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- A Short History of the Great War - 20/63 -

strenuous fighting for Hill 60 at the south-east re-entrant, and the choice of locality was due to the German knowledge of the facts that the French regulars had been removed from the Yser and our own heavy guns from Ypres in order to take part in offensives farther south. The attack on Hill 60 was begun by us on l7th April, and its object was to acquire a gun position which commanded the German trenches in the Hollebeke district. The struggle lasted for five days and was one of the fiercest local combats in the war; at the end of it we were still on what was left of a mound of earth.

The German offensive on the north-eastern front of Ypres was heralded by a bombardment of the city on the 20th which was designed as a barrage to cut off communications with the front along the roads which all ran through Ypres. On the evening of the 22nd the gas attack developed, and as the clouds of green vapour moved down on the French Territorials, unprovided with any sort of gas-masks and unprepared for the terrifying effects of poison en masse, they broke and fled, exposing the flank of the Canadians on their right from Langemarck to Grafenstafel. Never did troops make a more heroic debut in war under more trying conditions. Less affected by the gas than the French Territorials, the Canadians counter-attacked the German left flank, temporarily recaptured guns, and stayed the advance. The gaping breach on their left was partially filled by reinforcements from the 28th Division on the 23rd, but the Germans were across the canal at Het Sas and Lizerne, and the Canadians between St. Julien and Grafenstafel were fighting on three fronts. A second gas attack followed on the 24th, and presently St. Julien had to be abandoned. Reinforcements were, however, coming up; French regulars brilliantly recaptured Lizerne and Het Sas and secured the west bank of the canal against a German advance; and by the 29th the Canadians, who had saved the situation but had suffered heavily in the effort, were replaced by British troops. There was still desperate fighting to do for many days, and the curve of the Ypres salient had been reduced to a narrow oblong stretching from Ypres to Grafenstafel and the Polygon Wood, and little more than half in breadth what it was in length. A shortening of the line was inevitable, and it was effected with great skill and little loss on 3-4 May. But heavy bombardment continued to take a dreadful toll of life until a final gas attack on the 24th concluded the German effort. Crude respirators had been hastily supplied to our troops and the gas attack was less effective than before, but we were left with a line which ran in a curve a bare three miles from Ypres, and

"an acre sown indeed With the richest royallest seed That the earth did e'er suck in."

But if that soil round Ypres was a tomb of British bodies, it became the grave of German hopes. The shrunken line was enough, and it remained unbroken till the war had ceased. The military gain, if any, lay with the Germans, whose casualties were far less than ours. But the moral advantage lay with us. It was not quite so clear as is commonly thought. The use of poison-gas as a weapon of war was not a German invention; it was suggested by a British chemist to Japan during the Russo-Japanese War. But chemists have nothing to do with international law or morality, and responsibility rests with Governments for their adoption of methods provided by science. Nor is there any clear moral distinction between asphyxiating shells and gas emitted from tubes. All war is torture; and, the morality of torture once admitted, the moral reasons for discrimination between particular degrees of suffering and efficiency cease to be very convincing. The moral advantage to us consisted in the heroism which our troops endured the torture. If they could unprepared withstand the gas attacks at Ypres, there was nothing of which their manhood need be afraid; while the Germans were in the humiliating position of one who, foiled in legitimate combat, had tried to take an unfair advantage and has failed. Poison-gas was an ill-bred attempt at revenge for what they called murder at Neuve Chapelle, just as they found consolation in the sinking of the Lusitania for the ignominous situation of their High Seas Fleet.

The offensive at Ypres slackened to meet the Allied attacks elsewhere, and our troops in the salient at least were not insensible to the fact that even the Germans had insufficient artillery or high-explosive to maintain an intense bombardment all along the line. Both the French and ourselves began on 9 May, and the object was to threaten the German position in front of Lens and Lille. Lens was protected by a bulge in the German front which ran round by Grenay, Aix-Noulette, Notre Dame de Lorette, Ablain, and Carency to the north-west of Arras, and then south-eastwards by La Targette, Écurie, and Roclincourt. Between this line and Lens lay the Vimy Ridge, and in front of its southwestern slopes the Germans had constructed elaborate fortifications above and underground known as the White Work and the Labyrinth. For the attack the French had made careful preparations, and their concentration of eleven hundred guns and almost limitless shells exceeded in intensity any previous experiment. They were rewarded by the comparative ease with which their initial successes were secured. Barbed wire and earthen parapets were blown to pieces before the infantry attacked and in an hour and a half coveted two and a half miles. La Targette and the White Work were captured and an entrance forced into Neuville St. Vaast. Farther north a second attack was required, and it was not until the 12th that Carency, Ablain, and the summit of Notre Dame were mastered. The line had been broken, but the fragments resolved themselves into almost impregnable strongholds; it took another fortnight before the Souchez sugar-refinery, half a mile in front of Ablain, fell, and the Labyrinth held out, while behind these defences rose the Vimy Ridge to defy for another two years all attacks upon Lens (see Maps, pp. 79, 302).

The lesson was that of Neuve Chapelle on a larger scale, and all the more impressive because of the careful preparations made for victory. The breach of narrow front was useless, because lines were no longer made of men, but of fortifications which held instead of rolling up, when broken, and seeking safety in retreat. The simultaneous British attacks near Neuve Chapelle repeated the French experience and our own in March. The first was north of Neuve Chapelle towards Fromelles, and broke down through inadequate artillery preparation; the second, made on 16 May in front of Richebourg l'Avoué towards the Bois du Biez and Rue d'Ouvert, was somewhat more successful, and Sir John French wrote encouragingly about the entire first line of the enemy's trenches having been captured on a front of 3000 yards with ten machine guns; but one brigade alone lost 45 officers and 1179 men, and La Bassée and the Aubers ridge were as forbidding as ever. It was not by victories of that compass that the Germans would be diverted from their Galician drive; and the other major operation in the Dardanelles to which the Entente had been committed gave little better cause for satisfaction.

The French had naturally refused to divert a single division from their troops on the Western front, and their contingent consisted of a detachment of some colonial troops, fusiliers marins, and the Foreign Legion. The substantial force took longer to collect, and had to be provided by Britain. Sir Ian Hamilton was placed in command, and he was given the 29th Division, the Naval Division, a Territorial Division, and the Australian and New Zealand Divisions serving in Egypt, which was now considered safe for the summer. The total amounted to three corps, or 120,000 men. The Turks were directed by the German general Liman von Sanders, and he expected the landing to be attempted near Bulair on the flat and narrow isthmus which joined the Gallipoli Peninsula to the mainland. His expectation is perhaps the best justification for Sir Ian's selection of other spots, but there were few that were practicable, and none that did not involve enormous difficulties, for Liman von Sanders' anticipation of an attack at Bulair did not preclude some effective precautions against a landing elsewhere.

The attempt began on 25 April at six different points. Some way up the outer or north-western shore of the peninsula the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps effected a landing at Gaba Tepe, later called Anzac from the initials of the force. Farther down another was made in front of the village of Krithia, and the remaining four attempts were on beaches stretching round the point of the peninsula from Tekke to Morto Bay. All prospered fairly well except at Sedd-el-Bahr, where a concentration of Turkish fire kept most of the troops from disembarking for thirty-two hours, and near Krithia, where on the 26th a counter-attack drove our forces back into their boats. Zeal carried the Anzacs nearly to the summit of the hills overlooking the Straits, and excess of it led to heavy losses in a Turkish counterattack; nor could the parties of British troops who got within a few hundred yards of Krithia on the 28th maintain their position, and the result of this first attempt was to give us possession of the extremity of the peninsula from a mile above Eski Hissarlik inside the Straits to three miles above Tekke on the Aegean, and of an exposed ridge of cliffs at Anzac. A French force had landed at Kum Kale on the Asiatic mainland, but only to destroy the Turkish batteries there (see Map, p. 107).

The coup de main had obviously failed, and the struggle for Gallipoli resolved itself into a costly attack by inferior forces on land against an almost impregnable position. Never were the difficulties of invasion by sea more strikingly demonstrated, and it was a misfortune that the generals who continued throughout the war to distract the popular mind by depicting a German invasion of England, were not all sent to study the process in the Dardanelles. In front of our narrow footholds the Turks, amounting to 200,000 men, held positions rising to over 700 feet at Achi Baba and Pasha Dagh, and defended by masses of artillery and machine and elaborate systems of trenches upon which the big guns from our ships appeared to have little effect. Two British submarines did gallant work by getting up the Straits under the mine-fields and disturbing the Turkish communications across the Sea of Marmara; but there remained land-routes on either shore, and reserves arrived more quickly on the Turkish than on the British front. From 6-8 May a second attack was made up the Saghir Dere towards Krithia and the Kereves Dere towards Achi Baba, while the Anzacs created as much diversion as possible from Gaba Tepe. But the bombardment from ships and shore-batteries failed to destroy the Turkish trenches, and an advance of a thousand yards, which failed to reach the enemy's main positions, was only achieved at the cost of casualties amounting by the end of May to more than the losses in battle during the whole Boer War. A third attack on 4 June reinforced the lesson that nothing short of an army large enough for a major operation could master the Dardanelles, and meanwhile an elusive German submarine was threatening the naval supports. The Goliath had been sunk by a Turkish torpedo boat on 12 May, and the submarine disposed of the Triumph on the 26th and the Majestic on the following day. Silently the Queen Elizabeth and her more important consorts withdrew to safer waters, and the naval attempt to force the Dardanelles was gradually transformed into a military siege of the peninsula.

The spring offensive of the Allies had gone to pieces everywhere except in the distant spheres of South Africa and Mesopotamia, while the German offensive was carrying all before it in Galicia. The first great disillusionment of the war was at hand, and its promised beginning in May looked uncommonly like a repetition of the previous August. Popular discontent focused itself on the lack of munitions, and especially of high-explosives, which "The Times" military correspondent declared on 14 May to have been a fatal bar to our success. "Some truth there was, but brewed and dashed with lies," as Dryden remarked of Titus Oates' plot. There were other bars as fatal, the lack of guns, men, and generalship; and the ultimate responsibility for the shortage rested with those experts, Allied as

A Short History of the Great War - 20/63

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