« ПретходнаНастави »
force their way to Vendeuil, Lyfontaine, and Benay, south of Essigny, and to strike against Jussy and Tergnier, on the St. Quentin Canal, on the evening of the first day.
They brought up two more divisions, and that night, owing to the pressure of their attacks, it was decided that the British withdraw to a prepared line further west, which was the best defense. This was done during the darkness, the retirement being covered by gallant rearguards.
This morning the Germans followed up our withdrawal by clearing up all the ground in the bend formed by the acute angle of the St. Quentin Canal, which has its apex at Ugny, six kilometers east of Ham, and it was reported that their patrols had entered the town of Ham itself.
CROSSING THE SOMME
Monday, March 25.—The enemy fought fiercely yesterday to gain a crossing over the Somme south of Peronne. He flung across a pontoon bridge and rafts, and his men tried to cross, but the British field artillery, firing at short range, smashed up many of these bridges and killed his engineers and infantry. Gallant counterattacks by some of the British flung him back across the river at several points, but elsewhere he held his crossing long enough to put over some of his forces.
All the fighting in this part of the country since March 21 has'been a continuous battle, in which the British divisions holding the front line below Gouzeaucourt to Maissemy have shown magnificent powers of endurance, as indeed have all the others engaged, and have only yielded ground under pressure of overwhelming numbers and great gunfire.
There was a bloody struggle in some old chalk quarries, where many German dead now lie, and after the enemy had come some way forward ten British tanks drove into him and shattered some of his battalions with their machine-gun fire, dispersing groups of his advancing units. The tanks manoeuvred about, firing continually on each
flank and causing terror among the enemy's foremost assault troops. The British fought a number of rearguard actions and made many counterattacks in the neighborhood of Roisel, and fell back to the line of the Somme only when new masses of Germans passed through those battalions which they had met and beaten.
SLAUGHTER OF GERMANS
The British gunners were firing hour after hour at large bodies of Germans moving so close to them that the guns were laid directly on to their targets, and caused deadly losses in these ranks of field-gray men who never ceased to come forward in a living tide at whatever cost of life and bore down on the defensive lines. Under this ceaseless tide some of the British guns had to be abandoned, but many of them were withdrawn to the other side of the Somme, and the gunners were wonderful in the skill and courage with which they made this passage, took up new positions, and went into action again like exhibition batteries at Earls Court.
By Saturday morning the German troops were exhausted and spent, and in some parts of the line made no further effort for a time, but halted to gain some sleep and await fresh rations. On Saturday and Sunday the British, who had had no rest from fighting, were reinforced and given some relief, though many of them were again engaged, and, weary as they were, put up gallant fights against the enemy, who also had been reinforced by great numbers and came on again in an unending onslaught.
FIGHTING AGAINST ODDS
Tuesday, March 26.—Since yesterday morning the enemy has continued his violent thrusts against the British line westward from Bapaume and Peronne, and his massed troops, mostly Brandenburgers and picked troops, are now advancing in the direction of Roye and Nesle, where French troops are heavily engaged.
At the same time he is passing on over the old Somme battlefields down from Delville Wood, High Wood, and Maurepas toward the old lines the British held before the beginning of the Somme battles in 1916.
The enemy has paused since he began the great offensive, on Thursday last, only to bring up new divisions and pass them through and beyond those divisions exhausted by attack or shattered under the British fire while they reform and rest and then come on again, relieved once more by reserves and continually crowding over the captured ground. By this means, and owing to the enormous forces at the disposal of the German command, they are able to pursue any advantage gained with fresh troops against the hard-pressed British, who have been fighting without respite since the beginning of the battle, six days ago, except where on the right some of them have now been replaced in the front line by French battalions.
In spite of the .gravity of these hours and the progress made by the enemy, there never has been a more glorious spirit shown by British troops throughout history, and when one day all the details of this battle may be written it will be an epic of heroism more wonderful than the world now realizes, for the British troops and their officers have withstood an onslaught of enormous forces which have never been less than two to one, and in most parts of the line have been four to one and six to one and eight to one, nine divisions against three around Croisilles, eight divisions against two from the Cambrai sector westward, and in many places one division against one battalion.
WEARIED BY ENDLESS BATTLE
Our men have been fighting for six days and nights like this, after the first storm of shells and gas, until their beards have grown long and their faces haggard and worn for lack of sleep, and their clothes have become torn on wire and covered with dust of mud and chalk. I saw a small party of them today so weary with this endless battle they could hardly walk, and they were holding hands like tired children and leaning against each other like drunken men, but
for the most part they hold their heads up gamely, because so far luck has been against them.
The whole movement of the army under the necessity of withdrawal from fixed positions is as orderly as though en manoeuvres in England. I can say honestly I have seen no officer show sign of being flurried.
It is all an amazing drama, because this open warfare is a new thing to the army, and the menace of the enemy is strong and serious, and retirement under the terrific pressure of the human avalanche now hurled against the defenders is by no means pleasant. But in the inevitable turmoil of this situation, in roads crowded with traffic of men and guns, in villages seething with troops rushed up toward the battle line, on the field of battle itself, the British Army retains its self-control, its will power, and its supreme, inspired courage.
THE ATTACK AT ALBERT
Wednesday, March 27.—The enemy has not made further advances on a big scale between the Arras-Bapaume road on the left of the battlefront and the village of Bray, on the Somme, but has paused in his massed attacks in order to reorganize his line and bring up artillery.
There are heavy concentrations of German storm troops behind Maurepas, Ginchy, and Beugnatre, and the roads around Bapaume have been crowded with men and guns and transport passing down through Le Sars, with German cavalry along the Bapaume-Gudecourt road and a steady drift downward to the town of Albert.
That poor, stricken city of the golden Virgin, head downward, with her babe in her outstretched arms, which I described so often in accounts of the battles of the Somme in 1916, when that falling statue was lit up by shellfire, was yesterday in the centre of the fighting north of the Somme. [The golden Virgin and tower were destroyed later.] The night before their assault yesterday they bombed it heavily from the air, using the brilliant moonlight, which lay white over all the battlefields and these roofs, to fly low and pick their targets wherever they saw men moving or horses tethered.
In several cases it was not men they hit, but women and children who, when the war seemed to have passed from this place a year ago, crept back to their homes and built little wooden booths in which they sold papers and picture postcards to the troops. Now suddenly the war has flamed over them again and they were caught, before they could escape, by thunderbolts out of the shining moonlight, terribly clear and revealing dead horses about the ruined streets.
TRYING TO TAKE ARRAS
Friday, March 29.—The enemy's pressure has for the time being relaxed a little across the Somme, east of Corbie, and whatever effort he has made during the last day and night has been repulsed with the most heavy losses.
Yesterday the most exciting situation and the fiercest struggle was on the left of the British battleline, from Gavrelle southward to below the Scarpe. It was a deliberate, resolute effort by the enemy to capture Arras. Three divisions of special storm troops, the 184th, 12th, and 27th Reserve, had been brought up for this purpose, though one of them had been engaged before and roughly handled. They were ordered to take Arras yesterday at all costs, and before their advance very heavy bombardment was flung over the British lines from about 5 o'clock in the morning for several hours.
Their main thrust was toward Roeux, that frightful little village, with its chemical works, which I used to write about so much in April and May last. Once again yesterday it became a shambles. The British had machine guns well placed with a wide field of fire, and as the Germans came down the slopes they were swept with streams of bullets, which cut swaths in their formations, but once again, as on March 21, the enemy was reckless of life, theirs as well as the British, and always his tide of men flowed forward, passing over dead and wounded, and creeping forward like flowing water. The British field guns raked
them while the heavies pulled further back to avoid being blown up or captured.
FIGHT FOR ORANGE HILL
On and about Orange Hill and Telegraph Hill British battalions who know this ground of old fought tenaciously under murderous machine-gun fire, the enemy's screen of infantry covering machine-gun batteries which were rushed forward very quickly and took up positions in shell holes and behind bits of broken wall and any kind of cover, in ditches and sunken roads.
A footing gained by the enemy on part of Orange Hill and Infantry Hill rendered it necessary to fall back yesterday toward the old German support lines before that battle in April, 1917. The British fought like tigers, and would not retire until the pressure on them made it impossible to resist the continual thrust of new attacks by fresh troops. There were heroic actions by small groups of men struggling to hold up the front line, and some of them stayed so long after the enemy had broken beyond them that they were cut off.
Frightful fighting was happening not far from Neuville, Vitasse, and Mercatel and in this neighborhood the British held out with wonderful determination until exhausted by battle and until only a poor remnant of men had strength to stand against these massed attacks.
By the end of the day the enemy's assaults weakened, and then died out because his losses were enormous and the spirit of his attack was broken by such stubborn resistance.
ENEMY FAILS AT ARRAS
Sunday, March 31. — We now have knowledge that the attack on Arras was prepared on a scale of enormous strength by divisions arranged in depth, preceded by a bombardment as great as that which fell upon any part of the British line on the morning of March 21, and that the enemy had determined to capture not only Arras itself but Vimy Ridge.
It was the heroic resistance of the British troops that defeated this furious onslaught and destroyed by enormous losses to the German troops this dark scheme of their high command. Seven German divisions were in position north of the Scarpe and twelve south, in an arc around the defenses of Arras.
The brunt of this attack, preceded by colossal gunfire, fell upon London troops, and against these the German tides dashed and broke. By artillery fire, machine-gun fire, and rifle fire, the enemy's advancing waves of men were swept to pieces, and though they came on again and again this massacre continued until at last it must have sickened even the high German officers directing the operations from behind. The attacks died out and the night was quiet around Arras while the enemy collected his wounded. It was an utter defeat which will at least check German efforts around Arras.
On this Easter Sunday, under bright sunshine which is breaking through the storm clouds, the fields of France are strewn with death. A year ago it was the same around the old City of Artois, for it was on Easter Sunday, April 2, that we began the battle of Arras and fought over that ground which is again our battlefield, and It was a great anlhem of gunfire which rose up to the sky on Easter morn.
Apart from all regrets at having had to fall back at all and at having suffered losses for which there Is mourning In our hearts, because so many splendid men have fallen on the field of honor—that terrible field of honor which will be watered with tears for all time—we may at least rejoice that by the skill of our fighting officers and the steady courage of our men our line was brought back unbroken.
Heroic Cavalry Charge
Monday, April 1.—The battle of which I have been trying to give a daily narrative has been on so vast a scale, filled with so many episodes of terrific adventure and with so many hundreds of thousands of men moving along its lines of fire that I find it impossible to give a picture of the emotion and spirit of it. We out here, who knew this thing was coming upon us, creeping nearer every day with its monstrous menace, held our breath and waited. When at last the thing broke it was more frightful in its loosing of overwhelming powers than even we had guessed. Since then all our armies have lived
with an intense understanding of the greatness of these days, of their meaning to the destiny of the world, and every private soldier, or transport driver, or linesman, or laborer, has been exalted by an emotion stronger than the effect of drugs.
In the wood of Moreuil this morning British cavalry performed a feat as fine as the Balaklava charge, and this also should be made into a ballad and learned by heart.
Twelve hundred men who had been riding through the night went forward in three waves and charged that dark wood next morning at a hard gallop. The first wave rode to the edge of the wood, and the second to the centre, and the third wave went right through to the other side, riding through the enemy and over his machine guns and in the face of a hail of bullets from hidden machines. They cleared the wood of Moreuil and brought back prisoners and thirteen machine guns, but there were many empty saddles, and many men and horses fell.
That was the finest exploit of the British cavalry, but elsewhere it did splendid work, and everywhere the men were gallant and cool, as when some of the dragoons came under a heavy shrapnel fire near Gentille, and many men had to shoot their wounded horses to put them out of their agony.
Away from Arras and down on the south jf the line a certain body of Canadians have been having some of the most astounding adventures in all this battle, and fighting with valor and heroic audacity. They are officers and men of a machine gun detachment organized in the early days of the war by a French Canadian officer.
For ten days these Canadians have fought running fights with the German artillery, have engaged German cavalry and smashed them, have checked enemy columns crossing bridges and pouring onward, have scattered large bodies of men surrounding British troops, and in ten days of crowded life have destroyed many German storm troops and helped to hold up the tide of their advance. Their own losses have not been light, for these Canadians have been filled with a grim passion of determination, and when the supreme test came they fought and died.
Sometimes they fought in long gray open cars, and sometimes they fought dismounted, with machine guns on the ground; but always they fought through the ten days and nights, with less than twenty hours' sleep all that time. These cars near Maricourt gathered together 150 men who had boen cut off and held the enemy at bay, covering the withdrawal of some of the British heavy guns and tanks. At that time they fought dismounted, with Vickers guns, in front of the barbed wire. The Canadians had many casualties, and a Captain's arm was torn away by an explosive bullet, and at last only a Sergeant and two men of the battery were left unwounded. One of them mounted a motor cycle and brought back cars and took back the wounded. Two cars found the enemy massing up a road, and their machine guns enfiladed the field-gray men and killed them in large numbers.
Near La Motte they fought heavy bodies of German cavalry, killed a number, and put the rest to flight. They have not been seen since. At Cerisy a battalion of Germans, 600 strong, was encountered at a crossroads by one car, which brought them to a standstill and dispersed them with heavy losses. Everywhere they have been these Canadian armored cars have helped to steady the line and give confidence to the infantry.
British Airmen at Work
Thursday,April i.—It has been raining hard these two nights past and this morning. For the German gunners trying to drag up field artillery or long-range guns there is now sticky bog and slime to come through. It is hard work for the German field companies, pressed furiously, to lay narrow-gauge lines over these deserts. All that spells delay in their plans and loss of life.
There is terror for the enemy over these fields in daylight and darkness, for the British flying men have gone out in squadrons to scatter death and destruction among them. This work has reached fantastic heights of horror for the German troop3 under the menace of it. There have been times when, I believe, the British have had as many as 300 airplanes up at one time. One squadron alone on one night dropped six tons of bombs over enemy concentrations, and each man went out six times. Another squadron went out four times in one night, and was bombing for eleven hours.
When the enemy was advancing in masses the British flying men flew as low. as 100 feet, dropping bombs among them and firing into them with machine guns. They attacked German patrols of cavalry and scattered them and machine-gunned trenches full of men, batteries in action and transport crowding down narrow roads. They fought German scouts and crushed them, and there are several cases in which they fought German airplanes at night, so that it was like a fight between vampire bats up there where the clouds were touched by moonlight.
North of the Somme Friday, April 5.—Heavy attacks by the enemy are in progress north of the Somme, from Albert to Aveluy Wood. Further north there is separate fighting in progress round about the village of Ayette—such a wretched little place of brickdust and broken walls when I saw it last on the way from Arras to Bapaume—and the enemy is trying to recapture this, his fire reaching to villages several thousand yards behind the British front.
The British troops in this district are defending their positions resolutely, and the
first reports indicate that the German storm troops are suffering under their machine-gun fire, after being shelled in their assembly places by heavy and field artillery.
A Valley of Death
Sunday, April 7.—Since the heavy fights on Friday, when the enemy made a series of vain attacks against the British north of Albert, there has been no battle. The Germans are still struggling hard to get their guns, especially the heavy guns, further forward and to reorganize their divisions.
They have no peace or quiet, for they are under a harassing fire, and along the valley of the Ancre, above Albert, in that stinking ditch between Bouzeincourt and Aveluy and Mesnil and Thiepval, where foul water lies stagnant below rows of dead, lopped trees and frightful smells arise from the relics of battles two weeks ago, their men are very wretched. Here in this valley of death, for it was that, and behind in the old fields of the Somme, the German troops have no cover from storms or shellfire.
Battle of Armentieres
Tuesday, April 9.—A heavy and determined attack was begun against us this morning a considerable distance north of our recent battles on about eleven miles of front between Armentieres and La Bassee Canal. This new attack was preceded by a long, concentrated bombardment, which had gradually been increasing during the last day or two, until it reached great heights of fury last night and early this morning. The enemy used poison gas in Immense quantities; during the night he flung over 00,000 gas shells in order to create a wide zone of this evil vapor and stupefy the gunners, transport, and infantry.
His gunfire reached out to many towns and villages behind the allied lines, like Bethune and Armentieres, Vermelles and Philosophe, Merville and Estaires, and this did not cease around Armentieres until 11:30 this morning, though further south from Fleurbaix his infantry attack was in progress at an early hour, certainly by S o'clock, and his barrage lifted in order to let his troops advance.
Part of the line was held by Portuguese troops, who for a long time have been .between Laventie and Neuve Chapelle, holding positions which were subject to severe raids from time to time. They are now in the thick of this battle, most fiercely beset and fighting gallantly.
Formidable New Offensive
Wednesday, April 10.—It is now clear that the attack between Armentieres and Givenchy is a new and formidable offensive. It also is made certain by this new thrust that the German high command have decided to throw the full weight of their armies against the British in an endeavor to destroy their forces