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Saxon troops, and Landwehr suffered misery and lost many men. They lay out in the flat, wet fields two nights previously, and were very cold, and scared by the Belgian gunfire which burst among them. They had no great artillery behind them, and the Saxons and German sailors now prisoners of the Belgians curse bitterly because they were expected to get through easily in spite of thi3.
Germans Cut Off
The enemy's intention was to take Bixschoote and advance across the Yser Canal, driving south to Popcringhe. What they did by their massed attacks was to penetrate to a point near Hoekske, southeast of Merckem, the main weight of their pressure being directed along the Bixschoote road. The Belgians delivered a quick counterattack, with wonderful enthusiasm among officers and men. They had perfect knowledge Of the country, and used this fully by striking up from a place called Luyghem in such a way that the enemy was driven toward the swamp, where any who went in sank up to his neck in the ice-cold water.
The Germans were cut off from their own lines and trapped. Seven hundred of thom surrendered, men of all the regiments I have mentioned, and they seemed to think themselves lucky at getting off so cheaply, though they quailed when they were brought back through the towns behind the lines, and the Belgian women, remembering many things, raised a cry as these men passed. It was not a pleasant sound. I heard it once in France when a German officer passed through with an escort. It was a cry which made my blood run cold. But there is gladness among the Belgian troops, for they had long waited for their chance of striking, and made good.
Heroism of the Doctors
As heroic a story as anything in all this history of the last four weeks is that of the medical officers, nurses, orderlies, and ambulance men belonging to these casualty clearing stations, who were not far behind the fighting lines when the battle began on March 21.
And then in a few hours they were on the very edge of the enemy's advancing tide, so that they were almost caught by it and had to make brave efforts to rescue the wounded, save their equipment, and get away to a place where for a little while again they could go on with their noble work until the red edge of war swept up with its fire again and they had to retreat still further.
I used to pass very often the outer ring of those casualty clearing stations on the right of the British line beyond Bapaume, In the Cambrai salient, and away toward St. Quentin.
They were almost caught on that day of March 21 when the infernal bombardment
was flung over a wide belt of the British lines, and the enemy stormed the defenses and the British fought back in heroic rearguard actions. It became a question of only a few hours, sometimes of the last quarter of an hour, when these brave medical officers with the nurses and orderlies could get away. It is always the rule of patients first, and at Ham there were 1,200 wounded, and many others in other places. The railways were choked with military transport or destroyed by shellfire. On the roads refugees were mixed up with the transport and guns and troops. It was a frightful problem, but the medical staffs did not lose their nerve, and set about the business of removal with fine skill and discipline.
Caring for the Wounded
What wounded could walk were gathered together and sent on to the roads to make their way back as far as their strength would carry them. The badly wounded were packed into all the available ambulances and sent away. The equipment had sometimes to he put on any train, regardless of Its destination. It was gathered in afterward from whatever place It went to.
A casualty clearing station of 1,000 beds needs 100 lorries to move it, but nine lorries take a full kit for 2(Ki beds, and always nine lorries moved off first after the wounded to take up a new station further back and carry on. The medical officers looked after the surgical instruments and trundled them along the roads on wheeled stretchers. One officer went twenty-five miles this way and another seventeen miles. The sisters, after the wounded had left, were put on any vehicle going back from the battleline.
During these days I saw them squeezed between drivers and men on motor lorries, sitting among the Tommies in transport wagons, one at least on a gun limber, and others perched on top of forage, still merry and bright in spite of all the tragedy about them, because that Is their training and their faith.
In this retreat one poor sister was killed and another wounded. Many of them, with the medical officers, lost their kits. At Achlet le Grand, on March 21, a shell killed eight orderlies and blew out the back of the operating theatre, and at another village on a second night, three ambulances were smashed up by bombs. Two drivers, with some of their patients, were killed, but all the wounded were brought away from the outer ring of casualty clearing stations safely, and then from the second ring through Roye and Marlncourt, Dernacourt, and Aveluy.
At Koye there was no time to spare, owing to the enemy's rapid advance, and seventy patients remained with a medical officer and twelve orderlies until they could be rescued, If there was any possible chance. There seemed at first no chance, but on the way back to Villers-Bretonneux the medical officer in command of the first convoy met some motor ambulances and begged the drivers to go into Roye and rescue those who had been left behind. They went bravely and brought away all the wounded and the staff, and had no time to spare, because the last ambulance came under the German rifle fire. It is a strange and wonderful thing that the patients do not seem to be harmed in any way by this excitement and fatigue, and one of the chiefs who made a tour of inspection of all his clearing stations at this time tells us he found all the wounded in good condition and apparently no worse for their experience.
Fall of Villers-Bretonneux
On April 24 the Germans attacked the important village of Villers-Bretonneux, near Amiens; it is on a hill above the Somme, and was used as a corps headquarters and ad~ ministrative office by the British. The attack was in great force, including tanks, the first time they had been used by the Germans.
The initial assault was a success and the Germans took the village and advanced nearly a mile beyond—but let Mr. Gibbs tell the rest:
During the night they were driven out by Australian troops, who, by a most skillful and daring piece of generalship, were sent forward in the darkness without preliminary artillery preparation, and, relying absolutely on the weapons they carried to regain this important portion, which gave the enemy full observation of the British positions on both sides of the Somme Valley beyond Amiens.
The splendid courage of the Australian troops, the cunning of their machine gunners, and the fine leadership of their officers achieved success, and, in conjunction with English battalions, they spent the night clearing out the enemy from the village, where he made a desperate resistance, and brought back altogther something like 700 or 800 prisoners.
It was a complete reversal of fortune for the enemy, and in this twenty-four hours of fighting he has lost great numbers of men, whose bodies lie in heaps between Villers-Bretonneux and Warfusee and all about the ruins and fields in that neighborhood.
First German Tanks
The attack on Villers-Bretonneux was made by four divisions. They were the 4th Guards, the 77th, quite new to this phase of the war, the 228th, and the 243d. They were In the full strength of divisions, twelve regiments In each, and a great weight of men on such a narrow front against one British division, whose men had already been under frightful fire and had been living in clouds of poison gas with masks on.
An officer of the Middlesex was In a bit of a trench when the first German tank attacked his men on the east side of the village.
and it went right over him as he lay crouched, and traveled on, accompanied by bodies of troops.
The Middlesex and West Yorks put up a great fight but had to give ground to superior numbers. The East Lancashires, who were the garrison of Villers-Bretonneux, were also attacked with great odds, and after a brave resistance fell back with the general line, which took up a position toward the end of this first phase of the battle west of VillersBretonneux and in the edge of Bois Abbe to the left of it. Into this wood in the course of the day a German patrol of one officer and forty men made their way and stayed there out of touch with their own men, and were taken prisoners last night.
The Night Battle
The attack by the Australians was made after 10 o'clock at night. It was difficult to attack suddenly like this. There was no artillery preparation. There should have been a moon, but by bad luck it was veiled in a thick, wet mist.
It was decided by the Australian General that his men should go straight into the attack with bayonet and machine gun, not waiting for artillery protection which would tell the enemy what was coming.
The plan of attack was to push forward in two bodies and to encircle Villers-Bretonneux, while some Northamptons and others were In the centre with the order to fight through the village from the north. This manoeuvre was carried out owing to the magnificent courage of each Australian soldier and the gallantry of the officers.
The Germans fought desperately when they found themselves in danger of being trapped. They had nests of machine guns along the railway embankment below the village, and these fired fiercely, sweeping the attackers who tried to advance upon them.
Those who worked around north and east of the village also came under a burst of machine-gun fire from weapons hidden among the ruins and trenches, but they rounded up the enemy and fought him from one bit of ruin to another in streets which used to be filled with civilian life only a few weeks ago and crowded with staff officers and staff cars, but now were littered with dead bodies and raked by bullets.
The Australians captured two light field guns, which the enemy had brought up in the morning, according to his present habit of advancing guns behind his third wave of men, and several minenwerfer and many machine guns.
Great Piles of Dead
During the night they and the English troops seized over 500 men as prisoners and sent them back, and several hundred seem to have been routed out. Today, [the 25th,] Judging from these I saw myself, the living were not so many as the dead.
It was fierce fighting in Villers-Bretonneux and around it last night and this morning the enemy fought until put out by bayonet, rifle bullet, or machine gun. The Australian officers say that they have never seen such piles of dead, not even outside of Bullecourt or Lagnicourt last year, as those who lie about this village of frightful strife.
The German tanks, which were first seen In this battle, though heavier than the British, with bigger guns, have now beaten a retreat, leaving one of their type in No Man's Land. The tank has a high turret and thick armor plates, and is steered and worked on a different system from the British. One of them was "killed" by a tank of the old British class, and then the British put In some of the newer, faster, and smaller types, which can steer almost as easily as a motor car, as I know, because I have traveled in one at great pace over rough ground.
These set out to attack bodies of German infantry of the 77th Division forming up near Cachy. It was a terrible encounter, and when they returned this morning their flanks were red with blood. They slew Germans not by dozens nor by scores, but by platoons and companies. They got right among the masses of men and swept them with fire, and those they did not kill with their guns they crushed beneath them, manoeuvring about and trampling them down as they fell. It seems to have been as bloody a slaughter as anything in this war.
Battle for Kemmel Hill
The furious battle for the possession of Kemmel Hill, an eminence of strategic importance in the Ypres region, occurred April 15, 26, and 27, and was as sanguinary as any in Flanders. Although the Germans won the hill, their victory involved such colossal sacrifices that this deadly thrust ended their serious offensive for the time. Mr. Gibbs'S description of this battle in part follows:
After several attempts against Kemmel had been frustrated the enemy all went out, April 23, to capture this position. Four divisions at least, including the Alpine Corps, the 11th Bavarians, and the 5th, 6th, and l(l7th, were moved against Kemmel in the early morning fog after a tremendous bombardment of the Franco-British positions. It was a bombardment that begun before the first glimmer of dawn, like one of those which the British used to arrange In the days of their great Flanders battles last year. It came down swamping Kemmel Hill so that It was like a volcano, and stretched away on to the British lines on the left of the French by Maedelstefia Farm and Grand Bols down to Vierstraat.
Then the German Infantry attacked In depth, battalion behind battalion, division behind division, and their mountain troops of Alpine Corps and Jagers and Bavarians came on first in the assault of Kemmel Hill. which was not much more than a hillock, though It looms large in Flanders, and In this war. The French had suffered a ter
rible ordeal of fire, and the main thrust of the German strength was against them.
Foe Strikes in Two Directions
The enemy struck in two directions to encircle the hill and village of Kemmel, one arrowhead striking to Dranoutre and the other at the point of junction between the French and British northward.
In each case they were favored by fog and the effect of their gunfire. They were able to drive in a wedge which they pushed forward until they had caused gaps. The French on Kemmel Hill became isolated and there was a gulf between the British and the French and between the French left and right.
On the hill the French garrison fought with splendid heroism. These men, when quite surrounded, would not yield, but served their machine guns and rifles for many hours, determined to hold their positions at all costs, and to the death. Small parties of them on the west of the hill held out until midday or beyond, according to the reports of the airmen, who flew low over them, but by 9 o'clock this morning, owing to the gaps made by the enemy, the French main line was compelled to draw back from Kemmel.
They Inflicted severe losses on the enemy as they fell back and thwarted his efforts to break their line on the new defensive positions. Meanwhile a body of Scottish troops were seriously involved. Some of their officers whom I saw today tell me the fog was so thick, as on March 21, that after a terrific bombardment the first thing known at some points a little way behind the line was when the Germans were all around them.
Germans Under Von Arnim
The German army of assault upon Kemmel and the surrounding country was under command of General Slxt von Arnim, who was the leading opponent of the Allies in the long struggle of the first Somme battles, and whose clear and ruthless intelligence was revealed in the famous document summing up the first phase of that fighting, when he frankly confessed to many failures of organization and supply, but with acute criticism which was not that of a weak or Indecisive man.
Under his command as corps commanders were Generals Seiger and von Eberhardt, and they had picked troops, including the Alpine Corps and strong Bavarian and Prussian divisions specially trained for assault in such country as that of Kemmel. Their plan of attack to strike at the points of Junction between the French and British east of Kemmel. and also at the French troops south of it, near Dranoutre, proved for the time successful, and by driving in wedges they were able to make the Allies fall back on the flanks and encircle Kemmel Hill after furious and heroic fighting by the French and British troops.
The British now were in weak numbers compared with the strength brought against them. Their withdrawal to the new lines of defense by Vierstraat and the furious attacks across the Ypres-Comines Canal gave the enemy some ground in the region of St. Eloi and the bluff and the spoil bank of the canal itself. It is villainous ground there, foul with wreckage of the old fighting.
British troops and Canadian troops were put to the .supreme test of courage to take and hold these places. The glorious old 3d Division, commanded in those days of 1915 and 1916 by General Haldane, fought from St. Eloi to the bluff, month in and month out, and lost many gallant officers and men there after acts of courage which belong to history.
German storm troops made three violent attacks on Locre, which were flung back by the French, with heavy casualties among the enemy, and it was only at the fourth attempt with fresh reserves that they were able to enter the ruins of the village, from which the French then fell back in order to reorganize for a counterattack. This they launched today at an early hour, and now Locre is in their hands after close fighting, in which they slew numbers of the enemy.
After their success on April 25, when they captured Kemmel, the Germans have made little progress, and, though there was fierce fighting all day yesterday, they failed to gain their objectives, and were raked by fire hour after hour, so that large numbers of their dead lie on the field of battle. At 4 In the afternoon they engaged in fresh assaults upon the positions near Ridge Wood, to which the line had fallen back, but English and Scottish troops repulsed them and scattered their waves. It was a bad day for them because of their great losses. The British have broken the fightirg quality of some of the enemy's most renowned regiments.
The Country Devastated
All the roads and camps around Tpres are under a heavy, harassing fire once more, Ypres itself being savagely bombarded by high-explosive and gas shells, so that after some months of respite those poor ruins are again under that black spell which makes them the most sinister place in the world. Suicide Corner has come into its own again, and the old unhealthy plague spots up by the canal are under fire.
The enemy's guns are reaching out to fields and villages hitherto untouched by fire, and these harassing shots, intended, perhaps, to catch traffic on the roads or soldiers' camps, often serve the enemy no more than by the death of innocent women and children. A day or two ago a monstrous shell fell just outside a little Flemish cottage tucked away In an angle of a road which I often pass. It scooped out a deep pit in the garden without even scarring the cottage walls, but two children were playing in the garden and were laid dead beside a flower bed.
Yesterday a small boy I know went grubbing about this plot of earth and brought back a great chunk of shell bigger than his head. Those are the games children play in this merry century of ours. They are astoundingly indifferent to the perils about them, and sleep o' nights to the thunder of gunfire not very far away, or slip their heads under the bedclothes when bombs fall near.
But older folk find this gradual creeping up of the war a nervous strain and a mental agony which keeps them on the rack. It is pitiful to watch their doubts and perplexities and their clinging on to their homes and property. Shells smash outlying cottages to dust with their people inside them, but still the people in the village itself stay on, hoping against hope that the Germans' guns have reached their furthest range.
"I shall not go till the first shell falls In the middle of the square," said a girl.
Another woman said:
"If I go I lose all I have in life, so I will risk another day."
They take extraordinary risks, and our officers and men find some of them on the very battlefields and in farmyards where they unlimber their guns.
Heavy German Losses
The enemy's losses in this continual fighting have been severe. We have been able to get actual figures of some of their casualties, which are typical of the more general effect of the British fire. Of one company of the 7th German Division which fought at St. Eloi on Friday only 40 men remained out of its full strength of 120.
The 4th Ersatz Division lost most heavily, and a prisoner of the 279th Pioneer Company, which relieved the 300th Regiment of that division, says the average company strength was fifteen men.
The entire regimental staff was killed by a direct hit of a British shell on their headquarters dugout near Cantieux. The same thing happened to the battalion headquarters of the 223d Regiment, which Is now in a state of low morale, having been fearfully cut up.
The 1st Guards Reserve Regiment of the 1st Guards Division, which was much weakened In the fighting on the Somme and afterward was sent to La Bassee, lost thirtysix officers, including a regimental commander and one battalion commander. These losses are affecting Inevitably the outlook of the German troops on the prospects of their continued offensive.
Prisoners from divisions which suffered most confess they have no further enthusiasm for fighting, and that their regiments can only be made to attack by stern discipline and the knowledge that they must fight on or be shot for desertion.
On the other hand, the best German troops, especially those now attacking in Flanders, like the Alpine Corps and 11th Bavarian Division, are elated and full of warlike spirit.
Even their prisoners profess to believe they are winning the war and will have a German peace before the year is out.
Desperate Fighting for Ypre»
The Germans vainly launched desperate attacks of unexampled Jury against the British and French lines in the Ypres region on April 29. Mr. Gibbs in his cable dispatch of that date thus refers to these assaults:
It becomes clearer every hour that the enemy suffered a disastrous defeat today. Attack after attack was smashed up by the British artillery and infantry, and he has not made a foot of ground on the British front.
The Border Regiment this morning repulsed four heavy assaults on the Kemmel-La Clytte road, where there was extremely hard fighting, and destroyed the enemy each time.
One of the enemy's main thrusts was between Scherpenberg and Mont Rouge, where they made a wedge for a time and captured the crossroads, and it was here that a gallant French counterattack swept them back.
The British had no more than a post or two In Voormezeele this morning, and the enemy was there in greater strength, and sent his storm troops through this place, but was never able to advance against the fire of the British battalions.
His losses began yesterday, when his troops were seen massing on the road between Zillebeke and Ypres in a dense fog, through which he attempted to make a surprise attack. This was observed by low-flying planes, and his assembly was shattered by gunfire. After a fierce shelling all night, so' tremendous along the whole northern front that the countryside was shaken by its tumult, German troops again assembled in the early morning mist, but were caught once more in the British bombardment.
At 3 o'clock a tremendous barrage was flung down by the German gunners from Ypres to Bailleul, and later they began the battle by launching first an attack between Zillebeke Lake and Meteren. South of Ypres they crossed the Yser Canal by Lock 8, near Voormezeele, which was their direction of attack against the British, while they tried to drive up past Locre against the French on the three hills.
The successful defense has made the day most bloody for many German regiments.
Enemy's Attacks Futile
In order to turn them if frontal attacks failed against the French, German storm troops—they are now called grosskampf, or great offensive troops—were to break the British lines on the French left between Locre and Voormezeele and on the French right near Merris and Meteren. That obviously was the intention of the German High Command this morning, judging from their direction of assault.
So far they have failed utterly. They failed to break or bend the British wings, on
the French centre, and they failed to capture the hills, or any one of them, defended by the French divisions.
They have attacked again and again since this morning's dawn, heavy forces of German Infantry being sent forward after their first waves against Scherpenberg and Voormezeele, which lies to the east of Dickebusch Lake, but these men have been slaughtered by the French and British fire and made no Important progress at any point.
For a time the situation seemed critical at one or two points, and It was reported that the Germans had been storming the slopes of Mont Rouge and Mont Noir, but one of the British airmen flew over these hills at 200 feet above their crests, and could see no German infantry near them.
Round about Voormezeele, North Country and other English battalions had to sustain determined and furious efforts of Alpine and Bavarian troops to drive through them by weight of numbers, after hours of Intense bombardment, but the men held their ground and inflicted severe punishment upon the enemy.
All through the day the German losses have been heavy under field-gun and machine-gun fire, and the British batteries, alongside the French seventy-fives, swept down the enemy's advancing waves and his masses assembled in support at short range.
There Is no doubt that the French guarding the three hills have fought with extreme valor and skill. For a brief period the Germans apparently were able to draw near and take some of the ground near Locre, but an Immediate counterattack was organized by the French General, and the line of French troops swung forward and swept the enemy back. Further attacks by the Germans north of Ypres and on the Belgian front were repulsed easily, and again the enemy lost many men.
French and British Valor
On April 30 Mr. Glbbs confirmed the details of the disastrous German defeats on the two preceding days and gave these further particulars:
It was the valor of Frenchmen as well as Englishmen which yesterday inflicted defeat upon many German divisions, and the Allies fought side by side, and their batteries fired from the same fields and their wounded came back along the same roads, and the khaki and blue lay out upon the same brown earth.
I have already given an outline of yesterday's battle, how, after a colossal bombardment, the German attack early in the morning from north of Ypres to south of Voormezeele, where English battalions held the lines, and from La Clytte past the three hills of Scherpenberg. Mont Rouge, and Mont Xoir, which French troops held to the north of Meteren. where the English joined them; again, how the English Tommies held firm