953,398 Bantu, 133,439 Asiatics and 9,092 of mixed or other coloured races. Compared with 1904 the white pop. — which between 1891 and 1904 had nearly doubled — was practically stationary; there was an actual increase of 1,005. In 1918 a census of the whites showed that they numbered 121,931, evidence that the check in their increase had been temporary only. Natal, though the smallest, is the most densely populated province of the Union, with 37.40 persons to the sq.m. in 1918. The white and Asiatic pop. is mainly concentrated in Natal proper; of the Bantu 214,969 lived in Zululand at the 1911 census. Of the total coloured pop. in 1911 only 13.84% were returned as Christians (compared with 44.20% in the Cape). The chief towns were Durban (89,998) and Pietermaritzburg (30,555; in 1919 35,322). Ladysmith ranked next with 5,594 inhabitants. Pietermaritzburg, the capital, has handsome public buildings, including those of the provincial council and Natal University College.

The change from the status of a self-governing colony to a province of the Union affected Natal politically more closely than any other province since in it alone were the great majority of the white inhabitants of British descent. In the first Parliament of the Union the Natal members took an independent position, and the firm attachment of Natalians to the British connexion continued an unchanging factor in the S. African situation. Provincial administration was, however, carried on upon non-party lines (for the provincial system of administration see Cape Province). The first administrator was Mr. C. J. Smythe, who had previously held office as Colonial Secretary and as Prime Minister of Natal. Mr. Smythe, who was reappointed for a second term in 1905, died in 1918 and Mr. G. T. Plowman succeeded to the post. The revenue raised in the province, derived chiefly from transfer duties and licences, increased from £118,000 in 1912–3 to £172,000 in 1917–8, the subsidies from the Union Government varying from £361,000 to £375,000. Over half the total expenditure was on education, the sums spent for that object rising from £169,000 in 1912–3 to £285,000 in 1917–8.

Natal was deeply interested in the question of Indians in S. Africa. Of the 152,309 Asiatics in the Union in 1911, no fewer than 149,791 were British Indians and of these 133,048 lived in Natal, where they had rendered possible the development of the sugar, tea and wattle industries, as well as providing labour for the coal-mines, railways and other public works. Besides labourers, there were many Indians engaged in professions and commerce. White S. Africans in general opposed the further increase of Asiatics in the Union; while, in 1911, the Indian Government, long dissatisfied with the attitude of Natal to Indians, prohibited the recruitment of indentured coolies. The Indians both in Natal and the Transvaal complained of many grievances, among them of the poll tax imposed in Natal on all non-indentured Indians. Their cause was championed by Mr. M. K. Ghandi, then resident in S. Africa. Arising out of the agitation, riots and disturbances occurred in Natal in 1913. Some 2,700 Indians started to march to Johannesburg. About 500 were stopped on the border; the rest entered the Transvaal, but were eventually induced to return. In 1914 the poll tax on Indians in Natal was abandoned while the Union passed legislation designed to prevent, with some few exceptions, the entry of further adult male Asiatics into S. Africa and to restrict Asiatics to the provinces in which they were resident. The so-called Smuts-Ghandi agreement of the same year was designed to guard the vested interests of Indians already in the Union (see, further, South Africa).

A notable element in the progress of Natal has been the development of coal-mining. The output, which in 1910 first exceeded 2,500,000 tons, rose to over 3,000,000 in 1916, but fell to 2,600,000