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Title: A General Sketch of the European War - The First Phase
Author: Belloc, Hilaire, 1870-1953
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.

*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "A General Sketch of the European War - The First Phase" ***

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_First published June 1, 1915_
_Reprinted June 1915_


INTRODUCTION                                                    7



(1) THE GERMAN OBJECT                                          17


(3) PRUSSIA                                                    27

(4) AUSTRIA                                                    39

(5) THE PARTICULAR CAUSES OF THE WAR                           50

(6) THE IMMEDIATE OCCASION OF THE WAR                          64




      The Geographical Advantages and Disadvantages of
      the Germanic Body                                        86

      The Geographical Advantages and Disadvantages of
      the Allies                                              121

(2) THE OPPOSING STRENGTHS                                    136

      The Figures of the First Period, say to
      October 1-31, 1914                                      145

      The Figures of the Second Period, say to
      April 15-June 1, 1915                                   151

(3) THE CONFLICTING THEORIES OF WAR                           164



(1) THE BATTLE OF METZ                                        316

(2) LEMBERG                                                   322

(3) TANNENBERG                                                345

(4) THE SPIRITS IN CONFLICT                                   365


It is the object of this book, and those which will succeed it in the
same series, to put before the reader the main lines of the European
War as it proceeds. Each such part must necessarily be completed and
issued some little time after the events to which it relates have
passed into history. The present first, or introductory volume, which
is a preface to the whole, covers no more than the outbreak of
hostilities, and is chiefly concerned with an examination of the
historical causes which produced the conflict, an estimate of the
comparative strength of the various combatants, and a description of
the first few days during which these combatants took up their
positions and suffered the first great shocks of the campaigns in East
and West.

But in order to serve as an introduction to the remainder of the
series, it is necessary that the plan upon which these books are to
be constructed should be clearly explained.

There is no intention of giving in detail and with numerous exact maps
the progress of the campaigns. Still less does the writer propose to
examine disputed points of detail, or to enumerate the units employed
over that vast field. His object is to make clear, as far as he is
able, those great outlines of the business which too commonly escape
the general reader.

This war is the largest and the weightiest historical incident which
Europe has known for many centuries. It will surely determine the
future of Europe, and in particular the future of this country. Yet
the comprehension of its movements is difficult to any one not
acquainted with the technical language and the special study of
military history; and the reading of the telegrams day by day, even
though it be accompanied by the criticisms of the military experts in
the newspapers, leaves the mass of men with a most confused conception
of what happened and why it happened.

Now, it is possible, by greatly simplifying maps, by further
simplifying these into clear diagrams, still more by emphasizing what
is essential and by deliberately omitting a crowd of details--by
showing first the framework, as it were, of any principal movement,
and then completing that framework with the necessary furniture of
analysed record--to give any one a conception both of what happened
and of how it happened.

It is even possible, where the writer has seen the ground over which
the battles have been fought (and much of it is familiar to the author
of this), so to describe such ground to the reader that he will in
some sort be able to see for himself the air and the view in which the
things were done: thus more than through any other method will the
things be made real to him. The aim, therefore, of these pages, and of
those that will succeed them, is to give such a general idea of the
campaigns as a whole as will permit whoever has grasped it a secure
comprehension of the forces at work, and of the results of those
forces. It is desired, for example, that the reader of these pages
shall be able to say to himself: "The Germanic body expected to
win--and no wonder, for it had such and such advantages in number and
in equipment.... The first two battles before Warsaw failed, and I can
see why. It was because the difficulties in Russian supply were met by
a contraction of the Russian line.... The 1st German Army was
compelled to retreat before Paris, and I can now see why that was so:
as it turned to envelop the Allied line, a great reserve within the
fortified zone of Paris threatened it, and forced it back."

These main lines, and these only, are attempted in the present book,
and in those that are to follow it in this series.

The disadvantage of such a method is, of course, that the reader must
look elsewhere for details, for the notices of a particular action,
and the records of particular regiments. He must look for these to the
large histories of the war, which will amply supply his curiosity in
good time. But the advantage of the method consists in that it
provides, as I hope, a foundation upon which all this bewildering
multitude of detailed reading can repose.

I set out, then, to give, as it were, the alphabet of the campaign,
and I begin in this volume with the preliminaries to it--that is, its
great political causes, deep rooted in the past; the particular and
immediate causes which led to the outbreak of war; an estimate of the
forces engaged; and the inception of hostilities.


This first volume will cover three parts. In Part I. I shall write of
The Causes of the War. In Part II. I shall Contrast the Forces
Opposed. In Part III. (the briefest) I shall describe the First Shock.

In Part I., where I deal first with the general or historical causes
of the war, later with the particulars, I shall:--

1. Define the German object which led up to it.

2. Show how this object conflicted with the wills of other nations.

3. Briefly sketch the rise of Prussia and of her domination over North

4. Define the position of Austria-Hungary in the matter, and thus
close the general clauses.

5. The particular causes of the war will next be dealt with; the
curious challenge thrown down to Great Britain by the German Fleet
_before_ the German Empire had made secure its position on the
Continent; the French advance upon Morocco; the coalition of the
Balkan States against the remainder of the Turkish Empire in Europe.

6. Lastly, in this First Part, I shall describe the immediate occasion
of the war and its surroundings: the ultimatum issued by the
Austro-Hungarian Government to the little kingdom of Servia.

In Part II. I will attempt to present the forces opposed at the
outbreak of war.

First, the contrast in the geographical position of the Germanic
Allies with their enemies, the French, the English, and the Russians.
Secondly, the numbers of trained men prepared and the numbers of
reserves available in at least the first year to the various numbers
in conflict. Thirdly, the way in which the various enemies had thought
of the coming war (which was largely a matter of theory in the lack of
experience); in what either party has been right, and in what wrong,
as events proved; and with what measure of foresight the various
combatants entered the field.

In Part III, I will very briefly describe the original armed
dispositions for combat at the outbreak of war, the German aim upon
the West, and the German orders to the Austrians upon the East; the
overrunning of Belgium, and the German success upon the Sambre; then
the pursuit of the Franco-British forces to the line Paris-Verdun, up
to the eve of the successful counter-offensive undertaken by them in
the first week of September. I will end by describing what were the
contemporary events in the Eastern field: in its northern part the
overrunning of East Prussia by the Russians, and the heavy blow which
the Germans there administered to the invader; in its southern the
Austrian opposition to the Russians on the Galician borders, and the
breakdown of that opposition at Lemberg.

My terminal date for this sketch will be the 5th of September.




War is the attempt of two human groups each to impose its will upon
the other by force of arms. This definition holds of the most
righteous war fought in self-defence as much as it does of the most
iniquitous war of mere aggression. The aggressor, for instance,
proposes to take the goods of his victim without the pretence of a
claim. He is attempting to impose his will upon that victim. The
victim, in resisting by force of arms, is no less attempting to impose
his will upon the aggressor; and if he is victorious does effectually
impose that will: for it is his will to prevent the robbery.

Every war, then, arises from some conflict of wills between two human
groups, each intent upon some political or civic purpose, conflicting
with that of his opponent.

War and all military action is but a means to a non-military end, to
be achieved and realized in peace.

Although arguable differences invariably exist as to the right or
wrong of either party in any war, yet the conflicting wills of the two
parties, the irreconcilable political objects which each has put
before itself and the opposition between which has led to conflict,
can easily be defined.

They fall into two classes:--

1. The general objects at which the combatants have long been aiming.

2. The particular objects apparent just before, and actually
provoking, the conflict.

In the case of the present enormous series of campaigns, which occupy
the energies of nearly all Europe, the general causes can be easily
defined, and that without serious fear of contradiction by the
partisans of either side.

On the one hand, the Germanic peoples, especially that great majority
of them now organized as the German Empire under the hegemony of
Prussia, had for fully a lifetime and more been possessed of a certain
conception of themselves which may be not unjustly put into the form
of the following declaration. It is a declaration consonant with most
that has been written from the German standpoint during more than a
generation, and many of its phrases are taken directly from the
principal exponents of the German idea.


"We the Germans are in spirit one nation. But we are a nation the
unity of which has been constantly forbidden for centuries by a number
of accidents. None the less that unity has always been an ideal
underlying our lives. Once or twice in the remote past it has been
nearly achieved, especially under the great German emperors of the
Middle Ages. Whenever it has thus been nearly achieved, we Germans
have easily proved ourselves the masters of other societies around us.
Most unfortunately our very strength has proved our ruin time and
again by leading us into adventures, particularly adventures in
Italy, which took the place of our national ideal for unity and
disturbed and swamped it. The reason we have been thus supreme
whenever we were united or even nearly united lay in the fact, which
must be patent to every observer, that our mental, moral, and
physical characteristics render us superior to all rivals. The German
or Teutonic race can everywhere achieve, other things being equal,
more than can any other race. Witness the conquest of the Roman Empire
by German tribes; the political genius, commercial success, and final
colonial expansion of the English, a Teutonic people; and the peculiar
strength of the German races resident within their old homes on the
Rhine, the Danube, the Weser, and the Elbe, whenever they were not
fatally disunited by domestic quarrel or unwise foreign ideals. It was
we who revivified the declining society of Roman Gaul, and made it
into the vigorous mediæval France that was ruled from the North. It
was we who made and conquered the heathen Slavs threatening Europe
from the East, and who civilized them so far as they could be
civilized. We are, in a word, and that patently not only to ourselves
but to all others, the superior and leading race of mankind; and you
have but to contrast us with the unstable Celt--who has never produced
a State--the corrupt and now hopelessly mongrel Mediterranean or
'Latin' stock, the barbarous and disorderly Slav, to perceive at once
the truth of all we say.

[Illustration: Sketch 1.]

"It so happens that the various accidents which interrupted our
strivings for unity permitted other national groups, inferior morally
and physically to our own, to play a greater part than such an
inferiority warranted; and the same accidents permitted men of
Teutonic stock, not inhabiting the ancient homes of the Teutons, but
emigrated therefrom and politically separated from the German Empire,
to obtain advantages in which we ourselves should have had a share,
but which we missed. Thus England, a Teutonic country, obtained her
vast colonial empire while we had not a ship upon the sea.

"France, a nation then healthier than it is now, but still of much
baser stock than our own, played for centuries the leading part in
Western Europe; she is even to-day 'over-capitalized,' as it were,
possessing a far greater hold over the modern world than her real
strength warrants. Even the savage Slavs have profited by our former
disunion, and the Russian autocracy not only rules millions of
German-speaking subjects, but threatens our frontiers with its great
numbers of barbarians, and exercises over the Balkan Peninsula, and
therefore over the all-important position of Constantinople, a power
very dangerous to European culture as a whole, and particularly to our
own culture--which is, of course, by far the highest culture of all.

"Some fifty years ago, acting upon the impulse of a group of great
writers and thinkers, our statesmen at last achieved that German unity
which had been the unrealized ideal of so many centuries. In a series
of wars we accomplished that unity, and we amply manifested our
superiority when we were once united by defeating with the greatest
ease and in the most fundamental fashion the French, whom the rest of
Europe then conceived to be the chief military power.

"From that moment we have incontestably stood in the sight of all as
the strongest people in the world, and yet because other and lesser
nations had the start of us, our actual international position, our
foreign possessions, the security that should be due to so supreme an
achievement, did not correspond to our real strength and abilities.
England had vast dependencies, and had staked out the unoccupied world
as her colonies. We had no colonies and no dependencies. France,
though decadent, was a menace to our peace upon the West. We could
have achieved the thorough conquest and dismemberment of France at any
time in the last forty years, and yet during the whole of that time
France was adding to her foreign possessions in Tunis, Madagascar, and
Tonkin, latterly in Morocco, while we were obtaining nothing. The
barbarous Russians were increasing constantly in numbers, and somewhat
perfecting their insufficient military machine without any
interference from us, grave as was the menace from them upon our
Eastern frontier.

"It was evident that such a state of things could not endure. A nation
so united and so immensely strong could not remain in a position of
artificial inferiority while lesser nations possessed advantages in no
way corresponding to their real strength. The whole equilibrium of
Europe was unstable through this contrast between what Germany might
be and what she was, and a struggle to make her what she might be
from what she was could not be avoided.

"Germany must, in fulfilment of a duty to herself, obtain colonial
possessions at the expense of France, obtain both colonial possessions
and sea-power at the expense of England, and put an end, by campaigns
perhaps defensive, but at any rate vigorous, to the menace of Slav
barbarism upon the East. She was potentially, by her strength and her
culture, the mistress of the modern world, the chief influence in it,
and the rightful determinant of its destinies. She must by war pass
from a potential position of this kind to an actual position of

Such was the German mood, such was the fatuous illusion which produced
this war. It had at its service, as we shall see later, _numbers_,
and, backed by this superiority of numbers, it counted on victory.


When we have clearly grasped the German attitude, as it may thus be
not unfairly expressed, we shall not find it difficult to conceive
why a conflict between such a will and other wills around it broke

We need waste no time in proving the absurdity of the German
assumptions, the bad history they involve, and the perverse and
twisted perspective so much vanity presupposes. War can never be
prevented by discovering the moral errors of an opponent. It comes
into being because that opponent does not believe them to be moral
errors; and in the attempt to understand this war and its causes, we
should only confuse ourselves if we lost time over argument upon
pretensions even as crassly unreal as these.

It must be enough for the purposes of this to accept the German will
so stated, and to see how it necessarily conflicts with the English
will, the French will, the Russian will, and sooner or later, for that
matter, with every other national will in Europe.

In the matter of sea-power England would answer: "Unless we are
all-powerful at sea, our very existence is imperilled." In the matter
of her colonies and dependencies England would answer: "We may be a
Teutonic people or we may not. All that kind of thing is pleasant talk
for the academies. But if you ask whether we will allow any part of
our colonies to become German or any part of our great dependencies to
fall under German rule, the answer is in the negative."

The French would answer: "We do not happen to think that we are either
decadent or corrupt, nor do we plead guilty to any other of your vague
and very pedantic charges; but quite apart from that, on the concrete
point of whether we propose to be subjugated by a foreign Power,
German or other, the answer is in the negative. Our will is here in
conflict with yours. And before you can proceed to any act of mastery
over us, you will have to fight. Moreover, we shall not put aside the
duty of ultimately fighting you so long as a population of two
millions, who feel themselves to be French (though most of them are
German-speaking) and who detest your rule, are arbitrarily kept in
subjection by you in Alsace-Lorraine."

The Russians would reply: "We cannot help being numerically stronger
than you, and we do not propose to diminish our numbers even if we
could. We do not think we are barbaric; and as to our leadership of
the Slav people in the Balkans, that seems as right and natural to us,
particularly on religious grounds, as any such bond could be. It may
interfere with your ambitions; but if you propose that we should
abandon so obvious an attitude of leadership among the Slavs, the
answer is in the negative." There is here, therefore, again a conflict
of wills.

In general, what the German peoples desired, based upon what they
believed themselves to be, was sharply at issue with what the English
people, what the French people, what the Russian people respectively
desired. Their desires were also based upon what _they_ believed
themselves to be, and they thought themselves to be very different
from what Germany thought them to be. The English did not believe that
they had sneaked their empire; the French did not believe that they
were moribund; the Russians did not believe that they were savages.

It was impossible that the German will should impose itself without
coming at once into conflict with these other national wills. It was
impossible that the German ideal should seek to realize itself without
coming into conflict with the mere desire to live, let alone the
self-respect, of everybody else.

And the consequence of such a conflict in ideals and wills translated
into practice was this war.

       *       *       *       *       *

But the war would not have come nor would it have taken the shape that
it did, but for two other factors in the problem which we must next
consider. These two other factors are, first, the position and
tradition of Prussia among the German States; secondly, the peculiar
authority exercised by the Imperial House of Hapsburg-Lorraine at
Vienna over its singularly heterogeneous subjects.


The Germans have always been, during their long history, a race
inclined to perpetual division and sub-division, accompanied by war
and lesser forms of disagreement between the various sections. Their
friends have called this a love of freedom, their enemies political
incompetence; but, without giving it a good or a bad name, the plain
fact has been, century after century, that the various German tribes
would not coalesce. Any one of them was always willing to take service
with the Roman Empire, in the early Roman days, against any one of the
others, and though there have been for short periods more or less
successful attempts to form one nation of them all in imitation of the
more civilized States to the west and south, these attempts have never
succeeded for very long.

But it so happens that about two hundred years ago, or a little more,
there appeared one body of German-speaking men rather different from
the rest, and capable ultimately of leading the rest, or at least a
majority of the rest.

[Illustration: Sketch 2.]

I use the words "German-speaking" and "rather different" because this
particular group of men, though speaking German, were of less pure
German blood than almost any other of the peoples that spoke that
tongue. They were the product of a conquest undertaken late in the
Middle Ages by German knights over a mixed Pagan population,
Lithuanian and Slavonic, which inhabited the heaths and forests along
the Baltic Sea. These German knights succeeded in their task, and
compelled the subject population to accept Christianity, just as the
Germans themselves had been compelled to accept it by their more
powerful and civilized neighbours the French hundreds of years before.
The two populations of this East Baltic district, the large majority
which was Slavonic and Lithuanian, and the minority which was really
German, mixed and produced a third thing, which we now know as the
_Prussian_. The cradle of this Prussian race was, then, all that flat
country of which Königsberg and Danzig are the capitals, but
especially Königsberg--"King's Town"--where the monarchs of this
remote people were crowned. By an historical accident, which we need
not consider, the same dynasty was, after it had lost all claim to
separate kingship, merged in the rulers of the Mark of Brandenburg, a
somewhat more German but still mixed district lying also in the Baltic
plain, but more towards the west, and the official title of the
Prussian ruler somewhat more than two hundred years ago was the
Elector of Brandenburg. These rulers of the Mark of Brandenburg were a
family bearing the title of Hohenzollern, a castle in South Germany,
by which name they are still distinguished. The palace of these
Hohenzollerns was henceforward at Berlin.

Now, much at the same time that the civil wars were being fought in
England--that is, not quite three hundred years ago--the Reformation
had produced in Germany also very violent quarrels. Vienna, which was
the seat of the Imperial House, stood for the Catholic or traditional
cause, and most Germans adhered to that cause. But certain of the
Northern German principalities and counties took up the side of the
Reformation. A terrible war, known as the Thirty Years' War, was
fought between the two factions. It enormously reduced the total
population of Germany. In the absence of exact figures we only have
wild guesses, such as a loss of half or three-quarters. At any rate,
both from losses from the adherence of many princes to the Protestant
cause and from the support lent to that cause for political reasons by
Catholic France, this great civil war in Germany left the Protestant
part more nearly equal in numbers to the Catholic part, and, among
other things, it began to make the Elector of Brandenburg with his
Prussians particularly prominent as the champion of the Protestant
cause. For, of all the warring towns, counties, principalities, and
the rest, Prussia had in particular shown military aptitude.

From that day to this the advance of Prussia as, first, the champion,
then the leader, and at last the master of Northern Germany as a whole
(including many Catholic parts in the centre and the south), has been
consistent and almost uninterrupted. The "Great Elector" (as he was
called) formed an admirable army some two hundred years ago. His
grandson Frederick formed a still better one, and by his great
capacities as a general, as well as by the excellence of his troops,
gave Prussia a military reputation in the middle of the eighteenth
century which has occasionally been eclipsed, but has never been

Frederick the Great did more than this. He codified and gave
expression, as it were, to the Prussian spirit, and the manifestation
of that spirit in international affairs is generally called the
"Frederician Tradition."

This "Frederician Tradition" must be closely noted by the reader,
because it is the principal moral cause of the present war. It may be
briefly and honestly put in the following terms:--

"The King of Prussia shall do all that may seem to advantage the
kingdom of Prussia among the nations, notwithstanding any European
conventions or any traditions of Christendom, or even any of those
wider and more general conventions which govern the international
conduct of other Christian peoples."

For instance, if a convention of international morals has arisen--as
it did arise very strongly, and was kept until recent times--that
hostilities should not begin without a formal declaration of war, the
"Frederician Tradition" would go counter to this, and would say: "If
ultimately it would be to the advantage of Prussia to attack without
declaration of war, then this convention may be neglected."

Or, again, treaties solemnly ratified between two Governments are
generally regarded as binding. And certainly a nation that never kept
such a treaty for more than a week would find itself in a position
where it was impossible to make any treaties at all. Still, if upon a
vague calculation of men's memories, the acuteness of the
circumstance, the advantage ultimately to follow, and so on, it be to
the advantage of Prussia to break such solemn treaty, then such a
treaty should be broken.

It will be apparent that what is called the "Frederician Tradition,"
which is the soul of Prussia in her international relations, is not an
unprincipled thing. It has a principle, and that principle is a
patriotic desire to strengthen Prussia, which particular appetite
overweighs all general human morals and far outweighs all special
Christian or European morals.

This doctrine of the "Frederician Tradition" does not mean that the
Prussian statesmen wantonly do wrong, whether in acts of cruelty or in
acts of treason and bad faith. What it means is that, wherever they
are met by the dilemma, "Shall I do _this_, which is to the advantage
of my country but opposed to European and common morals, or _that_,
which is consonant with those morals but to the disadvantage of my
country?" they choose the former and not the latter course.

Prussia, endowed with this doctrine and possessed of a most excellent
military organization and tradition, stood out as the first military
power in Europe until the French Revolution. The wars of the French
Revolution and of Napoleon upset this prestige, and in the battle of
Jena (1806) seemed to have destroyed it. But it was too strong to be
destroyed. The Prussian Government was the first of Napoleon's allies
to betray Napoleon _after_ the Russians had broken his power (1812).
They took part with the other Allies in finishing off Napoleon after
the Russian campaign (1813-14); they were present with decisive effect
upon the final field of Waterloo (1815), and remained for fifty years
afterwards the great military power they had always been. They had
further added to their dominions such great areas in Northern
Germany, beyond the original areas inhabited by the true Prussian
stock, that they were something like half of the whole Northern German
people when, in 1864, they entered into the last phase of their
dominion. They began by asking Austria to help them in taking from
Denmark, a small and weak country, not only those provinces of hers
which spoke German, but certain districts which were Danish as well.
France and England were inclined to interfere, but they did not yet
understand the menace Prussia might be in the future, and they
neglected to act. Two years later Prussia suddenly turned upon
Austria, her ally, defeated her in a very short campaign, and insisted
upon Austria's relinquishing for the future all claims over any part
of the German-speaking peoples, save some ten millions in the valley
of the Middle Danube and of the Upper Elbe. Four years later again, in
1870, Prussia having arranged, after various political experiments
which need not be here detailed, for the support of all the German
States except Austria, fought a war with France, in which she was
immediately and entirely successful, and in the course of which the
rulers of the other German States consented (1) to give the
Hohenzollern-Prussian dynasty supreme military power for the future
over them, under the hereditary title of German Emperors; (2) to form
a united nation under the more or less despotic power of these

This latter point, the national unity, though really highly
centralized at Berlin, especially on the military side, was softened
in its rigour by a number of very wise provisions. A great measure of
autonomy was left to the more important of the lesser States,
particularly Catholic Bavaria; local customs were respected; and,
above all, local dynasties were flattered, and maintained in all the
trappings of sovereign rank.

From that date--that is, for the last forty-four years--there has been
a complete _Northern_ Germany, one strong, centralized, and thoroughly
co-ordinated nation, in which the original Prussian domination is not
only numerically far the greatest element, but morally overshadows all
the rest. The spiritual influence ruling this state issues from Berlin
and from the Prussian soul, although a large minority consist of
contented but respectful Catholics, who, in all national matters,
wholly sympathize with and take their cue from the Protestant North.

So far one may clearly see what kind of power it is that has initiated
the German theory of supremacy which we have described above, is
prepared to lead it to battle, and is quite certain of leading it to

But we note--the fatal mark in all German history--that the unity is
not complete. The ten millions of Austrian Germans were, when Prussia
achieved this her highest ambition, deliberately left outside the new
German Empire. And this was done because, in Prussian eyes, a
so-called "German unity" was but a means to an end, and that end the
aggrandizement of the Hohenzollern dynasty. To include so many
southern and Catholic Germans would have endangered the mastery of
Berlin. The fact that Austria ruled a number of non-German subjects
far larger than her Austrian population would further have endangered
the Hohenzollern position had Austria been admitted to the new German
Empire, and had the consolidation of all Germans into one true state
been really and loyally attempted. Lastly, it would have been
impossible to destroy the historic claims to leadership of the
Imperial Hapsburgs, and that, more than anything else, was the rivalry
the Hohenzollerns dreaded. Once more had the Germans proved themselves
incapable of, and unwilling to submit to, the discipline of unity.
What part, then, was Austria, thus left out, to play in the
international activity of Prussia in the future? What part especially
was she to play when Prussia, at the head of Northern Germany, should
go out to impose the will of that Germany and of herself upon the rest
of the world? That is the next question we must answer before we can
hope to understand the causes of the present war in their entirety.


Austria, or, more strictly speaking, the Austro-Hungarian Empire,
means no more than the congeries of States governed each separately
and all in combination by the head of the House of Hapsburg-Lorraine.
Of these various States only one is German-speaking as a whole, and
that is the Austrian State proper, the "Eastern States" (for that is
what the word "Austria" originally meant) which Christendom erected
round the Roman and Christian frontier town of Vienna to withstand the
pressure of the heathen Slavs and Mongol Magyars surging against it
upon this frontier.

The complexity of the various sections which make up the realm of the
present Emperor Francis Joseph, the present head of the House of
Hapsburg-Lorraine, would be only confusing if it were detailed in so
general a description as this. We must be content with the broad lines
of the thing, which are as follows:--

[Illustration: Sketch 3.]

From the Upper Danube and its valley--all the basin of it, one may
say, down to a point about twenty miles below Vienna--is the original
Austrian State; German-speaking as a whole, and the historic centre of
the entire agglomeration. East of this is the far larger state of
Hungary, and Hungary is the valley of the river Danube, from where the
German-speaking boundary cuts it, just below Vienna down to the Iron
Gates, up to the crest of the Carpathians. These two great units of
Austria proper and of Hungary have round them certain frills or edges.
On the north are two great bodies, Slav in origin, Bohemia and
Galicia; on the south another Slav body, separated from the rest for
centuries by the eruption of the Magyars from Asia in the Dark Ages,
and these Slav bodies are represented by Croatia, by much of Dalmatia,
and latterly by Bosnia and Herzegovina, which have been governed by
Austria for a generation, and formally annexed by her with the consent
of Europe seven years ago. Finally, there is a strip, or, to be more
accurate, there are patches of Italian-speaking people, all along the
coasts of the Adriatic, and occupying the ports governed by Austria
along the eastern and northern coast of that sea. There is also a belt
of Alpine territory of Italian speech--the Trentino--still in Austrian

This very general description gives, however, far too rough an idea of
the extraordinarily complicated territories of the House of Hapsburg.
Thus, there are considerable German-speaking colonies in Hungary, and
these, oddly enough, are more frequent in the east than in the west
of that State. Again, the whole western slope of the Carpathians is,
so far as the mass of the population is concerned, Roumanian in
tongue, custom, and race. Bohemia, though Slavonic in origin, is
regularly enframed along its four sides by belts of German-speaking
people, and was mainly German-speaking until a comparatively recent
revival of its native Slavonic tongue, the Czech. Again, though the
Magyar language is Mongolian, like the Turkish, centuries of Christian
and European admixture have left very little trace of the original
race. Lastly, in all the north-eastern corner of this vast and
heterogeneous territory, something like a quarter of the population is

The Western student, faced with so extraordinary a puzzle of race and
language, may well wonder what principle of unity there is lying
behind it, and, indeed, this principle of unity is not easy to find.

Some have sought it in religion, pointing out that the overwhelming
majority of these various populations are Catholic, in communion with
Rome; and, indeed, this Catholic tincture or colour has a great deal
to do with the Austro-Hungarian unity; and of late years the chief
directing policy of the House of Hapsburg-Lorraine has been to pose as
the leader of the Catholic Slavs against the Slavs belonging to the
Greek Church.

But this principle of unity is not the true one, for two reasons:
first, that the motive leading the House of Hapsburg to the difficult
task of so complicated a government is not a religious motive; and,
secondly, because this religious unity is subject to profound
modification. Hungary, though Catholic in its majority, contains, and
is largely governed by, powerful Protestant families, who are
supported by considerable bodies of Protestant population. The Greek
Church is the religious profession of great numbers along the Lower
Danube valley and to the south of the river Save. There are in Bosnia
a considerable number of Mahomedans even, and I have already mentioned
the numerous Jewish population of the north-east, particularly in

The true principle of unity in what has hitherto been the
Austro-Hungarian Empire is twofold. It consists, first, in the
reigning family, considerable personal attachment to which is felt in
every section of its dominions, utterly different as these are one
from another; and, secondly (a more important point), in the
historical development of the State.

It is this last matter which explains all, and which can make us
understand why a realm so astonishingly ill constructed was brought
into the present struggle as one force, and that force a force allied
to, and in a military sense identical with, modern Prussian Germany.

For the historical root of Austria-Hungary is German. Of its
population (some fifty-one millions) you may say that only about a
quarter are German-speaking (less than another quarter are
Magyar-speaking, most of the rest Slavonic in speech, together with
some proportion of Roumanian and Italian).

But it is from this German _quarter_ and from the emperor at their
head that the historical growth of the State depends, because this
German _quarter_ was the original Christian nucleus and the civilized
centre, which had for its mission the reduction of Slavonic and Magyar
barbarism. The Slavs of the Bohemian quadrilateral were subjected,
not indeed by conquest, but by a process of culture, to Vienna. The
crown of Hungary, when it fell by marriage to the Hapsburgs, continued
that tradition; and when the Empress Maria-Theresa, in the last
century, participated in the abominable crime of Frederick the Great
of Prussia, and took her share of the dismembered body of Poland (now
called the Austrian province of Galicia), that enormous blunder was,
in its turn, a German blunder undertaken under the example of Northern
Germany, and as part of a movement German in spirit and origin. The
same is true even of the very latest of the Austrian developments, the
annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The act was that of Vienna, but
the spirit behind it, perhaps the suggestion of it, and the support
that made it possible came from Berlin.

In a word, if you could interrogate the Genius of the Hapsburgs and
ask it for what their dominion stood, it would tell you that for
uninterrupted centuries they had stood for the German effort to
repress or to overcome pressure upon the German peoples from the
East. And that is still their rôle. They have come into this war, for
instance, as the servants of Prussia, not because Prussia threatened
or overawed them, but because they felt they had, in common with
Prussia, the mission of withstanding the Slav, or of tolerating the
Slav only as a subject; because, that is, they feared, and were
determined to resist, Russia, and the smaller Slavonic States, notably
Servia to the south, which are in the retinue of Russia.

       *       *       *       *       *

We may sum up, then, and say that the fundamental conflict of wills in
Europe, which has produced this general war, is a conflict between the
German will, organized by Prussia to overthrow the ancient Christian
tradition of Europe (to _her_ advantage directly; and indirectly, as
she proposes, to the advantage of a supposedly necessary German
governance of the world under Prussian organization), and the will of
the more ancient and better founded Western and Latin tradition to
which the sanctity of separate national units profoundly appeals, and
a great deal more which is, in their eyes, civilization. In this
conflict, Prussia has called upon and received the support of not only
the German Empire, which she controls, but also the Hapsburg monarchy,
controlling the organized forces of Austria-Hungary; while there has
appeared against this strange Prussian claim all that values the
Christian tradition of Europe, and in particular the doctrine of
national freedom, with very much else--which very much else are the
things by which we of the civilized West and South, who have hitherto
proved the creators of the European world, live and have our being.
Allied with us, by the accident that this same German claim threatens
them also, is the young new world of the Slavs.

It is at this final point of our examination that we may see the
immensity of the issues upon which the war turns. The two parties are
really fighting for their lives; that in Europe which is arrayed
against the Germanic alliance would not care to live if it should fail
to maintain itself against the threat of that alliance. It is for them
life and death. On the other side, the Germans having propounded this
theory of theirs, or rather the Prussians having propounded it for
them, there is no rest possible until they shall either have "made
good" to our destruction, or shall have been so crushed that a
recurrence of the menace from them will for the future be impossible.

There is here no possibility of such a "draw" or "stalemate" as was
the result, for instance, of the reduction of Louis XIV.'s ambition,
or of the great revolutionary effort throughout Europe which ended
with the fall of Napoleon. Louis XIV.'s ambition cast over Europe,
which received it favourably, the colour of French culture. The
Revolutionary Wars were fought for a principle which, if it did not
appeal universally to men, appealed at least to all those millions
whose instincts were democratic in every country. But in this war
there is no such common term. No one outside the districts led by
Prussia desires a Prussian life, and perhaps most, certainly many, of
those whom Prussia now leads are in different degrees unwilling to
continue a Prussian life. The fight, in a word, is not like a fight
with a man who, if he beats you, may make you sign away some property,
or make you acknowledge some principle to which you are already half
inclined; it is like a fight with a man who says, "So long as I have
life left in me, I will make it my business to kill you." And fights
of that kind can never reach a term less absolute than the destruction
of offensive power in one side or the other. A peace not affirming
complete victory in this great struggle could, of its nature, be no
more than a truce.

       *       *       *       *       *

So much for the really important and the chief thing which we have to
understand--the general causes of the war.

Now let us turn to the particular causes. We shall find these to be,
not like the general causes, great spiritual attitudes, but, as they
always are, a sequence of restricted and recent _events_.


After the great victories of Prussia a generation ago (the spoliation
of Denmark in 1864, the supremacy established over Austria in 1866,
the crushing defeat of France and the annexation of Alsace-Lorraine,
with two millions of people in 1870-1), Europe gradually drifted into
being an armed camp, the great forces of which were more or less in
equilibrium. Prussia had, for the moment at least, achieved all that
she desired. The French were for quite twenty years ardently desirous
of recovering what they had lost; but Europe would not allow the war
to be renewed, and Prussia, now at the head of a newly constituted
German Empire, made an arrangement with Austria and with Italy to curb
the French desire for recovery. The French, obviously inferior before
this triple alliance, gradually persuaded the Russians to support
them; but the Russians would not support the French in provoking
another great war, and with the French themselves the old feeling
gradually deadened. It did not disappear--any incident might have
revived it--but the anxious desire for immediate war when the
opportunity should come got less and less, and at the end of the
process, say towards 1904, when a new generation had grown up in all
the countries concerned, there was a sort of deadlock, every one very
heavily armed, the principal antagonists, France and Germany, armed
to their utmost, but the European States, as a whole, unwilling to
allow any one of them to break the peace.

It was about this moment that Prussia committed what the future
historian will regard, very probably, as the capital blunder in her
long career of success. She began to build a great fleet. Here the
reader should note two very important consequences of the great
Prussian victories which had taken place a generation before. The
first was the immense expansion of German industrialism. Germany, from
an agricultural State, became a State largely occupied in mining,
smelting, spinning, and shipbuilding; and there went with this
revolution, as there always goes with modern industrialism, a large
and unhealthy increase of population. The German Empire, after its war
with France, was roughly equal to the population of the French; but
the German Empire, after this successful industrial experiment, the
result of its victories, was much more than half as large again in
population as the French (68 to 39).

Secondly, the German Empire developed a new and very large maritime
commerce. This second thing did not follow, as some have imagined it
does, from the first. Germany might have exported largely without
exporting in her own ships. The creation of Germany's new mercantile
marine was a deliberate part of the general Prussian policy of
expansion. It was heavily subsidized, especially directed into the
form of great international passenger lines, and carefully
co-ordinated with the rest of the Prussian scheme throughout the

At a date determined by the same general policy, and somewhat
subsequent to the first creation of this mercantile marine, came the
decision to build a great fleet. Now, it so happens that Great Britain
alone among the Powers of Europe depends for her existence upon
supremacy at sea, and particularly upon naval superiority in the
Narrow Seas to the east and the south of the British islands.

Such a necessity is, of course, a challenge to the rest of the world,
and it would be ridiculous to expect the rest of the world to accept
that challenge without protest. But a necessity this naval policy of
Great Britain remains none the less. The moment some rival or group
of rivals can overcome her fleet, her mere physical livelihood is in
peril. She cannot be certain of getting her food. She cannot be
certain of getting those foreign materials the making up of which
enables her to purchase her food. Further, her dominions are scattered
oversea, and supremacy at sea is her only guarantee of retaining the
various provinces of her dominion.

It is a case which has happened more than once before in the history
of the world. Great commercial seafaring States have arisen; they have
always had the same method of government by a small, wealthy class,
the same ardent patriotism, the same scattered empire, and the same
inexorable necessity of maintaining supremacy at sea. Only one Power
had hitherto rendered this country anxious for the Narrow Seas: that
Power was France, and it only controlled one-half of the two branches
of the Narrow Seas, the North Sea and the Channel. It had been for
generations a cardinal piece of English policy that the French Fleet
should be watched, the English Fleet maintained overwhelmingly
superior to it, and all opportunities for keeping France engaged with
other rivals used to the advantage of this country. On this account
English policy leant, on the whole, towards the German side, during
all the generation of rivalry between France and Germany which
followed the war of 1870.

But when the Germans began to build their fleet, things changed. The
Germans had openly given Europe to understand that they regarded
Holland and Belgium, and particularly the port of Antwerp, as
ultimately destined to fall under their rule or into their system.
Their fleet was specifically designed for meeting the British Fleet;
it corresponded to no existing considerable colonial empire, and
though the development of German maritime commerce was an excuse for
it, it was only an excuse. Indeed, the object of obtaining supremacy
at sea was put forward fairly clearly by the promoters of the whole
scheme. Great Britain was therefore constrained to transfer the weight
of her support to Russia and to France, and to count on the whole as a
force opposed, for the first time in hundreds of years, to North
Germany in the international politics of Europe. Similarity of
religion (which is a great bond) and a supposed identity (and partly
real similarity) of race were of no effect compared with this
sentiment of necessity.

Here it is important to note that the transference of British support
from one continental group to another neither produced aggression by
Great Britain nor pointed to any intention of aggression. It is a
plain matter of fact, which all future history will note, that the
very necessity in English eyes of English supremacy at sea, and the
knowledge that such a supremacy was inevitably a provocation to
others, led to the greatest discretion in the use of British naval
strength, and, in general, to a purely defensive and peaceful policy
upon the part of the chief maritime power. It would, indeed, have been
folly to have acted otherwise, for there was nothing to prevent the
great nations, our rivals, if they had been directly menaced by the
British superiority at sea, from beginning to build great fleets,
equal or superior to our own. Germany alone pursued this policy, with
no excuse save an obvious determination to undo the claim of the
British Fleet.

I have called this a blunder, and, from the point of view of the
German policy, it was a blunder. For if the Prussian dynasty set out,
as it did, to make itself the chief power in the world, its obvious
policy was to deal with its enemies in detail. It ought not, at any
cost, to have quarrelled with Russia until it had finally disposed of
France. If it was incapable, through lack of subtlety, to prevent the
Franco-Russian group from forming, it should at least have made itself
the master of that group before gratuitously provoking the rivalry of
Great Britain. But "passion will have all now," and the supposedly
cold and calculating nature of Prussian effort has about it something
very crudely emotional, as the event has shown. From about ten years
ago Prussian Germany had managed to array against itself not only the
old Franco-Russian group but Great Britain as well.

This arrangement would not, however, have led to war. Equilibrium was
still perfectly maintained, and the very strong feeling throughout all
the great States of Europe that a disturbance of the peace would mean
some terrible catastrophe, to be avoided at all costs, was as
powerful as ever.

The true origin of disturbance, the first overt act upon which you can
put your finger and say, "Here the chain of particular causes leading
to the great war begins," was the revolution in Turkey. This
revolution took place in the year 1908, and put more or less
permanently into power at Constantinople a group of men based upon
Masonic influence, largely Western in training, largely composed of
Jewish elements, known as the "Young Turks."

The first result of this revolution, followed as it inevitably was by
the temporary weakening in international power which accompanies all
civil war at its outset, was the declaration by Austria that she would
regard the provinces of Bosnia and Herzegovina--hitherto only
administrated by her and nominally still Turkish--as her own

It was but a formal act, but it proved of vast consequence. It was an
open declaration by a Germanic Power that the hopes of the Servians,
the main population of the district and a Slav nation closely bound
to Russia in feeling, were at an end; that Servia must content herself
with such free territory as she had, and give up all hope of a
completely independent State uniting all Servians within its borders.
It was as though Austria had said, "I intend in future to be the great
European Power in the Balkans, Slav though the Balkans are, and I
challenge Russia to prevent me." The Russian Government, thus
challenged, would perhaps have taken the occasion to make war had not
the French given it to be understood that they would not imperil
European peace for such an object. The Prussian Government of the
German Empire had, in all this crisis, acted perhaps as the leader,
certainly as the protector and supporter of Austria; and when France
thus refused to fight, and Russia in turn gave way, the whole thing
was regarded, not only in Germany but throughout the world, as
equivalent to an armed victory. Observers whose judgment and criticism
are of weight, even in the eyes of trained international agents,
proclaimed what had happened to be as much a Prussian success as
though the Prussian and Austrian armies had met in the field and had
defeated the Russian and the French forces.

The next step in this series was a challenge advanced by Germany
against that arrangement whereby Morocco, joining as it did to French
North Africa, should be abandoned to French influence, so far as
England was concerned, in exchange for the French giving up certain
rights of interference they had in the English administration of
Egypt, and one or two other minor points. Germany, advancing from a
victorious position acquired over the Bosnian business, affirmed (in
the year 1911) her right to be consulted over the Moroccan settlement.
Nor were the French permitted to occupy Morocco until they had ceded
to Germany a portion of their African colony of the Congo. This
transaction was confused by many side issues. German patriots did not
regard it as a sufficient success, though French patriots certainly
regarded it as a grave humiliation. But perhaps the chief consequence
of the whole affair was the recrudescence in the French people as a
whole of a temper, half forgotten, which provoked them to withstand
the now greatly increased power of the German Empire and of its ally,
and to determine that if such challenges were to continue unchecked
during the coming years, the national position of France would be

Following upon this crisis came, in the next year--still a consequence
of the Turkish Revolution--the sudden determination of the Balkan
States, including Greece, to attack Turkey. It was the King of
Montenegro (a small Slav State which had always maintained its
independence) who fired the first shot upon the 8th of October, 1912,
with his own hand. In the course of that autumn the Balkan Allies were
universally successful, failed only in taking Constantinople itself,
reduced Turkey in Europe to an insignificant strip of territory near
the capital itself, and proceeded to settle the conquered territory
according to an agreement made by them before the outbreak of

But here the Germanic Powers again intervened. The defeated Turkish
Army had been trained by German officers upon a German system; the
expansion of German and Austrian political military influence
throughout the Near East was a cardinal part of the German creed and
policy. Through Austria the Balkans were to be dominated at last, and
Austria, at this critical moment, vetoed the rational settlement which
the allied Balkan States had agreed to among themselves. She would not
allow the Servians to annex those territories inhabited by men of
their race, and to reach their natural outlet to the sea upon the
shores of the Adriatic. She proposed the creation of a novel State of
Albania under a German prince, to block Servia's way to the sea. She
further proposed to Servia compensation by way of Servia's annexing
the territory round Monastir, which had a Bulgarian population, and to
Bulgaria the insufficient compensation of taking over, farther to the
east, territory that was not Bulgarian at all, but mixed Greek and

The whole thing was characteristically German in type, ignoring and
despising national feeling and national right, creating artificial
boundaries, and flagrantly sinning against the European sense of
patriotism. A furious conflict between the various members of the
former Balkan Alliance followed; but the settlement which Austria had
virtually imposed remained firm, and the third of the great Germanic
steps affirming the growing Germanic scheme in Europe had been taken.

But it had been taken at the expense of further and very gravely
shaking the already unstable armed equilibrium of Europe.

The German Empire foresaw the coming strain; a law was passed
immediately increasing the numbers of men to be trained to arms within
its boundaries, and ultimately increasing that number so largely as to
give to Germany alone a very heavy preponderance--a preponderance of
something like thirty per cent.--over the corresponding number trained
in France.

To this move France could not reply by increasing her armed forces,
because she already took every available man. She did the only
possible thing under the circumstances. She increased by fifty per
cent. the term during which her young men must serve in the army,
changing that term from two years to three.

The heavy burden thus suddenly imposed upon the French led to very
considerable political disputes in that country, especially as the
parliamentary form of government there established is exceedingly
unpopular, and the politicians who live by it generally despised.
When, therefore, the elections of last year were at hand, it seemed as
though this French increase of military power would be in jeopardy.
Luckily it was maintained, in spite of the opposition of fairly honest
but uncritical men like Jaurés, and of far less reputable professional

Whether this novel strain upon the French people could have been long
continued we shall never know, for, in the heat of the debates
provoked by this measure and its maintenance, came the last events
which determined the great catastrophe.


We have seen how constantly and successfully Austria had supported the
general Prussian thesis in Europe, and, in particular, the
predominance of the German Powers over the Slav.

We have seen how, in pursuit of this policy, the sharpest friction was
always suffered at the danger-point of _Servia_. Servia was the Slav
State millions of whose native population were governed against their
will by Austro-Hungarian officials. Servia was the Slav State mortally
wounded by the annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. And Servia was
the Slav State which Austria had in particular mortified by forbidding
her access to the Adriatic, and by imposing upon her an unnatural
boundary, even after her great victories of the Balkan War.

The heir to the Hapsburgs--the man who, seeing the great age of his
uncle, might at any moment ascend the throne--was the Archduke
Francis. He had for years pursued one consistent policy for the
aggrandizement of his House, which policy was the pitting of the
Catholic Slavs against the Orthodox Slavs, thereby rendering himself
in person particularly odious to the Orthodox Serbs, so many of whose
compatriots and co-religionists were autocratically governed against
their will in the newly annexed provinces.

To the capital of these provinces, Sarajevo, he proceeded in state in
the latter part of last June, and there, through the emissaries of
certain secret societies (themselves Austrian subjects, but certainly
connected with the population of independent Servia, and, as some
claimed, not unconnected with the Servian Government itself), he was
assassinated upon Saturday, the 28th of June, 1914.

For exactly a month, the consequences of this event--the provocation
which it implied to Austria, the opportunity which it gave the
Hapsburgs for a new and more formidable expression of Germanic power
against the Slavs--were kept wholly underground. _That is the most
remarkable of all the preliminaries to the war._ There was a month of
silence after so enormous a moment. Why? In order to give Germany and
Austria a start in the conflict already long designed. Military
measures were being taken secretly, stores of ammunition overhauled,
and all done that should be necessary for a war which was premeditated
in Berlin, half-feared, half-desired in Vienna, and dated for the end
of July--after the harvest.

The Government of Berlin was, during the whole of this period,
actively engaged in forcing Austria forward in a path to which she was
not unwilling; and, at last, upon the 23rd of July, Europe was amazed
to read a note sent by the Imperial Governor at Vienna to the Royal
Government in the Servian capital of Belgrade, which note was of a
kind altogether unknown hitherto in the relations between Christian
States. This note demanded not only the suppression of patriotic, and
therefore anti-Austrian, societies in Servia (the assassins of the
Crown Prince had been, as I have said, not Servian but Austrian
subjects), but the public humiliation of the Servian Government by an
apology, and even an issue of the order of the day to the Servian
Army, so recently victorious, abasing that army to the worst
humiliation. The note insisted upon a specific pledge that the Servian
Government should renounce all hope of freeing the Servian nation as a
whole from foreign government, and in many another clause subjected
this small nation to the most thorough degradation ever suggested by a
powerful European people towards a lesser neighbour.

So far, though an extreme hitherto unknown in European history had
been reached, the matter was one of degree. Things of the same sort,
less drastic, had been known in the past.

But what was novel in the note, and what undoubtedly proceeded from
the suggestion of the Prussian Government (which was in all this the
real agent behind Austria), _was the claim of the Austrian Government
to impose its own magistrates upon the Servian courts, and to condemn
at will those subjects of the Servian king and those officers holding
his commission whom Austria might select so to condemn, and that to
penalties at the goodwill and pleasure of Austria alone_. In other
words, Austria claimed full rights of sovereignty within the territory
of her small neighbour and enemy, and the acceptation of the note by
Servia meant not only the preponderance of Austria for the future over
the Slavs of the Balkans, but her continued and direct power over that
region in the teeth of national and religious sentiment, and in clean
despite of Russia.

So strong was the feeling still throughout Europe in favour of
maintaining peace and of avoiding the awful crash of our whole
international system that Russia advised Servia to give way, and the
Germanic Powers were on the eve of yet another great success, far more
important and enduring than anything they had yet achieved. The only
reservation which Servia was permitted by the peaceful Powers of
Europe, and in particular by Russia, to make was that, upon three
points which directly concerned her sovereignty, Austria should admit
the decision of a Court of Arbitration at the Hague. But the
time-limit imposed--which was the extraordinarily short one of
forty-eight hours--was maintained by Austria, and upon the advice, as
we now know, of Berlin, no modification whatever in the demands was
tolerated. Upon the 25th, therefore, the Austrian Minister left
Belgrade. There followed ten days, the exact sequence of events in
which must be carefully noted if we are to obtain a clear view of the
origin of the war.

Upon that same day, Saturday, July 25th, the English Foreign Office,
through Sir Edward Grey, suggested a scheme whereby the approaching
cataclysm (for Russia was apparently determined to support Servia)
might be averted. He proposed that all operations should be suspended
while the Ambassadors of Germany, Italy, and France consulted with him
in London.

What happened upon the next day, Sunday, is exceedingly important.
The German Government refused to accept the idea of such a conference,
but at the same time the German Ambassador in London, Prince
Lichnowski, was instructed to say that the principle of such a
conference, or at least of mediation by the four Powers, was agreeable
to Berlin. _The meaning of this double move was that the German
Government would do everything it could to retard the entry into the
business of the Western Powers, but would do nothing to prevent
Russia, Servia, and the Slav civilization as a whole from suffering
final humiliation or war._

That game was played by Germany clumsily enough for nearly a full
week. Austria declared war upon Servia upon Monday the 27th; but we
now know that her intention of meeting Russia halfway, when she saw
that Russia would not retire, was stopped by the direct intervention
of the Prussian Government. In public the German Foreign Office still
pretended that it was seeking some way out of the crisis. In private
it prevented Austria from giving way an inch from her extraordinary
demands. And all the while Germany was secretly making her first
preparations for war.

It might conceivably be argued by a special pleader that war was not
the only intention of Berlin, as most undoubtedly it had not been the
only intention of Vienna. Such a plea would be false, but one can
imagine its being advanced. What is not capable even of discussion is
the fact that both the Germanic Powers, under the unquestioned
supremacy of Prussia, _were_ determined to push Russia into the
dilemma between an impossible humiliation and defeat in the field.
They allowed for the possibility that she would prefer humiliation,
because they believed it barely possible (though all was ready for the
invasion of France at a moment already fixed) that the French would
again fail to support their ally. But war was fixed, and its date was
fixed, with Russia, or even with Russia and France, and the Germanic
Powers arranged to be ready before their enemies. In order to effect
this it was necessary to deceive the West at least into believing that
war could after all be avoided.

One last incident betrays in the clearest manner how thoroughly
Prussia had determined on war, and on a war to break out at her own
chosen moment. It was as follows:

As late as Thursday, the 30th of July, Austria was still willing to
continue a discussion with Russia. The Austrian Government on that day
expressed itself as willing to reopen negotiations with Russia. The
German Ambassador at Vienna got wind of this. He communicated it at
once to Berlin. _Germany immediately stopped any compromise, by
framing that very night and presenting upon the next day, Friday the
31st, an ultimatum to Russia and to France._

Now, the form of these two ultimata and the events connected with them
are again to be carefully noted, for they further illuminate us upon
the German plan. That to Russia, presented by the German Ambassador
Portales, had been prepared presupposing the just possible humiliation
and giving way of Russia; and all those who observed this man's
attitude and manner upon discovering that Russia would indeed fight
rather than suffer the proposed humiliation, agreed that it was the
attitude and manner of an anxious man. The ultimatum to France had,
upon the contrary, not the marks of coercion, but of unexpected and
violent haste. If Russia was really going to fight, what could Prussia
be sure of in the West? It was the second great and crude blunder of
Prussian diplomacy that, instead of making any efforts to detach
France from Russia, it first took the abandonment of Russia by France
for granted, and then, with extreme precipitancy, asked within the
least possible delay whether France would fight. That precipitancy
alone lent to the demand a form which ensured the exact opposite of
what Prussia desired.

This double misconception of the effect of her diplomatic action
dates, I say, from Friday, the 31st of July, and that day is the true
opening day of the great war. Upon Sunday, the 2nd of August, the
German army violated the neutrality of Luxembourg, seizing the railway
passing through that State into France, and pouring into its neutral
territory her covering troops. On the same day, the French general
mobilization was ordered; the French military authorities having lost,
through the double action of Germany, about five days out of, say,
eleven--nearly half the mobilization margin--by which space of time
German preparations were now ahead of theirs.

There followed, before the action state of general European conflict,
the third German blunder, perhaps the most momentous, and certainly
the most extraordinary: that by which Germany secured the hitherto
exceedingly uncertain intervention of England against herself.

Of all the great Powers involved, Great Britain had most doubtfully to
consider whether she should or should not enter the field.

On the one hand, she was in moral agreement with Russia and France; on
the other hand, she was bound to them by no direct alliance, and
successive British Governments had, for ten years past, repeatedly
emphasized the fact that England was free to act or not to act with
France according as circumstances might decide her.

Many have criticized the hesitation, or long weighing of circumstance,
which astonished us all in the politicians during these few days, but
no one, whether friendly to or critical of a policy of neutrality, can
doubt that such a policy was not only a possible but a probable one.
The Parliamentarians were not unanimous, the opposition to the great
responsibility of war was weighty, numerous, and strong. The
financiers, who are in many things the real masters of our
politicians, were all for standing out. In the face of such a
position, in the crisis of so tremendous an issue, Germany, instead of
acting as best she could to secure the neutrality of Great Britain,
simply took that neutrality for granted!

Upon one specific point a specific question was asked of her
Government. To Great Britain, as we have seen in these pages, the
keeping from the North Sea coast of all great hostile Powers is a
vital thing. The navigable Scheldt, Antwerp, the approaches to the
Straits of Dover, are, and have been since the rise of British
sea-power, either in the hands of a small State or innocuous to us
through treaty. Today they are the possession of Belgium, an
independent State erected by treaty after the great war, and
neutralized by a further guarantee in 1839. This neutrality of Belgium
had been guaranteed in a solemn treaty not only by France and England,
but by Prussia herself; and the British Government put to the French
and to the Germans alike the question whether (now they were at war)
that neutrality would be respected. The French replied in the
affirmative; the Germans, virtually, in the negative. But it must not
be said that this violation of international law and of her own word
by Germany automatically caused war with England.

_The German Ambassador was not told that if Belgian territory was
violated England would fight_; he was only told that if that territory
were violated England _might_ fight.

The Sunday passed without a decision. On Monday the point was, as a
matter of form, laid before Parliament, though the House of Commons
has no longer any real control over great national issues. In a speech
which certainly inclined towards English participation in the war
should Germany invade Belgium, the Secretary for Foreign Affairs
summed up the situation before a very full House.

In the debate that followed many, and even passionate, speeches were
delivered opposing the presence of England in the field and claiming
neutrality. Some of these speeches insisted upon the admiration felt
by the speaker for modern Germany and Prussia; others the ill judgment
of running the enormous risk involved in such a campaign. These
protests will be of interest to history, but the House of Commons as a
whole had, of course, no power in the matter, and sat only to register
the decisions of its superiors. There was in the Cabinet resignation
of two members, in the Ministry the resignation of a third, the
threatened resignation of many more.

Meanwhile, upon that same day, August 3rd, following with
superstitious exactitude the very hour upon which, on the very same
day, the French frontier had been crossed in 1870, the Germans entered
Belgian territory.

The Foreign Office's thesis underlying the declaration of its
spokesman, Sir Edward Grey, carried the day with the politicians in
power, and upon Tuesday, August 4th, Great Britain joined Russia and
France, at war with the Prussian Power. There followed later the
formal declaration of war by France as by England against Austria, and
with the first week in August the general European struggle had



Here, then, at the beginning of August 1914, are the five great Powers
about to engage in war.

Russia, France, and Great Britain, whom we will call the Allies, are
upon one side; the German Empire and Austria-Hungary, whom we will
call the Germanic Powers, are upon the other.

We must at the outset, if we are to understand the war at all, see how
these two combatant groups stood in strength one against the other
when the war broke out. And to appreciate this contrast we must know
two things--their geographical situation, and their respective weight
in arms. For before we can judge the chances of two opponents in war,
we have to know how they stand physically one to the other upon the
surface of the earth, or we cannot judge how one will attack the
other, or how each will defend itself against the other. And we must
further be able to judge the numbers engaged both at the beginning of
the struggle and arriving in reinforcement as the struggle proceeds,
because upon those numbers will mainly depend the final result.

Having acquired these two fundamental pieces of information, we must
acquire a third, which is _the theories of war_ held upon either side,
and some summary showing which of these theories turned out in
practice to be right, and which wrong.

For, after a long peace, the fortune of the next war largely depends
upon which of various guesses as to the many changes that have taken
place in warfare and in weapons will be best supported by practice,
and what way of using new weapons will prove the most effective. Until
the test of war is applied, all this remains guess-work; but under the
conditions of war it ceases to be guess-work, and becomes either
corroborated by experience or exploded, as the case may be. And of two
opponents after a long peace, that one which has had the most
foresight and has guessed best what the effect of changes in armament
and the rest will effect in practice is that one who has the best
chance of victory.

We are going, then, in this Second Part, of the little book, to see,
first, the geographical position of the belligerents; secondly, their
effective numbers; and, thirdly, what theories of war each held, and
how far each was right or wrong.


The position of the original belligerent countries (excluding Turkey)
upon the map of Europe was that which will be seen upon the
accompanying sketch map.

Of this belligerent area, which is surrounded by a thick black line,
the part left white represents the territory of the Allies at the
origin of the war--Great Britain, France, Russia, and Servia. This
reservation must, however, be made: that in the case of Russia only
the effective part is shown, and only the European part at that;
Arctic Russia and Siberia are omitted. The part lightly shaded with
cross lines represents the Germanic body--to wit, the German Empire
and Austria-Hungary.

1. The first thing that strikes the eye upon such a map is the great
size of the Germanic body.

[Illustration: Sketch 4.]

When one reads that "Germany" was being attacked by not only France
and England, but also Russia; when one reads further that in the Far
East, in Asia, Japan was putting in work for the Allies; and when one
goes on to read that Belgium added her effort of resistance to the
"German" invasion, one gets a false impression that one single nation
was fighting a vast coalition greatly superior to it. Most people had
an impression of that kind, in this country at least, at the outset of
the war. It was this impression that led to the equally false
impression that "Germany" must necessarily be beaten, and probably
quickly beaten.

The truth was, of course, that we were fighting something very much
bigger than "Germany." We set out to fight something more than twice
as big as Germany in area, and very nearly twice as big as the German
Empire in mere numbers. For what we set out to fight was not the
German Empire, but the German Empire _plus_ the whole of the dominions
governed by the Hapsburg dynasty at Vienna.

How weighty this Germanic body was geographically is still more
clearly seen if we remember that Russia north of St. Petersburg is
almost deserted of inhabitants, and that the true European areas of
population which are in conflict--that is, the fairly well populated
areas--are more accurately represented by a modification of the map
on page 81 in some such form as that on page 84, where the comparative
density of population is represented by the comparative distances
between the parallel cross-lines.

2. The next thing that strikes one is the position of the neutral
countries. Supposing Belgium to have remained neutral, or, rather, to
have allowed German armies to pass over her soil without actively
resisting, the Germanic body would have been free to trade with
neutral countries, and to receive support from their commerce, and to
get goods through them over the whole of their western front, with the
exception of the tiny section which stands for the frontier common to
France and Germany. On the north, supposing the Baltic to be open, the
Germanic body had a vast open frontier of hundreds of miles, and
though Russia closed most of the eastern side, all the Roumanian
frontier was open, and so was the frontier of the Adriatic, right away
from the Italian border to Cattaro. So was the Swiss frontier and the

[Illustration: Sketch 5.]

Indeed, if we draw the Germanic body by itself surrounded by a
frontier of dots, as in the accompanying sketch, and mark in a thick
line upon that frontier those parts which touched on enemy's
territory, and were therefore closed to supply, we shall be
immediately arrested by the comparatively small proportion of that
frontier which is thus closed.

[Illustration: Sketch 6.]

It is well to carry this in mind during the remainder of our study of
this war, because it has a great effect upon the fighting power of
Germany and Austria after a partial--but very partial--blockade is
established by the Allied and especially by the British naval power.

3. The third thing that strikes one in such a map of the belligerent
area is the way in which the Germanic body stands in the middle facing
its two groups of enemies East and West.

_The Geographical Advantages and Disadvantages of the Germanic Body_.

With this last point we can begin a comparison of the advantages and
disadvantages imposed by geographical conditions upon the two
opponents, and first of these we will consider the geographical
advantages and disadvantages of the Germanic body--that is, of the
Austrian and German Empires--passing next to the corresponding
advantages and disadvantages of the Allies.

The advantages proceeding from geographical position to Germany in
particular, and to the Germanic body as a whole, gravely outweigh the
disadvantages. We will consider the disadvantages first.

The chief disadvantage under which the Germanic body suffered in this
connection was that, from the outset of hostilities, it had to fight,
as the military phrase goes, upon two fronts. That is, the commanders
of the German and Austrian armies had to consider two separate
campaigns, to keep them distinct in their minds, and to co-ordinate
them so that they should not, by wasting too many men on the East or
the West, weaken themselves too much on the other side of the field.

To this disadvantage some have been inclined to add that the central
position of Austria and Germany in Europe helped the British and
Allied blockade (I repeat, a very partial, timid, and insufficient
blockade) of their commerce.

But this view is erroneous. The possibility of blockading
Austria-Hungary and Germany from imports across the ocean was due not
to their central but to their continental position; to the fact that
they were more remote from the ocean than France and Great Britain. It
had nothing to do with their central position between the two groups
of the Allies.

Supposing, for instance, that Germany and Austria-Hungary had stood
where Russia stands, and that Western Europe had been in alliance
against them. Then they would have been in no way central; their
position would have been an extreme position upon one side; and yet,
so far as blockading goes, the blockade of them would have been
infinitely easier.

Conversely, if Germany and Austria had been in the west, where Great
Britain and France are, their enemies lying to the east of them could
not have blockaded them at all.

As things are the blockade that has been established exists but is
partial. As will be seen upon the following sketch map, the British
Fleet, being sufficiently powerful, can search vessels the cargoes of
which might reach the Germanic body directly through the Strait of
Gibraltar (1), the Strait of Dover (2), or the North Sea between
Scotland and Norway (3). But it is unable to prevent supplies reaching
the Germanic body from Italy, whether by land or by sea (4), or
through Switzerland (5), or through Holland (6), or through Denmark
(7), or across the frontier of Roumania (8); or, so long as the German
Fleet is strongest in the Baltic, by way of Norway and Sweden across
the Baltic (9).

[Illustration: Sketch 7.]

The blockading fleet is even embarrassed as to the imports the
Germanic body receives indirectly through neutral countries--that is,
imports not produced in the importing countries themselves, but
provided through the neutral countries as middlemen.

It is embarrassed in three ways.

(_a_) Because it does not want to offend the European neutral
countries, which count in the general European balance of power.

(_b_) Because it does not wish to offend Powers outside Europe which
are neutral in this war, and particularly the United States. Such
great neutral Powers are very valuable not only for their moral
support if it can be obtained, but on account of their great financial
resources untouched by this prolonged struggle, and, what lies behind
these, their power of producing materials which the Allies need just
as much as Austria and Germany do.

(_c_) Because, even if you watch the supplies of contraband to
neutrals, and propose to stop supplies obviously destined for German
use, you cannot prevent Germany from buying the same material "made
up" by the neutral: for example, an Italian firm can import copper ore
quite straightforwardly, smelt it, and offer the metal in the open
market. There is nothing to prevent a German merchant entering that
market and purchasing, unless Italy forbids all export of copper,
which it is perfectly free not to do.

To leave this side question of blockade, and to return to the relative
advantages and disadvantages of our enemy's central position, we may
repeat as a summary of its disadvantages the single truth that it
compels our enemy to fight upon two fronts.

All the rest is advantage.

It is an advantage that Germany and Austria-Hungary, as a corollary to
their common central position, are in some part of similar race and
altogether of a common historical experience. For more than a hundred
years every part of the area dominated by the Germanic body--with the
exception of Bosnia and Alsace-Lorraine--has had a fairly intimate
acquaintance with the other part. The Magyars of Hungary, the Poles of
Galicia, of Posen, of Thorn, the Croats of the Adriatic border, the
Czechs of Bohemia, have nothing in race or language in common with
German-speaking Vienna or German-speaking Berlin. But they have the
experience of generations uniting them with Vienna and with Berlin.
In administration, and to some extent in social life, a common
atmosphere spreads over this area, nearly all of which, as I have
said, has had something in common for a hundred years, and much of
which has had something in common for a thousand.

In a word, as compared with the Allies, the Germanic central body in
Europe has a certain advantage of moral homogeneity, especially as the
governing body throughout is German-speaking and German in feeling.

That is the first point of advantage--a moral one.

The second is more material. The Governments of the two countries,
their means of communication and of supply, are all in touch one with
another. Those governments are working in one field within a ring
fence, and working for a common object. They are not only spiritually
in touch; they are physically in touch. An administrator in Berlin can
take the night express after dinner and breakfast with his
collaborator in Vienna the next morning.

It so happens, also, that the communications of the two Germanic
empires are exactly suited to their central position. There is
sufficient fast communication from north to south to serve all the
purposes necessary to the intellectual conduct of a war; there is a
most admirable communication from east to west for the material
conduct of that war upon two fronts. Whenever it may be necessary to
move troops from the French frontier to the Russian, or from the
Russian to the French, or for Germany to borrow Hungarian cavalry for
the Rhine, or for Austria to borrow German army corps to protect
Galicia, all that is needed is three or four days in which to entrain
and move these great masses of men. There is no area in Europe which
is better suited by nature for thus fighting upon two land frontiers
than is the area of the combined Austrian and German Empire.

With these three points, then--the great area of our enemy in Europe,
his advantage through neutral frontiers, and his advantage in
homogeneity of position between distant and morally divided
Allies--you have the chief marks of the geographical position he
occupies, in so far as this is the great central position of
continental Europe.

But it so happens that the Germanic body in general, and the German
Empire in particular, suffer from grave geographical disadvantages
attached to their political character. And of these I will make my
next points.

The Germanic body as a whole suffers by its geographical disposition,
coupled with its political constitution, a grave disadvantage in its
struggle against the Allies, particularly towards the East, because
just that part of it which is thrust out and especially assailable by
Russia happens to be the part most likely to be disaffected to the
whole interests of the Germanic body; and how this works I will
proceed to explain.

Here are two oblongs--A, left blank, and B, lightly shaded. Supposing
these two oblongs combined to represent the area of two countries
which are in alliance, and which are further so situated that B is the
weaker Power to the alliance both (1) in his military strength, and
(2) in his tenacity of purpose. Next grant that B is divided by the
dotted line, CD, into two halves--B not being one homogeneous State,
but two States, B1 and B2.

Next let it be granted that while B1 is more likely to remain attached
in its alliance to A, B2 is more separate from the alliance in moral
tendency, and is also materially the weaker half of B. Finally, let
the whole group, AB, be subject to the attack of enemies from the
right and from the left (from the right along the arrows XX, and from
the left along the arrows YY) by two groups of enemies represented by
the areas M and N respectively.

[Illustration: Sketch 8.]

It is obvious that in such a situation, if A is the chief object of
attack, and is the Power which has both provoked the conflict and made
itself the chief object of assault by M and N, A is by this
arrangement in a position _politically_ weak.

That is, the strategical position of A is gravely embarrassed by the
way in which his ally, B, separated into the two halves, B1 and B2,
stands with regard to himself. B2 is isolated and thrust outward. The
enemy, M, upon the right, attacking along the lines XX, may be able to
give B2 a very bad time before he gets into the area of B1, and long
before he gets into the area of the stronger Power, A. It is open to M
so to harass B2 that B2 is prepared to break with B1 and give up the
war; or, if the bond between B2 and B1 is strong enough, to persuade
B1 to give up the struggle at the same time that he does. And if B2 is
thus harassed to the breaking-point, the whole alliance, A plus B,
will lose the men and materials and wealth represented by B2, and
_may_ lose the whole shaded area, B, leaving A to support singly for
the future the combined attacks of M and N along the lines of attack,
XX and YY.

Now, that diagram accurately represents the political embarrassment in
strategy of the German-Austro-Hungarian alliance. B1 is Austria and
Bohemia; B2 is Hungary; A is the German Empire; M is the Russians; N
is the Allies in the West. With a geographical arrangement such as
that of the Germanic alliance, a comparatively small proportion of the
Russian forces detached to harry the Hungarian plain can make the
Hungarians, who have little moral attachment to the Austrians and none
whatever to the Germans, abandon the struggle to save themselves;
while it is possible that this outlier, being thus detached, will drag
with it its fellow-half, the Austrian half of the dual monarchy, cause
the Government of the dual monarchy to sue for peace, and leave the
German Empire isolated to support the undivided attention of the
Russians from the East and of the French from the West.

It is clear that if a strong Power, A, allied with and dependent for
large resources in men upon a weaker Power, B, is attacked from the
left and from the right, the ideal arrangement for the strong Power,
A, would be something in the nature of the following diagram (Sketch
9), where the weaker Power stands protected in the territory of the
stronger Power, and where of the two halves of the weaker Power, B2,
the less certain half, is especially protected from attack.

[Illustration: Sketch 9.]

Were Switzerland, Alsace-Lorraine, and the Rhineland, upon the one
hand, the Hungarian plain, Russian Poland, and East Prussia, upon the
other hand, united in one strong, patriotic, homogeneous
German-speaking group with the Government of Berlin and the Baltic
plain, and were Bavaria, Switzerland, the Tyrol, Bohemia, to
constitute the weaker and less certain ally, while the least certain
half of that uncertain ally lay in Eastern Bohemia and in what is now
Lower Austria, well defended from attack upon the East, the conditions
would be exactly reversed, and the Austro-German alliance would be
geographically and politically of the stronger sort. As it is, the
combined accidents of geography and political circumstance make it
peculiarly vulnerable.

[Illustration: Sketch 10.]

Having already considered in a diagram the way in which the
geographical disposition of Austria-Hungary weakens Germany in the
face of the Allies, let us translate that diagram into terms of actual
political geography. These two oblongs, with their separate parts,
are, as a fact, as follows: Where A is the German Empire, the shaded
portion, B, is Austria-Hungary, and this last divided into B1, the
more certain Austrian part, and B2, the less certain exposed
Hungarian part, the latter of which is only protected from Russian
assault by the Carpathian range of mountains, CCC, with its passes at
DDD. M, the enemy on the right, Russia, is attacking the alliance, AB,
along XX; while the enemy on the left, N, France and her Allies, is
attacking along the lines YY.

Hungary, B2, is not only geographically an outlier, but politically is
the weakest link in the chain of the Austro-Germanic alliance. The
area of Hungary is almost denuded of men, for most of these have been
called up to defend Germany, A, and in particular to prevent the
invasion of Germany's territory in Silesia at S. The one defence
Hungary has against being raided and persuaded to an already tempting
peace is the barrier of the Carpathian mountains, CCC. When or if the
passes shall be in Russian possession and the Russian cavalry reappear
upon the Hungarian side of the hills, the first great political
embarrassment of the enemy will have begun--I mean the first great
political embarrassment to his strategy.

(_a_) Shall he try to defend those passes above all? Then he must
detach German corps, and detach them very far from the areas which are
vital to the core of the alliance--that is, to the German Empire, A.

(_b_) Shall he use only Hungarian troops to defend Hungary? Then he
emphasizes the peculiar moral isolation of Hungary, and leaves her
inclined, if things go ill, to make a separate peace.

(_c_) Shall he abandon Hungary? And let the Russians do what they will
with the passes over the Carpathians and raid the Hungarian plain at
large? Then he loses a grave proportion of his next year's wheat, much
of his dwindling horse supply, his almost strangled sources of petrol.
He tempts Roumania to come in (for a great sweep of Eastern Hungary is
nationally Roumanian); and he loses the control in men and financial
resources of one-half of his Allies if the danger and the distress
persuade Hungary to stand out. For the Hungarians have no quarrel
except from their desire to dominate the southern Slavs; to fight
Austria's battles means very little to them, and to fight Germany's
battles means nothing at all.

There is, of course, much more than this. If Hungary dropped out,
could Austria remain? Would not the Government at Vienna, rather than
lose the dual monarchy, follow Hungary's lead? In that case, the
Germanic alliance would lose at one stroke eleven-twenty-fifths of its
men. It would lose more than half of its reserves of men, for the
Austrian reserve is, paradoxically enough, larger than the German
reserve, though not such good material.

Admire how in every way this geographical and political problem of
Hungary confuses the strategical plan of the German General Staff!
They cannot here act upon pure strategics. They _cannot_ treat the
area of operations like a chessboard, and consider the unique object
of inflicting a military defeat upon the Russians. Their inability to
do so proceeds from the fact that this great awkward salient,
Hungarian territory, is not politically subject to Berlin, is not in
spiritual union with Berlin; may be denuded of men to save Berlin, and
is the most exposed of all our enemy's territory to attack. Throughout
the war it will be found that this problem perpetually presents itself
to the Great General Staff of the Prussians: "How can we save Hungary
without weakening our Eastern line? If we abandon Hungary, how are we
to maintain our effectives?"

Such, in detail, is the political embarrassment to German strategy
produced by the geographical situation and the political traditions of
Hungary itself, and of Hungary's connection with the Hapsburgs at
Vienna. Let us now turn to the even more important embarrassment
caused to German strategy by the corner positions of the four
essential areas of German territory.

This last political weakness attached to geographical condition
concerns the German Empire alone.

Let us suppose a Power concerned to defend itself against invasion and
situated between two groups of enemies, from the left and from the
right, we will again call that Power A, the enemy upon the right M,
and the enemy upon the left N, the first attacking along the lines XX,
and the second along the lines YY.

Let us suppose that A has _political_ reasons for particularly
desiring to save from invasion four districts, the importance of
which I have indicated on Sketch 12 by shading, and which I have
numbered 1, 2, 3, 4.

[Illustration: Sketch 11.]

Let us suppose that those four districts happen to lie at the four
exposed corners of the area which A has to defend. The Government of A
knows it to be essential to success in the war that his territory
should not be invaded. Or, at least, if it is invaded, it must not,
under peril of collapse, be invaded in the shaded areas.

It is apparent upon the very face of such a diagram, that with the
all-important shaded areas situated in the corners of his
quadrilateral, A is heavily embarrassed. He must disperse his forces
in order to protect all four. If wastage of men compels him to
shorten his line on the right against M, he will be immediately
anxious as to whether he can dare sacrifice 4 to save 2, or whether he
should run the dreadful risk of sacrificing 2 to save 4.

[Illustration: Sketch 12.]

If wastage compels him to shorten his defensive line upon the left, he
is in a similar quandary between 1 and 3.

The whole situation is one in which he is quite certain that a
defensive war, long before he is pushed to extremities, will compel
him to "scrap" one of the four corners, yet each one is, for some
political reason, especially dear to him and even perhaps necessary to
him. Each he desires, with alternating anxieties and indecisions, to
preserve at all costs from invasion; yet he cannot, as he is forced
upon the defensive, preserve all four.

Here, again, the ideal situation for him would be to possess against
the invader some such arrangement as is suggested by Sketch 11. In
this arrangement, if one were compelled unfortunately to consider four
special districts as more important than the mass of one's territory,
one would have the advantage of knowing that they were clearly
distinguishable into less and more important, and the further
advantage of knowing that the more important the territory was, the
more central it was and the better protected against invasion.

Thus, in this diagram, the government of the general oblong, A, may
distinguish four special zones, the protection of which from invasion
is important, but which vary in the degree of their importance. The
least important is the outermost, 1; the more important is an inner
one, 2; still more important is 3; and most important of all is the
black core of the whole.

Some such arrangement has been the salvation of France time and time
again, notably in the Spanish wars, and in the wars of Louis XIV., and
in the wars of the Revolution. To some extent you have seen the same
thing in the present war.

To save Paris was exceedingly important, next came the zone outside
Paris, and so on up to the frontier.

But with the modern German Empire it is exactly the other way, and the
situation is that which we found in Sketch 12; the four external
corners are the essentials which must be preserved from invasion, and
if any one of them goes, the whole political situation is at once in
grave peril.

The strategical position of modern Germany is embarrassed because each
of these four corners must be saved by the armies. 1 is
Belgium--before the war indifferent to Germany, but now destined to be
vital to her position--2 is East Prussia, 3 is Alsace-Lorraine, 4 is
Silesia, and the German commanders, as well as the German Government,
must remain to the last moment--if once they are thrown on the
defensive--in grave indecision as to which of the four can best be
spared when invasion threatens; or else, as is more probable, they
must disperse their forces in the attempt to hold all four at once. It
is a situation which has but rarely occurred before in the history of
war, and which has always proved disastrous.

Germany then must--once she is in Belgium--hold on to Belgium, or she
is in peril; she must hold on to East Prussia, or she is in peril; she
must hold on to Alsace-Lorraine, or she is in peril; and she must hold
on to Silesia, or it is all up with her. If there were some common
strategical factor binding these four areas together, so that the
defence of one should involve and aid the defence of all, the
difficulties thus imposed upon German strategy would be greatly
lessened. Though even then the mere having to defend four outlying
corners instead of a centre would produce confusion and embarrassment
the moment numerical inferiority had appeared upon the side of the
defence. But, as a fact, there is no such common factor.
Alsace-Lorraine and Belgium, East Prussia and Silesia, stand
strategically badly separated one from the other. Even the two on the
East and the two on the West, though apparently forming pairs upon the
map, are not dependent on one system of communications, and are cut
off from each other by territory difficult or hostile, while between
the Eastern and the Western group there is a space of five hundred

Let us, before discussing the political embarrassment to strategy
produced by these four widely distant and quite separate areas,
translate the diagram in the terms of a sketch map.

On the following sketch map, Belgium, Alsace-Lorraine, East Prussia,
and Silesia are shaded, as were the four corners of the diagram. No. 1
is Belgium, 2 is East Prussia, 3 is Alsace-Lorraine, 4 is Silesia. The
area occupied by the German Empire, including its present occupation
of Belgium, is marked by the broad outline; and the areas shaded
represent, not the exact limits of the four territories that are so
important, but those portions of them which are essential: the
non-Polish portion of Silesia, the non-Polish portion of East Prussia,
the plain of Belgium, and all Alsace-Lorraine.

[Illustration: Sketch 13.]

Now the reason that each of these must at all costs be preserved from
invasion is, as I have said, different in each case, and we shall do
well to examine what those reasons are; for upon them depends the
political hesitation they inevitably, cause to arise in the plans of
the Great General Staff.

1. _Belgium._ The military annexation of Belgium has been a result of
the war, and, from the German point of view, an unexpected result.
Germany both hoped and expected that her armies would pass through
Belgium as they did, in fact, pass through Luxembourg. The resistance
of Belgium produced the military annexation of that country; the reign
of terror exercised therein has immobilized about 100,000 of the
German troops who would otherwise be free for the front; the checking
of the advance into France has turned the German general political
objective against England, and, to put the matter in the vaguest but
most fundamental terms, the German mind has gradually come, since
October, to regard the retention of Belgium as something quite
essential. And this because:--(_a_) It gives a most weighty asset in
the bargaining for peace. (_b_) It gives a seaboard against England.
(_c_) It provides ample munition, house-room, and transport facility,
without which the campaign in North-eastern France could hardly be
prolonged. (_d_) It puts Holland at the mercy of Germany, for she can,
by retaining Belgium, strangle Dutch trade, if she chooses to divert
her carriage of goods through Belgian ports. (_e_) It is a specific
conquest; the Government will be able to say to the German people, "It
is true we had to give up this or that, but Belgium is a definite new
territory, the occupation of which and the proposed annexation of
which is a proof of victory." (_f_) The retention of Belgium has been
particularly laid down as the cause of quarrel between Great Britain
and Germany; to retain Belgium is to mark that score against what is
now the special enemy of Germany in the German mind. (_g_) Antwerp is
the natural port for all the centre of Europe in commerce westward
over the ocean. (_h_) With Belgium may go the Belgian colonies--that
is, the Congo--for the possession of which Germany has worked
ceaselessly year in and year out during the last fifteen years by a
steady and highly subsidized propaganda against the Belgian
administration. She has done it through conscious and unconscious
agents; by playing upon the cupidity of French and British
Parliamentarians, of rum shippers, upon religious differences, and
upon every agency to her hand.

We may take it, then, that the retention of Belgium is in German eyes
now quite indispensable. "If I abandon Belgium," she says, "it is much
more than a strategic retreat; it is a political confession of
failure, and the moral support behind me at home will break down."

If I were writing not of calculable considerations, but of other and
stronger forces, I should add that to withdraw from Belgium, where so
many women and children have been massacred, so many jewels of the
past befouled or destroyed, so wanton an attack upon Christ and His
Church delivered, would be a loss of Pagan prestige intolerably
strong, and a triumph of all that against which Prussia set out to

2. _Alsace-Lorraine._ But Alsace-Lorraine is also "indispensable." We
have seen on an earlier page what the retention of that territory
means. Alsace-Lorraine is the symbol of the old victory. It is the
German-speaking land which the amazingly unreal superstitions of
German academic pedantry discovered to be something sacredly necessary
to the unity of an ideal Germany, though the people inhabiting it
desired nothing better than the destruction of the Prussian name. It
is more than that. It is the bastion beyond the Rhine which keeps the
Rhine close covered; it is the two great historic fortresses of
Strassburg and Metz which are the challenge Germany has thrown down
against European tradition and the civilization of the West; it is
something which has become knit up with the whole German soul, and to
abandon it is like a man abandoning his title or his name, or
surrendering his sword. Through what must not the German mind pass
before its directors would consent to the sacrifice of such a
fundamentally symbolic possession? There is defeat in the very
suggestion; and the very suggestion, though it has already occurred to
the Great General Staff, and has already, I believe, been mentioned in
one proposal for peace, would be intolerable to the mass of the
enemy's opinion.

3. _East Prussia._ East Prussia is sacred in another, but also an
intense fashion. It is the very kernel of the Prussian monarchy. When
Berlin was but a market town for the Electors of Brandenburg, those
same Electors had contrived that East Prussia, which was outside the
empire, should be recognized as a kingdom. Frederick the Great's
father, while of Brandenburg an Elector, was in Prussia proper a king,
a man who had emancipated that cradle of the Prussian power. The
province in all save its southern belt (which is Polish) is the very
essence of Prussian society: a mass of serfs, technically free,
economically abject, governed by those squires who own them, their
goods, and what might be their soil. The Russians wasted East Prussia
in their first invasion, and they did well though they paid so heavy a
price, for to wound East Prussia was to wound the very soul of that
which now governs the German Empire. When the landed proprietors fled
before the Russian invasion, and when there fled with them the
townsfolk, the serfs rose and looted the country houses. In a way
quite different from Belgium, quite different from Alsace-Lorraine,
East Prussia is essential. Forces will and must be sent periodically
to defend that territory, however urgently they may be needed
elsewhere, as the pressure upon Germany increases. The German
commanders, if they forget East Prussia for a moment in the
consideration of the other essential points, will, the moment their
eyes are turned upon East Prussia again, remember with violent emotion
all that the province means to the reigning dynasty and its
supporters, and they will do anything rather than let that frontier
go. The memory of the first invasion is too acute, the terror of its
repetition too poignant, to permit its abandonment.

4. _Silesia._ Silesia, for quite other reasons (and remember that
these different reasons for defending such various points are the
essence of the embarrassment in which German strategy will find
itself), must be saved. It has been insisted over and over again in
these pages what Silesia means. Its meaning is twofold. If Silesia
goes, the safest, the most remote from the sea, the most independent
of imports of the German industrial regions, is gone. Silesia is,
again, the country of the great proprietors. Amuse yourselves by
remembering the names of Pless and of Lichnowsky. There are dozens of
others. But, most important of all, Silesia is what Belgium is not,
what Alsace-Lorraine is not, what East Prussia is not--it is the
strategic key. Who holds Silesia commands the twin divergent roads to
Berlin northwards, to Vienna southwards. Who holds Silesia holds the
Moravian Gate. Who holds Silesia turns the line of the Oder, and
passes behind the barrier fortresses which Germany has built upon her
Eastern front. Who holds Silesia strikes his wedge in between the
German-speaking north and the German-speaking south, and joins hands
with the Slavs of Bohemia. Not that we should exaggerate the Slav
factor, for religion and centuries of varying culture disturb its
unity. But it is something. The Russian forces are Slav; the
resurrection of Poland has been promised; the Czechs are not
submissive to the German claim of natural mastery, and whoever holds
Silesia throws a bridge between Slav and Slav if his aims are an
extension of power in that race. For a hundred reasons Silesia must be

       *       *       *       *       *

Now put yourself in the position of the men who must make a decision
between these four outliers--Belgium, Alsace-Lorraine, East Prussia,
and Silesia--and understand the hesitation such divergent aims impose
upon them. Hardly are they prepared to sacrifice one of the four when
the defensive problem becomes acute, but its claims will be pressed in
every conceivable manner--by public sentiment, by economic
considerations, by mere strategy, by a political tradition, by the
influence of men powerful with the Prussian monarchy, whose homes and
wealth are threatened. "If I am to hold Belgium, I must give up
Alsace. How dare I do that? To save Silesia I must expose East
Prussia. How dare I? I am at bay, and the East must at all costs be
saved. I will hold Prussia and Silesia, but to withdraw from Belgium
and from beyond the Rhine is defeat." The whole thing is an embroglio.
That conclusion is necessary and inexorable. It would not appear at
all until, or if, numerical weakness imposed on the enemy a gradual
concentration of the defensive; but once that numerical weakness has
come, the fatal choices must be made. It may be that a strict, silent,
and virile resolution, such as saved France this summer, a
preparedness for particular sacrifices calculated beforehand, will
determine first some one retirement and then another. It may
be--though it is not in the modern Prussian temperament--that a
defensive as prolonged as possible will be attempted even with
inferior numbers, and that, as circumstances may dictate,
Alsace-Lorraine or Belgium, Silesia or East Prussia will be the first
to be deliberately sacrificed; but one must be, and, it would seem,
another after, and in the difficulty of choice a wound to the German
strategy will come.

The four corners are differently defensible--Alsace-Lorraine and
Belgium only by artifice, and with great numbers of men; Silesia only
so long as Austria (and Hungary) stand firm. East Prussia has her
natural arrangement of lakes to make invasion tedious, and to permit
defence with small numbers.

Between the two groups, Eastern and Western, is all the space of
Germany--the space separating Aberdeen from London. Between each part
of each pair, in spite of an excellent railway system, is the block in
the one case of the Ardennes and the Eifel, in the other of empty,
ill-communicated Poland. But each is strategically a separate thing;
the political value of each a separate thing; the embarrassment
between all four insuperable.

Such is the situation imposed by the geography of the European
continent upon our enemies, with the opportunities and the drawbacks
which that situation affords and imposes.

I repeat, upon the balance, our enemies had geographical opportunities
far superior to our own.

Our power of partial blockade (to which I will return in a moment) is
more than counterbalanced by the separation which Nature has
determined between the two groups of Allies. The ice of the North, the
Narrows of the Dardanelles, establish this, as do the Narrows of the
Scandinavian Straits.

The necessity of fighting upon two fronts, to which our enemies are
compelled, is more than compensated by that natural arrangement of the
Danube valley and of the Baltic plain which adds to the advantage of a
central situation the power of rapid communication between East and
West; while the chief embarrassment of our enemies in their
geographical arrangement, which is the outlying situation of Hungary
coupled with the presence of four vital regions at the four external
corners of the German Empire, is rather political than geographical in

I will now turn to the converse advantages and disadvantages afforded
and imposed by geographical conditions upon the Allies.

_The Geographical Advantages and Disadvantages of the Allies._

It has been apparent from the above in what way the geographical
circumstance of Germany and Austria-Hungary advantaged and
disadvantaged those two empires in the course of a war against East
and West.

Let us next see how the Allies were advantaged and disadvantaged by
their position.

1. The first great disadvantage which the Allies most obviously suffer
is their separation one from the other by the Germanic mass.

The same central position which gives Germany and Austria-Hungary
their power of close intercommunion, of exactly coordinating all their
movements, of using their armies like one army, and of dealing with
rapidity alternate blows eastward and westward, produces contrary
effects in the case of the Allies. Even if hourly communication were
possible by telegraph between the two main groups, French and Russian,
that would not be at all the same thing as personal, sustained, and
continuous contact such as is enjoyed by the group of their enemies.

But, as a fact, even the very imperfect and indirect kind of contact
which can be established by telegraphing over great distances is
largely lacking. The French and the Russians are in touch. The
commanders can and do pursue a combined plan. But the communication of
results and the corresponding arrangement of new dispositions are
necessarily slow and gravely interrupted. Indeed, it is, as we shall
see in a moment, one of the main effects of geography upon this
campaign that Russia must suffer during all its early stages a very
severe isolation.

In general, the Allies as a whole suffer from the necessity under
which they find themselves of working in two fields, remote the one
from the other by a distance of some six hundred miles, not even
connected by sea, and geographically most unfortunately independent.

2. A second geographical disadvantage of the Allies consists in the
fact that one of them, Great Britain, is in the main a maritime Power.

That this has great compensating advantages we shall also see, but for
the moment we are taking the disadvantages separately, and, so
counting them one by one, we must recognize that England's being an
island (her social structure industrialized and free from
conscription, her interests not only those of Europe but those of such
a commercial scattered empire as is always characteristic of secure
maritime Powers) produces, in several of its aspects, a geographical
weakness to the Allied position, and that for several reasons, which I
will now tabulate:--

(_a_) The position of England in the past, her very security as an
island, has led her to reject the conception of universal service. She
could only, at the outset of hostilities, provide a small
Expeditionary Force, the equivalent at the most of a thirtieth of the
Allied forces.

(_b_) Her reserves in men who could approach the continental field in,
say, the first year, even under the most vigorous efforts, would never
reach anything like the numbers that could be afforded by a conscript
nation. The very maximum that can be or is hoped for by the most
sanguine is the putting into the field, after at least a year of war,
of less than three-sixteenths of the total Allied forces, although her
population is larger than that of France, and more than a third that
of the enemy.

(_c_) She is compelled to garrison and defend, and in places to
police, dependencies the population of which will in some cases
furnish no addition to the forces of the Allies, and in all cases
furnish but a small proportion.

(_d_) The isolation of her territory by the sea, coupled with her
large population and its industrial character, makes Britain
potentially the most vulnerable point in the alliance.

So long as her fleet is certainly superior to that of the enemy, and
has only to meet oversea attack, this vulnerability is but little
felt; but once let her position at sea be lost, or even left
undecided, or once let the indiscriminate destruction of commercial
marine be seriously begun, and she is at the mercy of that enemy. For
she cannot feed herself save by supplies from without, and she cannot
take part in the supplying of armies with men and munitions upon the

(_e_) She is open to fear aggression upon any one of her independent
colonies oversea, and yet she is not able to draw upon them for the
whole of their potential strength, or, indeed, for more than a very
small proportion of it. In other words, the British Fleet guarantees
some fifteen million of European race beyond the seas from attack by
the enemy, but cannot draw from these fifteen million more than an
insignificant fraction of the million of men and more which, fully
armed, they might furnish; nor has she any control over their finance,
so as to be able to count upon the full weight of their wealth; nor
can she claim their resources in goods and munitions. She can only
obtain these by paying for them.

There is here a very striking contrast between her position and that
of the Germanic Powers.

(_f_) Her isolation and maritime supremacy, coupled with her
industrial character, make her during the strain of equipment the
workshop of the Allies. That this is a great advantage is evident; but
the disadvantage attaching to it is that very large proportions of her
manhood are necessarily withdrawn from the field for the purposes of
her shipbuilding, her communications, her manufactory of arms and all
kinds of supplies, her seafaring work, both civil and military.

Of the two other main Allies, the French disadvantage may be thus
summarized, and it is slight:--

(_a_) The French political frontier, as established since the defeat
of the French in 1871, is an open frontier. It has no natural features
upon which the defensive can rely. In the lack of this the French
fortified at very heavy expense that portion of their frontier which
faced their certain enemy, and established a line from Verdun to
Belfort calculated to check the first movement of his offensive. But
all the two hundred miles to the north of this, the whole line between
Verdun and the North Sea, was virtually open. There were, indeed,
certain fortified places upon that line, but they formed no
consecutive system, and, as their armaments grew old, they were not
brought up to date. The truth is, that the defence of France upon this
frontier was really left to the co-operation of Belgium. If, as was
believed to be almost certain, Prussian morals being what they are,
the Prussian guarantee to respect Belgian neutrality would be torn up
at the outbreak of war, then three great fortresses--Liége, Namur, and
Antwerp--would hold up the enemy's advance in this quarter, and
perform the function of delay which the obsolete armament of the
north-eastern French frontier could not perform. We shall see, when we
come to the conflicting theories of warfare held by the various
belligerents, what a grievous miscalculation this was, and how largely
it accounted for the first disasters of the war. But, at any rate, let
us remember, as our first point, the absence of any natural line of
defence in France as against a German invasion, remembering, also,
that the French would necessarily, at the beginning of any war, be
upon the defensive on account of their inferior numbers. Had France,
for instance, had along her frontiers, and just within them, such a
line as Germany possesses in the Rhine, she would have fallen back at
the outset upon that line. But she has no such advantage.

(_b_) The second disadvantage of the French geographically is one
immixed with political considerations. The French have for centuries
produced, and have for two thousand years believed in, central
government. For at least three hundred years all the life of the
nation has centred upon Paris; all the railways and all the great
system of roads and most of the waterways of the north similarly have
Paris for their nucleus. Now, this central ganglion of the whole
French organism is but 120 miles from the frontier, ten days' easy
marching. An enemy coming in from the north-east not only finds no
natural obstacle in his way, but has Paris as nearly within his grasp
as, say, Cologne is within the grasp of a French invasion of North
Germany. This feature has had the most important consequences upon the
whole of French history. It was particularly the determining point of

To meet the handicap, the French of our generation have combined two

First, they have fortified the whole region of Paris so thoroughly
that it has sometimes been called "a fortified province;" an area of
nearly thirty miles across at its narrowest, and of something like
from seven to eight hundred square miles, is comprised within this

The weakness of this in the face of modern fire will again be dealt
with when we come to the conflicting theories upon war established
during the long peace.

Secondly, the French established a policy whereby, if Paris were
menaced in a future campaign, the Government should abandon that
central point, and, in spite of the grave inconvenience proceeding
from the way in which all material communications centred upon the
capital and all established offices were grouped there, would withdraw
the whole central system of government to Bordeaux, and leave Paris to
defend itself, precisely as though it were of no more importance than
any other fortified point. They would recognize the strategic values
of the district; they would deliberately sacrifice its political and
sentimental value. They would never again run the risk of losing a
campaign because one particular area of the national soil happened to
be occupied. The plans of their armies and the instructions of their
Staff particularly warned commanders against disturbing any defensive
scheme by too great an anxiety to save Paris.

If this were the disadvantage geographically of France, what was that
of Russia?

Russia's geographical disadvantage was twofold. First, she had no
outlet to an open sea in Europe save through the arctic port of
Archangel. This port was naturally closed for nearly half the year,
and how long it might be artificially kept partially open by
ice-breakers it remained for the war to prove. But even if it were
kept open the whole year in this precarious fashion, it lay on the
farther side of hundreds of miles of waste and deserted land connected
only with the active centre of Russia by one narrow-gauge line of
railway with very little rolling stock. The great eastern port of
Vladivostok was nearly as heavily handicapped, and its immense
distance from the scene of operations in the West, with which it was
only connected by a line six thousand miles long, was another
drawback. Russia might, indeed, by the favour of neutrals or of
Allies, use warm water ports. If the Turks should remain neutral and
permit supply to reach her through the Dardanelles, the Black Sea
ports were open all the year round, and Port Arthur (nearly as far off
as Vladivostok) was also open in the Far East. But the Baltic, in a
war with Germany, was closed to her. Certain goods from outside could
reach her from Scandinavia, round by land along the north of the
Baltic, but very slowly and at great expense. It so happened also
that, as the war proceeded, this question of supply became
unexpectedly important, because all parties found the expenditure of
heavy artillery high-explosive ammunition far larger than had been
calculated for, and Russia was particularly weak therein and dependent
upon the West. This disadvantage under which Russia lay was largely
the cause of her embarrassment, and of the prolongation of hostilities
in the winter that followed the declaration of war.

The fact that Russia was ill supplied with railways, and hardly
supplied at all with hard roads (in a climate where the thaw turned
her deep soil into a mass of mud) is political rather than
geographical, but it must be remembered in connection with this
difficulty of supply.

If these, then, were the various disadvantages which geographical
conditions had imposed upon the Allies, what were the corresponding

They were considerable, and may be thus tabulated:--

1. The western Allies stood between their enemies and the ocean. If
they could maintain superiority at sea through the great size and
efficiency of the British Fleet, and through its additional power when
combined with the French, they could at the least embarrass, and
perhaps ultimately starve out the enemy in certain essential materials
of war. They could not reduce the enemy to famine, for with care his
territories, so long as they were not ravaged, would be just
self-supporting. The nitrates for his explosives the enemy could also
command, and, in unlimited quantity, iron and coal. But the raw
material of textiles for his clothing, cotton for his explosives,
copper for his shell, cartridge cases, and electrical instruments,
antimony for the hardening of the lead necessary to his small-arm
ammunition, to some extent petrol for his aeroplanes and his
motor-cars, and india-rubber for his tyres and other parts of
machinery, he must obtain from abroad. That he would be able in part
to obtain these through the good offices of neutrals was probable; but
the Allied fleets in the West would certainly closely watch the extent
of neutral imports, and attempt, with however much difficulty and with
however partial success, to prevent those neutrals acting as a mere
highroad by which such goods could pass into Germany and Austria. They
would hardly allow, especially in the later phases of the war, Italy
and Switzerland, Holland and Scandinavia, to act as open avenues for
the supply of the Germanic body. Though they would have to go warily,
and would find it essential to remain at peace with the nations whose
commerce they thus hampered and in some sense controlled, the Allies
in the West could in some measure, greater or less, embarrass the
enemy in these matters.

Conversely, they could supply themselves freely with tropical and
neutral goods, and even with munitions of war obtained from across the
ocean, from Africa and from America.

So long as North-western France and the ports of Great Britain were
free from the enemy this partial blockade would endure, and this
freedom of supply for France and Britain from overseas would also

2. The Allies had further the geographical advantage of marine
transport for their troops--an important advantage to the French, who
had a recruiting ground in North Africa, and to the British, who had a
recruiting ground in their dominions oversea, and, above all, an
advantage in that it permitted the constant reinforcement of the
continental armies by increasing contingents arriving from these

       *       *       *       *       *

Of geographical advantages attaching to the position of Russia only
one can be discovered, and it consists in the immense extent and unity
of the Russian Empire. This permitted operations upon a western front
from the Baltic to the Carpathians, or rather to the Roumanian border,
which vast line could never be firmly held against them by the enemy
when once the Russians had trained and equipped a superior number of
men. The German forces were sufficient, as events proved, long to
maintain a strict cordon upon the shorter front between the Swiss
frontiers and the sea, but upon the other side of the great field,
between the Baltic and the Carpathians, they could never hope to
establish one continued wall of resistance.


When nations go to war their probable fortunes, other things being
equal, are to be measured in numbers.

Other things being equal, the numbers one party can bring against the
other in men, coupled with the numbers of weapons, munitions, and
other material, will decide the issue.

But in European civilization other things are more or less equal.
Civilian historians are fond of explaining military results in many
other ways, particularly in terms of moral values that will flatter
the reader. But a military history, however elementary, is compelled
to recognize the truth that normally modern war in Europe has followed
the course of numbers.

Among the very first, therefore, of the tasks set us in examining the
great struggle is a general appreciation of the numbers that were
about to meet in battle, and of their respective preparation in

More than the most general numbers--more than brief, round
statements--I shall not attempt. I shall not do more than state upon
such grounds as I can discover proportions in the terms of single
units--as, to say that one nation stood to another in its immediate
armed men as eight to five, or as two to twenty. Neither shall I give
positive numbers in less than the large fractions of a million. But,
even with such large outlines alone before one, the task is
extraordinarily difficult.

It will almost certainly be found, when full details are available
after the war, that the most careful estimates have been grievously
erroneous in some particular. Almost every statement of fact in this
department can be reasonably challenged, and the evidence upon matters
which in civilian life are amply recorded and easily ascertainable is,
in this department, everywhere purposely confused or falsified.

To the difficulty provided by the desire for concealment necessary in
all military organization, one must add the difficulty presented by
the cross categories peculiar to this calculation. You have to
consider not only the distinction between active and reserve, but also
between men and munitions, between munitions available according to
one theory of war, and munitions available according to another. You
have to modify statical conclusions by dynamic considerations (thus
you have to modify the original numbers by the rate of wastage, and
the whole calculus varies progressively with the lapse of time as the
war proceeds).

In spite of these difficulties, I believe it to be possible to put
before the general reader a clear and simple table of the numbers a
knowledge of which any judgment of the war involves, and to be fairly
certain that this table will, when full details are available, be
discovered not too inaccurate.

We must begin by distinguishing between the two sets of numbers with
which we have to deal--the numbers of men, and the amount of munitions
which these men have to use.

The third essential element, equipment, we need not separately
consider, because, when one says "men" in talking of military affairs,
one only means equipped, trained, and organized men, for no others can
be usefully present in the field.

Let us start, then, with some estimate of the number of men who are
about to take part in battle; let us take for our limits the
convenient limits of a year, and let us divide that space of time
arbitrarily into three parts or periods.

There was a first period in which the nations opposed brought into the
field the men available in the first few weeks for immediate action.
It is not possible to set a precise limit, and to say, "This period
covers the first six" or "the first eight weeks;" but we can say
roughly that, when we are speaking of this first period, we mean the
time during which men for whom the equipment was all ready, whose
progress and munitioning had all been organized, were being as rapidly
as possible brought into play. Such an estimate is not equivalent to
an estimate of the very first numbers that met in the shock of battle;
those numbers were far smaller, and differed according to the rate of
mobilization and the intention of the various parties. The estimate is
only that of the total number which the various parties could, and
therefore did, bring into play before men not hitherto trained as
soldiers, or trained but not believed to be required in the course of
the campaign--according as that campaign had been variously foreseen
by various governments--came in to swell the figures.

The conclusion of this first period would come, of course, gradually
in the case of every combatant, and would come more rapidly in the
case of some than in the case of others. But we are fairly safe if we
take the general turning-point from the first period to the second to
be the month of October 1914. The second period had begun for
some--notably for Germany--with the first days of that month; it had
already appeared for all, especially for England, before the beginning
of November.

The second period is marked for all the combatants by the bringing
into play of such forces as, for various reasons, the Government of
each had once hoped would not be required. The German Empire might
have marked them as not required, in the reasonable hope that victory
would be quickly assured. The British Government might, from a very
different standpoint, have believed them not to be required, because
it regarded the work of its continental Allies as sufficient to gain
the common object, etc. But in the case of all, however various the
motives, the particular mark of this second period is the straining to
put into the field newly trained and equipped bodies which in the
first period were, it was imagined, neither needed nor perhaps

This second period merges very gradually into the third, or final,
period, which is that of the last effort possible to the belligerents.
There comes a moment before the end of the first year when, in the
case of most of the belligerents, every man who is available at all
has been equipped, trained, and put forward, and after which there is
nothing left but the successive batches of yearly recruits growing up
from boyhood to manhood.

Although Britain is in a peculiar position, and Russia, through her
tardiness in equipment, in a peculiar position of another kind, yet
one may fairly say that the vague margin between the second period of
growth and the third period of finality appears roughly somewhere
round the month of June. It will fall earlier with Germany, a good
deal earlier with France; but from the middle of May at earliest to
the end of June at latest may be said to mark the entry of the
numerical factor into its third and final phase.

Let us take these three periods one by one.

The first period is by far the most important to our judgment of the
campaign; a misapprehension of it has warped most political statements
made in this country, and most contemporary judgments of the war as a
whole. It is impossible to get our view of the great European
struggle--of its nature in the bulk--other than fantastically wrong,
if we misapprehend the opening numbers with which it was waged.

There are three ways of getting at those numbers.

The first and worst way is the consulting of general statistics
published before the war broke out. Thus we may see in almanacs the
French army put down as a little over four million, the German at the
same amount, the Russian at about five million, and so forth.

These figures have no relation to reality, because they omit a hundred
modifying considerations--such as the age of the reserves, the degree
of training of the reserves, the organization prepared for the
enrolment of untrained men, etc. The only element in them which is of
real value is the statistics--when we can obtain them--of men actually
present with the colours before mobilization, to which one may add,
perhaps--or at any rate in the case of France and Germany--the numbers
of the _active_ reserve immediately behind the conscript army in

The second method, which is better, but imperfect, is that which has
particularly appealed to technical writers. It consists in numbering
_units_; in noting the headquarters and the tale of army corps and of
independent divisions.

The fault of this method is twofold. First, that only actual
experience can tell one whether units are really being maintained
during peace at full strength; and secondly, that only actual
experience discovers how many new units can and will be created when
war is joined. In other words, the fault of this method (necessary
though it is as an adjunct to all military calculations) lies in its
divorce from the reality of numbers.

At the end of the retreat from Moscow each army corps of the Grand
Army still preserved its name, each regiment its nominal identity. And
the roll was called by Ney, for instance, before the Beresina,
division by division and regiment by regiment, and even in the
regiments company by company; but in most of these last there was no
one to answer, and there is a story of one regiment for which one
surviving man answered with regularity until he also died. What fights
is numbers of living men--not headings; and if five army corps are
present, each having lost two-fifths of its men, three full army corps
are a match for them.

The third method is that of commonsense. We must deduce from the
results obtained, from the fronts covered, from the energy remaining
after known losses, from the reports of intelligence, from the avenues
of communication available, what least and what largest numbers can be
present. We must correct such conclusions by our previous knowledge of
the way in which each service regards its strength, which most depends
upon reserves, how each uses his depots and drafts, what machinery it
has for training the untrained and for equipping them. This
complicated survey taken, we can arrive at general figures.[1]

Using that method, and applying it to the present campaign, I think we
shall get something like the following.

_The Figures of the First Period, say to October 1-31, 1914._

Germany put across the Rhine in the first period (without counting a
certain small proportion of Hungarian cavalry and Austrian artillery)
rather more than two and a quarter million men. She put into the
Eastern field first a quarter of a million, which rapidly grew to half
a million, and before the end of October to nearly a million; a
balance of rather more than another million she used for filling gaps
and for keeping her strength at the full, and also in particular
cases (as in her violent attempt to break out through Flanders, or
rather the beginning of that attempt) for the immediate reinforcement
of a fighting line. Say that Germany put into the field altogether
five million men in the first period, and you are saying too much. Say
that she put into the field altogether in the first period four and a
quarter million men, and you are saying probably somewhat too little.

France met the very first shock with about a million men, which
gradually grew in the fighting line to about a million and a half.
Here the limit of the French force immediately upon the front will
probably be set. The numbers continued to swell long before the end of
the first period and well on into the second, but they were kept in
reserve. Counting the men drafted in to supply losses and the reserve,
it is not unwise to put at about two and a half million men the
ultimate French figure, of which one and a half million formed, before
the end of the first period, the immediate fighting force.

Austria was ordered by the Germans to put into the field, as an
initial body to check any Russian advance and to confuse the beginning
of Russian concentration, about a million men; which in the first
period very rapidly grew to two million, and probably before the end
of the first period to about two million and a half.

Russia put into the field during the first weeks of the war some
million and a quarter, which grew during the first period (that is,
before the coming of winter had created a very serious handicap, to
which allusion will presently be made) to perhaps two million and a
half at the very most. I put that number as an outside limit.

Servia, of men actually present and able to fight, we may set down at
a quarter of a million; and Belgium, if we like, at one hundred
thousand--though the Belgian service being still in a state of
transition, and the degree of training very varied within it, that
minor point is disputable. Indeed it is better, in taking a general
survey, to consider only the five Great Powers concerned.

Of these the fifth, Great Britain, though destined to exercise by sea
power and by her recruiting field a very great ultimate effect upon
the war, could only provide, in this first period upon the Continent,
an average of one hundred thousand men. To begin with, some
seventy-five thousand, dwindling through losses to little more than
fifty thousand, replenished and increased to about one hundred and
twenty-five thousand, and approaching, as the end of the first period
was reached, one hundred and fifty thousand men actually present upon
the front.

We can now set down these figures in the shape of simple units, and
see how the numerical chances stood at the opening of the campaign.

The enemy sets out with =32= men, of whom he bids =10= men against the
Russians, and sends =22= against the French. The Russians meet the
=10= men with about =12=, and the French meet the =22= with about
=10=; but as they have not the whole =22= to meet in the first shock,
they are struck rather in the proportion of =10= to =16= or =17=,
while the presence of the British contingent makes them rather more
than =10½=. But these initial figures rapidly change with the growth
of the armies, and before the first period is over the Germans have
=22= in the West against =15= French and =1= British, making =16=;
while in the East the Russian =12= has grown to, say, =24=, but the
Austro-Germans in the East, against those =24=, have grown to be quite
=32=. And there is the numerical situation of the first period
clearly, and I think accurately, put, _supposing the wastage to be
equal in proportion throughout all the armies_. The importance of
appreciating these figures is that they permit us to understand why
the enemy was morally certain of winning, quite apart from his right
judgment on certain disputed theories of war (to which I shall turn in
a moment), and quite apart from his heavy secret munitioning, which
was of such effect in the earlier part of the campaign. He was ready
with forces which he knew would be overwhelming, and how superior he
was thus numerically in that first period can best be appreciated, I
think, by a glance at the diagram on the next page.

[Illustration: Sketch 14.]

It is no wonder that he made certain of a decisive success in the
West, and of the indefinite holding up or pushing back of the Russian
forces in the East. It is no wonder that he confidently expected a
complete victory before the winter, and the signing of peace before
the end of the year. To that end all his munitioning, and even the
details of his tactics, were directed.

_The Figures of the Second Period, say to April 15-June 1, 1915._

The second period saw in the West, and, in the enemy's case, a very
great change proceeding by a number of minute steps, but fairly rapid
in character.

The French numbers could not grow very rapidly, because the French had
armed every available man. They could bring in a certain number of
volunteers; but neither was it useful to equip the most of the older
men, nor could they be spared from those duties behind the front line
which the much larger population of the enemy entrusted to men who,
for the most part, had received no regular training. The French did,
however, in this second period, gradually grow to some two and a half
million men, behind which, ready to come in for the final period, were
about a third of a million young recruits.

Great Britain discovered a prodigious effort. She had already,
comparatively early in the second period, put across the sea nearly
half a million men, and drafts were perpetually arriving as the second
period came to a close; while behind the army actually upon the
Continent very large bodies--probably another million in
number--hastily trained indeed, and presented with a grave problem in
the matter of officering, but of excellent material and _moral_, were
ready to appear, before the end of the second period or at its close,
the moment their equipment should be furnished. Counting the British
effort and the French together, one may say that, without regard to
wastage, the Allies in the West grew in the second period from the
original 16 to over 30, and might grow even before the second period
was over to 35 or even more.

On the enemy's side (neglecting wastage for the moment) there were the
simplest elements of growth. Each Power had docketed every untrained
man, knew his medical condition, where to find him, where and how to
train him. The German Empire had during peace taken about one-half of
its young men for soldiers. It had in pure theory five million
untrained men in the reserve, excluding the sick, and those not
physically efficient for service.

In practice, however, a very large proportion of men, even of the
efficients, must be kept behind for civilian work; and in an
industrial country such as Germany, mainly urban in population, this
proportion is particularly large. We are safe in saying that the
German army would not be reinforced during the second period by more
than two and a half million men. These were trained in batches of some
800,000 each; the equipment had long been ready for them, and they
appeared mainly as drafts for filling gaps, but partly as new
formations in groups--the first going in or before November, the
second in or before February. A third and last group was expected to
have finished this rather elementary training somewhere about the end
of April, so that May would complete the second period in the German

Austria-Hungary, by an easily appreciable paradox, possessed, though
but 80 per cent. of the Germans in population, a larger available
untrained reserve. This was because that empire trained a smaller
proportion of its population by far than did the Germans. It is
probable that Austria-Hungary was able to train and put forward during
the second period some three million men.

It is a great error, into which most critics have fallen, to
underestimate or to neglect the Austro-Hungarian factor in the enemy's
alliance. Without thus nearly doubling her numbers, Germany could not
have fought France and Russia at all, and a very striking feature of
all the earlier weeks of 1915 was the presence in the Carpathians of
increasing Austro-Hungarian numbers, which checked for more than three
months all the Russian efforts upon that front.

Say that Austria-Hungary nearly doubled her effectives (apart from
wastage) in this second period, and you will not be far wrong.

Russia, which upon paper could almost indefinitely increase during the
second period her numbers in the field, suffered with the advent of
winter an unexpected blow. Her equipment, and in particular her
munitioning (that is, her provision of missiles, and in especial of
heavy shell), must in the main come from abroad. Now the German
command of the Baltic created a complete blockade on the eastern
frontier of Russia, save upon the short Roumanian frontier; and the
entry of Turkey into the campaign on the side of the enemy, which
marked the second period, completed that blockade upon the south, and
shut upon Russia the gate of the Dardanelles. The port of Archangel in
the north was ice-bound, or with great difficulty kept partially open
by ice-breakers, and was in any case only connected with Russia by one
narrow-gauge and lengthy line; while the only remaining port of
Vladivostok was six thousand miles away, and closed also during a part
of the winter.

In this situation it was impossible for the great reserves of men
which Russia counted on to be put into the field, and the Russians
remained throughout the whole of this second period but little
stronger than they had been at the end of the first. If we set them
down at perhaps somewhat over three millions (excluding wastage)
towards the end of this second period, we shall be near to a just

We can now sum up and say that, _apart from wastage_, the forces
arrayed against each other after this full development should have
been about 120 men for the central powers of the enemy--35 (and
perhaps ultimately 40) men against them upon the West, and, until
sufficient Russian equipment could at least be found, only some 30 men
against them upon the East.

Luckily such figures are wholly changed by the enormous rate of the
enemy's wastage. The Russians had lost men almost as rapidly as the
enemy, but the Russian losses could be and were made good. The
handicap of the blockade under which Russia suffered permitted her to
maintain only a certain number at the front, but she could continually
draft in support of those numbers; and though she lost in the first
seven months of the war quite four hundred thousand in prisoners, and
perhaps three-quarters of a million in other casualties, her strength
of somewhat over three millions was maintained at the close of the
first period.

In the same way drafts had further maintained the British numbers. The
French had lost not more than one-fifth of a million in prisoners, and
perhaps a third of a million or a little more in killed and
permanently disabled--that is, unable to return to the fighting line.
In the case of both the French and the British sanitary conditions
were excellent.

You have, then, quite 35 for your number in the West, and quite 33 for
your number in the East of the Allied forces at the end of the winter;
but of your enemy forces you may safely deduct 45-50 might be a truer
estimate; and it is remarkable that those who have watched the matter
carefully at the front are inclined to set the total enemy losses
higher than do the critics working at home. But call it only 45 (of
which 5 are prisoners), and you have against the 68 Allies in East and
West no more at the end of this second period than 75 of the enemy.

The following diagram illustrates in graphic form the change that six
months have produced.

[Illustration: Sketch 15.]

In other words, at the end of the winter and with the beginning of the
spring, although the enemy still has a numerical preponderance, it is
no longer the overwhelming thing it was when the war began, and that
change in numbers explains the whole change in the campaign.

The enemy was certain of winning mainly because he was fighting more
than equal in the East, and at first nearly two to one, later quite
four to three, in the West. Those are the conditions of the late
summer of 1914. 1915, before it was a third over, had seen the numbers
nearly equalized. With the summer of 1915 we might hope to see the
numbers at last reversed, and, after so many perilous months, a total
(not local) numerical majority at last appearing upon the side of the
Allies. If ever this condition shall arrive before the enemy can
accomplish a decisive result in either field the tide will have

The third period belongs at the moment of writing to the future. All
we can say of it is that it presents for the enemy no considerable
field of recruitment; but while in the West it offers no increase to
the French, it does offer another five units at least, and possibly
another six or eight, to the British; and to the Russians, if the
blockade can be pierced at any point, or if the change of weather,
coupled with the broadening of the gauge of the railway to Archangel,
permits large imports, an almost indefinite increase in
number--certainly an increase of two millions, or twenty of the units
we were dealing with in the figures given above.

So much, then, for the numerical factor in men which dominates the
whole campaign.

When we turn from this to the second factor--that of munitions--we
discover something which can be dealt with far more briefly, but which
follows very much the same line.

The enemy in the first period of the war had, if anything, an even
greater superiority in munitioning than in men. This superiority was
due to two distinct causes. In the first place, as we shall see in a
few pages, his theory upon a number of military details was well
founded; in the second place, _he made war at his own chosen moment,
after three years of determined and largely secret preparation_.

As to the first point:--

We may take as a particular example of these theories of war the
enemies' reliance upon heavy artillery--and in particular upon the
power of the modern high explosive and the big howitzer--to destroy
permanent fortification rapidly, and to have an effect in the field,
particularly in the preparation of an assault, which the military
theories of the Allies had wrongly underestimated. It is but one
example out of many. It must serve for the rest, and it will be dealt
with more fully in the next section. The Germans to some extent, and
much more the Austrians, prepared an immensely greater provision of
heavy ammunition than their opponents, and entered the field with
large pieces of a calibre and in number quite beyond anything that
their opponents had at the outset of the campaign.

As to the second point:--

No peaceful nations, no nations not designing a war at their own hour,
lock up armament which may be rendered obsolete, or, in equipment more
extensive than the reasonable chances of a campaign may demand, the
public resources which it can use on what it regards as more useful
things. Such nations, to use a just metaphor, "insure" against war at
what they think a reasonable rate. But if some one Government in
Europe is anarchic in its morals, and proposes, while professing
peace, to declare war at an hour and a day chosen by itself, it will
obviously have an overwhelming advantage in this respect. The energy
and the money which it devotes to the single object of preparation
cannot possibly be wasted; and, if its sudden aggression is not fixed
too far ahead, will not run the risk of being sunk in obsolete

Now it is clearly demonstrable from the coincidence of dates, from the
exact time required for a special effort of this kind, and from the
rate at which munitions and equipment were accumulated, that the
Government at Berlin came to a decision in the month of July 1911 to
force war upon Russia and upon France immediately after the harvest of
1914; and of a score of indications which all converge upon these
dates, not one fails to strike them exactly by more than a few weeks
in the matter of preparation, by more than a few days in the date at
which war was declared.

Under those circumstances, Berlin with her ally at Vienna had the
immense numerical advantage over the French and the Russians when war
was suddenly forced upon those countries on the 31st of July last

But, as in the case of men, the advantage would only be overwhelming
during the first period. The very fact that the war had to be won
quickly involved an immense expenditure of heavy ammunition in the
earlier part of it, and this expenditure, if it were not successful,
would be a waste.

It takes about five months to produce a heavy piece, and the rate of
production of heavy ammunition, though slow, is measurable. At the
moment of writing this, towards the close of the second period, the
balance is not yet redressed, but it is in a fair way to be redressed.
The imperfect and too tardy blockade to which the enemy is somewhat
timidly subjected is a factor in aid of this; and we may be fairly
confident that, if a third period is reached before the enemy shall
have the advantage of a decision, there will be a preponderance of
munitioning upon the Allied side in the West and the East which will
be, if anything, of superior importance to the approaching
preponderance in numbers.

Having thus briefly surveyed the opposing strength of either
combatant, checked and measured as it varied with the progress of the
war, we will turn to the _moral_ opposition of military theory
between the one party and the other, and show how here again that,
_save in the most important matter of all, grand strategy_, the enemy
was on the highroad to the victory which he confidently and, for that
matter, reasonably expected.


The long peace which the most civilized parts of Europe had enjoyed
for now a generation left more and more uncertain the value of
theories upon the conduct of war, which theories had for the most part
developed as mere hypotheses untested by experience during that
considerable period. The South African and the Manchurian war had
indeed proved certain theories sound and others unsound, so far as
their experience went; but they were fought under conditions very
different from those of an European campaign, and the progress of
material science was so rapid in the years just preceding the great
European conflict that the mass of debated theories still remained
untried at its outbreak.

The war in its first six months thoroughly tested these theories, and
proved, for the greater part of them, which were sound in practice and
which unsound. I will tabulate them here, and beg the special
attention of the reader, because upon the accuracy of these forecasts
the first fortunes of the war depended.

I. A German theory maintained that, with the organization of and the
particular type of discipline in the German service, attacks could be
delivered in much closer formation than either the French or the
English believed to be possible.

The point is this: After a certain proportion of losses inflicted
within a certain limit of time, troops break or are brought to a
standstill. That was the universal experience of all past war. When
the troops that are attacking break or are brought to a standstill,
the attack fails. But what you cannot determine until you test the
matter in actual war is what numbers of losses in what time will thus
destroy an offensive movement. You cannot determine it, because the
chief element in the calculation is the state of the soldier's mind,
and that is not a measurable thing. One had only the lessons of the
past to help one.

The advantages of attacking in close formation are threefold.

(_a_) You launch your attack with the least possible delay. It is
evident that spreading troops out from the column to the line takes
time, and that the more extended your line the more time you consume
before you can strike.

[Illustration: Sketch 16.]

If I have here a hundred units advancing in a column towards the place
where they are to attack (and to advance in column is necessary,
because a broad line cannot long keep together), then it is evident
that if I launched them to the attack thus:--

[Illustration: Sketch 17.]

packed close together, I get them into that formation much more
quickly than if, before attacking, I have to spread them out thus:--

[Illustration: Sketch 18.]

(_b_) The blow which I deliver has also evidently more weight upon it
at a given point. If I am attacking a hundred yards of front with a
hundred units of man and missile power, I shall do that front more
harm in a given time than if I am attacking with only fifty such

(_c_) In particular circumstances, where troops _have_ to advance on a
narrow front, as in carrying a bridge or causeway or a street or any
other kind of defile, my troops, if they can stand close formation and
the corresponding punishment it entails, will be more likely to
succeed than troops not used to or not able to bear such close
formation. Now, such conditions are very numerous in war. Troops are
often compelled, if they are to succeed, to rush narrow gaps of this
kind, and their ability to do so is a great element in tactical

I have here used the phrase "if they can stand close formation and the
corresponding punishment it entails," and that is the whole point.
There are circumstances--perhaps, on the whole, the most numerous of
all the various circumstances in war--in which close formation, if it
can be used, is obviously an advantage; but it is equally self-evident
that the losses of troops in close formation will be heavier than
their losses in extended order. A group is a better target than a
number of dispersed, scattered points.

Now, the Germans maintained in this connection not only, as I have
said, that they could get their men to stand the punishment involved
in close formation, but also that:--

(_a_) The great rapidity of such attacks would make the _total_ and
_final_ wastage less than was expected, and further:--

(_b_) That the heavy wastage, such as it was, was worth while, because
it would lead to very rapid strategical decision as well as tactical.
In other words, because once you had got your men to stand these heavy
_local_ losses and to suffer heavy _initial_ wastage, you would win
your campaign in a short time, so that the high-rate wastage not being
prolonged need not be feared.

Well, in the matter of this theory, the war conclusively proved the
following points:--

(_a_) The Germans were right and the Allies were wrong with regard to
the mere possibility of using close formations. The German temper,
coupled with the type of discipline in the modern German service, did
prove capable of compelling men to stand losses out of all proportion
to what the Allies expected they could stand, and yet to continue to
advance neither broken nor brought to a standstill. But--

(_b_) The war also proved that, upon the whole, and taking the
operations in their entirety, such formations were an error. In case
after case, a swarm of Germans advancing against inferior numbers got
home after a third, a half, or even more than a half of their men had
fallen in the first few minutes of the rush. But in many, many more
cases this tactical experiment failed. Those who can speak as
eye-witnesses tell us that, though the occasions on which such attacks
actually broke were much rarer than was expected before the war began,
yet the occasions on which the attack was thrown into hopeless
confusion, and in which the few members of it that got home had lost
all power to do harm to the defenders, were so numerous that the
experiment must be regarded as, upon the whole, a failure. It may be
one that no troops but Germans could employ. It is certainly not one
which any troops, after the experience of this war, will copy.

(_c_) Further, the war proved even more conclusively that the wastage
was not worth while. The immense expense in men only succeeded where
there was an overwhelming superiority in number. The strategical
result was not arrived at quickly (as the Germans had expected)
through this tactical method, and after six months of war, the enemy
had thrown away more than twice and nearly three times as many men as
he need have sacrificed had he judged sanely the length of time over
which operations might last.

II. Another German theory had maintained that modern high explosives
fired from howitzers and the accuracy of their aim controlled by
aircraft would rapidly and promptly dominate permanent fortification.

This theory requires explanation. Its partial success in practice was
the most startling discovery and the most unpleasant one to the Allies
of the early part of the war.

In the old days, say up to ten years ago or less, permanent
fortification mounting heavy guns was impregnable to direct assault if
it were properly held and properly munitioned. It could hold out for
months. Its heavy guns had a range superior to any movable guns that
could be brought against it--indeed, so very heavily superior that
movable guns, even if they were howitzers, would be smashed or their
crews destroyed long before the fortress was seriously damaged by

A howitzer is but a form of mortar, and all such pieces are designed
to lob a projectile instead of throwing it. The advantage of using
these instruments when you are besieging permanent works is that you
can hide them behind an obstacle, such as a hill, and that the heavy
gun in the fortress cannot get its shell on to them because that shell
has a flatter trajectory. The disadvantage is that the howitzer has a
very much shorter range than the gun size for size.

[Illustration: Sketch 19.]

Here is a diagram showing how necessarily true this is. The howitzer,
lobbing its shell with a comparatively small charge, has the advantage
of being able to hide behind a steep bit of ground, but on such a
trajectory the range is short. The gun in the fortress does not lob
its shell, but throws it. The course of the gun shell is much more
straight. It therefore can only hit the howitzer and its crew
indirectly by exploding its shell just above them. Until recently, the
gun was master of the howitzer for three reasons:--

First, because the largest howitzers capable of movement and of being
brought up against any fortress and shifted from one place of
concealment to another were so small that their range was
insignificant. Therefore the circumference on which they could be used
was also a small one; their opportunities for hiding were consequently
reduced; the chances of their emplacement being immediately spotted
from the fortress were correspondingly high, and the big gun in the
fortress was pretty certain to overwhelm the majority of them at
least. It is evident that the circumference αβγ offers far more
chances of hiding than the circumference ABC, but a still more
powerful factor in favour of the new big howitzer is the practical one
that at very great ranges in our climate the chances of spotting a
particular place are extremely small. Secondly, because the explosives
used, even when they landed and during the short time that the
howitzer remained undiscovered and unheard, were not sufficiently
powerful nor, with the small howitzers then in existence, sufficiently
large in amount in each shell to destroy permanent fortification.
Thirdly, because the effect of the aim is always doubtful. You are
firing at something well above yourself, and you could not tell very
exactly where your howitzer shell had fallen.

[Illustration: Sketch 20.]

What has modified all this in the last few years is--

First, the successful bringing into the field of very large howitzers,
which, though they do lob their shells, lob them over a very great
distance. The Austrians have produced howitzers of from 11 to 12
inches in calibre, which, huge as they are, can be moved about in the
field and fired from any fairly steady ground; and the Germans have
probably produced (though I cannot find actual proof that they have
used them with effect) howitzers of more than 16 inches calibre, to be
moved, presumably, only upon rails. But 11-inch was quite enough to
change all the old conditions. It must be remembered that a gun varies
as the _cube_ of its calibre. A 12-inch piece is not twice as powerful
as a 6-inch. It is _eight times_ as powerful. The howitzer could now
fire from an immense distance. The circumference on which it worked
was very much larger; its opportunities for finding suitable steep
cover far greater. Its opportunities for moving, if it was endangered
by being spotted, were also far greater; and the chances of the gun in
the fortress knocking it out were enormously diminished.

Secondly, the high explosives of recent years, coupled with the vast
size of this new mobile howitzer shell, is capable, when the howitzer
shell strikes modern fortification, of doing grievous damage which,
repeated over several days, turns the fort into a mass of ruins.

Thirdly, the difficulty of accurate aiming over such distances and of
locating your hits so that they destroy the comparative small area of
the fort is got over by the use of aircraft, which fly above the fort,
note the hits, and signal the results.

Now, the Germans maintained that under these quite recently modified
conditions not even the best handled and heaviest gunned permanent
fort could hold out more than a few days. The French believed that it
could, and they trusted in the stopping power not only of individual
works (such as the fortress of Manonvilliers on the frontier), but
more especially of great rings of forts, such as surround Liége,
Namur, Verdun, etc., and enclose an area within the security of which
large bodies of troops can be held ready, armies which no one would
dare to leave behind them without having first reduced them to

The very first days of the war proved that the German theory was right
and the French wrong. The French theory, upon which such enormous
funds had been expended, had been perfectly right until within quite
recent years the conditions had changed. Port Arthur, for instance,
only ten years ago, could hold out for months and months. In this war
no individual fort has held out for more than eleven days.

It might be imagined under such circumstances that the very existence
of fortresses was doomed; yet we note that Verdun continues to make a
big bulge in the German line four months after the first shots fell on
its forts, and that the Germans are actively restoring the great
Belgian rings they have captured at Liége, Antwerp, and Namur.

Why is this? It is because another German theory has proved right in

III. This German theory which has proved right in practice is what may
be called "the mobile defence of a fortress." It proposes no longer to
defend upon expensive permanent works precisely located upon the map,
but upon a number of improvised batteries in which heavy guns can move
somewhat behind field-works concealed as much as possible, numerous
and constructed rapidly under the conditions of the campaign. Such
works dotted round the area you desire to defend are quite a different
thing to reduce from isolated, restricted, permanent forts. In the
first place, the enemy does not know where they are; in the second
place, you can make new ones at short notice; in the third place, if a
howitzer does spot your heavy gun, you can move it or its neighbours
to a new position; in the fourth place, the circumference you are
defending is much larger, and the corresponding area that the
besiegers have to search with their fire more extended. Thus, in the
old forts round Verdun, about a dozen permanent works absolutely fixed
and ascertainable upon the map, and covering altogether but a few
acres, constituted the defence of the town. Before September was out
the heavy guns had been moved to trenches far advanced into the field
to the north and east, temporary rails had been laid down to permit
their lateral movement--that is, to let them shift from a place where
they had perhaps been spotted to a new place, under cover of darkness,
and the sectors thus thrown out in front of the old fortifications in
this improvised mobile fashion were at least three times as long as
the line made by the ring of old forts, while the area that had to be
searched was perhaps a hundred times as large. For in the place of the
narrowly restricted permanent fort, with, say, ten heavy guns, you had
those same ten heavy guns dotted here and there in trenches rapidly
established in half a dozen separate, unknown, and concealed spots,
along perhaps a mile of wooded hill, and free to operate when moved
over perhaps double that front.

IV. _In Grand Strategy a German general theory of strategics was
opposed to a French general theory of strategics, and upon which of
the two should prove right depended, much more than on any of the
previous points, the ultimate issue of the campaign._

This is far the most important point for the reader's consideration.
It may be said with justice that no one can understand this war who
has not grasped the conflict between these two fundamental conceptions
of armed bodies in action, and the manner in which (by the narrowest
and most fortunate margin!) events in the first phase of the war
justified the French as against the German school.

I must therefore beg the reader's leave to go somewhat thoroughly into
the matter, for it is the foundation of all that will follow when we
come to the narration of events and the story of the Western battle
which began in the retreat from the Sambre and ended in the Battle of
the Marne.

The first postulate in all military problems is that, other things
being equal, numbers are the decisive factor in war. This does not
mean that absolute superiority of numbers decides a campaign
necessarily in favour of the superior power. What it means is that _in
any particular field_, if armament and discipline are more or less
equal on the two sides, the one that has been able to mass the greater
number _in that field_ will have the victory. He will disperse or
capture his enemy, or at the least he will pin him and take away his
_initiative_--of which word "initiative" more later. Now, this field
in which one party has the superior numbers can only be a portion of
the whole area of operations. But if it is what is called the decisive
portion, then he who has superior numbers _in the decisive time and
place_ will win not only there but everywhere. His local victory
involves consequent success along the whole of his line.

For instance, supposing five men are acting against three. Five is
more than three; and if the forces bear upon each other equally, the
five will defeat the three. But if the five are so badly handled that
they get arranged in groups of two, two, and one, and if the three are
so well handled that they strike swiftly at the first isolated two and
defeat them, thus bringing up the next isolated two, who are in their
turn defeated, the three will, at the end of the struggle, have only
one to deal with, and the five will have been beaten by the three
because, although five is larger than three, yet _in the decisive time
and place_ the three never have more than two against them. It may be
broadly laid down that the whole art of strategics consists for the
man with superior numbers in bringing all his numbers to bear, and for
the man with inferior numbers in attempting by his cunning to compel
his larger opponent to fight in separated portions, and to be defeated
in detail.

As in every art, the developments of these elementary first principles
become, with variations of time and place, indefinitely numerous and
various. Upon their variety depends all the interest of military
history. And there is one method in particular whereby the lesser
number may hope to pin and destroy the power of the greater upon which
the French tradition relied, and the value of which modern German
criticism refused.

Before going into that, however, we must appreciate the mental
qualities which led to the acceptance of the theory upon the one side
and its denial upon the other.

The fundamental contrast between the modern German military temper and
the age-long traditions of the French service consists in this: That
the German theory is based upon a presumption of superiority, moral,
material, and numerical. The theory of the French--as their national
temperament and their Roman tradition compel them--is based upon an
_envisagement_ of inferiority: moral, material, and numerical.

There pervades the whole of the modern German strategic school this
feeling: "I shall win if I act and feel as though I was bound to win."
There pervades the whole French school this sentiment: "I have a
better chance of winning if I am always chiefly considering how I
should act if I found myself inferior in numbers, in material, and
even in moral at any phase in the struggle, especially at its origins,
but even also towards its close."

This contrast appears in everything, from tactical details to the
largest strategical conception, and from things so vague and general
as the tone of military writings, to things so particular as the
instruction of the conscript in his barrack-room. The German soldier
is taught--or was--that victory was inevitable, and would be as swift
as it would be triumphant: the French soldier was taught that he had
before him a terrible and doubtful ordeal, one that would be long, one
in which he ran a fearful risk of defeat, and one in which he might,
even if victorious, have to wear down his enemy by the exercise of a
most burdensome tenacity. In the practice of the field, the contrast
appeared in the French use of a great reserve, and the German contempt
for such a precaution: in the elaborate thinking out of the use of a
reserve, which is the core of French military thought; in the
superficial treatment of the same, which is perhaps the chief defect
of Germany.

It would be of no purpose to debate here which of these two mental
attitudes, with all their consequences, is either morally the better
or in practice the more successful. The French and Latin tradition
seems to the German pusillanimous, and connected with that decadence
which he perceives in every expression of civilization from Athens to
Paris. The modern German conception seems to the French theatrical,
divorced from reality, and hence fundamentally weak. Either critic may
be right or either wrong. Our interest is to follow the particular
schemes developing from that tone of mind. We shall see how, in the
first phases of the war, the German conception strikingly justified
itself for more than ten days; how, after a fortnight, it was
embarrassed by its opponent; and how at the end of a month the German
initiative was lost under the success--only barely achieved after
dreadful risk--of the French plan.

That plan, inherited from the strategy of Napoleon, and designed in
particular to achieve the success of a smaller against a larger
number, may be most accurately defined as _the open strategic square_,
and its leading principle is "the method of detached reserves."

This strategic conception, which I shall now describe, and which (in a
diagram it is put far too simply) underlies the whole of the
complicated movements whereby the French staved off disaster in the
first weeks of the war, is one whose whole object it is to permit the
inferior number to bring up a _locally_ superior weight against a
_generally_ superior enemy in the decisive time and at the decisive

Let us suppose that a general commanding _twelve_ large units--say,
twelve army corps--knows that he is in danger of being attacked by an
enemy commanding no less than _sixteen_ similar units.

Let us call the forces of the first or weaker general "White," and
those of the second or stronger general "Black."

It is manifest that if White were merely to deploy his line and await
the advance of Black thus,

[Illustration: Sketch 21.]

he would be outflanked and beaten; or, in the alternative, Black might
mass men against White's centre and pierce it, for Black is vastly
superior to White in numbers. White, therefore, must adopt some
special disposition in order to avoid immediate defeat.

Of such special dispositions one among many is the French Open
Strategic Square.

This disposition is as follows:--

White arranges his twelve units into four quarters of three each, and
places one quarter at each corner of a square thus:--

[Illustration: Sketch 22.]

We will give them titles, and call them A, B, C, and D.

If, as is most generally the case in a defensive campaign at its
opening, White cannot be certain from which exact direction the main
blow is coming, he may yet know that it is coming from some one
general direction, from one sector of the compass at least, and he
arranges his square to face towards that sector.

For instance, in the above diagram, he may not know whether the blow
is coming from the precise direction 1, or 2, or 3, but he knows that
it is coming somewhere within the sector XY.

Then he will draw up his square so that its various bodies all face
towards the average direction from which the blow may come.

The SIZE of his square--which is of great importance to the
result--he makes as restricted as possible, _subject to two prime
conditions_. These conditions are:--

First, that there shall be room for the troops composing each corner
to be deployed--that is, spread out for fighting. Secondly, that there
shall be room between any two corners (A and C, for instance) for a
third corner (D, for instance) to move in between them and spread out
for fighting in support of them. He makes his square as close and
restricted as possible, because his success depends--as will be seen
in a moment--upon the rapidity with which any one corner can come up
in support of the others. But he leaves enough room for the full
numbers to spread out for fighting, because otherwise he loses in
efficiency; and he leaves room enough between any two squares for a
third one to come in, because the whole point of the formation is the
aid each corner can bring to the others.

In this posture he awaits the enemy.

That enemy will necessarily come on in a lengthy line, lengthy in
proportion to the number of his units. For it is essential to the
general commanding _superior_ numbers to make the _whole_ of the
superior numbers tell, and this can only be done if they march along
parallel roads, and these roads are sufficiently wide apart for the
various columns to have plenty of room to deploy--that is, to spread
out into a fighting line--when the shock comes.

[Illustration: Sketch 23.]

This extended line of Black marching thus against White strikes White
first upon some one corner of his square. Suppose that corner to be
corner A. Then the position when contact is established and the first
serious fighting begins is what you will observe in the above diagram.
A is the corner (now spread out for fighting) which gets the first

Note you (for this is the crucial point of the whole business) that
upon the exposed corner A will fall a very dangerous task indeed. A
will certainly be attacked by forces superior to itself. Normally
forces more than half as large again as A will be near enough to A to
concentrate upon him in the first shock. The odds will be at least as
much as five to three, the Black units, 4, 5, and 6, will be right on
A, and 3 and 7 will be near enough to come in as well in the first day
or two of the combat, while possibly 2 may have a look in as well.

A, thus tackled, has become what may be called "the _operative corner_
of the square." It is his task "to retreat and hold the enemy" while
B, C, and D, "the masses of manoeuvre," swing up. But under that
simple phrase "operative corner" is hidden all the awful business of a
fighting retreat: it means leaving your wounded behind you, marching
night and day, with your men under the impression of defeat; leaving
your disabled guns behind you, keeping up liaison between all your
hurrying, retreating units, with a vast force pressing forward to your
destruction. A's entire force is deliberately imperilled in order to
achieve the success of the plan as a whole, and upon A's tenacity, as
will be seen in what follows, the success of that plan entirely

[Illustration: Sketch 24.]

Well, while A is thus retreating--say, from his old position at A_1 on
the foregoing diagram to such a position as A_2, with Black swarming
up to crush him--the other corners of the square, B, C, and D, receive
the order to "swing"--that is, to go forward inclining to the left or
the right according to the command given.

Mark clearly that, until the order is given, the general commanding
Black cannot possibly tell whether the "swing" will be directed to
the left or to the right. Either B will close up against A, C spread
out farther to the left, and D come in between A and C (which is a
"swing" to the left) as in Sketch 25, or C will close up against A, B
will spread well out to the right, and D come up between A and B, as
in Sketch 26 (which is a "swing" to the right).

[Illustration: Sketch 25.]

Until the "swing" actually begins, Black, the enemy, cannot possibly
tell whether it is his left-hand units (1 to 8) or his right-hand
units (9 to 16) which will be affected. One of the two ends of his
line will have to meet White's concentrated effort; the other will be
left out in the cold. Black cannot make dispositions on the one
hypothesis or on the other. Whichever he chose, White would, of
course, swing the other way and disconcert him.

Black, therefore, has to keep his line even until he knows which way
White is going to swing.

[Illustration: Sketch 26.]

Let us suppose that White swings to the left.

Mark what follows. The distances which White's units have got to go
are comparatively small. B will be up at A's side, and so will D in a
short time after the swing is over, and when the swing is completed,
the position is after this fashion. Black's numbers, 1 to 9 inclusive,
find themselves tackled by all Black's twelve. There is a superiority
of number against Black on his right, White's left, and the remaining
part of Black's line (10 to 16 inclusive), is out in the cold.

If it were a tactical problem, and all this were taking place in a
small field, Black's left wing, 10-16, would, of course, come up at
once and redress the balance. But being a strategical problem, and
involving very large numbers and very great distances, Black's left
wing, 10-16, can do nothing of the kind. For Black's left wing, 10-16,
_cannot possibly get up in time_. Long before it has arrived on the
scene, White's 12 will have broken Black's 9 along Black's right wing.

[Illustration: Sketch 27.]

There are three elements which impose this delay upon Black's left

First, to come round in aid of the right wing means the marching
forward of one unit after another, so that each shall overlap the
last, and so allow the whole lot to come up freely. This means that
the last unit will have to go forward six places before turning, and
that means several days' marching. For with very large bodies, and
with a matter of 100 miles to come up, all in one column, it would be
an endless business (Sketch 28).

[Illustration: Sketch 28.]

Next you have the delay caused by the _conversion of direction_
through a whole right angle. That cause of delay is serious. For when
you are dealing with very large bodies of men, such as half a dozen
army corps, to change suddenly from the direction S (see Sketch 29)
for which your Staff work was planned, and to break off at a moment's
notice in direction E, while you are on the march towards S, is
impossible. You have to think out a whole new set of dispositions,
and to re-order all your great body of men. White was under no such
compulsion, for though he had to swing, the swing faced the same
general direction as his original dispositions. And the size of the
units and the distances to be traversed--the fact that the problem is
strategical and not tactical--is the essence of the whole thing. If,
for instance, you have (as in Sketch 30) half a dozen, not army corps,
but mere battalions of 1,000 men, deployed over half a dozen miles of
ground, AB, and advancing in the direction SS, and they are suddenly
sent for in the direction E, it is simple enough. You form your 6,000
men into column; in a few hours' delay they go off in the direction
E, and when they get to the place where they are wanted, the column
can spread out quickly again on the front CD, and soon begin to take
part in the action. But when you are dealing with half a dozen army
corps--240,000 men--it is quite another matter. The turning of any one
of these great bodies through a whole right angle is a lengthy
business. You cannot put a quarter of a million men into one
column--they would take ages to deploy--so you must, as we have seen,
make each unit of them overlap the next before the turn can begin.

[Illustration: Sketch 29.]

[Illustration: Sketch 30.]

Nor is that all the delay involved. It would never do for these six
separate corps to come up in driblets and get defeated in detail; 10,
11, and 12 will have to wait until 13, 14, 15, and even 16, have got
up abreast of them--and that is the third cause of delay.

Here are three causes of delay which, between them and accumulated,
have disastrous effect; and in general we may be certain that where
very large bodies and very extensive stretches of territory are
concerned, that wing of Black which has been left out in the cold can
never come up in time to retrieve the situation created by White's
twelve pinning Black's engaged wing of only nine.

If the square has worked, and if the twelve White have pinned the
right-hand wing of Black, 1 to 9 inclusive, there is nothing for Black
to do but to order his right wing, 1 to 9, to retreat as fast as
possible before superior numbers, and to order his left wing, 10 to
16, to fall back at the same time and keep in line; and you then have
the singular spectacle of twelve men compelling the retreat of and
pursuing sixteen.

_That is exactly what happened in the first three weeks of active
operations in the West. The operative corner A in the annexed diagram
was the Franco-British force upon the Sambre. The retirement of that
operative corner and its holding of the enemy was what is called in
this country "The Retreat from Mons." BB are the "masses of manoeuvre"
behind A. The swinging up of these masses involving the retirement of
the whole was the Battle of the Marne._

[Illustration: Sketch 31.]

Now, it is evident that in all this everything depends upon the
tenacity and military value of the operative corner, which is exposed
and sacrificed that the whole scheme of the Open Square may work.

If that operative corner is destroyed as a force--is overwhelmed or
dispersed or surrounded--while it is fighting its great odds, the
whole square goes to pieces. Its centre is penetrated by the enemy,
and the army is in a far worse plight than if recourse had never been
had to the open strategic square at all. For if the operative corner,
A, is out of existence before the various bodies forming the
"manoeuvring mass" behind it have had time to "swing," then the enemy
will be right in their midst, and destroying, in overwhelming force,
these remaining _separated_ bodies in detail.

It was here that the German strategic theory contrasted so violently
with the French. The Germans maintained that an ordeal which Napoleon
might have been able to live through with his veterans and after
fifteen years of successful war, a modern conscript army, most of its
men just taken from civilian life and all of short service, would
never endure. They believed the operative corner would go to pieces
and either be pounded to disintegration, or outflanked, turned, and
caught in the first days of the shock before the rest of the square
had time to "work." The French believed the operative corner would
stand the shock, and, though losing heavily, would remain in being.
They believed that the operative corner of the square would, even
under modern short service and large quasi-civilian reserve
conditions, remain an army. They staked their whole campaign upon that
thesis, and they turned out to be right. But they only just barely won
through, and by the very narrowest margin. Proving right as they did,
however, the success of their strategical theory changed the whole
course of the war.

With this contrast of the great opposing theories considered, I come
to the conclusion of my Second Part, which examines the forces
opposed. I will now turn to the Third Part of my book, which concerns
the first actual operations from the Austrian note to the Battle of
the Marne.


[1] Thus, after these lines were written, I had occasion in _Land and
Water_ to estimate the garrison of Przemysl before the figures were
known. The element wherewith to guide one's common sense was the known
perimeter to be defended; and arguing from this, I determined that a
minimum of not less than 100,000 men would capitulate. I further
conceived that the total losses could hardly be less than 40,000, and
I arrived at an original force of between three and four corps.

[Illustration: Sketch 32.]



In any general view of the great war which aims both at preserving
proportion between its parts, and at presenting especially the main
lines in relief, the three weeks between the German sudden forcing of
war and the seventeen or eighteen days between the English declaration
and the main operations upon the Sambre, will have but a subsidiary
importance. They were occupied for at least half the period in the
mobilization of the great armies. They were occupied for the second
half of the period in the advance across the Rhine of German numbers
greatly superior to the Allies, and also through the plain of Northern
Belgium. The operation, as calculated by the German General Staff, was
delayed by but a very few days--one might almost say hours--by the
hastily improvised resistance of Liége, and the imperfect defence of
their country which was all the Belgian forces, largely untrained,
could offer.

We must, therefore, pass briefly enough over that preliminary period,
though the duty may be distasteful to the reader, on account of the
very exaggerated importance which its operations took, especially in
British eyes.

For this false perspective there were several reasons, which it is
worth while to enumerate, as they will aid our judgment in obtaining a
true balance between these initial movements and the great conflicts
to which they were no more than an introduction.

1. War, as a whole, had grown unfamiliar to Western Europe. War on
such a scale as this was quite untried. There was nothing in
experience to determine our judgment, and after so long a peace,
during which the habits of civil life had ceased to be conventioned
and had come to seem part of the necessary scheme of things, the first
irruption of arms dazzled or confounded the imagination of all.

2. The first shock, falling as it did upon the ring fortress of
Liége, at once brought into prominence one of the chief questions of
modern military debate, the value of the modern ring fortress, and
promised to put to the test the opposing theories upon this sort of

3. The violation of Belgian territory, though discounted in the
cynical atmosphere of our time, when it came to the issue was, without
question, a stupendous moral event. It was the first time that
anything of this sort had happened in the history of Christian Europe.
Historians unacquainted with the spirit of the past may challenge that
remark, but it is true. One of the inviolable conventions, or rather
sacred laws, of our civilization was broken, which is that European
territory not involved in hostilities by any act of its Government is
inviolable to opposing armies. The Prussian crime of Silesia, nearly
two centuries before, the succeeding infamies of 1864, and the forgery
of the Ems dispatch, the whole proclaimed tradition of contempt for
the sanctities of Christendom, proceeding from Frederick the Great,
had indeed accustomed men to successive stages in the decline of
international morals; but nothing of the wholly crude character which
this violation of Belgium bore was to be discovered in the past, even
of Prussia, and posterity will mark it as a curious term and possibly
a turning-point in the gradual loss of our common religion, and of the
moral chaos accompanying that loss.

4. The preparations of this country by land were not complete. Those
of the French were belated compared with those of the Germans, and the
prospect of even a short delay in the falling of the blow was
exaggerated in value by all the intensity of that anxiety with which
the blow was awaited.

To proceed from these preliminaries to the story.

       *       *       *       *       *

The German Army had for its ultimate object, when it should be fully
mobilized, the passage of the greater part of its forces over the
Belgian Plain.

This Belgian Plain has for now many centuries formed the natural
avenue for an advance upon the Gauls.

It has been represented too often as a sort of meeting-place, where
must always come the shock between what is called Latin civilization
and the Germanic tribes. But this view is both pedantic and
historically false. There never was here a shock or conflict between
two national ideals. What is true is, that civilization spread far
more easily up from the Gauls through that fertile land towards the
forests of Germany, and that when the Roman Empire broke down, or
rather when its central government broke down, the frontier garrisons
could here depend upon wealthier and more numerous populations for the
support of their local government. That body of auxiliary soldiers in
the Roman army which was drawn from the Frankish tribes ruled here
when Rome could no longer rule. It was from Tournai that the father of
Clovis exercised his power; and in the resettlement of the local
governments in the sixth century, the Belgian Plain was the avenue
through which the effort of the civilized West was directed towards
the Rhine. It has Roman Cologne for its outpost; later it evangelized
the fringes of German barbarism, and later still conquered them with
the sword. All through the succeeding centuries the ambitions of kings
in France, or of emperors upon the Rhine, were checked or satisfied in
that natural avenue of advance. Charlemagne's frontier palace and
military centre facing the Pagans was rather at Aix than at Trèves or
Metz; and though the Irish missionaries, who brought letters and the
arts and the customs of reasonable men to the Germans, worked rather
from the south, the later forced conversion of the Saxons, which
determined the entry of the German tribes as a whole into Christendom,
was a stroke struck northwards from the Belgian Plain. Cæsar's
adventurous crossing of the Rhine was a northern crossing. The
Capetian monarchy was saved on its eastern front at Bouvines, in that
same territory. The Austro-Spanish advance came down from it, to be
checked at St. Quentin. Louis XIV.'s main struggle for power upon the
marches of his kingdom concentrated here. The first great check to it
was Marlborough's campaign upon the Meuse; the last battle was within
sound of Mons, at Malplaquet. The final decision, as it was
hoped--the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo--again showed what this
territory meant in the military history of the West. It was following
upon this decision that Europe, in the great settlement, decided to
curb the chaos of future war by solemnly neutralizing the Belgian
Plain for ever; and to that pact a seal was set not only by the French
and the British, but also by the Prussian Government, with what
results we know.

The entries into this plain are very clearly defined by natural
limits. It is barred a few hours' march beyond the German frontier by
the broad and deep river Meuse, which here runs from the rough and
difficult Ardennes country up to the Dutch frontier. The whole passage
is no more than twelve miles across, and at the corner of it, where
the Meuse bends, is the fortress of Liége. West of this fortress the
upper reaches of the river run, roughly east and west upon Namur, and
after Namur turn south again, passing through a very deep ravine that
extends roughly from the French town of Mezières to Namur through the
Ardennes country. The Belgian Plain is therefore like a bottle with a
narrow neck, a bottle defined by the Dutch frontier and the Middle
Meuse on either side, and a neck extending only from the Ardennes
country to the Dutch frontier, with the fortress of Liége barring the
way. Now the main blow was to be delivered ultimately upon the line
Namur-Charleroi-Mons. That is, the situation was roughly that of the
accompanying diagram: by the bottle neck at D the whole mass of troops
must pass--or most of them--which are later to strike on the front AB.
To reach that front was available to the invader the vast network of
Belgian railways RRR crammed with rolling stock, and provided such
opportunities for rapid advance as no other district in Europe could
show. But all this system converged upon the main line which ran
through the ring of forts round Liége, L, and so passed through
Aix-la-Chapelle, A, and to Germany.

[Illustration: Sketch 33.]

The German Government, therefore, could not be secure of its intention
to pass great bodies through the Belgian Plain until Liége was
grasped, and it was determined to grasp Liége long before the
mobilization of the German forces was completed. For this purpose only
a comparatively small force, rapidly gathered, was available. It was
placed under the command of General von Emmerich, and its first bodies
exchanged shots with the Belgian outposts early in the afternoon of
Tuesday, August 4, 1914.

The hour and date should always be remembered for the solemnity which
attaches to the beginning of any great thing; and the full observer of
European affairs, who understands what part religion or superstition
plays in the story of Europe, will note this enormously significant
detail. The first Germans to cross the violated frontier accomplished
that act upon the same day and at the same hour as that in which
their forerunners had crossed the French frontier forty-four years

The afternoon wore on to night, with no more than a conflict between
outposts. Just before midnight the cannonade was first heard. It also
was the moment in which the ultimatum delivered to Germany by this
country, by a coincidence, expired.[2]

This night attack with guns was only delivered against one sector of
the Liége forts, and only with field-pieces.

As to the first of these points, it will be found repeated throughout
the whole of the campaign wherever German forces attack a ring of
permanent works. For the German theory in this matter (which
experience has now amply supported) is that since modern permanent
works _of known and restricted position_ go under to a modern siege
train if the fire of the latter be fully concentrated and the largest
pieces available, everything should be sacrificed to the putting into
the narrowest area of all the projectiles available. The ring once
broken on a sufficient single sector point is broken altogether.

The second point, that only field-pieces as yet were used (which was
due to the fact that the siege train was not yet come up), is an
important indication of the weakness of the defence--on all of which
the enemy were, of course, thoroughly informed.

There were perhaps 20,000 men in and upon the whole periphery of
Liége, a matter of over thirty miles, and what was most serious, no
sufficient equipment or preparation of the forts, or, what was more
serious still, no sufficient trained body of gunners.

It is almost true to say that the resistance of Liége, such as it was,
was effected by rifle fire.

With the dawn of August 5th, and in the first four hours of daylight,
a German infantry attack upon the same south-eastern forts which had
been subjected to the first artillery fire in the night developed, and
after some loss withdrew, but shortly after the first of the forts,
that of Fléron, was silenced. The accompanying sketch map will show
how wide a gap was left henceforward in the defences. Further, Fléron
was the strongest of the works upon this side of the river. Seeing
that, in any case, even if there had been a sufficient number of
trained gunners in the forts, and a sufficient equipment and full
preparation of the works for a siege (both of which were lacking),
the absence of sufficient men to hold the gaps between would in any
case have been fatal to the defence. With such a new gap as this open
by the fall of Fléron, the defence was hopeless, even if it were only
to be counted in hours.

[Illustration: Sketch 34.]

It is high praise of the Belgian people and character to point out
that, after the fall of Fléron, for forty-eight full hours such a gap
was still contested by men, a great part of whom were little better
than civilian in training, and who, had they been all tried regulars,
would have been far too few for their task. General Leman, who
commanded them, knew well in those early hours of Wednesday, the 5th,
that the end had already come. He also knew the value of even a few
hours' hopeless resistance, not perhaps to the material side of the
Allied strategy, but to the support of those moral forces lacking
which men are impotent in maintaining a challenge. Not only all that
Wednesday, the 5th, but all the Thursday, the 6th, he maintained a
line against the pressure of the invaders with his imperfect and
insufficient troops.

During those forty-eight hours, the big howitzer, which is the type
of the heavy German siege train--the 225 mm.--was brought up, and it
is possible that a couple of the still larger Austrian pieces of 280
mm. (what we call in this country the 11-inch), which are constructed
with flat treadles to their wheels to fire from mats laid on any
reasonably hard surface (such as a roadway), had been brought up as
well. At any rate, in the course of the Thursday, the fort next
westward from Fléron, Chaudefontaine, was smashed. The gap was now
quite untenable, and the first body of German cavalry entered the
city. The incident has been reported as a _coup de main_, with the
object of capturing the Belgian general. Its importance to the
military story is simply that it proved the way to be open. In the
afternoon and evening of the day, the Belgians were retiring into the
heart of the city, and it is typical of the whole business that the
great railway bridge upon which the main communications depended was
left intact for the Germans to use.

With the morning of Friday, the 7th August, the first bodies of German
infantry entered the town. The forts on the north and two remaining
western forts upon the south of the river were still untaken, and
until a large breach should be made in the northern forts at least,
the railway communication of the German advance into the Belgian plain
was still impeded. Great masses of the enemy, and, in proportion to
those masses, still greater masses of advance stores were brought in.

In all that follows, until we reach the date of Monday, August 24th, I
propose to consider no more than the fortunes of the troops who passed
through Belgium to attack the French armies upon the Sambre and the
Meuse, with the British contingent that had come to their aid. And my
reasons for thus segregating and dealing later with contemporary
events in the south will appear in the sequel.

This reservation made--an important one in the scheme of this book--I
return to what I have called the preliminaries, the advance through

We have already seen that the reduction of the northern forts of Liége
was the prime necessity to that advance.

We have also seen that meanwhile it was possible and advisable to
accumulate stores for the advance as far forward as could be managed,
and that it was also possible, with caution, to bring certain
bodies--not the bulk of the army--forward through the Ardennes, to
command the passages of the Meuse above Liége, between that fortress
and Namur.

This latter operation was effected by the 12th of August, when the
town of Huy, with its bridge and its railway leading from the Belgian
Ardennes right into the Belgian Plain, was seized.

Meanwhile, upon the north of the river Meuse, cavalry and armed
motor-cars were similarly preparing the way for the general advance
when the northern forts of Liége should be dominated; and on this same
Wednesday, August 12th, the most advanced bodies of the invader lay in
a line roughly north and south from the neighbourhood of Diest along
the Gethe and thence towards Huy.

Of the outrages committed upon the civilian inhabitants in all these
country-sides, the Government of which was neutral, and the territory
of which was by the public law of Europe free not only from such
novel crimes but from legitimate acts of war, I shall not speak, just
as I shall not allude, save where they happen to have military
importance, to the future increase of similar abominations which
marked the progress of the campaign. For my only object in these pages
is to lay before the reader a commentary which will explain the
general strategy of the war.

[Illustration: Sketch 35.]

While this advance line of cavalry was engaging in unimportant minor
actions, or rather skirmishes (grossly exaggerated in the news of
those days), the attack on the northern forts of Liége, upon which
everything now depended, was opened. It was upon Thursday, August
13th, that the 280 mm. howitzers opened upon Loncin. Other of the
remaining forts were bombarded; but, as in the case of Fléron a week
before, we need not consider the subsidiary operations, because
everything depended upon the fort of Loncin, which, as the
accompanying diagram shows, commanded the railway line westward from
Liége. General Leman himself was within that work, the batteries
against which were now operating from _within_ the ring--that is, from
the city itself, or in what soldiers technically call "reverse"--that
is, from the side upon which no fort is expected to stand, the side
which is expected to defend and not to be attacked from. Whether
Loncin held out the full forty-eight hours, or only forty, or only
thirty-six, we do not know; but that moral factor to which I have
already alluded, and which must be fully weighed in war, was again
strengthened by the nature of such a resistance. For nearly all that
garrison was dead and its commander found unconscious when the
complete destruction of the work by the high explosive shells
permitted the enemy to enter.

[Illustration: Sketch 36.]

It was upon Saturday, the 15th of August, that the great bulk of the
two main German armies set aside for passage through the Belgian Plain
began to use the now liberated railway, and the week between that date
and the first great shock upon the Sambre is merely a record of the
almost uninterrupted advance, concentration, and supply of something
not far short of half a million men coming forward in a huge tide
over, above, and round on to, the line Namur-Charleroi-Mons, which was
their ultimate objective, and upon which the Anglo-French
body--perhaps half as numerous--had determined to stand.

[Illustration: Sketch 37.]

The story of that very rapid advance is merely one of succeeding
dates. By the 17th the front was at Tirlemont, by the 19th it was
across the Dyle and running thence south to Wavre (the first army),
the second army continuing south of this with a little east in it to a
point in front of Namur. On the 20th there was enacted a scene of no
military importance (save that it cost the invaders about a day), but
of some moral value, because it strongly impressed the opinion in this
country and powerfully affected the imagination of Europe as a whole:
I mean the triumphal march through Brussels.

Far more important than this display was the opening on the evening of
the same day, Thursday, August 20th, of the first fire against the
eastern defences of Namur. This fire was directed upon that evening
against the two and a half miles of trench between the forts of
Cognelée and Marchovelette, and in the morning of Friday, the 21st,
the trenches were given up, and the German infantry was within the
ring of forts north of the city. The point of Namur, as we shall see
in a moment, was twofold. First, its fortifications, so long as they
held out, commanded the crossings both of the Sambre and of the Meuse
within the angle of which the French defensive lay; secondly, its
fortified zone formed the support whereupon the whole French right
reposed. It was this unexpected collapse of the Belgian defence of
Namur which, coupled with the unexpected magnitude of the forces
Germany had been able to bring through the Belgian plain, determined
what was to follow.

Once Namur was entered, the reduction of the forts was not of
immediate importance, though it was immediately and successfully
achieved. For the German business was not here, as at Liége, to grasp
a railway within the zone of the fortifications, but to destroy the
buttress upon which the French depended for their defensive position,
and to prevent the French from holding the crossings over the two
rivers Sambre and Meuse at their junction.

With this entry of the Germans into Namur, their passage of the lines
upon Friday, August 21st, their capture of the bridgeheads on
Saturday, August 22nd, we reach the beginning of those great
operations which threatened for a moment to decide the war in the
West, and to establish the German Empire in that position to attain
which it had planned and forced the war upon its appointed day.

It behoves us before entering into the detail of this large affair to
see the plan of it clearly before our eyes.

       *       *       *       *       *

I have already described that general conception underlying the whole
modern French school of strategy for which the best title (though one
liable to abuse by too mechanical an interpretation) is "the open
strategic square."

I have further warned the reader that, in spite of the way in which
the intricacy of organization inseparable from great masses and the
manifold disposition of a modern army will mask the general nature of
such an operation, that operation cannot be understood unless its
simplest lines are clear. I have further insisted that in practice
those lines remain only in the idea of the scheme of the whole, and
are not to be discovered save in the loosest way from the actual
positions of men upon the map.

We have seen that this "open strategic square" involved essentially
two conceptions--the fixed "operative corner" and the swinging
"manoeuvring masses."

The manoeuvring masses, at this moment when the great German blow fell
upon the Sambre and the Meuse, and when Namur went down immediately
before it, were (_a_) upon the frontiers of Alsace and Lorraine, (_b_)
in the centre of the country, (_c_) near the capital and to the west
of it, and even, some of them, upon the sea.

The operative corner was this group of armies before Namur on the
Sambre and Meuse, the 4th French Army under Langle, the 5th French
Army under Lanrezac, the British contingent under French.

We know from what has been written above in this book that it is the
whole business of an operative corner to "take on" superior numbers,
and to hold them as well as possible, even though compelled to
retreat, until the manoeuvring masses can swing and come up in aid,
and so pin the enemy.

We further know from what has gone before that the whole crux of this
manoeuvre lies in the power of the operative corner to stand the

It was the business of the French in this operative corner before
Namur and of their British Allies there to await and, if possible, to
withstand by a careful choice of position the first shock of enemies
who would certainly be numerically superior. It was the whole business
of the German commanders to make the shock overwhelming, in order that
the operative corner should be pounded to pieces, or should be
surrounded and annihilated before the manoeuvring masses could swing
up in aid. Should this destruction of the operative corner take place
before the manoeuvring masses behind it could swing, the campaign in
the West was lost to the Allies, and the Germans pouring in between
the still separated corners of the square were the masters for good.

It behoves us, therefore, if we desire to understand the campaign, to
grasp how this operative corner stood, upon what defences it relied,
in what force it was, what numbers it thought were coming against it,
and what numbers were, as a fact, coming against it.

To get all this clear, it is best to begin with a diagram.

Suppose two lines perpendicular one to the other, and therefore
forming a right angle, AB and BC. Suppose at their junction, B, a
considerable zone or segment, SSS, of a circle, as shaded in the
following diagram. Supposing the line AB to be protected along the
outer half of it, AK, by no natural obstacle--the state of affairs
which I have represented by a dotted line αγ; but suppose the second
half of it, KB, should be protected by a natural obstacle, though not
a very formidable one--such as I have represented by the continuous
line γβ. Supposing the perpendicular line BC to be protected by a
really formidable natural obstacle βδ, and supposing the shaded
segment of the circle at B to represent a fortified zone (1)
accessible to any one within the angle KBC, as from the arrow M; (2)
inaccessible (until it was captured or forced) to any one coming from
outside the angle, as from the arrows NNN; (3) containing within
itself, protected by its ring of fortifications, passages, PP, for
traversing the two natural obstacles, γβ and βδ, which meet at the
point β.

[Illustration: Sketch 38.]

There you have the elements of the position in which the advance
corner of the great French square was situated just before it took the
shock of the main German armies. The two lines AB and BC are the
French and British armies lying behind the Sambre, γβ, and the Middle
Meuse, βδ, respectively; but the line of the Sambre ceases to protect
eastward along the dotted line αγ beyond the point up to which the
river forms a natural obstacle, while from K to B the line is
protected by the river Sambre itself. The more formidable obstacle,
βδ, represents the great trench or ravine of the Meuse which stretches
south from Namur. The town of Namur itself is at B, the junction of
the two rivers; and the fortified zone, SSS, is the ring of forts
lying far out all round Namur; while the passages, PP, over the
obstacles contained within that fortified zone, and accessible to the
people _inside_ the angle from M, but not to the people _outside_ the
angle from NNN, are the bridges across both the Sambre and the Meuse
at Namur.

All this is, of course, put merely diagrammatically, and a diagram is
something very distant from reality. The "open strategic square" in
practice comes to mean little more than two main elements--one the
operative corner, the other a number of separate units disposed in all
sorts of different places behind, and generally denominated "the
manoeuvring mass." If you had looked down from above at all the French
armies towards the end of August, when the first great shock came, you
would have seen nothing remotely resembling a square.

[Illustration: Sketch 39.]

You would have seen something like Sketch 31 where the bodies enclosed
under the title A were the operative corner; various garrisons and
armies in the field, enclosed under the title B, were the manoeuvring
mass. But it is only by putting the matter quite clearly in the
abstract diagrammatic form that its principle can be grasped.

With this digression I will return and conclude with the main points
of debate in the use of the open strategic square.

We have seen that the operative corner is in this scheme deliberately
imperilled at the outset.

The following is a sketch map of the actual position, and it will be
seen that the topographical features of this countryside are fairly
represented by Sketch 39; while this other sketch shows how these
troops that were about to take the shock stood to the general mass of
the armies.

But to return to the diagram (which I repeat and amplify as Sketch
41), let us see how the Allied force in the operative corner before
Namur stood with relation to this angle of natural obstacles, the
two rivers Sambre and Meuse, and the fortified zone round the point
where they met.

[Illustration: Sketch 40.]

The situation of that force was as follows:--

[Illustration: Sketch 41.]

Along and behind βγ stretched the 5th Army of the French, prolonged on
its left by the British contingent. I have marked the first in the
diagram with the figure 5, the second with the letters Br, and the
latter portion I have also shaded. At right angles to the French 5th
Army stretched the French 4th Army, which I have marked with the
figure 4. It depended upon the obstacle of the Meuse βδ for its
defence, just as the French 5th Army depended upon the Sambre, γβ. It
must, of course, be understood that when one says these forces "lay
along" the aforesaid lines, one does not mean that they merely lay
behind them. One means that they held the bridges and prepared to
dispute the crossing of them.

Now, the French plan was as follows. They said to themselves: "There
will come against us an enemy acting along the arrows VWXYZ, and this
enemy will certainly be in superior force to our own. He will perhaps
be as much as fifty per cent. stronger than we are. But he will suffer
under these disadvantages:--

"The one part of his forces, V and W, will find it difficult to act in
co-operation with the other part of his forces, Y and Z, because Y and
Z (acting as they are on an outside circumference split by the
fortified zone SSS) will be separated, or only able to connect in a
long and roundabout way. The two lots, V and W, and Y and Z, could
only join hands by stretching round an awkward angle--that is, by
stretching round the bulge which SSS makes, SSS being the ring of
forts round Namur. Part of their forces (that along the arrow X) will
further be used up in trying to break down the resistance of SSS.
That will take a good deal of time. If our horizontal line AB holds
its own, naturally defended as it is, against the attack from V and W,
while our perpendicular line BC holds its own still more firmly
(relying on its much better natural obstacle) against YZ, we shall
have ample time to break the first and worst shock of the enemy's
attack, and to allow, once we have concentrated that attack upon
ourselves, the rest of our forces, the masses of manoeuvre, or at any
rate a sufficient portion of them, to come up and give us a majority
in _this_ part of the field. We shall still be badly outnumbered on
the line as a whole; but the resistance of our operative corner,
relying on the Sambre and Meuse and the fortress of Namur, will gather
much of the enemy unto itself. It will thus make of this part of the
field the critical district of the whole campaign. Our masses,
arriving while we resist, will give us a local superiority here which
will hold up the whole German line. We may even by great good luck so
break the shock of the attack as ourselves to begin taking the
counter-offensive after a little while, and to roll back either Y and
Z or V and W by the advance of our forces across the rivers when the
enemy has exhausted himself."

It will be clear that this calculation (whether of the expected and
probable least favourable issue--a lengthy defence followed by an
orderly and slow retreat designed to allow the rest of the armies to
come up--or of the improbable and more favourable issue--the taking of
the counter-offensive) depended upon two presumptions which the
commander of the Allies had taken for granted: (1) that the German
shock would not come in more than a certain admitted maximum, say
thirty per cent. superiority at the most over the Allied forces at
this particular point; (2) that the ring of forts round Namur would be
able to hold out for at least three or four days, and thus absorb the
efforts of part of the enemy as well as awkwardly divide his forces,
while that enemy's attack was being delivered.

Both these presumptions were erroneous. The enemy, as we shall see in
a moment, came on in much larger numbers than had been allowed for.
Namur, as we have already seen, fell, not in three or four days, but
instantly--the moment it was attacked. And the result was that,
instead of an orderly and slow retirement, sufficiently tardy to
permit of the swinging up of the rest of the French "square"--that is,
of the arrival of the other armies or manoeuvring masses--there came
as a fact the necessity for very rapid retirement of the operative
corner over more than one hundred miles and the immediate peril for
days of total disaster to it.

To appreciate how superior the enemy proved to be in number, and how
heavy the miscalculation here was, we must first see what the numbers
of this Allied operative corner were.

I have in Sketch 42 indicated the approximate positions and relative
sizes of the three parts of the Allied forces.

Beginning from the left, we have barely two army corps actually
present of the British contingent in the fighting line: for certain
contingents of the outermost army corps had not yet arrived. We may
perhaps call the numbers actually present at French's command when
contact was taken 70,000 men, but that is probably beyond the mark.
To the east lay the 5th French Army, three army corps amounting, say,
to 120,000 men, and immediately south of this along the Meuse lay the
4th French Army, another three army corps amounting to at the most
another 120,000 men.

We may then call the whole of the operative corner (if we exclude
certain cavalry reserves far back, which never came into play) just
over 300,000 men. That there were as many as 310,000 is improbable.

The French calculation was that against these 300,000 men there would
arrive at the very most 400,000.

That, of course, meant a heavy superiority in number for the enemy;
but, as we have seen, the scheme allowed for such an inconvenience at
the first contact.

That more than 400,000 could strike in the region of Namur no one
believed, for no one believed that the enemy could provision and
organize transport for more than that number.

A very eminent English critic had allowed for seven army corps of
first-line men as all that could be brought across the Belgian Plain.
The French went so far as to allow for ten, a figure represented by
the 400,000 men of the enemy they expected.

We had then the Allied forces expecting an attack in about the
superiority indicated upon this diagram, where the British contingent
and the two French armies are marked in full, and the supposed enemy
in dotted lines.

[Illustration: Sketch 42.]

Roughly speaking, the Allies were allowing for a thirty per cent.

Now, lying as they did behind the rivers, and with the ring of forts
around Namur to shield their point of junction and to split the
enemy's attack, this superiority, though heavy, was not crushing. The
hopes of the defensive that it would stand firm, or at least retire
slowly so as to give time for the manoeuvring masses to come up was,
under this presumption, just. It was even thought possible that, if
the enemy attacked too blindly and spent himself too much, the
counter-offensive might be taken after the first two or three days.

As for the remainder of the German forces, it was believed that they
were stretched out very much in even proportion, without any thin
places, from the Meuse to Alsace.

Now, as a matter of fact, the German forces were in no such
disposition. 1. The Germans had added to every army corps a reserve
division. 2. They had brought through the Belgian plains a very much
larger number than seven army corps: they had brought nine. 3. They
had further brought against Namur yet another four army corps through
the Ardennes, the woods of which helped to hide their progress from
air reconnaissance. To all this mass of thirteen army corps, each
army corps half as large again as the active or first line allowed
for, add some imperfectly trained but certainly large bodies of
independent cavalry. We cannot accurately say what the total numbers
of this vast body were, but we can be perfectly certain that more than
700,000 men were massed in this region of Namur. The enemy was coming
on, not four against three, but certainly seven against three, and
perhaps eight or even nine against three.

The real situation was that given in the accompanying diagram (Sketch

Five corps, each with its extra division, were massed under von Kluck,
and called the 1st German Army. Four more, including the Guards, were
present with von Buelow, and stretched up to and against the first
defences of Namur. Now, around the corner of that fortress, two Saxon
corps, a Wurtemberg corps, a Magdeburg corps, and a corps of reserve
under the Duke of Wurtemberg formed the 3rd Army, the right wing of
which opposed the forts of Namur, the rest of which stretched along
the line of the Meuse.

Even if the forts of Namur had held out, the position of so hopelessly
inferior a body as was the Franco-British force, in face of such
overwhelming numbers, would have been perilous in the extreme. With
the forts of Namur abandoned almost at the first blow, the peril was
more than a peril. It had become almost certain disaster.

[Illustration: Sketch 43.]

With the fall of Namur, the angle between the rivers--that is, the
crossings of the rivers at their most difficult part where they were
broadest--was in the hands of the enemy, and the whole French body,
the 4th and 5th Armies, was at some time on that Saturday falling

The exact hour and the details of that movement we do not yet know. We
do not know what loss the French sustained, we do not know whether any
considerable bodies were cut off. We do not know even at what hour the
French General Staff decided that the position was no longer tenable,
and ordered the general retreat.

All we know is that, so far from being able to hold out two or three
days against a numerical superiority of a third and under the buttress
of Namur, the operative corner, with Namur fallen and, not 30 per
cent., but something more like 130 per cent. superiority against it,
began not the slow retreat that had been envisaged, but a retirement
of the most rapid sort.

Such a retirement was essential if the cohesion of the Allied forces
was to be maintained at all, and if the combined 4th and 5th French
Armies and British contingent were to escape being surrounded or

By the Saturday night at latest the French retirement was ordered; by
Sunday morning it was in full progress, and it was proceeding
throughout the triangle of the Thierarche all that day.

But the rate of that retirement, corresponding to the pressure upon
the French front, differed very much with varying sections of the
line. It was heaviest, of course, in those advanced bodies which had
lain just under Namur. It was least at the two ends of the bow, for
the general movement was on to the line Maubeuge-Mezières. The farther
one went east towards Maubeuge, the slower was the necessary movement,
and to this cause of delay must be added the fact that von Kluck,
coming round by the extreme German line, had farthest to go, and
arrived latest against the line of the Allies.

Therefore the British contingent at the western extreme of the Allied
line felt the shock latest of all, and all that Sunday morning the
British were still occupied in taking up their positions. They had
arrived but just in time for what was to follow.

It was not till the early afternoon of the Sunday that contact was
first taken seriously between Sir John French and von Kluck. At that
moment the British commander believed, both from a general and
erroneous judgment which the French command had tendered him and from
his own air work, that he had in front of him one and a half or at the
most two army corps; and though the force, as we shall see in a
moment, was far larger, its magnitude did not appear as the afternoon
wore on. Full contact was established perhaps between three and four,
by which hour the pressure was beginning to be severely felt, and upon
the extreme right of the line it had already been necessary to take up
defensive positions a little behind those established in the morning.
But by five o'clock, with more than two good hours of daylight before
it, the British command, though perhaps already doubtful whether the
advancing masses of the enemy did not stand for more men, and
especially for more guns than had been expected, was well holding its
own, when all its dispositions were abruptly changed by an unexpected
piece of news.

It was at this moment in the afternoon--that is, about five
o'clock--that the French General Staff communicated to Sir John French
information bearing two widely different characteristics: the first
that it came late; the second that had it not come when it did, the
whole army, French as well as British, would have been turned.

The first piece of information, far too belated, was the news that
Namur had fallen, and that the enemy had been in possession of the
bridge-heads over the Sambre and the Meuse since the preceding day,
Saturday. Consequent upon this, the enemy had been able to effect the
passage of the Sambre, not only in Namur itself, but in its immediate
neighbourhood, and, such passages once secured, it was but a question
of time for the whole line to fall into the enemy's hands. When
superior numbers have passed one end of an obstacle it is obvious that
the rest of the obstacle gradually becomes useless.[3] At what hour
the French knew that they had to retire, we have not been told. As we
have seen, the enemy was right within Namur on the early afternoon of
Saturday, the 22nd, and it is to be presumed that the French
retirement was in full swing by the Sunday morning, in which case the
British contingent, which this retirement left in peril upon the
western extreme of the line, ought to have been warned many hours
before five o'clock in the afternoon.

To what the delay was due we are again as yet in ignorance, but
probably to the confusion into which the unexpected fall of Namur and
the equally unexpected strength of the enemy beyond the Sambre and the
Meuse had thrown the French General Staff.

At any rate, the news did come thus late, and its lateness was of
serious consequence to the British contingent, and might have been
disastrous to it.

The second piece of news, on the other hand, was the saving of it; and
that second piece of news was the information that Sir John French had
in front of him not one German army corps, and possibly part or even
the whole of a second, but at least three. As the matter turned out,
the British contingent was really dealing first and last with four
army corps, and the essential part of the news conveyed was that the
extreme western portion of this large German force _was attempting to
turn the flank of the whole army_.

It was not only attempting to do so, it was in number sufficient to do
so; and unless prompt measures were taken, what was now discovered to
be the general German plan would succeed, and the campaign in the
West would be in two days decided adversely to the Allies--the same
space of time in which the campaign of 1815 was decided adversely to
Napoleon in just these same country-sides.

It is here necessary to describe what this German plan was.

The reader has already seen, when the general principles of the open
strategic square were described on a previous page, that everything
depends upon the fate of the operative corner. This operative corner
in the present campaign had turned out to be the two French armies,
the 4th and the 5th, upon the Lower Sambre and the Meuse, and the
British contingent lying to the left of the 5th on the Upper Sambre
and by Mons.

If the operative corner of a strategic open square is annihilated as a
military force, or so seriously defeated that it can offer no
effective opposition for some days, then the whole plan of a strategic
square breaks to pieces, and the last position of the inferior forces
which have adopted it is worse than if they had not relied upon the
manoeuvre at all, but had simply spread out in line to await defeat
in bulk at the hands of their superior enemy.

Now there are two ways in which a military force can be disposed of by
its opponent. There are two ways in which it can be--to use the rather
exaggerated language of military history--"annihilated."

The first is this: You can break up its cohesion by a smashing blow
delivered somewhere along its line, and preferably near its centre.
But if you do that, the results will never be quite complete, and may
be incomplete in any degree according to the violence and success of
your blow.

The second way is to get round the enemy with your superior numbers,
to get past his flank, to the back of him, and so envelop him. If that
manoeuvre is carried out successfully, you bag his forces entire. It
is to this second manoeuvre that modern Prussian strategy and tactics
are particularly attached. It is obvious that its fruits are far more
complete than those of the first manoeuvre, when, or if, it is wholly
successful. For to get round your enemy and bag him whole is a larger
result than merely to break him up and leave _some_ of him able to
re-form and perhaps fight again. Two things needful to such success
are (_a_) superior numbers, save in case of gross error upon the part
of the opponents; (_b_) great rapidity of action on the part of the
outflanking body, coupled, if possible, with surprise. That rapidity
of action is necessary is obvious; for the party on the flank has got
to go much farther than the rest of the army. It has to go all the
length of the arrow (1), and an element of surprise is usually
necessary. For if the army AA which BB was trying to outflank learned
of the manoeuvre in time he only has to retreat upon his left by the
shorter arrow (2) to escape from the threatened clutch.

[Illustration: Sketch 45.]

Now, von Kluck with his five army corps, four of which were in
operation against Sir John French, was well able to count on all
these elements. He had highly superior numbers, his superiority had
not been discovered until it was almost too late, and for rapidity of
action he had excellent railways and a vast equipment of petrol

What he proposed to do was, while engaging the British contingent of
less than two army corps with three full army corps of his own, to
swing his extreme western army corps right round, west through
Tournai, and so turn the British line. If he succeeded in doing that,
he had at the same time succeeded in turning the whole of the
Franco-British forces on the Sambre and Meuse. In other words, he was
in a fair way to accomplishing the destruction of the operative corner
of the great square, and consequently, as a last result, the
destruction of the whole Allied force in the West.

The thing may be represented on a sketch map in this form.

Of von Kluck's five corps, 1 is operating against the junction of the
English and French lines beyond Binche, 2, 3, and 4 are massing
against the rather more than one and a half of Sir John French at AA,
and 5, after the capture of Tournai, is going to take a big sweep
round in the direction of the arrow towards Cambrai, and so to turn
the whole line. Meanwhile, the cavalry, still farther west, acting
independently, is to sweep the country right out to Arras and beyond.

[Illustration: Sketch 46.]

The particular titles of corps are of no great value in following the
leading main lines of a military movement; but it may be worth
remembering that this "number 5," to which von Kluck had allotted the
turning movement, was the _Second_ German Corps. With its cavalry it
numbered alone (and apart from all the other forces of von Kluck which
were engaging the British line directly) quite three-quarters as many
men as all that British line for the moment mustered.

It was not possible, from local circumstances which the full history
of the war, when it is written, will explain, for the British
contingent to fall back in the remaining hours of daylight upon that

Belated by at the most twelve hours, as the news of the French
retirement had been, the British retirement followed it fully twenty
hours after. It was not until daylight of Monday, the 24th, that all
the organizations for this retirement were completed, the plans drawn
up, and the first retrograde movements made.

To permit a retirement before such a great superiority of the enemy to
be made without disaster, it was necessary to counter-attack not only
at this inception of the movement, but throughout all the terrible
strain of the ensuing eight days.

Here it may be necessary to explain why, in any retirement, continual
counter-attacks on the pursuing enemy are necessary.

It is obvious that, under equal conditions, the pursuing enemy can
advance as fast as can your own troops which are retreating before
him. If, therefore, a retreat, once contact has been established,
consisted in merely walking away from the enemy, that enemy would be
able to maintain a ceaseless activity against one portion of your
united force--its rear--which activity would be exercised against
bodies on the march, and incapable of defence. To take but one example
out of a hundred: his guns would be always unlimbering, shooting at
you, then limbering up again to continue the pursuit; unlimbering
again, shooting again--and so forth; while your guns would never
reply, being occupied in an unbroken retirement, and therefore
continually limbered up and useless behind their teams.

A retiring force, therefore, of whatever size--from a company to an
army--can only safely effect its retirement by detaching one fraction
from its total which shall hold up the pursuit for a time while the
main body gets away.

When this detached fraction is wearied or imperilled, another fraction
relieves it, taking up the same task in its turn; the first fraction,
which had hitherto been checking the pursuit, falls back rapidly on to
the main body, under cover of the new rearguard's fire as it turns to
face the enemy. And the process is kept up, first one, then another
portion of the whole force being devoted to it, until the retirement
of the whole body has been successfully effected, and it is well ahead
of its pursuers and secure.

[Illustration: Sketch 47.]

For example: two White army corps, I., II., as in the annexed diagram,
each of two divisions, 1, 2, and 3, 4, have to retire before a greatly
superior Black force, _abcde_. They succeed in retiring by the action
expressed in the following diagram. White corps No. I. first
undertakes to hold up the enemy while No. II. makes off. No. I.
detaches one division for the work (Division 2), and for a short time
it checks the movement of _a_, _b_, and _c_, at least, of the enemy.
Now _d_ and _e_ press on. But they cannot press on at any pace they
choose, for an army must keep together, and the check to _a_, _b_, and
_c_ somewhat retards _d_ and _e_. They advance, say, to the positions

[Illustration: Sketch 48.]

Next, White corps No. II. stops, puts out one of its divisions (say 4)
to check _d_ and _e_, while its other division either helps or falls
back, according to the severity of the pressure, and White corps No.
I. makes off as fast as it can. _a_, _b_, _c_, no longer checked by a
White rearguard, are nevertheless retarded from two causes--first,
the delay already inflicted on them; secondly, that they must not, if
the army is to keep together, get too far ahead of their colleagues,
_d_ and _e_, which White corps II. is holding up.

[Illustration: Sketch 49.]

Thus, on the second or third day the retreat of White is being secured
by an increasing gap between pursued and pursuers. The process is
continued. Every succeeding day--if that process is successful--should
further widen the gap until White can feel free from immediate

Such is the principle--modified indefinitely in practice by variations
of ground and numbers--under which a retirement must be conducted if
it is to have any hope of ultimate success in saving the pursued.

But it is clear that the process must always be a perilous one. Unless
the most careful co-ordination is maintained between the moving parts
of the retreat; unless the rearguard in each action falls back only
_just upon_ and not a _little while after_ the precise moment when it
can last safely do so; unless the new rearguard comes into play in
time, etc., etc.--the pursuers may get right in among the pursued and
break their cohesion; or they may get round them, cut them off, and
compel them to surrender. In either case the retreating force ceases
to exist as an army.

In proportion as the pursuers are numerous (mobility being equal)
compared with the pursued, in that proportion is the peril. And with
the best luck in the world some units are sure to be cut off, many
guns lost, all stragglers and nearly all wounded abandoned in the
course of a pressed retreat, and, above all, there will be the
increasing discouragement and bewilderment of the men as the strain,
the losses, and the ceaseless giving way before the enemy continue day
after day with cumulative effect.

The accomplishment of such a task, the maintenance of the "operative
corner" in being during its ordeal of retreat before vastly superior
numbers, and in particular the exceedingly perilous retirement of the
British contingent at what was, during the first part of the strain,
the extreme of the line, are what we are now about to follow.

The initial counter-attack, then, on this Monday, the first day of the
retreat, was undertaken by the 2nd British Division from the region of
Harmignies, which advanced as though with the object of retaking
Binche. The demonstration was supported by all the artillery of the
1st Army Corps, while the 1st Division, lying near Peissant, supported
this action of the 2nd. While that demonstration was in full activity,
the 2nd Corps to the west or left (not all of it was yet in the field)
retired on to the line Dour-Frameries, passing through Quaregnon. It
suffered some loss in this operation from the masses of the enemy,
which were pressing forward from Mons. When the 2nd Corps had thus
halted on the line Dour-Frameries, the 1st Corps, which had been
making the demonstration, took the opportunity to retire in its turn,
and fell back before the evening to a line stretching from Bavai to

[Illustration: Sketch 50.]

The 2nd Corps had entrenched itself, while the 1st Corps was thus
falling back upon its right; and when it came to the turn of the 2nd
Corps to play the part of rearguard in these alternate movements, the
effort proved to be one of grave peril.

[Illustration: Sketch 51.]

Since the whole movement of the enemy was an outflanking movement,
the pressure upon this left and extreme end of the line was
particularly severe. The German advance in such highly superior
numbers overlapped the two British corps to _their_ left or west,
which was at this moment the extreme end of the Allied Franco-British
line. They overlapped them as these pursuing Black units overlap the
lesser retiring White units. It is evident that in such a case the
last unit in the line at A will be suffering the chief burden of the
attack. An attempt was made to relieve that burden by sending the and
Cavalry Brigade in this direction to ride round the enemy's outlying
body; but the move failed, with considerable loss to the 9th Lancers
and the 18th Hussars, which came upon wire entanglements five hundred
yards from the enemy's position. There did arrive in aid of the
imperilled end of the line reinforcement in the shape of a new body.
One infantry brigade, the 19th, which had hitherto been upon the line
of communications, reached the army on this its central left near
Quarouble and a little behind that village before the morning was
spent. It was in line before evening. This reinforcement lent some
strength to the sorely tried 2nd Corps, but it had against it still
double its own strength in front, and half as much again upon its
exposed left or western flank, and it suffered heavily.

By the night of that Monday, the 24th of August, however, the whole of
the British Army was again in line, and stretched from Maubeuge, which
protected its right, through Bavai, on to the fields between the
villages of Jenlain and Bry, where the fresh 19th Infantry Brigade had
newly arrived before the evening, while beyond this extreme left again
was the cavalry.

The whole operation, then, of that perilous Monday, the first day of
the retreat, may be planned in general as in Sketch 52. At the
beginning, at daybreak, you have the three German army corps lying as
the shaded bodies are given opposite to the unshaded, which represent
the British contingent of not quite two full army corps. By nightfall
the British contingent, including now the 19th Brigade of infantry,
lay in the positions from Maubeuge westward, with the 1st Corps next
to Maubeuge, the 2nd Corps beyond Bavai, the 1st being commanded by
Sir Douglas Haig, the 2nd by Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien; while the
Germans lay more or less as the dotted shaded markings are.

The fortress of Maubeuge was, under these circumstances, clearly a
lure. An army in the field in danger of envelopment will always be
tempted to make for the nearest fortified zone in order to save
itself. The British commander was well advised in his judgment to
avoid this opportunity, and that for two reasons. First, that the
locking up of any considerable portion of the Anglo-French force in
its retirement would have jeopardized the chance of that
counter-offensive which the French hoped sooner or later to initiate;
secondly, that, as will be seen later, the works of Maubeuge were
quite insufficient to resist for more than a few days a modern siege

[Illustration: Sketch 52.]

This point of Maubeuge and of its fall must be discussed later; for
the moment all we need note is that the fortress afforded for a few
hours--that is, during the night of Monday to Tuesday, the 24th-25th
August--support to the British line during its first halt upon the
rapid and perilous retirement from Mons.

Meanwhile the whole of the French 5th Army had been falling back with
equal rapidity, and upon its right the 4th Army had followed soon; and
as this French retirement had preceded the retirement of the British,
its general line lay farther south.

On the other hand, from the nature of the topography in this section
of the Franco-Belgian border, the units of the French command had to
fall back farther and more rapidly in proportion as they stretched
eastward. The attack of the enemy in forces of rather more than two to
one had come, as we have seen, not only from across the line of the
Sambre, but, once Namur had fallen, from across the line of the Meuse
at right angles to the line of the Sambre. Therefore the 5th and the
4th Armies, contained within the triangle bounded by the Sambre and
Meuse, retiring from blows struck from the direction of the arrows 1-5
over all that hilly and wooded country known as the Thiérache, were,
as to the extreme salient of them at A, compelled to a very rapid
retirement indeed; and on this Sunday night the French line was
deflected southward, not without heavy losses, until either on that
night or on the Monday morning it joined up with the forces which
stretched northward through and from Mézières. An attempt to
counter-attack through the precipitous ravines and deep woods on to
the valley of the Semois had failed, and the line as a whole ran, upon
this night between the Sunday and the Monday, much as is indicated
upon the accompanying sketch.

[Illustration: Sketch 53.]

From this it will be seen that the British contingent away upon the
extreme left was in very grave peril, not only because the turning
movement was wholly directed round their exposed flank, but also
because, their retirement having come late, they stood too far forward
in the general scheme at this moment, and therefore more exposed to
the enemy's blow than the rest of the line. With this it must be
remembered Tournai had already fallen. It was very imperfectly held by
a French Territorial brigade, accompanied by one battery of English
guns; and the entering German force, in a superiority of anything you
like--two, three, or four to one--easily swept away the resistance
proffered in this quarter.

These German forces from Tournai had not yet, by the nightfall of
Monday, come up eastward against the British, but they were on the
way, and they might appear at any moment. The corps next to them, the
4th of von Kluck's five, was already operating upon that flank, and
the next day, Wednesday, 26th of August, was to be the chief day of
trial for this exposed British wing of the army.

So far the operations of the British Army had not differed greatly
from the expected or at least one of the expected developments of the

The operative corner, if it should not have the luck, through losses
or blunders on the part of the enemy, to take the counter-offensive
after receiving the third shock, is intended to retire, and to draw
upon itself a maximum of the enemy's efforts.

But between what had been intended as the most probable, and in any
case perilous, task of this body (which comprised, it will be
remembered, six French and ultimately two British army corps) turned
out, within twenty-four hours of the retreat, and within forty-eight
of the fall of Namur, to be an operation of a difficulty so extreme as
to imperil the whole campaign, and in this operation it was the
British force upon the outer left edge of the line--the unsupported
extremity round which the enemy made every effort to get--which was
bound to receive the severest treatment. This peculiar burden laid
upon the Expeditionary Force from this country was, of course, gravely
increased by the delay in beginning its retreat, which we have seen to
be due to the delay in the communication to it by the French of the
news of the fall of Namur. On account of this delay not only was the
extreme of the line which the British held immediately threatened with
outflanking, but it still lay somewhat forward of the rest of the
force. It was in danger of being turned round its exposed edge C, not
only because it lay on the extreme of the line, but also because,
instead of occupying its normal position, AB, which it would have
occupied had the retreat begun with all the rest, it actually occupied
the position CD, which made it far more likely to be surrounded than
if it had been a day's march farther back, as it would have been if
the French Staff work had suffered no delays.

[Illustration: Sketch 54.]

There lay in the gap formed by this untoward tardiness in the British
retirement, at the point M, the fortress of Maubeuge. It was
garrisoned by French reserves, or Territorial troops, not of the same
quality as the active army, and its defensive power was, even if the
old ring of fortress theory had proved sound, of very doubtful order.

The French 5th Army being no longer present to support the British
right, but having fallen back behind the alignment of that right,
General Sir John French had no support for what should have been his
secure flank save this fortress of Maubeuge, and it will be evident
from the above diagram that the enemy, should he succeed in
outflanking the British line, would compel it to fall back within the
ring of forts surrounding Maubeuge. To avoid destruction it would have
no alternative but to do that. For, counting the forces in front of it
and the forces trying to get round its back, it was fighting odds of
two to one.

Maubeuge was a stronghold that had played a great part in the
revolutionary war. Its resistance in the month of October 1793 had
made possible the French victory of Wattigines, just outside its
walls, and had, perhaps, done more than any other feat of arms in that
year to save the French Revolution from the allied governments of
Europe. It was, indeed, full of historic memories, from the moment
when Cæsar had defeated the Nervii upon the Sambre just to the west of
the town (his camp can still be traced in an open field above the
river bank) to the invasion of 1815.

But this rôle which it had played throughout French history had not
led to any illusion with regard to the rôle it might play in any
modern war; and at the best Maubeuge, in common with the other
ill-fortified points of the Belgian frontier, suffered from the only
error--and that a grave one--which their thorough unnational political
system had imposed upon the military plan of the French. This error
was the capital error of indecision. No consistent plan had been
adopted with regard to the fortification of the Belgian frontier.

The French had begun, after the recuperation following upon the war of
1870, an elaborate and very perfect system of fortification along
their German frontier--that is, along the new frontier which divided
the annexed territory of Alsace-Lorraine from the rest of the country.
They had taken it for granted that the next German attempt would be
made somewhere between Longwy and Belfort. And they had spent in this
scheme of fortification, first and last, the cost of a great campaign.
They had spent some three hundred million pounds; and it will be
possible for the reader to gauge the magnitude of this effort if he
will consider that it was a military operation more costly than was
the whole of the South African War to Great Britain, or of the
Manchurian War to Russia. The French were wise to have undertaken this
expense, because it had hitherto been an unheard-of offence against
European morals that one nation in Christendom should violate the
declared neutrality of another. And the attack upon Belgium as a means
of invading France by Germany had not then crossed the mind of any but
a few theorists who had, so to speak, "marched ahead" of the rapid
decline in our common religion which had marked now three

But when the French had completed this scheme of fortification, Europe
heard it proposed by certain authorities in Prussia that, as the cost
of invading France through the now fortified zone would be
considerable, the German forces should not hesitate to originate yet
another step in the breakdown of European morality, and to sacrifice
in their attack upon France the neutrality of Belgium, of which
Prussia was herself a guarantor.

Men have often talked during this war, especially in England, as
though the crime accompanying Prussian activities in the field were
normal to warfare; and this error is probably due to the fact that war
upon a large scale has never come home to the imagination of the
country, and that it is without experience of invasion.

Yet it is of the very first importance to appreciate the truth that
Prussia in this campaign has postulated in one point after another new
doctrines which repudiate everything her neighbours have held sacred
from the time when a common Christianity first began to influence the
states of Europe. The violation of the Belgian territory is on a par
with the murder of civilians in cold blood, and after admission of
their innocence, with the massacre of priests, and the sinking without
warning of unarmed ships with their passengers and crews. To regard
these things as something normal to warfare in the past is as
monstrous an historical error as it would be to regard the reign of
terror during the French Revolution as normal to civil disputes within
the State. And to appreciate such a truth is, I repeat, of especial
moment to the understanding of the mere military character of the
campaign. For if the violation of Belgium in particular had not been
the unheard of thing it was, the fortification of the Franco-Belgian
frontier with which we are here concerned would have had a very
different fortune.

As it was, the French could never quite make up their minds--or rather
the French parliamentarians could never make up their minds--upon the
amount of money that might wisely be expended in the defence of this
neutral border. There were moments when the opinion that Prussia
would be restrained by no fear of Europe prevailed among the
professional politicians of Paris. The fortification of the Belgian
frontier was undertaken in such moments; a full plan of it was drawn
up. But again doubt would succeed, the very large sums involved would
appal some new ministry, and the effort would be interrupted. To such
uncertainty of aim characteristic of parliamentary government in a
military nation was added, unfortunately, the consideration of the
line of the Meuse. Liége and Namur were fortresses of peculiar
strength, Antwerp was thought the strongest thing in Europe; and that
triangle was conceived, even by many who believed that the violation
of Belgian territory would take place, as affording a sufficient
barrier against the immediate invasion of France from the north-east.
Those who made this calculation did not forget that fortresses are
nothing without their full complement of men, guns, and stores; but
they could neither control, nor had they the elements properly to
appreciate, the deficiency of organization in a foreign and not
military country.

For all these causes Maubeuge, in common with other points along the
Belgian frontier less important than itself, was left imperfect. Even
if the ring fortress had remained after 1905 what it had been before
that date, and even if modern howitzer fire and modern high explosives
had not rendered its tenure one of days rather than months, Maubeuge
was not a first-class fortress. As it was, with fortifications
unrenewed, and with the ring fortress in any case doomed, Maubeuge was
a death-trap.

The rôle assigned to the fortress in the original French plan was no
more than the support of the retiring operative corner, as it
"retreated, manoeuvred, and held the enemy." Maubeuge was considered
as part of a line beyond which the operative corner would not have to
fall before the rest of the square, the "manoeuvring mass," had swung
up. Hence it was that the French General Staff and its Chief had put
within the ring of its insufficient forts nothing more than a garrison
of Territorials--that is, of the older classes of the reserve.

Had the British General accepted the lure of Maubeuge as Bazaine did
the lure of Metz in 1870, the Expeditionary Force would have been
destroyed. But it would have been destroyed, not after a long delay,
as was the army at Metz, but immediately; for Maubeuge was not Metz,
and the fortress power of resistance of to-day is not that of a
generation ago. Maubeuge, as a fact, fell within a fortnight of the
date when this temptation was offered to the sorely pressed British
army, and had that temptation been yielded to, the whole force would
have been, in a military sense, annihilated before the middle of

What preserved it was the immediate decision undertaken upon that
Monday night to proceed, in spite of the fatigues that were already
felt after the first day's retreat, with a retirement upon the
south-west, and to proceed with it as vigorously as possible.

It was not yet daylight upon the morning of Tuesday, August 25th, when
the move began. The Field-Marshal counted justly upon some exhaustion
in his immensely superior enemy, especially in those troops of his
upon the west (the 2nd German Corps) which had to perform the heavy
marching task of getting round the end of the British line. This
element, combined with the considerable distance which the British
marched that morning, saved the army; though not until another week of
almost intolerable suffering had passed, and not until very heavy
losses indeed had been sustained. The great Maubeuge-Bavai road, which
is prolonged to Eth, and which was, roughly, the British front of that
night, was cleared shortly after sunrise. A couple of brigades of
cavalry and the divisional cavalry of the 2nd Corps covered the
operation on the centre of the right, in front of the main body of the
2nd Corps, while the rest of the cavalry similarly covered the exposed
western edge and corner of the line.

Delays, with the criticism of which this short summary has no concern,
had forbidden the whole force which should have been present with the
British Army in Flanders at the outset of the campaign to arrive in
time, and the contingents that had already come up had taken the
shock, as we have already described, in the absence of the 4th
Division. This 4th Division had only begun to detrain from the
junction at Le Cateau at the same hour that General Sir John French
was reading that Sunday message which prompted his immediate
retirement from before Mons. When the full official history of the war
comes to be written, few things will prove of more credit to the
Expeditionary Force and its command than the way in which this belated
division--belated through no fault of the soldiers--was incorporated
with the already existing organization, in the very midst of its
retreat, and helped to support the army. There are few parallels in
history to the successful accomplishment of so delicate and perilous
an operation.

At any rate, in less than forty-eight hours after its arrival, the 4th
Division--eleven battalions and a brigade of artillery--were
incorporated with the British line just as the whole force was falling
back upon this Tuesday morning, the 25th; and the newly arrived
division of fresh men did singular service in the further covering of
the retirement. General Snow, who was in command of this division,
was deployed upon a line running from just south of Solesmes, on the
right, to a point just south of La Chatrie, upon the road from Cambrai
to Le Cateau, upon his left; and, as will be seen by the accompanying
sketch map, such a line effectually protected the falling back of the
rest of the force. Behind it the 1st and the 2nd British Corps fell
back upon the line Cambrai to Landrecies. The small inset map shows
how the various points in this two days' retreat stood to one another.

[Illustration: Sketch 55.]

This line from Landrecies towards Cambrai had already been in part
prepared in the course of that day--Tuesday--and entrenched, and it
may be imagined what inclination affected commanders and men towards
a halt upon that position. The pressure had been continuous and heavy,
the work of detraining and setting in line the newly arrived division
had added to the anxieties of the day, and an occupation of the
prepared line seemed to impose itself. Luckily, the unwisdom of such a
stand in the retirement was perceived in time, and the British
Commander decided not to give his forces rest until some considerable
natural object superior to imperfect and hurriedly constructed
trenches could be depended upon to check the enemy's advance. The
threat of being outflanked was still very grave, and the few hours'
halt which would have been involved in the alternative decision might,
or rather would, have been fatal.

The consequences, however, to the men of this decision in favour of
continual retirement were severe. The 1st Corps did not reach
Landrecies till ten o'clock at night. They had been upon the move for
eighteen hours; but even so, the enemy, in that avalanche of advance
(which was possible to him, as we now know, by the organization of
mechanical transport), was well in touch. The Guards in Landrecies
itself (the 4th Brigade) were attacked by the advance body of the 9th
German Army Corps, which came on in overwhelming numbers right into
the buildings of the town, debouching from the wood to the north under
cover of the darkness. Their effort was unsuccessful. They did not
succeed in piercing or even in decisively confusing the British line
at this point; and, packed in the rather narrow street of Landrecies,
the enemy suffered losses equivalent to a battalion in that desperate
night fighting. But though the enemy here failed to achieve his
purpose, his action compelled the continued retreat of men who were
almost at the limit of exhaustion, and who had now been marching and
fighting for the better part of twenty-four hours.

In that same darkness the 1st Division, under Sir Douglas Haig, was
heavily engaged south-east of Maroilles. They obtained ultimately the
aid of two French reserve divisions which lay upon the right of the
British line, and extricated themselves from the peril they were in
before dawn. By daylight this 1st Corps was still continuing its
retirement in the direction of Wassigny, with Guise as its objective.

[Illustration: Sketch 56.]

Meanwhile the 2nd Corps, which had not been so heavily attacked, and
which lay to the west--that is, still upon the extreme of the
line--had come, before the sunset of that Tuesday, the 25th, into a
line stretching from Le Cateau to near Caudry, and thence prolonged by
the 4th Division towards Seranvillers.

[Illustration: Sketch 57.]

It will be seen that this line was bent--its left refused. This
disposition was, of course, designed to meet the ceaseless German
attempt to outflank on the west; and with the dawn of Wednesday, the
26th, it was already apparent how serious would be the task before
this 2nd Corps, which covered all the rest of the army, and, in a
sense, the whole of the Anglo-French retirement. General Sir Horace
Smith-Dorrien, who was here in command, was threatened with a disaster
that might carry in its train disaster to the whole British
contingent, and ultimately, perhaps, to the whole Franco-British line.

Although the German bodies which were attempting the outflanking had
not yet all come up, the field artillery of no less than four German
corps was already at work against this one body, and a general action
was developing upon which might very well depend the fate of the
campaign. Indeed, the reader will do well to fix his attention upon
this day, Wednesday, the 26th August, as the key to all that followed.
There are always to be found, in the history of war, places and times
which are of this character--nuclei, as it were, round which the
business of all that comes before and after seems to congregate. Of
such, for instance, was the Friday before Waterloo, when Erlon's
counter-orders ultimately decided the fate of Napoleon; and of such
was Carnot's night march on October 15, 1793, which largely decided
the fate of the revolutionary army.

The obvious action to take in such a position as that in which the 2nd
Corps found themselves was to break contact with the enemy, to call
for support from the 1st Corps, and to maintain the retreat as
indefatigably as it had already been maintained in the preceding
twenty-four hours.

But men have limits to their physical powers, which limits commonly
appear sharply, not gradually, at the end of a great movement. The 1st
Corps had been marching and fighting a day and a night, and that after
a preceding whole day of retirement from before Mons. It was unable to
execute a further effort. Further, the general in command of the 2nd
Corps reported that the German pressure had advanced too far to permit
of breaking contact in the face of such an attack.

It would have been of the utmost use if at this moment a large body of
French cavalry--no less than three divisions--under General Sordet,
could have intervened upon that critical moment, the morning of
Wednesday, the 26th, to have covered the retirement of the 1st Corps.
They were in the neighbourhood; the British commander had seen their
commander in the course of the 25th, and had represented his need.
Through some error or misfortune in the previous movement of this
corps--such that its horses were incapable of further action through
fatigue--it failed to appear upon the field in this all-important
juncture, and General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien was left facing
overwhelming odds, which in artillery--the arm that was doing all the
heavy work of that morning--were not less than four to one.

The fact that the retirement was at last made possible was due more
than anything else to the handling of the British guns upon this day,
and to the devotion with which the batteries sacrificed themselves to
the covering of that movement; while the cavalry, as in the preceding
two days, co-operated in forming a screen for the retreat.

It was about half-past three in the afternoon when the general in
command of this exposed left flank judged it possible to break
contact, and to give the order for falling back. The experiment--for
it seems to have been no more secure than such a word suggests--was
perilous in the extreme. It was not known whether the consequences of
this fierce artillery duel against an enemy of four-fold superiority
had been sufficient to forbid that enemy to make good the pursuit.
Luckily, as the operation developed, it was apparent that the check
inflicted upon such enormous odds by the British guns was sufficient
for its purpose. The enemy had received losses that forbade him to
move with the rapidity necessary to him if he was to decide the
matter. He failed to press the retiring 2nd British Corps in any
conclusive fashion: this 2nd Corps, the left wing, was saved; and with
it the whole army, and perhaps the whole line.

The retreat of this body, which had thus covered all its comrades,
continued under terrible conditions of strain (and after so heavy an
action) right through the afternoon, and on hour after hour through
the darkness; but though such an effort meant the loss of stragglers
and of wounded, of guns whose teams had been destroyed, of material,
and of all that accompanies a perilous retreat, one may justly say
that well before midnight of that Wednesday, the 26th, the operation
had proved successful and its purpose was accomplished.

Two more days of almost equal strain were, as we shall see, to be
suffered by the whole army before it had reached a natural obstacle
behind which it could draw breath (the river Oise), and might fairly
be regarded as no longer in peril of destruction; but the breaking
point that had come on that Wednesday, the 26th, had been successfully
passed without disaster, and had been so passed, in the main, by
virtue of the guns.

This critical day, upon which depended the fortunes certainly of the
British contingent, and in some degree of all the "operative corner"
of the French plan, turned in favour of the Allies, not only through
the military excellence of the action which was broken off by Sir
Horace Smith-Dorrien during the afternoon, but also through the vigour
and tenacity of the retreat.

I must here beg the reader's leave for a short digression in
connection with those two phrases--"in favour of," and "vigour."
History in general treats a retirement, particularly a rapid
retirement accompanied by heavy losses, as a disaster; and the
conception that such a movement may seem to the military historian a
success, and that the energy of its conduct is just as important as
the energy of an assault, is unfamiliar to most students of civilian
record. But I am writing here, though an elementary, yet a military
history; and to the military historian a retreat may be just as much a
factor in victory as an advance; while the energy and tenacity
required for its carriage are, if anything, more important than the
corresponding qualities required for an advance. And in the case of
this critical day and a half, the Wednesday, August 26th, and the
Wednesday and Thursday night, August 26th-27th, the preservation of
the British forces, and to some extent of all that lay east of them,
was made possible by the very fact that the retirement was prosecuted
with the utmost rapidity and without a halt. Had the retreat been
interrupted in the hope of making a stand, or in the hope of repose,
the whole army would have gone.

Throughout the night, then, with heavy losses from stragglers, and in
one case with the surrounding and annihilation by wounds and capture
of nearly a whole battalion (the Gordons), the retreat of the 2nd
Corps proceeded, and, in line with it, the retreat of the 1st Corps to
the east.

But this 1st Corps, though set an easier task than the 2nd (which, at
the extreme of the line, was under the perpetual menace of
development), did not retire without losses of a serious character. It
was marching on Guise, just as the 2nd Corps to the west of it was
marching across the watershed to St. Quentin. The Munster Fusiliers,
who were on its extreme right, had halted for the night on that same
evening of the 26th; for the 1st Corps, being less hard pressed, had
more leisure for such repose. During the night a messenger was sent to
this body with orders for the resumption of the march next morning. He
was taken prisoner, and never reached his goal. The Munsters were
attacked at dawn by the German pursuit in greatly superior numbers,
surrounded and destroyed, as the Gordons of the 2nd Corps had been;
the unwounded remnant was compelled to surrender.

[Illustration: Sketch 58.]

The whole of Thursday, the 27th, and Friday, the 28th of August, the
British retreat continued, the 1st Corps following on at the valley of
the Oise towards La Fère, while the 2nd Corps to the west passed St.
Quentin, and made for Noyon, in the neighbourhood of the same river
farther down; and on the night of that Friday the Expeditionary Force
was at last in line, and in some kind of order, organized for the
first breathing space possible after so terrible an ordeal.

[Illustration: Sketch 59.]

It is clear from the accompanying sketch map that the position the
British had now reached gave to the whole Allied force a bent contour.
The French armies to the east lay along line AB, which, had it been
directly prolonged, would have stretched towards C; but the British
contingent, which, on account of its extreme position, had suffered
most heavily, was turned right back on the scheme AD, and even so,
was still in some peril of being outflanked by the German forces along
the arrow (1) to the west of it. At this moment the French, whose
fortunes we shall next describe, found it possible to check the fury
of the pursuit. The drive of the German masses, which had so nearly
annihilated the British end of the line, was blocked, and the
remainder of the great retreat followed a more orderly fashion,
proceeded at a much slower rate, and approached that term at which a
counter-offensive might be attempted.

The whole process may be compared to the flood of a very rapid tide,
which, after the first few hours, is seen to relax its speed
considerably, and to promise in the immediate future an ebb.

In order to appreciate how this was, let us next consider what the
larger French forces to the east of the British had been doing. There
are no details available, very few published records, and it will not
be possible until an official history of the war appears to give more
than the most general sketch of the French movements in this retreat;
but the largest lines are sufficient for our judgment of the result.

It will be remembered that what I have called "the operative corner"
of the Allied army had stood in the angle between the Sambre and the
Meuse. It had consisted in the British contingent upon the left, or
west, in front of Mons; the 5th French Army, composed of three army
corps, under Lanrezac, to the east of it, along the Sambre, past
Charleroi; and the 4th French Army, also of three army corps, under
Langle, along the Middle Meuse, being in general disposition what we
have upon the accompanying sketch. It had been attacked upon Saturday,
the 22nd August, by seventeen German army corps--that is, by forces
double its own. On that same day Namur, at the corner, had fallen into
complete possession of the Germans, the French retreat had begun, and
on the following day the English force had, after the regrettable
delay of half a day, also begun its retirement.

We have seen that the British retirement (following the dotted lines
upon Sketch 60) had reached, upon the Friday night, the position from
Noyon to La Fère, marked also in dots upon the sketch.

What had happened meanwhile to their French colleagues upon the east?

[Illustration: Sketch 60.]

The first thing to note is that the fortress of Maubeuge, with its
garrison of reserve and second line men, had, of course, been at once
invested by the Germans when the British and French line had fallen
behind it and left it isolated. The imperfection of this fortress I
have already described, and the causes of that imperfection. Maubeuge
commanded the great railway line leading from Belgium to Paris, which
is the main avenue of supply for an invasion or for a retreat, running
north-east to south-west on the Belgian frontier upon the capital.

The 5th French Army retired parallel to the British along the belt
marked in Sketch Map 60 by diagonal lines. At first, as its retirement
had begun earlier, it was behind, or to the south of, the British, who
were thus left almost unsupported. It lay, for instance, on Monday,
the 24th, much along the position 1, at which moment the British Army
was lying along the position 2. That was the day on which the Germans
attempted to drive the British into Maubeuge.

But during the succeeding two days the French 5th Army (to which the
five corps, including the Prussian Guard, under Buelow, were opposed)
held the enemy fairly well. They were losing, of course, heavily in
stragglers, in abandoned wounded, and in guns; but their retreat was
sufficiently strongly organized to keep this section of the line well
bent up northwards, and just before the British halted for their first
breathing space along the line La Fère and Noyon, the French 5th Army
attempted, and succeeded in, a sharp local attack against the superior
forces that were pursuing them. This local attack was undertaken from
about the position marked 3 on Sketch 60, and was directed against
Guise. It was undertaken by the 1st and 3rd French Corps, under
General Maunoury. He, acting under Lanrezac, gave such a blow to the
Prussian Guard that he here bent the Prussian line right in.

Meanwhile the 4th French Army, which had also been retiring rapidly
parallel to the 5th French Army, lay in line with it to the east along
that continuation of 3 which I have marked with a 4 upon the sketch.
Farther east the French armies, linking up the operative corner with
the Alsace-Lorraine frontier, had also been driven back from the Upper
Meuse, and upon Friday, the 28th of August, when the British halt had
come between La Fère and Noyon (a line largely protected by the
Oise), the whole disposition of the Allied forces between the
neighbourhood of Verdun and Noyon was much what is laid down in the
accompanying sketch. At A were the British; at B the successful
counter-offensive of the French 5th Army had checked and bent back the
Prussian centre under von Buelow; at C, the last section of what had
been the old operative corner, the army under Langle was thrust back
to the position here shown, and pressed there by the Wurtembergers and
the Saxons opposed to it. Meanwhile further French forces, D and E,
had also been driven back from the Upper Meuse, and were retiring with
Verdun as a pivot, leaving isolated the little frontier town of
Longwy. This was not seriously fortified, had held out with only
infantry work and small pieces, and had not been thought worthy of
attack by a siege train. It surrendered to the Crown Prince upon
Friday, 28th August.

[Illustration: Sketch 61.]

[Illustration: Sketch 62.]

On that date, then, the two opposing lines might be compared, the one
to a great encircling arm AA, the elbow of which was bent at Guise,
the other to a power BB which had struck into the hollow of the elbow,
and might expect, with further success, to bend the arm so much more
at that point as to embarrass its general sweep.

Those who saw the position as a whole on this Friday, the 28th of
August, wondered whether or not the French Commander-in-chief would
order the continuation of the successful local attack at Guise, and so
attempt to break the whole German line. He did not give this order,
and his reasons for retiring in the face of such an opportunity may be
briefly stated thus:--

1. The French forces in line from Verdun to La Fère, and continued by
the British contingent to the neighbourhood of Noyon, were still
gravely inferior to the German forces opposed to them. Even,
therefore, if the French success at Guise had been pushed farther, and
had actually broken the German line, either half of the French line
upon either side of the forward angle would have been heavily
outnumbered by the two limbs of the enemy opposed to each, and that
enemy might perfectly well have defeated, though separated, each
portion of the force opposed to it.

2. To the west, at the position FF on Sketch 62, were acting large
bodies of the enemy, which had swept, almost without meeting
resistance, through Arras to Amiens. Against that advance there was
nothing but small garrisons of French Territorials, which were brushed
aside without difficulty.

Now these bodies, though they were mainly of cavalry which were
operating thus to the west, had already cut the main line of
communications from Boulogne, upon which the British had hitherto
depended, and were close enough to the Allied left flank to threaten
it with envelopment, or, rather, to come up in aid of von Kluck at A,
and make certain what he already could regard as probable--his power
to get round the British, and turn the whole left of the Allied line.

3. More important even than these two first conclusive considerations
was the fact that the French Commander-in-chief, had he proposed to
follow up this success of his subordinate at Guise, would have had to
change the whole of his general plan, and to waste, or at best to
delay, the action of his chief factor in that plan. This chief factor
was the great manoeuvring mass behind the French line which had not
yet come into play, and the advent of which, at a chosen moment, was
the very soul of the French strategy.

It is so essential to the comprehension of the campaign to seize this
last point that, at the risk of repetition, I will restate for the
reader the main elements of that strategy.

[Illustration: Sketch 63.]

I have called it in the earlier pages of this book "the open strategic
square," and I have shown how this theoretical arrangement was in
practice complicated and modified so that it came to mean, under the
existing circumstances of the campaign, the deliberate thrusting forth
of the fraction called "the operative corner," behind which larger
masses, "the mass of manoeuvre," were to come up in aid and assume the
general counter-offensive when the operative corner should have drawn
the enemy down to that position in which such a general
counter-offensive would be most efficacious.

To concentrate the great mass of manoeuvre was a business of some
days, and having ordered its concentration in one district, it would
be impossible to change the plan at a moment's notice. The district
into which a great part of this mass of manoeuvre had been
concentrated--or, rather, was in course of concentration at this
moment, the 28th August--was the district behind and in the
neighbourhood of Paris. It lay far from the scene of operation at
Guise. It was intended to come into play only when the general retreat
should have reached a line stretching from Verdun to the neighbourhood
of Paris itself. To have pursued the success at Guise, therefore,
would have been to waste all this great concentration of the mass of
manoeuvre which lay some days behind the existing line, and in
particular to waste the large body which was being gathered behind and
in the neighbourhood of Paris.

With these three main considerations in mind, and in particular the
third, which was far the most important, General Joffre determined to
give up the advantage obtained at Guise, to order the two successful
army corps under Maunoury, who had knocked the Prussian Guard at that
point, to retire, and to continue the general retreat until the Allied
line should be evenly stretched from Paris to Verdun. The whole
situation may be put in a diagram as follows: You have the Allied line
in an angle, ABC. You have opposed to it the much larger German forces
in a corresponding angle, DEF. Farther east you have a continuation of
the French line, more or less immovable, on the fortified frontier of
Alsace-Lorraine at M, opposed by a greater immovable German force at
N. At P you have coming up as far as Amiens large German bodies
operating in the west, and at Q a small newly-formed French body, the
6th French Army, supporting the exposed flank of the British
contingent at A, near Noyon. Meanwhile you have directed towards S,
behind Paris, and coming up at sundry other points, a concentration of
the mass of manoeuvre.

[Illustration: Sketch 64.]

It is evident that if the French offensive at B which has successfully
pushed in the German elbow at E round Guise is still sent forward, and
even succeeds in breaking the German line at E, "the elbow," the two
limbs into which the Germans will be divided, DE and EF, are each
superior in number to the forces opposed to them, and that DE in
particular, with the help of P, may very probably turn AB and its new
small supporter at Q, roll it up, and begin a decisive victory, while
the other large German force, EF, may press back or pierce the smaller
opposed French force, BC.

Meanwhile you would not only be risking this peril, but you would also
be wasting your great mass of manoeuvre, SS, which is still in process
of concentration, most of it behind Paris, and which could not
possibly come into play in useful time at E.

It is far better to pursue the original plan to continue the retreat
as far as the dotted line from Paris to Verdun, where you will have
the whole German force at its farthest limit of effort and
corresponding exhaustion, and where you will have, after the salutary
delay of the few intervening days, your large mass of manoeuvre, SS,
close by to Paris and ready to strike.

From such a diagram we see the wisdom of the decision that was taken
to continue the retirement, and the fruits which that decision was to

The whole episode is most eminently characteristic of the French
military temper, which has throughout the whole of French history
played this kind of game, and invariably been successful when it has
attained success from a concentration of energy upon purely military
objects and a sacrificing of every domestic consideration to the
single object of victory in foreign war.

It is an almost invariable rule in French history that when the
military temper of the nation is allowed free play its success is
assured, and that only when the cross-current of a political object
disturbs this temper do the French fail, as they failed in 1870, as
they failed in 1812, or as they failed in the Italian expeditions of
the Renaissance. By geographical accident, coupled with the
conditions, economic and other, to which their aggression gives rise,
the French are nearly always numerically inferior at the beginning of
a campaign. They have almost invariably begun their great wars with
defeats and retirements. They have only succeeded when a patient,
tenacious, and consistently military policy has given them the
requisite delay to achieve a defensive-offensive plan. It was so
against Otto the Second a thousand years ago; it was so in the wars of
the Revolution; it was so in this enormous campaign of 1914. There is
in their two thousand years of constant fighting one great and
salutary exception to the rule--their failure against Cæsar; from
which failure they date the strength of their Roman tradition--still

       *       *       *       *       *

The minor fortified posts lying behind the French line were not
defended. Upon 29th August the French centre fell back behind Rethel,
the Germans crossed the Aisne, occupied Rheims and Châlons, while the
British contingent on the left and the French 6th Army now protecting
its flank continued also to fall back towards Paris. And on Sedan day,
2nd September, we may regard the great movement as having reached its

The German advance had nowhere hesitated, save at Guise, and the
French retirement after their success at Guise can only have seemed to
the German commanders a further French defeat. Those commanders knew
their overwhelming numerical superiority against the total of the
Allied forces--a superiority of some 60 per cent. They may have
guessed that the French were keeping a considerable reserve; but in
their imagination that reserve was thought far less than it really
was, for they could hardly believe that under the strain of the great
retreat the French commanders would have had the implacable fortitude
which permitted them to spare for further effort the reinforcements of
which the retiring army seemed in vital and even in despairing need.

Upon this anniversary of Sedan day it cannot but have appeared to the
Great General Staff of the enemy that the purpose of their great
effort in the West was already achieved.

They had reached the gates of Paris. They had, indeed, not yet
destroyed the enemy's main army in the field, but they had swept up
garrison after garrison; they had captured, perhaps, 150,000 wounded
and unwounded men; their progress had been that of a whirlwind, and
had been marked by a bewildering series of incessant victories. They
were now in such a situation that either they could proceed to the
reduction of the forts outside Paris (to which their experience of
their hitherto immediate reduction of every other permanent work left
them contemptuous), or they could proceed to break at will the
insufficient line opposed to them.

[Illustration: Sketch 65.]

They stood, on this anniversary of Sedan, in the general situation
apparent on the accompanying sketch. The 6th French Army was forced
back right upon the outer works of Paris; the British contingent, to
its right, lay now beyond the Marne; the 5th French Army, to its right
again, close along the Seine; the 4th and 3rd continuing the great bow
up to the neighbourhood of Verdun, three-quarters of the way round
which fortress the Crown Prince had now encircled; and in front of
this bent line, in numbers quite double its effectives, pressed the
great German front over 150 miles of French ground. Upon the left or
west of the Allies--the German right--stood the main army of von
Kluck, the 1st, with its supporters to the north and west, that had
already pressed through Amiens. Immediately to the east of this, von
Buelow, with the 2nd Army, continued the line. The Saxons and the
Wurtembergers, a 3rd Army, pressed at the lowest point of the curve in
occupation of Vitry. To the east, again, beyond and in the Argonne,
the army of the Crown Prince of Prussia was upon the point of reducing
Verdun, the permanent works of which fortress had already suffered the
first days of that bombardment from the new German siege train which
had hitherto at every experiment completely destroyed the defence in a
few hours. If we take for the terminal of this first chapter in the
Great War the morning of 4th September, we may perceive how nearly the
enemy had achieved his object, to which there now stood as a threat
nothing more but the French reserves, unexpected in magnitude, though
their presence was already discovered, which had for the most part
been gathered in the neighbourhood of and behind the fortified zone of

With this position, of what it meant in immediate alternatives to the
enemy, I will deal a few pages on at the close of this book, when I
will also consider in one conspectus on the map the whole of that ten
days' sweep down from the north, and summarize its effect upon the
Allied attitude towards the next phase of the war.

But to understand a campaign, one must seize not only the
topographical positions of troops, nor only their number: one must
also gauge the temper of their commanders and of the political opinion
at home behind them, for upon this moral factor everything ultimately
depends. The men that fight are living men, and the motive power is
the soul.

It is, therefore, necessary for the reader to appreciate at this
terminal date, September 2-4, the moral strength of the enemy, and to
comprehend in what mood of confidence the Germans now lay. With this
object we must add to the story of the advance on Paris the subsidiary
events which had accompanied that great sweep into the West. We must
turn to the "holding up of Russia" upon the East by the Austrian
forces, and see how the partial failure of this effort (news of which
was just reaching the Western armies) was quite eclipsed by the
splendid tidings of Tannenberg. We must see with German eyes the
secondary but brilliant victory in front of Metz; we must stand in
their shoes to feel as they did the clearing of Alsace, and to
comprehend with what contempt they must have watched the false picture
of the war which the governments and the press of the Allies,
particularly in Britain, presented to public opinion in their doomed
territories; and we must, in general, grasp the now apocalyptic temper
of the nervous, over-strained industrialized population which is the
tissue of modern Germany.

Not until we have a good general aspect of that mood can we understand
either the war at this turning-point in its fortunes, or the future
developments which will be traced in the succeeding volumes of this

I will, therefore, now turn to the three main elements productive of
that mood in their historical order: the Battle of Metz, the Austrian
operations against Russia, and, lastly, the great victory of
Tannenberg in East Prussia, before concluding this volume with a
summary of the whole situation in those first days of September, just
before the tide turned.


The Battle of Metz, though quite subsidiary to the general operations
of the war, and upon a scale which later operations have dwarfed, will
be mentioned with special emphasis in any just account of the great
war on account of its moral significance.

It took place before the main shock of the armies; it had no decisive
effect upon the future of the campaign; but it was of the very highest
weight, informing the German mind, and leading it into that attitude
of violent exaltation on which I shall later insist in these pages,
and which largely determined all the first months of the war, with
their enormous consequences for the future. For the action in front of
Metz was the first pitched battle fought in Western Europe during our
generation, and to an unexpected degree it fulfilled in its narrow
area all the dreams upon which military Germany had been nourished for
forty years. It thrilled the whole nation with the news, at the very
outset of hostilities, of a sharp and glorious victory; it seemed a
presage of far more to come. The Battle of Metz was the limited
foundation upon which was rapidly erected that triumphant mood that
lasted long after the tide had turned, and that matured, when bad
blundering had lost the victory in the West, into the unsoldierly,
muddled hope that could fail to win, and yet somehow not lose, a

We have seen that the disposition of the French armies at the moment
when the shock was being delivered through Belgium involved along the
frontiers of Alsace-Lorraine the presence of considerable forces.
These, once the operative corner had taken the shock, formed part of
the mass of manoeuvre, and were destined in large part to swing up in
aid of the men retreating from the Sambre.

But in the very first days of the war, before the main blow had
fallen, and when the French General Staff were still in doubt as to
precisely where the blow _would_ fall, considerable bodies had been
operating in Alsace and over the Lorraine frontier. The whole range of
the Vosges was carried in the second week after the British
declaration of war--that is, between 10th August and 15th August.
Mulhouse was occupied; upon Monday, the 17th of August, Saarburg, the
most important railway junction between Strassburg and Metz, was in
French hands. Up to that date, though such comparatively small forces
were involved, the French had possessed a very decisive numerical
superiority. It was not destined to last, for there was moving down
from the north the now mobilized strength of Germany in this region;
and a blow struck against the French left, with no less than four
army corps, was speedily to decide the issue upon this subsidiary

[Illustration: Sketch 66.]

This great force was based upon Metz, from which fortress the action
will presumably take its name in history. It stretched upon the 20th
of August from the north of Pont-à-Mousson to beyond Château Salins.
Before this overwhelming advance the French left rapidly retired. It
did not retire quickly enough, and one portion of the French force--it
is believed the 15th Division (that is, the first division of the 15th
Army Corps)--failed in its task of supporting the shock.

Details of the action are wholly lacking. We depend even for what may
be said at this date upon little more than rumour. The Germans claimed
a capture of ten batteries and of the equivalent of as many
battalions, and many colours. Upon the 21st the whole French left fell
back, carrying with them as a necessary consequence the centre in the
Vosges Mountains and the right upon the plains of Alsace. So rapid was
the retreat that upon the 22nd of August the Bavarians were at
Lunéville, and marching on Nancy; the extreme right of the German line
had come within range of the forts north of Toul; and in those same
hours during which, on that same Saturday, the 22nd of August, the 5th
French Army in the north fell back at the news of Namur and lost the
Sambre, those forces on the borders of Alsace-Lorraine had lost all
the first advantages of their thrust into the lost provinces, had
suffered defeat in the first striking action of the war, and had put
Nancy in peril.

Nancy itself was saved. The French counter-offensive was organized on
the 23rd of August, at a moment when the German line lay from St. Dié
northwards and westwards up to positions just in front of Nancy. It
was delivered about a week later. That counter-offensive which
ultimately saved Nancy belongs to the next volume, for it did not
develop its strength until after Sedan Day, and after the end of the
great sweep on Paris.

The situation, then, in this field (the very names of which have such
great moral effects upon the French and the German minds) was, by the
2nd of September, as follows:--

The French had suffered in the first considerable action of the war a
disaster. They had lost their foothold in the annexed provinces. They
had put the capital of French Lorraine, Nancy, in instant peril. They
had fallen back from the Vosges. They were beginning, with grave
doubts of its success, a counter-offensive, to keep the enemy, if
possible, from entering Nancy. They had lost thousands of men, many
colours, and scores of guns, and all Germany was full of the news.


The foundation of the Germanic plan upon the Eastern front at the
origin of the war was, as we have said, the holding up of Russia
during her necessarily slow mobilization, while the decisive stroke
was delivered in the West.

That is the largest view of the matter.

In more detail, we know that the main part of this task was entrusted
to the Austro-Hungarian forces. The German forces had indeed entered
and occupied the west fringe of Russian Poland, seizing the small
industrial belt which lies immediately east of Silesia, and the two
towns of Czestochowa and Kalish--the latter, in the very centre of the
bend of the frontier, because it was a big railway depot, and, as it
were, a gage of invasion; the former, both because the holding of one
line demanded it (if Kalish and the industrial portion were held), and
because Czestochowa being the principal shrine of the Poles, some
strange notion may have passed through the German mind that the
presence therein of Prussian officers would cajole the Poles into an
action against Russia. If this were part of the motive (and probably
it was), it would be a parallel to many another irony in the present
campaign and its preliminaries, proceeding from the incapacity of the
enemy to gauge the subtler and more profound forces of a civilization
to which it is a stranger.

[Illustration: Sketch 67.]

This local German move was almost entirely political. The main task,
as I have said, was left to the Austrians farther south; and,
proceeding to further detail, we must see the Austrians stretched in a
line from near the middle Carpathians past the neighbourhood of
Tomasow towards Tarnow, and this line distinctly divided into two
armies, a northern and a southern. The two met in an angle in front of
the great fortress of Przemysl. The northern, or first, army faced, as
will be seen, directly towards the Russian frontier. It was the
operative wing; upon its immediate action and on the rapidity of the
blow it was to deliver depended the success of this first chapter in
the Eastern war.

[Illustration: Sketch 68.]

The southern, or second, army, which stretched all along the Galician
plain at the foot of the Carpathians to the town of Halicz, had for
its mission the protection of the first army from the south. It was
known, or expected, that the first army would advance right into
Russian Poland, with but inferior forces in front of it. It was
feared, however, that the main Russian concentration to the south-east
of it might turn its right flank. The business of the second army was
to prevent this. The first army (I), being the operative body, was
more homogeneous in race, more picked in material than the second
(II), the latter containing many elements from the southern parts of
the empire, including perhaps not a few disaffected contingents, such
as certain regiments of Italian origin from the Adriatic border.

So far as we can judge, perhaps--and it is a very rough estimate--we
may put the whole body which Austria-Hungary was thus moving in the
first phase of the war beyond the Carpathians at more than 750,000,
but less than 1,000,000 men. Call the mass 800,000, and one would not
be far wrong. Of this mass quite a quarter lay in reserve near the
mountains behind the first army. The remaining three-quarters, or
600,000 men, were fairly evenly divided between the two groups of the
first and of the second army--the first, or northern, one being under
the command of Dankl, the second under that of von Auffenberg. Each
of these forces was based upon one group of depots of particular
importance, the northern operative army (I) relying upon Przemysl, and
the southern one (II) upon Lemberg.

It was less than a week after the first German advance bodies had
taken the outer forts of Liége when Dankl crossed the frontier,
heading, with his centre, towards Krosnik and farther towards Lublin.
His troops were in Russian territory upon the Monday evening or the
Tuesday, 10th-11th August.

The second army meanwhile stood fulfilling its rôle of awaiting and
containing any Russians that might strike in upon the south. It had
advanced no more than watching bodies towards the frontier, such as
the 35th Regiment of the Austrian Landwehr, which occupied Sokal, and
smaller units cordonned out southward between that town and Brody.
Here, at the outset of the large operations that were to follow, it is
important for the reader to note that everything depended upon the
resisting power of the second, or southern, army.

Observe the problem. Two men, a left-hand man and a right-hand man,
go out to engage two other men whom they hope and believe to be
unready. The left-hand man is particularly confident of being able to
drive back his opponent, but he knows that sooner or later upon his
right the second enemy, a stronger man, may come in and disturb his
action. He says therefore to his right-hand companion: "Stand firm and
engage and contain the energy of your opponent until I have finished
with mine. When I have done that, I shall turn round towards you, and
between us we will finish the second man."

Seeing the paucity of Russian communications, and the physical
necessity under which the Russians were, on account of the position of
their depots and centres of mobilization, of first putting the mass of
their men on the south, the physical impossibility under which they
lay of putting the mass of their men in the north for the moment, the
plan was a sound one; _but_ its success depended entirely upon the
tenacity of the second Austrian army, which would have to meet large,
and might have to meet superior, numbers.

The first army went forward with very little loss and against very
little resistance. The Russian forces which were against it, which we
may call the first Russian army, were inferior in number, and fell
back, though not rapidly, towards the Bug. It relied to some extent in
this movement upon the protection afforded by the forts of Zamosc, but
it was never in any serious danger until, or unless, things went wrong
in the south. The Austrians remained in contact (but no more), turned
somewhat eastward in order to keep hold of the foe, when their advance
was checked by the news, first of unexpected Russian strength, later
of overwhelming Russian advances towards the south. Long before the
third week in August, the first Austrian army was compelled to check
its advance upon the news reaching it from the second, and its
fortunes, in what it had intended to be a successful invasion of
Russian Poland, had ended. For the whole meaning of the first Galician
campaign turns after the 14th of August upon the great Russian advance
in the south.

It was upon that day, August 14, that the Russian force, under General
Russky (which we will call the second army), crossed the frontier.
Its right occupied Sokal, its centre left moved in line with the right
upon von Auffenberg's force directly before it.

The Russian mobilization had proceeded at a greater pace than the
enemy had allowed for. The Russian numbers expected in this field
appeared in far greater strength than this expectation had allowed
for, and it was soon apparent that von Auffenberg's command would have
to resist very heavy pressure.

But it would be an error to imagine, as was too hastily concluded in
the press of Western Europe at the time, that this pressure upon the
front of the second Austrian army, with its dogged day after day
fighting and mile by mile advance, was the principal deciding factor
in the issue. That deciding factor was, in fact, the appearance upon
the right flank of von Auffenberg of yet another Russian army (which
we will call the third) under Brussilov. It was the menace of this
force, unexpected, or at least unexpected in its great strength, which
really determined the issue, though this was again affected by the
tardiness of the Austrian retirement. Russky's direct advance upon
the front of his enemy extended for a week. It had begun when it had
destroyed the frontier posts upon Friday, the 14th. It was continued
until the evening of the succeeding Thursday, regularly, slowly, but
without intermission. It stood upon the Friday, the 21st--the day on
which the first shots were fired at the main Franco-British forces in
the West, and the day on which the first shell fell into Charleroi
station--not more than one day's cavalry advance from the outer works
of Lemberg, but it was just in that week-end that the pressure of
Brussilov began to be felt.

This third Russian army had come up from the south-east, supplied by
the main Odessa railway through Tarnopol. It was manifestly
threatening the right flank of von Auffenberg, and if a guess may be
hazarded upon operations on which we have so little detail as yet, and
which took place so far from our own standpoint, the error of the
Austrian general seems to have consisted in believing that he could
maintain himself against this flank attack. If this were the case (and
it is the most probable explanation of what followed), the error
would have been due to the same cause which affected all Austrian
plans in these first days of the war--the mistake as to the rapidity
with which Russia would complete her preparations.

[Illustration: Sketch 69.]

The first outpost actions with the enemy, and even the more vigorous
struggles when full contact had been established with this third army
arrived thus from the south-east, only led the Austrian commander
deeper into his mistaken calculation; for upon the Sunday, August
23rd, a local success was achieved which seems to be magnified by the
Austrians into a decisive check administered to the enemy. If this was
their view, they were soon to be undeceived. In those very days which
saw the greatest peril in the West, the last days of August, during
which the Franco-British Allies were falling back from the Sambre,
pursued by the numbers we have seen upon an earlier page, the third
and the second Russian armies effected their junction, the moment of
their first joining hands being apparently that same Monday, the 24th
of August, during which Sir John French was falling back upon
Maubeuge. By the middle of the ensuing week they had already advanced
with a very heavy numerical superiority upon the part of the Russians,
which threatened to involve the Austrian second army in disaster. If
that went, the first army was at the mercy of the victors upon the
south, and with every day that passed the chance of collapse
increased. Now, too late (so far as we can judge), the second Austrian
army disposed itself for retreat, but that retreat was not allowed to
proceed in the orderly fashion which its commander had decided, and
in the event part of it turned into a rout, all of it developed into a
definite disaster for the enemy, and as conspicuous a success for our
ally. That this success was not decisive, as this great war must count
decisions, the reader will perceive before its description is
concluded; but it set a stamp upon the whole of the war in the East,
which months of fighting have not removed but rather accentuated. It
delivered the province of Galicia into the hands of Russia, it brought
that Power to the Carpathians, it ultimately compelled Germany to
decide upon very vigorous action of her own immediately in Poland, and
it may therefore be justly said to have changed the face of the war.

To this great series of actions, which history will probably know by
the name of Lemberg, we will now turn.

When this large Russian movement against the right of von Auffenberg's
army, and the considerable Russian concentration there, was clearly
discerned, the Austrian force was immediately augmented, and it was
not until after the first stages of the conflict we are about to
describe that it counted the full numbers mentioned above. But, even
so reinforced, it was inadequate for the very heavy task which there
fell upon it. It is not to be denied that its heterogeneous
composition--that is, its necessary weakness in quality--affected its
value; but the principal factor in its ill success was still the
superiority of Russian numbers in this field, and this, in its turn,
proceeded from a rapidity and completeness in the Russian mobilization
for which the enemy had never made provision.

The action of the Russian left against von Auffenberg was twofold:
Russky, from the north, was coming across the river Bug, and struck an
Austrian entrenched line in front of Lemberg. His numbers permitted
him to turn that entrenched line, or, at any rate, to threaten its
turning, for Russky's right stretched almost to within cavalry touch
of Tomasow. In combination with this movement, and strictly
synchronizing with it, Brussilov was advancing from the Sereth River.
Both these movements were being carried out full during the last days
of August.

[Illustration: Sketch 70.]

It was on Friday, the 28th of that month, that Tarnopol fell, as we
have seen, into the hands of the Russians, and that Brussilov was,
therefore, able to effect his junction with Russky in the north, and
this success was the occasion of the first of those bayonet actions on
a large scale wherein the Russians throughout the war continued to
show such considerable personal superiority over their opponents.

When Tarnopol had gone, not on account of the loss of their
geographical point, but because its occupation rendered the junction
of the Russian armies possible, and their advance in one great concave
line upon Lemberg, it was no longer doubtful that von Auffenberg had
lost this preliminary campaign.

There are moments in war where the historian can fix a turning-point,
although the decision itself shall not yet have been reached. Thus, in
the campaign of 1793 between the French Revolution and its enemies,
Turcoing was not a decisive action, but it was the necessary breeder
of the decisive actions that followed. And in the same way Tarnopol,
though but a local success, decided Lemberg. In the last days of
August all von Auffenberg's right had to fall back rather rapidly upon
entrenched positions to the south and east of Lemberg itself, just as
his left had had to fall back on similar positions against Russky.

The action for Lemberg itself opened, by a curious coincidence, the
campaign which was the anniversary of the first fighting round Sedan,
and closed precisely at the moment when the tide of German advance in
the West was turned.

Forty-eight hours decided the issue. It was, perhaps, Russky's
continual extended threat to envelop the left of the Austrian position
and to come upon Auffenberg's communications which was the chief
factor in the result; but that result was, after the junction of the
two Russian armies, no longer really in doubt. The first heavy assault
upon the trenches had taken place upon the Wednesday morning at dawn;
before nightfall of Thursday the two extremes of the Austrian line
were bent back into such a horseshoe that any further delay would have
involved complete disaster. It is true that the central trenches in
front--that is, to the east of the great town--still held secure, and
had not, indeed, been severely tried. But it remains true that von
Auffenberg had committed the serious error of risking defeat in front
of such a city. And here some digression upon the nature of this
operation may be of service to the reader, because it is one which
reoccurs more than once in the first phases of the war, and must, in
the nature of things, occur over and over again before the end of it.

Examples of it already appeared in the first six months of the war, in
the case of Lille and in the case of Lodz; and it is a necessarily
recurrent case in all modern warfare.

A great _modern_ town, particularly if it has valuable industries, is
a lure as powerful over the modern commander as was a capital or the
seat of any government or even a fortress for those of earlier times.
To abandon such a centre is to let fall into the enemy's hands
opportunities for provisionment and _machinery_ for his further
supply; it is to allow great numbers of one's nationals to pass as
hostages into his power; it is nearly always to give up to him the
junction of several great railways; it is to permit him to levy heavy
indemnities, and even, if he is in such a temper, to destroy in great
quantities the accumulated wealth of the past.

On account of all this, it requires a single eye to the larger issues
of war, and a sort of fanaticism for pure strategy in a commander
before he will consent to fall behind a position of such political
and material value, and to let it fall to his opponent.

But, on the other hand, such a position is as bad in strategical value
as it is good in material and political value.

If you suffer defeat in front of a great modern town, and have to
retreat through it under the blows of the victorious enemy, you are in
the worst possible position for conducting that retreat. The streets
of the town (but few of which will run parallel to your course and
can, therefore, serve as avenues of escape for your army) are so many
defiles in which your columns will get hopelessly congested. The
operation may be compared to the pouring of too much liquid into a
funnel which has too small an orifice. Masses of your transport will
remain clogged outside the place; you run the risk of a partial and
perhaps of a complete disaster as the enemy presses on.

There is very much more than this. A great town cannot but contain, if
you have long occupied it, the material of your organization; you will
probably abandon documents which the enemy should not see. You will
certainly, in the pressure of such a flight, lose accumulated stores.
Again, the transverse streets are so many points of "leakage," into
which your congested columns will bulge out and get confused. Again,
you will be almost necessarily dealing with the complication of a mass
of civilian conditions which should never be allowed to interrupt a
military operation.

In general, to fight in front of a great town, when the chances are
against you, is as great an error as to fight in front of a marsh with
few causeways; so far as mere topography is concerned, it is a greater
error still.

Lemberg did not, indeed, fulfil all these conditions. It is very large
(not far from a quarter of a million people), with all its suburbs it
is nearly two miles in extreme extent, and its older or central part
is a confusion of narrow streets; but it is not highly industrialized,
and the position of the Austrian armies was such that the retreat
could be effected mainly from either side of the built area,
particularly as the main enemy pressure had not come in front of the
city along the Busk Road, but far to the east and south in the open
field. But Lemberg was an exceedingly important railway centre (seven
lines converge there), and it contained an immense amount of war
munitions. When, therefore, the retreat was tardily undertaken, the
fact that the more precipitate retirement had begun in front of the
city and not behind it was of considerable effect in what followed.

To some extent von Auffenberg, in spite of the tardiness of his
decision to retire, had protected his retreat. The main line of that
retreat was established for him, of course, by the main Galician
railway, which runs back from Lemberg to Przemysl. He prepared a
position some two days' march behind Lemberg, and defended with a
rearguard at Grodek the belated withdrawal of his main force. But from
the nature of the Russian advance, Russky, upon von Auffenberg's left,
perpetually threatened this railway; and Brussilov, upon his right,
pressed the rapidly-melting mass of the varied contingents opposed to
him through the difficult, hilly, and woody country of the foothills.

[Illustration: Sketch 71.]

It was upon the Friday, September 4th, that the Austrian evacuation of
Lemberg was complete, and that the Russian administration was
established in the town. Before Monday, the 7th, the Austrian right
had already half converted their retirement into a rout, and the great
captures of prisoners and of guns had begun. That important arm, the
irregular light cavalry of the Russians, notably the great Cossack
contingent, found its opportunity, and the captures began upon a scale
far exceeding anything which the war had hitherto shown or was to
show for at least the next six months. The matter is of more
importance, to our judgment of the war, in its quality than in its
scale. In the very same week at Tannenberg nearly as many Russians had
been eliminated from the Russian forces as Austrians were here
eliminated from the Austrian forces. But the point is that, whereas in
the Battle of Tannenberg envelopment, with its consequent slaughter of
men who cannot escape and its wholesale captures, left the rest of the
Russian army with its _moral_ intact, the Austrian losses were the
product of a partial dissolution, and affected the whole of their
southern army. First and last one-third of it had fallen _as
prisoners_ into Russian hands, apart from the enormous number of
killed and removed wounded. It could only just be said that that army
remained in being upon Monday, the 7th September, with which date this
section of my work ends. The other Austrian army to the north, its
flank thus uncovered, was compelled to fall back rapidly, though the
forces in front of it were small; and the Austro-Hungarian service
never fully recovered from this great blow.


The province of East Prussia is of a character peculiar in the German
Empire and in Europe.

That character must be grasped if the reader is to understand what
fortunes attended the war in this region; for it is a district which
in its history, in its political value, and in its geographical
arrangements has very powerfully affected the whole of the campaign.

Historically this district is the cradle of that mixed race whose
strict, narrow, highly defined, but quite uncreative policy has now
piqued, now alarmed, civilized Europe for almost two hundred years.

[Illustration: Sketch 72.]

The Prussian, or rather the Prussian aristocracy, which, by achieving
the leadership of Germany, has flung so heavy a mass at Europe,
originated in the rough admixture of certain West German and Christian
knights with the vague pagan population of the Eastern Baltic plain,
which, until almost the close of the Middle Ages, was still a field
for missionary effort and for crusade. It was the business of the
Teutonic knights to tame this march of Christendom. They accomplished
their work almost out of sight of the governing empire, the Papacy,
and Christendom in general, with what infamies history records. The
district thus occupied was not within the belt of that high Polish
culture which is one of the glories of Europe. Nations may not
inexactly be divided into those who seek and those who avoid the sea.
The Poles are of the latter type. This belt, therefore, of _Borussia_
(whence our word Prussia is derived)--roughly from the Vistula up on
to the Bight of Libau--was held by the Teutonic knights in a sort of
savage independence. The Christian faith, which it had been their
pretext and at first their motive to spread, took little root; but
they did open those avenues whereby the civilization which Germany
itself had absorbed from the south and west could filter in; and the
northern part of the district, that along the sea (which is the least
marshy, and, as that poor country goes, the least barren), was from
the close of the Middle Ages German-owned, though for some generations
nominally adherent to the Polish crown. The Polish race extended no
farther northward in the present province than the lake country of its
southern half, and even there suffered an admixture of Lithuanian and
German blood.

That lake country well merits a particular description, for its
topography has powerfully affected the war in the East; but for the
moment we must chiefly grasp the political character following upon
the history of this land. The chief noble of "Borussia," the governing
duke, acquired, not from the empire nor perhaps in the eyes of Europe,
but from the Polish monarchy, the title of king, and it must never be
forgotten that the capital at Berlin, and the "Mark"--that is, the
frontier march--of Brandenburg, though now the centre, are neither the
origins nor the pride of the Hohenzollern power. They were kings of
Prussia because Prussia was extraneous to the European system. There
came a moment, as I have pointed out in an earlier page in this book,
when the Prussian kingship and the electorate of Brandenburg coincided
in one person. All men of education know, and all men whatsoever feel,
what influence an historical origin will have upon national outlook.
East Prussia, therefore, remains to-day something of a political
fetish. Its towns may be called colonies of the Germans, the
birthplaces or the residences of men famous in the German story. Its
country-sides, although still largely inhabited by a population of
servile memories and habits not thoroughly welded with their masters,
do not take up great space in the view the German takes of the region.
He sees rather the German landowner, the German bailiff, the German
schoolmaster, and the numerous German tenants of the wealthier type
who, though a minority, form the chief part of this social system. We
shall see later what this miscalculation cost the great landowners
during the Russian invasion, but we must note in passing that it is a
miscalculation common to every people. Only that which is articulate
in the States stands out large in the social perspective during
periods of order and of peace.

The Prussian royal house, the Prussian aristocracy, have then for this
bastion towards the east an especial regard, which has not been
without its sentimental influence upon the course of the war; and that
regard is very highly increased by the artificial political boundaries
of modern times.

East Prussia is, for the Germans as a whole, their rampart against the
Slav; and though, beyond the present purely political and only
century-old frontier, a large German-speaking population is to be
discovered (especially in the towns under Russian rule), yet such is
the influence of a map upon a people essentially bookish in their
information, that East Prussia stands to the whole German Empire, as
well as to its wealthier inhabitants, for a proof of the German power
to withstand the dreaded pressure of the Russian from the East.

It was to be expected, therefore, that two strategical consequences
would flow from these non-strategical conditions: first, that the
Russians would be tempted--though, no doubt, in very small force for
such a secondary operation--to raid a district towards which the
enemy's opinion was so sensitive; secondly, that enemy would be
tempted, after each such effort, to extend a disproportionate force in
ridding the country of such raids.

The Germans, for all the dictates of pure strategics, would hardly
hold firm under the news that Slav soldiers were in the farms and
country-houses, and were threatening the townsfolk of East Prussia.
The Russians, though no direct advantage was to be gained, and though
the bulk of their force must be used elsewhere, would certainly be
drawn to move into East Prussia in spite of the known and peculiarly
heavy difficulties to an advance which that province presented.

What were those difficulties?

They were of two kinds, the second of which has been, perhaps, unduly
emphasized at the expense of the first.

The first was, that the Baltic extreme of this region lay at the very
end of the longest possible line the Russians could move on. Even
supposing their front extended (as soon it did) from the Carpathians
to the sea, this Baltic piece was the end of the line and farthest
from their material bases and their sources of equipment. It was badly
served with railways, difficult of access from the soil lying to the
east, and backed by that sparsely inhabited belt of Russian territory
in which the modern capital of St. Petersburg has been artificially
erected, but which is excentric to the vital process of Russia. As a
fact, even after eight months of war, let alone in the first phases
which we are here about to describe, the extreme end of this line was
not attempted by the Russians at all.

Next to this extreme position, which was the first handicap, comes the
region of the lakes, the nature of which was the second handicap.

The Masurian Lake district can best be appreciated by some description
of its geology and its landscape. It was probably moulded by the work
of ice in the past. Great masses of ice have ground out, in their very
slow progress towards the sea over the very slight incline northwards
of that line, hollows innumerable, and varying from small pools to
considerable lakes; the ice has left, upon a background of sand,
patches of clay, which hold the waters of all this countryside in
brown stretches of shallow mere, and in wider extents of marsh and
bog. The rare travellers who explore this confusion of low rounded
swells and flats carry back with them to better lands a picture of one
grossly monotonous type continuing day upon day. Pine and birch woods,
often ordered with the regularity and industry of the German forest
organization, but often also straggling and curiously stunted and
small, break or confuse the view upon either side.

The impression of the district is most clearly conveyed from some
sandy summit, bare of trees, whence a man may overlook, though not
from any great height, the desolate landscape for some miles. He
obtains from such a view neither the sense of forest which wooded
lands of great height convey in spite of their clearings, nor the
sense of endless plain which he would find farther to the east or to
the north. He perceives through the singularly clear air in autumn
brown heaths and plains set here and there with the great stretches of
woodland and farmsteads, the stubble of which is soon confused by the
eye in the distance with the barren heaths around. In winter, the
undulating mass of deep and even snow is marked everywhere by the
small, brown, leafless trees in their great groupings, and by the
pines, as small, and weighted with the burden of the weather; but much
the most striking of the things seen in such a landscape are the
stretches of black water, or, if the season be hard, of black ice
which, save when the snow has recently fallen, fierce winds will
commonly have swept bare.

The military character of such a region will be clear. It is, in the
technical language of military art, a labyrinth of _defiles_. Care has
been expended upon the province, especially in the last two
generations, and each narrow passage between the principal sheets of
water carries a road, often a hard causeway. A considerable system of
railways takes advantage of the same natural narrow issues; but even
to those familiar with the country, the complexity of these narrow dry
gates or defiles, and their comparative rarity (contrasted with the
vast extent of waterlogged soil or of open pool), render an advance
against any opposition perilous, and even an unopposed advance slow,
and dependent upon very careful Staff work. Columns in their progress
are for hours out of touch one with the other, and an unexpected check
in some one narrow must be met by the force there present alone, for
it will not be able to obtain immediate reinforcement.

Again, all this line, with its intermixture of sand and clay, which is
due to its geological origin, is a collection of traps for any
commander who has not thoroughly studied his lines of advance or of
retreat--one might almost say for any commander who has not had long
personal experience of the place. There will be across one mere a belt
of sand or gravel, carrying the heaviest burdens through the shallow
water as might a causeway. Its neighbour, with a surface precisely
twin, with the same brown water, fringed by the same leaves and dreary
stretches of stunted wood, will be deep in mud, but a natural platform
may stretch into a lake and fail the column which uses it before the
farther shore is reached. In the strongest platforms of this kind gaps
of deep clay or mud unexpectedly appear. But even with these
deceptions, a column is lucky which has only to deal in its march with
open water and firm banks; for the whole place is sown with what were
formerly the beds of smaller meres, and are now bogs hardened in
places, in others still soft--the two types of soil hardly

During any orderly advance, an army proceeding through the Masurian
Lakes will strictly confine itself to the great causeways and to the
railway. During any retreat in which it is permitted to observe the
same order it will be similarly confined to the only possible issues;
but let the retreat be confused, and disaster at once threatens.

A congested column attempting to spread out to the right or to the
left will fall into marsh. Guns which it has attempted to save by the
crossing of a ford will sooner or later find mud and be abandoned. Men
will be drowned in the unexpected deeps, transport embedded and lost;
and apart from all this vast wastage, the confusion of units will
speedily put such a brake upon the whole process of retirement that
envelopment by an enemy who knows the district more thoroughly is
hardly to be avoided.

It was this character in the dreary south of East Prussia which was
the cause of Tannenberg, and as we read the strategical plan of that
disaster, we must keep in mind the view so presented of an empty land,
thus treacherous with marsh and reed and scrub and stretches of barren
flat, which may be heath, or may be a horse's height and more of
slightly covered slime.

The first phase of the business lasts until the 24th of August,
beginning with the 7th of that month, and may be very briefly dealt

Two Russian armies, numbering altogether perhaps 200,000 men, or at
the most a quarter of a million, advanced, the one from the Niemen,
the other from the Narew--that is, the one from the east, the other
from the south, into East Prussia. The Germans had here reserve
troops, in what numbers we do not know, but perhaps half the combined
numbers of the Russian invasion, or perhaps a little more. The main
shock was taken upon the eastern line of invasion at Gumbinnen; the
Germans, defeated there, and threatened by the continued advance of
the other army to the west of them, which forbade their retreat
westward, fell back in considerable disorder upon Königsberg, lost
masses of munitions and guns, and were shut up in that fortress. The
defeat at Gumbinnen occupied four days--from the 16th to the 20th of

Meanwhile the Russian army which was advancing from the Narew had
struck a single German army corps--the 20th--in the neighbourhood of
Frankenau. The Russian superiority in numbers was very great; the
German army corps was turned and divided. Half of it fled westward,
abandoning many guns and munitions; the other half fled north-eastward
towards Königsberg, and the force as a whole disappeared from the
field. The Russians pushed their cavalry westward; Allenstein was
taken, and by the 25th of August the most advanced patrols of the
Russians had almost reached the Vistula.

The necessity for retaking East Prussia by the Germans was a purely
political one. The vast crowd of refugees flying westward spread panic
within the empire. The personal feeling of the Emperor and of the
Prussian aristocracy in the matter of the defeated province was keen.
Had that attempt to retake East Prussia failed, military history would
point to it as a capital example of the error of neglecting purely
strategical for political considerations. As a fact, it succeeded
beyond all expectation, and its success is known as the German victory
of Tannenberg.

The nature of this victory may be grasped from the accompanying sketch

From the town of Mlawa, just within Russian Poland, beyond the
frontier, runs, coming up from Warsaw, a railway to Soldau, just upon
the Prussian side of the frontier. At Soldau three railways
converge--one from the east, one going west to Niedenberg and the
junction of Ortelsberg, a third coming in from the north-east and

[Illustration: Sketch 73.]

From Eylau, through Osterode, the main international line runs
through Allenstein, and so on eastward, while a branch from this goes
through Passenheim to the junction at Ortelsberg.

Here, then, you have a quadrilateral of railways about fifty miles in
length. Within that quadrilateral is extremely bad country--lakes,
marshes, and swamps--and the only good roads within it are those
marked in single lines upon my sketch--the road from Allenstein
through Hohenstein to Niedenberg, and the road from Niedenberg to
Passenheim. As one goes eastwards on that road from Niedenberg to
Passenheim, in the triangle Niedenberg-Passenheim-Ortelsberg, the
country gets worse and worse, and is a perfect labyrinth of marsh,
wood, and swamp. The development of the action in such a ground was as

The Russian commander, Samsonoff, with his army running from
Allenstein southwards, was facing towards the west. He had with him
perhaps 200,000 men, perhaps a trifle less. His reconnaissance was
faulty, partly because the aeroplanes could discover little in that
wooded country, partly because the Staff work was imperfect, and his
Intelligence Department not well informed by his cavalry patrols. He
thought he had against him to the west only weak forces. As a fact,
the Germans were sending against him what they themselves admit to be
150,000 men, and what were quite possibly nearer 200,000, for they had
drawn largely upon the troops within Germany. They had brought round
by sea many of the troops shut up in Königsberg, and they had brought
up the garrisons upon the Vistula. Further, they possessed, drawn from
these garrisons, a great superiority in that arm which throughout all
the earlier part of the great war was the German stand-by--heavy
artillery, and big howitzers capable of use in the field.

On Wednesday, 26th August, Samsonoff first discovered that he had a
formidable force in front of him.

It was under the command of von Hindenburg, a man who had studied this
district very thoroughly, and who, apart from his advantage in heavy
artillery, knew that difficult country infinitely better than his
opponents. During the Wednesday, the 26th, Hindenburg stood upon the
defensive, Samsonoff attacking him upon the line Allenstein-Soldau. At
the end of that defensive, the attack on which was badly hampered in
so difficult a country, von Hindenburg massed men upon his right near
Soldau. This move had two objects: first, by pushing the Russians back
there to make them lose the only good road and railway by which they
could retire south upon their communications into the country whence
they had come; secondly, to make them think, in their natural anxiety
for those communications, that his main effort would be delivered
there to the south. As a fact, it was his intention to act elsewhere.
But the effect of his pressure along the arrow _a_ was to give the
Russian line by the evening of that Wednesday, the 26th of August, the
form of the line 1 upon Sketch 73.

The advantage he had thus gained in front of Soldau, Hindenburg
maintained by rapid and successful entrenchment; and the next day,
Thursday, 27th August, he moved great numbers round by railway to his
left near Allenstein, and appeared there with a great local
superiority in numbers and in heavy guns. By the evening of that day,
then, the 27th, he had got the Russian line into the position 2, and
the chief effort was being directed along the arrow _b_. On the 28th
and 29th the pressure continued, and increased here upon the north;
the Russian right was pushed back upon Passenheim, for which there was
a most furious fight; and by the evening of the 29th Samsonoff's whole
body was bent right round into the curve of the line 3, and vigorous
blows were being dealt against it along the arrow _c_, which bent it
farther and farther in.

It was clearly evident by that evening, the 29th of August, that
Samsonoff must retreat; but his opportunities for such a retreat were
already difficult. All he had behind him was the worst piece in the
whole country--the triangle Passenheim-Ortelsberg-Niedenberg--and his
main avenue of escape was a defile between the lake which the railway
at Ortelsberg uses.

His retirement became hopelessly congested. Further pressure along the
arrow _d_, during the 30th and 31st, broke that retirement into two
halves, one half (as at 5) making off eastwards, the other half (as
at 4) bunched together in a hopeless welter in a country where every
egress was blocked by swamp and mire, and subjected to the pounding of
the now concentrated ring of heavy guns. The body at 5 got away in the
course of the 1st and 2nd of September, but only at the expense of
leaving behind them great numbers of guns, wounded, and stragglers.
The body at 4 was, in the military sense of the word, "annihilated."
It numbered at least two army corps, or 80,000 men, and of these it is
probable that 50,000 fell into the hands of the enemy, wounded and
unwounded. The remainder, representing the killed, and the chance
units that were able to break out, could hardly have been more than
20,000 to 30,000 men.

Such was the victory of Tannenberg--an immensely successful example of
that enveloping movement which the Germans regarded as their peculiar
inheritance; a victory in nature recalling Sedan, and upon a scale not
inferior to that battle.

The news of that great triumph reached Berlin upon Sedan Day, at the
very moment when the corresponding news from the West was that von
Kluck had reached the gates of Paris, and had nothing in front of him
but the broken and inferior armies of a disastrous defeat.


At this point it is well to pause and consider an element of the
vastest consequence to the whole conduct of these great campaigns--I
mean the element of German confidence.

Here we have a nation which has received within a fortnight of its
initial large operations, within the first five weeks of a war which
it had proudly imposed upon its enemies, the news of a victory more
startlingly triumphant than its most extreme expectation of success
had yet imagined possible.

Let the reader put himself into the position of a German subject in
his own station of life, a town dweller, informed as is the English
reader by a daily press, which has come to be his sole source of
opinion, enjoying or suffering that almost physical self-satisfaction
and trust in the future which is, unfortunately, not peculiar to the
North German, but common in varying degree to a whole school of morals
to-day. Let him remember that this man has been specially tutored and
coached into a complete faith in the superiority of himself and his
kind over the rest of the human race, and this in a degree superior
even to that in which other nations, including our own, have indulged
after periods of expanding wealth and population.

Let the reader further remember that in this the Germans' rooted faith
their army was for them at once its cause and its expression; then
only can he conceive what attitude the mind of such men would assume
upon the news from East and from West during those days--the news of
the avalanche in France and the news of Tannenberg. It would seem to
the crowd in Berlin during the great festival which marked the time
that they were indeed a part of something not only necessarily
invincible, but of a different kind in military superiority from other

These, from what would seem every quarter of the globe, had been
gathered to oppose him, merely because the German had challenged his
two principal enemies. Though yet far from being imperilled by so
universal a movement, he crushes it utterly, and in a less time than
it takes for a great nation to realize that it is under arms, he is
overwhelmed by the news not of his enemy's defeat, but rather of his
annihilation. Miles of captured guns and hour upon hour of marching
columns of prisoners are the visible effect of his triumph and the
confirmation of it; and he hears, after the awful noise of his
victories, a sort of silence throughout the world--a silence of awe
and dread, which proclaims him master. It is the anniversary of Sedan.

I do not set down this psychological phenomenon for the mere pleasure
of its description, enormous as that phenomenon is, and worthy of
description as it is. I set it down because I think that only in an
appreciation of it can one understand the future development of the
war. After the Battle of Metz, after the sweep down upon Paris from
the Sambre, after this immense achievement of Tannenberg, the
millioned opinion of a now united North Germany was fixed. It was so
fixed that even a dramatically complete disaster (and the German
armies have suffered none) might still leave the North German unshaken
in his confidence. Defeats would still seem to him but episodes upon a
general background, whose texture was the necessary predominance of
his race above the lesser races of the world. This is the mood we
shall discover in all that Germany does from that moment forward. It
is of the first importance to realize it, because that mood is, so to
speak, the chemical basis of all the reactions that follow. That mood,
disappointed, breeds fury and confusion; in the event of further
slight successes, it breeds a vast exaggeration of such success; in
the presence of any real though but local advance, it breeds the
illusion of a final victory.

It is impossible to set down adequately in these few pages this
intoxication of the first German victories. It must be enough to
recall to the reader that the strange mood with which we have to deal
was also one of a century's growth, a century during which not only in
Germany, but in Scandinavia, in the universities (and many other
cliques) of England, even largely in the United States, a theory had
grown and prospered that something called "the Teutonic race" was the
origin of all we valued; that another thing, called in one aspect "the
Latin" or in another aspect "the Celt," was something in the one case
worn out, in the other negligible through folly, instability, and
decay. The wildest history gathered round this absurd legend, not only
among the Germans but wherever the "Teutonic theory" flourished, and
the fatuous vanity of the North German was fed by the ceaseless
acceptance of that legend on the part of those who believed themselves
to be his kinsmen.

They still believe it. In every day that passes the press of Great
Britain reveals the remains of this foolery. And while the real
person, England, is at grips with another real thing, Prussia, which
is determined to kill her by every means in its power, the empty
theorizing of professors who do not see _things_, but only the
imaginary figures of their theories, continues to regard England as in
some way under a German debt, and subject to the duty of admiring her
would-be murderer.

Before leaving this digression, I would further remind the reader
that nowhere in the mass of the British population is this strange
theory of German supremacy accepted, and that outside the countries I
have named not even the academic classes consider it seriously. In the
eyes of the Frenchman, the Italian, and the Pole, the North German is
an inferior. His numbers and his equipment for war do not affect that
sentiment, for it is recognized that all he has and does are the
product of a lesson carefully learned, and that his masters always
were and still are the southern and the western nations, with their
vastly more creative spirit, their hardier grip in body as in mind,
their cleaner souls, and their more varied and developed ideals.

If this was the mood of the German people when the war in its first
intense moment had, as it were, cast into a permanent form the molten
popular soul, what was that of the nation which the Germans knew in
their hearts, in spite of the most pitiable academic illusion, to be
the permanent and implacable enemy--I mean the French people?

Comprehend the mood of the French, contrast and oppose it to that of
the Germans, and you will have viewed almost in its entirety the
spiritual theatre of this gigantic struggle. No don's talk of "Slav"
or "Teuton," of "progressive" or "backward" nations, mirrors in any
way the realities of the great business. This war was in some almost
final fashion, and upon a scale quite unprecedented, the returning
once again of those conflicting spirits which had been seen over the
multitudes in the dust of the Rhone valley when Marius came up from
Italy and met the chaos in the North. They had met again in the damp
forests of the Ardennes and the vague lands beyond the Rhine, when the
Roman auxiliaries of the decline pushed out into the Germanies to set
back the frontiers of barbarism. It was the clash between strong
continuity, multiple energies, a lucid possession of the real world, a
creative proportion in all things--all that we call the ancient
civilization of Europe--and the unstable, quickly growing, quickly
dissolving outer mass which continually learns its lesson from the
civilized man, and yet can never perfectly learn that lesson; which
sees itself in visions and has dreams of itself: which now servilely
accepts the profound religion of its superior; now, the brain fatigued
by mysteries, shakes off that burden which it cannot comprehend.

By an accident comparatively recent, the protagonist of chaos in these
things happened to be that rigid but curiously amorphous power which
Prussia has wielded for many years to no defined end. The protagonist
upon the other side of the arena was that same Romanized Gaul which
had ever since the fall of the Empire least lost the continuity with
the past whereby we live.

But the defender of ancient things was (again by an accident in what
is but a moment for universal history) the weaker power. In the
tremendous issue it looked as though numbers and values had fallen
apart, and as though the forces of barbarism, though they could never
make, would now at last permanently destroy.

In what mood, I say, did the defenders of the European story enter the
last and most perilous of their debates? We must be able to answer
that question if we are to understand even during the course of the
war its tendency and its probable end.

By the same road, the valley of the Oise, which had seen twenty times
before lesser challenges of the kind, the North had rushed down. It
was a gauge of its power that all the West was gathered there in
common, with contingents from Britain in the heart of the press.

The enemy had come on in a flood of numbers: the defence, and half as
much as the defence, and more again. The line swung down irresistible,
with the massy weight of its club aimed at Paris. If the eastern forts
at Toul and at Verdun and the resistance before Nancy had held back
its handle, that resistance had but enabled it to pivot with the freer
swing. Not only had there fallen back before its charge all the
arrayed armies of the French and their new Ally, but also all that had
counted in the hopes of the defenders had failed. All that the last
few years had promised in the new work of the air, all that a
generation had built up of permanent fortified work, had been proved
impotent before the new siege train. The barrier fortresses of the
Meuse, Liége and Namur, had gone up like paper in a fire. Maubeuge was
at its last days. Another week's bombardment and the ring of Verdun
would be broken.

The sweep has no parallel in the monstrous things of history. Ten days
had sufficed for the march upon the capital. Nor had there been in
that ten days a moment's hope or an hour of relaxation.

No such strain has yet been endured, so concentrated, so exact an
image of doom.

And all along the belt of that march the things that were the
sacrament of civilization had gone. Rheims was possessed, the village
churches of the "Island of France" and of Artois were ruins or
desolations. The peasantry already knew the destruction of something
more than such material things, the end of a certain social pact which
war in Christendom had spared. They had been massacred in droves, with
no purpose save that of terror; they had been netted in droves, the
little children and the women with the men, into captivity. The track
of the invasion was a wound struck not, as other invasions have been,
at some territory or some dynasty; it was a wound right home to the
heart of whatever is the West, of whatever has made our letters and
our buildings and our humour between them. There was a death and an
ending in it which promised no kind of reconstruction, and the fools
who had wasted words for now fifty years upon some imagined excellence
in the things exterior to the tradition of Europe, were dumb and
appalled at the sight of barbarism in action--in its last action after
the divisions of Europe had permitted its meaningless triumph for so
long. Were Paris entered, whether immediately or after that
approaching envelopment of the armies, it would be for destruction;
and all that is not replaceable in man's work would be lost to our
children at the hands of men who cannot make.

The immediate approach of this death and the cold wind of it face to
face produced in the French people a singular reaction, which even
now, after eight months of war, is grimly seen. Their irony was
resolved into a strained silence. Their expectation was halted and
put aside. They prophesied no future; they supported the soul neither
with illusions nor with mere restraint; but they threw their whole
being into a tension like that of the muscles of a man's face when it
is necessary for him to pass and to support some overmastering moment.
There was no will at issue with the small group of united wills whose
place was at the headship of the army. The folly of the politicians
had not only ceased, but had fallen out of memory.

It is no exaggeration to say that the vividness of that
self-possession for a spring annihilated time. It was not a fortnight
since the blow had come of the 15th Corps breaking before Metz, and
the stunning fall of Namur. But to the mind of the People it was
already a hundred years, and conversely the days that passed did not
pass in hours, or with any progression, but stood still.

There was to come--it was already in the agony of birth--the moment, a
day and a night, in which one effort rolled the wave right back. That
effort did not release the springs of the national soul. They
remained stretched to the utmost. By a character surely peculiar to
this unexampled test of fire, no relaxation came as, month after
month, the war proceeded.

But the passage of so many days, with the gradual broadening of vision
and, in time, the aspect, though distant, of slow victory; the
creeping domination acquired over the mass of spiritually sodden
things that had all but drowned the race; the pressure of the hand
tightening upon the throat of the murderer; released a certain high
potential which those who do not know it can no more comprehend than a
savage can comprehend the lightning which civilized man regulates and
holds in the electric wire. And this potential made, and is making,
for an intense revenge.

That is the vision that should remain with those who desire to
understand the future the war must breed, and that is the white heat
of energy which will explain very terrible things, still masked by the
future, and undreamt of here.


[2] The ultimatum expired at midnight (August 4-5) by Greenwich time,
11 p.m. (August 4) by German, or Central European, time.

[3] AA is holding the obstacle OO against a superior number BB. There
are six passages across OO. If BB forces No. 5 and No. 6 he creates
the situation in the following diagram, where it is obvious that BB is
now on the flank of AA, and that AA must retire, even if he still
holds passages 1, 2, 3, and 4. That is what happened when Namur fell.
The French could hold, and were holding, the Germans along the Sambre,
above Namur; but the bridges of Namur, which were thought safe behind
the forts, had fallen into German hands.

[Illustration: Sketch 44.]


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