THE SECOND GERMAN OFFENSIVE IN THE WEST
It was a commonplace of the old diplomacy that the most effective way to deceive a rival diplomatist was to tell him the truth, and similar conditions enabled the Germans to delude the British public if not the British Government, so general was the conviction that the Germans would not or could not say anything that was not false. This simple-minded attitude towards our enemies made it easy for them to combine virtue with efficiency, and German statesmen were at times singularly candid in the estimates they published of the situation. One of these truthful pictures was drawn by the German Chancellor in December 1915 when he pointed out that it was not in Germany's thoughts or interests to seek further conquests for her arms: the more territory they conquered, the thinner would be their lines and the greater the difficulty of maintaining them. But patriotic imagination detected behind this apparent frankness a design to conquer Egypt and India, or at least to dominate the Persian Gulf, and averted attention from the probability that it implied a desire to substitute a solid decision in the West for territorial speculation in the East. Nothing, indeed, was more certain than that Germany, having temporarily freed herself and her allies from danger in the East, would recall her attention to these enemies in the West by whose defeat alone could she hope to win the war; and before the end of 1915 there were rumours of the transport of German guns and troops from the East to the Western front.
It was also reasonably certain that the new offensive would not follow the lines of the old, and that, whatever form it took, it would not be a repetition of the attempt to outmarch the Allied left and crush a British force which had grown from a hundred thousand to over a million bayonets. Time was also to show that no subsequent German offensive could hope to achieve the kind of success that had been missed on the Marne. The German ambition had in 1914 been to annihilate the French and British armies and dictate a victorious peace. In 1916 such a triumph was out of the question. In spite of her victories, Germany had been reduced to the defensive, and her future offensives were merely means to prolong her defence, to anticipate and frustrate the attacks of her enemies, and wring an advantageous peace out of the defeat of their attempts to drive her from the territorial conquests she had made. The height of her expectations was to show that her fronts were impregnable East and West, and that the Allies could not compel, but could only purchase German evacuation of the occupied ground by accepting the surrender of such tracts and other terms as Germany chose to concede. She was really in the position she pretended to have been before the war broke out of having to attack in order to maintain what she held; and if she began, it would not be for the purpose of breaking and enveloping the Allied armies, but to preclude their offensive and improve and strengthen her own position. She was, in fact, beleaguered, her attacks were really sallies, and her hope was to keep the besiegers at such a distance that they could make no impression upon the heart of her economic and military situation.
The battles of Verdun therefore bear no resemblance to the Western campaign of 1914 or the Eastern campaign of 1915. They were limited to a narrow area, and involved but a fraction of the German forces, while the bulk even of those in the West was distributed along the other sectors of the front. They were fought partly to deprive the French of what the Germans regarded as a "sally-port" into Germany, and partly to anticipate in detail that general pressure on all fronts which the Germans dreaded as the Allied strategy for 1916. At last, they feared, there was really co-ordination in the Entente, and there might be such a synchronizing of its offensives that Germany, in spite of her interior lines, would be unable to transfer the weight of her forces from one threatened point to another. Her strategy in the spring was to forestall this comprehensive danger. By an attack on Verdun in February the French and the British might be provoked into a premature movement before their allies were ready; Italy's threatened advance might be paralysed by a thrust at its flank in May; and both Western dangers might thus be parried before Russia was ready to move once more in the summer. The excellence of Germany's transport organization would enable her, in spite of her numerical inferiority, to bring adequate if not superior forces to repel attacks which depended for success upon their being simultaneous.
It was, however, incumbent on Germany to prevent her defensive offensives from combining the major costs of an offensive with the minor advantages produced by a defence; and economy in the waste of man-power was becoming urgent. Hence her attacks must be on a more limited front than those of the Allies in September, and resistance must be overcome rather by artillery than by infantry charges. The guns were to do at Verdun what they had achieved on the Dunajec, but there is little to show that the Germans expected to repeat in France their drives of the year before in Galicia and in Poland. The Entente lines in France were stronger and less thinly held than the longer lines in the East, and while they might be pushed back from a salient like Verdun, it was not imagined that they could be broken and rolled up as they might have been in 1914. Eighteen months of war had set limits to German ambition which were admitted in counsel and conversation though not allowed to appear in print; and the strategy of 1916 was not one which the Germans would have chosen had their choice been free, but the best they could devise under the conditions imposed upon them by their situation. It was not until Russia had completely collapsed that they recovered for the moment in the spring of 1918 that freedom from fear on the Eastern front which enabled them to resume the action with which they started the war and put all their strength into a final and real offensive in the West.
While throughout the winter the Allies were congratulating themselves upon the inferiority of German shelling in the West and innocently vaunting a superior expenditure of ammunition, which made no more impression on the German lines than the enemy's shelling did on ours, the Germans were reserving their fire and accumulating shells for more effective use; and in addition to their artillery, they had recovered the advantage in respect of aircraft. Hitherto we had done better than the Germans in the fighting, as distinguished from the raiding, in the air, not so much because our machines were better and certainly not because they were more numerous, but because in the air youthful ingenuity and daring had its chance unfettered by the restraining and depressing hand of regimental mediocrity; and where machine-made discipline was at a discount, youth and enterprise were at a premium. This general rule was subject to exceptions caused by the ding-dong race of scientific invention, and for the moment the Germans had in their Fokker an aeroplane of decisive superiority. They began to appear in increasing numbers above and behind our lines, and to secure some of those advantages in reconnaisance which transferred to aircraft in this war the functions performed in earlier wars by cavalry. The Germans were able to concentrate at Verdun with their minds easier about the rest of their front when their aircraft could detect any signs of an approaching offensive elsewhere.
They also succeeded in concealing their own intentions; for while there were premonitory symptoms which had given some French officers an inkling of what was coming, adequate preparations had not been made for the storm at Verdun, and attention had been distracted by German feints at other points of the line. These attacks were made on both the British and French sectors. The taking and retaking of Hartmannsweilerkopf went on with a frequency that was all the more confusing because each side only published its successes. On 28 January the Germans made a successful attack on the French near Frise on the Somme and pushed back their lines towards Braye on a two-mile front; but they were less fortunate in their simultaneous effort against Carnoy, where the British had just taken over that part of the front previously held by the 10th French Army and extending thence to the north of Arras. Probably the Germans imagined that this extension had weakened our lines at Ypres; and on 8 February they began a bombardment which developed into a fierce struggle for Hooge and The Bluff on the Ypres-Commines Canal. The ground lost was mostly recovered by counter-attacks on 2 and 27 March and 3 April, but it could not all be held against further German attacks later in the month. Similarly some gains on the Vimy Ridge in the middle of May were lost again on the 21st, and early in June the Germans thrust us back behind Hooge. But these attacks and others along the front were merely feints designed to conceal the German preparations against Verdun, and to prevent the Allied forces from concentrating on its defence after the plan had been revealed.
Verdun was selected for attack because its proximity to the German frontier made it dangerous in the hands of the enemy, and also made it easier for the Germans to concentrate on its attack the masses of artillery with which they proposed to do the fighting, while its salience hampered the French lines of communication. There were three lines of defence. The outermost ran in an arc nine miles from Verdun round in front of Malancourt, Béthincourt, Forges, Brabant, Ornes, Fromezey, and Fresnes; the second was some three miles nearer in, and the third ran by Bras, Douaumont, Vaux, and Eix. The danger consisted in the facts that the outer lines were thinly held by Territorials and the inner lines had not been properly fortified; for the French, unequalled in the élan of attack, never developed that patient and meticulous preparation for defence which stood the Germans in good stead, and always found it easier to visualize attacks than to materialize defences. Verdun, having survived the epidemic so fatal to fortresses in 1914, was treated as immune from serious danger in 1916. If, therefore, the Germans could batter to pieces the first position, the rest might easily fall, and they came dangerously near to fulfilling their hopes of reaching Verdun in four days.
At seven o'clock on the morning of Monday, 21 February, there burst forth on the centre of the front a heavier bombardment than any before experienced. The French defences were obliterated, and five hours later the Germans walked into possession. A counter-attack checked their progress in the afternoon, and the flanks of the French centre held out at Brabant and Herbebois throughout that day and the next. But the depression in the centre created a salient on either side, and the French could only fight desperate rearguard actions while the line was straightened out; by Wednesday morning they were back on a line running due east from Samogneux. But the German pressure on the centre was renewed and the French were pressed back to Beaumont and the Bois des Fosses. Ornes on the east and Samogneux on the west had to be abandoned, and on the 24th the Germans were threatening the centre of the last of the French lines of defence at Louvemont and Hill 347. Only a desperate rally enabled the French to keep their front intact while their left was withdrawn from Champneuville and Talou hill to Vacherauville and the Poivre hill, and their right from Bezonvaux and the Bois des Caurières to the Douaumont plateau. On the 25th the Germans launched what they thought was their final attack in the battle for Verdun, and before nightfall the news was telegraphed to Berlin that Fort Douaumont, the key of the last line of defence, had fallen.
It was a natural but unrealized anticipation. Eighteen German divisions were pitted against the worn and weary remnants of the original French defenders, and the Brandenburgers had captured the fort. But its ruins were merely a detail in the Douaumont position. To the east the French held the redoubt and to the west the village of Douaumont; and instead of carrying the plateau the Germans had been checked on its summit. Their other main attack had fared even worse on the Poivre hill to the west; and although Louvemont and Hill 347 had been carried in the centre, the fifth day of the battle closed with the Germans behind instead of beyond the real defences of the city they had hoped to reach in four. On that day, too, Pétain arrived to take over the command, and he was followed by reinforcements. On the morrow a furious counter-attack drove the Germans out of the greater part of Fort Douaumont and back to the northern edge of the plateau, and the crisis of the first surprise had passed. The battle continued, but the fact that it spread eastwards round to Eix and Manheulles showed that the concentrated thrust at the centre had failed; and the shortening of the French curve round by Fromezey, Étain, Buzy, and Fresnes to a straight line running from Vaux to Les Éparges strengthened rather than weakened the defence.
The Germans now shifted their ground of attack from the east to the west of the Meuse, and on 2 March a four days' bombardment began of the Malancourt-Forges line. They sought to conceal their change of plan by renewing the struggle for Douaumont, but on 6 March they drove the French from Forges and Regnéville back to their real defences on the ridge behind, of which the Mort Homme (Hill 295) was the crest, and Hills 304 and 265 its western and eastern supports. Their first attack was on the eastern sector of this front, and by nightfall they had gained Hill 265 and penetrated into the Bois des Corbeaux which stretched between it and Mort Homme. The struggle continued throughout the 7th and 8th, but on the 9th-11th the Germans varied it by reverting to the east bank of the Meuse and making a costly but unsuccessful attempt to outflank Douaumont by capturing Vaux, Damloup, Eix, and Manheulles. This diversion did not slacken the pressure on the west bank of the Meuse, and the French were forced back from the Bois des Corbeaux to the Bois de Cumières; on 14 March the Germans made a great bid for Mort Homme, and Berlin announced its capture. But they had only taken its north-eastern slopes, and on the 17th they sought a fresh approach from the west by means of a converging attack from Avocourt and Malancourt on Hill 304. The bombardment lasted until the 20th, when the Germans forced their way through Avocourt wood. They were driven back by a counter-attack on the 29th, but Malancourt fell on the 31st, and the French further withdrew from Haucourt. On 2 April the Germans also succeeded in driving an awkward wedge into the Bois de la Caillette between Vaux and Douaumont, but Mangin thrust it back on the following day.
There was yet another struggle for Mort Homme. On 7 April the French had evacuated their salient at Béthincourt and re-formed their front on a straight line running just north of Mort Homme. On the 9th the Germans, having failed in their local attacks, attempted a general movement against the whole front west of the Meuse. The battle raged for three days, and at one time the Germans penetrated into Cumières; but they were driven back by the French artillery, and the general assault, in spite of its carnage, produced no greater gain for the Germans than a ravine on the edge of the Poivre hill. From that date the first battle of Verdun died away amid local efforts along the lines east and west of the Meuse. But the Germans were still obstinately wedded to their scheme of exhausting France before the time came for a general Allied offensive; and they felt that they could not cut their losses and acquiesce in the blow to their prestige and to the credit of the Crown Prince. A respite, however was needed for the reorganization of the command and the re-formation of the armies shattered in the fruitless attacks and it was not until 3 May that the Germans were ready to begin the second battle of Verdun.
This time it opened on the west bank of the Meuse, and Mort Homme was as before the obstacle and the objective. After two days' bombardment the Germans gained some trenches north of Hill 304, and on the 7th they attacked it on three sides and compelled the French to abandon the crest. This reduced Mort Homme to a difficult salient, and after a few days' lull the Germans gained the summit on 21 May by an expenditure of man-power out of all proportion to the value of the result. By the 24th they had secured what was left of Cumières at a similar cost, and the French line ran straight from Avocourt in front of Esnes and Chattancourt to the Meuse. On the east bank the onslaught was no less furious, and on 7 May the Germans drove the French out of Douaumont fort and down the road towards Fleury. Mangin recovered the greater part of Douaumont on the 22nd, but German reinforcements took it again on the 24th, and on the 25th pushed on by Haudromont wood and Thiaumont farm, outflanking Vaux on the west. Further progress was made in the following days, and on 1 June the fall of Damloup uncovered the eastern flank of the Vaux position. The fort itself made a marvellous resistance under Major Raynal, and held out till the 6th.
There was a lull for four days, but on the 11th the struggle recommenced with the Germans only four miles from Verdun. It raged chiefly on the slopes of Froideterre and round the village of Fleury close by, and the climax came on the 23rd. On that day the Germans got into Fleury and were driven out; on the 24th they were in again, but on the 30th the French recovered Thiaumont and neutralized the German advantage. On the morrow the Western front was aflame with the battle of the Somme. Verdun had done its work and taken its wages. The struggle flickered on; Fleury changed hands again in July and August, and so did Thiaumont. But the attack had lost its vital importance and the decisive scene had shifted to the west where the Germans and not the French were on the defensive. Pétain and then Nivelle, who succeeded him in April, had held the fort till the appointed time; and their heroic troops had made their name and that of Verdun a possession for ever. Falkenhayn, who had taken Moltke's place as chief of the German Staff and was responsible for the German strategy at Verdun, was removed to another sphere of activity; but the Germans themselves were right when they attributed failure less to their own defects than to the valour of their foes. These, they exclaimed, were not the French they had met at Sedan in 1870. They were not. Then, they were the soldiers of an Emperor who went to war with the cry "to Berlin" on their lips. Now, they were the soldiers of a democratic Republic fighting for home and freedom, a fragment of the eternal soul of France.
The central act of the German offensive thus closed with defeat at Verdun; there were two others, one fought in the Alps and the other on the sea. The Italian campaigns were never more than subsidiary operations in the war, for it was not until 27 August 1916 that Italy declared war on Germany, and the number of German divisions on the Italian front was never more than six. Even to Austria Russia was the dangerous foe, and Italian strategy threatened at worst no more than the temporary loss of Trieste, a trifle compared with that of Galicia. For the difficulties of the terrain, jealousy between Italians and Jugo-Slavs, and Italy's lack of the industrial means for equipping a sufficiently formidable army, put it beyond her power to threaten any vital spot in the Hapsburg dominions. Italy, moreover, had not entered the war with the same motives or same unanimity as the other Powers, and her army at the front was not the same embodiment of national strength and spirit. The Austrian offensive in May was therefore due rather to the temptations held out by the weakness of the Italian flank than to any urgent necessity of defence against the projected Italian advance. Nevertheless the Italian plains were always seductive, and it would obviously be convenient to dispose of the Italian threat before Austria had again to face the serious menace of Russian invasion; and an attack on the Asiago plateau was Austria's natural contribution to the general German plan of anticipating in detail the combined Entente offensive (see Map, p. 298).
The first year of the Austro-Italian war had seen no real impression made on Austria's mountain defences, and even in the valley of the Isonzo Gorizia still forbade an Italian advance on Trieste. The Italian line was the worst possible for defence, and it depended for its security upon the fact that the bulk of the Austrian forces were involved in Russia and in the Balkans. The front was on the Isonzo, but a flank of over 200 miles invited a thrust down one of the various passes towards Venice which, if successful, would cause the whole front to collapse like a pack of cards; and marvellous though the feats of Italian valour and mechanical ingenuity had been in the mountain fighting throughout the winter, they had not wrested the passes from Austria's hands. The attack was preceded by a bombardment which began on 14 May, and the scene selected lay on a line drawn from Trent to Venice through the Sette Communi, Posina, and Pasubio. The flanks held fairly firm, but the centre gave way, and on the 20th-24th the line was withdrawn on the left to Posina and Pasubio. Things were no better in the Sette Communi on the right, but west of Pasubio the Italians stopped the Austrian advance in the pass of Buole on 30 May. On the same day, however, they had to evacuate Arsiero and Asiago, south of the Sette Communi. But by now Cadorna had got his reinforcements, and on 3 June he announced that the Austrian offensive was checked. The attack was, however, renewed on the 13th, and the Austrians advanced to within four miles of Valstagna and the railway running down the Brenta valley to Padua. They got no farther, and before the end of June Cadorna began his counter-offensive. By that time the thoughts of the Austrians and most of their troops were elsewhere; and just as the German campaign at Verdun was ruined by the Entente offensive on the Somme, the Austrian advance from the Trentino was stopped by the Russian attack in the East. In the first week of June Brussilov had gone through the Austrian lines like brown paper at Lutsk and Dubno.
The third German offensive was on the sea, but no operation in the war remains more obscure with regard to its motives, conduct, and importance than the battle of Jutland; a century passed before Nelson's tactics at Trafalgar were made clear, and a long period may have to elapse before there is any solution of the problems surrounding the great naval battle of modern times. The British admiral in command has expressed his considered opinion that the meeting of the German and British fleets on 30 May was an accident; but assuredly it was not by accident that the whole naval forces of Germany were on that day outside their accustomed harbours, and they could not have been brought into action against their own consent. There was some motive in that unusual appearance, and the motives of strategy are to be found in the conditions of policy. That Germany needed a victory in 1916 is obvious from her persistence, despite the gravest losses, in the Verdun campaign; but if she needed one over France, she needed one yet more sorely over Britain; and if it was worth while losing one or two hundred thousand men at Verdun, it was worth while taking considerable risks at sea on the chance of frustrating British participation in the coming offensive on the Somme.
Deliverance from the nightmare of a combined Entente offensive was but a part of the fruits which would follow from a German victory at sea. It would probably decide the issue of the war at a single blow. Germany had, of course, known all along that the Entente depended absolutely for success upon Great Britain's command of the sea; but it was not easy to shake that command, and so long as there seemed a prospect of winning the war by other means, the frightful risks of a naval battle would be avoided. By the spring of 1916 those other means were receding beyond the region of hope or possibility. Russia was repairing her arms; Great Britain was making stupendous preparations; France had withstood the shock of Verdun; and the hopes which Germany built on discontent in Ireland, her intrigues with Irish prisoners of war, and the escapades of Sir Roger Casement, crumbled after the insurrection which broke out in Dublin in April. The autumn promised a sere and yellow leaf to the German High Command. Nor did this darkened European vista exhaust the clouds on the horizon. After the torpedoing of the Sussex on 24 March President Wilson had extorted from the German Government a pledge not to sink without warning merchant vessels found inside or outside the war zone which the Germans had proclaimed in February, and had refused to accept the condition they sought to attach to the pledge, that he would require corresponding pledges from Great Britain to observe the "freedom of the seas." Tirpitz had been dismissed to give verisimilitude to Germany's new virtue; but she had no intention of keeping her pledge any longer than was convenient, or abandoning any reasonable prospect of bringing us to our knees by a submarine campaign, and she knew that its effective extension would provoke American intervention. Such intervention would, however, be negligible if in the meantime Britain's Fleet had been crippled and her control of the sea undermined.
A successful naval battle might therefore not only impair British participation but preclude that of the United States. Otherwise the two together would dissipate any lingering German hopes of victory; and the imminence of the danger counselled the taking of risks which had hitherto been eschewed. But the results of a naval defeat are not risked if they are likely to prove fatal, unless there is some chance of success; and Germany had some grounds for hope under both these heads. A fleet which flees is little better than no fleet at all, and for two years Germany had put up with British command of the seas. The destruction of her battle-fleet would no doubt depress her people, but it would not seriously interfere with her submarine campaign, and on land the war would go on as it had done. Still, the existence of the German Fleet was a factor in the moral of the German people; and the Government would not have risked it without some hopes of at least a partial success. The hopes depended partly on the skill of the new commander, Von Scheer, and partly on his too-well justified belief that the Germans possessed better shells, better armour, better searchlights, and more accurate range-tests than the British Navy. The guns were also ranged for elevation up to 30 deg., whereas the British elevation was only 15 or 20; and the difference was fatal to some of our battle-cruisers. The conclusion seems to have been that an adventure was worth while, and that if the weather conditions were wisely selected, it was feasible to fight a naval battle on the principle of limited liability, breaking it off if and when the losses incurred exceeded the value of the results obtained. Clearly, for instance, if the German battle-fleet could engage the British battle-cruisers without itself being engaged by the British battle-fleet, the event might justify moderate expectations.
On the morning of 31 May the German High Seas Fleet set out on its "northern enterprise." What the German Government meant by that phrase has never been revealed. It has been inferred that a concentration of naval and military force against Russia was planned to anticipate Brussilov's coming offensive, but there were no signs of that movement on land, and the Germans had enough to do with Verdun and their lines elsewhere in France without committing themselves to another adventure in Russia; while the idea of a raid on the shipping between England and Norway seems an inadequate explanation of the force sent out. On the other hand, if the design was to cripple the British Navy, the opportune moment had been lost, for the adverse balance against the German Fleet had been enormously increased since the war broke out. In the autumn of 1914 occasional breakdowns in the machinery of British super-Dreadnoughts, accidents like the torpedoing of the Audacious, and the inadequacy of dock-accommodation had made uneasy the minds of men who dwelt upon these contingencies and made no allowance for similar mishaps to the enemy. But even they were reassured when in April 1915 British construction far outstripped any German possibilities; and as time went on the race grew ever more unequal. It is true that France ceased to partake in the competition, leaving this silent struggle of the workshop and the dockyard to Great Britain; and the chance of a battle in the Baltic had to be abandoned because no Allied battleships could be relied upon to reinforce the North Sea Fleet. But Britain's margin was ample enough, and at the battle of Jutland her weight of metal was as two to one. The Germans, however, had advantages of their own, particularly in a delaying fuse which caused their shells to explode after penetrating the enemy's armour instead of before. Their capital ships were also better armoured, and rarely sank when struck by shells or torpedoes. This was also true of the British battleships, and none were sunk on either side except the old German Pommern; but the British battle-cruisers fared badly. The German marksmanship was also better during the earlier stages of the battle, though inferior later on; and they had in Von Scheer an admiral of conspicuous ability.
The accident of the battle arose from the fact that the British Fleet was simultaneously on 31 May engaged in one of its periodical sweeps through the North Sea. It had already turned back towards its northern bases when at 2.20 p.m. enemy vessels were signalled to the east. Beatty, who had under his orders the four "Cats," Queen Mary, Princess Royal, Lion, and Tiger, together with two other battle-cruisers, the Indefatigable and New Zealand, and the four biggest and newest battleships, Barham, Warspite, Valiant, and Malaya (the Queen Elizabeth herself was undergoing repairs at Rosyth), at once turned back south-eastwards to cut off the enemy from his retreat along the Jutland coast. The enemy vessels were Hipper's cruisers, and they also turned south to fall back on their battle-fleet, at whose proximity Beatty can only have guessed. At 3.48 the action began with Hipper's battle-cruisers, Derfflinger, Lutzow, Moltke, Seydlitz, and Van der Thann; none of them carried heavier than l2-in. guns, while Beatty's "Cats" had 13.5-inch and his Queen Elizabeths l5-inch guns. A light-cruiser attack against our line was crumpled up by corresponding vessels, but the bigger German ships escaped fatal damage from our heavier fire (it took hours to dispose of the enemy at the Falklands), and by 4.42 they were in sight of their battle-fleet.
Beatty's business was now to turn and draw the Germans northwards into Jellicoe's jaws, but the turning in face of the German battle-fleet was a critical manoeuvre. Beatty's battleships were north-west on his starboard quarter, and as his battle-cruisers turned they masked the Queen Elizabeths' fire while exposing themselves to the concentrated attention of the German Fleet. A high-angle shell fell on the thinly protected deck of the Queen Mary; she blew up and sank in a few seconds. Another fell down the ammunition shaft of the Indefatigable with the same appalling result. Beatty was not deflected from his course; possibly no other could have been taken. The rest of his cruisers got round without mishap, and the brunt of the fighting now passed to Evan-Thomas's Queen Elizabeths, who stalled off the whole German Fleet as both forces steamed north in Jellicoe's direction. It was probably during this stage that most of the damage was done to the German Fleet. The Lutzow and the Pommern were sunk; the battleship Konig was so battered that her forecastle was only 61/2 feet above water when she struggled into port; and the Seydlitz and the Derfflinger were in little better case.
At 5.56 Beatty sighted Jellicoe's battleships at five miles' distance on his port bow. His task was now to cross the front of the German line, head it off east and southwards, and afford Jellicoe room for deployment between Beatty himself and Evan-Thomas. For reasons of tactics and prudence Jellicoe deployed on his port wing, i.e., towards the east, This took him away from the Germans, but tended to cut them off from their base. The deployment was skilfully executed, though Admiral Hood and his battle-cruiser the Invincible, while taking position in front of Beatty, suffered the fate of the Queen Mary and Indefatigable; and the British Fleet soon formed a single line curving round east and south-eastwards like a net into which the Germans were being drawn. The crisis had arrived, and German naval power seemed on the verge of extinction. But the weather came to assist Von Scheer's tactical skill. He turned with less misfortune than had attended Beatty's similar manoeuvre two hours earlier, and set himself to fight a magnificent rearguard action and extricate his fleet as best he could. Fortunately for him the visibility grew steadily worse, and with it the range of fire diminished. This deprived Jellicoe of the advantage of his heavier guns, and indeed reduced the range of gun-fire to that of torpedoes. Here Von Scheer discovered his chance, and it was upon torpedo attacks that he relied for the defence of his fleet. Jellicoe, with his superior speed, could have closed had he deemed it wise. But he thought of what hung on the fate of the fleet he commanded, and shrank from exposing his battleships to the risk of torpedo destruction. His dilemma was acute: gun-fire was very effective at 18,000 yards, the torpedo began to be so at 10,000. Our cue was to fight between the two; but low visibility hid the German ships outside torpedo range, while within it fifty lucky German torpedoes might have sent every British Dreadnought to the bottom and decided the war in Germany's favour. On the other hand, we might have sunk every German ship and conceivably ended the war in 1917. War is an experimental science; but this experiment was never made, and no one can say what the result would have been if it had. Beatty wished to make it, Jellicoe refrained.
So the fight went on, the mist hiding the Germans at longer range and their torpedo attacks deterring us from a closer encounter. At 7.5 Jellicoe attempted to close on the Germans by turning three points to starboard. Von Scheer replied with a torpedo attack, and to avoid it some of our ships turned four, and some of them six, points to port. Seizing the opportunity, Von Scheer made off to the west, helped by the mist and by his own smoke screen; and shortly the Germans were lost to sight. Night closed in with the British Fleet between the Germans and their base at Wilhelmshaven hoping to complete their work on a glorious First of June. Jellicoe and Beatty agreed that to continue the battle in darkness amid torpedo-craft and submarines was impossible, and Von Scheer had other designs in view. It was a night of excursions and alarms with many destroyer actions. When dawn broke the Germans were not to be seen. Cut off from direct access to Wilhelmshaven, Von Scheer had turned from south-west round to north and then east, and had got his ships one by one past the rear of the British line into harbour. His escape is the mystery of the battle: throughout the night his starboard ships were continually barging into vessels on our port, but no news of these encounters reached the commander-in-chief. Till nearly noon Jellicoe watched for a fleet that never appeared, and then made his way back to his base, a victor baulked of the ostensible fruits of his victory. The disappointment was made worse by the ineptitude of the Admiralty and the ignorance of the press, which emphasized our losses without explaining the significance of our success. Besides the three battle-cruisers we lost three armoured cruisers, Defence, Black Prince, and Warrior of 13,000 or more tons apiece, and eight destroyers, while the super-Dreadnought Marlborough was badly holed and the Warspite was put out of action. The German looses in destroyers may have been equal or greater, but in cruisers they were considerably less. The Government was foolish enough to deny the loss of the Lutzow and admit it a few days later. But our own estimates were not conspicuous for their accuracy; and the German official account published on 16 June and long regarded as "a tissue of careful falsifications," was admitted after the armistice to have been substantially correct.
The public in both countries were indeed egregiously wrong in their judgment because they were completely ignorant of naval warfare, and measured success at sea by mathematical equations just as they measured progress on land by miles. It was only the navies engaged that knew the truth, and they had inadequate means of making their knowledge known. British sailors were loath to admit even among themselves the defects in their vessels, gunnery, and leadership which the battle revealed; but they made less a secret of Von Scheer's skill. He had with a smaller force inflicted greater damage on his enemy, and he had snatched his fleet from the jaws of destruction. He was no doubt favoured by the weather, and he turned to the best advantage his facilities of defence; for the enemy in retreat can use his torpedoes with greater effect than his pursuer, can tempt him into minefields and submarine traps, and conceal himself by smoke-screens. German Dreadnoughts had, moreover, been built for defence in home waters and not for keeping the seas. Space, which was used to strengthen their armour, had in our capital ships to serve the needs of offence, speed, and comfort; and subsequent inspection at Scapa Flow showed that the German High Seas Fleet was not designed to provide its crews with living room for more than seventy-two hours without recourse to port.
But all these advantages and Von Scheer's skill could not reverse the verdict in that trial of strength, and our qualms about the battle of Jutland were a just nemesis on our inveterate habit of judging by material tests. The decisive factor in war is not the material but the moral effect; and while the German Fleet was not destroyed at the battle of Jutland, its moral was hopelessly shattered. Few of the German sailors who had been in a naval battle had hitherto returned to tell the tale, and those who went out in the High Seas Fleet on 31 May had been taught to believe in its invincibility. But, said a German officer, "the way we were utterly crushed from the moment your battle fleet came into action took the heart out of them. Another hour of daylight would have finished it," while only three men in Jellicoe's main battle fleet were wounded. Der Tag had come with a vengeance, and from that day every attempt to take out the German Fleet to battle produced a mutiny or the threat of one.
The third enemy offensive had come to greater grief than the other two; and the battle of Jutland had justified the earlier German strategy which kept the German Fleet safe in harbour while it kept our own in British waters and faint hearts on tenterhooks. Germany's naval power had now gone with the moral of its crews, though the ghost of it haunted for two and a half years longer the timid minds of our materialists on shore, and retained on this side of the Channel hundreds of thousands of troops needed for offence or defence in France and Flanders. The German Fleet had never, however, been a predominant factor in the war, and it was with a different proposition that the Entente had to deal when at last its turn came to take the offensive and make a real attempt to break the German lines.