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The Great War

News Reports From the Front
100 Years Ago This Month

December 1916

Bucharest falls, Germany proposes peace

December 1

The process of squeezing Romania between the claws of the Teutonic machine is proceeding with notable rapidity. German troops have broken Romanian resistance in the valley of the lower Alt and apparently already have turned the supposedly strong line of defense across western Romania to which the Romanians had retreated.

The campaign against Romania is developing rapidly with a converging drive on Bucharest from three directions. The immediate threat to the capital seems to be greatest on the Southwest, where the invaders have approach to within less than 50 miles after Field Marshal von Mackensen forced the Danube at two points and effected a junction with the armies of General Falkenhayn, which are pressing rapidly eastward after having broken the Romanian resistance on the lower Alt.

Defending Bucharest appears increasingly critical. Only to the northwest of the capital does the Romanian line seemed to be holding at all firmly, and even here on the Argenchu River, although 80 miles distance from Bucharest, indications are that there is a weakening of the Romanian resistance in this direction. News dispatches have reported that the Romanian government and diplomatic officials are leaving Bucharest for Jassy, 200 miles northeast of the capital, near the Russian frontier.

The retreat of the Romanians, according to the Germans, is a precipitate one as indicated by the disorderly retirement of the Romanian forces along the entire Wallachian front. The Romanians have destroyed the railway from Tchernovoda to Bucharest and are burning all the villages and stores of food in the course of the retreat.

It is impossible to doubt that the deteriorating situation in Romania is viewed in the Allied capitals with the greatest misgivings. The question is being frankly asked whether the accession of Romania to the Allied cause has brought strength or weakness, whether Russia has rendered the assistance which might have been expected from her and whether the Allies might have shown more initiative in attacking from Saloniki; whether the collapse in Romania is due to any lack of unity of the allies plan or strategy, or whether it is due in large part to Romania's hasty invasion of Transylvania.

On the western front, extremely bad weather has brought the great Somme battle to a hold. Attacks have been minimal, and mostly confined to artillery exchanges, however even they prove to be futile as a large number of shells failed to explode, instead, they buried themselves in the moist soil. Troops meanwhile are suffering from the wet and cold.

The Germans have charged the British with employing contingents of colonial troops, notably Australians, instead of their home forces in the first line, during what is alluded to as the "Battle for Practice". The Germans declare that Australians and New Zealanders lost 40,000 men in the Somme fighting, three divisions having been completely wiped out. The Canadians after suffering heavy losses in the Ypres fighting in June were thrown into the Somme battle in September and have been in the front line on all the days of great attacks since September 9. Colonial troops also have been lavishly employed by the French. In total the losses of French and English forces now exceed more than 600,000.

There is a growing belief in Washington that Germany means to evade promises to this country and shortly begin upon a merciless campaign of submarine warfare on the commerce of her enemies. German officials believe that the only way Germany will be able to bring England to her knees is through the steady destruction of her food and ammunition supplies. "If England begins to feel the pinch of hunger her statesmen and people", according to what is said to be German opinion, "will begin to look with favor upon peace negotiations, and such negotiations are what Germany wants."

The submarine is the weapon Germany depends upon to do this job. Each succeeding foray of submarines upon shipping commerce is expected to grow in intensity, and eventually reach the point explanations are no longer to be accepted by the United States. By that time, though, Germany hopes to have frightened England and her allies into consideration of peace that will bring about terms at least as satisfactory to Germany as to the Allies.

December 8

On Monday, Bucharest fell to German forces, Romanian forces are retreating in utter confusion. The chief focus of the Teutonic advance seemed however not to have been Bucharest, but Ploechti, an important railway junction town 36 miles northwest of Bucharest. The goal of the Germans was to seize this town before the Romanian armies could affect a retreat over the railway line running through it from Bucharest.

This encircling movement spelled the greatest apparent threat to King Ferdinand's forces as the railroad through Ploechti afforded the only railway avenue of escape for the Romanian army towards the northeast, where their armies and the Russians so far have held Moldavia fairly safe from the Germans.

The main point of interest in what remains of the campaign is the fate of the Romanian armies. Apparently there has been no wholesale bagging of prisoners as yet, at least, by Field Marshal von Mackensenís troops, although Berlin reports the capture of more than 9,000 men.

Petrograd's statement announcing the evacuation of Bucharest and the retirement of the Romanians who were holding off the German Danube army South of the capital probably indicates that an attempt was made to move virtually the entire Romanian army Northeast towards Moldavia, before the entrance of the German troops into the capital.

The capture of Ploechti in the center of the Romanian oil region, was affected on Tuesday. With the fall of Ploechti there appears no probability of saving the oil fields, which is considered the worst feature of the situation as Germany is in desperate need of oil if she is to continue her war effort.

Military experts believe that the Romanians have decided to abandon all of Wallachia, the main portion of the Romanian Kingdom, and retire to Moldavia, their northeastern province, where their front would be materially shortened and where they would be in close touch with the Russians. According to the Germans, over 100,000 Romanians soldiers have been captured by the forces of the Central Powers since the beginning of the war.

December 15

On Monday, the German Chancellor proposed peace negotiations. The German peace terms, in general, proposed the reestablishment of the status quo before the war with the exception of the establishment of independent Kingdoms of Poland and Lithuania. They are understood to propose the complete restoration of the occupied portions of Belgium and France in return for Germanyís captured colonies and to dispose of the Balkan situation, because itís extremely complicated nature, in the peace conference.

In a speech before the German Reichstag, the German Chancellor said: "The situation was serious, but military operations progress, and that by strokes of the sword a firm foundations for our economic needs have been laid. Great stocks of grain, oil, and another goods fell into our hands with the capture of Romania. We could have lived on our own supplies, but now our safety is beyond question."

"To these great events on land, the chance for continued military success of equal importance are added by our submarines. The specter of famine which are enemies intended to appear before us now pursues them without mercy."

"The Empire it's not a besieged fortress, as our adversaries imagine, but one gigantic and firmly disciplined camp with inexhaustible resources. That is the German Empire, which is firmly and faithfully united with his brothers in arms, who have been tested in battle under Austrian-Hungarian, Turkish, and Bulgarian flags."

"Our strength however has not made our ears deaf to our responsibility before God, before our own nation and before humanity. His Majesty, therefore, in complete harmony with our allies, decided to propose to the hostile powers to enter into peace negotiations."

The coming of winter and the lull in the fighting are given as reasons for making the peace proposal at this time. It is declared that the success of the German arms in Rumania should convince the Allied powers that the offer is not made because of any military weakness. By making the offer now, it is said, Germany feels that all sides may be saved the preparations for a spring campaign. Should the offer be declined, it is said it will be made again next Fall and if necessary the Fall after that.

Another of the objects of the peace proposal, German diplomats say, is to establish whether the Allies are willing to make peace, or whether it is their intention to crush Germany and dismember her. Germany, they say, is convinced of the ability and strength of her enemies to continue the war on its present or even greater scale for 10 years, if necessary, and is no less confident of her own ability to do so.

Among the Allied diplomats Germany's offer was pronounced to be of double purpose an unlikely of acceptance. The first purpose, the Allied representatives declare is to affect the world opinion of neutrals and place upon the Allied powers the responsibility for continuing the war in the face of offers for peace. The second, they declare, is for the internal effect in Germany, to give evidence to the people that the government was ready to end the war, but was forced to continue by her enemies.

The piece offer, the Allied diplomats say, has been timed to follow the fall of Bucharest, to convince the German people that they should have confidence in the ability of their government to continue the war, if peace offers are declined.

Indications are that the various governments of the Allies do not intend to act hastily in making responses to the peace proposals of the Central Powers. The view expressed in London is that Germany would have the most to gain from an armistice owing to recent losses on the various fighting fronts. For that reason the prospect of an armistice it is not regarded with favor in London, and the suggestion is advanced in some quarters that one of the chief motives prompting the proposals was to gain time for Germany to reposition its forces from Romania back to the Western front.

December 22

Military operations in the European field of war generally are at a low ebb. The almost complete cessation of the fighting on the Somme front during the past four weeks has enabled the Germans to complete a new system of trenches along the whole front. The great battle that began on July 1 may now be considered to have been terminated, and the fact of the Germans have reconstructed her lines means that all the effort and losses of the five months offensive of the Allied forces were in vain.

The driving campaign of Field Marshal von Mackensen in Romania seems nearly at an end. What is left of the Romanian army is now safe. Survivors are now beyond the Sereth River where they are being regrouped and refitted in view of further operations. The entire Rumanian front is now stated to be held by the Russians alone.

The peace note of the Central Powers was handed to the British government today by the American Ambassador. The note will be considered by the British Cabinet. The next step after the meeting of the Cabinet will be to get into communication with the allies of Great Britain so that joint action may be taken. This is expected to take at least a week.

While the German peace note makes no reference to a peace conference, there continues to be indications that Germany is seeking a conference. This has led to a careful scrutiny of the last precedent, that of the conference preceding the Peace Congress at the close of the Crimea War. A preliminary conference was held in Vienna in 1854, and proved abortive, but when the Peace Congress was finally settled at Paris a year later the discussions at the conference served largely as a basis.

Some sections of the foreign press have declared that the Central Powers ought to have added definitive peace proposals to the peace offer. A German diplomat, however says: "The German note to the Allied governments contains a very definitive communication as to the spirit of the peace conditions which the Central Powers would bring to propose negotiations."

The Central Powers base these proposals on the convictions that their own rights and just claims today are not in contradiction to the rights of other nations. In addition, the Central Powers declare they do not want to annihilate or destroy anybody and that the peace proposals will be of such a nature as to guarantee the establishment of a lasting peace.

Premier Lloyd George told the House of Commons that peace without reparations was impossible. He said the Allies would insist that the only end of the war must be a complete guarantee against Prussian militarism disturbing the peace of Europe. After declaring that peace without reparation was impossible, the Premier asked whether all the outrages on land and sea have been liquidated by a few pious praises about humanity.

Premier George has not shut the door on peace with the resounding clang for which some of his less balance supporters in the press have been hoping. The British press believe the German Chancellor must be more explicit before he can expect any favorable answer to his invitation. But the real danger in the situation which his offer creates for the Allies, is itís impression with neutral nations, that an abrupt sweeping refusal, not merely of the proposal but of the prospect of discussing peace terms in general, would imply the Allies do not wish peace.

Premier Georgeís speech invited Germany to be more explicit: "We have not cast out the idea of settlement and the neutral world cannot take exception to this attitude. The Allies flat refusal of the Chancellor's offer is not meant to indicate that the Allies do not want peace, but that Germany must ask it in the role of the vanquished and not the victor."

On Thursday President Wilson made public a note he sent to the warring European nations Tuesday night, urging them to outline terms of which they would be willing to make peace. The Secretary of State said that the danger of the United States being drawn into the war, by reason of its increasing critical position as a neutral, was the principle consideration in the President's dispatch of the notes. "America's rights", he said, "were being more and more violated by the belligerence, and as the United States was drawing nearer the verge of war, it was entitled to know exactly what each belligerent seeks in order that we may regulate our conduct in the future."

Neither the President or the Secretary of State regards this note as a peace note. It is merely an effort to get the belligerents to define the end for which they are fighting. The German ambassador felt the President's actions would surely lead to some sort of a consideration of peace terms. "Now I am perfectly convinced that there will be a conference."

On the whole, the prospect before humanity is not quite as black as it was last Christmas, the warring nations have reached the stage of talking about peace. If they are talking at each other rather than talking to each other is because the dawn of peace is only starting to break. There may be many weary hours before dawn blossoms into sunrise, but a faint light already is seen in the eastern sky.

December 29

On Sunday, President Wilson received a letter from Bertrans Russell, the noted British pacifist lecturer and philosopher, appealing to the President to end the war in Europe.

"The military situation," he says, "has now developed to a point where the ultimate issue is clear in its broad outlines, to all who were capable of thought. It must be obvious to the authorities and all the belligerent countries that no victory from either side is possible. In Europe the Germans have the advantage, outside Europe, the Allies have the advantage. Neither side is able to win such a crushing victory as to compel the other side to sue for peace. The war inflicts untold injuries upon the nations, but not such injuries as to make a continuance of the fighting impossible."

"The Allied governments have not acknowledged publicly what they cannot deny in private, that the hope of a sweeping victory is one which can now scarcely be entertained. I am discourage that they are prepared to involve all of Europe in the horrors of the continuation of the war, possibly for another two or three years. This situation is intolerable for every human. You, sir, can put an end to it. From your previous actions I feel confident that you will use your power with a degree of vision and humanity rarely to be found among statesmen."

"Everywhere friends of peace are met with a diabolical argument that the brave men who have died must not shed their blood in vain, and so every impulse of mercy towards the soldiers who are still living is dried up and weathered by a false and barren loyalty to those who are passed our help. There is a very real danger, if nothing is done to check the fury of national passion, European civilization, as we have known it, will perish as completely as it did after Rome fell before the barbarians."

"The United States government has the power not only to compel European governments to make peace, but also to reassure the populations by making itself the guarantor of the peace. Such action, even if it were presented by the government, would be hailed with joy by the populations."

President Wilson's note has called forth from the Allied press a torrent of criticism. In their response to the Presidentís note, the Allies summarized their position for peace terms:

"The evacuation of the whole of northern France, Belgium and Luxembourg, all lands taken from Serbia, Romania, Russia, and Montenegro. Alsace-Lorraine is to be restored to France; the Danish portion of Scheswig-Holstein is to go to Denmark. Posen, Polish Prussia and Austrian Poland are to be added to the new sub-kingdom of Poland, which the Czar has pledged to create."

"The Slavs of Bosnia, Herzegivina, Croatia, &c are to be created into a new kingdom. Bohemia is to become an independent state. Austrian Transylvania should be added to Romania. The whole of Austrian Tyrol, plus Trieste and other portions of Austria which are Italian by blood and feeling are to be added to Italy."

"Turkey is to yield Constantinople and the Dardanelles to Russia. The Armenians are to be put under Russian protection. The Arabs are to be freed. Syria, Asia Minor, and Mesopotamia to be put under external protection of the British and French."

"German colonies will remain in the hands of the Allies. Moreover, money indemnified for the ruin Germany has done to Belgium, France, Serbia, Montenegro, etc. shall be paid."

"As regarding shipping, Germany is to make reparations for all ships of commerce destroyed. Neutral shipping sunk shall be replaced entirely after all the demands of the Allies had been satisfied. The German navy is to be handed over and distributed among Allied nations."

"As a guarantee against future wars the Allies are to insist upon the democratization of the German government. The Kiel Canal to be neutralized under an international non-German commission, including the Allied countries, the United States and other neutrals."

Upon receipt of the Allied terms, experts in Washington stated frankly that it was clear that the Allies were not interested in peace, but a continuation of the war, as the terms would be clearly rejected by the Central Powers.

It now looks certain that the Great World War will continue into 1917.

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