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Kelly Miller's History of the World War for Human Rights By Kelly Miller Characters: 31099

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04

Individual Initiative as Against Mass Movements-Trench Warfare a Game of Hide and Seek-Rats and Disease-Surgery's Triumphs-Changed Tactics-Italian Mountain Fighting.

Warfare such as carried on in the Great World War is so different from that of any other of the great wars which the world has seen, that it might be described as a method of fighting distinctively unique. Undoubtedly, more ancient methods, and even ancient weapons, have been employed than were used in any of the wars which have changed, from time to time, the boundary lines of nations. The fighting of mass against mass has been practically obliterated, and modern evolutions where the plan is man to man have developed a mode of fighting where terrible execution has resulted.

Undoubtedly this means of fighting has developed the personal initiative of the soldiers, and the modern fighting machine of the nations is of a high standard, which, together with death-dealing weapons, has resulted in terrible havoc. Massed movements, such as carried on in the War of the Rebellion, have been practically done away with, and although there have been long and costly sieges, they have been carried on by tedious trench fighting, airships, hand grenades, and massive shells fired from guns of great caliber, and with a range which is really marvellous.

Shells are fired, shrapnel in some cases, explosive shells in others, which are timed to the second, so that when fired from guns many miles from the objective point, they explode at a measured distance from the earth. They are exploded within a gauged distance of the target, and the execution is done over a measured area. On the shells are indicators. Within the shrapnel shells are hundreds of small shot. As the shell explodes the shots are scattered over the enemy, and death and destruction are unavoidable.

With bomb shells, fired from guns of the largest caliber, there are also indicators which are timed to the second. The range and time of explosion previously figured out by officers, the shell explodes where it is intended that it shall, and the work of the great explosive is done with resultant damage.


The war has developed many of the new methods of fighting and revived many of the old means of warfare. Cavalry has not been as active in the relation in the great war as in any of the wars of comparatively recent date, because of the extensive trench warfare which has formed so much of the fighting plan. Fighting has been a question of trench raids, and barrage fire, followed by the infantry charge through shell holes. The impression brought home to the modern observer is that the older recognized methods of warfare are gone for good.

The thing which war changed in the work of the cavalryman is in the nature of an addition, rather than a subtraction from his duties and the training he must have. The day of cavalry-as cavalry and nothing else-has passed. For today the cavalryman must be familiar not only with the sword, lance and revolver, but with the rifle as well. It has been demonstrated that such long periods of trench warfare may develop that it becomes necessary for him to dismount and make himself valuable in the scheme of military economy by fighting as infantry until such time as the enemy line is broken and he can again take to his horse and the work of harrying the retreating foe.

The war has been full of surprising results as regards cavalry. It was popularly supposed that in facing such terrible modern weapons as the repeating rifle of long range, the machine gun and the automatic field pieces which have become so well known as the French "75s," any body of cavalry which attempted to charge the enemy would be annihilated.


Yet all through the early stages of the war one reads of desperate, and, what is more to the point, successful charges made by British cavalry against batteries of German field pieces. There was one instance in France, just back of the Belgian frontier, where a charge of British lancers against a German battery, which had a commanding position, saved the day for a greatly-outnumbered allied detachment, which was conducting that most difficult of all maneuvers, a rear guard action, covering the retreat of the body of the army. The charge of the lancers took the Germans so by surprise, and was executed with such speed, that despite the heavy fire they poured into the advancing horsemen the latter were at work among them with spear and saber before reinforcements could be brought up. Then the cavalry, dismounting and unslinging their carbines, defended the position with such tenacity that the German advance was delayed several hours, sufficient for the rest of the allied forces to make good its withdrawal and the consolidation of the new lines chosen for defense.

This idea of cavalry serving in the double role of infantry and cavalry is a distinctly American development, a trick which the Federal and Confederate armies taught the world during the Civil War, and of which the British made excellent use in South Africa against the Boers. The fact which this war has established, however, is that the older use of cavalry, in the charge against infantry, artillery and even entrenched positions is still of great value. The idea had developed from the tactics so largely employed in the Civil War of using the cavalry as mounted infantry, that the increased deadliness of modern weapons would make this use of cavalry the sole use.

Now, however, it seems that not even the lance is to be discounted. Given the opportunity to reach his objective, the lance becomes a terrible weapon in the hands of the horseman. In hand-to-hand fighting the man with the rifle and bayonet has some chance against the mounted man with the saber. While fighting upward from a lower level he has a pretty long reach, and the advantage of being completely in control of his own movements, whereas even the most expert horseman cannot control the step and movement of his mount as well as a man can control his own. Barring fire, however, the infantryman has no chance against the lance, with the speed and momentum of the mounted man behind it.

So, for this reason, though they are cumbersome weapons under ordinary circumstances, and make a detachment equipped with them much more likely to be seen, lances were retained by many of the British cavalry regiments, just as the German Uhlans retained them.


One of the most important services which cavalry fulfills in modern warfare is that of drawing the enemy's fire at the time his positions are being approached. This is done to obtain some idea of his force and the disposition of his guns.

Cavalry detachments are sent scurrying across the front, as though threatening an attack, deliberately furnishing a mark for the enemy gunners that this object of ascertaining his strength may be attained.

The more ordinary work of scouting, advance guard work, and riding wide on the flanks of an advancing force are parts of the cavalryman's work which are more familiar.

In the European conflict with tremendous concentration of troops and continued occupation of the same territory the foraging feature of cavalry work disappeared. It is no longer possible for an army to "live on the country as it goes." Food and supplies must be brought up from depots in the rear through an entirely separate and specialized department of the military organization, which does its work with a celerity certainly undreamed of in former days, even as late as our own war with Spain.

In the modern campaign trenches have been developed to such an extent that it is really marvellous how the soldiers live, and to what an extent the "underground fortresses" have been used for living as well as fighting purposes.

In a letter written by a French soldier who took part in a successful raid upon a German trench, he adequately describes the luxuries enjoyed by the German soldiers in the front line trenches in the Marne. The letter was written by a youth who had been wounded in the fight, and was mailed in April, 1917.


"We are now living in German lines and dugouts-a magnificent work we have just now taken-cement and steel are used with profusion, and electricity in every dugout, even in their front lines. Unharmed casements and machine guns in cemented shelters and light railways and immense reserves of food-thousands of bottles of claret.

"But also, at the middle of each staircase, in the wall, a box with about seventy pounds of cheddite-to blow the shelter up in case of retreat. They knew they might have to go back, as they are doing now. America will gain victory, as until the present moment only the bravery of our soldiers can put them back, with much exertion and frequent loss.

"Our men are magnificent in spite of death. We hope your help may be quick and decisive. I think your flying corps especially may be useful, the more as yesterday, with four fellows, I was run through the field, and in a destroyed trench by a German Albatross shooting a machine gun, and flying very low, he missed us quite near. On the other hand, we have just a few days hence seen a sausage balloon destroyed by our men. Anyhow your help may be decisive.

"I believe your joy is great about the Russian revolution. At home they are happy, too-only let us hope the Russian army may attack this summer-to help us.

"I need not tell you the impression made by your American decision here. We now know victory is sure. Let us hope it may be this year-though you may easily guess such is not my belief-next year.

"I hope my next letter be sent from farther in the German lines-perhaps from a place they have not had time to destroy."

Shorn of all technicalities, the plain method of warfare which has developed as the result of the trench building is that each force establishes lines along miles of front with trenches in rows, one after the other, at measured intervals. The soldiers are thus "entrenched." One force seeks to drive the other from its position.


The force of batteries is directed against the entrenchments, hand grenades, bombs, shells, gases and every device which has fallen to the use of armies is projected at the ditches in which are hidden the enemy soldiers. When, by the concentration of attack the trenches are destroyed or the soldiers driven from their first position, the opposing force has gained if it has succeeded in advancing its own soldiers to occupy and reconstruct the trenches or defences from which the enemy was driven.

The soldiers carry, in addition to the ordinary weapons, a trench spade, and in most cases large knives, which are used to cut away brush or dig in the earth when emergency demands. The close confinement in the trenches tends to develop disease, and the sanitary force of the modern army is a thing that was undreamed of in the olden days. More men died from disease during the Civil War than were killed by bullets or in hand-to-hand encounter.

The percentage of those who die from camp fever has been reduced to a minimum. Napoleon said that armies travel on their stomachs, but the European War and the Russian-Japanese War have proven, as did our campaigns in Cuba and Mexico, that soldiers live by reason of the health which they are permitted to maintain. Some idea of the conditions which developed in the trenches may be gained from a study of the various hospital reports, and investigations which have been made by physicians.


Dr. Hideyo Noguchi, of the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, completed a series of experiments which showed that apparently healthy wild rats in the European war zone became infected with Weil's disease, or "infectious jaundice," common in Asia. Weil's disease is characterized by sudden onsets of malaise, often intense muscular pain, high fever for several days, followed by jaundice, frequently accompanied by complications. It becomes more virulent as it is successively transmitted from one victim to another. This is supposed to explain the much greater mortality, about 38 per cent. in Japan, as compared with from 2 to 3 per cent. among European soldiers.

The study of the disease was made possible by the successful importation from Japan and Flanders of guinea pigs and rats which had been inoculated with the causative organism in those two countries. Experiments previously made showed that the germ of the disease was carried in the kidneys of a large percentage of apparently healthy wild rats caught near the districts where the disease had been epidemic. Experiments in Europe demonstrated the presence of the germ in rats not only near the infected zones, but also in captured localities some distance from trenches.

For purposes of comparison Dr. Noguchi collected a number of rats in this country and removed their kidneys. His report states that by inoculating the emulsion made of the kidneys of 41 wild rats into 58 guinea pigs during a period of three months, he had been able to produce in three groups of guinea pigs typical cases of infectious jaundice altogether identical with the findings in the guinea pigs which died of the injection of the Japanese and Belgian strains of the disease. The germs taken from wild rats caught near New York produced death in guinea pigs within nine to twelve days.


In studying the conditions and helping to fight the dangers encountered in the battlefields and camps of Europe, no country in the world rendered a greater service than America. Long before the country entered the war hundreds of American nurses, ambulance drivers and surgeons were on the battlefields and in the hospitals of Belgium, France and England. Men who were leaders in the medical and surgical world gave their services to the Allies, and almost every hospital in the United States sent some of its staff.

Through the efforts and study of Dr. Alexis Carrel, of New York, deaths from wounds received in battle were reduced almost 90 per cent. by a system of treatment which he devised. Dr. Carrel began his work in 1914, at Compiegne, in connection with the military hospital, and in collaboration with the Dakin Research Laboratory, under the auspices of the Rockefeller Foundation.

Using a solution of sodium hypochlorite, the plain method of treating wounds which proved such a great boon, was described at the Congress of Surgeons in Philadelphia in 1916, where many of the wonders of war surgery were described. By means of a rubber tube, which is run through or into the wound, the injury is flushed continuously by the solution, for a period of hours or minutes, according to the nature and character of the wound.

The inflammation is reduced, the wound cleaned, and blood poisoning is averted. Under the treatment the soldier's stay in a hospital is reduced weeks and even months, and, as has been stated with authority, where in the old days twenty operations would have been necessary, the modern methods have reduced the percentage to a point where the twenty has become as one.

The story of surgery itself and what it has done in modern warfare would make a wonderful volume. The shattered bones of the legs and arms have been spliced, and laid side by side in open wounds, to knit together and practically form a new limb. Artificial hands, feet, and le

gs have been made by ingenious mechanics, which are so perfect that those who have been deprived of their natural facilities can use them with a degree of facility never before believed possible.


Armless men and legless men have worked in the munition factories of both France and of England, and the fact that they are able to do so is due to the genius of surgeons and of scientists. Thoroughness and preparation, coolness in execution and scientific accuracy in all directions is the modern necessity in warfare.

What this means in modern battle, as demonstrated in the last important conflict in the clearing of German East Africa by British forces, was described by Reuters' correspondent in an account of the battle of Rufiji River.

This was the last campaign personally commanded by Major General Jan Christian Smuts, the former Boer commander, and resulted in giving the British control of all the coastline and the inhabitable portion of German East Africa.

For two weary months the army lay upon its weapons, consolidating, reorganizing, rebuilding railway lines and piling up great dumps of food and ridding itself of its sick and wounded. Then it moved forward from Morogoro. The object of the advance was the ejection of the enemy from his trenches on the Mgeta River and the seizure of the passages of the Rufiji River.

The battle was directed and controlled from an observation hill at Dathumi, but General Smuts spent little time on the hill. He had made all the dispositions and issued his orders. Nothing remained for him to do and he was back in his camp calmly reading a book.

In the straw hut the brigadier general sat at a table on which was an oriented map showing the strategic and geographical points of the plans which lay before us, at his elbow the telephone and just below the hut the wireless instrument incessantly emitted sparks. Higher up the slope of the hill were the observing stations of the battery commanders.


The burning of huts at Kiruru signaled the beginning of the battle. The brigadier general, a polite little man who has lectured at the staff college for twenty years and who knows the last word in the science of warfare, especially of artillery, called the howitzer battery by telephone.

"Open fire a little to the right of the palm tree," he said. "You have the elevation and direction. The Nigerians will be on the move." Just behind the palm tree and a little to the right a great brown cloud of mud and smoke rose high in the air. From the plain came the boom of heavy guns and all along the river branch rose clouds of smoke, mud and dust.

The staff officer handed in a telegram reading: "The infantry are now about to advance; they ask artillery support."

"Bring the field guns into action," said the general.

It was all so very matter of fact. This little man, who was about to let loose upon the German trenches a hell's broth of fire and disaster, acted as if he were in his own drawing room, deciding how many lumps of sugar he would take with his tea.

Down below on the plain the howitzers were lobbing 60-pound shells into the German Askaris, the Nigerians were advancing by sharp rushes and the rat-tat of the machine guns and the crackle of musketry broke very faintly. Airplanes sailed above us. A message came from the Nigerians, "We are going to take the enemy's trenches; please lift gunfire." The order was passed along, "All guns lift two degrees."

Little black dots, like tiny ants, are running where the shells are bursting. The Nigerians are rushing the trenches. The forward observing officer reports that the enemy is retiring. The 15-pounders, man-killing guns, shower shrapnel on the German line of retreat.


The infantry report having occupied the German first line trenches, halting for one hour to consolidate. The brigadier-general commented on the difficulty of observation in the humid atmosphere and suggested a cup of tea. It seemed that nothing more would happen until after lunch, so I visited the commander-in-chief. He was occupied for the moment with a volume by George Gisslog and was satisfied with the reports he had received. By dark the whole of the German entrenchments were in our hands.

A volume could be written alone on the changes in tactics which have been developed and practiced by the military geniuses of the contending forces. In the European War the range of artillery and infantry fire was three times what it was in the Franco-Prussian War. The flattening of the trajectory, which means making the bullets go more nearly on a straight line instead of traveling in an arc, has made the fire so effective as to compel the soldiers to "travel on their stomachs." To crawl along the ground like alligators, or advance like moles digging their way into the earth.

The tremendous range of the modern rifle, single arm, or rapid-fire gun, and the development of more powerful explosives for ammunition have wrought this change. The bullet will travel a longer distance at a horizontal position than in the old days when ordinary black powder and a smooth-bore gun were used, and so at hundreds of yards distance the soldiers can aim direct to kill, without making elevation allowances.

The machine gun has made it possible for the men to fire from four to five shots for every one that was fired in the Franco-Prussian War and probably ten for every one that was fired in the Civil War. The only time the soldiers exposed themselves on the army frontiers were when they were storming trenches, and this was not attempted until the trench had suffered bombardment so it was made untenable.


Probably nothing in the warfare of nations has been more colorful and replete with surprises than the campaign waged by the Italian soldiers on the Alpine passes between Italy and the Austrian strongholds, and in the discussion of modern warfare, a brief description of some of the work of these intrepid mountain fighters is interesting.

Much of this fighting has been the most difficult known in the annals of modern warfare, save, perhaps, that done by the famous Younghusband British Expedition to Thibet. And that, by comparison, was a very small matter.

The mere height-altitude-at which the Italian warfare against the Austrians was carried on has been sufficient to entail enormous difficulties and a great additional strain, due actually to difficult breathing in a rarefied atmosphere.

The warfare in the clouds which has characterized the struggle along the Isonzo front has been conducted at an altitude seldom less than 8,000 and often rising to 12,000 feet, which is well within the realm of eternal snow.

Naturally, therefore, most of the fighting was done in bitter cold. To this fact add the other that the Italian soldiers who carried it on were almost exclusively men who had not been accustomed to the cold. They had been drawn from among dwellers in a semitropical climate, and one gets an idea of the immense accomplishments of this army which struggled in the skies.

The average American knows the Italian as immensely industrious, but perhaps is disinclined to credit him with great constructive ability or engineering genius. He would change his estimate of him if he could see him fight and study his battlefield. The Italian warfare of the mountain peak and gorges has been a warfare of construction, even more than it has been a warfare of destruction, and has been rendered possible only by the exercise of engineering genius comparable with that which sent our world-beating American railways through the famous Rocky Mountain passes!


The fact that Italy's warfare has been invariably against positions stronger than her own is the result of the fact that while, since 1866, Austria continually strengthened her frontier with fortifications, most of them of ferro-concrete, the Italians were not able to fortify at all. Every step in that direction brought forth threats of war. These began at a time when Italy was in no condition to fight, before, as a unified nation, she became a world-power.

Being weak, she was prevented from making any preparations for defense against a foe which continually was obviously getting ready for attack upon her. The mere commencement of preparations might have precipitated war. But Austria continually prepared. Besides, the Italians ever have been a peace-loving nation.

As a natural and inevitable consequence of all these conditions all the dominating positions along the Austro-Italian frontier were strongly fortified by the Austrians. They have long occupied the crest of every mountain in such a way that their guns could rake any Italian approach from below, along a front of 450 miles-about the distance from New York to Buffalo, and almost the same as that of the whole French-British-Belgian eastern front in this war.

During the winter of 1916, one of the most exceptionally hard winters known in the annals of the Italian Weather Service, the Italians not only have been fighting for their sunny homeland, but have been fighting in a region of eternal snow.

This snow was an obstacle extremely hard to overcome. It may be said never to have been less than six yards deep on the Isonzo front, so the task of the consolidation of positions, enabling troops at once to resist attack and protect themselves from assault from the rear, was highly difficult.


The Italians were ever road-builders, descendants, as they are, of those Romans who built roads for all Europe. While the Austrians were fully supplied with roads of the best and most modern character, there were hundreds of miles on the Italian side where there were not even mule-tracks.

Here was a vast problem.

Literally millions of soldiers were not free to fight, but had been drafted for the road-building work. Carrying picks and shovels, managing steam-shovels, working electric hoists, stringing supporting cables, they were as truly fighting men, however, as any who ever bore rifles or worked machine-guns.

Miles of the roads were rebuilt under Austrian fire, by men who built them well enough, even in the great 8,000-foot heights, that they could bear heavy artillery of vast weights without suffering damage. They built them in such easy gradients that heavy artillery could be moved speedily, the guns and motor-lorries that passed over them frequently weighing as much as fifteen tons.

Nor did the problem end with the construction of these marvel-roads. It was necessary to transport very heavy war material across stretches where the building of any roads whatever was a sheer impossibility. Often it was necessary to take heavy guns as far as might be upon sleighs and then drag them for considerable distances by hand; quite as often it was imperative that across chasms great cables should be rigged on which the guns might be swung, sometimes hundreds or even thousands of feet above the valleys beneath, from one height to another.

The "wireways" by which much of this unique transportation was accomplished are of Italian invention, as were other notable and essential engineering devices of this great war of mountain transportation.

Such contrivances, known as "teleferrica," were introduced for the first time during the winter of 1916, and by summer there were about 200 along the mountainous front. They not only supplied very advanced positions with armament, ammunition and food, but transported men back and forth between them and lower points.


The system was one of tackles (where guns and other heavy freight were to be moved) or cars (like cradles, where men were to be moved), operated by motor-pulleys directly connected up with great electric power. One of the most astonishing and picturesque uses to which these aerial wireways were put was the movement downward of men wounded at the advanced posts with which the teleferrica communicate.

To see wounded men going down these wireways, mere dots, each representing a suspended stretcher upon which a suffering human being is strapped securely, was described as one of the most amazing spectacles of the whole war. The experience, to some wounded men, swinging sickeningly, dizzyingly alone in midair, was probably more terrifying than actual fighting, although there were few, if any, accidents connected with the wireways.

Not infrequently these wireways were within direct range of the enemy fire, and that complicated matters. So far as is known, there has been no instance of a cable cut by gunfire, but in several districts it was necessary that the men, going to their duty and the wounded going backward, having done theirs, must needs be protected in armored baskets, somewhat like those which often are swung beneath observation balloons on the various fronts.


The problems of transportation, great as they are, are by no means the only unique difficulties presented to these brave mountain fighters. In this extraordinary warfare mining by means of high explosives was carried on upon a hitherto unequaled scale. Such work with high explosives was not only continually necessary in the construction of roads and fortifications in a region of solid rock, but sometimes proved the only effective means of attack upon the enemy.

The mine was used as an offensive weapon by both sides, and often with very terrible results.

Perhaps the most extraordinary of the campaign was the mine laid by the Italians after infinitely difficult and very extensive tunneling in solid rock at the Cima del Col di Lana.

This immense effort with explosives blew off the whole top of a mountain-and that mountaintop was thickly occupied by Austrians at the time of the explosion of the mine. None on the Italian side knows exactly what the Austrian casualties were, but it is certain that through this one explosion more than an entire company-that is, more than 400-of the enemy's soldiers were destroyed.

An interesting detail of this operation is the fact that while the Italians were tunneling for this great mine they were perfectly aware that the Austrians also were at work upon a similar effort. It amounted to a race with death, and the Italians won it.

Correspondents agree that the thing which most impresses the visitor to the mountain fronts of the Italian army is the immense patience which it has shown in the face of the difficult tasks of this astonishing campaign. Italians usually are regarded as temperamental creatures, but "dogged" has been the word which has meant most in this campaign.

Some of the movements of troops across exposed snow-covered spaces have been marvels of incredible patience. To escape observation the soldiers have been clad in white clothing, but in addition to this it has been necessary for them to lie flat upon their faces in the snow, moving very, very slowly, accomplishing their transfers from point to point literally at snail speed.

With regard to such work, as with regard to the Italian wounded, one thing is remarked by all the officers and those who have been privileged even for a short time to share the hardships of the Italian "common soldier." He never complains. Healthy or hurt, weary or fresh, he takes war with a smile full of flashing teeth and with eyes glittering with interest and good nature.

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