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The name (that "blood-bath") and the news of battle could not be hidden from the people of German, who had already been chilled with horror by the losses at Verdun, nor from the soldiers of reserve regiments quartered in French and Belgian towns like Valenciennes, St. Quentin, Cambrai, Lille, Bruges, and as far back as Brussels, waiting to go to the front, nor from the civil population of those towns, held for two years by their enemy -- those blond young men who lived in their houses, marched down their streets, and made love to their women.

The news was brought down from the Somme front by Red Cross trains, arriving in endless succession, and packed with maimed and mangled men. German military policemen formed cordons round the railway stations, pushed back civilians who came to stare with somber eyes at these blanketed bundles of living flesh, but when the ambulances rumbled through the streets toward the hospitals -- long processions of them, with the soles of men's boots turned up over the stretchers on which they lay quiet and still -- the tale was told, though no word was spoken.

The tale of defeat, of great losses, of grave and increasing anxiety, was told clearly enough -- as I read in captured letters -- by the faces of German officers who went about in these towns behind the lines with gloomy looks, and whose tempers, never of the sweetest, became irritable and unbearable, so that the soldiers hated them for all this cursing and bullying. A certain battalion commander had a nervous breakdown because he had to meet his colonel in the morning.

"He is dying with fear and anxiety," wrote one of his comrades.

Other men, not battalion commanders, were even more afraid of their superior officers, upon whom this bad news from the Somme had an evil effect.

The bad news was spread by divisions taken out of the line and sent back to rest. The men reported that their battalions had been cut to pieces. Some of their regiments had lost three-quarters of their strength. They described the frightful effect of the British artillery -- the smashed trenches, the shell-crater, the horror.

It was not good for the morale of men who were just going up there to take their turn.

The man who was afraid of his colonel "sits all day long writing home, with the picture of his wife and children before his eyes." He was afraid of other things.

Bavarian soldiers quarreled with Prussians, accused them (unjustly) of shirking the Somme battlefields and leaving the Bavarians to go to the blood-bath.

"All the Bavarian troops are being sent to the Somme (this much is certain, you can see no Prussians there), and this in spite of the losses the 1st Bavarian Corps suffered recently at Verdun! And how we did suffer! . . . It appears that we are in for another turn -- at least the 5th Bavarian Division. Everybody has been talking about it for a long time. To the devil with it! Every Bavarian regiment is being sent into it, and it's a swindle."

It was in no cheerful mood that men went away to the Somme battlefields. Those battalions of gray-clad men entrained without any of the old enthusiasm with which they had gone to earlier battles. Their gloom was noticed by the officers.

"Sing, you sheeps' heads, sing!" they shouted.

They were compelled to sing, by order.

"In the afternoon," wrote a man of the 18th Reserve Division, "we had to go out again; we were to learn to sing. The greater part did not join in, and the song went feebly. Then we had to march round in a circle and sing, and that went no better. After that we had an hour off, and on the way back to billets we were to sing 'Deutschland Über Alles,' but this broke down completely. One never hears songs of the Fatherland any more."

They were silent, grave-eyed men who marched through the streets of French and Belgian towns to be entrained for the Somme front, for they had forebodings of the fate before them. Yet none of their forebodings were equal in intensity of fear to the frightful reality into which they were flung.

The journey to the Somme front, on the German side, was a way of terror, ugliness, and death. Not all the imagination of morbid minds searching obscenely for the foulness and blood in the great, deep pits of human agony could surpass these scenes along the way to the German lines round Courcelette and Flers, Gueudecourt, Morval, and Lesboeufs.

Many times, long before a German battalion had arrived near the trenches, it was but a collection of nerve-broken men bemoaning losses already suffered far behind the lines and filled with hideous apprehension. For British long-range guns were hurling high explosives into distant villages, barraging crossroads, reaching out to rail-heads and ammunition dumps, while British airmen were on bombing flights over railway stations and rest-billets and highroads down which the German troops came marching at Cambrai, Bapaume, in the valley between Irles and Warlencourt, at Ligny-Thilloy, Busigny, and many other places on the lines of route.

German soldiers arriving one morning at Cambrai by train found themselves under the fire of a single airplane which flew very low and dropped bombs. They exploded with heavy crashes, and one bomb hit the first carriage behind the engine, killing and wounding several men. A second bomb hit the station buildings, and there was a clatter of broken glass, the rending of wood, and the fall of bricks. All lights went out, and the German soldiers groped about in the darkness amid the splinters of glass and the fallen bricks, searching for the wounded by the sound of their groans. It was but one scene along the way to that blood-bath through which they had to wade to the trenches of the Somme.

Flights of British airplanes circled over the villages on the way. At Grevilliers, in August, eleven 112-16 bombs fell in the market square, so that the center of the village collapsed in a state of ruin, burying soldiers billeted there. Every day the British airmen paid these visits, meeting the Germans far up the roads on their way to the Somme, and swooping over them like a flying death. Even on the march in open country the German soldiers tramping silently along -- not singing in spite of orders -- were bombed and shot at by these British aviators, who flew down very low, pouring out streams of machine-gun bullets. The Germans lost their nerve at such times, and scattered into the ditches, falling over one another, struck and cursed by their Unteroffizieren, and leaving their dead and wounded in the roadway.

As the roads went nearer to the battlefields they were choked with the traffic of war, with artillery and transport wagons and horse ambulances, and always thousands of gray men marching up to the lines, or back from them, exhausted and broken after many days in the fires of hell up there. Officers sat on their horses by the roadside, directing all the traffic with the usual swearing and cursing, and rode alongside the transport wagons and the troops, urging them forward at a quicker pace because of stern orders received from headquarters demanding quicker movement. The reserves, it seemed, were desperately wanted up in the lines. The English were attacking again. . . . God alone knew what was happening. Regiments had lost their way. Wounded were pouring back. Officers had gone mad. Into the midst of all this turmoil shells fell -- shells from long-range guns. Transport wagons were blown to bits. The bodies and fragments of artillery horses lay all over the roads. Men lay dead or bleeding under the debris of gun-wheels and broken bricks. Above all the noise of this confusions and death in the night the hard, stern voices of German officers rang out, and German discipline prevailed, and men marched on to greater perils.

They were in the shell-zone now, and sometimes a regiment on the march was tracked all along the way by British gun-fire directed from airplanes and captive balloons. It was the fate of a captured officer I met who had detrained at Bapaume for the trenches at Contalmaison.

At Bapaume his battalion was hit by fragments of twelve-inch shells. Nearer to the line they came under the fire of eight-inch and six-inch shells. Four-point-sevens (4.7's) found them somewhere by Bazentin. At Contalmaison they marched into a barrage, and here the officer was taken prisoner. Of his battalion there were few men left.

It was so with the 3rd Jäger Battalion, ordered up hurriedly to make a counter-attack near Flers. They suffered so heavily on the way to the trenches that no attack could be made. The stretcher-bearers had all the work to do.

The way up to the trenches became more tragic as every kilometer was passed, until the stench of corruption was wafted on the wind, so that men were sickened, and tried not to breathe, and marched hurriedly to get on the lee side of its foulness. They walked now through places which had once been villages, but were sinister ruins where death lay in wait for German soldiers.

"It seems queer to me," wrote one of them, "that whole villages close to the front look as flattened as a child's toy run over by a steam-roller. Not one stone remains on another. The streets are one line of shell-holes. Add to that the thunder of the guns, and you will see with what feelings we come into the line -- into trenches where for months shells of all caliber have rained . . . . Flers is a scrap heap."

Again and again men lost their way up to the lines. The reliefs could only be made at night lest they should be discovered by British airmen and British gunners, and even if these German soldiers had trench maps the guidance was but little good when many trenches had been smashed in and only shell-graters could be found.

"In the front lines of Flers," wrote one of these Germans,

"the men were only occupying shell-holes. Behind there was the intense smell of putrefaction which filled the trench -- almost unbearably. The corpses lie either quite insufficiently covered with earth on the edge of the trench or quite close under the bottom of the trench, so that the earth lets the stench though. In some places bodies lie quite uncovered in a trench recess, and no one seems to trouble about them. One sees horrible pictures -- here an arm, there a foot, here a head, sticking out of the earth. And these are all German soldiers -- heroes!

"Not far from us, at the entrance to a dugout, nine men were buried, of whom three were dead. All along the trench men kept on getting buried. What had been a perfect trench a few hours before was in parts completely blown in. . . . The men are getting weaker. It is impossible to hold out any longer. Losses can no longer be reckoned accurately. Without a doubt many of our people are killed."

That is only one out of thousands of such gruesome pictures, true as the death they described, true to the pictures on our side of the line as on their side, which went back to German homes during the battles of the Somme. Those German soldiers were great letter-writers, and men sitting in wet ditches, in "fox-holes," as they called their dugouts, "up to my waist in mud," as one of them described, scribbled pitiful things which they hoped might reach their people at home, as a voice from the dead. For they had had little hope of escape from the blood-bath. "When you get this I shall be a corpse," wrote one of them, and one finds the same foreboding in many of these documents.

Even the lucky ones who could get some cover from the incessant bombardment by English guns began to lose their nerves after a day or two. They were always in fear of British infantry sweeping upon them suddenly behind the Trommelfeuer, rushing their dugouts with bombs and bayonets. Sentries became "jumpy", and signaled attacks when there were no attacks. The gas-alarm was sounded constantly by the clang of a bell in the trench, and men put on their heavy gas-masks and sat in them until they were nearly stifled.

Here is a little picture of life in a German dugout near the British lines, written by a man now dead:

"The telephone bell rings. 'Are you there? Yes, here's Nau's battalion.' 'Good. That is all.' Then that ceases, and now the wire is in again perhaps for the twenty-fifth or thirtieth time. Thus the night is interrupted, and now they come, alarm messages, one after the other, each more terrifying than the other, of enormous losses through the bombs and shells of the enemy, of huge masses of troops advancing upon us, of all possible possibilities, such as a train broken down, and we are tortured by all the terrors that the mind can invent. Our nerves quiver. We clench out teeth. None of us can forget the horrors of the night."

Heavy rain fell and the dugouts became wet and filthy.

"Our sleeping-places were full of water. We had to try and bail out the trenches with cooking-dishes. I lay down in the water with G__. We were to have worked on dugouts, but not a soul could do any more. Only a few sections got coffee. Mine got nothing at all. I was frozen in every limb, poured the water out of my boots, and lay down again."

Our men suffered exactly the same things, but did not write about them.

The German generals and their staffs could not be quite indifferent to all this welter of human suffering among their troops, in spite of the cold, scientific spirit with which they regarded the problem of war. The agony of the individual soldier would not trouble them. There is no war without agony. But the psychology of masses of men had to be considered, because it affects the efficiency of the machine.

The German General Staff on the western front was becoming seriously alarmed by the declining morale of its infantry under the increasing strain of the British attacks, and adopted stern measures to cure it. But it could not hope to cure the heaps of German dead who were lying on the battlefields, nor the maimed men who were being carried back to the dressing stations, nor to bring back the prisoners taken in droves by the French and British troops.

Before the attack on the Flers line, the capture of Thièpval, and the German debacle at Beaumont Hamel, in November, the enemy's command was already filled with a grave anxiety at the enormous losses of its fighting strength; was compelled to adopt new expedients for increasing the number of its divisions. It was forced to withdraw troops badly needed on other fronts, and the successive shocks of the British offensive reached as far as Germany itself, so that the whole of its recruiting system had to be revised to fill up the gaps torn out of the German ranks.


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