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- A Short History of the Great War - 50/63 -


the expense of Russia and the German victories in Europe counselled caution, and helped to postpone till the autumn the full fruition of Allenby's strategy. He and Maude had nevertheless made our Eastern campaign the brightest pages in the sombre history of the war in 1917, and the fall of Baghdad and Jerusalem contributed not a little to the collapse of Turkey, which hastened that of the Central Empires. They were not divergent operations because they converged towards the centre, and weakness at the extremities affected the heart of the Turkish Empire. Germany would not have succumbed when she did but for the fate which had overtaken her allies elsewhere than on the Western front. But it was a far cry from these contributory operations to that policy of concentrating on "the vital junction of Muslimieh" which commended itself to excitable critics, and would have left our Western front at the mercy of the most formidable onslaught it ever had to face.

We needed all the comfort we could extract from our Eastern campaigns; for, with a gigantic German offensive threatening the West in 1918, we could be none too sure that we had dealt satisfactorily with the only serious offensive the Germans had undertaken against us in 1917. That had been their unlimited submarine warfare, which had reached its greatest fury in April, when 25 per cent of the vessels leaving British ports failed to return, but continued through, out the year to sap our strength like an open ulcer. The general public knew little of the truth, and was not competent to measure the value of such facts as were placed before it. The Germans' claim to have sunk 9 million tons in the first year of unrestricted warfare was regarded as preposterous, but Sir Eric Geddes himself assessed the British loss at 6 millions.[Footnote: The total British loss in the war was 7,731,212 tons. France came next with 900,000 tons. ] Mr. Lloyd George revealed the fact that we had sunk five German submarines on 17 November, but not the fact that our total bag for December barely exceeded that figure; and on the 13th the First Lord of the Admiralty corrected the optimism of the Premier's figure by declaring that the Germans were building submarines faster than they lost them, while we were losing shipping faster than we built it. He was somewhat more cheerful in his estimate of the situation on 1 February 1918, but on 5 March had to deplore a falling-off in our construction, partly at any rate due to the depletion of man-power in that industry. Some consolation was found in the fact that the proportion of our losses to our total shipping did not greatly exceed that in the last ten years of the Napoleonic wars; but the comparison was illusory, because we were far more dependent upon oversea supplies in 1917 than in 1812, though so far as food was concerned the dependence was greatly relieved in 1918 by the efforts of the Board of Agriculture. A source of greater pride, if not of satisfaction, was the fact that our domestic shortage was due less to the sinking of our ships by German submarines, than to their diversion to the service of our Allies. Not only had the British Navy to defend all the coasts of the Entente by bottling up the German High Seas Fleet, but our mercantile marine had to provide for most of the Allies' transport and provisioning; whereas in the Napoleonic wars we had for long no allies to maintain and could concentrate upon our own requirements. The unparalleled strain of the war was due to the unparalleled extent to which the British Empire placed its resources at the disposal of less fortunate countries; and fortunately for Powers, which later on complained of American interference, the United States seemed bent in 1918 on bettering our example.

Other incidents of naval warfare than the German submarine campaign added to the public discomposure. On 17 October two German cruisers sank two British destroyers and nine convoyed Norwegian merchant ships between the Shetlands and the Norwegian coast; on 12 December somewhere in the North Sea four German destroyers sank five neutral vessels, four British armed trawlers, and also one of the two British destroyers accompanying them, the other being disabled, while two British trawlers and two neutral vessels were also sunk off the Tyne; and on the 23rd, three British destroyers were mined or torpedoed off the Dutch coast. On the 26th it was announced that Sir Rosslyn Wemyss had succeeded Jellicoe as First Sea Lord, and other changes were made at the Admiralty. But the unpleasant incidents continued. On 14 January 1918 Yarmouth was, after a long immunity from such attacks, once more bombarded by enemy destroyers; on 15 February a British trawler and seven drifters were sunk by similar means in the Straits of Dover; and on the 24th the safe return was announced of the German raider Wolf after a cruise in which she had sunk eleven vessels in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. The extension of submarine warfare to the sinking of hospital ships was more shocking as an exhibition of barbarity than alarming as a proof of naval efficiency, and may even have been designed as a desperate measure to commit Germany beyond recall to the alternative of victory or irredeemable ruin. As an outrage against international morality it was only exceeded by the torpedoing on 6 June of a Dutch vessel on which British delegates were to have gone to The Hague to discuss with Germans the mutual amelioration of the lot of prisoners of war.

Side by side with this brutality at sea there developed a similar offensive in the air. The Zeppelin menace had been almost exorcised in the autumn of 1916 by the effectiveness of explosive bullets fired from aeroplanes which ignited the gas-bags. But on 28 November a solitary aeroplane dropped six bombs on London in full daylight, and thus gave ample warning of what might follow. No adequate steps were, however, taken to meet the danger until in the spring and summer of 1917 it was brought home in a more emphatic form. On 25 May German aeroplanes which had been diverted from their London objective by atmospheric conditions, caused 250 casualties and nearly inflicted serious military damage at Folkestone; and on 13 June the Germans effected their most successful raid by appearing over London shortly before noon and killing 157 and wounding 432 men, women, and children. The object was avowed in the German press by one of the leaders of the expedition to be the demoralization of the civilian population. Its success was due to the lack of counter-preparations; and when the experiment was repeated on 7 July four of the raiders were brought down and the casualties were reduced to 59 killed and 193 injured. After August the daylight aeroplane raids were discontinued, but only to be resumed in moonlight, and on 4 September 11 persons were killed and 62 injured in a London raid at night. These became almost nightly affairs at the end of the month; and while no single aeroplane raid at night caused anything like the loss of life inflicted on 13 June or 7 July, they were sufficiently distracting, though it pleased the patriotic press to pretend that only immigrant aliens, East-End Jews, or at least the poorest of native Britons, sought safety in flight from the risks they involved.

The raids were repeated at irregular intervals, owing to atmospheric conditions, throughout the winter until Whitsunday 19 May, when 44 were killed and 179 injured. Generally they occurred when the moon was nearly full, but on 6 December there was one when it was in its last quarter and on 18 December another when it was only four days old, and on 7 March 20 were killed and 55 injured in a raid on a moonless night. On 19 October these aeroplane raids were varied by a raid on a moonless night by Zeppelins which shut off their engines and drifted across London with a north-west wind, dropping only three bombs but killing 27 and injuring 53 persons. Six of the raiders failed to get home, and this was the last of the Zeppelin so far as London was concerned, though Zeppelin raids were made as late as 12 and 13 March on the north-east coast. Reprisals were adopted as a policy by the British Government in the autumn of 1917, and great store was set upon them in some quarters. But in spite of the vigour with which they were carried out along the Rhine, there is no reason to suppose that our aeroplane raids achieved any greater military effect than that which we had always denied to German raids on England. They certainly did not succeed in curing the Germans of their raiding propensities. That was effected by our improvements in defence, notably in our antiaircraft bullets and "aprons" suspended from balloons; and after Whitsunday, 1918, the Germans concentrated on the French, although they had shown fewer qualms about reprisals. Nor did our supremacy in the air produce the effects which many anticipated on the field of battle. Italian superiority with that arm was of little use at Caporetto, and our superiority did not materially further our advance in Flanders in the autumn of 1917 or retard the German offensive at St. Quentin in the spring of 1918. Aircraft were indispensable as eyes for an army, and to a lesser extent for a navy; but as an independent force they were as limited in their effectiveness as is artillery or cavalry without the fundamental infantry.

The obvious stalemate which marked the situation during the first half of the fourth year of the war imposed upon the belligerents a reconsideration of the political and military means of bringing it to an end. Dissatisfaction was naturally more apparent in Germany during the spring and summer and in Entente countries during the autumn of 1917; and in July the Reichstag passed its famous resolution against annexations and indemnities. Its idea of peace was that Germany should forgo annexations, and the Entente its claims to indemnities; but the chief anxiety of the Reichstag was to make capital for the cause of constitutional reform out of the dissatisfaction with Germany's military situation, and that was immediately improved by the collapse of the last Russian offensive. Bethmann-Hollweg fell for failing to control the Reichstag, but his successor Michaelis was a mere Prussian bureaucrat who only accepted the Reichstag resolution "as he understood it," and the fate of Russia soon made it clear that his understanding of "no annexations and no indemnities" did not preclude the "liberation" of large parts of Russia and their subjection to German influence, nor the insistence upon "guarantees" which would reduce Belgium and Serbia to a similar plight. The Vatican followed the German lead with a peace note in August which revealed no clear distinction between its and the German point of view; and in October, amid subdued celebrations of the fourth *entenary of Luther's Ninety-Five Theses, Count Hertling succeeded Michaelis as Imperial Chancellor and became the first Roman Catholic minister-president of Prussia since the Reformation.

There was, indeed, a fundamental unity in this apparently discordant combination between the Protestant and the Ultramontane; for the Hohenzollern State and the Roman Catholic Church were both systems organized on that principle of autocracy which was more and more coming out as the underlying issue of the war, and it coincided with the fitness of things that the answer to the Vatican note was returned by the President of the United States. There was, in fact, no basis of accommodation, and any desire for it in Germany disappeared with the temporary improvement in her military prospects. When the failure of our campaign in Flanders was coupled with the Italian disaster at Caporetto and the Bolshevik revolution in Russia, the Reichstag resolution was spurned, constitutional reform was smothered, and the Junkers under Ludendorff's able leadership girded themselves for a final quest of peace by victory with illimitable annexations and indemnities. The Kaiser foreshadowed the coming offensive in the West by proclaiming that the only way to peace was one hewn through the ranks of those who would not make it.

In spite of this brave show, the Entente exhibited a truer confidence by expressing its dissatisfaction not in the form of seeking a compromise with the enemy, but in criticism of the conduct of the war. There had, indeed, been some political hesitation at the time of the Stockholm Conference in the summer when the Russian revolutionists invited socialists of all countries to consider a peace without annexations or indemnities. Even Mr. Lloyd George was subsequently said by his Labour colleague in the Cabinet to have contemplated British participation; and there were legitimate grounds for anxiety lest the officially countenanced if not inspired presence of German socialists at Stockholm might not give them a political advantage over


A Short History of the Great War - 50/63

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