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The Great War

News Reports From the Front
100 Years Ago This Month

February 1916 – The western front finally erupts

February 4

The British liner Appam, which had not been heard from since January 15, four days out from Dakar, British West Africa and for whose safety grave apprehension had been expressed in British shipping circles, arrived in Hampton Roads Saturday morning in charge of a prize crew commanded by Lieut. Berge of the German navy, who was placed aboard the Appam when she was captured off the Canary Islands by a German commerce raider.

The Appam flying the German naval battle flag

There were a total of 451 persons aboard the Appam, including the surviving members of the crews of seven other ships sunk by the German raider which captured the Appam.

The Appam was captured, without any show of resistance, January 15, the day the British news reports said wireless communications with the vessel suddenly ceased.

Passengers aboard the steamer explained the English captain made no attempt to escape, fearing for the safety of the large number of passengers the streamer carried.

On the same day the raider, which captured the Appam, gave chase to another British streamer, which was caring a cargo of meat. The meat ship gave battle and was sunk, but not until a large portion of her cargo had been taken off for use by the Germans.

Six more vessels were destroyed in rapid succession, it was stated, and the crews taken on board the Appam, which was then headed across the Atlantic for Hampton Roads. The run to this port was made without incident.

No light was thrown on the mysterious German commerce raider which captured the Appam. Presumably she still roams the seas and it is only a matter of a short time before other evidence of her work appears in American ports.

The German raider is supposedly a new heavily armed, swift German cruiser built on the lines of a merchant ship and easily disguised. She was escorted by several other vessels, at least one of which was the coaler that also acted as a scout ship.

As the Appam sailed slowly up Hampton Roads, she passed several British merchantmen, the freighters saluting the captured British seaman which lined the Appam’s rails with blast of their whistles. Lieut. Berge disregarded the whistles. "Listen to them saluting the German flag." He said with a smile.

Now that she is in port, the question to be settled, say naval officers here, is whether the ship is a war prize or a German cruiser as would be indicated by the fact that she was brought in under the German man-of-war flag instead of the German merchant flag.

The Hague convention states: "A war prize may only be brought into a neutral port on account of its seaworthiness, stress of weather or want of fuel or provisions." According to the convention, "it must leave as soon as the circumstances which justified its entry. If it does not, the neutral power must order it to leave at once." Should it fail to obey, the neutral power must employ any means at its disposal to release it, with his officers and crew, and intern the prize crew.

However, if the Appam is determined to be an German auxiliary cruiser she is entitled under international law to as much time as she needs to make any necessary repairs and load enough coal and provisions to carry her to the nearest homeport.

In any event, officials here regard as a foregone conclusion that the Appam will remain in Hampton Roads until the end of the war. British cruisers, patrolling the Atlantic lanes of commerce, already advised of the arrival of the Appam, are steaming for the Virginia Capes to guard the entrance outside the 3-mile limit, where she will surly be captured if she tries to flee.

February 11

The American government has decided that the Prussian-American Treaty of 1813 governs the case of the Appam. Under its provisions, prize vessels have the right to come and go freely from ports of the United States. The sole question to be decided now is how long the Appam should be permitted to remain within American borders. If forced to depart German officials have stated the ship would be sunk to prevent her recapture by the British.

Only the prize crew remained on board the ship. The liners passengers and original ship's company, were liberated by order of the United States government.

According to reports, the Germans rigged a device for blowing up the ship in the event of a uprising of the more than 400 prisoners held by the little prize crew of 22. The threat of such a catastrophe was held over the heads of the crew to ensure their good behavior.

Capt. Harrison of the Appam said he had no other recourse than to surrender when he discovered the warlike character of the ship that stopped him. When the cruiser was less than two ships length away he was ordered to board her with his deck officers and a number of his men. "When I was again placed on board my ship," said Capt Harrison," I found it in full possession of the Germans. Bombs had been planted on the bridge, in the chart House and in the engine room, and I was told that at the first sign of trouble they would be exploded and the ship would be sent to the bottom.

Meanwhile on the western front, artillery engagements of terrific intensity have been in progress. There appears to be a growing belief both in Paris and London that the Germans are preparing to launch some important military movements on the Western front. For nearly a fortnight increasing German activity has been reported along this line.

Every argument from the enemy standpoint favors a great western offensive. The victory in Serbia has released several hundred thousand men for service on the western front.

Reiterating the report that large numbers of German troops have been transferred recently to northern France, the Amsterdam correspondent for Reuters said that 600,000 men had been sent by the Germans to the Belgian front.

Latest reports show no signs of a lessening in the intensity of the violent struggle which has been going on for several days in the vicinity of Vimy and Neuville, near the Belgian border, while further south along the line there are signs of reawakening activity on the part of both the Germans and French.

In Persia, Constantinople reports that Russian forces have met with a serious defeat at the hands of Persian tribesmen and are retreating in disorder.

The British newspapers continued to express some anxiety for the British army at Kut-el-Amara, south of Baghdad. Today is the 63rd day since the British forces were surrounded there. It is pointed out however, that the British forces are in daily communication with the relief expedition by wireless.

Kurdish Calvary

February 18

The Champagne region in France, where comparative quiet has prevailed recently, while intense battles had been in progress along other parts of the front, has again been the scene of bitter fighting of which the French have had the advantage. After capturing about 300 yards of the enemy trenches, the French have been forced to undergo several counterattacks of a severe character, all of which were repulsed.

In Belgium, after quite a violent artillery preparation, the Germans attempted to cross the Yser Canal. Under the combined fire a French artillery and machine guns the attempt failed. In Champaign there was marked artillery activity. After bombardment lasting several hours the Germans were able to penetrate a small salient on the battle line.

In upper Alsace there was further action on the part of German infantry. The attacks, preceded by a violent artillery bombardment, resulted in the Germans securing positions of about 200 yards of trenches, but an immediate counterattack on the part of the French resulted in a greater portion of these positions being recaptured.

According to the British the Germans broke into their trenches near Pilkelm, but were driven out by bombing parties, leaving many dead and wounded behind.

In the Caucuses, the capture of Erzerum by the Russians is regarded here as the feat of first importance, the fortress, being in any campaign by Russia against Turkey, a dominating factor in military calculations, as it is the key to Armenia, both politically and from a military standpoint. Its retention by Russia is considered as meaning the liberation of the long-suffering Armenian race. Its capture, it is believed it will relieve the pressure upon the British positions in Mesopotamia, and have a profound effect on the hostile elements in Persia and put in jeopardy the Turkish forces throughout Armenia.

Russian official communication gives few details of the fighting around the fortress. Apparently the Russian forces, made a masterly advance under adverse weather conditions since their breakthrough a month ago of the Turkish line on the Caucuses border, pushing 80 miles through the country that previously had been considered impassable in winter conditions.

February 25

The completeness of the defeat sustained by the Turks and the terrible losses they suffered in the Erzerum fighting are becoming more and more clear. The fortress itself and the surrounding country are full of Turkish dead.

The remnants of the Turkish army, chased by Russian troops, are fleeing in disorder at many points in different directions. A severe snowstorm has failed to cool the ardor of the Russian men in pursuit who are close on the heels of the Turks and are annihilating them or taking prisoners at the tail ends of the Turkish columns. Before the evacuation the Kurds mercilessly massacred thousands of Armenians.

Details from the Russian side indicate that there were no large capture of men when the fortress fell. The bulk of the Turkish troops apparently were well on the retreat westward at the time the inner forts were taken, only the rearguard taking part in the last day of fighting.

According to the Germans the loss of the fortress is to be regretted, but the incident is without military importance. The Germans assert confidently that it will have no influence on the conduct of the campaign of the Caucuses and Iraq fronts, that the mountain barrier westward of Erzerum presents insurmountable difficulties for the Russians, and that, in a word, there is no motive for being disquieted over the recent turn of events.

The rapid advance of the Russian forces in Turkish Armenia, following the fall of Erzerum, is complicating the task of the Turks to reform their scattered forces. Two Turkish army corps which were on their way to reinforce the garrison at Erzerum turned back when they learned that the fortress had fallen.

The Russian press believes that the collapse of the Turkish defense in Armenia will put an end to Germany's efforts to inspire a Moslem fanatical war against Russia, and will tend to turn them against their German allies. The fall of Erzerum may bring about the collapse of the proposed German campaign against the Suez Canal in Egypt.

Meanwhile on the western front, gains for the Germans in the region north of the French fortress of Verdun are reported by the Berlin war office. The statement says the entire wooded district northwest and north east of Beaumont and the forest of Herbe, 6 miles north of Verdun are in possession of the Germans, who are at one point not more than five and half miles distant from the fort. The German war office say they have capture all French positions in the region north of Verdun, as far as the ridge of Loudemont, just south of Beaumont.

The Germans also announced the capture of the fortified villages of Campneuville, Cotellate, Marmont, Beaumont, Chambrettes and Ornes. The Germans also claim that they have captured Fort Dauaumont, one of the outer forts defending Verdun. Fort Douaumont lies four miles northeast of Verdun.

The reported capture of Douaumont is the most important achievement since the inauguration of the German drive towards Verdun - an onslaught which for fury and for weight of men and guns has few precedents in the war.

The French war office has expressed confidence that, notwithstanding the great strength of the German drive, Verdun and its protecting fortresses would be able to hold out. These positions form what has been regarded as one of the greatest strongholds in Europe.

Verdun is of particular importance for the fact that it offers direct communication with Paris, which is 150 miles to the west. Verdun marks the northerly point of the great French defenses against direct attack from German territory, the most southerly being Belfort, as between these two points lies the stretch of frontier on which Germany touches France.

To take the fortress of Verdun is one of the chief ambitions with which the German Crown Prince has been credited. The present effort under his command is on a scale that indicates the most determined effort yet of his armies to break down the barriers with which the French have protected their stronghold and get within striking distance of the fortress itself. At last count the battle was still raging with great fury, both sides keeping up a continuous fire from all available artillery and throwing masses of troops into the fray. Losses on each side have been extremely heavy.

The great battle raging along the 25-mile front disposes effectively the question of whether or not the Germans would make an early offensive. The battle is the first of a large-scale sissy offensive in the champagne in September, and is believed to be the forerunner of stirring and perhaps decisive events.

The great battle which is being watched in England with keen interest, but as far without anxiety, is regarded here as the long expected big spring offensive. It is pointed out that the French, profiting by their early experiences in the war, now rarely hold their advance trenches strongly, and that, therefore, their withdrawal at some points to their second line of trenches is no sign of weakness. The military critics point out that after three days of desperate assaults the French second line of trenches are still intact everywhere.

On the other hand, is believed that the French generals are pursuing the tactics of allowing the enemy to assault in masses, which involves enormous sacrifices to the Germans. The French defense, according to military experts, has proved itself most effective in inflicting appalling losses on the Germans. German prisoners taken stated that whole regiments have been wiped out.

The German losses touring the first four days of the battle around Verdun are estimated at 150,000 men. The Germans are continuing their violent attacks without regard to their sacrifices. French military experts state that the present battle is for Paris itself, for the fall of Verdun would make the German task of approaching the capital much easier.

According to a Routers' wire report, the Germans could not have chosen a more inappropriate time for the offensive against Verdun. At the beginning of the attack the weather suddenly changed to the most severe weather spell in several years and the heavy snow and frost seriously hampered their movements.

The Routers’ report adds that at the German War Council held in Berlin, at which the decision to attack Verdun was taken, the German and Bavarian Crown Princes strongly favored an attack on the French fort of Verdun, but both Field Marshal Mackensen and Field Marshal Hindenburg opposed the plan, contending that it would be better to develop the operations already planned against the Russian front, because it would be necessary, if the plan of the princes was adopted, to send to France reserves that have been training for Russian warfare.

Further, Field Marshal von Hindenburg is reported to have said that the chances of success on the Russian front where greater, and if the Germans could knock the Russians out of the war, they could then concentrate all their forces on the French and English and bring about a final German victory. He declared to have little hope of the operations against Verdun and feared of the adverse effects of the morale of the Army in case of its failure. These arguments, the report adds, did not prevail on Emperor William, who supported the crown princes.

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