The War in 1915
By both words and deeds Germany had declared that she believed in conducting war with “frightfulness”; that is, with such cruelty and ferocity that her adversaries would in mortal terror yield to her at once. In accordance with this theory, she decided to destroy the Lusitania, a great passenger steamer plying between this country and England. Apparently she preferred not to become any further involved with the United States, for several persons were warned by anonymous telephone messages not to sail by this vessel, and the German Embassy in this country published a warning over its own signature. No one was alarmed, for no one supposed it possible that any country would commit such a deed as Germany had planned, and a number of Americans sailed on the steamer. To sink a transport carrying troops is as much an act of war as a battle is; but to sink a passenger vessel of non-combatants is not war, it is murder. The Lusitania was torpedoed without warning, and 1153 of her 1917 passengers were drowned, men, women, and little children, 114 of them citizens of the United States. Americans were overwhelmed with the horror of such an atrocity. Germany expressed her regret at the loss of life, but said it was the fault of her enemies; that England was trying to starve her, and she was forced to retaliate. She struck a medal in honor of the crime and gave her school-children a three-days’ holiday for rejoicing.
President Wilson sent to Germany a series of dignified notes, and declared that she would be held to strict accountability, but did not succeed in inducing her even to agree to any reparation. How little real regret was felt for the act was well indicated by one of the Berlin papers, which published a picture of an American vessel with its bow-sprit piercing a note. Germans doubled up with laughter stood on the wharf, exclaiming, “Another!”
Americans began to think. We had heard reports of the cruelty of the Germans to the Belgians and others; and we had sent money and food to the suffering people, but we could hardly believe that these reports had not been greatly exaggerated. Careful investigations were now made. It was shown that the Germans had poisoned wells, scattered germs of disease, bombed hospitals, schoolhouses, and orphan asylums; that non-combatants, not only men but women and little children, had been killed in large numbers; that they had been forced with bayonet thrusts to walk in front of German troops in order to shield them from bullets; that prisoners and wounded had been murdered in order to get rid of them. German soldiers were asked to keep diaries. From those found on prisoners and from articles in the German newspapers it was seen that these crimes had not been committed by excited, disobedient soldiers, but under strict orders from headquarters, and that this “frightfulness” was the kind of warfare which Germany deliberately planned. War is horrible at the best, and the chief nations of the world have held several conferences at The Hague in Holland, and there agreed never to commit such crimes as those that have been mentioned. Germany was one of those nations, and these acts of cruelty were violations of her solemn pledges.
In 1914, the Russians, as has been said, were in possession of most of Galicia, and they were so sure of getting it all that they appointed a governor-general for “the new Russian province.” They were besieging Przemysl at the end of the year. Russia and Germany each maintained a line of forts along the boundary; and in Poland no enemies had come within range of the Russian fortifications. At the end of 1914, the Russians held the best position. They now made a plan to advance in the same eastern corner of Germany that they had tried in 1914. On the German line of defense there were forests and swamps and lakes, with fortifications wherever they were needed. The Russians, pushed on eagerly. They made their way through forests, they dashed into frozen morasses. No large numbers of Germans had appeared, and what they had met were gradually falling back. The Russians did not guess that this was a trick, and they pushed on and on, far into the country of the Mazurian Lakes. Then there sprang up before them a great German force with Von Hindenburg as its leader. The Russians lost vast numbers of men either killed or captured. One whole corps disappeared. Many days later, one division of this corps made their appearance. They had been struggling over frozen morasses, in pathless forests, and through deep snows. Little by little, other divisions succeeded in joining their own troops.
At the end of 1914 the Russians had taken Lemberg and were besieging Przemysl. Przemysl would have fared better if it had not had so many men to use up its food. When the Austrians had been obliged to retreat before the Russians, many of them had taken refuge in this place, and there they had remained. In every siege that is kept up long enough, provisions are certain to fail. The Russians did not trouble themselves to make attacks on the fort; they had only to wait until the Austrians within were hungry enough to surrender. The Austrians without tried to slip through the Carpathian passes to help their friends. They themselves made sorties, at first trying to break the siege, then trying only to capture supplies. Scores of men were dying every day. At length, after seven months’ resistance, the Austrians within the fort surrendered to the besieging Russian army.
The 100,000 men who had been carrying on the siege of Przemysl were now free to meet the troops of the Central Powers in the Carpathian passes. Unfortunately for the Russians, these men were chiefly cavalry and artillery, neither of which is of much use in mountain fighting. The German and Austrian troops swarmed into Galicia. They had 4000 guns, half of them of large size. It has been estimated that shells enough were thrown to average 140 pounds of iron for every Russian engaged in the struggle. The Russians were in as bad a condition as the English at Neuve Chapelle, for now they had not nearly enough artillery. To save the men or save the guns was the question. There were so few guns that they did not dare to lose them, and the men were sacrificed. The Russians were forced to retreat. Then came a struggle of nearly three weeks to recapture Przemysl. The Germans were successful. Lemberg also soon fell into their hands. Warsaw had to yield, and the Russians were again driven into retreat.
Russia had vast numbers of trained men, but not many guns; and there are reasons for thinking that certain high officials favored the Germans and sent thousands of their countrymen to their death rather than harm the Central Powers. It is possible that this is why the Grand Duke Nicholas could not risk large battles, knowing that if his ammunition failed, Russia might be out of the war for months. Evidently he and the Czar had some disagreement, for the Grand Duke was sent to take command of the troops in the Caucasus, a less important position, and the Czar himself became the head of the forces on the western boundary. This leadership of the Czar was only in name, and his chief of staff was the real commander.
The Austrians had been driven out of Serbia, but they had no idea of staying out, and one commander after another tried his luck against the resolute Serbians. These Serbians had also another enemy, typhus fever. To overcome this, a company of American Red Cross nurses and physicians went to Serbia, established camps and hospitals, and so brought the disease under control. In the autumn the German general Von Mackensen massed his troops at the northern boundary of Serbia. Bulgaria now joined the Central Powers. After the Second Balkan War she had been deprived of districts wherein lived many of her nation. She was especially angry with Serbia, and it was not a difficult matter for Germany to induce her by promises of territory to become an ally. This alliance cleared the way for Germany’s direct route from Berlin to Constantinople, save for the short distance across the corner of Serbia. The struggle of Serbia against Bulgaria and the Central Powers went on for months, but at the end of the year 1915 the Serbians held only a tiny strip of territory in the west and another in the south of their country.
Russia in all her military actions was badly handicapped by her position. On a map she looks at the first glance big enough to subdue the rest of Europe all by herself; but during this war she was almost as helpless in getting supplies as little San Marino would have been if Italy had been unfriendly. What Russia needed was a way of getting into the Mediterranean, for the Mediterranean would be open at all seasons of the year. The only way to bring this about was to take the Strait of the Dardanelles, bring a fleet through it, and capture Constantinople. If this could be done, the power of Turkey would be broken; her attacks on Egypt and the Suez Canal and her mischief-making in Persia would cease. Russia would be immensely strengthened because she could then reach markets where she could buy all that she needed to carry on the war. Moreover, it was quite probable that if Constantinople was held by the Allies, the Balkan States that had not quite decided where to stand would join them. And, too, there was another reason, not so unimportant as it may seem; Constantinople is a city with a history stretching back many centuries. It has been besieged more than thirty times, but captured only three times, the last time having been nearly five hundred years ago. To take Constantinople would be a vast gain in itself, of course, but it would loom up in men’s minds even greater than it really was and would give more encouragement to the Allies than any other single event could do. It was a great undertaking with enormous risk, but the French and English decided to attempt it.
The Strait of the Dardanelles is forty-seven miles long. Most of it is three or four miles wide, although at its narrowest place it is only one mile in width, and with wind and current permitting, one could row from Europe to Asia in a few minutes. It is more like a river than a strait, only its current flows both ways at the same time, for there is a surface current from the Black Sea and an undercurrent from the Mediterranean. The surface current would help the Turks in using floating mines, and the undercurrent would help the Allies in sending their submarines from the Mediterranean toward Constantinople.
The Allies expected to have aid from Greece, because Venizelos, the Greek Premier, favored them and had invited them to come; but just at this time Venizelos was put out of office. They made no change in their plans, however, but brought a great fleet of French and English ships together and took for their base the little islands of Lemnos and Tenedos. This is the part of the world which was the scene of many of the stories of ancient times. When after the Trojan War the Greeks pretended to have sailed away from Troy and left the wooden horse behind them filled with armed men, they hid their ships behind Tenedos; and when Alexander the Great set out to conquer Asia, he built a bridge of boats across the Dardanelles.
The strait was splendidly protected by fortifications at either end, by forts between, by the best of artillery, by mine fields, floating mines, and torpedo boats. Any nation might well hesitate to attack such a place, but the English and French sent a magnificent fleet against it. The guns of the ships had a much longer range than those of the forts at the entrance of the strait, and before many days had passed, the batteries were silenced. This, however, was only the beginning. By the bombardment the mines at the western end of the strait had been cleared away, and now the ships steamed in to attack the forts at the narrowest part of the strait, which were much stronger than those at the entrance. After some resistance these forts ceased firing. Apparently they had been silenced, and the warships moved on. Suddenly the Turkish guns began to blaze and mines floated swiftly down upon the fleet. Three of the great battleships were sunk. The others withdrew into the Mediterranean.
Military experts declare that there is one lesson which has to be learned anew in almost every war. It is that coast defenses of the best sort can resist the attacks of any fleet of the day. The Allies had now found this to be true. They made another plan. They decided to land on Gallipoli, the long, narrow peninsula which forms the western shore of the strait. It is a rich, fertile country, but a particularly poor place for the landing of troops, for it is bordered by steep cliffs, and there are only a few beaches where landing is possible. These beaches were of fine, slippery sand, and back of them was a steeply rising ground or cliff of sandstone and clay. In the little hollows of the shore barbed-wire entanglements were cunningly hidden. In the face of the cliffs holes had been cut, and here sat sharp-shooters, with machine guns, while at the top of the cliffs were Turks, good fighters, particularly behind fortifications, and they had been trained by the Germans in all the latest fashions of warfare.
Nevertheless, the troops determined to land. The men were French, English, Irish, Indian, and “Anzac,” whose name was manufactured from the initials of “Australian-New Zealand Army Corps.” They have been described as a “fine lot of men, generally tall, broad-shouldered, and young. They swing along at an easy pace, their big hats turned up at one side, their jackets rather loose, high boots, and enormous spurs.” They were a very independent troop and had not much regard for military etiquette. One of them said the world was so full of officers it made him feel like a human windmill to salute whenever he met one of them.
These Anzacs had no notion of fear, and when the landing at Suvla Bay was to be made, they swung up the beach on the run, apparently not noticing the fact that they were in a storm of bullets. Straight up the cliffs they scrambled in spite of the Turks, and quite as if they were on their way to a picnic. It was two days before a line of the Allies could be formed, for there were encounters everywhere. In some the Allies won, in some the Turks. The Anzacs fought splendidly; but so did the French and the English and the Irish and the Indians. There were no cowards at Gallipoli. But there was no permanent success for the Allies. The submarines ran all risks of mines, nets, underwater bombs, and slipped into the Sea of Marmora, sinking vessel after vessel, one of them actually close to the Constantinople quay; but the Allies had no land forces to back them up. The losses from battle were enormous, and the swarms of flies and the poor water brought sickness upon the troops. Just after the close of the year the Allied forces were withdrawn; the attempt to take Constantinople had failed completely.
The Allies had but little success to show for the year 1915. On the Western Front they had met with small losses, it is true, but their gains were equally small. On the Eastern Front, Germany had practically driven the Russians out of eastern Germany, Poland, and Galicia. She had overpowered Serbia, and had held Constantinople. She had lost no territory on the Continent of Europe. On the other hand, the sinking of neutral ships and the torpedoing of the Lusitania had aroused the indignation of the United States, and the Allies had been busy among the German colonies. Japan had taken Kiao-chau in China, and also several groups of islands lying to the southeast of that district. England had taken the German settlements of New Guinea and also some neighboring islands. Germany still held some of her territory in Africa, German East Africa on the eastern coast and Kamerun on the western. If she could win the war, it would be an easy matter to recover her colonial possessions. It was a hard year for the Allies.