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The Great War

News Reports From the Front
100 Years Ago This Month

March 1916 – Poncho Villa brings the war home to American

March 3

The Germans have resumed their violent attacks to the north of Verdun, fighting being of extremely violent character. The only point where they attained any success was in the Douaumont region, where they cleared the village and pushed their lines to the west and to the south of the village.

Possible development of German movements in the Argon to the northwest of Verdun is indicated by the report that the French have directed a concentrated fire on hostile positions there. Observers eyes also are still on the Champagne region where the Germans recently made gains towards the south, and where a serious break in the French lines would have a material influence upon the situation around Verdun by interfering with Allied lines of communication in the West.

The renewal of the German offensive answers the question that had been circulating in military circles as to whether the German drive had spent its force or whether the lull in fighting over the past few days was simply the prelude to its renewal after the Germans had secured their hard-won positions recently captured near Verdun and elsewhere on the front.

All reports of the battle of Verdun indicate what experts consider a remarkable cooperation of all the branches of the German army. A study of the progress during the week since the first attack shows that guns were steadily brought forward as fast as the infantry cleared French positions, so that the guns could resume the work of making the next position right for storming. The fact that the French were not able to take any number of prisoners worth reporting is taken here to indicate that the German troops are splendidly in hand, and are carrying out the work planned for each advance, but are not advancing further until the ground is prepared for them.

Estimates of the German losses in the current offensive for Verdun are placed at around 125,000, one third of the German troops engaged.

Flame throwers were marked men; the British and French poured rifle-fire into the
area of attack where Flammenwerfers were used, and their operators could expect
 no mercy should they be taken prisoner. Their life expectancy was therefore short.

March 10

The German armies at the gates of Verdun are hammering them hard with heavy artillery. The German thrust in the new phase of the titanic struggle are being delivered with heaviest force at present on the salient to the northeast of the fortress, in which lies the Douaumont plateau. Here the French last week were driven out a Fort Douaumont and just now from Douaumont village.

Around the village the battle raged with violence and with heavy losses on both sides. Unofficial accounts assert that there had been nothing on the Western front to equal the ferocity of attacks delivered by the Germans. French infantry is declared to be disputing every inch of ground in their latest efforts.

In the first and second attacks on the village, the Germans, who fought with great bravery, reached the French wire, but so fierce was the hail of bullets from the machine guns that the gray-coated legions melted away. Officers rallied them again and again until no more were left to rally. The third attack was even more violent than those, which proceeded, yet still failed.

The Germans then resumed the bombardment, plowing up the ground and pulverizing the rocks with hundreds of big shells. The fourth advance was made after dark by fresh troops. After desperate fighting the Germans manage to get a foothold on the extreme edge of the plateau and pushed forward into the houses on the north side of the village.

Remnants of regiments cut to pieces were pushed ahead by other bodies of troops surging onto the field of battle until the ground was strewn with bodies. Eyewitnesses assert that nothing equaled the sacrifice with which the German troops had made for the Douaumont village.

Parts of the village have been taken and retaking repeatedly, and each time that the fortune of the battle changed more dead from the thick masses of German assailants have been added to the piles behind which their surviving comrades have sought protection.

It is the opinion in all quarters that the Germans have determined to pay the price necessary to capture Verdun, and to open a line all the way to Paris. Verdun marks the beginning of a new and divisive phase of the war. It will be a formal demonstration that the Allied front in France and Belgium cannot be broken, and that the imperial armies are incapable of operating effectively by the lightning like methods that succeeded in Belgium and France at the start of the war and in Russia in 1915.

Reports from the North Sea war zone indicate a fleet of 25 German warships was observed cruising in the North Sea. Their presence indicates that a battle between the British and Russian and German warships is not far distant.

On the Caspian front, Russian soldiers took a terrible revenge on Turkish troops for cruelty which the Turks were alleged to have practice towards the Armenians in that district. The Russian troops had witnessed the results on an appalling numbers of massacres by Turkish fanatics of tens of thousands of Armenian Christian men, women and children. It was unlikely after such deeds that any quarter should be given to the Turks. Over 50,000 Turkish troops were slaughtered by the Russians after they had surrendered.

On Wednesday Germany declared war on Portugal. The German declaration emphasized the fact that this was made necessary by the recent illegal seizures of German ships in Portuguese ports. The declaration enumerates a long series of breaches of neutrality by the Portuguese government, such as the permission of free passage to English troops through the colony of Mozambique, the permission given too two English men of war to use Portuguese ports for a time exceeding that giving neutrals, actual engagements between Portuguese and German troops on the frontier of German Southwest Africa and Angola. The Portuguese government, by these acts, say the Germans, openly gives evidence that Portugal considers herself England's vassal, for whom England's interest and wishes are paramount.

March 17

The renewal of the fighting after a three-day pause on the Verdun front is regarded as heralding the opening of the third phase of the battle for Verdun. The defenders have profited by the period of relative inaction to strengthen further the weak joints in her armor and they await events with full confidence.

The heaviest fighting was around Dead Man’s Hill where the Germans were obligated to cross open ground, and well-directed fire from the French, which did fearful execution among them. Their ranks however were quickly filled up, and although they were stopped again, they ended up getting a foothold in advanced French trenches at two points. Dead Man Hill is a fine artillery position from which the Germans will surly position guns to shell French positions

Describing the German attack on French trenches west of Douaumont, the French say that the Germans, three times, in columns of fours, rush forward, but were mowed down by artillery and machine gun fire. They were forced to retire, leaving the ground covered with dead bodies.

Prior to the resumption of fighting, the German offensive had slackened in the Verdun region. The French reported that there was no infantry action on the part of the Germans over the weekend. Sunday past without infantry advances, and the German troops did not leave their trenches. However there was no cessation of the artillery play, with bombardment continuing along much of the front.

March 24

Further successes have been won by the Germans northwest of Verdun. The Germans captured two additional trenches from the French. French guns have been energetically cannonading the German positions on the edge of the Argonne, northwest of Verdun, the intention apparently is to break up an anticipated attempt of the Germans to breakout from this cover to make further efforts to advance southward towards the main line connecting Paris to Verdun.

The Germans several times renewed their attacks against the French front where the bombardment by larger caliber artillery continued without interruption. The attack was accompanied by the throwing a flaming liquid by detachments of men carrying special machines for this purpose.

The interpretation of the pauses of the German operations at Verdun as indicative of the waning of the offensive or the exhaustion of German troops denote failure to comprehend German strategy according to military experts. Officers say these pauses are only a part of the general scheme of operations, and are designed to prepare for the successive stages of the forward movement. The method has been to make preparations for every attack so thoroughly as to guarantee success with minimum losses. It is said these operations are intended to lead to the capture of Verdun and hasten the termination of the war. The comparative slowness of the movements is based on deliberate choice of the best method of accomplishing the end sought.

The impression prevails in high political circles is that Romania surely will abandon their position of neutrality in favor of the Allies. Should the Romanians enter the war, Greek officials would be placed in an embarrassing position. The Allies do not suppress the fact that at present they have no need for Greece and do not desire to assume responsibility for maintenance and equipment of the Greek army unless they are assured definitely of cooperation in the event of an allied offensive in Macedonia.

March 31

The Germans had made another notable gain in the drive against Verdun storming French positions north of Malancourt to the depth of several lines along the front of 2,000 yards.

Malancourt lies about 10 miles northwest of Verdun and some 2 miles northwest of the southern tip of the Avoncourt woods, into which the Germans pushed in their recent drive. The French lines here formed a broad Salient, exposed to attack from either flank, and French tenure of the position had not been considered a secure one by many military observers.

The morning after an intense artillery fire French troops delivered a spirited attack against the German positions in the woods and penetrated to a depth of 300 yards before they came up against German fortified positions. A violent and sudden counterattack by the Germans resulted in the French being pushed back to their original positions

On the Russian front the German lines have been subject to heavy attack, both to the northwest and to the south of Dvinsk. The fighting is probably the most terrible since the earliest battles on the Eastern front. The Germans are counterattacking with vim, and the losses have been tremendous on both sides. Russian casualties in the present offensive against Field Marshal von Hindenburg’s armies are estimated to have been not less than 80,000 men along the 75-mile front were engagements have been in progress.

The Russian situation however has continually improved and their successful expeditions in the Riga district are considered a solid foundation for further advance as soon as the spring thaw is over and the ground becomes firm. The Russian offensive has already rendered the carefully constructed positions of Field Marshal von Hindenburg’s less secure. it appears to observers here that Field Marshal von Hindenburg’s spring campaign will be defensive rather than the offensive one that was expected.

Dispatches from Stockholm say that riots among Russian workingman are increasing and gradually taking the form of terrorism. A large number of workingmen have been arrested in Petrograd munitions factories and 13 workingmen were hanged and 130 men immediately sent to the front.

Editor’s Note: On March 10th, the front page of the newspaper was ablaze with the report of Poncho Villa’s attack on Columbus, New Mexico. The attack enflamed anti-Mexican sentiment in the United States and the American response enflamed anti-American sentiment in Mexico. In 1917 Germany would try to use the mutual hostility to encourage Mexico to declare war on America. This German encouragement of Mexico directly led to American’s decision to enter the war on the side of the Allies. Given this, we will henceforth report on both stories to allow our readers the opportunity to see how they eventually merge and lead to the American’s entry into WW1.

Poncho Villa

March 10

500 Mexican bandits led by Francisco Villa, crossed the border early Wednesday and attacked Columbus, New Mexico, killing more than a dozen Americans. When the bandits fled towards Mexico some hours later they were pursued by United States troops.

The White House said steps would be taken to punish the Villa bandits, but it was not indicated whether Gen. Carranza, the Mexican intern President, will be called upon to do so or whether American troops would be sent over the line. According to a statement issued by the White House, an adequate force will be sent at once in pursuit of Villa, with a single object of capturing him and putting a stop to his forays.

There is some conflict of opinion regarding the authority of the War Department to send troops into a foreign country without the consent of Congress. Those who doubt the authority contend that all American troops may do without further authority would be to repel Mexican bandits at the border. Other however contend that the Constitution gives the President the authority to repel invasions, and that authority includes the power to send troops over the line.

While American troops are preparing to move across the border to exterminate Poncho Villa and his bandits, Gen. Carranza, has asked the United States for permission to send Mexican troops into American territory, if necessary, in pursuit of the outlaws.

Practically, such a reciprocal agreement probably would never would result in a single Carranza trooper crossing the border, as the possibility of the bandits taking refuge in American territory is considered remote. However, It is realized that such an arrangement would go far to satisfy Gen. Carranza. Administration officials realize the necessity of avoiding a breach with Gen. Carranza if the Mexican situation is not to grow into the status of armed intervention.

March 17

Brig. Gen. Pershing has been given the command of the expeditionary force of 5,000 men which entered Mexico on Wednesday. Cowboys off the ranges, and Indian scouts led the way. The force entered Mexico without opposition from Mexican forces and apparently without serious disturbance along the border.

Gen. Pershing issued orders that the men should take with them only such equipment as they could carry on their backs or saddles. These orders are intended to limit the essentials of the expedition’s food and drink for the men and horses and ammunition for the guns.

Army officers are interested in the part the aeroplanes will play in the pursuit of Villa. No American Aero squadron ever had actual military service. This is the first real test of the fourth arm of the service.

Poncho Villa has so far outwit American troops pursuing him. Villa and his 1,200 bandits, is reported to have crossed the continental divide into the Madera section. Pursuit of Villa has now entered a hide and seek stage.

March 24

Poncho Villa is now reported to be trying to escape by the almost blind trails leading to the passes in the Sierra Madre Mountains where it is possible that he may succeed in loosing his pursuers.

The main objective of the American column at this moment is to head Villa off before he can reach the mountain passes. Army officers agree that if he breaks his command into small bands and succeeds in reaching the mountains it will be almost impossible to capture him. Villa spent his early days as an outlaw in these mountains, the passes through which the Army and its transport may not move. Mexicans here believe that Villa will hide in these fastnesses until the American troops grow discouraged and give up the chase.

The failure of Poncho Villa to make a stand and fight before the end of next week will radically alter the method so far employed by Gen. Pershing. It was felt that the only chance for the Americans to catch Villa would be for him to gather his forces and resist their advance. Instead, Villa simply disappeared into the back woods of Mexico.

Reports that the administration may soon be satisfied with driving Villa far from the border and eventually withdraw the troops now seeking to capture or kill him are spoken of as ridiculous. It is declared that when the decision was reached to send the expedition against the bandit the die was cast for definite conclusion, no matter how long or cost of the campaign. Under no circumstances is the president likely to withdrawal the forces of this country. To do so would be to invite worse acts of murder and arson that have already been committed.

March 31

Poncho Villa is reported to be fleeing west into the San Miguel country, having successfully eluded the encircling ring that was being drawn around him.

Wire communications out of El Paso to Mexico is still interrupted, and it is believed that roving bands of Villa men are responsible for the wires being cut, having been detached from the main Villa command for this purpose.

Poncho Villa outwitted his pursuers by splitting his forces and making a break south for Madera. From Madera, a mountain trail winds through the Sierra Madres where it eventually is lost in the wild and barren country. This trail was known for years as Poncho’s Road. It was popularly believed that it had been broken by the bandit and its intricacies are known to but few but him. American scouts declared today that if Villa succeeded in reaching this road the task of finding him would be a hopeless one.

Gen. Pershing now believes that it will take months to capture Villa. Returning American refugees and cattlemen, who know the country, are unanimous and their expression that Villa will never be taken. The nature of the country and the fact that Villa is among his own people, who idolize him, make the bandits capture unlikely.

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