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The Great War

News Reports From the Front
100 Years Ago This Month

April 1917

America Declares War, Lenin Returns to Russia

April 6

The President signed a proclamation declaring a State of War between the United States and Germany today. By signing the resolution, the United States has aligned itself with 10 countries, Democratic in form or spirit, which are engaged in a desperate fight with the forces of aristocracy. The resolution specified no other opponent than Germany. The text of the war resolution is as follows:

"Whereas the Imperial German Government has committed repeated acts of war against the government and the people of the United States of America: therefore be it resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, that the state of war between the United States and the Imperial German Government which has thus been thrust upon the United States is hereby formally declared; and that the President be, and he is hereby authorized and directed to employ the entire naval and military forces of the United States and the resources of the government to carry on war against the Imperial German Government; and to bring the conflict to a successful termination, all the resources of the country are hereby pledged by the Congress of the United States."

Both the Army and the Navy, after months of preparing, are making the final plans to put a large army in the field, to protect the coast of the United States, and, possibly, to send an army to Europe to help subdue Germany and bring the conflict to an end.

The first element of the plan is the immediate assembly of a half a million-man army under a universal service system. Army officers believe 500,000 men is the maximum number they can undertake to train at once. When the work has proceeded for a few months, an additional 500,000 can be called out, followed a few months later by similar increments until an army of the desired size has been mustered.

The Army general staff officially urged that a minimum of three million trained and equipped men should be provided for the national defense. Even with officers and the officers’ Reserve Corps to call upon, there will be a shortage of training personnel. The units of the regular army, it is said, will be vitally necessary to carry the work forward. For that reason, the suggestion that an Expeditionary Force be sent to carry the flag into France as a symbol that the United States was definitely and finally aligned against Germany in the world war met with a cold reception today among officers of the general staff. One officer said such a step would be military suicide, as the only troops available for such purposes would be the regulars, who could not be spared from training work.

Plans for spending the $133 million now available for the preparation for war against Germany have been completed by the Navy Department. $115 million will be spent for shipbuilding and speeding up construction of destroyers, patrol boats, auxiliary merchant ships and aircraft. The remaining $15 million will be used for equipping various Navy yards.

Immediately after the war declaration was signed, a request for an immediate appropriation of $3.4 billion for the Army and the Navy was made to Congress. Of the great sum, a little more than $2.9 billion is asked for the Army.

Formation of tax measures for the war have not reached a definite stage, but there are indications that the treasury will endeavor to raise by one bond issue as much of the $3.4 billion which cannot be obtained by new and increased taxation.

Federal Reserve Board officials indicate there would be no great difficulty in raising $2 billion by a bond issue at three and a half percent. The forthcoming bond issue will be placed before the public as quickly as possible and denominations down to $100, possibly $25, and the entire Army of American banks, corporations and individuals will be afforded an opportunity to subscribe.

From the present Internal Revenue taxes, the government will obtain approximately $750 million this year. Suggested increases in the inheritance tax rate, it is estimated, will increase the return from that source alone to $1 billion. One plan being considered is to raise the rate of taxation on large estates to 30%. The income tax, under existing rates, will yield approximately $325 million this year. Lowering the exemption to $2,000 and increasing the rate on large incomes would increase the government's revenue through this channel to at least $100 million. Increased taxes on distilled liquors, beer and tobacco are also under consideration.

German merchant vessels that were in American ports at the beginning of the war are being taken over by American authorities for the purpose of protecting them from injury and until a decision can be reached as to their proper disposition, guards have been placed on board. The officers and crews have been taken into custody into the Department of Labor, pending the determination of their status.

There are some indications that the vessels will be requisition by the government for trans-Atlantic trade or as navel auxiliaries for a least a period of the war. Allied warships patrolling the Atlantic Coast will be withdrawn and many will be sent to the European battle fleets. Now the German merchant ships in American ports have been taken over and there is no possibility of them slipping out to sea as commerce raiders.

April 13

The Austria-Hungarian Empire, under the pressure of Germany, has severed diplomatic relations with the United States. Austria's break with the United States undoubtedly is a prelude to a declaration of a state of war. President Wilson, however, was believed to have no intention of forcing a state of war with Austria by asking Congress to declare it and let some overt act be committed. The seizure of a number of Austrian ships in American ports may be interpreted as an act of war by Austria, however. The intentions of Bulgaria and Turkey were not known today, but officials generally believe that they would break relations eventually also.

Cuba, not yet out of her teens as a republic, is at war with Germany - the first of the Latin American countries to align herself alongside the United States, her liberator and protector. Without formally announcing abandonment of neutrality, two more Latin American republics, Argentina and Costa Rica, have given assurances of her moral support for the United States in the war against Germany.

A campaign of colossal proportions to break down the German submarine blockade and keep the Allies plentifully supplied with food, clothing and munitions had been determined upon by the President as his country's first physical strike against the enemy.

Unable to send an army into the trenches, the President believes the United States can do greater service in the common cause against Germany by providing a great armada of merchantmen to invalidate the German submarine campaign. Virtually every detail of the plan is now complete, and by fall the campaign itself will be in full swing. Many officials believe it may attain a supremacy over the submarine, which will prove the decisive victory of the Great War.

Quickly built wooden ships will make up the first fleet of merchantmen, and to ensure maximum construction the shipping board has enlisted the country’s entire shipbuilding facilities, now the greatest in the world. For the first year production is expected to reach an average of three ships a day.

Already lumber interests have given assurances of inadequate supply of timber at reasonable prices. Engine manufacturers have pledged their cooperation, and all the necessary machinery for the vessels can be assembled as fast as they can be turned out at the yards. The Shipbuilding Board estimates that 150,000 men will be needed to work the building program. This total is nearly ten times the number of laborers now employed in building merchant craft throughout the country.

Built for the most part of pine and fir, the ships will range from 2,000 to 3,500 tons. They will be equipped with oil burning engines, and all will carry wireless and be armed. The engines will be standardized so that damaged parts may be replaced if necessary. The ships will cost about $300,000 per ship and will carry a crew of about 30 men.

The first of the vessels are to be ready in about six months and during the following year the number afloat is expected to pass 1,000. Such a number, officials believe, consistently will be augmented in the months that follow to render it absolutely impossible for Germany to maintain her blockade with any degree of effectiveness.

In their calculations, the President and the Shipping Board have had the advice of the Allied naval authorities, and have carefully computed the ability of the German U-boat to cope with a large number of merchantmen. They are convinced that by building ships of this size, and forcing Germany to pay with a torpedo for each one sent to the bomb, the United States can exhaust the resources of the German submarine fleet.

Nobody knows exactly how many submarines the Germans are building, but we know they are working at a feverish pace, and have heard reports that they are turning out 2 to 3 submarines every week. The time to construct a submarine is about eight months, with a similar length of time for torpedoes, and great uncertainty exists as to how long Germany can continue to supply both vessels and torpedoes.

The crews of the submarine, as a rule, require from six weeks to two months training, but the officers and other experts require at least three months. There have been many reports that the Germans have been forced to weaken the personnel of the High Seas Fleet to maintain their supply of seamen but of this we are uncertain.

The military participation of the United States on the actual front is much in discussion in the capital here, and in Europe. Though it is declared that this country will not attempt to send an army to you for the present, there is an intense desire on the part of the general public in the ally countries to see at least a small division of American troops at the front.

April 20

Alexander Kerensky, the Russian Minister of Justice, was present during a meeting of the Finnish government and in his speech greeted the "free Finnish people" in the name of the Provisional Russian government and declared Russia would do everything in its powers to make it certain that Finland would remain free forever. A plebiscite for the population of the new Kingdom of Poland was announced to determine whether the kingdom should detach itself from Russia as well.

A number of Austrian officers and soldiers who deserted declared that the Austrians and Germans are hoping that the various organizations in the interior of Russia, which are at the moment fighting the provisional government, will bring about a state of anarchy throughout Russia and demoralized the Russian army.

According to German newspapers, a manifesto to the Russian Socialist, giving praise to the Russian proletariat for its historic participation in the Revolution, expressed the hope that the Russian proletariat will conquer the war-like elements of the country, and bring an end to the war with Germany.

The Provisional Russian government’s Foreign Minister, however, said the Allies need have no fear of Russia deserting the alliance or weakening resistance to the enemy. The Russian press considers the rumors a possibility of Russia concluding the war with the Central Powers as ruse. The Petrograd papers severely criticized the speech made by Vladimir Lenin, one of the returning socialist exiles, in which he advised the provisional government to solicit peace with Germany. The papers claimed Lenin was trying to impose a shameful peace on Russia and that the Russian people will never accept the psychology of Lenin and his friends.

Military experts in London, however, are uncomfortable over the growing split between the Russian Provisional government and the Council of Workmen and Soldiers Deputies. As presently constituted, the government is without means to enforce any of its mandates except by appeals to the patriotism of the people. The existing breach dates from the triumph of the revolution when the Council issued instructions to the people to disregard the orders of the government, which were in conflict with those of the Council.

The position of the Provisional government is the most difficult because it is not supported by any parliament, as the Council does not take the place of a real parliament. The situation is more difficult as the Revolutionary Council is not always clear in its composition. Western experts believe continued conflict between the two bodies could result in civil war.

There is evidence that the Council deputies are endeavoring to influence the country to support the government. However, their task is rendered difficult by a few radical members and professional agitators, like Lenin, who are working against the success of a Russian democracy. These influences can be attributed in large measure to the disorder in the factories where the workmen, who became easy prey for the socialist propaganda of Lenin, made preposterous demands - far beyond any representatives in the Council of the Workmen could claim for them. These fantastic demands include a four-hour working day, a 700% increase in wages a month and a general usurpation of ownership privileges, which would be tantamount to the confiscation of the factories.

Meanwhile on the Western Front, the British have announced that they have reached the Hindenburg Line. Proclaimed by German experts as a sort of Great Wall of China, that would be impenetrable to assault, a number of European military writers have taken the view that the Hindenburg Line was a myth painted to harden the German people. However, the British Journal staff, for some time, has noted that there is a definitive line upon which the German staff was basing its defense and is known exactly where that line was drawn. If the British army can break through a sector of the line, the next chapter may be a further extensive German retreat.

That the German General staff is troubled by the progress of events since Monday is demonstrated by the fact that the German attempts to retrieve lost positions have been feeble and fruitless and that the situation has become full of uncertainty for the Germans.

Newspaper correspondence with the British armies describes, at length, the violent fighting that has been happening on the Western Front for the past week. Some of the attackers underwent a terrible ordeal, lying on the open slopes in deep snow and icy gale and swept by German machine-gun fire while the sky above them was flashing with bursts of shrapnel and high explosives.

The men were held up by a great stretch of wire and menaced most evilly by an enfilade fire from machine guns. Two tanks came to the rescue and did most daring things. They came up in their elephantine way and most skillfully guided and climbed over rough ground, cleaving through snow drifts and mud banks, then, resting their blunt noses above the open trenches and sandbag arcades, they made straight for the great hedges of barbwire and drove straight through them, leaving behind lines and broken strands. One cruised into a village, followed by the cheers of the infantry. They trampled upon machine-gun nest and fired into the German hiding places. A second tank struck a zigzag course and in that same village struck down numbers of German soldiers. For 40-hours these two tanks did not rest, but went about breaking down the wire and searching out German strong points so the way would be easier for the infantry. Even then, our men had no easy fight, as the enemy defended themselves stubbornly.

The hot flame of war raging in the Arras region is a result of plans developed at a prolonged conference between France and England last month. The results already attained justify the conclusion that the supreme military test of the war is near at hand.

April 27

Interest in the new French offensive in the Aisne gave way to the startling news from the interior of Germany and is in focus in the Allied capitals. Veiled though the situation because of rigid censorship of the German press, it has leaked through to indicate that the German Empire is facing the great economic and political crisis.

The latest information received is that 10,000 striking munitions workers have engaged in a bloody riot in the great Prussian fortress towns of Magdeburg, and were only prevented from burning the City Hall after a sharp clash with the military. On its heels are accounts of demands made by the leaders of the Berlin strike, demands of such a revolutionary character that compliance with them would mean a prompt end to the militaristic regime and the German Empire.

Demands for the abolishment of citizenship inequalities in Germany are contained in a resolution adopted unanimously at a conference between the National Committee of the Social Democratic Party of Germany and representatives of the Social Democratic Party of Austria-Hungry. The resolution says: "We endorse the unalterable decision of the German working class to have the German Empire emerge from this war a free state entity. We demand the immediate abolition of all inequalities of citizenship rights in the empire, state and community, as well as the abolition of the bureaucratic regime and its replacement by the deciding influence of the people’s representatives."

Meanwhile, the new Revolutionary government in Russia continues to deny it is seeking a separate peace with Germany. According to a representative of the government, "The Russian Revolutionary Democracy does not seek a separate peace, but favors international peace on the basis of the equality of all people, and encourages the proletariat of every country do its utmost to bring about peace on the above basis."

The Council of Workmen and Soldiers Deputies meanwhile has proclaimed May 1st a holiday throughout Russia when demonstrations on an unprecedented scale are expected. May 1st, or Mayday, henceforth will be a national holiday in revolutionary Russia.

On the Western Front, the bitterest fighting of the present Anglo-French offensive is raging today along the Woten Line; they hastily organized position east of Arras to which the Germans retired when the northern end of the Hindenburg Line was turned. The Germans are putting forth a supreme effort to hold this vital portion of their defenses, the crumbling of which would bring into prospects another great retreat. The tenacity and power with which the Germans are fighting leaves the outcome of the fighting, for now, in doubt.

The Germans have a different position on the results of the recent fighting. Their press says: "the possession of single portions of terrain, such as trenches, villages and woods, no longer plays a decisive role in deeply echeloned and fortified zones." The aim of the German defense is, even at the cost of abandoning the dead, together with war materials, to maintain their own strength while destroying the enemy and preventing him from attaining the strategic aim, which is to breakthrough. For this purpose it is necessary to keep the fighting line mobile.

Several hundred members of the National Press Club attended a talk by Stanley Washburn, the noted war correspondent, on the conditions in Russia.

Mr. Washboard warned his listener: "The first mistake which this country is making is believing the war is nearing an end; that the British success in the battle of Arras will lead to the defeat of the Germans. He passionately evoked abandonment of this mistaken idea, declaring that the war is far from nearing the finish, and may last one, two or even three years.

"German morale and discipline are not broken and her material assets are still available. If German intrigue can succeed in inducing Russia to declare a separate peace, and outcome of current efforts by no means improbable, or if Germany can capture Petrograd, and the great munitions works upon which Russia is the main benefactor of, the United States will have to fill the gap and pay in the blood of her sons."

He urged the United States to: "strike and strike quickly and heavily, for delay will mean only deplorable loss of life later on. The first thing to do is to send Russia Railway supplies of all kinds and money. Railway equipment, more equipment, and then more, is a crying need now, to enable the Russians to move men and munitions. The Germans concentrate their troops three times as quickly as the Russians and have unlimited munitions."

He said, "The only thing which will put a wholesome fear into the hearts of Germany is for the United States to make it clear that this country will furnish one million troops within a year, two million within the next year three the next in five years after that if necessary. This assurance will harden the Russians and encourage them to hold out against the German intrigue designed to destroy the Provisional government and embolden the pro-peach Council of Workingmen and Soldier’s Deputies."

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