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The Great War

News Reports From the Front
100 Years Ago This Month

June 1916

June 2

Fighting Continues on The Verdun Front

The momentous battle at Verdun shows no sign of slackening in violence. The center of the bitterest fighting has shifted somewhat to the southwest of the front where the Germans have scored most of the recent gains. With all the weight and the power of tremendous masses of men and metal the Germans have been delivering what may prove to be their decisive stroke against the main defenses at Verdun. The German drive is being pressed along a front little more than 2 miles in width.

The recent pushing back of the French lines on the west bank of the Muse is claimed to have stopped the French flanking fire, which heretofore has handicapped German attempts to advance on the opposite side of the river.

Despite the tremendous efforts of the Germans, the French first line of trenches is still unbroken and the Germans must score further advances before they can force the main issue by carrying the battle to the opposite bank of the Muse where they can direct an attack upon the fortress.

On Thursday French aeroplanes engaged in combat a group of German aviators and compelled a second group of enemy machines to disperse. A German machine was brought to the ground and in the course of this pursuit a second German machine was destroyed. The British meanwhile state that their aeroplanes had a long-running fight with three German machines. One of the latter was driven down. One of the British machines was shot down.

June 9

Germans Defeat Superior English Fleet

The largest naval battle of the war to date occurred May 31st and continued all day and into the early morning hours of Thursday when the German High See Fleet engaged a superior English Fleet off the Danish coast of Jutland. The outcome of the battle was favorable to the Germans.

According to the Germans, the large British battleships Warspite and Invincible, the battle cruisers Queen Mary and Indefatigable, and two armored cruisers, the Defense and the Black Prince were sunk. It was also reported that a small British cruiser, a number of destroyers and torpedo boats and a submarine were sunk. The British however, refuse to admit that the Warspite was sunk as claimed by the Germans.

The armoured cruiser 'Defence' (ahead and left of centre) leading the armoured cruiser 'Warrior' (right of centre) into action against the German light cruiser 'Wiesbaden', and coming under fire of the German High Seas Fleet. On the right, seen from ahead on an opposing course, is the Battlecruiser Force led by Beatty's 'Lion' with 'Princess Royal', 'Tiger' and 'New Zealand'.

The German losses included a dreadnought, two battleships, one battle cruiser, one light cruiser and six destroyers sunk: to battle cruisers damaged and three battleships hit. The German Admiralty only admit the loss of the dreadnought Westfalen and the cruiser Elbing. The Elbing was a speedy new cruiser carrying a crew of 450 men.

The details of the sinking of the German cruiser Elbing state that British gunfire cause such destruction to the ship that the captain, who was among the three officers saved, decided to have the valves opened and allow the ship to sink. Before the ship went down the bulk of the crew was taken off. Members of the crew said that the sea was covered with driftwood and dead bodies and the horizon was ablaze with burning and sinking warships.

A Dutch gunboat saw the wreck of what seemed to be a German cruiser 80 miles south of Norway. The cruiser was resting on her stern in 24 fathoms of water, 60 feet of her bow projecting. There was a lot of wreckage floating around but no one was seen in the water. Guns in the distance could be heard booming. Another German big ship was cited ablaze at midnight.

it is feared the loss of life on the English side will exceed 5,000 officers and men, including the whole crew of the Queen Mary, which the admiralty has been advised has been lost in its entirety. From five of the largest ships, which went under, with a complement of more than 4,000 men, only seven junior officers and a few seamen were rescued. Of a thousand men on the Queen Mary, only a corporal's guard is accounted for. The same is true of the invincible, while there are no survivors reported from the Indefatigable, the Defiance or the Black Prince.

It is estimated that the German losses were at least 2,000 men.

Zeppelin airships played an important part in the engagement, according to various accounts, their superiority as scouts apparently gave the Germans a marked advantage in alerting German forces of British movements.

Detail reports have not yet been received, but the main engagement apparently occurred 125 miles southwest of the southern extremity of Norway and 150 miles off the Danish coast. 150 ships were engaged in the battle, and in total, 28 warships were sunk.

The battle was divided into two sections. The day engagement began around four clock in the afternoon and continued until darkness, or around nine o'clock. This was followed by a series of separate engagements through the night.

The Germans were able to choose their distance and fight considerable portions of the battle at ranges of about 8 miles - at which the German’s 11 and 12 inch guns were virtually as effective in penetrating power as the 13, 14 and 15-inch guns with which the modern British fleet are armed. Furthermore, the German guns were far superior in accuracy and rapidity of fire. Naval experts state that this is one of the most decisive factors in eventual outcome of the titanic struggle.

German battleships and battle cruisers were able to shower the British with a hail of shells, which smashed and riddled British armor belts and wrought havoc to ships vitals. The British projectiles were no less effective but the British could land scarcely one punch for each two from the German guns. They hazy weather was Germany's friends as it necessitated action at close range.

It is impossible to visualize any coherent story of the great battle, which lasted many hours, with the different units at times fighting scattered engagements. The British and German reports contradict each other flatly on the main facts. The British assert that the German fleet retired when the British battleships appeared, while a German statement maintains that the German forces were in battle with the entire British fleet.

German Battle Cruiser SMS Seydlitz in action at the Battle of Jutland. The ship suffered severe damage during the engagement. She survived the war only to be scuttled by the Germans to prevent her from falling into England's hands after the war.

How far the zeppelins contributed to the German success is a matter of dispute. But the German’s stress the assistance rendered by their air service was invaluable. The popular belief is that the scouting zeppelins informed the German fleet by wireless of the approach of the enemy, and his numbers and formations.

From survivors come thrilling stories of the horrors and humanities of the terrible battle. There are stories of ship sinking with great explosions, of crews going down singing the national anthem, of merchant ships passing through water filled with floating bodies.

Survivors of the British cruiser Warrior say that the Warrior and the cruiser Defiance steamed between two lines of German warships with the result that within a few minutes the Defiance was blown into the air and the Warrior badly riddled. A storm of German shells exploding on the decks of the Warrior almost suffocated the crew with her gases.

An English officer from one of the destroyers gave the following graphic account of the battle:

"The ships of the Grand Fleet went into action as if they were going into maneuvers. From every yardarm the White Ensign flew, the flag, which is to every sailor as a tattered colors were in the days of old to a hard-pressed regiment. That it went hard with our battle cruisers is apparent.

The air was heavy with masses of smoke, black, yellow, green and every other color, which drifted slowly between the opposing lines, hiding sometimes friend and sometimes foe. The enemy ships were firing very fast, but, watching the ships in front, one came to the conclusion that the shooting was decidedly erratic. Again and again salvos of shells fell far short of their mark, followed immediately by others, which scream past high in the air.

I watched the Iron Duke swinging through the sea letting off broadside after broadside, wicked tongues of flame's flashing through clouds of smoke. The din of battle was stunning, deafening, as hundreds of the heaviest guns in the world fired out at once. Great masses of water rose in the air like waterspouts, reaching as high as masts, as the salvos of German shells fell short or went over their targets. Now and then a shell found its marks, and when it did, I knew many a brave man had just died.

It was impossible to see what was happening among the ships, the smoke obscured everything so effectively that one could only get a glimpse at intervals when a kindly wind blew a lane through the pall. It was apparent that the best ships of the enemy were engaged. It was impossible to see what damage has been caused. It is a curious feeling to be in the midst of the battle and not know to which side fortune leans.

With night came, the great opportunity was with the mosquito crafts, and both sides made use of it to the full. It was in this way that one of the saddest of the many sad incidents occurred. A destroyer attacked a big enemy ship. She soon got into firing range and loosed her torpedoes with deadly effect on a German battleship. The ship went down as the destroyer raced for safety. The commander and officers standing on the bridge indulging in mutual congratulations at their success. At that moment a shall hit the bridge and wiped out the entire group.

It was curious to note the effect of the fight on the sea. So great was the turmoil caused by the leviathan ships plowing at terrific speed through the waves that the sea looked like it was caught in a gale. The sea seemed to be stiff with fish killed by the shells bursting in the water."

No attempt has been made to minimize the seriousness of the British losses in ships and men, and that the German fleet had the best of the action. British naval experts however maintain that Great Britain continues to hold the supremacy of the sea by a safe margin and that her enormous navy could better withstand the losses it suffered then the smaller German Navy.

June 16

The Austrian front has been completely broken along a length of 94 miles to a depth of 37 miles. The Russian advance now threatens to envelop the entire Austrian army in the region affected. Special dispatches from Petrograd expressed the belief that the Russian successes against the Austrians affect all five Austrian armies on the front.

According to the Russians, their success is largely due to the unprecedented use of artillery, surpassing in intensity any previous efforts on either side on the Eastern front. The retreat of many Austrian troops were completely cut off by curtain of shrapnel through which it was impossible for any living thing to pass, and the Austrians were thus compelled to surrender en mass.

It is not believed that the Germans are sending troops to aid the Austrians. It is the opinion of observers here that it is not improbable that the Germans are more likely to attempt an offensive on the northern section of the Russian front than to risk weakening their lines by detaching men for the purpose of stiffening the Austrian defenses.

Information received indicates that the success attained by the Russian and the offensive has been due largely to American supplies of ammunition and guns. Large quantities of which have been imported by Russia in the last four months.

Military journals in Austria, confirm these reports. It states that without the assistance of supplies from America it would be impossible for Russia, which has comparatively few ammunition factories, to undertake such a strong offensive over along front.

Excitement On The Mexican Border

Administrative officials have been unable to determine the extent of the anti-American agitation in northern Mexico, but they are making no effort to conceal their uneasiness. They believe a definite campaign has been inaugurated by some agency to provoke an armed clash between Americans and Mexican forces.

The State Department has confirmed the current rumors that the American consulate at Durango has been burned, and that Gen. Pershing’s forces have been attacked. Secretary Lansing makes no secret of the fact that conditions in Mexico are getting worse and that the outlook is serious. There are strong indications that some important steps is to be immediate contemplated and the impression prevails that instead of a withdrawing troops now on Mexican territory, more are to be sent into the country.

June 23

War between the United States and Mexico is regarded by officers at Army headquarters as almost unavoidable. The Mexican Ambassador stationed at Brownsville, Texas, delivered an ultimatum that unless the American expedition was redrawn an attack would be made by Mexican troops. Immediately after, the Mexican Consulate was closed.

Upon receipt of the ultimatum, President Wilson called out the National Guard. The action is intended by the administration as a warning to the de facto head of the Mexican Government, General Carranza, that the United States will be prepared if troubles come, and to serve as a hint that the Mexicans had better not go further in their threats against the troops below the border.

The administration's attitude is that if the Mexicans will sincerely and honestly turn their Armed Forces against the bandits, instead of encouraging and shielding them, the presence of United States troops on Mexican soil will no longer be necessary. But that in view of the horrible experiences in the past, and the spineless of Mexican officials generally, it is impossible now to withdrawal the troops.

The word of the United States was passed that the expedition into Mexico was not intended for conquest of territory nor interference in political or other fields in that nation. The sincerity of the United States is still not in question. Should Mexican authorities in the face of this known position of the American government, bring war, the fault is theirs.

Official reports indicate that the Mexicans are not only aroused to a frenzy of hatred, but they are also egotistical as to what they can do against the military forces of this country. Their leaders talk about overrunning the United States in obtaining great wealth and territory. They believe themselves equipped for a long conflict and hope to conquer the states of California, New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas.

Chairman Chamberlain of the Senate Military Committee said that he felt all along the United States would be forced to intervene. "The Mexican people", he said, "are largely ignorant, have a notion that they can whip us, and it will be necessary for us to go in and clean up the situation."

At this moment the administration has directed soldiers of the United States in Mexico to act on the defensive and take aggressive steps only when it is necessary to safeguard themselves against dangerous attacks. The aggressors must be the Mexicans, and it must be manifest to the administration that the attacks upon American troops were in obedience to deliberately executed orders from high authorities of the de facto government. Unfortunate clashes through misunderstandings or through the errors of Mexican army officers acting upon their own initiatives will not be considered aggressive steps on the part of the administration.

The President's policy of patience will be carried to the extreme limit, so that all the world will understand that the United States did not seek or want war with Mexico, instead, it was compelled to enter war because of attacks from the Mexicans themselves.

Strong pressure is being brought to bear upon General Carranza by representatives of European powers to prevent him from forcing a break with the United States. Indirect reports reaching the State Department told of these efforts, and said there was a possibility that they would be successful. Agencies of the allies are understood to be active for peace particular because they believed German influence has sought to inflame the Mexican government against the United States, with a view to prevent the United States from assisting the allies in the European war.

June 30

Relations between the United States and the de facto government of Mexico are close to the breaking point as a result of the apparently well-founded belief that troops of American Calvary were massacred Wednesday at Carrizal by Carranza troops. If the Carranza government accepts responsibility for the attack at Carrizal, it is considered virtually certain by officials that occupation of most of northern Mexico will be ordered by Pres. Wilson to take place as rapidly as necessary.

It is believed that the first act of the Washington government when more information is at hand will be to demand repudiation of the Carrizal attack by the Carranza government. Preliminary reports had convinced officials here that the American troops in Carrizal were deliberately led into a trap. The main question remaining to be settled, is indicated, is whether the Carranza government order the attack, or whether it was the work of a subordinate officer.

On Wednesday, Carranza’s ordered the release of the American troops captured at Carrizal. However, until Carranza replies to the demands for a statement of his attitude towards the American expedition in Mexico to protect the border, the crisis is only less imminent then it was before.

Private advances reaching Washington from a reliable source in Mexico City today said Gen. Carranza and his advisers have determined to attack American troops in Mexico moving in any direction except towards the border. A faction of the Mexican cabinet was urging an even more defiant attitude, and wanted to include in the reply to the American request for a statement of intentions a new demand for immediate withdrawal of all United States troops now on Mexican soil.

With the American Troops captured at Carrizal back on American soil, apparently there was no intention on the part of Washington to force an immediate issue on its demands for assurances that there will be no reprisal of attacks on Gen. Pershing's forces.

No time limit was set in President Wilson's note making the demand, and there are indications that the administration would welcome further delay of a few days. This will permit not only a concentration of a stronger force to meet the needs of actual hostilities, if they should come, but also time to gather supplies, mobilization of transportation facilities and strengthening of aerial forces.

Army officers believe the advantage of delay to Americans greatly over balances the similar benefit to Mexicans. For this reason less impatience than might otherwise have been evident was expressed in official circles today over the delay of the Mexican reply to the President's note.

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