A School History of the Great War - Chapter 10
The War in 1916
"They Shall Not Pass! "- Early in 1916 the Germans began a furious attack on the strong French position at Verdun. This point was a highly important one for the French, because if it were captured by the enemy, he could make flank attacks upon their adjoining lines and perhaps compel a general retreat. The Germans had long been massing materials and men for the greatest military offensive which the world had ever seen. Twenty thousand men were placed on each mile of the front for a distance of twenty-five miles, While hundreds of thousands more were held in reserve. Thousands of guns of all sizes were brought up for the attack. Under the command of the German crown prince, the German people and the whole world were to be shown that the German army was still invincible.
Beginning on February 21, the titanic struggle around Verdun continued until July, when the attacks and counter-attacks were gradually suspended. In the early attacks the French were driven in from advanced positions, and then the Germans charged the heavily protected woodlands and hills. In massed formation they advanced in the face of artillery, machine-gun, and rifle fire of the heaviest character. The first waves were mown down like grain; but other troops, and still others climbed over the bodies of their dead comrades. Never since the world began had such slaughter been seen.
During the intervals between the 'infantry attacks the French troops were subjected to an unprecedented artillery .fire. Suffering under a strain such as armies had never hitherto known, the French patriots yet held true to their watchword, "They shall not pass." General Pétain (,pä-tàn'),in a stirring address, said to his entrenched heroes, "Courage, we'll get them!" (" Courage, on les aura!"), and this phrase became the Verdun battle-cry. Try as the Germans would, from every possible point, they could not break through the living wall of Frenchmen. A little ground was won here and there, but before the end of the year nearly all had been retaken by the French. At a frightful cost the German crown prince and his military advisers had put their fighting machine to the test, and it had failed. A half million men, killed, wounded, or prisoners, were lost to the Germans before they ceased their attacks at this point.
The Battle of the Somme. - In July, 1916, while the Verdun struggle was still undetermined, the French and British troops began an advance on the German line along the river Somme (som). Exceedingly heavy artillery attacks first battered down the enemy defenses, and then the infantry went "over the top." During the long course of the Battle of the Somme (July I to November 17) the Allies advanced on a front of twenty
miles to a maximum depth of about nine miles. Slowly, and at great expense of ammunition and men on both sides, the Allied progress had been won. They had failed to break through the German line, but they had shown how it might gradually be pushed back. And they .had relieved the important position of Verdun from further severe attacks, because German forces were needed to the westward. In the course of this battle, on September 15, the British first used their most original military machines - the "tanks." Thereafter these armored cruisers of the land were to play an increasingly important part along the western front.
Increased Use of Aircraft. - Aircraft, too, were every day becoming more valuable. In the first year
of the war airplanes were used mainly for observation ~ purposes: to find the location of enemy forts, trenches, ~ troops, and batteries; and to direct the fire of the. aviator's own batteries. Hundreds of photographs were taken by the airmen, rapidly developed, and within ~ thirty minutes the staff officers could be seen studying ~ them with microscopes to determine what changes had taken place within the enemy's lines. Anchored balloons, too, were used for similar purposes.
Airplane construction and use developed more rapidly' than any other feature in the war. After the observa-. tion machines, came the battle-planes, whose first. purpose was to clear the way and protect the observation -planes. Later, heavy machines for bombing expedition: were constructed; and squadrons of airplanes now took part in every battle, preceding the attacking party, and firing with machine-guns and bombs upon the enemy's trenches or his massed troops back of the line.
The Russians Invade Turkey in Asia. In the early months of 1916 Russian troops met with success in an offensive in the part of Turkey south of the Caucasus. This territory, known as Armenia, is inhabited by a Christian population who for many years had been the victims of Turkish persecutions; half a million were cruelly exterminated after Turkey allied herself with Germany in 1914. The Russians advanced steadily, inflicting serious defeats upon the Turkish forces.
In February they took possession of Erz'erum, a strongly fortified city of Armenia. The capture of this point was of importance because it was a step in the plan for~ cooperation with the British armies which were pushing their way north from the region of the Persian Gulf.' It had the further important result of interrupting Turkish plans for an invasion of Egypt by way of the Isthmus of Suez, as Turkey was compelled to concentrate her power for the defense of her own territory.
In April, Treb'izond, the most important, city on the' Turkish shore of the Black Sea, surrendered to the invading Russian army. The Russians, supported by fleets along the coast, had made the defense of the city impossible. The fall of Trebizond was a very serious blow to 'the power of Turkey in Asia Minor.
The Campaign in Mesopotamia. Part of the Allied plan in the east was for the junction of Russian armies operating from the region of the Caucasus with British ~ troops from the land around the Persian Gulf. While 'the Russians, as we have seen, were making a note-worthy success of their part of this program, the British had not been so fortunate. Their plan was to take possession of Mesopotamia, the valley of the Tigris- ~ Euphrates, and occupy its capital, the famous city of Bagdad. General Townshend with an insufficient force '~ had begun his march up the Tigris River the year before and in March, 5, had occupied the stronghold of Kut-el-Ama'ra, about ioo miles below Bagdad. Here later he was besieged by a Turkish army. A Russian army on the way from Erzerum and an English relief force from the south failed to reach the place in time, and April 29, 1916, General Townshend was forced by starvation to surrender.
Russian Successes in Austria. - During, the summer months the Russians under the command of one of their greatest leaders, General Brusilov, renewed their offensive against the border lands of Austria-Hungary. It looked for a while as if the disasters of 1915 in this region were about to be redeemed. On a wide front extending from the Prip'et marshes in eastern Poland all the way to Bukowina (boo-ko-vee'nah), the Austrian province southeast of Galicia, the Russian armies advanced. They invaded Galicia and took hundreds of thousands of Austrian prisoners. Austria was compelled to transfer troops from her Italian front. The year 1916 closed with the Russians in a decidedly more favorable military position than they had occupied a year before.
Roumania in the War. - Roumania had long looked forward to an extension of her boundaries to include all the Roumanians of southeastern Europe. Across the border, in southeastern Hungary, were more than two million Roumanians living in the large region known as Transylvania. The annexation of Transylvania was one of the greatest ambitions of Roumanian leaders. In August, 1916, encouraged by the promises of Russia, her powerful neighbor and protector, Roumania entered the war on the side of the Allies.
On her western front Roumania could easily defend herself from invasion because of strong mountain barriers. Her point of danger was the Bulgarian boundary between the Danube and the Black Sea. Here she should have concentrated her strength for defense against the Bulgarian forces or even for an offensive into Bulgaria. Instead she sent most of her armies west into Transylvania. Presently a strong force of Germans and Bulgarians crossed the border into southeastern Roumania (the Dobrudja) and marched north in a resistless offensive. Meanwhile the Roumanians in Transylvania, far from their base of supplies, had advanced too fast for safety. Moreover, they suffered from a shortage of ammunition, probably caused by the failure of certain pro-German Russian officials to cooperate with the Roumanians as they had promised. A large German army attacked the Roumanian forces and drove them back with heavy losses to their own borders. The boundaries were then crossed by the invaders and the greater part of the country occupied. This disaster brought enormous advantages to the enemy.~ The battle front of the Central Powers was shortened by five hundred miles, the oil and wheat fields which constitute the chief wealth of Roumania fell into their hands, and their communications with Turkey were materially strengthened.
The Italian Front. - The winter of 1915-1916 was uncommonly severe in the Alps; snow thirty feet deep ~ lay on some of the passes, and military operations were brought almost to a standstill. During the spring the Austrians made preparations for a great offensive against Italy, collecting over a third of a million of men and enormous stores of provisions and munitions. During May and June, 1916, this Austrian force drove back the Italians from their advanced positions in the Trentino valley. It seemed that the enemy would enter the valley of the Po and capture the cities of the most prosperous part of Italy. But the farther the Austrian army advanced, the more difficult it was to bring supplies up the narrow Alpine valleys. Meantime, on the eastern frontier the Russians began their great drive into Austrian territory.. There was nothing for the Austrians to do but retire from the Trentino front. This they did with the loss of one third of their force, and of great quantities of war material.
The Italians now took the offensive, not only on the Trentino, but also on their eastern frontier, where, the year before, they had begun an advance toward the "unredeemed" territory around Trieste (map, page so). The Ison'zo River was crossed and after months of warfare the city and fortresses of Gorizia (go-rit'si-a) were occupied (August 9, 1916). From this point the Italians continued slowly, overcoming great difficulties, on their way toward Trieste.
The Battle of Jutland, May 31, 1916. - A minor division of the British fleet under Admiral Beatty was scouting in the neighborhood of Jutland (the peninsula of Denmark). The main German fleet came out to
attack it. The small British squadron, instead of withdrawing, gave battle to the whole German high seas fleet. After the fighting had gone on for several -hours in fog and mist, the British grand fleet approached, but night came on before a decision was reached. During the night the German fleet retired back of the defenses of mines and shore batteries. In the battle the British fleet had lost three battle cruisers and fifteen or sixteen other vessels. The German losses were not 'completely published but were certainly heavier. The Germans claimed a victory, and a general holiday was -ordered that all might celebrate. Nevertheless the British vessels were on the scene the next morning picking up survivors, while the German fleet did not again come out of harbor in order that it might try to repeat its so-called victory.
Submarine Warfare. - During the year 1916 Germans continued with increasing success their policy of sinking I merchant vessels, neutral and enemy. Out of a total of ~. nearly 4,000,000 tons of shipping destroyed from the ? beginning of the war to January I, 1917, more than half was lost during 1916. Occasional loss of life also caused much doubt on the part of our government as to ~ whether Germany was keeping her pledge to safeguard the lives of noncombatants on torpedoed liners.
When a passenger steamer, the "Sussex," plying between England and France, was torpedoed without warning (March 24, 1916), eighty of the passengers -were killed or injured, two of the latter being Americans.
Germany at first said that one of her submarines had torpedoed a vessel in the vicinity, but not the "Sussex." The finding of fragments of a German torpedo on the. "Sussex" after it was brought into port conclusively proved that the Germans were responsible, and that Germany had broken her promise. President Wilson addressed a note to the German government, stating that he would sever diplomatic relations with it unless Germany should both declare and effect an abandonment of her unlawful methods of submarine warfare. Thereupon the German government gave a written pledge that merchant ships "shall not be. sunk without warning and without saving human lives, unless these ships attempt to escape or offer resistance." This pledge was given on the condition that the United States should demand that Great Britain observe certain (disputed) rules of international law; but our government refused to agree that Germany's respect for our neutral rights should be made to depend on the conduct of other nations. President Wilson thus made clear his intention to sever diplomatic relations if Germany's pledge should be withdrawn or violated.
Conscription in Great Britain. - The British government had kept up its army by volunteering. The need of an army of five million could not depend on this plan. A conscription bill therefore was passed making all males between certain ages liable for military service. Ireland was excepted from the provisions of this act.
Sinn Fein Rebellion. - Some of the more radical among the Irish Home Rule party had formed an 'organization known as the Sinn Fein (shin fä~n), an Irish phrase which means "for ourselves." Their aim was to make Ireland an independent nation. The leaders of this group got into correspondence with persons in Germany and were promised military assistance if they would rebel against England. The rebellion broke out April 24, 1916, without the promised help from Germany. For several days the rebels held some of the principal buildings in Dublin. After much bloodshed the rebellion -'was put down, and Sir Roger Casement, one of those
who had been in communication with Germany, was executed for treason.
Suggestions for Study. - r. On an outline map of Europe indicate the countries engaged in the war at the end of igi6. 1~ Indicate the date of the entrance of each and the side on which it was fighting. 2. Collect pictures illustrative of life in the
Balkans and of the war in that region. 3. Locate Armenia. ~ What do you know of the race and religion of its population?
4. Where is Bagdad? Why is it important for the British Empire that the valley of the Tigris-Euphrates should not f all into the, possession of a strong hostile power? What do you know of the history of this region in ancient times? What may become of Mesopotamia at the close of the war? . In regard to Roumania tell what you know of its race, language, religion, and industries prior to the war. Compare this country with Bulgaria in regard to the facts you have mentioned.
References. - War Cyclopedia (C. P. I.); Study of the Great War (C. P. I.); McKinley, Collected Materials for the Study of the War; New York Times History of the European War.