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All though July and August the enemy's troops fought with wonderful and stubborn courage, defending every bit of broken woodland, every heap of bricks that was once a village, every line of trenches smashed by heavy shell-fire, with obstinacy.

It is indeed fair and just to say that throughout those battles of the Somme our men fought against an enemy hard to beat, grim and resolute, and inspired sometimes with the courage of despair, which was hardly less dangerous than the courage of hope.

The Australians who struggled to get the high ground at Pozières did not have an easy task. The enemy made many counter-attacks against them. All the ground thereabouts was, as I have said, so smashed that the earth became finely powdered, and it was the arena of bloody fighting at close quarters which did not last a day or two, but many weeks. Mouquet Farm was like the phoenix which rose again out of its ashes. In its tunneled ways German soldiers hit and came out to fight our men in the rear long after the site of the farm was in our hands.

But the German troops were fighting what they knew to be a losing battle. They were fighting rear-guard actions, trying to gain time for the hasty digging of ditches behind them, trying to sell their lives at the highest price.

They lived not only under incessant gun-fire, gradually weakening their nerve-power, working a physical as well as a moral change in them, but in constant terror of British attacks.

They could never be sure of safety at any hour of the day or night, even in their deepest dugouts. The British varied their times of attack. At dawn, at noon, when the sun was reddening in the west, just before the dusk, in pitch darkness, even, the steady, regular bombardment that had never ceased all through the days and nights would concentrate into the great tumult of sudden drum-fire, and presently waves of men -- English or Scottish or Irish, Australians or Canadians -- would be sweeping on to them and over them, rummaging down into the dugouts with bombs and bayonets, gathering up prisoners, quick to kill if men were not quick to surrender.

The German General Staff was getting flurried, grabbing at battalions from other parts of the line, disorganizing its divisions under the urgent need of flinging in men to stop this rot in the lines, ordering counter-attacks which were without any change of success, so that thin waves of men came out into the open, as I saw them several times, to be swept down by scythes of bullets which cut them clean to the earth. Before September 15th they hoped that the British offensive was wearing itself out. It seemed to them at least doubtful that after the struggle of two and a half months the British troops could still have spirit and strength enough to fling themselves against new lines.

But the machinery of their defense was crumbling. Many of their guns had worn out, and could not be replaced quickly enough. Many batteries had been knocked out in their emplacements along the line of Bazentin and Longueval before the artillery was drawn back to Grandcourt and a new line of safety. Battalion commanders clamored for greater supplies of hand-grenades, entrenching tools, trench-mortars, signal rockets, and all kinds of fighting material enormously in excess of all previous requirements.

The difficulties of dealing with the wounded, who littered the battlefields and choked the roads with the traffic ambulances, became increasingly severe, owing to the dearth of horses for transport and the longer range of British guns which had been brought far forward.

The German General Staff studied its next lines of defense away through Courcelette, Martinpuich, Lesboeufs, Morval, and Combles, and they did not look too good, but with luck and the courage of German soldiers, and the exhaustion -- surely those fellows were exhausted! -- of British troops -- good enough.

On September 15th the German command had another shock when the whole line of the British troops on the Somme front south of the Ancre rose out of their trenches and swept over the German defenses in a tide.

Those defenses broke hopelessly, and the waves dashed through. Here and there, as on the German left at Morval and Lesboeufs, the bulwarks stood for a time, but the British pressed against them and round them. On the German right, below the little river of the Ancre, Courcelette fell, and Martinpuich, and at last, as I have written, High Wood, which the Germans desired to hold at all costs, and had held against incessant attacks by great concentration of artillery, was captured and left behind by the London men. A new engine of war had come as a demoralizing influence among German troops, spreading terror among them on the first day out of the tanks. For the first time the Germans were outwitted in inventions of destruction they who had been foremost in all engines of death. It was the moment of real panic in the German lines -- a panic reaching back from the troops to the High Command.

Then days later, on September 25th, when the British made a new advance -- all this time the French were pressing forward, too, on our right by Roye -- Combles was evacuated without a fight and with a litter of dead in its streets; Gueudecourt, Lesboeufs, and Morval were lost by the Germans; and a day later Thièpval, the greatest fortress position next to Beaumont Hamel, fell, with all its garrison taken prisoners.

They were black days in the German headquarters, where staff-officers heard the news over their telephones and sent stern orders to artillery commanders and divisional generals, and after dictating new instructions that certain trench systems must be held at whatever price, heard that already they were lost.

It was at this time that the morale of the Germans troops on the Somme front showed signs of breaking. In spite of all their courage, the ordeal had been too hideous for them, and in spite of all their discipline, the iron discipline of the German soldier, they were on the edge of revolt. The intimate and undoubted facts of this break in the morale of the enemy's troops during this period reveal a pitiful picture of human agony.

"We are now fighting on the Somme with the English," wrote a man of the 17th Bavarian Regiment. "You can no longer call it war. It is mere murder. We are at the focal-point of the present battle in Foureaux Wood (near Guillemont). All my previous experiences in this war -- the slaughter at Ypres and the battle in the gravel-pit at Hulluch -- are the purest child's play compared with this massacre, and that is much too mild a description. I hardly think they will bring us into the fight again, for we are in a very bad way."

"From September 12th to 27th we were on the Somme," wrote a man of the 10th Bavarians, "and my regiment had fifteen hundred casualties."

A detailed picture of the German losses under our bombardment was given in the diary of an officer captured in a trench near Flers, and dated September 22nd.

"The four days ending September 4th, spent in the trenches were characterized by a continual enemy bombardment that did not abate for a single instant. The enemy had registered on our trenches with light, as well as medium and heavy, batteries, notwithstanding that he had no direct observation from his trenches, which lie on the other side of the summit. His registering was done by his excellent air service, which renders perfect reports of everything observed.

"During the first day, for instance, whenever the slightest movement was visible in our trenches during the presence, as is usually the case, of enemy aircraft flying as low as three and four hundred yards, a heavy bombardment of the particular section took place. The very heavy losses during the first day brought about the resolution to evacuate the trenches during the daytime. Only a small garrison was left, the remainder withdrawing to a part of the line on the left of the Martinpuich-Pozières road.

"The signal for a bombardment by 'heavies' was given by the English airplanes. On the first day we tried to fire by platoons on the airplanes, but a second airplane retaliated by dropping bombs and firing his machine-gun at our troops. Our own airmen appeared only once for a short time behind our lines.

"While many airplanes are observing from early morning till late at night, our own hardly ever venture near. The opinion is that our trenches cannot protect troops during a barrage of the shortest duration, owing to lack of dugouts.

"The enemy understands how to prevent, with his terrible barrage, the bringing up of building material, and even how to hinder the work itself. The consequence is that our trenches are always ready for an assault on his part. Our artillery, which does occasionally put a heavy barrage on the enemy trenches at a great expense of ammunition, cannot cause similar destruction to him. He can bring his building material up, can repair his trenches as well as build new ones, can bring up rations and ammunition, and remove the wounded.

"The continual barrage on our lines of communication makes it very difficult for us to ration and relieve our troops, to supply water, ammunition, and building materials, to evacuate wounded, and causes heavy losses. This and the lack of protection from artillery fire and the weather, the lack of hot meals, the continual necessity of lying still in the same place, the danger of being buried, the long time the wounded have to remain in the trenches, and chiefly the terrible effect of the machine- and heavy-artillery fire, controlled by an excellent air service, has a most demoralizing effect on the troops.

"Only with the greatest difficulty could the men be persuaded to stay in the trenches under those conditions."

There were some who could not be persuaded to stay if they could see any chance of deserting or malingering. For the first time on our front the German officers could not trust the courage of their men, nor their loyalty, nor their sense of discipline. All this horror of men blown to bits over living men, of trenches heaped with dead and dying, was stronger than courage, stronger than loyalty, stronger than discipline. A moral rot was threatening to bring the German troops on the Somme front to disaster.

Large numbers of men reported sick and tried by every kind of trick to be sent back to base hospitals.

In the 4th Bavarian Division desertions were frequent and several times whole bodies of men refused to go forward into the front line. The morale of men in the 393rd Regiment, taken at Courcelette, seemed to be very weak. One of the prisoners declared that they gave themselves up without firing a shot, because they could trust the English not to kill them.

The platoon commander had gone away, and the prisoner was ordered to alarm the platoon in case of attack, but did not do so on purpose. They did not shoot with rifles or machine-guns and did not throw bombs.

Many of the German officers were as demoralized as the men, shirking their posts in the trenches, shamming sickness, and even leading the way to surrender. Prisoners of the 351st Regiment, which lost thirteen hundred men in fifteen days, told of officers who had refused to take their men up to the front-line, and of whole companies who had declined to move when ordered to do so. An officer of the 74th Landwehr Regiment is said by prisoners to have told his men during our preliminary bombardment to surrender as soon as we attacked.

A German regimental order says: "I must state with the greatest regret that the regiment, during this change of position, had to take notice of the sad fact that men of four of the companies, inspired by shameful cowardice, left their companies on their own initiative and did not move into line."

Another order contains the same fact, and a warning of what punishment may be meted out:

"Proofs are multiplying of men leaving the position without permission and hiding at the rear. It is our duty. . . each at his post -- to deal with this fact with energy and success."

Many Bavarians complained that their officers did not accompany them into the trenches, but went down to the hospitals with imaginary diseases. In any case here was a great deal of real sickness, mental and physical. The ranks were depleted by men suffering from fever, pleurisy, jaundice, and stomach complaints of all kinds, twisted up with rheumatism after lying in waterlogged holes, lamed for life by bad cases of trench-foot, and nerve-broken so that they could do nothing but weep.

The nervous cases were the worst and in greatest number. Many men went raving mad. The shell-shock victims clawed at their mouths unceasingly, or lay motionless like corpses with staring eyes, or trembled in every limb, moaning miserably and afflicted with a great terror.

To the Germans (barely less to British troops) the Somme battlefields were not only shambles, but a territory which the devil claimed as his own for the torture of men's brains and souls before they died in the furnace fires. A spirit of revolt against all this crept into the minds of men who retained their sanity -- a revolt against the people who had ordained this vast outrage against God and humanity.

Into German letters there crept bitter, burning words against "the millionaires -- who grow rich out of the war," against the high people who live in comfort behind the lines. Letters from home inflamed these thoughts.

It was not good reading for men under shell-fire.

"It seems that you soldiers fight so that official stay-at-homes can treat us as female criminals. Tell me, dear husband, are you a criminal when you fight in the trenches, or why do people treat women and children here as such? . . .

"For the poor here it is terrible, and yet the rich, the gilded ones, the bloated aristocrats, gobble up everything in front of our very eyes . . . . All soldiers -- friend and foe -- ought to throw down their weapons and go on strike, so that this war which enslaves the people more that ever may cease."

Thousands of letters, all in this strain, were reaching the German soldiers on the Somme, and they did not strengthen the morale of men already victims of terror and despair.

Behind the lines deserters were shot in batches. To those in front came Orders of the Day warning them, exhorting them, commanding them to hold fast.

"To the hesitating and faint-hearted in the regiment," said one of these Orders, "I would say the following:

"What the Englishman can do the German can do also. Or if, on the other hand, the Englishman really is a better and superior being, he would be quite justified in his aim as regards this war, viz., the extermination of the German. There is a further point to be noted: this is the first time we have been in the line on the Somme, and what is more, we are there at a time when things are more calm. The English regiments opposing us have been in the firing-line for the second, and in some cases even the third, time. Heads up and play the man!"

It was easy to write such documents. It was more difficult to bring up reserves of men and ammunition. The German command was harder pressed by the end of September.

From July 1st to September 8th, according to trustworthy information, fifty-three German divisions in all were engaged against the Allies on the Somme battlefront. Out of these fourteen were still in the line on September 8th.

Twenty-eight had been withdrawn, broken and exhausted, to quieter areas. Eleven more had been withdrawn to rest-billets. Under the Allies' artillery fire and infantry attacks the average life of a German division as a unit fit for service on the Somme was nineteen days. More than two new German divisions had to be brought into the front-line every week since the end of June, to replace those smashed in the process of resisting the Allied attack. In November it was reckoned by competent observers in the field that well over one hundred and twenty German divisions had been passed through the ordeal of the Somme, this number including those which have appeared there more than once.


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