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The Great War

News Reports From the Front
100 Years Ago This Month

July 1916

July 7

After weeks of intense bombardment with guns of every caliber, firing 1 million shells daily, the British on Saturday launched a general offensive against the German lines along a front of 20 miles, north of the river Somme. The French on the British right cooperated in the attack. British and French troops penetrated 5 miles, their furthest advance of the war, taking several villages, and capturing a labyrinth of trenches.

The allies are now on the offensive in practically every front of the war. The British assault comes on the heels of the great success won by the Russians in Galicia. On the Italian front the Central Powers have also met with severe reverses, and for several days the Italians have been steadily driving the Austrians from positions in the Trenttino.

The British artillery bombardment prior to the assault was one of a degree of fury and number of guns, which were unprecedented in the region. At 7:30 in the morning through clouds of smoke and dust which hung over the whole field as far as the eye could see, the infantry sprang from trenches for the assault. The new British trench mortars, which fire 35 shots a minute played a great part, cutting wire entanglements and destroying trenches.

The front selected for the British offensive was decided upon many weeks ago and the bombardment of the rest of the line, as well as frequent raids which procured for British headquarters important information as to the disposition of the Germans, was designed to keep the German generals uncertain as to the point at which they would be called upon to meet the brunt of the attack.

This is the first time since the outbreak of the war that the intention of an army to undertake an offensive has been so well advertised. A week ago when the Germans attack against Verdun began to make headway, it was feared that the Germans were getting within a distance of Verdun, which was dangerous for the Allies, the British guns began to speak.

Since then, except for the hours when British infantry were raiding German trenches, a continual bombardment has been maintained in the evenings following their daily artillery storm, raiding parties dashed out from the British lines to complete the destruction wrought by the big guns. A French officer who witnessed this plan of operation described it as "the last word in scientific warfare."

As the German trenches are occupied, evidence accumulates on the deadly execution of the artillery. In some cases 80% of the defenders were killed by the terrible shelling to which they were subjected. British losses very. Certain formations being called on to attack defenses, where machine guns remain undamaged, suffered heavily. Others capture positions with very slight losses.

Overwhelming as the power of the guns, the grand and significant spectacle was the site of detachments of infantry, and field equipment moving forward, until finally the dugouts were hives of khaki about to swarm forth for battle. Each of the officers had maps and directions in detail of the part the unit was to play in the whole complicated scheme of attack. As the battalions marched they sang the tunes they used to sing on the drill grounds at home.

The sector of the German front of which the British have assumed the offensive forms a considerable bulge in the British line. The southern end rest on the Somme, which is a formidable river, which makes military operations difficult because it breaks into many channels, flowing through a broad marsh, especially at places where it has not been surveyed.

At many points on the British front it is possible to see the trenches of the Germans winding about the opposite slopes. A military expert, writing of the offensive says, "it is safe to say the Germans never expected a great attack in this country. We may hope, therefore, for a reduction of the German salient, and the securing of better strategic positions."

The reserves which the Germans rushed to the Somme region has failed to check the Allied advance. An entire battalion of the 185th regiment of Prussian infantry, recruited from the upper Rhine, surrendered yesterday to the British. The battalion had been assigned for duty only a short time before to replace heavy casualties. The British fire was so heavy in the trenches occupied by the Prussians that the men refused to fight longer.

So far as the Western front is concerned, the first phase of the offense is believed to be nearing the end. Both North and South of the Somme the French and the British are engage in organizing positions captured since Saturday. The French, having taken all the German defensive positions South of the Somme, are now fighting in open country, and cavalry, which has been long idle, is being employed for patrol work.

On the Eastern front, the Russians continue to record successes, along the whole front from Riga to the Carpathians.

The Russians have begun a tremendous offensive on the Riga front, where their artillery is destroying German trenches. Most of their artillery consists of Japanese guns man by Japanese and French officers, and they are using ammunition of Japanese and American origin. In some places the Russian barrage fire continued even after their infantry reached German trenches, and at least at one spot, both defenders and attackers were totally annihilated. The Russians were buried under the earth works by their own artillery.

Further south, Russian cavalry patrols have crossed the Carpathian Mountains and entered Hungary. The cavalry cut telegraph wires and blow up buildings in which food and munitions were stored.

The situation in the Caucuses is somewhat confusing. Turkish and Russian reports are more at variance than usual. Both claiming victories. It appears, that while the Russian right is drawing back towards the Black Sea and their extreme left is retiring across the Persian border, their center is continuing to advance southward.

The Russian army which had advanced towards Baghdad has fallen back some 80 miles under pressure of the great Turkish forces which were brought against it.

July 14

The gigantic German merchant submarine, Deutschland, ended her 4,100 mile trip across the Atlantic this morning, when she docked at a pier in Baltimore. Definitive announcements that the submarine is the first of a fleet of such craft built to fly regularly in the trans-Atlantic trade was made here today by Capt. Konig, her master.

The submarine was not fitted with torpedo tubes nor did she carry a deck gun or any arms at all. Thereby she was classified as a unarmed merchantman by the port authorities, and therefore entitled to all privileges due to a belligerent owned freighter under international law.

"This is not the only one that is coming," said the captain, "just wait, there will be more here soon, and we are going back for another cargo, we’re going to have a regular line."

The captain said the submarine brought a viable cargo of dyestuff which had been so much in need in America, "…and which the ruler of the seas has not allowed the great American Republic to import. While England will not allow anybody the same right on the oceans, because she rules the waves, we have by means of the submarine commenced to break this rule. Great Britain cannot hinder boats such as ours to go and come as we please. Our trip passing Dover across the ocean was an uneventful one, when danger approach we went below the surface, and here we are safely in the American port, ready to return in due course.

"Our boats will carry across the Atlantic the mails, and save them from British interception. We trust that the whole friendly relationship with the United States going back to the days of Washington, when it was Prussia who was the first to help America in its fight for freedom from British rule, will waken afresh and your beautiful and powerful country.

"There is little to tell about the trip." The captain continued. "We left Germany June 23 and steamed on the surface until the ship entered the North Sea. Everything will went without incident the first day, but on the second day in the North Sea we were in the zone of British cruisers and destroyers. We cited smoke frequently, but only dived when we thought there was danger of our being detected. Of course, we were difficult to see because we are running so low in the water and gave out no smoke. We did submerge several times in the North Sea, staying under sometimes two hours and sometimes less. Every time I came to the surface, if all looked well, we kept going.

"From the North Sea we went straight through the English Channel. On the night of the fourth day we submerged and remained still all night on the bottom of the channel. There were lots of cruisers, near us, and it was very foggy. So we thought it wise not to take any chances. The next morning all was well, and we proceeded through the channel’s into the Atlantic Ocean without incident."

The captain said the Deutschland was built for submersion to a depth of 300 feet. When asked to explain what devices the Deutschland had for finding her way under water and avoiding danger, the captain said he had two. "One is the microphone, the other is a sounding apparatus. With a microphone you can hear submarine bell believes 6 miles away and the propellers of some ships still farther. By the tone of the noise made by the screw of a vessel you can tell her type. A destroyer makes a loud thumping and a cruiser of low hum.

"The sounding apparatus can be worked while the submarine is running submerged and is let down to the bottom of the boat through valves. For entertainment, the captain said the ship had photographs with about 100 records. There were some American ragtime songs, some marchers in some dances.

"Of course," the captain continued, "all the men smoked while they were on deck. It is forbidden to smoke below deck in the submarine. There is a danger of fire. The crew reads a lot too. The submarine has a library of 40 volumes."

Capt. Koenig has been the recipient of hundreds of congratulatory telegrams or mail from across the country. Many of them came from German societies who are anxious to have their commander and his officers as guest at dinners and other functions. The local German colony is already making arrangements to give the crew a celebration and outing.

The British newspapers, while expressing aberration editorially for defeat of the German submarine Deutschland, insists that it cannot have the slightest military importance nor can it be regarded as a demonstration of the ineffectiveness of the British blockade. "While the submarine trip does credit to German enterprise, and seamanship, it leaves the maritime situation where it was before. The risk of disaster is immense and the capacity of submarines to carry commodities which Germany needs is insignificant."

It is known that the Deutschland will take back a cargo of rubber and nickel. Her captain, in his declarations to local customs officers, said he expects to sail within 10 days.

Already there is a discussion concerning the return cargoes for other underwater liners, which are expected to follow the Deutschland to American shores. These vessels, it was reliably stated, will carry the most essential foodstuffs that Germany and Austria need. Coffee was specifically named as one of the commodities.

July 21

The second phase of the great battle on the Western front has now begun. The artillery has been brought up to new positions and is again battering the German defenses. In addition to inflicting losses on the Germans in men, guns and territory, the Anglo-French offensive is reported to have compelled them to withdraw forces from the Verdun front.

After the breach was made in the second German line on Sunday, cavalry detachments, English and Indians, for the first time had to reward of two years wait since trench warfare began. They went straight into the face of the Germans, who were forming a new defense line, which the British infantry were attacking.

When some Germans with automatic rifles, which are virtually portable machine guns, blazed from a wheat field, the Dragoon Guards set their lances, charged, wheeled and rode back through them, as might have been done in the Napoleonic wars.

For the first time in 18 months of continuous warfare on the Western front, with its continuous bayoneting, bombing, gassing and shelling, an enemy was impaled from a horse.

At one time, when a machine gun was troubling the cavalry, a British aviator, flying at a height of 300 feet, circled four times as he poured the contents of his machine gun into the Germans.

On the Eastern front the Russians have achieved three important advances at widely separated points in the Eastern war theater.

The first is the successful drive from Southeast of Lutsk. The second is in advance on the extreme southern wing along the high road leading into Hungary, and the third is the improved situation in the Caucuses resulting from the taking of Baibut.

The Russians are in possession of four important lines leading into Hungary, following up their spectacular successes which have taken them within a month across the whole of Bukowina, they are proceeding steadily forward, apparently with little resistance.

The taking of Baiburt, which has been the goal of the central Caucasus armies. Ever since the fall of Zerum, all chances of a successful Turkish counteroffensive have now been eliminated.

Experts in Petrograd believe the final victory over Germany may yet be a year or more distance, adding "for the German grow stronger as the circumference of their defense contracts, and he probably will be stronger when once more driven back upon his own admirable railroad system."

There is still a school of experts who believe that the Germans should be encouraged to attack by steadily retreating before them, as no form of fighting nowadays cost so dearly as attack. Wellington's victories in Europe, Waterloo particularly, or one by retreat.

This game apparently is impossible at present, owing to the fact that Western Europe goes to pieces morally at the very thought of retreat. This is unfortunate; for retirement is every way as legitimate a military move as it stands, especially in such a war as the present, where victory in the old sense is impossible.

July 28

From the same sources that two weeks ago tonight predicted the arrival of the giant merchant submarine Deutschland, today came to the declaration that her sister ship the Bremen, or enter port before Monday.

Despite announcements from Baltimore that the Deutschland did not secure clearance papers at the customhouse, their are reports that the submersible has been cleared to return to Germany, and these caused credence to be given to the reports that the Bremen may arrive soon. Naval authorities here pointed out that the announcement of the clearance of the Deutschland may have been withheld in the interest of neutrality.

There is a constantly growing believe here that the Bremen will pass into the Capes at about the time of the departure of the Deutschland. Suggestion has been made that it is part of the German plan to have the two submersibles in the Capes at the same time so as to confuse the Allied warships now lying about 8 miles out in the Atlantic.

One of the Allied warships, presumably British, fired a shot across the bow of an unidentified vessel about 10 miles off the Capes today. According to residents. The vessel, which was a trawler, halted upon the firing of the shot, the Allied ships moved over to her and after a few minutes parlay she was permitted to proceed.

Naval circles were flooded with discussions of a unannounced and unexpected visit of an unidentified British cruiser to the lower part of the Chesapeake Bay Wednesday night, news of which became known Thursday after the warship had returned to her patrol duty outside the 3 mile limit, where she awaits the German submarines Deutschland and Bremen.

Opinions differ as to the purpose of the visit. The most generally accepted version was it that the cruiser’s commander believed the Deutschland was moving down the bay, and hope that by entering American waters he would be able to follow her out to sea, or force her to anchor at some point just inside the Capes. Regardless of whether the commander had been able to carry out either of these two suggestions, it is pointed out, visual proof that the submersible had reached the lower bay would have proved invaluable to him, and other officers of the Allied patrol.

Much speculation also has been current as to whether the probable attitude of Washington officials will be towards the visit. Authorities here agree that while the cruiser violated no law, the entrance was at least unusual. The Navy Department has been fully informed of the fact by the officers of the battleship Louisiana, who first saw the cruiser inside the Capes.

The war Department said that three US vessels, the battleship North Carolina and three destroyers, would be stationed at the Capes to ensure no further incursion by Allied warships takes place within American borders.

The British ambassador told the State Department that the British cruiser had not entered American waters as had been reported by the commander of the battleship Louisiana. The ambassador said the British ships had strict orders not to enter the three-mile limit of American territorial waters to waylay the German submarine.

The British ambassador was very indignant over the report that one of their cruisers had made an incursion into Chesapeake Bay under the cover of darkness.

The fourth week of the Somme battle began well for the allies and is expected to be fruitful of important developments. Before Saturday midnight the British began a new attack on the whole line and the fact that the British have been able to resume the offensive so soon after the unsuccessful German counterattack of last week, in which very strong German forces were brought forward, is regarded as a good sign.

The French and British, giving themselves no rest, are continuing their efforts to widen their positions North and South of the Somme were and they are now pinned on three sides by German armies. German officers are confident of their ability to hold her own, and are aided by the most powerful collection of artillery which Germany has yet accumulated in any single battle theater.

Lt. Marchal of the French Aviation Corps flew over the German capital, upon which he drop proclamations, and then continued his flight, intended to land within the Russian lines. He was forced to descend, however, in Poland, and was taken prisoner by the Germans. The flight, of almost 807 miles, most of which he traveled in darkness. He left at 930 on June 20, taking with him a supply of fuel sufficient to last 14 hours.

His mission was to cross Germany at a low altitude, in order to drop the proclamations on the capital Berlin and fly on to Russia. According to Lieut. it was the failure of the spark plugs which stopped him, and he was forced to descended to change the plugs. Unfortunately it was necessary to change all the plugs and while he was doing that he was taken prisoner by the Austrians much to his chagrin.

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