Слике страница

in Northern France instead of dividing their efforts by striking also at the French. It Is a menace which calls for a supreme effort of the armies of Great Britain and her allies.

Yesterday the enemy struck north on the British left, beginning in the flat grounds opposite Neuve Chapelle as the centre of the thrust, with Fleurbaix to the north and Givenchy to the south, and extending this morning further north still above Armentieres, and including the ridge of Messines.

An enormous gunfire was directed against the British positions along all this line last night again after yesterday morning's bombardment, and continued without pause through a very unquiet night, when all through the hours this tumult of great guns beat upon one's ears with continued drumfire, and all the sky was full of flame and light.

This morning again when I went up into French Flanders and through the villages which the enemy had been shelling regardless of the women and children there, this frightful, unceasing thunder was as loud as ever and told one without further news that the battle was still going on and that the Germans were extending its zone.

Portuguese Are Hard Hit

It was a tragedy for the Portuguese that the heaviest bombardment in the storm of gunfire, as terrible in its fury as anything of the kind since March 21, was directed agamst the centre, which they held. It was annihilating to their outposts and smashed their front-line defenses, which were stoutly held. It beat backward and forward in waves of high explosives from the trench line opposite Neuve Chapelle to the second line, opposite Fauqulssart and Rlchebourg St. Vaast. Large numbers of heavy guns also searched behind these defense systems for crossroads, ammunition dumps, railways, villages, and headquarters or units, while the Portuguese batteries were assailed with gas shells and flying steel.

The Portuguese front line was overwhelmed by the Intensity of the bombardment, and, although some of their outposts held on, fighting gallantly to the last man, their line had to fall back to the second system. This was attacked by enemy assault troops and between 6 and 7 in the morning they had -cached Fauquissart. The barrage lifted at 7 o'clock for a general attack on the second line. Here the strongest body of Portuguese troops fought stubbornly, but by 11 o'clock the Germans forced their way through to Laventle and the position round Fleurbaix was threatened.

The Portuguese field artillery served their guns as long as possible and destroyed the breechblocks whenever it became Inevitable that they would have to leave a gun behind. The Portuguese gunners were attached to the British heavy batteries and Dehaved with special courage.

Bloody Valley of the Lyt

Thursday, April 11.—Yesterday afternoon and today the enemy exerted all his strength In men and guns In the battle now raging from the River Lys to'Wytschaete. Once again the British are outnumbered, and it is only by the courage and stubborn will of battalions weakenec by losses and of Individual soldiers animating their comrades by acts of brave example that the enemy has been unable to make rapid progress and, as at Wytschaete and Messines, has been flung back with most bloody losses.

The British had to give ground along the Lys Canal south of Armentieres, blowing bridges behind them and the railway bridge at Armentieres, and the enemy Is now trying to thrust forward south of Mervillc by bending back the British line from Lestrem and getting his guns across the Lys.

This morning there was a ceaseless tumult of gunfire, loud and terrible, over all this countryside. There were strange and terrible scenes on all the roads leading to the battle zone where British infantry and gunners were going forward to stem the tide. Masses of transport moved and civilians passed them In retreat to villages outside the wide area of shell range, and wounded men came staggering down afoot, if they could walk, or were brought down by ambulances, threading their way through all this surge and swell of war.

Here and there stretcher bearers waited with their burdens on the roadsides. Among them were men of the Black Watch, with the red hackle in their bonnets, calm and grave like statues beside their wounded comrades lying there with white, upturned faces and never a murmur or groan. They were the heroes who yesterday, with gallant hearts, came up at a great pace when the enemy was In 'Wytschaete and Messines, and in a fierce counterattack drove him off the crest of the ridge and dealt him a deadly blow there on that high ground, which was won In the battle of last June, when English, Irish, and New Zealand troops stormed the ridge and captured thousands of prisoners.

The enemy yesterday fell In great numbers and his dead lie thick, and though he came on wave after wave, after all his day's agony and struggle he had not gained a yard ot the crest, but was beaten back.

Engliih in Death Struggle

Friday, April 12.—The enemy is playing a great game In which he Is flinging all he has Into the hazard of war. He has, of course, a stupendous number of men, and, while holding his lines across the Somme after his drive down from St. Quentin and playing a defensive part against the French on tne British right, he has moved up to the north with secrecy and rapidity a large concentration ot troops and guns for new and tremendous blons against Halg's forces. This is continuing his now determined policy to crusn Kngland before either France or America is able to draw off his divisions by counteroffensives.

So now the British troops in the north are faced by enormous forces. Nearly thirty German divisions are against them from Wytschaete to La Bassee Canal, and with those troops are innumerable machine guns, trench mortars, and massed batteries of field guns, very quick to get forward in support of their infantry.

This northern offensive is as menacing as that which began to the southward on March 21, and the gallant men among these little red brick villages in French Flanders and in the flat fields between Bailleul and Bgthune are greatly outnumbered and can hold back the enemy only by fighting witli supreme courage.

Horrors Amid Beauty

The scene today along the line of this hostile invasion was most tragic, because all the cruelty of war was surrounded by beauty so intense that the contrast was horrible. The sky was of Summer blue, with sunshine glittering on the red-tiled roofs of the cottages and on their whitewashed walls and little windowpanes. All the hedges were clothed with green and flaked by snow-white thorn blossoms.

In a night, as it seems, all the orchards of France have flowered, and cherry and apple trees are in full splendor of bloom, fields are powdered with close-growing daisies, and the shadows of trees are long across the grass as the sun is setting. But over all this and in the midst of all this is agony and blood. On the roads are fugitives, wounded soldiers, dead horses, guns, and transports.

There are fires burning on the hillsides. I saw their flames and their great, rolling clouds of smoke rise this morning from places where the day before I had seen French peasants plowing as though no war were near, and young girls scattering grain over the fields harrowed by their small brothers, and old women bending to the soil in the small farmsteads where all their life was centred, until suddenly the frightful truth touched them and they had to leave their homes.

Sometimes today I wished to God the sun would not shine like this nor nature mock at me with its thrilling beauty of life. However, the British are full of confidence. If they were forced back they are glad to know that they made the enemy pay heavy prices and that their line is still unbroken. They are full of faith that against all odds they shall hold their own in the last battle of all.

Men Utterly Weary

Sunday, April U.— The Commander In Chief's order of the day should reveal to the British people and to the world what is happening out here in France—the enemy's object to seize the Channel ports and destroy the British Army, and the frightful forces

he has brought against it to achieve that plan, and the call that has come to the troops to hold every position to the last man. "Many among us now are tired. • » • With our back to the wall each one of us must fight to the end."

Yes, the men are tired, so tired after weeks of fighting, after these last days and nights, that they can hardly stagger up to resist another attack, yet they do so because their spirit wakes again above their bodily fatigue; so tired that they go on fighting like sleep-walkers, and in any respite lie in ditches and under hedges and in open fields under fire in deep slumber until the shouts of their Sergeants stir them again. Some of these men have been fishting since March 21 with only a few days' rest.

To people living in the villages of Flanders, from which one can see the whole sweep of the battleline, Friday night was full of terror, and from the windows they watched the burning of places from which they had escaped and the bonfires of their homes, and these refugees while sleeping with children at their breast wept.

Yesterday it was a drama of noise, beating against one's ears and against one's heart, and it was a strange, terrible thing to stand there, blind, as it were, listening to the infernal tumult of gunfire south of Bailleul, with knockings and sledgehammer strokes, loud and shocking, above the incessant drumfire of field artillery.

The German shells came howling over into fields and villages beyond Bailleul, bursting with gruff coughs, and there was an evil snarl of shrapnel in the mist. It was the noise of the greatest battle in history.

Fall of Neuve Eglise

Monday, April 15.—In the attempt to surround Bailleul two heavy attacks were made—one on the west toward Meteren, and one on the east at Neuve Eglise. Near Meteren the enemy failed utterly and suffered immense losses. There has been fierce fighting around a place called the Steam Mill, near Meteren, the enemy having been ordered to capture the Meteren road and the high ground beyond it at whatever sacrifice. They nade the sacrifice, but did not get the ground.

Neuve Eglise, however, is now theirs. Last night the British troops who had held it through three days and nights of intense strife withdrew, unknown to the enemy, to a line a short distance back from the village, in order to avoid remaining a target for unceasing shellfire.

It is now the enemy's soldiers who this morning are in the ruins under the great bombardment. This battle at Neuve Eglise has been filled with grim episodes, for the village changed hands several times. Each side fought most fiercely, with any kind of weapon, small bodies of men attacking and counterattacking among the broken walls and bits of houses and under the stump of the church tower deathtrap, as it now is for them. Without yielding to the direct assaults, the British obeyed orders, stumbled out of the place, silently and unknown to the enemy, and took up a line further back.

On the night before last the British line fell back from near La Cheche and swung around in a loop south of Neuve Eglise toward Ravelsberg Farm. It was then that Neuve Eglise itself became a place of hellish battle.

The enemy broke through into its ruined streets, and small 'parties of Wiltshires, Worcesters, and others sprang on the Germans or were killed. They fought desperately in backyards, over broken walls, and in shellpierced houses, wherever they could find Germans or hear the tattoo of machine guns.

Several times the enemy was cleared out of most of the town, and the British held a hollow square containing most of the streets and defended it as a kind of fortress, though with dwindling numbers, under a heavy fire of shells and trench mortars and machine guns.

Capture of Bailleul

Tuesday, April 16.—It seemed Inevitable after the British loss of Neuve Eglise that the enemy should make a quick and strong effort to capture Bailleul, and this he did last night by putting into the battle three divisions of fresh assaulting troops not previously used, and thus encircling that city by fierce attacks on ground southeast and east, including the ridge of Le Ravetsberg and Mont de Lille. His troops included his Alpine corps of Jaegers and possibly a Bavarian division and the 117th Division. Among the men defending the city against these heavy forces were the Staffords and Notts and Derbies.

Yesterday when I was in the country around Bailleul the enemy's guns were working up for this new attack, and there was a continual bombardment spreading up to Wytschaete Ridge. Heavy shells were being flung into Bailleul itself, and the smoke of fires was rising like mist from small towns and villages like Meteren and Morbecque down to Merville.

The British guns were also pounding the enemy's positions, and through that the concentrations of Germany—infantry, guns, transport, and cavalry—were moving up the roads in and north of Merville. The enemy must have lost severely again, for the British were stubborn in defense, but their machinegun fire must have been of a deadly nature owing to their positions along the railway and on the ridge; but the enemy advanced upon them in waves, striking upon both sides of Bailleul, so that after great resistance the line was withdrawn beyond the town.

The capture of this city belongs to the third great attack which has been delivered by the enemy since March 21. Always he has massed his strength opposite the British lines and struck with full weight against their

troops. In the first phase down from St. Quentin and the Cambrai salient the French came to their help and relieved them by their gallant aid, but the Germans then edged away from the French to strike the British again, this time at Arras, where they failed.

A third phase has now followed In this northern blow and once again the British have had to sustain the abominable pressure of German divisions constantly relieved and supported by fresh divisions passing through them, while the British troops fight on and on, killing the enemy in large numbers, but having to withdraw to new lines of defense. Under these enormous odds their heroism and their sacrifices are beyond words that may be uttered except in the silence of one's heart.

Wonderful Panorama

Wednesday, April 17.—Yesterday morning the fortune of war seemed again in favor of the enemy by the capture of Wytschaete Ridge down to Spanbroekmolen and by the entry of Meteren, west of Bailleul. The hard-pressed British troops were forced to give ground at both these places, after a grand resistance which cost the enemy many lives, but in the evening counterattacks hurled the enemy back from Wytschaete village, that pile of brick dust above stumps of dead trees which were Wytschaete Wood, and in a separate battle west of Bailluel the British regained, at least for a time, a part of Meteren. This morning renewed counterattacks gave them back all of Meteren and the enemy garrison there was destroyed.

I watched the battle last night and again this morning from the centre of the arc of fire, which was like a loop flung around from Wytschaete to Bailleul and in a sharp curve around to Merris and the country about Merville, so that the great gunfire and whole sweep of battle were close about on three sides.

It was an astounding panorama of open warfare, such as I never dreamed of seeing on this western front, where for so long both sides were hemmed in by trenches. Bailleul was still blazing. In the early evening, after a wet, misty day which filled all this battlefield with a whitish fog, one could only see that city under a cloud, but as the sky darkened and the wind blew some mist away enormous flames burned redly In the poor dead heart of Bailleul, and in their glare there were dark masses of walls and broken roofs outlined jaggedly by fire.

To the left the village of Locre was aflame under a storm of high explosives, and the enemy's guns were putting heavy shells down the roads which lead out to that place.

There were fires of burning farms and hamlets as far southward as Merville behind one, as one stood looking out to Bailleul, and lesser fires of single cottages and haystacks, and the wind drifted all the smoke of them across the sky in long white ribbons.

Drumfire Rocks Earth

It was just before dusk when the counterattacks began northward from Wytschaete and southward from Meteren, and although before then there had been a steady slogging of guns and howling of shells, at that time this volume of dreadful noise increased tremendously, and drumfire broke out in fury, so that the sky and earth trembled with it. It was like the beating of all the drums of the world in muffled tattoo, above which and through which there were enormous clangoring hammer strokes from the British and German heavies.

It went on till evening, with a few pale gleams of sun through storm clouds and the smoke of guns, and for miles all this panorama of battle was boiling and seething with bursting shells and curling wreaths of smoke from the batteries in action.

When darkness came each battery was revealed by its flashes, and all the fields around were filled with red winkings and sharp stabs of flame. There was no real darkness of night, for every second the sky was crossed by rushes of light and burning beacons in many places, and gun flashes etched outlines of trees and cottages.

The general situation today is in our favor for the time being by the recapture of Wytschaete and Meteren and the repulse of many German attacks, but it is with natural regret one hears of the withdrawal from the heights east of Ypres in order to straighten the line and economize men. There was one other regret today, though only sentimental. The enemy knocked down the Albert church tower, the tower of the golden Virgin, who had bent head downward over that ruined city with her babe outstretched. It was a great landmark bound up with all our memories.

How General Carey Saved Amiens

A Pivotal Episode in the Great Battle

ONE of the most dramatic episodes of the battle of Picardy was the disaster which befell the 5th British Army, under General Gough, and the brilliant way in which it was retrieved by Brig. Gen. Sandeman Carey, who was warmly complimented by Premier Lloyd George in his man-power speech, (Page 263.)

Sir Hubert Gough's army was sent down in January to take over from the French a sector forty to fifty miles long. Clearly such a line as this could be held only if it were strongly located and cunningly constructed, and there is no doubt that it was. Three lines were designed: First, an outpost line, then a "line of resistance," and then a "battleline." The outpost line was designed with special care. It consisted of a number of separate posts so located as to provide for a cross-fire on any enemy that penetrated them. It was intended to be held until the last gasp, and it was presumed that the Germans might pass through it, but that they would be terribly punished by the garrisons of the isolated posts.

In one way the attack was not a surprise. General Gough had known for days that it was imminent, and had moved his men up to their positions and made every preparation possible. But

one thing he could not foresee or guard against—the mist and fog. Under cover of the mist, which prevented sight for more than thirty yards, the Germans crept forward, and the outpost line was overrun before the alarm could be given. It was simply swamped, and the crossfire on which so much depended was never delivered.

Consequently the fight began at the line of resistance instead, and before many hours had passed by sheer weight of numbers the Germans had forced the British back on the battleline. Then the fewness of numbers began to tell, and, as always at points of junction between divisions, the Germans got through between the 7th and 19th, the 19th and 18th, and the 3d and 18th. The whole line was broken up, and it seemed as if the road was open to Amiens.

Meanwhile it was impossible for the French reinforcements to come up as quickly as was necessary, and the retreat began. Bridges were not blown up for the simple reason that the parties of engineers were all killed. Every kind of soldier that could be collected was hastily thrown into action to fill the gap —including a strong contingent of American engineers.

Close to where the gap occurred was a training school for machine gunners. Of course, the men in training had long since been hurried into action, but a large supply of machine guns remained. It is not every soldier, however, who understands how to use these weapons, and the officer found himself with a large supply of them which at all costs he must prevent from being captured, and very few men able to handle them. Those who could were put in charge of squads, and whenever they had a moment's respite from turning them on the Germans they set to work to give hurried instructions.

Orders came to General Carey at 2 A. M., March 26, to hold the gap. He went to work at once to develop the plans that had been hurriedly laid out. He organized a scratch force by telephone, messengers, and flag signals. Every available man—laborer, raw recruit, sapper, engineer—was rounded up. By the middle of the next morning Carey had found a considerable number of men, and by the early part of the afternoon he had organized them into some sort of force and had selected and marked out the position it must hold.

For a time he had some guns, but these were hurried away to another point that was even more seriously threatened. He had fifty cavalrymen to do a little scouting, but in the main he had to depend entirely on the sheer grit of his scratch force, who lay in their shallow trenches, firing almost point blank at the gray hordes of Germans, and at every moment of respite seized their shovels to improve their shelters.

For nearly six days they stuck to it, and, as Lloyd George said, "they held the German Army and closed that gap on the way to Amiens."

After a time they got some artillery behind them and things were easier, but at first it was just a ding-dong fight, with soldiers taking orders from strange officers, officers learning the ground by having to defend it, and every man from enlisted man to Brigadier jumping at each job as it came along and putting it through with all his might.

During all that six days General Carey was the life and inspiration of the entire

force. Careless of danger, he rode along the hastily intrenched line, giving an order here and shouting words of encouragement there to his weary and hard-pressed men.

His staff was as hastily recruited as his men. He had no knowledge of how long he must hold out. He was not even certain of getting supplies of ammunition and provisions.

All he had to do was to hang on, and hang on he did against an almost endless series of formidable attacks. He never lost heart or wavered. The gap to Amiens was closed and held.

Three companies of an engineering regiment were caught in the early bombardment and ordered to fall back. To one of the American companies, which had been consolidated with the British Royal Engineers, was delegated the task of guaranteeing the destruction of an engineers' dump, which it had been decided to abandon. This detachment destroyed all the material, made a rapid retreat, caught up with the larger group, and immediately resumed work, laying out trenches. These operations lasted from March 22 to 27. As the German attack became more intense, the engineers were joined by cooks, orderlies, and railway men as a part of General Carey's forces. The commanding officer o* an American regiment took charge of an infantry sub-sector and directed the action of his troops for one week, until the emergency passed at that point. To this officer General Rawlinson, commanding the British Army engaged in that sector, sent the following letter:

The army commander wishes to record officially his appreciation of the excellent work your regiment has done in assisting the British Army to resist the enemy's powerful offensive during the last ten days. I fully realize that it has been largely due to your assistance that the enemy has been checked, and I rely on you to assist us still further during the few days which are still to come before I shall be able to relieve you in the line.

I consider your work in the line to b% greatly enhanced by the fact that, for six weeks previous to taking your place In the front line, your men had been working at such high pressure erecting heavy bridges on the Somme. My best congratulations and warm thanks to all.


« ПретходнаНастави »