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I have described what happened on our side of the lines, our fearful losses, the stream of wounded that came back day by day, the "Butchers' Shops," the agony in men's souls, the shell-shock cases, the welter and bewilderment of battle, the shelling of our own troops, the lack of communication between fighting units and the command, the filth and stench of the hideous shambles which were our battlefield. But to complete the picture of that human conflict in the Somme I must now tell what happened on the German side of the lines, as I was able to piece the tale together from German prisoners with whom I talked, German letters which I found in their abandoned dugouts, and documents which fell into the hands of our staff officers.

Our men were at least inspirited [sic] by the knowledge that they were beating their enemy back, in spite of their own losses. The Germans had not even that source of comfort, for whatever it might be worth under barrage fire. The mistakes of our generalship, the inefficiency of our staff-work, were not greater than the blunderings of the German High Command, and their problem was more difficult than ours because of the weakness of their reserves, owing to enormous preoccupation on the Russian front. The agony of their men was greater than ours.

To understand the German situation it must be remembered that from January to May, 1916, the German command on the western front was concentrating all its energy and available strength in manpower and gun-power upon the attack of Verdun. The Crown Prince had staked his reputation upon that adventure, which he believed would end in the capture of the strongest French fortress and the destruction of the French armies. He demanded men and more men, until every unit that could be spared from other fronts of the line had been thrown into that furnace. Divisions were called in from other theaters of war, and increased the strength on the western from to a total of about one hundred and thirty divisions.

But the months passed and Verdun still held out above piles of German corpses on its slopes, and in June Germany looked east and saw a great menace. The Russian offensive was becoming violent. German generals on the Russian fronts sent desperate messages for help. "Send us more men," they said, and from the western front four divisions containing thirty-nine battalions were sent to them.

They must have been sent grudgingly, for now another menace threatened the enemy, and it was ours. The British armies were getting reading to strike. In spite of Verdun, France still had men enough -- withdrawn from that part of the line in which they had been relieved by the British -- to cooperate in a new attack.

It was our offensive that the German command feared most, for they had no exact knowledge of our strength or the quality of our new troops. They knew that our army had grown prodigiously since the assault on Loos, nearly a year before.

They had heard of the Canadian reinforcements, and the coming of the Australians, and the steady increase of recruiting in England, and month by month they had heard the louder roar of our guns along the line, and had seen their destructive effect spreading and becoming more terrible. They knew of the steady, quiet concentration of batteries and divisions on the west and south of the Ancre.

The German command expected a heavy blow and prepared for it, but as yet had no knowledge of the driving force behind it. What confidence they had of being able to resist the British attack was based upon the wonderful strength of the lines which they had been digging and fortifying since the autumn of the first year of war -- "impregnable positions", they had called them -- the inexperience of our troops, their own immense quantity of machine-guns, the courage and skill of their gunners, and their profound belief in the superiority of German generalship.

In order to prevent espionage during the coming struggle, and to conceal the movement of troops and guns, they ordered the civil populations to be removed from villages close behind their positions, drew cordons of military police across the country, picketed crossroads, and established a network of counter espionage to prevent any leakage of information.

To inspire the German troops with a spirit of martial fervor (not easily aroused to fever pitch after the bloody losses before Verdun) Orders of the Day were issued to the battalions counseling them to hold fast against the hated English, who stood foremost in the way of peace (that was the gist of a manifesto by Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria, which I found in a dugout at Montauban), and promising them a speedy ending to the war.

Great stores of material and munitions were concentrated at rail-heads and dumps ready to be sent up to the firing-lines, and the perfection of German organization may well have seemed flawless -- before the attack began.

When they began they found that in "heavies" and in expenditure of high explosives they were outclassed.

They were startled, too, by the skill and accuracy of the British gunners, whom they had scorned as "amateurs", and by the daring of our airmen, who flew over their lines with the utmost audacity, "spotting" for the guns, and registering on batteries, communication trenches, crossroads, rail-heads, and every vital point of organization in the German war-machine working opposite the British lines north and south of the Ancre.

Even before the British infantry had left their trenches at dawn on July 1st, German officers behind the firing-lines saw with anxiety that all the organization which had worked so smoothly in times of ordinary trench-warfare was now working only in a hazardous way under a deadly storm of shells.

Food and supplies of all kinds could not be sent up to frontline trenches without many casualties, and sometimes could not be sent up at all. Telephone wires were cut, and communications broken between the front and headquarters staffs. Staff officers sent up to report were killed on the way to the lines. Troops moving forward from reserve areas came under heavy fire and lost many men before arriving in the support trenches.

Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria, sitting aloof from all this in personal safety, must have known before July 1st that his resources in men and material would be strained to the uttermost by the British attack, but he could take a broader view than men closer to the scene of battle, and taking into account the courage of his troops (he had no need to doubt that), the immense strength of their positions, dug and tunneled beyond the power of high explosives, the number of his machine-guns, the concentration of his artillery, and the rawness of the British troops, he could count up the possible cost and believe that in spite of a heavy price to pay there would be no break in his lines.

At 7.30 am on July 1st the British infantry, as I have told, left their trenches and attacked on the right angle down from Gommecourt, Beaumont Hamel, Thièpval, Ovillers, and La Boisselle, and eastward from Fricourt, below Mametz and Montauban. For a week the German troops -- Bavarians and Prussians -- had been crouching in their dugouts, listening to the ceaseless crashing of the British "drum fire". In places like Beaumont Hamel, the men down in the deep tunnels -- some of them large, enough to hold a battalion and a half -- were safe as long as they stayed there. But to get in or out was death. Trenches disappeared into a sea of shell-craters, and the men holding them -- for some men had to stay on duty there -- were blown to fragments.

Many of the shallower dugouts were smashed in by heavy shells, and officers and men lay dead there as I saw them lying on the first days of July, in Fricourt and Mametz and Montauban. The living men kept their courage, but below ground, under that tumult of bursting shells, [they] wrote pitiful letters to their people at home describing the horror of those hours.

"We are quite shut off from the rest of the world," wrote one of them. "Nothing comes to us. No letters. The English keep such a barrage on our approaches it is terrible. Tomorrow evening it will be seven days since this bombardment began. We cannot hold out much longer. Everything is shot to pieces."

Thirst was one of their tortures. In many of the tunneled shelters there was food enough, but the water could not be sent up. The German soldiers were maddened by thirst. When rain fell many of them crawled out and then drank filthy water mixed with yellow shell-sulfur, and then were killed by high explosives. Other men crept out, careless of death, but compelled to drink. They crouched over the bodies of the men who lay above, or in, the shell-holes, and lapped up the puddles and then crawled down again if they were not hit.

When our infantry attacked at Gommecourt and Beaumont Hamel and Thièpval they were received by waves of machine-gun bullets fired by men who, in spite of the ordeal of our seven days' bombardment, came out into the open now, at the moment of attack which they knew through their periscopes was coming. They brought their guns above the shell craters of their destroyed trenches under our barrage and served them. They ran forward even into No Man's Land, and planted their machine-guns there, and swept down our men as they charged. Over their heads the German gunners flung a frightful barrage, plowing gaps in the ranks of our men.

On the left, by Gommecourt and Beaumont Hamel, the British attack failed, as I have told, but southward the "impregnable" lines were smashed by a tide of British soldiers as sand castles are overwhelmed by the waves. Our men swept up to Fricourt, struck straight up to Montauban on the right, captured it, and flung a loop round Mametz village.

For the German generals, receiving their reports with great difficulty because runners were killed and telephones broken, the question was: "How will these British troops fight in the open after their first assault? How will our men stand between the first line and the second?"

As far as the German troops were concerned, there were no signs of cowardice, or "low morale" as we called it more kindly, in these early days of the struggle. They fought with a desperate courage, holding on to positions in rearguard actions when our guns were slashing them and when our men were getting near to them, making us pay a heavy price for every little copse or gully or section of trench, and above all serving their machine-guns at La Boisselle, Ovillers, above Fricourt, round Contalmaison, and at all points of their gradual retreat, with a wonderful obstinacy, until they were killed or captured. But fresh waves of British soldiers followed those who were checked or broken.

After the first week of battle the German General Staff had learned the truth about the qualities of those British "New Armies" which had been mocked and caricatured in German comic papers. They learned that these "amateur soldiers" had the qualities of the finest troops in the world -- not only extreme valor, but skill and cunning, not only a great power of endurance under the heaviest fire, but a spirit of attack which was terrible in its effect. They were fierce bayonet fighters. Once having gained a bit of earth or a ruined village, nothing would budge them unless they could be blasted out by gunfire. General Sixt von Arnim put down some candid notes in his report to Prince Rupprecht.

"The English infantry shows great dash in attack, a factor to which immense confidence in its overwhelming artillery greatly contributes. . . . It has shown great tenacity in defense. This was especially noticeable in the case of small parties, which, when once established with machine-guns in the corner of a wood or a graup of houses, were very difficulty to drive out."

The German losses were piling up. The agony of the German troops under our shell-fire was reaching unnatural limits of torture. The early prisoners I saw -- Prussians and Bavarians of the 14th Reserve Corps -- were nerve-broken, and told frightful stories of the way in which their regiments had been cut to pieces. The German generals had to fill up the gaps, to put new barriers of men against the waves of British infantry. They flung new troops into the line, called up hurriedly from reserve depots.

Now, for the first time, their staff-work showed signs of disorder and demoralization. When the Prussian Guards Reserves were brought up from Valenciennes to counterattack at Contalmaison they were sent on to the battlefield without maps or local guides, and walked straight into our barrage. A whole battalion was cut to pieces and many others suffered frightful things. Some of the prisoners told me that they had lost three-quarters of their number in casualties, and our troops advanced over heaps of killed and wounded.

The 122nd Bavarian Regiment in Contalmaison was among those which suffered horribly. Owing to our ceaseless gun-fire, they could get no food-supplies and no water. The dugouts were crowded, so that they had to take turns to get into these shelters, and outside our shells were bursting over every yard of ground.

"Those who went outside," a prisoner told me, "were killed or wounded. Some of them had their heads blown off, and some of them their arms. But we went on taking turns in the hole, although those who went outside knew that it was their turn to die, most likely. At last most of those who came into the hole were wounded, some of them badly, so that we lay in blood." That is one little picture in a great panorama of bloodshed.

The German command was not thinking much about the human suffering of its troops. It was thinking of the next defensive line upon which they would have to fall back if the pressure of the British offensive could be maintained -- the Longueval-Bazentin- Pozières line. It was getting nervous. Owing to the enormous efforts made in the Verdun offensive, the supplies of ammunition were not adequate to the enormous demand.

The German gunners were trying to compete with the British in continuity of bombardments and the shells were running short. Guns were wearing out under this incessant strain, and it was difficulty to replace them. General von Gallwitz received reports of "an alarmingly large number of bursts in the bore, particularly in field-guns."

General von Arnim complained that "reserve supplies of ammunition were only available in very small quantities." The German telephone system proved "totally inadequate in consequence of the development which the fighting took." The German air service was surprisingly weak, and the British airmen had established temprary mastery.

"The numerical superiority of the enemy's airmen," not General von Arnim, "and the fact that their machines were better made, became disagreeably apparent to us, particularly in their direction of the enemy's artillery fire and in bomb dropping."

On July 15th the British troops broke the German second line at Longueval and the Bazentins, and inflicted great losses upon the enemy, who fought with their usual courage until the British bayonets were among them.

A day or two later their fortress of Ovillers fell, and the remnants of the garrison -- one hundred and fifty strong -- after a desperate and gallant resistance in ditches and tunnels, where they had fought to the last, surrendered with honor.

Then began the long battle of the woods -- Devil's Wood, High Wood, Trones Wood -- continued through August with more fierce and bloody fighting, which ended in our favor and forced the enemy back, gradually but steadily, in spite of the terrific bombardments which filled those woods with shell-fire and the constant counter-attacks delivered by the Germans.

"Counter-attack!" came the order from the German staff, and battalions of men marched out obediently to certain death, sometimes with incredible folly on the part of their commanding officers, who ordered these attaches to be made without the slightest chance of success.

I saw an example of that at close range during a battle at Falfemont Farm, near Guillemont. Our men had advanced from Wedge Wood, and I watched them from a trench just south of this, to which I had gone at a great pace over shell-craters and broken wire, with a young observing officer who had been detailed to report back to the guns. (Old "Falstaff", whose songs and stories had filled the tent under the Red Cross with laughter, toiled after us gallantly, but grunting and sweating under the sun like his prototype, until we lost him in our hurry.) Presently a body of Germans came out of a copse called Leuze Wood, on rising ground, faced round among the thin, slashed trees of Falfemont, and advanced toward our men, shoulder to shoulder, like a solid bar. It was sheer suicide. I saw our men get their machine-guns into action, and the right side of the living bar frittered away, and then the whole line fell into the scorched grass. Another line followed. They were tall men, and did not falter as they came forward, but it seemed to me they walked like men conscious of going to death. They died. The simile is outworn, but is was exactly as though some invisible scythe had mown them down.

In all the letters written during those weeks of fighting and captured by us from dead or living men there was one cry of agony and horror.

"I stood on the brink of the most terrible days of my life," wrote one of them. "They were those of the battle of the Somme. It began with a night attack on August 13th and 14th. The attack lasted till the evening of the 18th, when the English wrote on our bodies in letters of blood, 'It is all over with you.' A handful of half-mad, wretched creatures, worn out in body and mind, were all that was left of a whole battalions. We were that handful."

The losses of many of the German battalions were staggering (yet not greater than our own), and by the middle of August the morale of the troops was severely shaken. The 117th Division by Pozières suffered very heavily. The 11th Reserve and the 157th Regiments each lost nearly three-quarters of their effectives. The 9th Reserve Jäger Battalion lost about three-quarters, the 84th Reserve and 86th Reserve over half. On August 10th the 16th Division had six battalions in reserve.

By August 19th, owing to the large number of casualties, the greater part of those reserves had been absorbed into the front and support trenches, leaving as available reserves two exhausted battalions.

The weakness of the division and the absolute necessity of reinforcing it led to the 5th Reserve Infantry Regiment (2nd Guards Division) being brought up to strengthen the right flank in the Leipzig salient. This regiment had suffered casualties to the extent of over 50 percent west of Pozières during the middle of July, and showed no eagerness to return to the fight. These were but a few examples of what was happening along the whole of the German front on the Somme.

It became apparent by the end of August that the enemy was in trouble to find fresh troops to relieve his exhausted divisions, and that the wastage was faster than the arrival of new men. It was noticeable that he left divisions in the line until incapable of further effort rather than relieving them earlier so that after resting they might again be brought on to the battlefield. The only conclusion to be drawn from this was that the enemy had not sufficient formations available to make the necessary reliefs.

In July three of these exhausted divisions were sent to the east, their place being taken by two new divisions, and in August three more exhausted divisions were sent to Russia, eight new divisions coming to the Somme front. The British and French offensive was drawing in all the German reserves and draining them of their life's blood.

"We entrained at Savigny," wrote a man of one of these regiments, "and at once knew our destination. It was our old blood-bath -- the Somme."

In may letters this phrase was used. The Somme was called the "Bath of Blood" by the German troops who waded across its shell-craters and in the ditches which were heaped with their dead. But what I have described is only the beginning of the battle, and the bath was to be filled deeper in the months that followed.


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