Collier's New Encyclopedia (1921)/World War

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WORLD WAR, the war fought between Serbia, Russia, France, Belgium, England, Japan, Italy, the United States and their allies (generally termed the Allies), and Austria-Hungary, Germany, Bulgaria, and Turkey (known as the Central Powers). It began on July 28, 1914, with Austria-Hungary's declaration of war on Serbia, and ended on November 11, 1918, with the granting of an armistice to Germany on the part of the Allies.

The Deeper Causes, Efforts for Peace[edit]

The assassination of the Archduke Francis Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian throne, and his consort at Sarajevo, capital of Bosnia, on June 28, 1914, precipitated the World War but it was not the cause. The million Slavs of Serbian race in Austria-Hungary had long aspired to unite with their brothers in Serbia in the formation of a great Serbian Empire, and in this purpose they were encouraged by the government of Belgrade. Austria recognized the menace that threatened the disruption of the Empire, and in 1913 had sounded Italy on the question of striking a decisive blow at Serbia, but met with no encouragement. The Dual Monarchy, assured of Germany's support, only waited for a favorable opportunity to attack Serbia.

The crime of Sarajevo provided a cause for making war, for demands were made on the little kingdom which no sovereign state could honorably accept. Germany shared with her ally the fear of a great Slavic union and there were other scores to be settled when she was strong enough and conditions seemed favorable for making war on her enemies. The Austro-Serbian embroglio offered that opportunity. Germany since the accession of William II. dreamed of a World Empire, but wherever she attempted to extend her dominions she found France or England had been before her, while the Monroe Doctrine blocked her way in South America. In 1906, 1908, and 1912 navy bills were passed by the Reichstag, that resulted in the building of a navy second only to that of England. Germany's arrogant and aggressive attitude alarmed her neighbors. France was already in alliance with Russia and the Anglo-Russian agreement of 1907 completed the triple understanding. For eight years Germany tried to break up the Entente by alternately threatening and making friendly advances. Austria annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1908. Russia, France and England protested but were unprepared for war in such a cause. Germany supporting Austria waved her shining sword and treated the protest with contempt, but the Entente survived the blow firm and unimpaired. In 1908 Germany despatched the “Panther” to Agadir, a direct provocation to France, but Great Britain's support averted war and Germany was pacified by the cession of a portion of the French Congo. Other disappointments for Germany followed. The Italian annexation of Tripoli and Cyrenaica after the war of 1911 ended German hopes in these territories. She believed that Turkey would win in the Balkan War that followed, but the result was that a new and formidable Slav power now stood in the way of her peaceful absorption of the Ottoman Empire, while Russian protection of Slav nations became an increasing and powerful menace. Germany had become the greatest military power on earth, with a peace strength of 870,000 men. The growth of socialism threatened the monarchy. The Military party backed by monarchists, junkers, and agrarians believed that the hour was at hand when Germany could measure strength with her enemies and become the World Empire that for three decades had been the dream of the governing class.

Through servile professors and a subsidized press the people were educated to share the same view. On July 25 Austria presented a note to Serbia the complete acceptance of which would have forced Serbia to resign her independent nationality and rights as a sovereign state. Serbia agreed to fulfill all demands but two, which she offered to submit to The Hague Conference. Austria insisted on complete acceptance and being refused, her minister at Belgrade left on the following day. Sir Edward Grey suggested to Germany, France and Italy the calling of a conference to mediate in the quarrel. Germany alone declined on the ground that Russia and Austria were then trying to settle the difficulty. On July 28, Austria declared war on Serbia and bombarded Belgrade; Belgium mobilized; Germany recalled her High Sea Fleet and Britain assembled her naval forces. Following Austria's invasion of Serbia, Russia mobilized her southern commands. Germany now made a bid for British neutrality, promising that no territorial acquisition would be made at the expense of France should she prove victorious in war. The German Government however, would make no such promises regarding French colonies. As regards Belgium the integrity of the kingdom would be respected after the war provided she had not sided against Germany. On July 30, Sir Edward Grey rejected Germany's offer to secure Britain's neutrality and proposed a new Council of Europe to consider the crisis. On July 31, Germany issued an ultimatum to Russia demanding immediate demobilization. Sir Edward Grey asked Germany and France if they would respect Belgium's neutrality provided no other nation attempted to violate it. France agreed at once, but Germany was silent. Telegrams passed between Kaiser, Czar and British king, but Germany declined all attempts to avert the crisis. In the evening of Saturday, August 1, Germany declared war on Russia. On August 3, Sir Edward Grey in the House of Commons described the situation. Britain was bound by treaty obligations to protect the neutrality of Belgium. On the same date King Albert asked for help. Britain was not bound to France by any offensive or defensive alliance, but had given France the assurance that if the German fleet attacked her coasts, or shipping, the British fleet would act. Germany had demanded a free passage through Belgium for her armies, and Belgium refused categorically. The British ambassador at Berlin was instructed to ask the German Government if Belgium's neutrality would be respected. At 7 p. m. August 4, Sir Edward Goschen was handed his passports; Germany and Great Britain were at war.


The Western Front[edit]

The first act of war was committed on August 2, when German officers and men invaded the Grand Duchy of Luxemburg and demanded passage for the German army. Beyond making a formal protest the little state could do nothing, and before the day closed the Germans were in full possession of all roads and railways. At other points on the frontier the Germans crossed the line to the French fortress at Longwy, and from the direction of Strassburg drove across the Vosges, while from Mulhouse in the far south cavalry crossed the French frontier and attacked the customs guards. The German official mobilization began officially on August 1 and by August 4 a German striking force of three divisions under General von Emmich had been concentrated on the line from Malmedy to Aix-la-Chapelle. War was declared by Germany on Belgium August 4, but already Belgium had hurried on her mobilization assembling troops around Liège. Belgium's total available army strength was only about 265,000 men, which, excluding the fortress garrisons, left her about 134,000 men for the field. For the defense of Liège an army of about 20,000 men under General Leman had been concentrated to oppose the German advance. Belgians and Germans first clashed in the afternoon of August 4. An artillery duel continued through the night. The southeastern forts were silenced and the Germans entered Liège on August 7. The northern forts still held out, and General Leman withdrew his troops to the north. On August 7 a French brigade made a dash into Alsace. This was accomplished almost without opposition, but on August 10, when the Germans had been re-enforced the French were forced to withdraw. On August 4, a state of war with Germany was officially declared by Great Britain; the army having mobilized the previous day. On August 6 the House of Commons sanctioned an increase of the army by 500,000 men. The expeditionary forces consisting of four divisions and a division of cavalry began embarkation on August 7 and within ten days were safely landed at various French ports. The German advance in Belgium had been arrested by the northern forts and the brave defense offered by Belgian troops in the field, but by August 17 all the forts were silenced and on August 20 Brussels was peacefully occupied by the invaders. Meanwhile a French offensive in Alsace and Lorraine met with some success, but on August 21 the French were defeated with heavy losses near Saarburg and were compelled to abandon the northern passes of the Vosges. In Belgium the Germans began to bombard the forts of Namur on August 21. The city surrendered on August 23, and the last fort fell two days later. Four French armies had by this time been driven back on French soil, but by August 30 were in condition to fight again. On August 23 the British force, about 80,000, were in position behind a canal; Mons in the center, joining Lanrezac's French armies north of Sambre. The allies had seven army corps and the Germans thirteen. The French defeat at Charleroi on August 22 by overwhelming numbers placed the British army in peril and immediate retreat was imperative, yet two days passed before a start was made. For five days following the British marched day and night, fighting a hand battle at Le Cateau and many minor engagements, and finally reaching the Oise river, depleted in numbers but still an army. The French armies in their retreat, having more troops, were better able to fight off attacks made by the enemy and suffered less in the retreat and by August 30 were again in good fighting condition. On the line of the Somme, the Oise, and the Aisne from Amiens to Verdun, the French were ready for battle. The British, however, had not yet recovered from their disastrous retreat and therefore Joffre's armies continued to fall back to the south of Paris until September 4. Von Kluck, the German commander, believing that he had to deal with beaten forces, but still formidable, had one objective; to smash the French before attempting an attack on Paris. He marched southeast to attack the French flank. In the Battle of the Ourcq which began September 5, Manoury's army first encountered Germans among the hills of Monthyon and Penchard and on the following day in the valley of the Ourcq defeated the Germans while another French army from the north threatened to flank the German positions. Von Kluck appreciating his peril, and leaving only a cavalry regiment to hold the British, counter-attacked, and September 8–9 drove Manoury back and so endangered the northern flank of the French army that it seemed Manoury would be forced to retire on Paris. On the night of September 9 the Paris garrison stood to arms, and Manoury's troops awaited daybreak, expecting a crushing defeat, but by morning the Germans had begun their retreat to the Aisne. Manoury's attack in the Ourcq battle had dislocated Von Kluck's army, and forced von Bülow to the east to draw back to keep in line with Von Kluck, heavily hammered by the French who pursued. To the east Foch held the French center, and there the Germans struck with force driving the French south so far, especially on the eastern flank, that a wide gap was created in the whole French line. D'Espery's corps east of the gap, his 10th division freed by Von Bülow's withdrawal, left his division to Foch, who launched a terrific attack on the Prussian Guard, holding position between the Marshes of St. Gond and La Fère Champenoise. The Germans were routed, losing most of their artillery; the Saxon regiments were smashed, and the whole army of Hausen scattered. News of this disaster started Von Kluck in rapid retreat to the Aisne, compelled Von Bülow to abandon the attempt to hold the north bank of the Marne, and forced all the German armies to retire. September 9 was the decisive day for the armies of Von Kluck, Bülow, and Hausen. It is estimated that about 2,225,000 men were engaged in the fighting between Verdun and Paris, and that the losses in killed and wounded were between 300,000 and 350,000. The Battle of the Marne broke the German offensive and wrecked their plan which was to annihilate the French armies in the first six weeks of the war.

Collier's 1921 World War - The Battle of the Marne.jpg


During the first week of September, and before the battle of the Marne had been decided eight German corps attempted to cut their way through the French barrier forts between Toul and Epinal which would bring them to the flank and rear of all the French armies engaged from Verdun to Paris, but the army of General de Castelnau repulsed all attacks and made the victory of the Marne possible. This struggle, which the Germans lost, became known as the second battle of Nancy and saved the eastern barrier of France. The Germans after the Marne retreat dug themselves in behind the Aisne and by September 18 had assumed the offensive, driving back French and British to the north of the river. To the east the German line now swept around Rheims and through the Argonne. In the third week of September Foch was held up at Rheims by Bülow who captured several forts and bombarded Rheims. West and east of the Argonne the German advance was checked. Forts south of Verdun were attacked, and St. Mihiel captured by the Germans. The bombardment of the Cathedral of Rheims proved a costly mistake; it roused the French people to fresh determination to crush the invaders and added to the growing number of Germany's enemies among neutral nations. The Germans continued to make gains and their lines of trenches by the third week in September stretched from the Vosges to the Oise. The French flanking operations west of this river were defeated and the Germans recaptured Peronne, Roye, and Lassigny.

Late in September there was only a gap of forty miles between the French lines from Lille southward and the Channel. The Germans now had two definite aims, to capture Antwerp and the Belgian army, occupy the Channel ports and regain the initiative. Antwerp was bombarded on September 29 and surrendered October 8, the Belgian army escaping. Ostend fell on October 15 and the Germans now held most of the Belgian coast. Late in October between La Bassée and the sea British, French, and Belgians fought for six weeks and held up the German advance between the Lys and the mouth of the Yser. At the battle of Ypres the British lost 50,000 men, the French 70,000, and the Belgians 20,000, but the Allies won the fight. The battle of the Yser, not less destructive, was won by the Belgians and French. When the struggle ended the Germans had gained some strips of shell-torn territory, but the main line of the Allies stood and the German attempt to gain Dunkirk and Calais had been frustrated. Germany now occupied most of the industrial regions of France and all but a small strip of Belgium. She had failed to destroy France, the British army was growing, a quick victory could no longer be counted on and meanwhile the Russians were invading the Carpathians.

From the day that a state of war was declared to exist between Britain and Germany, the British Fleet under John Jellicoe disappeared to find a safe retreat among the Orkneys, there to wait its chance to strike. At the outbreak of the war two German warships, the “Goeben” and “Breslau” were off the Algerian coast. They succeeded in evading their pursuers and gained Constantinople, where they passed into the possession of the Turkish Government. The first naval engagement between German and British ships was fought in Helgoland Bight, August 28, resulting in the destruction of three German light cruisers and several destroyers with no British loss.

The Eastern Front[edit]

Austria declared war on Serbia on July 28, on which date Belgrade was bombarded. An Austrian attempt to cross the Danube on August 6 was repulsed with heavy losses. Antivari, Montenegro's only seaport, was bombarded by the Austrian fleet on the following day. Serbian and Montenegrin forces invaded Bosnia on August 12. The most serious fighting was at Shabatz, which the Austrians won on August 16. They were driven out the next two days and by August 23 the Serbians had cleared the enemy from their country. December 2 the Austrians captured Belgrade after four months' effort, but were forced to retire December 14.

On the Russian front a Russian army invaded East Prussia in the first week of August, and August 16–20 won an important victory at Gumbinnen, and occupied Tilsit. Ruzsky's Second Army meanwhile defeated the Austrians at Sokal and on August 23 joined Brussilov's Third Army and advanced on Lemberg and the Second Austrian Army. The Battle of Lemberg lasted eight days and resulted in the collapse of the Austrians. In the subsequent fighting the Austrians were forced to retreat over the Carpathian passes, leaving in Russian hands 250,000 prisoners. The result was the loss of all Galicia to the San, the investing of Przemysl and a Cossack invasion of the Carpathians and the Hungarian plain. Hindenburg's prompt action saved the armies of the Central Powers from retreat and rout. By August 14 the Hindenburg armies had reached the outskirts of Warsaw and the attack on the city began. The arrival of eight Russian army corps led to a week's struggle and forced Hindenburg to retreat on October 21. The Russians had invested Przemysl and were moving on Cracow. Hindenburg was now forced to make an effort to save the Austrians in Galicia. Leaving a force of Austrians to deal with the Russians on the front from Cracow to Kalisz, he turned the Russian flank and moved his armies between the Russians and Warsaw. The Russian position was desperate, for their northern flank had been turned and they were attacked in front by more Germans and Austrians advancing north from Cracow who threatened their southern flank. But the Russians, gathering troops from Warsaw, East Prussia and fortress garrisons, struck the enemy's northern flank and the Germans with difficulty fought their way out. A German attempt to capture Warsaw failed in January.

Other important events during the closing months of 1914 were Turkey's declaration of war against the Allies in October and the proclamation of a Holy War against England, France, and Russia. In December the short-lived South African rebellion led by De Wet was crushed by the capture of the leader and the most of his army. On the sea the defeat of Admiral Craddock and the loss of three British ships off the coast of Chili, November 1. Craddock was avenged December 8 when Vice-Admiral Sturdee sank four German battleships in the South Atlantic near the Falkland Islands, only one ship, the “Dresden,” escaping. On December 18 the British deposed the Khedive of Egypt, Abbas Milmi Pasha and appointed his uncle, Hussein Kemal Pasha with the title of Sultan to the throne of Egypt.


Western Front, Etc.[edit]

In northern France the Germans took the offensive in January, 1915, northeast of Soissons, forcing back the French line to the southern bank of the Aisne. In February the French started a great offensive in the Champagne, between Rheims and the Argonne, which raged for weeks and yet brought the French victors only meager gains. But the Germans, forced to strip their front to repel this attack, afforded the British early in March a chance to strike and win Neuve Chapelle. In April the French again assumed the offensive, driving at the Germans between the Meuse and the Moselle. The German position known as the St. Mihiel “wedge” had been gained by them the previous September, when a German army reduced the Fort des Romains, occupied St. Mihiel and fortified the territory around.

The struggle won some ground for the French, but the Germans still held their main positions from the German still held their main positions from the Meuse to the Moselle. In the last days of April the Germans made a powerful drive at the Allied front between the Lys and the North Sea. This broke for a time the French lines between the Belgians and British and forced them back on Ypres. The Germans made gains, but the Allies reorganized and eventually the offensive quieted down. In the second week in May, General Joffre attacked between Arras and La Bassé on a twenty-five mile front, the objective being the coal city of Lens. The French won line after line of trenches, captured Loos, and north of Arras pushed east, making gains of between three and four miles. This was the most important French victory since the Marne, but it was only a brilliant operation. The Germans could still claim that they were fighting a successful war in France. Attacks continued to be made in France and Belgium without important results. The ground lost by the Allies around Ypres was not regained. Not until September did the French attempt another important offensive in the Champagne. After three weeks of terrific bombardment the whole German front line was taken and 20,000 prisoners. On October 7 another French attack was launched, gaining three miles but failing to pierce the German third line.

Collier's 1921 World War - French offensive in the Champagne.jpg

The British and French operation in the Artois region known as the “Battle of Lens” gave the French Souchez and some miles of territory, the British took 5,000 prisoners and advanced three miles at some points when they were halted by the Germans, who still held possession of Lens.

German merchant ships had disappeared from the seven seas by the beginning of 1915, but her submarines continued to sink British and French ships. An action was fought January 24. Off the Dogger Bank, a number of German ships on their way to bombard the British coast were intercepted by Vice-Admiral Beatty who sank the armored cruiser “Blücher” and damaged two other German battle-cruisers. The remaining German ships escaped to home waters. On February 10 the United States Government addressed a warning note to Germany against the destruction of merchantships without determining their belligerent nationality, or the contraband character of their cargoes. A note was also addressed to Great Britain protesting against the use of the American flag on British vessels. Germany replied by disclaiming all responsibility for such accidents and their consequences as a result to neutral vessels. Britain upheld the use of neutral flags in war, but declared the government had no intention of advising their general use. On May 1 France and Great Britain declared that in retaliation against Germany's submarine “blockade,” it was the Allies' intention to prevent commodities of any kind from reaching Germany. This declaration brought a note of protest from the United States against cutting off neutral trade with Germany. These notes effected no change in sea-warfare as pursued by the belligerent nations. On May 7, the great transatlantic liner “Lusitania” was torpedoed and sunk without warning by a German submarine off the southern coast of Ireland. 1150 persons lost their lives (including more than 100 Americans) and 767 were rescued. On May 13 the United States Government addressed a note of protest to Germany regarding the sinking of the “Lusitania.” Germany, the note read, was expected to disavow such acts, and to take steps to prevent their recurrence; the United States Government expressed the determination to maintain the rights of American citizens. Germany, replying in July to American notes of protest regarding the submarine attacks on merchant shipping, pledged safety for United States shipping by allowing four enemy passenger steamers to sail under the protection of the American flag. The United States Government in reply declared the German note unsatisfactory, and stated that the repetition of incidents complained of would be regarded as “deliberately unfriendly.” Other notes followed, between the United States and Germany without causing any changes in the situation. Great Britain replying to the charge that she was interfering with American trade in the warzone maintained that she was adhering to the principles of international law as modified by modern conditions. Germany continued to sink American ships, but on September 23 declared that in the future American vessels carrying conditional contraband would not be destroyed. A note apologetic in tone for the sinking of the “Arabic” followed in October.

The Eastern Front and Elsewhere[edit]

The Russian army in Galicia began a second invasion of Hungary in the first week of January, 1915. This was followed by a new drive into East Prussia. The Russians defeated the Turks in the Caucasus and occupied Tabriz, Persia. Between March 19, and April 5 the Russians won the principal chain of the Carpathians on a 75-mile front and took 70,000 Austrian prisoners. Their advance in East Prussia was quickly checked and led to a heavy defeat. May 2, Austrian and Germans troops forced back the entire Russian army in Galicia, and in June the Austrian stronghold Przemysl was recaptured; a territory as large as Belgium was reclaimed, Lemberg fell, and in the first week of August, German troops occupied Warsaw. Brest-Litovsk, the most important fortress in Russia's second line of defense was captured by the Germans in the last week in August. Grodno and Vilna fell to German arms in September.

A Turkish attempt on the Suez Canal January 27 was defeated by British and Egyptian forces guarding the waterway and another attempt in February to the north of Suez was also a failure. On February 19–20 a fleet of French and British warships bombarded the Turkish forts at the entrance to the Dardanelles. The forts were reduced during the month, but the Allies lost during the operation three great battleships. A landing of Allied troops on the Gallipoli Peninsula was carried out under cover of the guns of the fleet, with a loss of 15,000 men. For the remainder of the year the Gallipoli campaign was vigorously pressed, but the result was failure, and on December 15 the Allies began a general retirement on land and sea.

Collier's 1921 World War - War zone at the Dardanelles.jpg


On May 24, Italy declared war against Austria-Hungary and the following day Italian troops crossed the border and in June occupied Monfalcone and important positions. On July 9, in South Africa, General Botha, commanding British colonial troops, received the surrender of all German forces in German Southwest Africa. Bulgarian mobilization was followed in Greece on September 23, by orders for a general mobilization of all Greek forces. Bulgaria's reply to the Allies' note concerning her warlike preparations having proved unsatisfactory, on October 6 the Ministers representing France, England and Italy at Sofia asked for their passports. Serbia was invaded by a great Austro-German army October 7, in an attempt to open up a route to Constantinople to aid the Turks. The Serbians drove the invaders' right wing across the Danube, crushed their left wing, but were unable to save Belgrade, which was occupied by the enemy. Bulgaria entered the war as an ally of the Central Powers and Turkey on October 11, and invaded Serbia at several points. The Greek Government declining to fulfill their treaty with Serbia (a defensive alliance); the French troops landed at Salonica to act against Bulgaria, encouraged to do so by Ex-Premier Venizelos of Greece who was eager to have his country join the Allies. The bulk of the Greek people favored the Entente, but the disaster at the Dardanelles and the fate of Serbia now over-run by Austrians, Germans, and Bulgarians caused King Constantine to adopt a neutral attitude which favored the Central Powers.

The attempt made by the French and British to help Serbia had come too late, owing to the time wasted in parleys with Bulgaria.

The Franco-British force, while inflicting heavy losses on the Bulgars, could not save Serbia, her army retired before the enemy, and practically all her people went into exile. The remainder of the army was shipped by the Allies to Corfu where it was reorganized.

The Anglo-Indian expeditionary force which invaded Mesopotamia and which achieved a victory over the Turks near the Persian Gulf, and later in an advance toward Bagdad, met with a succession of disasters which forced the British commander General Townshend to retire to the Arab river town of Kut-el-Amara where he was besieged by Turks and Arabs.


The year 1916 did not open very propitiously for the Allies in the land campaigns except in Africa, where all but one of the German colonies had been captured. At sea they had maintained their supremacy—which was further sustained by the outcome of the Jutland battle later described—and continued to throttle Germany's sea-borne trade with their naval cordon. The credit side of the Allies' record was also augmented by the fact that their armies were still in being, and adding to their strength, except Serbia's. On the other hand there was a disquieting situation on most of the war fronts. In the west only a few miles had been recovered from the Germans and at a heavy cost. On the Russian front and in the Balkans the situation was worse. Nearly all Galicia and Poland and Courland had fallen to the Germans, and the Serbian army had virtually been wiped out. On the adjacent front—the Austro-Italian line—Italy had made little headway. Further east the British had failed against the Turks in the Dardanelles and were balked in their advance on Bagdad.

On the western front the Germans early in the year launched a great offensive against Verdun with the object of so crippling France that she would cease to count as a factor in the war. Verdun was girdled by forts and woods, the outer positions of which the French held more or less securely in face of the menace from two formidable natural barriers which had been won by the Germans—Forges Wood on the French left, and a strong post on a sort of island that overlooked the Woevre Plain on the French right. The first line defenses, some miles north of the town, were strong, but the second and third had been neglected. The line was held by less than two army corps of territorials, while there was a lack of railroads to replace those cut by the Germans. Under these disadvantages the French commanders set out to defend the fortress, and from that defense came the world-famous phase: “They shall not pass.” The attack began before dawn on February 21, 1916, on the French left. The outer positions in Haumont, Caures and La Ville woods crumbled, despite a brave defense, and the surviving French retired. Other outposts—Consenvoye Wood, Herbebois, Wayrille and Brabant—also fell to the assailants. On February 24 the German advance broke through the French resistance round Fosses Wood, Beaumont, Le Chaume Wood and Les Chamrettes. The French situation thus became serious by the loss of a group of outposts that jeopardized the retention of the inner positions, on to which the Germans advanced. The latter, however, were temporarily checked by French counterattacks after the fighting had continued without cessation for four days and nights. Louvemont fell, and then the Germans turned their attention to Douaumont fort and village, the next point in the line of attack on the outer rim of the old permanent fortifications. On February 27 the struggle there was marked by ruthless hand-to-hand fighting and bayonet charges, which forced the Germans to retreat with heavy losses. A renewed attempt had the same result; then came a two day's respite. On March 2 the Germans returned to the attack with an avalanche of shells and advanced in almost solid formation. They succeeded, despite the French defense, in entering Douaumont, only to be ousted the following night, but the next morning they recovered it by bringing heavy re-enforcements. To even the line reached by the possession of Douaumont, the Germans, on March 6, attacked the French positions on the left—Dead Man Hill, Cumières and Bethincourt. These points were west of the Meuse, where the German operations were menaced by French artillery. Cumières and Bethincourt and the lesser of the two summits forming Dead Man Hill (numbered respectively Hills 265 and 295) were captured, while the higher summit remained in French hands. Terrible fighting ensued to obtain complete possession of the double hill. The Germans enlarged their front to outflank the defenders and threw in a fresh division against the new point of attack—Avocourt Wood and Hill 304. They captured the wood, but suffered appalling losses in attempting to take the hill, forcing them to pause to reorganize their hard-hit forces. The next day the attack changed to Douaumont against the French line there and also against a neighboring position—Vaux fort and village. The first attacks failed; the second (March 11) was equally fruitless, so skillfully had the French planned their defenses. After four days of the most sanguinary fighting the Germans had not succeeded in reaching even the nearest entanglements round the hilly position of Vaux. On March 16 they made five attacks on Vaux without breaking down the sorely tried defenders; two days later they attacked six times, and still the French held their ground. It was not until March 31 that they succeeded in occupying the western end of Vaux village, the overlooking fort remaining in French hands. Meantime (March 20) the Germans returned to their outflanking operations to obtain Dead Man Hill on the northwest. The struggle for this hill and Hill 304 developed into one of the most notable battles in the defense of Verdun. The battles round Douaumont and Vaux were also remarkable for the tenacity of purpose of both sides. At the beginning of May, after two months' fighting, the Germans had not got beyond Douaumont and Vaux on the right, while the French line on the left remained fixed on part of Dead Man Hill and the adjacent elevation, Hill 304. The German determination, however, to take these positions was not weakened, and during May they put forth their utmost strength to break the French resistance at both ends. Renewed attacks forced the French to yield parts of both hills. On the Douaumont and Vaux line the Germans also resumed their attacks to complete their possession of Vaux, where the French occupied near-by Slopes that commanded the village, which was held by the Germans and consisted of a single street. The French on their part were bent on recovering Douaumont fort, which they penetrated on May 22. They held it for two days, bitter fighting at close quarters meantime taking place within its walls before they were ousted by Bavarian re-enforcements. With June came an eight-day battle for the Vaux slopes. The strain became too terrible for the French garrison to endure, and the brave remnant finally were surrounded and yielded the position. The Germans were now in contact with the inner defenses of Verdun, and the war situation elsewhere demanded that the crushing blow to France be delivered without delay. They had pushed out from Douaumont and captured Vaux, had crowded up and over Dead Man Hill and up the slope of Hill 304, forcing the French back to the extreme edge of the hills. A number of points next in line toward Verdun from Douaumont and Vaux—Thiaumont, Fleury, Chapitre Wood and Fumin—were savagely attacked on June 23. Fleury was a pivotal point for capturing the fortress of Souville, about three miles from Verdun. The struggle for Thiaumont continued for several days; the place changed hands frequently, and on July 4 was finally held by the Germans, who also gained a footing in Chapitre Wood. The French were now just holding the inside line of Verdun forts—Belleville, Souville and Tavannes—with their backs to the river and with German trenches approaching right up to the ditches of these forts. In other words, the French were about in their last ditch before Verdun. Then the great Allied offensive on the Somme intervened, and the Germans gained nothing more in their final attempt to reach the city. On July 12 they were halted by the French on the Fleury and Souville road and four days later the struggle for Verdun ceased. The development of Allied operations on the Somme compelled the Germans to make that sector their principal preoccupation on the western front. A long strip of the outer defenses of Verdun, averaging three miles in breadth north and northeast, fell to the attackers; some three miles to the south from the nearest points reached by the Germans lay the beleaguered city, shell torn but safe. In a five-months' combat 3,000 cannon and about two million men had defended or attacked the stronghold, and it was estimated that the losses on both sides exceeded 200,000. The French, to whom the initiative had passed, by nibbling methods began to recover their lost positions and recaptured forts Douaumont and Vaux among other points.

Collier's 1921 World War - Verdun battles.jpg


The Somme offensive had been undertaken to relieve the pressure on Verdun, as well as to prevent the transference of large bodies of troops from the west to the eastern front, where Russian troops under General Brussilov had begun a sweeping drive against the Austro-German lines to the south. The front attacked extended twenty-five miles in Picardy, where the river Somme flows with many crooked turns, its main configuration in the battle area being a horse-shoe loop which gave the river east and west banks as well as north and south. The line ran north and south. The British had the hardest task in the N. and failed to achieve their objectives at first; in the S. a substantial success was immediately accomplished by the French. In the initial attack on July 1, the British encountered a series of strongly fortified villages—Gommecourt, Serre, Beaumont-Hamel, and Thiepval—but the German resistance was so destructive to their ranks that they struggled back to their own line. Lower down the British struck deep in the German positions. After five days' fighting they made further substantial progress, though hard-hit at several points. Five days later they had methodically completed the capture of the enemy's first line system of defenses on a front of 14,000 yards. The defenses consisted of numerous and continuous lines of trenches, extending to various depths of from 2,000 to 4,000 yards and included five strongly fortified villages, many heavily wired and intrenched woods and strong redoubts. In the second phase of the battle, beginning July 14, the British cut their way through a four-mile line toward Longueval, Pozières, Delville Wood and Bazentin. By nightfall they succeeded in capturing the whole of the German second line from Bazentin-le-Petit to Longueval, a front of over three miles. A fierce struggle waged round Longueval and Delville Wood which continued without pause for thirteen days. Orvillers, an obstacle to a general attack on Pozières, was taken, but it was not until July 24 that the greater part of Pozières was captured. Later the points to the N., including the obstinate fortified village of Thiepval, which the British had failed to overcome were stormed and occupied.

The French under General Foch advanced in the same methodical order as the British. They achieved their successes at less cost, due to less resistance by the enemy. In their attacks N. and S. of the Somme loop they won all their objectives and something more. On a front of ten miles they penetrated in less than two weeks a maximum depth of six and a half miles, or fifty square miles, of enemy territory, containing similar military works encountered by the British.

The Somme offensive duly lost its initial momentum, yet continued throughout the rest of the year as part of the regular fighting operations on the western front. A number of additional important points were captured after hard fighting. British successes N. of the Ancre finally resulted in the retirement of the Germans from that stream in the Somme sector.

The Russian front that was relieved from German re-enforcements extended W. of Riga to Dvinsk, Pinsk, Dubno and Czernowitz. This line roughly represented the stage of the German advance on January 1, 1916. W. of it lay a vast region of Russian territory overrun by the Central Powers. Disregarding climatic conditions, the Russians, at a heavy cost, made strong attempts to break through by local drives during the opening months of the year; then restricted their activities to artillery duels and trench forays. They seemed to have wearied of vainly beating against an unyielding foe, but as the summer came their gun fire began to acquire an ominous strength and violence on the Austro-German line from Pinsk S. to the Rumanian border, especially in the region of the three Volhynian fortresses of Rovno, Dubno, and Lutsk on a front of some seventeen miles. A great attack, hurled mainly against the Austro-Hungarian sectors, began on June 4, timing with the Austrian offensive on the Italian front. Austria discovered that she could not undertake two large operations at the same time—one an invasion of Italy, the other a defensive stand against a sweeping Russian advance on a 300-mile front. The result was she succeeded in neither. Germany like Austria, had withdrawn many troops from the eastern front to aid her Verdun adventure, and Austria had sent similar drafts to swell her forces attacking Italy. No matter how strong the natural defenses nor how skillful the artificial obstacles, the Russians swept on in overwhelming numbers until their offensive threatened not only the pushing back of the Austrian lines but the very existence of the Austrian armies. The operations during June compelled Germany and Austria to recognize the magnitude of the Russian success. Lutsk, Dubno, and Rovno were retaken; an advance of forty miles in the N. threatened Kovel and Lemberg; twice as extensive an advance in the S. had reconquered Bukowina and east Galicia and had brought the Cossacks to the Carpathians. Germany was doubly forced to renounce Verdun by having to direct large re-enforcements to Volhynia and Galicia to save Lemberg, as well as to the Somme to resist the French and British. This diversion of troops and guns to the E. saved the situation; it brought about a stiffening of the Austro-German resistance during the summer against the continued Russian drives on Kovel, Lemberg and Stanislau. The Russians met a number of reverses and were held up at the Carpathians. With the coming of the fall and winter, the fighting waned, leaving a considerable dent in the battle line made by Russia.

Before Russia had embarked on this drive to recover her lost territory, her armies elsewhere had shown considerable vitality. In Turkish Caucasia, where the Grand Duke Nicholas had been transferred as commander-in-chief, a successful advance had been proceeding. The campaign in this region was related to that of the British in Mesopotamia, where the Turks had the advantage, and Russian activities were needed to relieve the pressure on the British at Kut-el-Amara. The Grand Duke's offensive in Caucasia was undertaken with this aim and also with the object of reaching Constantinople on the W. He first set out to capture Erzerum, the Turkish fortress fifty miles W. on the Russian Caucasian frontier. His armies moved in that direction from three points in February, 1916, the design being to attack Erzerum from three sides. The fortress had eighteen separate positions, which encircled the city in two rings and protected the inside defenses. The Turks had four army corps and Kurd, Persian and Arab auxiliaries to defend the place. It was on high ground (6,000 feet above sea-level), to which the Russians had to mount. The effect of the Russian movement was astonishing. After the first frontal attack by Siberian troops, lasting five days, nine of the outlying forts were carried, and the entire fortifications were evacuated without the need of the flanking operations planned. The Turkish command feared the bottling up of some 200,000 of its first-line troops and decided to retreat before the Russian ring was formed. The retreat was a rout through broken country and was menaced by superior forces on both flanks, but the Turks made good their escape. With Erzerum as a center the Russian advance spread rapidly in all directions; on the west toward Erzigan and Sivas; to the S. toward Bagdad, Mush, Bitlis and the region of Lake Van; in the N. with the Black Sea port of Trebizond as an objective—a front in all of about 300 miles without a single railroad and with few highways that deserved the name. In the advance on Trebizond the Russians were helped by their Black Sea fleet. They moved so rapidly on that port that the inhabitants fled well in advance, being specially terrorized by the presence of the Russian warships. By the middle of March the Russians were within twenty miles of Trebizond. The Turks in an effort to defend it, started strong counterattacks, but were repulsed with heavy losses. The Russian advance could not be halted and Trebizond's fate was sealed long before the Turks evacuated it. The Russians entered on April 18, 1916. In the W. the Russian center moved on Erzingan, one of the Turks' army headquarters, in the face of strengthened opposition. The enemy had retreated from Trebizond in this direction, making for Baiburt along the Trebizond-Erzingan road. The Russians tried to cut off the fleeing Trebizond garrison, but did not succeed. In May Turkish resistance to their advance increased and there was constant hard fighting which, while unfavorable to the enemy, retarded the Russian movements. At the close of that month the Turks assumed the offensive and forced the Russians back twenty-five miles. The latter did not resume their forward movements until the middle of July, by which time the Turkish opposition had weakened. Baiburt fell on July 15, and from then on the Russians steadily moved toward Erzingan, which they occupied ten days later. Its capture, added to that stretch of territory gained to the N. by the fall of Trebizond and other points along the Black Sea, virtually put Turkish Armenia in Russian possession. In the S. the Russian advance, directed toward Bagdad and to the rear of the Turkish forces besieging the British at Kut, moved in two directions—one from Mush and Bitlis, and the other through Persia. Mush was occupied on February 19, Bitlis fell a fortnight later. The next point aimed at was Diarbekr, an important town on the Tigris at the crossroads of the country's communications. The critical British situation in Mesopotamia caused these Russian movements to be pushed with increased vigor in the hope of drawing off the Turkish strength from Kut. One column, striking from the N. E. through Persia, captured Kermanshah—less than 200 miles from Bagdad—on February 27. A further advance was made to the S. W., but the Russians could not sustain their advantage. With July came a revival of Turkish attacks, which forced the Russians to retreat from Kermanshah. Thereafter the Russians achieved no definite progress. They were unable to be of any service to the beleaguered British to the S. Trebizond and Erzingan marked the crest of their successes. The Turks became particularly active against them in the Persian area, forcing them from a number of positions. Mush, Bitlis and Kermanshah were occupied by both sides alternately; once the Turks swept the Russians out of the Lake Van district; later the latter recovered their foothold there. Apparently the campaign lost itself in loose ends and became ineffective, though fighting continued throughout the rest of the year.

Earlier in the year the British in Mesopotamia under General Townshend had remained besieged by the Turks. A relief force fought its way from the Persian Gulf toward Kut, and came within seven miles of the place on March 8, 1916, this date marking the ninety-first day of the siege. The relieving column faced the second Turkish line at Es-Sinn, which was attacked in a vain attempt to raise the siege. Floods increased the difficulties of rescue, and hopes of saving General Townshend and his 10,000 troops dwindled as the spring advanced. The Kut garrison was slowly but surely being starved out, thanks in part to the Tigris floods which impeded rescue. The Turkish ring remained unbroken; no food could get through. The expected therefore happened on April 29, when General Townshend (who had wireless communication with the relief force) sent a message that he could hold out no longer without food, and that he had destroyed his guns and ammunition. A second message intimated that he had hoisted the white flag. On the 143d day of the siege 2970 British troops of all ranks and services and some 6,000 Hindus and their followers surrendered to the Turks. After a lull the British force below Kut resumed their attacks on the Turkish positions without affecting the general situation, and the hot summer brought operations to a standstill. Meantime Great Britain organized another army to repair the defeats of the Nixon and Townshend expeditions, following her old precept that she lost battles but not wars. A new expedition toward Bagdad was undertaken in December, 1916, and was marked by consistent successes as it advanced toward its objective.

The Austrian offensive against Italy in the Trentino before mentioned was designed to break lines through the Italian lines between the Adige and the Brenta, by way of reaching the Venetian plain and capturing Verona and Vicenza. The effect of such an achievement would be to compel the retreat of the Italian forces to the eastward along the Isonzo, and even result in their capture. At the least Austria by such a movement could carry her front well within the Italian boundary to the Po and the Adige. During the spring of 1916 there had been many engagements in the Trentino—mainly reconnoitering movements to find out weak spots—without either side apparently having any definite plan of operations, and without achieving any important result. Austria meantime began increasing her forces until in the middle of May she had sixteen divisions, or more than 300,000 men on the line between the Adige and the Brenta, as well as 2,000 guns of heavy caliber. On May 15 they attacked the Italians between the Adige and the Astico. The ensuing fighting was among mountains generally, the Trentino battle line (24 miles long) running for the most part along peaks and defiles, as the front did elsewhere from the Swiss border to the Adriatic. The Austrians had the higher mountains behind them. Hence the Italians had to make their advance or defense and build their trenches and place their guns to resist an enemy generally situated high above them. They were going up; the Austrians were coming down. That was the salient feature of the Austro-Italian campaign. The Italians had to climb, and the Australians to descend from elevated points from which they could overlook the Italian lines. Laboring under this disadvantage the Italian Alpini regiments gave way before the strength of the initial attack. The Austrians occupied a number of Italian positions and opened a breach in the narrow zone between the Adige and the Val Sugano. The next day the Austrians renewed the fight with five assaults and gained more positions. The Italian border was crossed in the Lago di Garda region, where the Italians were driven back four miles from positions they held on Austrian soil. Their line broke at other important points and the Austrian advance steadily progressed. The Italians' retreat was orderly but hurried. By the second week of the fighting they had lost over 30,000 as prisoners, 300 cannon and many machine guns, while their total losses including casualties were put at 80,000. The general direction of the Austrian advance, which had spread to a front of 31 miles, was now toward the Italian line running through Asiago, Arsiero and Schio, representing the third and last fortified defenses, the strategic design of which was to prevent an invasion of the Venetian plain. Finally the Austrians approached the latter about Vicenza, and Italian apprehension was great. By June 1 Italy faced a critical situation; then the tables were suddenly turned. The Austrian offensive lost its force. The Italians showed more resistance, and themselves began to attack the invaders. The great Russian drive on the southeastern front had reacted on Austria's Trentino campaign and changed the whole outlook for Italy. Austria was forced to abandon her movement on Venetia and to shift her reserves eastward to stem the Russian tide. The Trentino thrust was succeeding when it had to be given up, and all Austria's efforts, like Germany's before Verdun, were in vain. On June 9 Italy began her counterattacks in force to drive back the Austrians from the positions they had gained. The latter were now on the defensive and continually yielded ground, being as little able to withstand attacks as the Italians when the position of both foes were reversed. The fighting thereafter was generally marked by a series of successes by the Italians. The Austrians not only failed to resist them, but could not sustain what counterattacks they made. They retreated and step by step the Italians fought their way back in the territory from which they had been ousted.

The Italians next turned their attention to their right or Isonzo front in order to take Goritz and open the way to the capture of the Austrian port of Trieste. This front had not changed in any degree since hostilities opened. On Aug. 4, 1916, the Italians first assailed the mountain strongholds that protected Goritz, which is situated twenty-two miles N. W. of Trieste. They soon gained the Goritz bridgehead on the river Isonzo, which led directly to the city, the Austrians showing only weak resistance. The bridge was stormed, and on August 9 Goritz fell. The Doberdo and Carso plateaus had now to be crossed to reach Trieste. Many engagements took place on the new front during the autumn and early winter, but while the Italians made some headway Trieste remained at a safe distance as the year closed.

In the Balkans the situation that developed during 1916 was as follows:

Germany had withdrawn most of her troops from this sector, the Serbians having been driven out of the last corner of their native land by Von Mackensen's sweep in the fall of 1915. She had accomplished her object of establishing railroad communication between Berlin and Constantinople, via Bulgaria, and left Austria to deal with Montenegro, and Bulgaria with Macedonia. With the opening of 1916, the Austrians attacked the Montenegrins from the E. on the rivers Tara, Lim and Ibar, while warships in the Gulf of Cattaro opened heavy fire on Montenegro's dominating peak, Mount Lovcen, which was garrisoned. The little state was unable to resist Austria's massed assault. The Montenegrin fighting force had been reduced to 20,000, and not only lacked guns and ammunition but all kinds of supplies, even food. Mount Lovcen was captured, and with this commanding position in enemy hands, the capital, Cettinje, could not be retained, and it was occupied by the Austrians. The back of the remaining Montenegrin strength was thus broken. Peace negotiations were entered into with Austria, and King Nicholas fled.

The Austrians continued their advance into Albania, where many Montenegrins had flocked, following the remnant of the routed Serbian army. Albania at this time was untenable by the Allied forces. The Austrians were at San Giovanni di Medua, a seaport in northern Albania, by the close of January, and Bulgarians were in the S. Meantime, Essad Pasha, the Albanian leader, who supported the Allies, was also menaced by an Austrian and Bulgarian force marching N. W. from Berat, while another enemy column was heading toward Italian forces which occupied Avlona, a seaport in the S. Adriatic. The situation forced the Allies to get the helpless Serbians out of Albania. Some 75,000 were hastily transported by Allied ships to Corfu, others were taken to Tunis and Italy. The Austrians moved S. and the Bulgarians N. toward Durazzo, the Albanian capital. Italian and Albanian forces under Essad Pasha yielded before them, and Durazzo was taken on February 28. The Italian troops meantime covered the evacuation of the Montenegrins, Albanians and the remaining Serbians to Avlona, the only important point in Albania uncaptured. Allied assistance to Serbia, and incidentally to Montenegro, came too late. An Anglo-French army under General Serrail had been assembled on the Greek front about Saloniki, and from there they attempted to advance through Serbia, but were balked by the Bulgarians S. of Uskub. The Bulgarians, having driven the Serbians out of Macedonia, then attacked the Serrail forces, which fell back to their original line. By March, 1916, the Austrians and Bulgarians were in complete possession of the central Balkan area. The latter hesitated to push their lines across the Greek frontier by further attacking the Allied forces, though they did not hesitate to do so elsewhere against Greek defenders. The Saloniki region was a part of Macedonia that was essentially Bulgarian in population. The Allies, however, had the better military position, being drawn in close to their base, with short interior communications, while the Bulgarians had to spread round the wide semicircle formed by the Anglo-French forces. On the other hand, the latter were not prepared to start an offensive against the Bulgarians. Consequently there was a stalemate on this front which lasted for two years except for a sporadic offensive the Serbians, assisted by the French, made against the Bulgarians in September, 1916, when they regained a piece of their lost territory, including Monastir, and captured 6,000 prisoners. However, the inactive Allies army, to guard against eventualities, especially the uncertain intentions of Greece at their rear, daily augmented and strengthened their position by re-enforcements of men and equipment, so that in August, 1916, it numbered, with Serbian and pro-Ally Greek accessions, nearly 500,000.

The Balkan situation was complicated by the wavering attitude of the government of Greece, due to the monarch's leaning toward Germany. In the fall of 1916 the relations between the Allies and that country became very strained and occasioned a crisis on account of the danger to the Allies' Saloniki front and their naval communications by possible Greek activities on behalf of the Central Powers. The Allies were forced to regard Greece as a menace to their rear. As a precautionary measure they compelled the Greek Government to surrender its entire fleet and the Piræus railroad and to dismantle all its shore batteries. Greece complied under force majeure. Hostile demonstrations in Athens followed, the Greeks themselves being divided between royalists and pro-Allies, and a force of French marines had to be landed, who occupied a number of public buildings and covered the streets with a number of machine guns. The Allies also demanded the withdrawal of Greek troops which had been concentrating near Larissa and in Corinth. The internal situation in Greece between the royalists and pro-Ally insurgents under Venizelos became such that a provisional government of the latter was installed to checkmate King Constantine's pro-German tendencies and declared war on the Central Powers. Pro-Ally Greek forces were thereupon mobilized. This step followed the King's refusal to recognize the results of the elections, which were overwhelmingly in favor of Venizelos' pro-Ally policy. The royal army became more than ever a menace, and in November the Allies through the French Admiral Fournier demanded that it surrender all arms and munitions and guns except 50,000 rifles. The demand was refused, whereupon French troops were landed at Piræus. The Royal Palace was bombarded, and there was serious fighting, pro-Ally Greeks siding with the French, and an Allied blockade on all Greek shipping was declared. Finally Greece on December 16 unreservedly accepted the conditions of the Allies.

A new turn had been given to the Balkan situation by the entrance of Rumania into the war in August, 1916, on the side of the Allies. It seemed to promise the discomfiture of the Bulgarians, for while they were covering an enemy on the S., they would have another foe on the N. As events turned out, however, Rumania devoted her main attention to the Austrians instead of protecting her Bulgarian front, and in that way brought about her own undoing. She promptly invaded the Austrian territory of Transylvania from her N. and W. frontiers, her first thought being to secure an area she claimed because of its Rumanian population. Marked headway was made in this adventure, the Austrian resistance being feeble. But from her S. E. front the way was open to Bulgarian and German attacks, Berlin having hastily sent heavy re-enforcements under Von Mackensen there through the Balkan “corridor” which had been opened by the possession of Serbia. On September 2, Von Mackensen's legions drove into Dobrudja, along Rumania's Black Sea coast, and captured important Danube bridges which formed lines of communication with Rumania across that river. Though aided by Russians, the Rumanians had to fall back to the N. But while they were suffering defeats to the E., their forces in Transylvania continued to gain against the Austrians. Their triumphs were short-lived, the situation there completely changing with the arrival of strong German forces under Von Falkenhayn to assist the Austrians. The Rumanians were driven out of Transylvania through the mountain passes into their own territory, which was in turn invaded by the Austro-Germans. Then began the squeezing process. With Von Falkenhayn on one side and Von Mackensen on the other applying the pinchers, Rumania was methodically and ruthlessly overrun, the combined invasion reaching its high mark on December 2 with the capture of the capital, Bucharest. Its fall was followed by the subjugation of more than half of Rumania, who thereafter was practically out of the war.

In a year of lengthened battles on long fronts extending over many weeks of time, the most striking and briefest was fought at sea. This was the great clash between the British and German fleets on the North Sea off Jutland on May 31, 1916. On that day the German fleet emerged from the fortifications and mine fields of the Helgoland Bight that protected its haven and steamed out “on a mission to the northward.” Two days previously, on May 29 and 30, British wireless messages from North Sea stations told the Admiralty in London of certain radio signals proceeding from the flagship of the German Admiral Von Scheer in Wilhelmshaven. The signals were picked up by directional wireless, which enabled the distance from which they came to be gauged, a discovery that proved to be of the greatest importance. Their significance consisted in the indication that the signalling on May 29 showed that the German flagship was in the inner harbor of Wilhelmshaven, and that on May 30 the vessel had moved to the outer harbor. Deducing therefrom that some naval movement of the enemy was afoot, the British Admiralty the day before the German fleet sailed ordered Admiral Jellicoe to proceed to sea with the Grand Fleet from its anchorage on the Scottish coast. What the real object of the Germans was in venturing out was not known. One theory was that Germany sought to force a passage for her battle cruisers through the channel between Scotland and Norway into the open sea, so that they could prey upon transatlantic traffic and cripple British industries and food supplies. Another supposition was that the Germans contemplated an escape to the open sea, not for the fleet itself, but for a number of fast armed cruisers to raid British trade routes everywhere and supplement the destructive work of the submarines in sinking merchantmen. What only was clear was that the German fleet never left the North Sea, and that its plans were balked by meeting the British fleet, the result of which encounter sent the Germans back to port within thirty-six hours after leaving it, and there it remained, inactive and useless, for the remainder of the war.

The main British fighting squadrons, composed of dreadnoughts, was under Admiral Jellicoe's command; in addition he had a division of battle cruisers and another of armed cruisers, as well as destroyers and light cruisers. His vanguard was made up of two battle cruiser divisions under Vice Admiral Beatty, supported by a division of dreadnoughts of the “Queen Elizabeth” type under Rear Admiral Thomas. The Beatty column cruised some seventy miles to the southward ahead of the main fleet. Shortly after two o'clock in the afternoon, when it was about 90 miles W. of the Danish coast, German light cruisers were sighted and became engaged with British craft of the same type. A squadron of five German battle cruisers under Vice Admiral Von Hipper appeared to the eastward, and Admiral Beatty at once swung to the S. E. to cut between them and their base. Thereat the German commander changed his bearings to correspond, which meant that the two squadrons continued on courses nearly parallel. Their lines presently tended to converge until at 3:45 p. m. heavy firing broke from both at an estimated range of nine miles. The almost immediate result was that two of Beatty's battle cruisers, the “Indefatigable” and the “Queen Mary,” were struck by broadsides and at once sank. This loss placed the Beatty column at a disadvantage in numbers (it began with six battle cruisers and now had only four), but it was re-enforced by the dreadnought division of Admiral Thomas. The Von Hipper column of five battle cruisers was thus pitted against four battle cruisers and four dreadnoughts, but stood up well before the augmented British fire. Beatty meantime continued to move ahead southward, aiming not only to cut the Germans from their base but to “cap” their column and concentrate his fire on Von Hipper's leading ships. A column of German dreadnoughts under Admiral Von Scheer however, approached from the S. E. at full speed to join Von Hipper. Their appearance told Beatty that he was outmatched. He could not now drive Von Hipper into Jellicoe's arms; but perhaps Von Hipper and Von Scheer could be led there. Beatty quickly changed his plan with this object and himself steamed northward. The two German columns, now joined, took up a parallel course, and the running fight was resumed, both forces heading toward the point from which Jellicoe was approaching. Toward six o'clock Beatty again tried to “cap” his antagonist by turning his head to the eastward. Von Hipper countered this movement by himself turning in the same direction; hence the parallel fight continued on the curve made to the E., which duly straightened to a northward line again. Then the “Lützow,” Von Hipper's flagship, dropped out badly damaged, and the admiral, under fire boarded the “Moltke”, via a destroyer. Meantime Admiral Jellicoe, some seventy miles to the northward, was rushing the main British fleet to effect a juncture with Beatty. He had three squadrons of powerful fighting ships, twenty-five in all, including his flagship, the “Iron Duke,” and the “Invincible,” “Inflexible,” and “Indomitable”. The latter trio, commanded by Admiral Hood, was sent ahead to re-enforce Beatty at a faster speed than that of the main force. They joined Beatty just as the latter turned eastward, and swung in ahead of Beatty's column, which now consisted of seven battle cruisers and four dreadnoughts. The “Invincible”, Hood's flagship, became the target of the German guns and disappeared in flame and smoke, the admiral going down with her. Jellicoe's ships now appeared in sight to the northward, and Beatty opened his column to let them through, Jellicoe swept down the lane, steering S. toward the head of the German line, Beatty following suit on a parallel course a little ahead by virtue of his greater speed. Soon the head of the German column was under the concentrated fire of practically the entire British fleet. It was at this stage that the German vessels appeared to have sustained their principal losses. The British had finally “capped” them and were astride the course to the German base. Night, however, came, and with it a mist that thickened to a fog. The German columns, balked from turning S., switched from E. to W., meantime sending all their destroyers against the British warships. Jellicoe's destroyers met them, when ensued a fight between destroyers in the fog which diverted attacks between the main fleets. In the dark, covered by their destroyers, the Germans succeeded in turning S. to safety from their westward course, wholly escaping the British fleet. In the treacherous darkness, and in the midst of a stretch of waters probably strewn with mines, Jellicoe hesitated to pursue the retreating enemy, and thus lost them. With the dawn the German fleet had vanished.

The British losses were: three battle cruisers (“Queen Mary,” “Invincible,” “Indefatigable”), three armored cruisers (“Defense,” “Black Prince,” “Warrior”), and eight destroyers, the lost tonnage aggregating 117,150. The Germans thus reported their losses: (they were believed to be much greater) one battle cruiser (“Lützow”), one battleship (“Pommern”), four light cruisers and five destroyers, or 60,720 tons. The total personnel lost was: British 6,105; German (acknowledged) 2,414. The losses were regarded as less favorable to the Germans than appeared on the surface. As effective units the three lost British armored cruisers were of no military value and were caught in the battle by mischance. They aggregated more than 40,000 tons, and reduced the effective tonnage lost by the British by that much. The “Lützow” offset the “Queen Mary”. The “Pommern,” which was believed to be a new and powerful dreadnought, not an old pre-dreadnought as the Germans claimed, offset the loss of the “Invincible” and “Indefatigable”. As far as effective ships were concerned, accepting the German statement regarding the “Pommern” as being an old vessel, the British only lost one more than the Germans, and that was largely offset by the loss of the four light cruisers the Germans acknowledged. Only on the destroyers did the advantage lie with the Germans. The belief that the German losses were much more than was admitted was strengthened by the fact that the Kaiser's fleet never again ventured out to fight the British. A great controversy arose over Admiral Jellicoe's tactics in permitting the Germans to escape in the darkness after, as he himself reported, his fleet had maneuvered into an advantageous position between the German vessels and their base.


British Advance on Bapaume[edit]

Severe winter weather made any major military operations extremely difficult along the whole western front during the early part of 1917, and as a consequence both sides were satisfied to confine their activities to trench raids and local attacks of minor importance. It was not till the first week in February that offensive operations began, and then the British began to prepare an advance on both sides of the Ancre river. On Feb. 6, 1917, the Germans felt compelled to evacuate Grandcourt. The capture of this village was considered of some importance, marking, as it did, a notable advance for the British on the forts of Miramont and Grandcourt, which covered Bapaume from the W.

After occupying Grandcourt, the British began a steady advance up both sides of the Ancre. At the same time the French began to take the initiative on the Verdun front, as well as in the Argonne, carrying on a number of successful raids.

Slowly the Germans gave way to the British pressure, retiring to a new line along the Bapaume Ridge. The ground thus surrendered covered about three miles and the British were able to occupy a number of strong points at very little cost. Fortunately for the Germans, the weather was misty and covered their operations, so that they were able to take their heavy guns with them, though they were compelled to abandon large amounts of ammunition. Meanwhile heavy rearguard actions were fought, but the British pressed steadily forward. By the end of February the British were less than a mile from Bapaume.

On March 1, 1917, the British War Office announced that 2,133 prisoners had been captured since the beginning of the offensive along the Ancre and eleven villages had been taken. Some of the positions captured were of first importance, as was evident from the determination with which the Germans defended them. The Germans had retired on the Ancre on a front of twelve miles and a depth of two miles. On March 2, 1917, the Germans, having reached their second line, began to stiffen their resistance.

The British, however, continued their advance with no lessening of energy. On March 3 they gained two-thirds of a mile along a two-mile front, E. of Gommecourt.

On March 8 the French won a decided victory in the Champagne region. In spite of the deep snow, French forces operating between Butte de Mesnil and Maisons de Champagne carried German positions along a front of a third of a mile, ground which the Germans attempted desperately to retake, but with no success and heavy cost.

By March 12, 1917, the British were advancing along a front of four miles to the W. of Bapaume, on which date they reached a line N. of the Ancre valley, and on the following day they took the important ridge overlooking Bapaume from the N. W.

On March 15, 1917, the French in the Champagne sector intensified their attacks, and the Germans were forced to abandon their whole line of about fifteen miles from the Oise to Andechy, giving up positions which they had held for two years against repeated attacks. Two days later they drove the Germans out of Roye and took it. N. and N. E. of Lassigny the French made further gains, occupying the town and considerable territory beyond. On March 18, the Germans were in retreat over a front of approximately eighty-five mile from the S. of Arras on the N. to Soissons on the Aisne, evacuating numerous towns and villages, including the important towns of Peronne, Chaulnes, Nesle and Noyon. At this latter point the French and British together pushed on to a depth of twelve miles. The famous Noyon salient, marking the nearest point of advance toward Paris, was now a danger of the past.

Of still greater importance, however, was the occupation of Bapaume by the British, for here the Germans had erected defensive works of the most elaborate description. Still the advance continued. The French, under more favorable conditions, were able to push onward at a faster rate than the British, advancing twenty-three miles during three days. Over 120 towns were recovered by the French alone. During the following week the whole department of the Somme was cleared of the invaders. On April 1, 1917, the British were within three miles of St. Quentin.

Collier's 1921 World War - Somme battle zone.jpg


The steady pressure of the Allies finally culminated in a terrific attack delivered by the British, on April 9, 1917, N. and S. of Arras. German positions were taken to a depth of two and three miles, but most notable was the capture of the famous Vimy Ridge, which dominated the coal fields of Lens. During two days over 11,000 Germans were taken prisoners. With unabated energy, however, the British pushed on, reaching a point within five miles of Arras. Within the following week they advanced another three miles, and were now within striking distance of Lens, an important mining center, which had been held by the Germans since the autumn of 1914. On April 14 the British guns took up positions which enabled them to hurl tons of explosives into the middle of the city. On that same day the British infantry pushed its way into the suburbs of Lens, the Germans resisting with the utmost vigor.

The object of Field Marshal Haig in attacking Lens was to turn La Bassée from the S. for La Bassée and Lens formed the principal outworks of Lille, which was the key to the whole German position in Flanders. With these two places in their possession, the British would practically have Lille at their mercy.

On April 16, 1917, the French launched a general attack on a front along twenty-five miles, between Soissons and Rheims. Everywhere they met with success, capturing the German first line positions along the entire front. This victory was achieved along the historic line of the Aisne, to which the Germans had retreated after the battle of the Marne. Within a few days the French had advanced on both sides of Rheims, so that that city now formed the point of a salient.

For a week or more the Allied offensive slowed down. But when it was again resumed, on April 23, progress was achieved more slowly. The Germans had brought heavy re-enforcements from the eastern front. They now launched some heavy counterattacks against the French in the Champagne sector, but the few gains they at first made cost them dearly in their heavy losses of men. Early in May the French struck back, and again gained ground, notably the village of Craonne, on a height on the E. end of the Chemindes-Dames.

On May 9, 1917, severe fighting began again in the neighborhood of Bullecourt. Three days later the British entered this important town and partially occupied it. In their attempt to retake this British gain, the Germans precipitated some of the deadliest fighting which had as yet taken place on the western front. The Germans fought desperately, for here was their Hindenburg line, which they determined must remain intact at all costs.

Battle of Messines Ridge[edit]

Early in the morning of June 7, 1917, there occurred one of the most spectacular events which had ever taken place in any theater of the war.

For about two weeks the British had been bombarding the strong German salient S. of Ypres. Here the Allies had, for two years, been at the mercy of the German guns on Messines Ridge, one of the strongest points held by the Germans along the entire western front. For nearly two years the British engineers had been patiently boring under this position. Early in the morning of June 7 the nineteen miles which had been planted under the ridge were ignited, and almost the entire top of the eminence rose skyward in a burst of smoke and flame. Hardly had the débris settled down when the British leaped into this wide gap in the German lines and within half an hour ten miles of the German first lines had been captured. Large quantities of guns, and 7,000 prisoners were taken. The Germans had now lost their last position which commanded the British lines. Together with their previous successes, by this victory they had now entirely changed the military position in Belgium. The areas gained amounted to a front of nine miles, five miles deep.

During July extremely heavy fighting took place in the Verdun sector. The Germans attacked heavily, but the French were well able to hold them back.

Around Lens the British continued hammering away. Their successes here and elsewhere, however, were somewhat counterbalanced by the success attending the Germans in their attack on the British lines N. of Nieuport, on the Belgian coast. Here the British were compelled to give ground. This temporary gain, however, terminated three weeks later when, on July 31, the British and French launched an attack on a gigantic scale along a front of twenty miles, from Dixmude on the N. to Warneton on the S. In their turn the Germans were compelled to retire along a front of fifteen miles.

During the rest of the summer the Allies continued their offensive tactics, surging ahead for a week or two, then pausing to consolidate their gains. Little by little the Canadians, who were attacking Lens, closed their grip on that city and were firing into the very heart of the business section. It was a steady process of eating into the German positions, breaking off a piece here, tearing down a defense there.

In the first week of November continuous French attacks compelled the enemy to relinquish that most important position, the Chemin-des-Dames, which they had held since September, 1914. On Nov. 20, 1917, General Haig launched an attack which marked a new offensive of deep significance, the chief result being the breaking of the Hindenburg line.

Collier's 1921 World War - soldiers and barbed-wire at Hindenburg Line.jpg

The Third Army, under General Sir Julian Byng, began an advance along a front of thirty-two miles, between the Scarpe river and St. Quentin, German defenses were penetrated for a distance of five miles, extending to a point within three miles of Cambrai. The Germans had been thoroughly surprised, and gave ground with comparatively little resistance. Here the British tanks took an important part in the fighting, and contributed in an important degree to the success of the stroke. In two days fighting 9,000 Germans were taken prisoners.

But if the Germans had been surprised, they were equally furious at the blow which they had suffered, and withn ten days they were striking back in the Cambrai area with such strength as to stagger the British. Both sides were re-enforced heavily. But the British showed less mobility, and gradually they were forced to retire before the German assaults. By the middle of December, however, the British had been sufficiently re-enforced to make a firm stand. On Dec. 15, 1917, heavy snow fell and this, too, hampered the Germans.

Meanwhile the French had been slowly but effectively nibbling away at the German positions around Verdun and along the Aisne and the Meuse rivers. The capture of the Chemin-des-Dames had given them command of the strongest positions in that region. Toward the end of the year, however, fighting slackened up and down the entire front and comparative quiet reigned during the Christmas holidays.

The Downfall of Russia's Autocracy[edit]

The new year opened gloomily in Russia. Strong efforts had been made to drive out the dark forces, that group of traitors within the court circles, headed by the Czarina and the Monk Razputin, who very poorly hid their purpose of bringing defeat to Russian arms. Too late had they realized, when the war broke out, that a victory by the enemies of German imperialism would also mean a defeat for Russian autocracy. They meant now to retrieve their mistake, and sell Russia out to the Germans, and possibly even make common cause with them against the Allies. Shortly before the New Year Razputin had been assassinated by men formerly high in the confidence of the Czar. Honest Russians, however reactionary their politics, they thought that by destroying the brains of the conspiracy, they would end the conspiracy itself. They were soon to discover their mistake. Razputin was dead, but Protopopov, Minister of the Interior, and the dominant figure in the Government, had fully determined to carry out his master's plans.

Protopopov's plan, viewed in the perspective of time, seems to have been this: he would stir the Russian working classes in Petrograd to revolt and thus create a situation which would serve as an excuse for making a sudden peace with Germany. Obviously troops would have to be brought from the front to quell the revolution, and this could not be done without first making peace with the enemy.

To accomplish these plans, he sent his police agents among the factory workers in the neighborhood of the capital and caused them to spread revolutionary propaganda, in the names of certain labor and Socialist leaders, who at that very time were urging the people to support the war against the Germans. But the true manifestoes were suppressed by the Government.

After the death of Razputin the meeting of the Duma, which should have taken place on Jan. 25, 1917, was postponed for a month. This was to delay public discussion of the situation. At the same time food supplies were held back, to raise discontent. Trainloads of flour and other foodstuffs were deliberately shunted off on sidings outside Petrograd and there allowed to rot.

During January and February, however, the people of the capital remained calm. On March 11 the police suddenly began opening fire on the crowds which were peacefully congregated about the streets. Protopopov thought the moment for action had come. There was no resistance, but he ordered out the soldiers in garrison, to support the police. And then happened the unexpected. The soldiers, a regiment of crack guards, refused to fire on the people. Never had this happened before in Petrograd.

The situation now suddenly became serious. The President of the Duma, Rodzianko, sent an urgent telegram to Czar Nicholas, who was just then visiting at army headquarters. Of this appeal the Czar took no notice.

On the following day more soldiers were ordered out, and not only did they refuse to shoot down the people, but they openly went over to their side. Two regiments of mutineers seized the Arsenal. An hour later the bastile of Russia, Sts. Peter and Paul Fortress, was seized and all the prisoners released.

Anarchy threatened to overwhelm the capital, for the Duma sat almost inactive, not knowing what course of action to take, aside from sending urgent appeals to the Czar. But during this period the Socialists and labor leaders together organized the Council of Workingmen's Delegates, which immediately took charge of the situation. In this body the workingmen had confidence, for its members were their recognized leaders.

The Premier, Prince Golitzin, issued an order proroguing the Duma. This order the Duma had the courage to ignore. On the contrary, Rodzianko, the President, then issued a proclamation abolishing the autocracy, and declaring the Duma the legal head of the nation.

The Council and the Duma now offered each other their co-operation, and together they elected a Provisional Government, the Premier of which was Prince George Lvov, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs Prof. Paul Miliukov.

From all sides came in declarations of support, from the working-class radicals, from all the soldiers in the city, and from men who had formerly been strong adherents of the autocracy. Organized forces went out to hunt down the last of the police, who were still sniping the revolutionists from the roofs. But there was comparatively little fighting. Within forty-eight hours the authority of the Provisional Government had been recognized, not only in the capital, but throughout the provinces. A delegation was sent to demand the abdication of the Czar. A day later the little monarch was back in Petrograd, a prisoner, with his wife and children, in the palace.

Once order had been established, the Allied countries, one after another, hastened to accord recognition to the Provisional Government, which at once declared its intention of remaining in the field against the Central Empires.

But soon friction began to appear between the two elements constituting the new government, the Socialists and the Conservatives. The rank and file of the army, having been told that a free Russia had been proclaimed, expected that they would suddenly be able to do as they pleased. This sentiment reflected itself in the Council, or Soviet, by which name it became better known. Fortunately from among the radicals arose a leader who for a time checked this tendency toward demoralization, Alexander Kerensky, a deputy in the Duma, and one of the organizers of the Soviet. By his personality he carried the Soviet to his way of thought, and the leaders made all efforts to restrain the rank and file. Kerensky represented the Soviet in the new government as Minister of Justice.

Differences between the Socialist Soviet and the Conservative Duma continued, however. The Soviet wanted a restatement of war aims. It demanded stronger representation in the government. Finally, on May 16, 1917, the Cabinet was reorganized, the most significant change being the resignation of Miliukov, and the assumption of the portfolio of War by Kerensky, the Socialist.

On July 1, Kerensky, as Minister of War, went personally to the front and endeavored to arouse the enthusiasm of the soldiers for the war. As a result an offensive was begun against the Germans and the Austrians, which, for a week, looked promising. But in the middle of their success the Russian forces suddenly collapsed, not through the resistance of the enemy, but because of their lack of a desire to fight.

Among the Socialists there was a minority faction, known as the Bolsheviki, whose leaders were Nikolai Lenin and Leon Trotzsky. These were the extremists. They held the belief that the war was being fought only for the moneyed classes, and not in the interests of the working people. They began spreading a propaganda against continuing the war and in favor of establishing a completely Socialistic government, which should not only make peace with the Central Empires, but abolish private property in trade and commerce and establish communism. It happened that the war-weary soldiers were in the mood to listen to them, and they were, therefore, in a large measure responsible for the failure of the Russian offensive during the summer of 1917.

A new government was now quickly formed with Kerensky as Premier and Minister of War. Though himself a Socialist, Kerensky was bitterly opposed to the Bolsheviki. He believed that German imperialism should be first crushed and, that once accomplished, the Russians might then gradually organize their Socialist Republic. As a consequence he was opposed by two factions; the Bolsheviki from the left, the Conservatives from the right.

Heroically he strove to maintain the equilibrium which was necessary for Russia to maintain her balance. He called an extraordinary council of all elements of Russian society, to meet in Moscow, which it did, on Aug. 26, 1917. But the conference only served to bring out more strongly the line of cleavage between the Socialists and the Conservatives. Both sides were dissatisfied. The people were further depressed when, a few days later, the news came that the city of Riga had been taken suddenly by the Germans.

On Sept. 9, 1917, the situation came to a climax. General Kornilov, the Cossack Commander-in-chief, attempted to proclaim a dictatorship and overthrow the democratic Provisional Government. Aside from his own Cossack regiments, the army refused to support him. On the other hand Kerensky immediately issued an appeal to the army for support of the Provisional Government. Kornilov's attempt proved completely abortive. The next day he was obliged to flee, but was arrested and imprisoned at army headquarters.

Kerensky had triumphed temporarily, but the very elements which had supported him in overthrowing Kornilov now turned against him. There was a strong reaction in favor of the Bolsheviki. At an election of members of the Petrograd Soviet the Bolsheviki suddenly found themselves with a majority.

In the first week of November the Soviet, now Bolshevist, demanded that it have the power of veto over the decisions the Provisional Government. This naturally was refused. On November 7 the Bolsheviki suddenly precipitated an uprising, and after a day of desultory fighting the Kerensky Government was overthrown and the Premier was obliged to flee.

The Bolsheviki immediately proclaimed the Soviet the supreme power in Russia. Lenin was made Premier, and Trotzsky Minister of Foreign Affairs. The following program was announced.

  1. The offer of an immediate democratic peace, in which all belligerents should be invited to participate. Should they refuse, then Soviet Russia would seek a separate peace.
  2. The immediate handing over of the landed estates to the peasants.
  3. The supreme authority of the Soviet.

The rest of the Allies, naturally, refused even to answer the invitation to consider a discussion of peace terms. So the Soviet sent a request to the Germans to arrange a meeting, with the purpose of proclaiming an armistice, during which peace negotiations might be carried on. On Dec. 17, 1917, such an armistice went into effect. Arrangements were made to hold the peace conference between the Russians and all the allies of the Central Empires at Brest-Litovsk.

Meanwhile elections had been held for members to a Constituent Assembly, which would take the place of the provisional government and take over the reins of government. The result in Petrograd was announced as 272,000 votes for the Bolsheviki, 211,000 for the Constitutional Democrats, and 116,000 for the Socialist Revolutionists, the latter being partisans of Kerensky.

In the first week of December, Kornilov, who had escaped in the turmoil, and a General Kaledin, raised the standard of revolt among the Cossacks in the south. But in spite of their efforts the entire population of Russia showed a disposition to accept the authority of the Soviet for the time being.

The first sitting of the peace conference at Brest-Litovsk took place on Dec. 22, 1917. Among the delegates were Dr. Kuhlmann, German Foreign Minister, Count Czernin, Foreign Minister of Austria-Hungary, Nesimy Bey, former Foreign Minister of Turkey, Kopov, a member of the Bulgarian Cabinet, and a large delegation from the Soviet, consisting of prominent Bolshevist leaders. It was not till the next sitting, held in January, that the delegates got down to a real discussion of peace terms. Meanwhile, for the first time in over three years, not a shot was being fired up and down the eastern front. German and Russian soldiers lay watching each other from their trenches, sometimes even crossing the intervening space and holding friendly intercourse. The Bolsheviki encouraged this fraternization, hoping to carry on Bolshevist propaganda among the German soldiers. In this work the Bolsheviki were, for the time being, assisted by the Committee on Public Information of the United States, which printed and sent over into the German lines tons of literature tending to discourage the German soldiers with further warfare.

Italy's Defeat and Recovery[edit]

Little of importance occurred on the Italian front during the year 1917 until May 15, when the Italians began their strong offensive movement, culminating in the capture of Gorizia on August 9, Monte Santo on August 24, and Monte Gabriele on September 14. During this period the Italians had apparently performd wonders, considering the nature of the terrain on which they were operating. Steadily they had forced the Austrians back.

The news of the disaster which overtook the Italians, beginning on Oct. 24, 1917, came to the public of the Allied countries with a tremendous and unpleasant shock. Here, as in Russia, the cause seemed to have been the propaganda of the extreme Socialist elements.

Shortly previous, German troops had been secretly arriving on this front, taking their places among the Austrians. On October 24 these troops began their attack. The onslaught came with the suddenness of a stroke of lightning. During the first week the Italians lost nearly a quarter of a million men in prisoners taken by the enemy and 2,300 guns. The attack began in the Julian Alps, then spread southward down to the vicinity of Venice. Tolmino and Plezzo were taken from the Italians; the whole Italian line from the sea to the Carnic Alps wavered, then broke. More important still, the Italians lost Caporetto, on the upper Isonzo, where they had built a series of dams by means of which the Isonzo could be flooded at a moment's notice, so that it would be impassable by any army.

The Italian retreat continued until the Piave river was reached, where British and French troops met them and served as stiffening. General Cadorna had meantime been dismissed, and General Armando Diaz appointed commander-in-chief in his place.

On November 11 the Italians came to a line of intrenchments which had been hastily dug along the W. bank of the Piave river. Here they made a stand, offering a resistance which the pursuing Austrians and Germans could not break. The latter therefore dug themselves in, along a line reaching from the foothills of the Alps to the Adriatic.

Now began a long-drawn-out battle, the center of which was on the Asiago plain. Here, fortunately, the terrain was in favor of the Italians, who were able to dominate the plateau with their artillery, stationed among the near-by hills. Another factor in their favor was the system of lagoons which extended from the lower Piave to the sea, across which it was utterly impossible for the enemy to pass.

In vain the Teutons endeavored to turn the Italian right by working their way around the N. limits of the Venetian Gulf. This region the Italians were able to flood and render impassable. Over this artificial sea flitted all kinds of light war craft ranging from armed motor boats carrying machine guns, to light gunboats. The result was a deadlock, which neither side was able to break before the end of the year.

Collier's 1921 World War - Fighting in Italy.jpg


The Balkan Countries[edit]

The beginning of the year 1917 found Rumania badly beaten, taking refuge from the pursuing Germans behind the Russian lines. The Rumanian capital was established at Jassy, and at regular intervals the government of the little country issued announcements of its determination to continue fighting until the death, but as a matter of fact these could be only the ordinary empty diplomatic phrases, for when the Bolsheviki began peace negotiations with the Germans in December, 1917, Rumania hastened to follow their example.

In Macedonia the year began quite uneventfully. The Allied troops under Sarrail had accomplished very little, except to take Monastir shortly before the close of the year, an event of political rather than military significance. This stalemate continued largely throughout the year 1917. In February it was estimated that the total forces of General Sarrail on the Macedonian front numbered about 350,000. This military inactivity was largely caused by the situation in Greece, where the Allies had to solve the problem created by the pro-German proclivities of King Constantine. This behavior on the part of the Greek monarch led from one disturbing situation to another.

Another such crisis had come about shortly before the beginning of the year 1917. The Allies had insisted on the disarmament of the Greek army, which they believed on the point of attacking them in the rear. Rioting broke out in Athens and Allied troops were landed and considerable bloodshed followed. At the same time Venizelos and his adherents formally declared themselves in secession from the Greek monarchy, with headquarters in Saloniki.

Finally the royal government made a sullen submission and agreed to intern the Greek army in the Peloponnesus, but the blockade of the Greek ports which the Allies had instituted was not lifted till March, 1917.

King Constantine, nevertheless, remained a thorn in the side of the Allies. There could be no doubt that he would do all in his power to assist the Germans, the moment the Allies betrayed a weak spot in Macedonia.

On June 12, 1917, it was suddenly announced that King Constantine had abdicated in favor of his second eldest son, Prince Alexander. Naturally, this was only done because of an ultimatum which had been presented to Greece by the Allied governments. Plans for dealing with the situation in this radical manner had first been formulated at a conference held some time previously in Savoy, Italy, between Lloyd Gorge, Paul Painlevé, the French War Minister, and the Italian representatives. M. Jonnart, a French senator, was sent to Athens as Allied plenipotentiary, to solve the problem. He had forced the abdication of the king.

King Constantine quietly embarked on a British warship and sailed for Italy, and Greece knew him no more for the rest of the war. He was accompanied by the Queen, Sophie, sister of the German kaiser, and his eldest son, Prince George, the former heir-apparent, who was also objectionable to the Allies.

Soon after the new king, Alexander, an innocuous youth of twenty-four, invited Venizelos to Athens to form a pro-Ally government. The former premier arrived on June 25, 1917, and within forty-eight hours the members of his new Cabinet had taken the oath of office. On June 29 the Venizelos government announced that it had severed diplomatic relations with Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and Turkey. At the end of the month the Allies showed their trust in the new government by withdrawing their officers in control of the Greek telegraphs and the censorship and by returning the Greek ships which had been seized.

On Oct. 12, 1917, the German Emperor, accompanied by Prince August William and Foreign Secretary, Dr. Von Kuhlmann, paid an official visit to King Ferdinand of Bulgaria. There had aready been rumors to the effect that the loyalty of the Bulgarians to the Quadruple Entente needed stimulation.

Mesopotamia and Palestine[edit]

In February, 1917, the British forces on the Tigris began in earnest their advance on Kut-el-Amara, and by the middle of the month they had the Turks at that point completely hemmed in. They succeeded in escaping, however, and on February 26 Kut-el-Amara was once more in the hands of the British. They then continued their pursuit of the retreating Turks.

During the first week of March the British advanced as far as Ctesiphon, the farthest point of their first Mesopotamian campaign. In another week they had advanced so rapidly that they found themselves within twenty miles of Bagdad. Here the Turks were re-enforced, and a pitched battle took place, but again the Turks were defeated, and on March 11 General Maude entered Bagdad at the head of his troops.

From that time on the pressure on the Turks was continuous. The British advanced far beyond and around Bagdad, meeting with comparatively little resistance. On Sept. 29, 1917, the Turkish Mesopotamian Army commanded by Ahmed Bey was routed by the British and historic Beersheba, in Palestine, was occupied on October 31. On November 18 General Maude unexpectedly died, but this had no deterrent effect on the further progress of the campaign. Late in November the British reached the suburbs of Jerusalem and began to besiege it. On Dec. 8, 1917, the Holy City, which had been held by the Turks for nearly seven centuries, surrendered to the British General Allenby. The utmost consideration was at once shown for the religious sentiments of all the peoples whose holy shrines were to be found in the city, all being scrupulously protected by special guards, that they might not be desecrated. The Mosque of Omar was placed under Moslem control and a cordon of Mohammedan officers and soldiers placed around it. Within this cordon no Christian or Jew might enter without a special pass.

Naval War[edit]

During the beginning of 1917 the activities of the German submarines became especially intensive. It was on Feb. 1, 1917, that the German admiralty announced its determination to carry on its submarine attacks without restriction. Within a week the lists of sunken vessels grew and presently these lists could no longer be published. Before July 16, 1917, the United States alone had lost about forty merchant vessels, amounting to more than 100,000 tons. During one week, ending on April 22, the British lost forty vessels over 1,600 tons, and fifteen under that tonnage. In twenty-two weeks England lost 438 vessels over 1,600 tons, 170 vessels under 1,600 tons, and 137 fishing vessels. All together the total loss in tonnage was close to 2,000,000 tons. During the rest of the year this rate of loss continued unabated.

Collier's 1921 World War - German submarine blockade.jpg


Aside from the submarine warfare the year 1917 was unmarked by any naval engagements of the first magnitude. On Feb. 25, 1917, German destroyers bombarded Broadstairs and Margate on the English coast. At about the same time, on February 15, it was announced that a British cruiser had fought a successful engagement against three German raiders off the coast of Brazil, damaging two of them, while the third escaped. On March 22, 1917, the German Government announced that the raider “Moewe” had returned to her home port from a very successful second raiding trip in the Atlantic Ocean which had yielded twenty-seven captured vessels, most of which had been sunk. The “Seeadler” was another successful raider operating during the year in the Atlantic. She was the former American bark “Pass” of the Bahamas, which had been captured in 1915 and at that time had been takcn into Cuxhaven. She had left Germany in December, 1916, escorted by a submarine, and had successfully passed through the British patrols.

During March, 1917, the British Government announced an extension of the danger area in the North Sea.

On April 21 six German destroyers attempted an attack on Dover. Two of them were sunk by British destroyers. Six days later another similar attack was made on Ramsgate. Both Calais and Dunkirk were bombarded by German destroyers.

In the early part of September, German submarines appeared in the Gulf of Riga and bombarded that city. In October it became known that the “Seeadler” had run ashore on Lord Howe Island, one of the Society Islands, in the Pacific Ocean, leaving forty-seven prisoners on the island in a state of destitution. On the morning of October 2 the British cruiser “Drake” was torpedoed off the N. coast of Ireland. She succeeded in making the harbor, but was sunk in shallow water. In the middle of October strong German naval forces took part in the fighting in the Gulf of Riga, protecting the landing of German forces on Oesel and Dago Islands, and later on Moon Island. A Russian destroyer was sunk, and a few days later the Russian battleship “Slava” was reported to have been destroyed.

Germany's African Colonies[edit]

In her East African colonies Germany had made thorough preparations to resist invasion. Though there were only three white regiments, native contingents had been well trained and well armed. As a result the campaign of conquest which the Allies had begun late in 1916 had made at first little progress.

On July 30, 1917, it was announced that sharp fighting had been taking place and as a consequence the Germans had been driven back in the Lugungu river district, and at Ntulira, fifty-five miles S. of Mahenge, the central point between Lake Nyasa and the sea. Slowly the Germans were forced into a retreat toward the Portuguese frontier. The forward movement of the British forces, in the Lindi area, began on Aug. 2, 1917, along the road leading S. W. toward Nyangao and Massassi. Here the fighting was especially heavy and the losses on both sides comparatively numerous.

In Portuguese Nyasaland all but one of the German detachments which had established themselves in the Lujenda and on the shores of Lake Nyasa had now been driven N. on the Rovuma river by a British column advancing from the S.

By the beginning of September, 1917, a convergent advance of British and Belgian troops from the direction of Iringa, 160 miles N. E. of Lake Nysasa, and of a Belgian force from Kilossa, on the Central railway, 150 miles W. of Dar-es-Salaam, had cleared the country between the Ruaha and Kilombera rivers, a distance of fifty miles, and driven all the German detachments in the N. area to the S. of the Ulanga. In the S. area, Tunduru, forty-five miles N. of the Portuguese frontier, was occupied by the British on August 23, as the result of an advance through Portuguese territory from Fort Johnson, at the S. end of Lake Nyasa.

The campaign continued energetically until November, the fighting continuing vigorously throughout that month. During November the European Germans captured or killed numbered 981, while nearly 2,000 native German soldiers had been killed or captured during the same period.

On Dec. 1, 1917, it was officially announced by the British War Office that German East Africa had finally been cleared of the enemy and that the German commander, General Von Lettow-Vorbeck, with about 2,000 men under his command, had crossed the Rovuma river into Portuguese East Africa. He was closely followed by the British.

During the last few days of the year the German forces in Mozambique, numbering about 2,000, attacked the Portuguese at Mt. M'Lula, and succeeded in capturing the position. But the fact still remained that by the last day of the year not a German soldier remained fighting on a square foot of German territory in Africa. Thus Germany was deprived of the largest of her colonial possessions, amounting to about 380,000 square miles, almost double the area of Germany.

Political Events[edit]

On January 10 the Allies re-stated their terms of peace, a separate note from Belgium being included. This official statement had been made necessary by Germany's offer of a peace during the previous December.

On February 3, Bernstorff was dismissed and the United States severed diplomatic relations with Germany. On March 27, Minister Brand Whitlock and the American Relief Commission withdrew from Belgium. On April 2 President Wilson asked Congress to declare the existence of a state of war with Germany, which was done four days later, on April 6. On April 20 Turkey severed relations with the United States. On July 4 the resignation of Bethmann-Hollweg as German Chancellor was announced, his place being taken ten days later by Dr. George Michaelis. In August certain peace proposals by Pope Benedict, dated August 1, were made public, to which all the Allied countries made replies during the following month.

On October 26 Brazil declared war against Germany. On November 13 M. Clemenceau succeeded M. Ribot as Premier of France. On November 29 there was held in Paris the first plenary session of the Inter-Allied Congress, at which sixteen nations were represented, Col. E. M. House being chairman of the American delegation.

During December 6–9 the pro-Ally government in Portugal was overthrown by a revolution. On December 7 the United States declared war on Austria-Hungary.

On December 15, the Inter-Allied Economic Council was organized in London, Great Britain, France and Italy being represented. Assistant Secretary of the United States Treasury, Oscar T. Crosby was elected president.


At the beginning of 1918, the penultimate month of which was to see the war end in a crushing victory for the forces of the Allies, the long intrenched battle-line running through France and Belgium from Switzerland to the sea had been moved but little from what it had become in October, 1914, following the general digging-in on both sides that succeeded the first battle of the Marne and the German retreat to selected positions. By that time all the Powers who were to play any considerable part in the war had already become engaged, those that were to follow during 1918—Guatemala, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Haiti, and Honduras—took action more as evidence of their solidarity with the United States than on any understanding that their support would weigh heavily in the balance. By the opening of the year the United States had already been nearly nine months in the war and at the end of that time her resources had not yet shown all the potentialities that lay in them, though her preparations had been on an extensive scale. As a result prodigious efforts were being put forth by the Germans in the effort to obtain a decision before the great strength of the United States was flung in full measure into the scales. Meanwhile in the east demoralization had already set in in the Russian ranks, and the causes which were to result in the Russian revolution had already brought operations on the front to what amounted to a standstill. The downfall of Russia had its effect likenwise on the Balkan front. After the Allied army operating from Saloniki had wrested the Serbian town of Monastir from the Bulgarians little progress was further made till the important events in the summer of 1918 had their effect on all fronts. Rumania meanwhile had, as a result of her rashness in fixing her attention too intently on the freeing of Transylvania, opened the Dobrudja to the German forces under General Mackensen, who at the beginning of 1918 showed himself in a position to advance over most of Rumania. Meanwhile in the Near East the initial successes of the Turks had come to an end, and the Turkish armies had come to suffer during 1917 a number of serious reverses. Jerusalem had gone the way of Kut-el-Amara and Bagdad into the hands of the Allies, and by the beginning of 1918 the Turkish line on all fronts had shown signs of cracking. At the beginning of 1918 the Italian fronts stood where they had taken up their positions following the serious reverses when the Austro-German forces drove back the Italians to the Piave river. At the beginning of 1918 all the German colonies had been taken by the Allies with the exception of German East Africa. This last colony was to hold out to the end and was to surrender only at the period when the armistice called for a suspension of hostilities on all fronts.

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At the beginning of 1918 while the winter held the fighting in check, the subject of war aims was being energetically discussed in all the belligerent countries. At the beginning of January the war aims of the British Labor party were made known, and on January 5 Mr. Lloyd George set forth the British Government's aims in an address before the trade unions. Three days later President Wilson in a message to Congress laid down the famous “fourteen points,” with which the British and French Governments a little later expressed their agreement. On January 24 the German and Austro-Hungarian Governments replied to President Wilson's presentation of the fourteen points. Von Hertling, the German chancellor, argued against the points in so far as they touched on Poland, Alsace-Lorraine and the German colonies, and held that Belgium could only be discussed in union with the inviolability of German territory. The attitude taken by the Government of Austria-Hungary was less unbending and agreement was expressed with the principles underlying most of the points, while objection was made to those bearing on what was considered the internal interests of Austria-Hungary. Neither reply met the requirements of the Allies, and on February 11, President Wilson, after an Inter-Allied Council at Verdun had expressed its dissatisfaction, laid before the joint session of Congress a message in which he outlined the points essential to any basis for the discussion of peace, including regard for the interests of peoples concerned in any settlement and for their national aspirations, having regard also for the essential justice of each case. The upshot was the decision taken at the third session of the Supreme War Council, held at Versailles during the four days ending February 2, that force should continue to be employed till a more amenable temper appeared on the side of the Central Powers.

In the latter part of February a meeting called by the Inter-Allied Labor and Socialist Conference indorsed President Wilson's declaration of principles, and negotiations continued in a haphazard way till President Wilson early in April declared that force would continue to be employed against Germany. Nevertheless expressions of opinion continued to be made on one side and another, and the charge of Count Czernin that the question of Alsace-Lorraine had alone prevented a settlement, Premier Clemenceau retorted by publishing the noted “Sixtus Letter” in which expression was given to the willingness of the Austrian Emperor to the restoration of Belgium and Serbia and the recognition of the rights of France in respect to Alsace-Lorraine. A period of “disclosures” and recrimations followed in which letters by Prince Lichnowsky were followed by diaries by Dr. Mühlon, a former director of Krupps, who had settled in Switzerland. In the meantime the Ukraine, having declared a republic, made a peace agreement with Germany, and agreed to exchange food products with the Central Powers who were to pay in manufactured goods. On March 3 the revolutionary government of Russia signed the treaty of Brest-Litovsk, another treaty being signed with Finland, the independence of which was recognized by Germany. In March a treaty was also signed between the Central Powers and the occupied kingdom of Rumania. A meeting on May 16 between the German and Austrian emperors at the German headquarters was succeeded by the announcement of a renewal of the alliance between their respective countries for twenty or twenty-five years.

Discussions were, however, not left entirely to governments and the heads of governments. The Socialist and Labor parties in all the belligerent countries carried on pourparlers indirectly, the upshot generally being that these parties, while holding in common certain principles, identified themselves with the war aspirations of their respective countries. Efforts were occasionally made to bring about a conference, and Huysmans, secretary of the Brussels International Socialist Bureau, invited an expression of opinion from the German Socialists on the memorandum of war aims adopted at the Inter-Allied Labor and Socialist Conference at London late in February. The declaration of war aims contained in the memorandum was declared to be annexationist in character by Herr Scheidemann, leader of the German majority Socialists, who further announced that Germn Socialists held to the revolution of July, 1917. A more conciliatory attitude was taken by the German minority Socialists, who submitted a declaration similar to the statement of the Socialist parties in the countries of the Allies. The attitude of the Socialist parties in the other countries allied with Germany was not made clear at the time, but there was a general feeling that the principles set forth received their adhesion in varying degrees.

So matters in the field of discussion and diplomacy drifted on toward the middle of the year, when in the latter part of June Von Hertling, the German Chancellor, made the statement that he had given his adhesion to the four principles adumbrated by President Wilson, but was averse to the setting up of a League of Nations such as the Allies had suggested. About the same time Von Kühlmann, the German Foreign Minister, gave it out as his settled opinion that peace could not be achieved on the field of battle and could only be brought about by negotiation. Nowhere did this expression of opinion arouse sharper protest than in Germany, where a remarkable series of victories stretching from the beginning of the war had cultivated an optimism that the darkening clouds of 1918 had not succeeded in overshadowing. Von Kühlmann was accordingly forced to resign on July 9, his place being taken by Admiral von Hintze. The discussions in the Reichstag during this period revealed the underlying pessimism which had begun to lay hold of officials in the German Government and the German military leaders. The recurrence of Independence Day in the United States meanwhile gave President Wilson an opportunity to restate the war aims of the United States and of the Powers associated with it. He declared that those war aims sought, first, the destruction or reduction to powerlessness of every arbitrary power; secondly, a settlement on the basis of free acceptance of conditions by the people concerned; thirdly, consent of all nations to be governed in their relations with each other by the principles of honor and respect for the common law of civilized society; fourthly, the establishment of an organization of peace. Neither the substance nor the manner of President Wilson's address found an answering echo in Germany. The Chancellor, Von Hertling, in reply charged the Allies with being inspired with the spirit of aggressors, and made the declaration that it was not the decision of the German Government to remain in permanent occupation of Belgium, and that she was retaining her hold on that country for the service such hold would be to her in Germany's subsequent dealings with the Allied Powers. Meanwhile the part Alsace-Lorraine was to play in those negotiations remained a frequent theme for discussion both in France and in the countries which were aware of the strength of the French sentiment in regard to it. An influential body of opinion in Germany declared for a plebiscite such as would let the world know what was the feeling of the inhabitants of Alsace-Lorraire themselves in respect to attachment either to France or Germany. But the concession found little favor in France, where it was realized that German occupation for over forty years and the infiltration of German blood and influences would be likely to lead to results unfavorable to French claims. Meanwhile the pouring out of blood and treasure and the withdrawal of the workers from productive occupations had brought on serious conditions in the countries of all the belligerents. Famine threatened the eastern countries, and had already caused terrible ravages in India. The remarkable system of organization in the preservation and distribution of food in Germany had staved off starvation, but in Austria-Hungary things were more serious. In France, Great Britain, and Portugal, which could all more directly rely on the United States, conditions were less grave.

Meanwhile reports of gathering pessimism and dissension among the Central Powers and their allies began to find credence. Germany was held to be dissatisfied with the part played by Austria-Hungary. The latter was said to resent the domineering methods of her more northerly neighbor, the old hostility between Bulgaria and Turkey was said to be reviving, and the tendency for each of them to take their own part more independently seemed to be showing itself. These signs were taken as evidence of growing demoralization, and of a general sense among the Powers concerned that defeat loomed not far ahead of them. The accessory causes that lay at the bottom of the mutual dissatisfaction were also in some cases clear. The treaty of Bucharest had presented to Bulgaria the northern part of the Dobrudja. Bulgarian ambitions had, however, aimed at getting the whole of that territory, and in the negotiations to that end had met with opposition from Turkey. Added to this the Turkish Government put forward demands to the effect that Bulgaria should return the station of Adrianople on the right bank of the river Maritza, which they had ceded to Bulgaria in 1915. This was objected to by Bulgaria. The German Government left the question in abeyance to which both as a result took offense. On the other hand questions as to extension of German or Austrian authority over Poland aroused antagonistic feelings both in Germany and in Austria. The Government of Austria-Hungary held that Poland should be made a province of the empire, while the German view was that German interests had a primary claim and that the vital concerns of Germany were inconsistent with the establishment of a new state so near her borders. The solidarity between the German-speaking populations of Austria and those of Germany, and the mutual antagonisms among the various other nationalities held together in the Austro-Hungarian empire added complications that made rather for distrust and disintegration than for a strengthening unity of aim.

In the meantime events in Russia had attracted the attention of the whole world. The empire of the Czar had gone, the mere pretense of carrying on a war with the Central Powers had been surrendered by those into whose hands the government of Russia had fallen, provisional governments had succeeded each other with power continually strengthening in the hands of the Bolsheviki who represented the strong popular view, contest between the old order and the new had grown continually in bitterness and in the area over which it was waged with the continued weakening of the old authorities and the continued recruitment of new men into places of authority, and an immense Communist republic, putting into action principles that had hitherto been only preached in other countries, had begun to arouse the curiosity of the whole world. Many of the governments, however, angered at Russia's desertion of the Allied Powers, took a more hostile view of Russian events. In August Japan and the United States made an agreement with respect to joint intervention in Russia and, in course of time, a force of Americans was sent to Siberia, along with some regiments of Japanese. As events progressed, a still more decided stand was taken by the United States Government in respect to the new Government of Russia. In the course of September a number of documents were made public the purport of which was to show that the Bolshevist leaders in Russia had been in the pay of Germany. On September 21 President Wilson gave out a statement in which he called on the neutral nations to take a stand against the Bolshevist règime of terrorism. In September the question of peace began to move into the region of actuality and the initiative in each case was taken by the Central Powers, who thus gave evidence to the world of their belief that the tide had set in against them. The Austro-Hungarian Government set the ball rolling by an appeal for a conference to debate the ending of hostilities which would not be binding in its decisions, but which might show the way in the direction of a return to peace. Similarly a more amenable attitude began to be shown by Germany, which made an offer of peace to Belgium, while the same Power offered to enter into negotiations with Finland whereby attacks were to be discontinued on eastern Allies should withdraw their troups from that and the Murman regions. A note of irreconcilability was, however, sounded by President Wilson on September 27 in a restatement of war aims, in which he laid down again the principles on which the proposed League of Nations should be established.

The days that followed showed a disposition among the Central Powers to amend considerably the demands that had formerly been put forward by them. This was particularly shown in the appeal of Prince Max of Baden, the new German Chancellor, in which he invited the President of the United States to take steps which would bring about a cessation of hostilities. The appeal was followed by news to the effect that a revolutionary movement had made great headway in Germany. An exchange of notes took place between the German and American Governments and the proposal for an armistice was accepted on November 4. The pourparlers were accompanied by despatches which announced the overthrow of one government after another among the various states making up the Central Powers and the establishment of republics. The culminating point was the abdication of the Kaiser and the establishment of a provisional government in Berlin with the majority Socialists in control. In Austria-Hungary also the emperor abdicated and the various movements for Slav independence began to issue in provisional governments for the several states of what had been the dual monarchy. Preparations then began to be made for the Peace Conference and on November 29 the names of the American delegates were made known. They included that of President Wilson himself, the others being Robert Lansing, Secretary of State; Colonel Edward M. House; Henry White, ex-Ambassador to France; and General Tasker H. Bliss. The presidential party sailed on December 4 for the Conference, arriving at Brest on December 13, and at Paris on December 14.

Military Operations[edit]

The beginning of 1918 opened with numerous optimistic predictions from Germany, heartened by the collapse of Russia, to the effect that the spring would witness on the western front a series of blows that would scatter the armies of France and Britain before the full strength of the United States could be summoned to their aid. There was no question whatever that the defection of Russia had relieved a tremendous burden from the Central Powers and had made the task of the Allies immeasurably more difficult. It was realized that vast quantities of material due for expenditure on the eastern front could now be transferred to the western front, and the railways of Germany henceforth groaned under the weight of men and material being transferred from one end of the country to the other. Meanwhile victories were not all on the side of the Central Powers and their allies. British forces in the Near East had recovered some of their prestige, but returning to the Turkish front with new men and new material, were making some notable advances. The United States also had succeeded in rushing help to France with greater speed than was anticipated.

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Careful preparation had been made by the government of the Central Powers for the blow that was to be delivered on the western front. Among men and materials careful selection was made of what Russia had left at their disposal, and men in the prime of physical life, none of them over 35, were chosen to form the core of the regiments that were to take part in the culminating advance. The older men and the very young were left to hold the occupied parts of Russia under the Brest-Litovsk treaty, but it was calculated that out of the eastern material it would be possible to build up almost 60 divisions numbering 12,000 men each, thus adding to the strength of the western front to the extent of about 700,000 men. Already in the several months of the new year it was estimated that the German front in the west was being held by 2,100,000 men and that the increase that had yet to come would swell the figure to a total of 2,340,000, which would approximate the figures on the Franco-British side. It was, however, realized that with the coming of the Americans the forces of the Allies would augment continually so that at the end of a few months the numerical superiority would be very considerable. On the other hand the German military leaders considered that numerical superiority, when not too great, would be discounted by the superior German system of railways and the advantages that followed from the fact that the Germans were fighting on interior lines and that the Allies were fighting on exterior lines.

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During the winter months fighting on any large scale was impossible on the western front and the early period of the year saw little more than a succession of trench attacks and raids for purposes of reconnoitering. These reciprocal raids went on along the entire front, sometimes preceded by bombardment, but more often made as surprise attacks in the course of the night or early morning. The Germans usually showed the initiative and it was evidently the intention to try the weak points of the Allied line in preparation for the great spring drive that was to follow. On the other hand the Allied forces were not active. They knew that strong concentrations were being made behind the German front, and their raids and attacks were in the main directed to the purpose of discovering the points at which the concentrations were being made. Aviators were active on both sides supplementing the reconnoitering activities of the forces on the ground.

Early in the year also trained American troops were in condition that permitted them to take over a section of the front. They had received their finishing drill in camps near Nancy and Toul, and it was decided that when the time came they could do their best work at the St. Mihiel salient, which had remained substantially unchanged since the Germans took up their position in the vicinity in 1914. The line taken up by the United States forces ran along Apremont and Flirey and Remeneauville. Their baptism of fire came very readily as soon as one or two raids had shown the Germans whom they had opposite them.

On March 21 the Germans let loose the powerful blow on the western front to which such deliberate preparation had been given. Its success shows that it was inspired by principles of sound strategy, which aims at the weakest point in the opposing forces. The blow fell in the main on the British and particularly at the point where the French and British forces were in contact and the aim was to strike suddenly with irresistible power, break through, isolate the British from the French, roll the former armies up against the Channel ports and, if possible, give them the alternative of surrender or of being driven into the sea. It was then intended to turn southward and attack the French and so make a second onslaught on Paris. The blow almost succeeded. Had it been possible for the Germans to put their complete plan into operation they might have succeeded in offsetting even the great superiority in numbers with which the United States was already beginning to endow the Allies. But for complete success even in its preliminary stage a passage so pronounced had to be cut that German forces might be able to reach Amiens and the coast. This is where the German blow fell short. A broad gap was hewn through the British forces at the point of junction with the French forces and day succeeded day while the news went round the world that British regiments were being annihilated and the Germans were marching to the sea almost without further opposition. The line selected for attack was between Marcoing, near Cambrai, and the Oise river, and was defended by the British Fifth Army, under General Gough, having been a portion of the line formerly held by the French. It was powerfully fortified and might have been held under ordinary circumstances by forces inferior to those attacking. Its defensive positions consisted of an outpost line, a resistance line, and behind these the battle line proper where the most powerful resistance could be put up. The arrangement of the outposts made it possible to pour a strong enfilading fire on the Germans as soon as they had passed the outpost line. The advance began a short time before five o'clock in the morning when the fog hung over the battlefield. The British had had forewarning of the advance and had made preparations to meet it, but the impetuosity of the attack upset the plans of defense. The outpost line was in German hands almost before the British knew that the attack had been launched. The resistance line went almost as easily as the first line of defense, and the only real fight occurred at the third or battle system of defense. The British divisions manning the system were ultimately scattered by the onrushing Germans who drove forward through the tremendous gap cut into the British Fifth Army, and with a gigantic plunge directed their advance along the road to Amiens.

The German advance henceforth looked as though it was about to carry everything before it. The attack had a Napoleonic unerringness and completion of plan, and only because the object aimed at required an almost superhuman strength to achieve had it fallen short of perfect success. It was preceded by an intense but not lengthy artillery fire made up chiefly of gas shells and high explosives. Simultaneously heavy bombardments were directed on the front in the Champagne and other sectors with the evident intention of preventing re-enforcements from being brought up. A touch of the marvelous was lent to it by the periodic bombardment of Paris from a gun emplaced in the forest of St. Gobain, a distance of something like seventy-five miles. The dropping of the mysterious shells in the streets of Paris long remained inexplainable and many were the sources to which they were first attributed. Meanwhile the battle line of the Germans from La Fère to the S. E. of Arras displayed enormous activity in the pushing of the offensive. The first attack broke the British lines of a sixteen-mile front from near Gouzeaucourt to Lagnicourt. It drove the British from positions held by them from the battle of Cambrai toward the close of 1917. On the day following the first attack, namely March 22, the Germans first bombarded the British along the whole front and following the artillery fire up with an infantry attack smashed through the entire British position along the extent of the whole front. The British Fifth Army was thus completely isolated from French support at La Fère, and the permanent British position at Arras and with unrelenting energy the Germans started to roll it up. The task was not a difficult one, for organization had deserted the British who henceforth formed but a fleeing and struggling mass of humanity. Meanwhile the German armies drove along the road to Péronne and Albert, and along the route from St. Quentin to Amiens, and through the Oise valley by paths which led to Paris and the S. of Amiens. The advance continued at what appeared an uninterrupted progression for four days and it looked as though the Germans were destined to reach the sea and drive a permanent wedge between the French and the British. The defeats inflicted on the British on the 21st and 22d were repeated on the 23d at Moncy, St. Quentin, La Fère, and Cambrai. Meanwhile demoralization attacked other portions of the British front and the British second positions between Fontaine-les-Croiselles and Mœuvres were broken beneath the German strokes. It was hoped to stem the German onrush on the banks of the Somme, but here as elsewhere the defense put up fell before the German attack. On the fourth day of their advance the Germans took Péronne, Chauny, and Ham and threw their forces over the Somme by hastily constructed pontoon bridges, which the demoralized British artillery fire was unable to destroy. Maintaining their advance, the Germans on the 25th took Bapaume, Nesle, Estalon, Barleaux, Biaches and Guisrard. By this time the British armies opposing the Germans had suffered a succession of defeats that put them almost wholly hors de combat and if Amiens had to be saved it was seen that the task would have to be undertaken by the French themselves. Accordingly on the 25th the French War Office announced that the British lines S. of St. Quentin and around Noyon had been taken over by the French. From that time onward there was a slowing up in the German advance. On the 26th the Germans had reached the battle line of 1916 at several points and succeeded in taking Roye, Noyon, and Lihon. But here the complexion of things began to change. Moving with a swiftness such as the desperate posture of affairs warranted, the French came up along the southern front as far as the Ayre and succeeded in forming a junction with the ragged end of the British front at Moreuil. French support succeeded in stiffening the back of the British to some extent, and the line was further strengthened by recruits from the forces employed in various occupations behind the line. On the other hand the tremendous exertion of the Germans had reached the limit almost of human endurance and the carrying forward of the whole front with the enormous mass of material needed if the new front was to be made permanent was a second undertaking of great arduousness. The German troops that reached the line of Albert and Moreuil were as a consequence in the last stages of exhaustion and the slowing up process was as a result an almost natural operation. On the 27th the new army of British and French forces recognized the indications of spent forces, and with a new accession of courage attacked the Germans and recaptured Morlancourt and Chipilly and advanced as far as Proyart. On that same day, however, the Germans captured Albert and crossed the Avell, compelling the French to fall back E. of Montdidier. On the 28th there was a similar distribution of loss and gain. Montdidier fell into German hands, but to offset this they were repulsed at Arras. It was now possible to estimate the progress made by the Germans and the extent of their gains. They had driven a thirty-five mile salient in the direction of Amiens, broad at the base but dangerously narrow at the neck. While the Allies had been driven back to points near the coast the accidental positions in which they found themselves were on elevated ground from which they could overlook the German lines and bombard them with accuracy. The task before the Germans was to broaden the salient by a renewed advance, and this they attempted to do. Ihe initial success, however, could not be repeated. Their positions were not so favorable, nor could a similar process of preparation be gone through. The attacks and counter-attacks went on through April, but the Germans did not succeed in pushing their positions nearer the coast. Nevertheless, the battle of Picardy, while not achieving the evident purpose of driving a wedge as far as the coast, was a huge German success. The Germans took over 90,000 prisoners, 1,300 guns, and 100 tanks. They retook all the ground they held previous to the first battle of the Somme and in addition something like 1,500 square miles. And from the point of view of the Allies the blow fell just short of disaster.

The battle of Picardy and the second battle of the Somme showed that there was something radically wrong in the organization of the Allied armies. The confidence that had hitherto inspired them was badly shaken, and all recognized that they had been saved by a very narrow margin from events that might have changed the whole face of the war. In the face of the general demoralization and almost total eclipse into which they had fallen they were prepared to adopt measures which had formerly appeared distasteful, but which were now seen to be necessary. The most important step to be taken was to appoint a single commander-in-chief for all the Allied armies. The British General Staff was opposed to the move, but the British public appeared to be in favor of it. President Wilson had also argued for a unified command, and General Pershing had shown readiness to put the American forces in France at the disposal of the Allies. In the end General Foch was named commander-in-chief of all the Allied forces in the field. Subsequent events showed the move to be a wise one.

Meanwhile the Germans were seeking to follow up their success before Amiens with another advance which would relieve the pressure on their attenuated forces in that region and help them further in their effort to reach the coast. As a result of these calculations they suddenly began to attack between the elevated ground N. of Ypres and Arras. The intention in this case was to drive a wedge between the British forces at

Ypres and the British forces at Arras, repeating the operation that had been attended with so much success farther S. Had there been an equally successful advance in this break through, it was clear that Calais and the other channel ports would have fallen, with incalculable results to the British. On April 9th the Germans captured Richebourg, St. Vaast and Laventie, creating a gap of about three miles in the British lines through which they drove in large numbers. On the following day they crossed the river Lys and attacked the base of Messines Ridge, capturing the village and forest of Ploegsteert, as well as Armentières. Attacking from La Bassée to the Ypres-Comines canal they took Estaires and Steenwerck. On the 12th they were within five miles of Hazebrouck and it looked again as if the British line was to be smashed to pieces. It was on this occasion that General Haig issued the appeal to his troops: “With our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause, each of us must fight to the end.” General Haig's statement appeared on the 12th, but the German attack went forward and on the 17th they captured Poelcappelle, Langemarck, and Passchendaele, long held by the British. The reorganized British made an attempt to retake Messines Ridge on the 17th, but the only result was that they were driven back in hopeless confusion, so that their positions on the 18th were almost co-terminous with those held by them before the battle of Ypres in 1914. The blow to British self-confidence and pride was felt keenly, for the terrible succession of failures and flights appeared to show that the Germans could strike at will on any part of the British front in the certainty of victory. On the 19th, however, French reserves were brought up and their support put new courage and strength into the British lines.

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The German blows were far from spent, however, and on the 27th, Mount Kemmel, the remaining key to the Ypres salient, fell to them after bloody fighting in which the British, supported by the French, were driven beyond the villages of Kemmel and Dranoutre. French gallantry showed up conspicuously in this battle, in which hundreds of poilus refused to budge and preferred death at their posts to retreat. The fighting in the region continued to the middle of May, in its last phases resulting in gain and loss of territory to both sides. The second great German thrust resulted in the occupation of about 800 square miles of territory held by the British and some Portuguese. However, the coast was not reached and from that point of view the Allies might be considered as being saved from complete disaster.

In May and June the Germans put into action their plans for the forcing of the Aisne and the Marne, striking on a thirty mile front, which was later extended twenty miles farther toward Noyon. When the thrust came to an end it had brought them a distance of thirty miles, though their fighting front had contracted to six miles. The Germans began their offensive on May 27th, after heavy bombardment in the Ypres and Picardy salients, thus rousing fear of attack in those quarters. The forcing of Chemin-des-Dames positions and the Aisne river, an apparent victory for the Germans, was later revealed as a remarkable piece of strategy on the part of Marshal Foch, who had thus put the Germans in a dangerous position. This was made clear in the middle of July when his plan for an attack on the western side of the Marne salient was revealed. This the Allies attacked on July 18 on a twenty-eight mile line W. of Soissons. Tanks on this occasion made artillery preparation unnecesary and the sudden counter-attack greatly astonished the Germans, who were driven across the Vesle. The Allies advanced some miles on both sides of the Ourcq, the entire German front from Château-Thierry to Soissons retreating, and at the end of a couple of days no German troops remained S. of the Marne.

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Immense strength was given to the Allies in this attack by the American troops who formed the spearhead of the thrust. On the 21st American and French troops traversed the Marne and drove toward Ourcq. On the 23d the road running between Soissons and Château-Thierry had almost entirely fallen to the Allies. Following the disaster that had overtaken the British in March and April, they had been distributed along different parts of the front and in this attack Italian and British troops attacked the eastern side of the salient, while the Americans and Frenchmen drove forward advancing two miles N. of Château-Tierry, the French capturing Oulchy and taking forty square miles of new territory. The Germans began to fall back on the 27th to prepared positions, and on August 2 the French entered Soissons, and by that time the gains of the Allies could be counted up. They could not be compared to the results of the German drives of March and April, but they were a presage of what was to follow. Apart from the gain in territory, 35,000 prisoners and 500 guns had been taken.

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© Committee on Public Information

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Collier's 1921 World War - American soldiers rest in trench in Argonne Forest.jpg
U.S. Official Photo

On August 8 the Allies began a new attack on a front thirty miles long, curving N. from Montdidier. The French forces traversed the Avre river, supported the British on their left, and on the 13th Montdidier was taken, the French advancing a depth of six miles on a thirteen mile front. They struck again between the Matz and Oise rivers and took Canny. On August 20 French and American troops struck along a front between the Oise and the Aisne from Ribecourt to Soissons. The heavy attacks by the French and American troops depleted the Hindenburg line, and permitted the English to advance with small loss. During the last days of August and the first days of September the French advance went on, so that by the middle of September the Germans were fighting behind the Aisne near Vailly. More N. by September 6 French and Americans were once again in the positions held by the British before the German offensive that began on March 21. Lens was evacuated by the Germans on September 4, and the villages around were left to the Allies. Outside of Flanders and along the Aisne, the Germans had fallen back to their positions in March, and something like 200,000 prisoners and 2,300 guns had been taken by the Allies. It was the beginning of the end. Franco-Americans reduced the St. Mihiel salient, and the French railway system through Nancy, Toul and Verdun was liberated. In the last week of September Foch began an offensive on the entire front, making gains at numerous points, the French and Americans in the Argonne-Meuse district cutting the main German line of communication. An attack begun on September 29 brought the Allies toward Cambrai and on October 9 another attack resulted in the capture of Cambrai, one village after another falling till the British took Maubeuge and Mons, and the French took Hirson. November saw the breaking up of the Hindenburg line, and the armistice of November 11 came in due course.

Collier's 1921 World War - American drive at St. Mihiel.jpg


Collier's 1921 World War - Meuse-Argonne offensive.jpg


Collier's 1921 World War - German prisoners bring in American wounded.jpg

Collier's 1921 World War - Occupied Germany.jpg

It was the fighting in France that brought about the cessation of hostilities on all the other fronts. Elsewhere notable battles were being fought and important events being recorded. The Austrians in Italy had tried in June to repeat their success of the previous autumn and had failed. An Allied offensive in Albania in July had met with a counter-offensive by the Austrians which nullified it. An offensive in September by Allied forces under the leadership of General Franchet d'Esperey brought about the capitulation of Bulgaria and the severing of communication between Turkey and the Central Powers. On November 3 an armistice amounting to surrender was signed with Austria-Hungary, after Italian forces late in October had won over the Austrians a victory almost as great as that won by the Austrians in 1917. October also saw the fall of Turkey, following the advances under General Allenby in Mesopotamia and Palestine. The armistice with the Turks went into effect on October 31. All these events presaged the collapse of Germany, who nevertheless still remained immeasurably more powerful than her Allies, and who from the beginning of the war up to a few months before had gone from victory to victory. On November 8 Marshal Foch opened negotiations with the German agents, the terms being accepted by Germany on November 11. The evacuation of the territory W. of the Rhine according to the terms of the armistice began from that date. On December 14 the terms of the armistice were renewed for a month, a provision being added by the Allied High Command reserving the right, as a new guarantee to occupy the neutral zone on the right bank of the Rhine, N. of Cologne to the Dutch frontier. In the months that followed gold, securities, and a number of locomotives, railway cars, motor trucks, ships, and war material were surrendered to the Allies. For the participation of the United States in the war, see United States. For the more important battles see under their titles, as Picardy, Battles of; Aisne; Marne, Battles of, etc. See also the articles on the various countries; Peace Treaty, and related subjects.

Collier's 1921 World War - Allies' terms announced at Trianon Palace.jpg
Photo, Wide World Photos

Collier's 1921 World War - crowd around Versailles Palace after treaty signing.jpg

Collier's 1921 World War - model for the wars of America by Gutzon Borglum.jpg
© Keystone View Company

Collier's 1921 World War - Canadian troops occupying the Rhine by Sheldon Williams.jpg
Photo, British and Colonial Press

Collier's 1921 World War - Cloth Hall of Ypres.jpg
© Photo, Central News Photo Service

Collier's 1921 World War - Ypres at close of war.jpg
British Official Photo

Collier's 1921 World War - line on western front at end of war.jpg


Source: “World War”, Collier's New Encyclopedia, X (New York: P.F. Collier & Son Company, 1921), pp. 415–453 (text). The photographs are from the same volume in photo sections opposite pp. 276, 388 and 468.