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A School History of the Great War - Chapter 9

The War in 1915

The Western Front. - The deadlock which existed on the western front at the close of 1914 continued with little change during the year 1915. There were indeed many contests which, on account of the men involved and the casualties, would in previous wars have been considered major engagements; but in spite of great preparations neither side was able to make much impression upon the entrenched line of the enemy. From the sea to the Swiss border two apparently impregnable lines of trenches faced each other.
German ingenuity and barbarity were shown in two new forms of warfare introduced during this year. Poison gas was first used, contrary to the terms of the Hague Conventions, against the Allied line on April 22, 1915. It brought on the most horrible forms of suffering and torture, and compelled a temporary withdrawal of the French and English from trenches near Ypres (eepr). Later, masks were used as a preventive of gas poisoning. Eventually the Allies were forced to adopt ~the use of poisonous gases in bombs and shells in order to fight the Germans with their own weapon. The other innovation was the "flame-thrower," an apparatus which threw a flame of burning liquid or gas far ahead of the troops. This ha~ never been widely used by the Germans, because it proved almost as dangerous. to themselves as it was to their opponents. A sharpshooter's bullet or a piece of shell might pierce the apparatus and the containers and produce dangerous results among the Germans.

The Gallipoli Campaign. - In the east the year opened with an attempt on the part of the Allies to force the Dardanelles with their fleets and take possession of the city of Constantinople. The campaign gets its name from the peninsula of Gallipoli, the European shore of the Dardanelles. In February the campaign opened with a naval attack. The Turkish fortifications, however, were strong enough to defeat a purely naval attempt and the Allied fleets met with heavy losses. It has been stated since that had the Allies continued the attack one more day the Turks would have had to yield, as their ammunition was nearly exhausted. In April troops were landed on the peninsula to aid in the attack. The landing was accomplished at a terrible cost of life. Siege operations were then begun against the Turkish and German forces defending the peninsula. Month after month the fighting continued, but nothing worth while was accomplished. Finally, in January of the next year, the campaign was abandoned. It had cost the Allies heavily in money and lives, and its failure had lost to them the respect of the hesitating nations of southeastern Europe, Bulgaria and Greece.

The War on the Russian Border. - Along the Russian frontier also the Allied cause met with serious reverses. The year had opened favorably with the Russians in control of most of Gallcia. In March the great Galician fortress of Przemysl, which bad successfully withstood the attacks of the Russians the previous autumn, was compelled to surrender.
Meanwhile, in January, Russia once more attempted to carry out the other part of her general plan, the invasion of East Prussia. The Russian troops succeeded as before in entering the coveted territory, this time crossing the troublesome lake region while the waters were frozen. Soon, however, the invaders met with a decisive defeat. In the Battle of the Mazurian Lakes, General von Hindenburg took 1oo,ooo Russian prisoners; the number of killed and wounded Russian soldiers is said to have been 150,000. The Russians hurriedly retreated from German soil.

The time had now come for the Germans and Austrians definitely to assume the offensive. A strategic blow in. Galicia imperiled the whole Russian front and compelled a general retreat of the Russian armies in Gallcia and Poland. In June both Przemysl and Lemberg were recaptured by the Central Powers. By September all of Russian Poland had been conquered. Russia had~. lost 65,000 square miles of thickly populated territory.. But the land was so thoroughly plundered by the Germanic, conquerors that many of the people died of starvation.--,

Bulgaria Enters the War. - The sympathies of the ~ Bulgarian government had been with the Central Powers from the beginning of the war. Bulgaria bad -~ not forgiven the neighboring Balkan states for their treatment of her in the second Balkan war (1913). Against Serbia her feeling was particularly bitter. The Allied disaster at Gallipoli and the military successes of Germany and Austria in Poland and Galicia in the spring and summer of 1915 led the Bulgarians to believe that now was the time for them to strike. In October Bulgaria declared war upon Serbia, thus definitely taking her stand as an ally of the Central Powers.
Bulgaria's entrance into the war was followed by simultaneous invasions of Serbia from Austria and from Bulgaria. Under these blows the Serbians were crushed. Together with her neighbor and ally, brave little Montenegro, Serbia was overrun by her enemies. The cruelties inflicted upon the Serbian population by the invading Bulgars are said to have been fully as horrible as those which had taken place during the conquest of Belgium in 1914 and of Poland in 1915.
There was serious danger that the government of Greece would follow the lead of Bulgaria and also enter the war on the side of the Central Powers. This was prevented by two things. In the first place, a majority of the Greek people favored the cause of the Allies and were opposed to Bulgaria. In the second place, the Allies promptly landed an army at Saloni'ca. Later on, they removed Constantine, the pro-German king of Greece, and placed his son Alexander upon the throne.

The East at the Close of 1915. - On the eastern front 1915 had been a year of failure. The Gallipoli campaign had been a humiliation for the Allies. The Russians had been driven from Russian Poland and from the Austrian province of Galicia. Bulgaria had joined the Central. Powers, linking Austria-Hungary with Turkey. Serbia, the country whose quarrel had been the occasion of the whole world struggle, had been conquered by the enemies of the Allies.

Italy Enters the War. - In May, 1915, Italy declared war upon Austria, and more than a year later upon Germany. Her reasons for this action were: 1) her old enmity toward Austria; (2) her desire to annex the neighboring territory inhabited by Italians, but ruled by Austria; and (3) her feeling that Austria was opposed to Italian interests in the Balkans.
Italy entered the war with vigor although at a great disadvantage. When the northern Italian lands were
ofreed from Austrian rule in i866, Austria kept the highlands and mountain passes, from which she could easily descend upon the Italian lowlands. Now that war was begun, the Italians were compelled to force their way up the heights and against the fire from well-protected Austrian forts. Here upon the dizzy peaks of the Alps, or the icy surfaces of glaciers, or the rocky mountain sides, warfare has been more spectacular and has called for more daring and recklessness than anywhere else. Slides of rock and avalanches of ice sometimes have been the ammunition of armies. During the year the Italians made some progress and by December occupied positions well within the Austrian frontier; but no decisive battle had been fought or important city or fortress occupied.

Allied Control of the Sea. - Throughout 1915 - as in the preceding and the following years - the Allies maintained their control of the ocean. As a result of a proclamation declaring the North Sea a military area, and the more strict enforcement of the proclamation against sending contraband articles to Germany, the blockade against the Central Powers was more tightly drawn.
This seriously affected the commerce of the United States, not only with Germany but with neutral countries, such as Holland or Sweden, that could easily transship to Germany the supplies received. Neutral vessels were stopped and taken into Allied ports, there to be detained sometimes for long periods until a decision was reached as to the legality of their traffic. Moreover, the expense of this detention was laid upon the owners of the vessel and cargo. These acts brought forth a series of protests by our government against the policy of the Allies. The correspondence continued with varying results until the United States entered the war.

Forced Decrease of Neutral Trade with Germany. -Neutral countries adjoining Germany bad been making huge profits by selling their food and other products to Germany, replacing their stores with material imported from over seas. As part of the preparation for a long war, the Allies blocked the renewal of neutral stocks of goods. The neutral countries complained vigorously, but they soon cut down their trade with Germany since they were no longer able to replenish their stock of food, rubber, metals, and other supplies.

Submarine Warfare. - In 1914, when the war broke out, Germany is said to have had but four seaworthy submarines. It is difficult to believe that she had so few, but it is certain that she did not have so many as either England, France, or Russia. German naval authorities were not convinced of the value of the submarine in war.
However, about a month after the war began, a German submarine torpedoed . a British cruiser, and, within a few minutes, two others that had gone to assist the first. Germany, now realizing the value of the new weapon, began the construction of a numerous fleet of underwater boats, or U-boats. But against war ships, properly defended by guns and other means, they proved of little avail after all. Toward the end of the year, Admiral von Tirpitz, head of the German navy, hinted at an extension of the use of submarines to attack merchant ships. Soon numbers of the submarines made their way to the waters surrounding the British Isles, where they torpedoed merchant vessels taking food and supplies to Great Britain and France. The vessels sunk were chiefly British, though some were neutral.

Protection against Submarines. - Large war ships were protected from submarines by keeping them in a mine-protected area until there was need for them at sea. At sea they were protected largely by the patrol and scouting operations carried on by lighter and faster vessels. To reduce the danger to merchant vessels from submarines, harbors and sea lanes were protected by mines and. by. great nets made of heavy wire cables. The seas in the immediate vicinity of Great' Britain were patrolled by thousands of small, swift vessels constantly in search of U-boats.

Attempted Blockade of Great Britain. - In February, 1915, Germany declared a blockade of the British Isles. Under an actual blockade she would have the right to prevent neutral vessels from trading with Great Britain. But inasmuch as it was not possible to take seized neutral ships to German ports, the submarines would sink them, often without providing for the safety of the passengers and crews. The ultimate object of this course of action was so to reduce the world's shipping as to make it impossible for Great Britain to be supplied with the food or other materials that would enable her to carry on the war. This method of warfare, however, was contrary to the well established rules of international law. Against it the United States and other neutrals made vigorous protests.

The Lusitania. - The most notable loss by submarine attack was that of the "Lusitania," sunk without warning off the coast of Ireland on May 7, 1915. Nearly twelve hundred lives were lost, including many women and children. One hundred and fourteen of those lost were Americans. An advertisement bad been inserted in the papers warning passengers not to travel on Allied ships, but no one believed that Germany would go so far in violation of international law as to torpedo, without warning, a passenger vessel carrying civilians of neutral as well as of warring nations. The people of the whole civilized world were horrified by the deed. Germany's attitude is shown by the fact that medals were struck commemorating the act, and the commander of the submarine was rewarded.
President Wilson wrote a series of notes to the German government insisting that Germany conduct her warfare in accordance with international law. This resulted in a promise by the German minister to the United States, that liners would not be sunk by German sub-marines without warning and without safety to the lives of noncombatants, provided that the liners did not try to escape or offer resistance.

Raids on Coast Towns. - Several times in 1914 German vessels managed to escape through the cordon of Allied ships. They proceeded to the east coast of England and bombarded defenseless fishing ports and ~ watering places such as Yarmouth, Whitby, and Scarborough. These raids had no military effect, but they resulted in the killing or wounding of hundreds of women, children, and old men. They were undertaken for the purpose of terrorizing the civilian population of ~ England in order to arouse a desire for peace. In January, 1915, a German squadron attempting a similar ~ raid was intercepted and defeated by British war ships.

zeppelins. - At the outset Germany had great faith in the usefulness of her immense dirigible balloons, or Zeppelins, as they are commonly called. In the attack on Belgium, they were used for observation, incidentally dropping a few bombs on Antwerp. Early in 1915, Zeppelins made their appearance over England, bombing many of the smaller towns and villages, as well as London. Such raids might have some effect on the war if they were directed toward munitions plants, railway stations, or naval depots. The Germans, however, generally contented themselves with attacks on defenseless residential towns and cities. Up to October, 1917, there were thirty-four such raids, resulting in the death of nearly one thousand persons and the wounding of three times as many. The result on the military situation was practically zero, except to increase the British determination to see the war through.
Later the protection afforded Great Britain by antiaircraft guns and especially by airplanes, made it highly dangerous for Zeppelins to continue their raids. Many of them were destroyed. The later raids were made by squadrons of airplanes which had greater chances of escape. German air raiders found it increasingly difficult to get past the defenses, and in 1918 the raids on England became infrequent.

Allied Retaliation. - For a long time the Allies refused to retaliate by bombing unfortified towns in Germany, but finally they decided to do so. The immediate results were a protest from Germany that
the Allies were violating international law, and a petition to the German authorities from the towns in western Germany, asking 7that air raids on places not in the military area should be stopped, so that the German cities should not be bombed in retaliation. Nearly all such Allied air raids, however, were directed against railroads, munitions factories, and other objects of military importance.

The Allies Organize for a Long War. - When Lord Kitchener, the great British general, predicted that the war would last at least three years, hardly any one believed him. It was thought that the cost of a modern war would be so great that nations would not be able to stand the strain for more than a few months. When the Allies realized that Kitchener was right, they prepared for a long struggle. The munitions factories in all the countries were reorganized, and the output of war material was increased many fold, more being produced in a few days than had formerly been produced in a year. - Great Britain and France appointed ministers of munitions whose sole work was to see that the armies were supplied with guns, ammunition, and other fighting needs.
The people in the British overseas dominions remained loyal, and sent hundreds of thousands of soldiers to the battlefronts in order to protect the mother country from threatened defeat. To secure still greater cooperation throughout the British Empire, the prime ministers of the self-governing colonies
were invited to places in the British imperial war conferences.

Suggestions for Study. - i. Locate Przemysl, Lemberg, the Mazurian Lakes, Scarborough, Helgoland, Essen. 2. On an outline map of Europe indicate the countries engaged in the war at the end of 1915. Which of these countries had entered during the year? ~. By use of the scale on your map of Europe determine the following distances: Ostend to Scarborough; Berlin to Warsaw; Brussels to Paris. . When did the kingdom of Poland pass out of existence? What became of it? . What was the purpose of the Allies in the Gallipoli campaign? What would have been the consequences of the success of this campaign? 6. Collect pictures of Zeppelins, of gas attacks, and of methods of defense against gas. References. - War Cyclopedia (C. P. I.); Study of the Great War (C. P. I.); New York Times History of the European War; McKinley, Collected Materials for the Study of the War; German War Practices (C. P. I.), parts I and II.