A School History of the Great War - Chapter 11
The War in 1917
The Western Front. - During the winter of 1916- 1917 there was little infantry warfare in France, although the heavy guns kept up their cannonades. In the spring of 1917 the Allies planned a great drive on the enemy positions in the valley of the Somme. But in March the Germans began a general retirement to a more easily defended line - the so-called Hindenburg line - on a front of one hundred miles, from Arras (ar-rabss') to Soissons (swab-sawn') o1 Completely destroying the villages, churches, castles, vineyards, and orchards, they left a desolate waste behind them. In this retreat the Germans. gave up French territory to the extent of thirteen hundred square miles.
The German retirement was closely followed by British and French troops. Great courage was shown by Canadian troops in the taking of Vimy Ridge on April 9. In the following month many attacks were made by the British and French, which resulted in the taking of nearly 5o,ooo prisoners and large quantities of munitions, and the breaking through the Hindenburg line in one place. During the summer and fall the Allied attacks continued to win small territorial gains. The artillery fire was very heavy during all this time. During a period of three weeks the French city of Rheims (reemz or rànss) alone, with its magnificent cathedral almost in ruins, was bombarded with 65,000 large caliber German shells.
Two very important ridges, from which artillery could reach German positions, were taken during the heavy fighting in November. The French forced a retreat of the Germans over a thirteen-mile front and occupied the ridge known as Cbemin des Dames (shmán d~ dahm); while the Canadians secured Passchendaele (pahss-ken-dèl'a) Ridge.
Late in the year the British introduced, a new method of warfare. Instead of beginning their attack with a great bombardment lasting many hours and thus indicating to the enemy the approximate time and place of attack, they sent over the front a large number of "tanks" which broke through the barbed wire entanglements and opened the way for the infantry. By this means the British successfully surprised the enemy in the battle of Cambrai (cahn-bré'; November 20 to December 13). Unfortunately they could not hold most of the land occupied, which was lost later in the battle, - but they did show the possibility of breaking the old deadlock of trench fighting. The new method was to be used by both sides during the campaigns of the following year.
The War in the Air. - During this year warfare in the air continued to advance. Guynemer (geen-mër'),
the great French ace, who was lost on September i i, had to his credit the destruction of fifty-four enemy machines. The increase in the number of airplanes led to the grouping of large numbers into regular formations (escadrilles), sometimes composed of over a hundred planes. Each year showed a steady increase in the effectiveness of this kind of warfare. In 1916 a total of 6i i enemy machines had been destroyed or damaged by the Allied forces. In 1917 the French destroyed forty-three in twenty-four hours; and the British brought down thirty-one enemy planes in one combat. In a single week in 1918 the Allies destroyed 339 German planes. On one day, October 9, 1918, three hundred and fifty airplanes were sent forth by the Am~4can army in a single bombing expedition.
The Russian Revolution. - In 1917 the Allied cause received a heavy blow through the collapse of the Russian government. Long before the war there had been parties in Russia which desired to do away with the autocratic government of the Czar and substitute some sort of representative system which would give to the people a voice in the management of their affairs. These reforming parties did not agree among themselves as to the kind of government they wished to set up; their ideas extended from limited monarchy of the English type, all the way to anarchy, which means no government at all. In 1905 the Czar met the wishes of the reformers to the extent of establishing the Duma, a sort of representative assembly or parliament, which should help in making the laws. The Duma, however, was never given any real authority, and as time passed those who believed in Russian democracy became more and more dissatisfied.
During the war the Germans by means of bribery and plotting did all they could to weaken the authority of the Russian government. There existed, moreover, much corruption and disloyalty among high Russian officials. As the war dragged on a shortage of food added to the general discontent. By the early months of 1917, conditions were very bad indeed, and dissatisfied crowds gathered in the streets of Petrograd. Hunger and hardship had made them desperate, and they refused to disperse until the government should do something to relieve the situation. Regiments of soldiers were summoned to fire upon the crowd. They refused to '~ do so and finally joined the mob. Thus began the Russian Revolution.
At a meeting of the revolutionists a group of soldiers] and working men was selected to call upon the Duma and ask that body to form a temporary government. ~ Another committee was sent to inform Nicholas II that he was deposed. Messages were sent to the armies to notify the generals that there was no longer a Russian Empire and that they were to take their orders thereafter from the representatives of the Russian people. Within
a few days the revolution was complete. On March 15,1917 the Czar signed a paper giving up the throne of Russia's Moderate reformers were placed in charge of the different departments of the government. The new government was recognized by the United States, Great Britain, France, and Italy. It looked as if the revolution had established a free government for Russia and that thenceforth, as a democratic nation, she would fight better than ever by the side of her allies. In all the Russian provinces, elections were called for choosing delegates to an assembly that should make a new constitution for Russia.
Russia under Kerensky. - Meanwhile the extreme socialists began at once to make trouble for the new government. These men for the most part owned no property and wanted all wealth equally divided among the entire population. They considered the new government as tyrannical as that of the Czar had been. They also favored an immediate peace. Chief among the moderate leaders during this period was Alexander Kerensky. He saw the necessity of keeping the revolution within bounds. For a while he was strong enough to maintain a moderate government in spite of the opposition of the extreme socialists. The Germans, meanwhile, through spies and secret agents; had been spreading among the Russian soldiers the idea that Germany was really their friend and that it was to their interest to stop fighting and retreat. Kerensky personally visited the battle front in Galicia, and for a time by means of his rousing ~speeches to the soldiers kept up their fighting spirit. New advances were made, the Germans and Austrians being driven back many miles. Lemberg itself seemed about to fall once more into the hands of the Russians. But this success was only temporary. Owing to the shortage of ammunition and the rapid spread of peace sentiments among the troops, the Russian army became disorganized and retreated from Galicia.
The Bolsheviki. - Bolsbeviki (bOl-shèv'-e-kee') is the name given to the extreme socialistic party in Russia. From the beginning they had opposed the control of affairs by the moderate revolutionists under Kerensky. At last, in the fall of 1917, helped by the depression caused by the German advance and by the strikes and food riots which once more broke out in the capital, tbey succeeded in winning over to their side the Petrograd garrison and the navy, and drove Kerensky from the city (November 7). Their revolt was led by two of the most extreme members of the party, Lenine) (lyén'in) and Trotsky, who had at their disposal large sums of money furnished by Germany.
No sooner were the Bolsheviki in control than they .~ announced themselves in favor of an immediate peace. ic They proclaimed that all the land should at once be divided among the peasants. When the new representative assembly met to make a constitution, it was found to be too moderate to suit the Bolshevik. leaders; who dispersed it before it could accomplish anything~4 The rule of Lenine and Trotsky promised to be even more tyrannical than anything that had preceded Russia.
Meanwhile the Bolsheviki had arranged for an armistice with Germany with a view toward immediate negotiations for peace. This arrangement for the cessation of military operations became effective December 7. In spite of its provisions, however, the Germans, who had taken Riga (ree'ga) in September, continued their advance into Russian territory. By the close of 1917 peace negotiations were in progress between Russia and her enemies. Russia under Bolshevik control had definitely deserted her allies.
The British in Mesopotamia. - It will be remembered that the Allied war plans in 1916 had included the junction of Russian armies operating from the Caucasus with British troops advancing north from the Persian Gulf. After the disaster at Kut-el-Amara the British still held the territory about the mouth of the Tigris. In January, 1917, they began a new advance up the river in the direction of Bagdad. This time their efforts proved successful. In February, Kut-el-Amara was retaken from the Turks, and on March the British entered the city of Bagdad. They also continued their advance a considerable distance along the Bagdad Railway and occupied much of the Euphrates valley.
Still more important victories would probably have resulted from this campaign had it not been for the outbreak of the Russian revolution. This had the effect of weakening Russian military cooperation, and finally of removing Russia entirely from the war, leaving to Great Britain alone the task of dealing with the Turkish armies in Asia. But the British kept their hold on the city of Bagdad, thus checkmating the German scheme of a Berlin-Bagdad railway and protecting India from any offensive on this side.
The Palestine Campaign. - The year 1917 witnessed still another military success for the British in Asia. The Turks had made several attempts to seize the Suez Canal and so inflict a serious blow against the communications of the Allies with the Far East. To remove, if possible, the danger of further threats against this vital spot, the English at last decided upon an offensive in that region. Early in 1917, the British advance began. During January and February important positions on the Sinai peninsula were seized. This success was followed by a slow progress north into Palestine. The resistance of the Turks was powerful and the 'British met with serious reverses. The terrible heat of the summer months further held up their operations. In the fall, however, the advance was resumed and a number of towns in the Holy Land fell into the hands of the British. In November, Jaffa, the seaport of Jerusalem, was taken. All the Turkish positions around the Holy City were carried by storm, and on December io Jerusalem surrendered to General Allenby.
This successful campaign in Palestine had several important results. The capture of Jerusalem after almost seven centuries of Turkish control led to general rejoicing among the Allied nations. Large numbers of Jews throughout the world, who had long looked forward to the reestablishment of a Jewish nation in Palestine, now felt that a long step had been taken toward the realization of their hopes. From a military point of view, however, the chief result of the British campaign in Palestine was that it definitely freed the Suez Canal from further danger of a Turkish attack.
The Offensive against Italy. - At the beginning of 1917 the Italian forces were within eleven miles of their great objective, the city and port of Trieste. During the late spring and summer the advance continued. Austrian trenches were occupied and tens of thousands of Austrian soldiers were captured. After two years of effort it seemed that the Italians would obtain the city and incorporate its population - very largely Italian - into the kingdom of Italy. But conditions in Austria and Germany bad greatly changed. The cessation of war by Russia relieved the Central Powers of the necessity of keeping large armies on the eastern front. Further, the campaign had been going against Germany on the western front, and an easy victory in Italy might quiet criticism at home.
An immense army of Austrians and Germans was gathered together to attack the Italian forces. The '~ Italians were spread out in a semicircle about one hundred and fifty miles long stretching from near Trent to within a few miles of Trieste. The Austrians controlled the upper passes in the mountains, so that they could attack this long line where they would. Thus the~ Italian military position was difficult to defend. The campaign began with a surprise attack by picked German troops at a point where the morale of one Italian~ division had previously been weakened by the pretended; fraternizing of Austrian troops.
The Austro-German drive (October-December, 1917) ~ swiftly undid the work of two years of most arduous en~
deavor. The Italians were forced back from Gorizia and compelled to surrender mountain positions which bad been captured by them at enormous cost. Back across the boundary they retreated, losing heavily in men and material. The enemy advanced into the low country near Venice, and it seemed for a time that the city would fall into their hands. But British and French assistance was sent to Italy, the Italian army recovered its spirit, and a permanent check was put to the enemy's advance before Venice was reached. Upon a much shorter but more defensible line the Italians held the enemy at bay in the mountains and along the river Piave (pyah'va).
Unrestricted Submarine Warfare. - On January 31, 1917, the German ambassador to the United States, Count von Bernstorff, announced
To President Wilson that Germany would begin unrestricted submarine warfare the following day, in the waters around Great Britain and France,1 thus with drawing the pledge given as a result of the sinking of the "Sussex." Three days later the President handed Count von Bernstorff his passports and recalled Ambassador Gerard' from Berlin, thus 7 severing diplomatic relations with Germany.
During the next six months shipping was sunk at an average rate of 600,000 tons per month, three times as fast as before, and two, or three times faster than it was being replaced. The highwater mark was reached in April, when 5oo,ooo tons of shipping were destroyed. Unless this loss could be greatly reduced the Allies _ for want of food and materials would soon have to give up fighting.
But methods were quickly devised to combat the new danger. The patrols were increased, ships voyaged under convoy of fast destroyers constantly hovering about on the watch for submarines, and other protective measures were taken, so that the submarine menace was soon much reduced. By September, 1918, y the sinkings were only about 150,000 tons a month while tbe production of ships, especially in the United States, increased to several times this amount.
Apparently Germany had waited until she had built a large number of submarines, thinking that by the use of a great fleet of them in a ruthless warfare on shipping she could force a peace within a few months. In this expectation she was disappointed. The principal ~ result of the withdrawal of her pledge to this country was the entrance of the United States into the war on the side of the Allies. Captain Persius, an expert German naval critic, admitted in November, 1917, that the German admiralty was grossly mistaken in its calculations and that Germany had no reason for believing in the decisive influence of the submarine war.
The United States Drifts toward War. - The breaking off of diplomatic relations is not a declaration of war. Nevertheless the events immediately succeeding the withdrawal of Count von Bernstorff made a declaration of war increasingly probable. The most. important of these were the publication of the Zimmerman note, the fact that several American merchant ships were actually sunk by German submarines, and the discovery that members of the German embassy and other German diplomatic representatives had been concerned in plotting on United States soil against the Allies, thus endangering our peaceful relations with them. Not only so, but there was evidence that plots had been laid to destroy American lives and property in this country and to stir up internal disorders, such as strikes and riots.
The Zimmerman Note. - On the last day of February, the Secretary of State published a note that had come into his possession which was addressed by Dr. Zimmerman, the German foreign minister, to the German minister in Mexico. The note stated that Germany would soon begin a ruthless submarine warfare and proposed, if the United States should declare war on Germany, that Mexico should enter into an alliance with Germany. Germany was to furnish
money and Mexico was to reconquer New Mexico, Texas, and Arizona. It was also hinted that Mexico should suggest to Japan that the latter country should come into the agreement. The interesting thing about the note is that it was dated January 19, twelve days before Germany announced to us her plan for ruthless submarine warfare, and during a time when our relations with Germany, though under a great strain, were still peaceable.
Armed Neutrality. - About the time the Zimmerman note was published, President Wilson asked Congress to authorize the arming of American merchant ships for their own defense. A small minority in Congress by their obstructive tactics prevented the passage of the desired resolution before Congress expired on March 4. On March 12 the President announced that this country had determined to place an armed guard on all United States merchant vessels, which under international law might defend themselves from attack, although Germany denied this tight. There: is no evidence, however, that there was any encounter ~ between these armed ships and German vessels prior to the outbreak of the war.
The President's War Message. - When Russia de-'posed the Czar and established a democratic govern-'ment, in March, 1917, the last reason was removed~ which might have held us back from a declaration of S war. Many believed that it would have been illogica1-~ for us to fight~ for democracy side by side with one of'
the greatest of autocracies.' President Wilson called Congress in special session and on April 2 delivered his famous war message, asking Congress to declare that a state of war existed between the United States and Germany.
In the message he told of the various acts of Germany which had led up to the verge of war, recited the steps which our government had taken to bring Germany to realize the inevitable results of her crimes against civilization, and concluded by asking Congress to declare war. The President stated that the aims of the United States in the war are:
i. That the people of every nation may determine the form of government under which they wish to live.
2. That the small nations may have the right to exist and be protected against aggression.
3. That the future peace of the world may be guaranteed through the formation of a league of nations.
4. That the world may be made safe for democracy.
The Declaration of War. - In accordance with the recommendation of the President, Congress declared war against Germany on April 6, 1917. War was not declared at this time against Germany's allies, Austria,
o Turkey, and Bulgaria. A few days later, however, at the instance of Germany, Austria and Turkey broke off diplomatic relations. On December 7, 1917, the United States declared war on Austria-Hungary.
Following the declaration of war with Germany, steps were at once taken to put the country in a posi
tion to give effective aid to our associates, and the President from time to time requested Congress to grant authority to do those things that would enable us to take an active part in the war.
Other Countries Enter the War. - After the United States entered the war, many other countries, especially I Brazil and some of the Spanish American countries~ either broke off relations with Germany or declared ~ war against her. Most of these countries had close ~ commercial relationships with the United States, which would have been seriously interfered with had they 2 remained neutral.
Spurlos Versenkt. - The decision of some of the South American countries to side against German~ was probably hastened by a typical piece of German bad faith. Argentina was at peace with Germany~ In spite of that fact, the German minister at Aires (the Argentine capital) telegraphed to his government that if possible Argentine ships should be but if not, they should be sunk without leaving a ("spurlos versenkt)." This would involve the or murdering of the crews, so that there would be inconvenient protest on the part of the government. It should be added that at the of the German minister, the Swedish minister at Bi Aires sent these dispatches in code as if they were own private messages. In this way the German minister was able to have them sent over cable lines trolled by the Allies.
Suggestions for Study. - i. What is a "tank"? What are small tanks called? 2. Define socialism; Bolsheviki. 3. On a map of Europe show Germany and her allies in black. Mark with black lines other territory held or controlled by the Central Powers at the close of 1917. 4. On a map of southern Europe show Italy's farthest advance into Austrian territory in 1917.
5. Collect pictures of Rheims Cathedral, before and after being bombarded by the Germans; also pictures of other places destroyed by bombardments. Get pictures of different sorts of tanks and airplanes, of destroyers and Eagle boats. 6. What was the object of the Germans in devastating the country when they retreated to the Hindenburg line? 7. Why did Germany think Mexico and Japan might join her in an attack on the United States? 8. What was the date on which the United States declared war on Germany? 9. Why did not the United States declare war on Turkey or Bulgaria? io. Make a list of the countries of South America and Central America that declared war on Germany.
References. - War Cyclopedia (C. P. I.); The Study of the Great War (C. P. I.); War, Labor, and Peace (C. P. I.); How the War came to America (C. P. I.); The War Message and the Facts Behind It (C. P. I.); New York Times History of the European War.