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THE CLIMAX OF GERMAN SUCCESS
No one's eyes had been more keenly trained on the Dardanelles operations during the spring and summer than those of Ferdinand, King and Tsar of Bulgaria. Descended from Orleanist Bourbons on the mother's side and from the house of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha on the father's, he was purely Prussian in his realpolitik, and observed no principle in his conduct save that of aggrandizement for his adopted country and himself. The treaty of Bukarest in 1913 had given them both a common and a legitimate grievance, and the great war was welcomed in Bulgaria as an opportunity for revenge. The means would be the assistance Bulgaria might render to the victor, and who that might be was a matter of indifference if he possessed the essential qualifications of victory and insensibility to the feelings of Bulgaria's neighbours and to the sanctity of scraps of paper. This was a defect in the Entente from Ferdinand's point of view. Bulgaria could with difficulty be satisfied except by Serbian sacrifices which the Entente was loath to make. The Central Empires had no scruples on that point; but Bulgaria also wanted something from Rumania, Turkey, and Greece, and Turkey was an ally, Rumania a neutral whom it was not wise to offend, and Greece had as its queen a sister of the Kaiser who was distinctly her husband's better half.
Serbia alone, however, had received by the Treaty of Bukarest enough territory claimed by Bulgaria to provide a sufficient inducement for Bulgaria's intervention in the war, once she was persuaded that a victory of the Central Empires would place it at their disposal. Efforts were made by the Entente during the summer to counteract this attraction by inducing Serbia to reconsider her annexations in Macedonia. But her successes in the autumn of 1914 had stiffened her attitude, and in any case she could not be expected to make that comprehensive surrender of Macedonia which the Central Empires were quite prepared to promise Bulgaria. The decisive factor in the diplomatic situation was, however, the progress of German arms and prospects of German victory; for it was only the victor who would have any favours to bestow, and the course of the war in the summer convinced the Bulgarian Government that Germany was the horse on which prudent people should put their money. On 17 July a secret treaty was concluded guaranteeing Bulgaria in return for intervention the whole of Macedonia possessed by Serbia as well as an extension of Bulgaria's frontiers at Serbia's expense farther north. Bulgaria was also allowed to extort a separate price from Turkey in the shape of a strip of land along the Maritza controlling that river and Adrianople. An even more sinister concession to Bulgarian exorbitance was that of Epirus, a district assigned to Albania in 1913 but populated by Greeks who had revolted and claimed incorporation in Greece. This Prussian complaisance was doubtless due to the fact that Venizelos, who had resigned owing to Constantine's opposition to his policy, had at the Greek general election in June secured nearly a two to one majority in the Greek Chamber. Greece could not be allowed the benefit of a Prussian queen when it chose Venizelos as Prime Minister.
The bond had been signed between the Central Empires and their Bulgarian taskmaster; but the doctrine of rebus sic stantibus was as well understood in Bulgaria as in Prussia, and the treaty would have remained a scrap of paper had Russia expelled the German invaders or Britain broken the barrier at the Dardanlles. As it was, nothing occurred in August or September to weaken Bulgaria's fidelity to the secret compact. The failure of the attack at Suvla Bay was followed by the futile routine of trench warfare; an equally barren result threatened the long-prepared attacks in Artois and Champagne; and, Russia having more than enough to do in reorganizing her shaken armies, the Central Empires were free to turn their attention southwards. Success in the Balkans was not this time to be staked on Austrian control, and Mackensen, whose armies in Galicia were nearest to the scene, was naturally selected to repeat in Serbia the triumphs of his Galician drive. The task would be all the easier because Serbia was a country small compared with Russia, and would, moreover, be distracted by the coming Bulgarian stab in the back. Her Government, conscious of this danger, had, indeed, wished to anticipate it by a frontal attack on Bulgaria; but her offensive was vetoed by the Entente. Possibly it was a case in which moral scruples unduly weighted the scales against military advantage. There was no real doubt about Bulgaria's intentions, and she would have had no grounds for complaint had Serbia attacked before Mackensen was prepared for his part in the joint assassination. The real doubt concerned the attitude of Greece. She was bound by treaty to assist Serbia in that case, and Venizelos would assuredly do his best to fulfil the bond. But the obligation would not arise if Serbia were the aggressor, and Venizelos would be powerless. The fault of the Entente, if it was a fault, lay in the failure to act on the presumption that Constantine would prove as false to international obligation as his imperial brother-in-law when he invaded Belgium, and in the assumption that the difference between Serbian aggression and defence would involve the difference between Greece being an ally and a neutral.
The diplomatic crisis grew to a climax as Mackensen's forces reached the northern bank of the Danube, for the arrest of the German offensive in Russia was not entirely due to German difficulties or Russian valour and strategy, and by the middle of August German divisions were already being diverted from the Russian front. In the middle of September Bulgaria concluded her compact with Turkey, and on the 19th Mackensen's batteries opened their bombardment of Belgrade. On the 21st Venizelos asked the Western Allies for 150,000 troops, which were promised on the 24th, and on the 23rd Bulgaria ordered a general mobilization and Greece retorted in kind. Bulgaria proclaimed her intention to observe neutrality, and when on the 27th Serbia requested the consent of the Allies to an offensive, it was refused. Entente diplomatists at Sofia were still under the impression that Bulgarian intervention could be avoided, and a vigorous protest by the leaders of all the Opposition parties in the Sobranje against the Government's policy gave some colour to their views. But by 10 October it became known that many German officers were busy in consultation with the Bulgarian Staff; on the 3rd Russia required Bulgaria to break with the Teutonic Powers, and on the 5th herself broke off diplomatic relations. A week later the Bulgarian Army invaded Serbia and the Bulgarian Government declared war. Mackensen had crossed the Danube on the 7th and taken Belgrade on the 9th. On the 19th an imperial manifesto was issued from Petrograd denouncing Bulgaria's treason to the Slav cause and leaving the fate of the traitor to the "just punishment of God." It was assuredly not to be inflicted by the Government whose designs on Constantinople had been the principal obstacle to the success of Entente diplomacy in the Balkans. Bulgaria did, indeed, betray the Slav to the Teuton, but no Balkan State could view with equanimity the prospect of being ground to powder between the upper and nether millstone of Russia on the Danube and on the Dardanelles.
Nor was Bulgaria the only traitor responsible for the Serbian tragedy. On 5 October Venizelos announced to the Greek Chamber in no uncertain terms the intention of his ministry to draw the sword on Serbia's side if Bulgaria attacked. The following day he was summoned to the palace and told that Constantine disapproved; he resigned in the afternoon, and the Chamber compromised its future and its country's by supporting an alternative ministry under Zaimis, which proclaimed its neutrality and refused on 11 October the assistance for which Serbia asked under the terms of their alliance. Russia was willing but unable to help, and large threats and insignificant demonstrations against the Bulgarian coast were all she could contribute to the protection of the little State in whose interests she had entered the war. The burden fell on the Western Powers who had never contemplated it, and they were divided in mind. British ships wrought effective destruction upon the Bulgarian depots and communications along the Aegean coast; but bombardment there was of little use to Serbia, and the British General Staff pronounced against an expedition to Salonika. Sir Edward Carson resigned as a protest against this inaction, while Delcassé resigned in France because Briand was more adventurous. Briand carried his point, succeeded Viviani as Premier, and committed both Powers to the Salonika policy. Italy stood aloof; her antagonism to Serbia and Greece made her ever averse from an offensive against Bulgaria.
The Salonika expedition, which consisted at first of troops transferred from Gallipoli, came too late and was too weak to effect more than a part of its purpose. It would have been more effective had the Allies consented to the Serbian proposal for an attack on Bulgaria; for in that case the Serbian armies would have been aligned along the Bulgarian frontier with their right within reach from Salonika. As it was, they faced north towards Mackensen, and the Bulgarian offensive towards Uskub took the Serbians in the rear, cut their communications with Salonika down the Vardar, and eventually forced a retreat into the Albanian mountains. Serbia would in any case have been overrun, and Mackensen's conquest of its northern half would have been more rapid than it was. But the Serbian armies might have remained intact and given a good account of themselves against both their enemies in the mountain fastnesses of the south with their retreat secured to Salonika, instead of being split into two and most of them driven, to escape as best they could with frightful mortality along impossible tracks towards the Adriatic.
War and disease had reduced the Serbian armies before the campaign began to some 200,000 men, and their enemies brought at least double that number against them. The Serbians were, moreover, constrained by the counsels of the Allies to preserve what they could of their forces as a nucleus for future resistance, and thus to stand only so long as retreat remained open. Threatened on three sides by superior numbers, they were in an untenable position and had a well-nigh impossible task; and only skill, endurance, and courage brought the remnants out of the death-trap laid by collusion between the Central Empires and Bulgaria. The campaign was for the Serbians simply a series of rearguard actions encouraged at first by the delusive hope that the Allies might yet be in time. They might have been, had they been numerous enough. The French from Cape Helles came first, landed at Salonika on 5-7 October, and by the 27th had occupied the valley of the Vardar as far north as Krivolak. They also seized the commanding heights of Kara Hodjali north-east of the river, and repulsed the Bulgarian attempts to drive them off in the first week of November; while to the west they stretched out a hand towards the Serbians defending the Babuna Pass. With adequate forces they could have pushed beyond Veles to Uskub, broken the wedge which the Bulgarians had driven in between them and the Serbians, restored the line of the Vardar, and secured the Serbian retreat.
It was this Bulgarian stab in the back which made havoc of the Serbian defence. Mackensen made slow progress at first, partly because he had no wish to drive the Serbians south until the Bulgars had cut off their retreat down the Vardar. Belgrade did not fall until three weeks after the bombardment had opened; but with the intervention of the Bulgarian armies all along the bare Serbian flank, events moved with tragic rapidity. On 17 October the Salonika line was pierced at Vrania, Veles fell on the 20th, and Uskub on the 21st. By the 26th Mackensen and the Bulgarians had effected a junction in the north and cleared the Danube route into the Balkans. Nish fell on 5 November after three days' fierce fighting, and the Constantinople railway thus passed into enemy hands. In the north-west the Austrians were pressing on from Ushitza down by the Montenegrin frontier towards Mitrovitza, threatening to crush the Serbians on the Kossovo plateau between them and the Bulgars. To save the main Serbian force and keep open a retreat through Albania, a stand had to be made at Katchanik against the Bulgars advancing north from Uskub. It was successful to that extent, and when at one moment the Serbs temporarily broke the Bulgarian front, a junction seemed possible with the French advance from Veles. But both Allies were too weak for the solid Bulgarian wedge. The Serbs had to fall back from Kossovo and the French to their entrenched camp at Kavadar. A still narrower chance intervened between the French and the Serbs who were fighting at the Babuna Pass to bar the way to Prilep and Monastir, and at one time the French flung out their left to within ten miles of the Serbian position. But their own communications were threatened all down the narrow line of the Vardar, and they were hopelessly outnumbered by the Bulgarian forces. Retreat was the common misfortune and necessity. Prilep fell on 16 November; and farther north, as the Serbians retreated into Montenegro and Albania, the Austrians occupied Novi Bazar on 20 November, and Mitrovitza and Prishtina on the 23rd. On the 28th the Germans announced that "with the flight of the scanty remnants of the Serbian army into the Albanian mountains our main operations are closed."
There was something still for the Bulgars to do. Pursuing the Serbians in retreat from the Babuna Pass they reached the Greek frontier and cut the railway between Salonika and Monastir at Kenali on 29 November, and on 5 December occupied Monastir itself. The Greek frontier was a feeble protection, and the French at Kavadar were threatened with encirclement on their left. Kavadar had to be evacuated and a retreat secured by hard fighting at Demir Kapu. Simultaneously the British holding the front towards Lake Doiran were severely attacked, and on 6-7 December had 1300 casualties and lost 8 guns. But the enemy failed to cut off the retreat, and by the 12th both the French and British forces were on Greek territory fortifying a magnificent position which stretched from the mouth of the Vardar round to the Gulf of Orphano and enclosed the Chalchidice peninsula. Strong measures had to be taken to ensure the safety of Salonika with its cosmopolitan population, and the enemy hoped for its fall in January. But there was great reluctance to attack lines which were daily growing more formidable and were held by troops that were being gradually reinforced. Bulgarian ambition was also restrained by German counsels, for even Constantine and his new and pusillanimous premier, Skouloudis, might resent the occupation of Salonika by their hereditary rivals, and the Kaiser trusted more to family and diplomatic influence at Athens than to Bulgarian valour. The Germans themselves were more intent on consolidating the Berlin-Constantinople corridor and their hold upon the Turks than on Salonika, which fell within the Austrian sphere of influence, and might thus, if taken, become an apple of discord between its captors.
Austria had to content herself with dominion along the eastern shores of the Adriatic. The conquest of Serbia had left Montenegro an unprotected oasis surrounded by enemy territory; and Italy, which alone might have defended the Black Mountain, was unable or disinclined to make the effort. Lovtchen fell on 10 January, and the Austrians occupied Cettinje three days later. The Germans announced the unconditional surrender of the country, and some sort of capitulation was made by some sort of Montenegrins. But King Nicholas escaped to Italy and thence to France, while the greater part of his army made their way south to Scutari to join the Serbians who had retreated to the Adriatic coast. An Italian force marched up from Avlona to Durazzo to protect them, and Essad Pasha, a pro-Entente Albanian who had established a principality of his own on the fall of the Prince of Wied, rendered useful assistance. Eventually about 130,000 Serbian troops were transported to safety across the Adriatic, while the Serbian Government was provided with a home at Corfu in spite of the protests of the Greek administration. Save for neutral Greece and Rumania, the Italian foothold at Avlona and ours at Gallipoli, the whole of the Balkans had passed into the enemy's hands; for Essad's rule was as brief as it was circumscribed, and the Italians withdrew from Durazzo as the Austrians advanced to the southern frontier of Albania, and menaced Greek territory far beyond the reach of protection from Salonika.
While Greece and Rumania seemed to depend for their existence upon the forbearance of the Central Empires, our foothold in Gallipoli was even more precarious, and the first use the Germans made of their corridor to Constantinople was to furnish the Turks with howitzers designed to blow our forces off the peninsula. In October Sir Charles Monro had been sent out to take over the command from Sir lan Hamilton and report on the situation. His report, which, owing to the singular relations then existing between someone in the Government and the press, was known to selected journalists within a few hours of its reception in London, was in favour of evacuation. The Cabinet was not prepared to accept that decision without further advice, and dispatched Lord Kitchener to make a survey of the political and military situation in the Ægean on the spot. He confirmed Monro's opinion; and in spite of the damage to our reputation and the losses which it was thought such an operation would inevitably involve, orders were given for a complete withdrawal from the Gallipoli Peninsula.
Some of the forces had already been transferred to Salonika, and the evacuation was to be completed in two stages, the first at Suvla Bay and Anzac and the last at Cape Helles. Success depended upon weather suitable for embarkation and skill in organizing transport and concealing our intentions from the enemy. No one dared to hope for so complete a co-operation of these factors as that which characterized the enterprise on 18-19 December. The weather was ideal in spite of the season, an attack from Cape Helles diverted the attention of the Turks, and the whole force at Suvla Bay and Anzac was embarked during two successive nights with only a single casualty. Marvellous as this success appeared, its repetition at Cape Helles on 7-8 January was even more extraordinary, although a Turkish attack on the 7th threatened to develop into that rearguard action which had been considered almost inevitable. But it was a mere incident in trench warfare, and they were as blind to our real intentions at Cape Helles as they had been three weeks before at Suvla Bay and Anzac--unless, indeed, with true Oriental passivity, they were content to see us leave their land in peace and had no mind to seek a triumph of destruction which would inure to the benefit of their uncongenial allies.
The brilliant success of the withdrawal from the Dardanelles provided some solace for the failure of the campaign, but did nothing to relieve from responsibility those who had designed its inception and directed its earlier course; and a Commission, which was appointed in the following summer, produced on 8th March 1917 an interim report which threw a vivid but partial and biased light not only on the Dardanelles campaign, but on the governmental organization which was responsible for the failures as well as the successes of the British Empire during the greater part of the war. Both were largely the outcome of that autocracy in war with which popular sentiment and the popular press had invested Lord Kitchener. It swallowed up everything else: the Cabinet left the war to the War Council and the War Council to a triumvirate consisting of Mr. Asquith, Lord Kitchener, and Mr. Churchill; but of these the greatest was Lord Kitchener. "All-powerful, imperturbable, and reserved," said Mr. Churchill, "he dominated absolutely our counsels at this time.... He was the sole mouthpiece of War Office opinion in the War Council.... When he gave a decision it was invariably accepted as final." He occupied, in the words of the Report, "a position such as has probably never been held by any previous Secretary of State for War," though it cannot compare with the elder Pitt's in 1757-61. Oriental experience had not improved his qualifications for the post; secretiveness, testified the Secretary of the War Council, made him reluctant to communicate military information even to his colleagues on the Council; the General Staff sank into insignificance, and the regulations prescribing the duties of its Chief were treated as non-existent. Mr. Churchill was debarred from a similar dictatorship at the Admiralty mainly because he was not a seaman and had Lord Fisher as his professional mentor; while Mr. Asquith busied himself with keeping the peace between his two obtrusive colleagues, neither of whom expressed the considered views of the Services they represented.
Thus the Dardanelles campaign was less an active expression of policy or strategy than the passive result of conflicting influences and opinions. As early as November 1914 Mr. Churchill had suggested an attack there or elsewhere on the Turkish coast as a means of protecting Egypt, but the idea was not seriously considered until on 2 January 1915 an urgent request was received from Russia for some diversion to relieve the Turkish pressure in the Caucasus. There was a corresponding need to deter Bulgaria from casting in her lot with the Central Empires, and on 13 January the War Council resolved upon the "preparation" of a naval attack on the Dardanelles. Its members were in some doubt as to what was meant by their resolution. Lord Fisher was averse from the scheme because he preferred another sphere of action, possibly the Baltic or Zeebrugge, with which Jellicoe's mind was also occupied; and he hoped that preparation did not involve execution. Lord Kitchener warmly supported the idea of a naval attack, but most of his colleagues assumed that the operation would automatically become amphibious and involve the army as well; at any rate this impression was clearly stamped on their' minds after the purely naval attack had failed. Lord Kitchener, however, was strongly opposed to military cooperation; a great advantage of a purely naval attack was, he thought, that it could be abandoned at any moment, and he maintained that he had no troops to spare. Meanwhile Russia enthusiastically welcomed the notion, France concurred, and Mr. Churchill had secured an uncertain amount of naval backing for an expedition, the nature of which was not defined. But Lord Fisher grew more pronounced in his opposition, and when on 28 January the War Council proceeded from preparation to execution, he accepted the decision with a reluctance that nearly drove him to resign.
No sooner, however, had the War Council decided on a purely naval expedition than it found itself involved in an amphibious enterprise. "We drifted," said the Director of Military Operations, "into the big military attack"; and on 16 February it was resolved to send out the 29th Division and to reinforce it with troops from Egypt. The naval bombardment did not begin till three days later, and therefore it was no naval failure that produced this resolution; it was rather an unconscious reversion to the Council's original idea which had been dropped out of deference to Lord Kitchener. The same influence delayed the execution of the plan of 16 February: the 29th Division was to have started on the 22nd, but on the 20th it was countermanded by Lord Kitchener. Animated discussions ensued at the War Council on the 24th and 26th, but Lord Kitchener could not overcome his anxieties on the score of home defence and the Western front, and the Council yielded to his pressure. It was not till 10 March that the ill-success of the naval attack, advices from officers on the spot, and reassurances about the situation nearer home overcame the reluctance to dispatch the 29th division and other forces under Sir Ian Hamilton. Lord Kitchener now desired haste, and complained that 14 April, the date suggested by Hamilton, would be too late for the military attack. It was not found practicable until the 25th, and according to Enver Pasha the delay enabled the Turks thoroughly to fortify the Peninsula and to equip it with over 200 Austrian Skoda guns. Enver's further statement that the navy could have got through unaided, although it agreed with Mr. Churchill's opinion, is more doubtful. Out of the sixteen vessels employed to force the Dardanelles by 23 March, seven had been sunk or otherwise put out of action.
The same hesitation that characterized the inception of the military attack marked its prosecution, and forces which might have been adequate at an earlier stage were insufficient to break down the defences which delay enabled the Turks to organize. Nevertheless the enterprise might have succeeded but for errors of judgment in its execution, notably at Suvla Bay; and success would have buried in oblivion the mistakes of the campaign and its initiation just as it has done similar miscalculations in scores of precedents in history. There were, moreover, vital causes of failure which could not be canvassed at the time or even alleged in mitigation by the Commission of Inquiry; and the publication of its report on 8 March 1917, without the evidence on which it was based or reference to these other causes, was a masterpiece of political strategy designed to concentrate the odium of failure on those who were only responsible in part and to preclude their return to political power. Of these hidden causes there were two in particular: one the possibly justifiable refusal of Greece to lend her army to the scheme when a comparatively small military force might have been sufficient, and the other the far more culpable failure of Russia to co-operate with the 100,000 troops which were to have been landed at Midia and would have either found the northern approaches to Constantinople almost undefended or have diverted enough Turkish forces from the Dardanelles to give the southern attack a reasonable prospect of success. As it was, the British Empire had to content itself with the idea that 120,000 military casualties, apart from the French and the naval losses--which might have bought the downfall of Turkey shortened the war by a year at least, and saved a greater number of lives--had the minor effect of immobilizing 300,000 Turks and facilitating the defence of Egypt and the conquest of Mesopotamia and Syria.
The failure of the larger hope was a blow to the "Easterners" who discerned in the Dardanelles the strategic key to victory in the war and expected to turn the argument against divergent operations by pointing to a converging advance from the Balkans upon the Central Empires. But the "Westerners," who maintained that the war could be won and could only be won in France and Belgium, were not much happier at the end of 1915. The British and French commands alike had subordinated the Dardanelles and Salonika expeditions to the needs of an autumn offensive on the West; and the argument between the two schools of thought is narrowed down, so far as the autumn of 1915 is concerned, to the question whether the troops we lost in September and October at Loos and in Champagne might not have been more effectively employed at the Dardanelles or Salonika. That they were not needed for defence in the West is obvious, since the line was held in spite of their loss. They were, in fact, mortgaged to an offensive which produced less strategical effect than the casualties in the East; for without the Salonika expedition, at least, Greece would have fallen completely under German dominion, and our control of the Ægean and our communications with Egypt would have been seriously imperilled. The controversy was an idle one so far as it was conducted on abstract principles, because war is an art in which success depends upon changing conditions which dictate one sort of strategy at one time and another at another. There were times when neglect of the West would have been fatal; there were others at which neglect of the East was almost as disastrous, and the autumn of 1915 belonged to the latter rather than to the former category. Neglect of the East would, indeed, have been not merely excusable but an imperative duty, had the situation in the West been what it was in the autumn of 1914 or spring of 1918. But there was no such necessity in September 1915: troops were not then withheld from the East to defend our lines in the West against a German offensive, but to take the offensive ourselves; and illusory hopes of success were based upon the known inferiority of German numbers in France due to their concentration in Russia.
The Entente advantage in bayonets on the Western front was between three and four to two, and it also had the ampler reserves. Sir John French commanded nearly a million men and General Joffre more than double that number, while our advantage in guns and munitions was not less marked; an almost unlimited supply of shells had been accumulated during the summer, and the new Creusot howitzers outdid the monsters from Essen and Skoda. Thirty fresh miles of French front had been taken over by the British, but it was not continuous. Plumer's Second and Haig's First armies still held the line from Ypres to south of La Bassée, but D'Urbal's Tenth French army intervened between Haig and the new Third British army which stretched from Arras to the Somme. It was not, however, along the British front but in Champagne that the main attack was planned. The objective was Vouziers, and the design was to break the German communications from east to west along the Aisne and thus compel an extensive retreat from the angle of the German front on the Oise and the Somme. If the subsidiary attack on the British front also succeeded, the Germans would suffer disaster and be compelled to evacuate much of the ground they held in France (see Map, p. 67).
A desultory bombardment of the whole front had begun early in the month, and on the 23rd a more intense fire, designed to obliterate the first line of German defences, opened from La Bassée to Arras and in Champagne. On the 25th the infantry attacked in high hopes and high spirits: for months, declared Joffre in his order of the day, we had been increasing our strength and our resources while the enemy had been consuming his, and the hour had come for victory. The striking force was Langle de Cary's Fourth Army, and the front of attack ran for fifteen miles from Auberive to Massiges. The bombardment had been effective and the élan of French, and particularly Marchand's colonial troops, carried most of the German first and parts of their second line of defence, and thousands of prisoners and scores of guns fell into their hands. But victory was not in this Western warfare of the twentieth century won in a day, and the morrow of a successful attack, which used to be fatal to the defeated, was now more trying to the victors. Instead of their well-protected lines they had to lie in the open or in the blasted trenches of the enemy, and from thence to attack a second and a third line of defences not less strong than the first, but less battered by bombardment. The second French effort, made on the 29th, was less successful than the first; some more prisoners and guns were taken, and a breach was made in the second line, but it was too narrow for the cavalry to penetrate. A third French attack on 6 October secured the village and Butte de Tahure which commanded the Bazancourt-Challerange railway, the first of the lateral lines of communication which it had been the object of the campaign to break; and later in the month the French made some local progress in other parts of the front. But on 30 October German counter-attacks, which had failed elsewhere, succeeded in recapturing the Butte de Tahure and recovering the use of the railway; and while the French had advanced on a front of fifteen miles to a depth of two and a half in places, the net result of the great attack was to leave them without appreciable advantage save in the disputable respect of greater German losses and the withdrawal of some divisions from the Russian front.
The subsidiary attacks between Ypres to Arras produced the same general kind of result. They extended almost continuously all along the line, but except to the north and south of Lens do not appear to have been designed to do more than prevent the opposing troops from being sent to reinforce the defence against the main offensive. For this purpose they were perhaps needlessly aggressive, for each resulted in the capture of ground which could not be held, and the forces engaged in these local enterprises were badly needed to clinch the nearly successful major operation. Later on in the war it was found that enemy troops could be contained along the line without such numerous and expensive precautionary attacks, and possibly these were really intended not so much to contain the enemy as to test his line with the idea of finding some weak spot which might be pierced. None of them succeeded to that extent, though Bellewarde was temporarily taken in front of Ypres, Le Bridoux redoubt in front of Bois Grenier, the slopes of the Aubers ridge, and some trenches near La Bassée. The last operation, if more force had been put into it, might have secured La Bassée and done more to convert the battle of Loos into a substantial victory than could ever have been achieved by a series of local successes farther north.
That battle was the principal British effort, and it only fell short of a real victory because the reserves were not on the spot to follow up the initial success which might almost seem to have surprised the higher command. The front extended from the La Bassée Canal to the outskirts of Lens, and as in Champagne the attack on 25 September was preceded by an intense bombardment which destroyed the first German trenches and wire-entanglements. Nearly everywhere the advance was at first successful. The Hohenzollern redoubt was captured, the Lens-La Bassée road was crossed, and even Haisnes and Hulluch reached. But the greatest success was farthest south, where the village of Loos was rushed by the 15th Division and then Hill 70. Even there the Highlanders would not stop, but went on impetuously as far as the Cité St. Auguste, well outflanking Lens and past the hindmost of the German lines. This was all by 9.30 a.m., within four hours of the first attack. But there were no reserves at hand to consolidate the victory and hold up the German counter-attacks. There were plenty miles away in the rear, retained by Sir John French because along the extended line of attack from Ypres to Lens it was not known where they would most be needed; and even when the need was clear, interrupted telephones and defective staff-work caused confusion and delay. Eventually the 11th Corps fresh from England and to fighting was marched eight miles and put into the battle line without sufficient food or water. Gradually our troops were pushed back from Hill 70, across the Lens-La Bassée road, and out of the Hohenzollern redoubt. The line was restored to some extent by the Guards on the 27th, and Loos remained firmly in our hands; but a great opportunity had been lost, and the great stroke of the 15th Division had not been turned into a great advance. Lens had been almost in our grasp, and with it a lever to loosen the German hold on Lille (see Map, p. 79).
The fault was partly due to the fact that D'Urbal's simultaneous offensive south of Lens had fallen short of the Vimy Ridge and left our right flank almost in the air in front of Grenay where the two lines joined. D'Urbal's army was, like our own, greatly superior in numbers to the Germans opposite, seventeen to nine Divisions, and the French artillery preparation for the attack on 25 September was equally elaborate. Unhappily the French offensive did not begin till one o'clock, three hours after the Highlanders had swarmed over Hill 70 and into Cité St. Auguste; and when it did begin, its left, where it joined the British right, was held up in front of Souchez till the following day, and the Germans used the interval to recover from the staggering blow they had received at Loos. On the 26th the French were more successful. Souchez, most of the Givenchy Wood, La Folie farm, and Thelus were captured, and on the 28th they made some progress up the Vimy slopes. The impression of success exceeded the reality, and a historian writing some months afterwards declared that by the 29th "the Vimy Heights had been won": it required a considerable Canadian victory a year and a half later to give much substance to this claim, and most of the ground secured in September 1915, including the Givenchy Wood, La Folie, and Thelus, was found to be in German hands when the line from Lens to Arras was taken over by British troops.
Attacks and counter-attacks, particularly round the Hohenzollern redoubt, during October led to little but slaughter, and the line in the West relapsed into winter stability and stagnation where they had been a year before with changes which only a large-scale map revealed. There had been at least 120,000 French casualties and more than 50,000 British; each side claimed that the enemy's losses far exceeded its own, and there was probably little to choose. A fortnight's battle in the West cost the Allies as much as nine months in the Dardanelles, though in the former it was the French and in the latter the British who bore the brunt. The optimism of the civilians with regard to the Dardanelles was capped by the optimism of the soldiers on the Western front; and neither was in a position to throw stones at the strategy of the other. Mr. Churchill disappeared from the Admiralty in May and from the Cabinet in October, and Sir John French lost his command of the British forces in December. His ostensible cheerfulness had been useful in the early days of shock and stress; but the part had been somewhat overdone in public and underdone in private, and it was becoming clearer, though not yet sufficiently clear, that brilliant cavalry generalship was not the quality most required to control the gigantic machinery of a modern army. Nevertheless, the criticisms that were levelled against the ineptitude and mental inelasticity of the generals and the staff of the old army overshot the mark. No one ventured to bring such a charge against the staff-work of the French, and yet the French had been no more successful in Champagne than we had been in Artois. The truth was that no generalship could have given the Entente victory over the Germans in 1915. The war was constantly and correctly described as a soldiers' war or a war of nations, but the meaning of the description was not fully realized. The Entente had to deal with a mighty people, splendidly organized and equipped for war, and against that colossal force mere generalship was like a sort of legerdemain pitted against an avalanche. The only power that could cope with the Germans was that of people similarly determined and equally trained and organized, and the only way in which they could be defeated was by exhaustion. Individual skill in modern politics and war tells mainly in matters of personal rivalry; it is our aristocratic quality which breaks its head in vain against the stolid mass of democratic forces. The single people in the long run beats the single man, and the community of nations overcomes the rebel State.
So far the rebel had succeeded because he took the world by storm and by surprise. The Germans in 1915 had played a skilful game and won. They had calculated that their line in the West could be held by inferior forces against any attacks the Entente could launch against it, while they broke the strength of Russia and overran the Balkans; and their calculations proved correct. It is conceivable that they might have done better to concentrate in 1915 as in 1914 against the Western Powers, but it is more probable that here, too, they were wise in their military conceit. The offensive that had failed in 1914 when British forces were a hundred thousand without munitions to correspond, would hardly have succeeded when they had grown to a million; and neglect of the East might well have meant invasion by Russia, the collapse of Austria, Czecho-Slovak and Jugo-Slav revolts, the defeat of Turkey, and the intervention of Rumania and Bulgaria on the Entente side. More could hardly have been achieved by Germany with the resources at her disposal; but she had not won the war. She had won a respite from defeat, as she was to do again in 1916 and in 1917, and her successes enabled her to postpone the reckoning from 1916 to 1918. But it was a fatal reprieve which she only used to weave her winding-sheet; and her efforts to snatch a German peace out of the transient balance of power, which her victories had set up, involved her in that fight to a finish with civilization which made her an outcast in disgrace as well as in defeat.
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