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said the French commander, “or here we all die.” For three days the contest, one of the world's decisive battles, raged; the allied lines held firm; by September 9th the entire German army was in retreat; and Paris was saved.
The allies followed the retreating foe as far as the River Aisne, where the Germans turned and gave battle. In magnitude the battle was greater than that at the Marne had been, but its results were less decisive. The Germans held their ground, and established themselves in the systems of trenches which were thereafter so striking a feature of the war on the western front. By the middle of September the Germans were thus established along a line from near Verdun to Bapaume which, with minor changes, they continued to hold for two years.
THE WAR IN FLANDERS From Bapaume northward desperate struggles continued for some time. The Belgians and British, who chiefly represented the allies there, at first hoped to hold a line running from Bapaume through Lille, Ghent and Antwerp. But from October 9th to 12th the three places last named were taken by the Belgians. There was desperate fighting at Ypres and at Loos, in which twothirds of the British army was destroyed or disabled, but the surviving remnant stubbornly held on. The little Belgian army also inflicted heavy losses upon the Germans on the Yser, and with the aid of floods caused by cutting the dikes prevented further advance of the invaders. The year ended with the Germans in possession of all of Belgium save a small triangle at the extreme southwest corner of the kingdom.
On the lines thus established, the armies remained for two years, waiting for the British Government to recruit, train and equip an army of several millions. And just as the Belgians held the Germans in check for a few days until the French could get ready to fight for Paris on the Marne, so during all this longer time it fell chiefly to the French to hold the Germans back until the British could come to their aid. Meantime the Germans did all the damage they could to the parts of France which they were occupying, taking especial pleasure in mutilating or destroying priceless works of art and historic buildings. Thus they nearly destroyed and hopelessly damaged the cathedral of Rheims, one of the noblest churches and most interesting historic landmarks in the world.
THE SECOND STAGE There followed more than a year and a half of trench fighting, with few important gains for either side and no decision of the whole campaign. The Germans were paying chief attention to the war against Russia on the eastern front, and the French were simply holding their own until the millions of soldiers in the British training camps could be prepared to take the field, and until artillery and munitions superior to that of the Germans could be provided. There was a fierce renewal of the German drive toward Calais, in April, 1915, which was repulsed by the allies.
In September of that year the allies launched a general drive against the German lines along nearly the whole front. In Picardy and Artois the British fought a series of bloody battles, aiming toward Lille and centering around Loos, while the French in Champagne won some considerable successes. Following these operations, an attempt was made at both points to break through the German line. But by this time hundreds of thousands of German troops had been hurried across from Poland, and the allies were not only repulsed but were also once more placed upon the defensive.
"THEY SHALL NOT PASS” The third stage of the western war began in the last week of February, 1916, and for four months was marked with a persistent ferocity never before witnessed in this or any war. It began with a German attack upon the French fortress town of Verdun. The German Crown Prince was in command, and at his disposal were hundreds of thousands of the very flower of the German army. His orders from his father were, that he must capture Verdun, at any cost. Upon that achievement depended his promotion to the rank of Field Marshal, which he coveted and which the Emperor felt it a reproach for him not to have.
The first German attacks were successful, and at the northeast the French were driven back upon the city. Then the attack shifted to the northwest, around Dead Man's Hill, and for more than three months raged with a ferocity never before known. Foot by foot the French were driven back, taking three lives for every life they gave. Two forts close to Verdun were captured by the Germans, Douaumont on May 24th and Vaux on June 6th. But that was their high-water mark. From the beginning the French commander had grimly declared, “They shall not pass!” They
Worn with their furious onset the Germans halted, weakened, and faltered. The French rallied and assumed the aggressive. The drive at Verdun had failed.
did not pass.
THE THIRD STAGE June, 1916, marked the turning of the tide of war on the western battle front. At the beginning of July came a general forward movement of the allies in the valley of the Somme. All through July and August the Germans were inch by inch driven back toward Bapaume and Peronne, on a frontage of fifteen miles. In September the fighting grew still more bitter, and a new element was introduced, the British “tanks” or armored automobiles, which created great consternation among the enemy.
In mid-November the severity of the weather compelled a slackening of the campaign. But in January the British gained further advantages, while the German Crown Prince made another attack upon Verdun. In March the allies began a “spring drive," and soon forced the Germans out of Bapaume and Peronne. This advance continued with steadily increasing force.
The progress of the allies was measured by miles rather than, as before, by yards. The Germans fell back with fearful losses to the so-called Hindenburg line of fortifications. That line was quickly broken through by the allies, and they fell back to the Siegfried line. But by mid-April that too was broken, and the Germans, retreating and becoming demoralized, were compelled more and more to fight in the open instead of in trenches, and thus were placed at what seemed a hopeless disadvantage.
In their retreat, however, the Germans showed themselves if possible more ruthless and savage than they had been during their advance. They laid the country waste behind them to an almost incredible degree. Not only were all fortifications, bridges and public works destroyed, but all private buildings shared the same fate. Churches were first defiled and then wrecked. Venerable historic monuments, of no value for military or other practical purposes but priceless for their sentimental associations or their artistic beauty, were wantonly demolished. Even the tombs of the dead were violated, the monuments above them were overthrown and the coffins were dug up and rifled for the lead or copper linings which many contained.
THE ITALIAN FRONTIER
Immediately after declaring war against Austria, on May 23, 1915, Italy sent two armies against her foe. One invaded the Trentino and advanced toward Trent. A counter invasion of Italy in that region was made by Austria, but was repelled. The second and larger Italian army proceeded toward Trieste, by way of the Isonzo River and Gorizia. Much fighting was done, including some extraordinary operations on the slopes and summits of lofty Alpine peaks and ridges, but comparatively little was achieved in the way of conquest. Gorizia was captured by the Italians on August 8, 1916, but no further progress was made toward Trieste, save in an occasional aeroplane raid, which was returned by the Austrians with attempts to drop bombs upon the historic palaces of Venice.