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The Great War

News Reports From the Front
100 Years Ago This Month

March 1915

March 1

The end of the 31st week of the war, and the first signs of better weather conditions after a hard winter, find the Allied armies in the Western Theater nearing readiness for a further concerted onslaught on the Germans. From the sea, through the dunes of Flanders to Arras in France, the British and the Belgian armies appear to have withstood successfully all the attempts of the Germans to break through their lines, while the French continue to win slowly forward, although the skillful German commanders exact a heavy price for every step gained by the French.

Unqualified optimism with which the approaching gigantic struggle is regarded in Great Britain, France and Russia can be attributed largely to the remarkable recuperative powers shown by the troops of Emperor Nicholas. These soldiers, in spite of the fierce blows of the German armies under von Hindenburg, have been able not only to bring German progress to a standstill, but to push the invaders back on virtually the whole front.

The Russians assert that the recent retirement of the Germans in the north is more disorderly than any previous retreat. They state that the Germans abandoned large numbers of heavy and light guns, and had even left behind slightly wounded soldiers in an effort to execute a hasty retreat.

A few weeks ago Field Marshal von Hindenburg was sweeping victoriously through Northern Poland, while in the south the Austrians were pressing forward in Galicia. Today these roles appear to be reversed. Russian troops are attacking all along the German line and although the Germans are clinging to their positions, their thrust towards Warsaw has been brought to a standstill.

The Russian offensive in the Carpathians continues with successes. Even if no decisive battle develops for the present Russian offensive on the Eastern Front, the Allies today are advancing the claim that the Austria-German plans for the spring campaign in the east has been measurably interfered with.

Another event which is aiding to the certainty with which the allies today regard the future, is the picture of British, French and Russian warships hammering at the gates of the capital of Turkey, with such success apparently, that Turkey already has decided she has had enough of the Egyptian venture, and is now rushing her troops back to defend Constantinople.

Nine battleships took part in this week’s bombardment of the forts in the Dardanelles. A detachment of Allied troops, which were dispatched on the Asian side, met with Turkish garrisons, which they easily scattered. The Allies have disembarked artillery near the destroyed Dardanelles’ forts and British and French flags are now flying over them.

While the Allied fleet continues to pound away at the Dardanelles’ fortifications, the panic and the general exodus in Constantinople shows no sign of abatement. Turkish officials, however, believe that the fleet can never penetrate the inner line of fortifications, they declared they always expected that the forts guarding the outer entrance of the Dardanelles would be easy to reduce.

The real defenses, according to the Turks, lies further up the straits, where their inner forts are considered impregnable. Due to the narrowness of the channel at those points Allied ships will be oblige to move in narrow shoals which are commanded by artillery and have been heavily mined by the Turks.

Notwithstanding this profession of security, Austria has been asked to send her warships to the Turk’s aid and for Germany to send artillery officers to assist in resisting the Allied onslaught.

The Russian Black Sea Fleet is steaming toward the Bosporus. The Bosporus is about 18 miles long and from on one half to one and a half miles wide. It is defended with modern fortifications, which guard the northern approach to Constantinople.

In the Western Theater of the war interest is centering on the fighting in the Champagne district, where fierce attacks and counterattacks have marked the operations of the last week. Berlin claims to have repulsed the continued French advances in this region, while Paris asserts that French troops have been successful in making progress.

March 8

The German auxiliary cruiser Prinz Eitel Friedrich, one of the elusive German sea rovers which has been destroying commerce of the Allies on the seven seas, slipped into Newport News on March 7, eluding British and French cruisers along the coast, in need of repairs, coal, and provisions for her crew. In addition, the ship carried 326 prisoners taken from vessels it had sunk.

The German auxiliary cruiser Prinz Eitel Friedrich

After dark the German ship appeared off Cape Henry, but did not enter until after daylight, when she passed quarantine and dropped anchor. No sooner had the German vessel anchored then the Coast Guard Cutter Onondaga came alongside to take up her watch to preserve the neutrality of the United States until officials in Washington decided what should be done with the German vessel.

Scarred by red rust from months at sea, the German auxiliary cruiser was painted white on one side and black on the other. It was reported that the German vessel had been chased to the 3-mile limit by a British cruiser.

All her prisoners were given liberty in Newport News but four. The four declined to sign papers that they would not take up arms against the German army and navy and will remain prisoners on that account. Several French women released were sent back after immigration inspectors said that they were undesirable and could not be emitted. Protesting vigorously, the women were escorted by officers to the dock and taken back to the German ship.

Authorities in Newport News are looking into the case of two members of the crew of the American freighter William P. Frye that was sent to the bottom by the Prinz Eitel in the South Atlantic last week.

The two crew members were first reported to have enlisted in the German Navy, but in reality they were being detained by order of the ship's captain on grounds that they were German citizens and still subject to serve under German arms. The captain of the Prinz Eitel stated that he did not believe these members of his crew were naturalized American citizens.

Within an hour after arrival a request was made to the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Co. for information on whether work could once begin on repairs. The shipbuilding company immediately communicated the request to the Navy Department in Washington and asked whether the United States would have any objections.

The Prinz Eitel went into dry dock after the captain submitted a report that he thought it would take three weeks to repair his ship. The estimate was made after a preliminary examination of the ship by shipyard officials. In his note the German commander declared that "my ship at the present time is very unseaworthy and it requires three weeks to make her seaworthy."

Five English warships are now off the coast awaiting the Prinz Eitel should she try to slip out. The captain of the Prinz Eitel however has been quoted as saying he does not wish to be interned as he wished to proceed on another raiding expedition as soon as his cruiser can sail.

On the Eastern Front Field Marshal von Hindenburg is said to be attempting another flanking movement with the idea of resuming his original plan of advance towards Warsaw. The battle line of these operations extends roughly for a distance of 80 miles.

The weather for the past few days has been excellent for aero-plane reconnaissance on the Eastern Front. Both sides have been very active in this respect. The enemy's aviators drop 20 bombs on the front without damage. Above the front a Russian aero-plane dueled with a German airplane. Neither plane was damaged.

In the Dardanelles, the British battleships Queen Elizabeth and Prince George and the battle cruiser Inflexible, with their 15-inch guns, attacked the principle Turkish forts inside the narrows in the Dardanelles. The forts, which guard the narrowest part of the straits from the European side, are believed to be the strongest along the entire waterway.

HMS Queen Elizabeth in the Daranelles

On the Western Front, the British attack in Northern Belgium has brought on a vigorous counter attack by the Germans. The sweeping advance of British troops is regarded as the commencement of active operations by the Allies and is likely to be followed by another important offensive in the spring.

It is believed that the Germans will probably seek to retaliate. If they do this will compel them to keep their western forces intact, if not to reinforce them to meet the fresh forces, which Great Britain is putting into the field. That is just what the Allies desire. Their stroke is timed to aid the Russians. For if the Allies had not kept the Germans busy on the Western Front it is believed the German commanders would again have shifted forces to the Eastern Front to strengthen Field Marshal von Hindenburg, whose armies are now fighting hard to regain the ascendancy near the Warsaw front.

March 15

Following a conference between the owners of the American freighter William P. Frey, which was sunk by the German raider Prinz Eitel Friedrich last week, the owners of the Frey expressed that if it were found that the sinking of the Frey was an aggravated case, punitive damages would be demanded in addition to the value of the ship and cargo.

In his defense, the Captain of the Prinz Eitel Friedrich said that he had been out of communication with his government and his only guide for these past few months while at sea was the Declaration of London which permits the destruction of a neutral prize if the cargo they are carrying could be proven to be contraband, provided it was impossible to take the vessel to a homeport without endangering the captor warship.

To demonstrate its neutrality, the US Navy invited the Captain of the Prinz Eitel Friedrich, onto the grandstand to watch the launching on the US dreadnought Pennsylvania, the largest engine of naval warfare in the world. The German commander, in full uniform, arrived on the launching platform early and mingled jovially with US officers.

The British Admiralty announced that since March 10 seven British merchant steamers have been torpedoed by submarines. The captain of the Indian City, which was sunk yesterday, said that he sighted what he thought was a periscope of a submarine. He said: "I kept the steamer going but the submarine caught up with it, and through a megaphone the commander of the submarine told me to put my flag up. I hoisted the German ensign. The submarine commander didn’t believe us, and told us to get into the boats, which we did, he then blew up the steamer."

An eyewitness of the torpedoing of the Indian City says the submarine remained in the vicinity about an hour and was of keen interest to the Islanders. Immediately after the attack became known to patrol boats, they put to sea in the direction of the submarine, on which they opened fire. When the patrol boats approached the submarine, the latter submerged herself, but reappeared about two miles further west. The patrol boats resumed their chase of the submarine, but the were left behind by the speed of the submarine which was too great for them.

After evading the patrol boats, the submarine sighted the steamer Headlands and went in pursuit of that ship. The chase was brief. The German easily overtook the old steamer. Both vessels were seen to be constantly turning and maneuvering as a result of the merchantmen’s efforts to escape destruction.

Finally the steamer stopped and a few minutes later the crew was observed boarding lifeboats. Shortly thereafter an upward rush of black smoke was seen. The Headlands began to settle down by the stern. The submarine then went off to the westward and was pursuing a third steamer when she disappeared from view of those on shore.

Nowhere in the Eastern Front do the Austrian-German forces appear to be making progress. British military experts think that the position of the German armies in the east preclude the transfer of any troops to the Western Front and that the German plan of dealing Russia a crushing blow before attempting the much discussed spring offensive in the west has failed.

Although fighting is still in progress to the north of Warsaw, the Germans apparently have abandoned efforts to break through the fortified lines in the north. Instead, they are transferring troops to the southern bank of the Vistula, in preparation for an attack along the front to the west of Warsaw.

Austrian forces are again making a determined effort to relieve their fortress at Przamyla, in Galicia. The fortress has been under siege by Russian forces since the early weeks of the war. The Austrians have made various attempts to relieve the garrison. Aero-planes have been a great help to the garrison. They have kept the fortress in communication with Austrian bases, when no other method was possible, and they have taken in supplies and medicines. According to dispatches from Russia however, the latest effort by the Austrians to reach the fort has fallen short. Meantime the Russians are drawing closer their lines around the fortress.

The Russian offensive in the Carpathians has broken down quicker than was first anticipated, considering the vigor with which the attack was begun. The Russians hope was to break the Austrian lines in the passes but all their attacks were repulsed. The Russian tactics consisted of charging in five separate successive lines. As soon as one line was cut down another advanced until all five were shot down. The Russians sent forward all available troops, even the older men, who previously were used only as guards for the military workshops. Even military tailors and cooks were forced into the attacking line.

With the Russian Black Sea Fleet reported knocking at the door of the Bosporus and Allied battleships renewing the bombardment of Turkish positions on the Dardanelles, the fate of Constantinople is today hanging in the balance.

The British Admiralty report of the sinking of three battleships, two British and one French, gives weight to the growing belief that the straits will not be won until the naval operations are supported by land forces. The Allied battleships were sunk by floating mines. The waters in which the ships were lost had been swept free of mines and declared clear, but the Turks sent floating containers of explosives down the straits and these were carried by the currents into the Allied ships gathered inside the straits.

Neither side reports any important actions on the Western Front during the past week.

The Austrian government is resisting pressures exerted by Germany to induce her to make territorial concessions to Italy. The Austrians say there ready to grant territorial concessions but they wish to ensure Italian-neutrality, especially in view of the fact that the cessation of the province of Trent would imply a weakening of Austrian military resources.

March 22

The US Battleship Alabama arrived in Hampton Roads to enforce American neutrality in the port and off the Virginia coast where British and French warships have been hovering since the arrival of the German converted cruiser the Prinz Eitel Friedrich. Authorities are stolidly silent as to why the warship was sent, but it is not to protect the Prinz Eitel Friedrich within the three-mile limit of the American coast as some have suggested.

Instead it is believed that the battleship is present to prevent Allied merchantman from carrying fuel and supplies to the British and French warships off the coast. Dock workers have reported that Allied merchantmen have left fully loaded with fuel only to return within days completely empty.

The German sea-raider is all probability will be interned in this port although the officers of the Prinz Eitel Friedrich say they are ready to brave the dash for liberty. However it is believed that when her repairs are completed her ensign will be hauled down, her guns dismantled and the crew interned.

The Hamburg-American liner Odenwald was stopped from leaving San Juan, Puerto Rico, and is being held under the terms of the recent congressional resolution to prevent supplies going from American ports to ships of European belligerence at sea.

The Hamburg-American liner Odenwald

Under the resolution, clearance to leave port can be withheld for any vessel which the harbor master has reasonable cause to believe is carrying fuel, arms, ammunition, men or supplies to any warship or supply ship of a belligerent nation.

There were many circumstances accompanying her preparations for sea, which aroused the suspicions of the American authorities. When the Odenwald began to take on provisions a customs inspector was put on board. Just before she made her unsuccessful run out of the harbor, the inspector was told to go ashore, and when he refused was put over the side in a small boat. The ship was stopped from leaving the harbor by two shots across her bow from a 5-inch gun from the fort that defends the harbor.

Officials are convinced that the Odenwald intended to fit out on the high seas with guns, as a commerce raider, like the Prinz Eitel Friedrich now lying at Newport News. They also believe that once she got to sea she might transfer some of her stores to the converted cruiser Kron Prinz Wilhelm, recently reported to be near Puerto Rico.

The Austrian fortress of Przemysl surrendered to the Russians. The last of the outer fortifications were captured some days ago and the final act of the drama began towards the close of the week when the Austrian commander deliberately expended his reserve ammunition and sent the bulk of the garrison out in the forlorn hope of cutting their way eastward through the besiegers.

Remains of the Austrian fortress of Przemysl

With a strong Russian line tightly drawn around the fortress, the effort apparently was hopeless from the start, and 6,000 Austrians fell into the hands of the Russians, while many more fell dead and wounded.

According to figures given by the Austrian commander of Przemysl, the number of prisoners who surrendered to the Russians were nine generals and 93 officers of the general staff, 2,500 officers and officials, and 117,000 men.

Pitiable conditions prevailed among the soldiers defending Przemysl, men were dropping from exhaustion, while others had not sufficient strength to leave the trenches. They ate voles and gnawed at the straps of their equipment to keep themselves alive. It is reported that nearly a quarter of the garrison suffered from typhoid and scurvy.

Although the provisions were growing more and more limited, none but a few of the higher officers knew that actual starvation was impending. The real conditions of affairs was only learned by the troops when an aviator, who is carrying messages for Vienna, was shot down by the Russians and fell within the defenders lines. After that there was much grumbling in the garrison. Some of the Austrians slipped through the lines at night and surrender to the Russians.

By the end of February actual famine prevailed, scarcely a living animal was left. For weeks virtually the only substance was obtained from small supplies of concentrated foodstuffs brought in by aero-planes. Officers daily considered the situation, but not until they were convinced that there was no hope of help from an Austrian relief column did they reach the decision to surrender.

The defenders of the fortress marched out of Przemysl with colors flying. The Austrian governor surrendered his sword to the Russian commander while thousands of Austrian troops piled their arms in front of Russian regiments drawn up in line. The Russian troops saluted the Austrians after their last parade.

The fall of Przemysl has made a profound impression in Hungary, as the flower of the Hungarian infantry was included among the defenders of the fortress, which was considered impregnable.

Undaunted by the loss of the battleships Bouvet, Ocean, and Irresistible, the Allies are going ahead with their attempt to force the Dardanelles, confident that success will attend their efforts. The intentions as to the landing of a ground forces are closely guarded but it is known that an army of considerable size is ready to attack the Turkish when the admirals advise that the moment has arrived.

While the French battleship Bouvet was going down, roaring cheers from the Turkish garrison greeted the sight. The captain of the Bouvet had been ordered to cross a dangerous mine zone. The Bouvet avoided two mines, but a third struck her near her magazine and she sank almost immediately with a great loss of life.

This was the first battle where Allied warships attacking the Dardanelles were within range of the Turkish guns for any considerable length of time. The result for the Allies was terrible, owing to the excellent marksmanship from the Turkish batteries, commanded by German officers. The result has inspired the Turks with confidence and they are looking forward to further engagements with calm assurance.

The cessation of hostilities owing to bad weather has enabled the Turks to affect important repairs too seriously damaged forts and to bring new guns into position replacing those destroyed by the fire of Allied warships. The Turks express confidence that the forts, and mines in the straits, will be able to keep out the ships of the Allies.

Engagements sharp, but not of a general character, are prevailing at different points in the Western Front. However, it is generally considered that the present lull is but a calm before the storm. When the onset of warm weather the allies are expected to begin their big drive.

Efforts by the German ambassador to persuade Austrian to cede territory have failed. Germany has endeavored to bring about an accord between Vienna, Italy and Romania, in which Austria with cede her Italian province to Italy, and Transylvania to Romania. In doing so, the Germans had hoped to keep both Italy and Romania neutral in the war. Turkey has agreed to offer Bulgaria territory in exchange for her continued neutrality in the war.

The aero-plane has so far proved useless in the war. However, the English are going to make one more try at air fighting and for this purpose have prepared a new fleet of aero-planes with a tremendous speed of 120 miles an hour. This will make them by far the fastest thing in the air.

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