The Great Pause
By Frank H. Simonds
The Military Situation On Both Sides, Pending A Third German Drive
[The American Review of Reviews, June 1918]
I. WHY THE GERMAN WAITED
As it turned out, the last article written by me for this REVIEW dealt with what was practically a finished episode. By April 21 the larger phase of the German offensive had, temporarily at least, come to a dead halt. The capture of Kemmel, which I shall presently discuss, took place on April 26 and supplies the date when the German effort touched its high-water mark. But, roughly speaking, the bid for a decision, the supreme thrust, which opened on March 21 between the Scarpe and the Oise and was transferred to the Lys and the Yser with the attack of April 9, endured a month, and now, on May 21, we have come to the end of another month, which has been marked by local engagements, minor thrusts on either side, much artillery firing, but, in the main, little real fighting.
We all know, or should know, that this pause does not represent the abandonment of the German purpose or the close of the new Battle of the Nations, which the Germans, at its outset, christened "the Kaiser's Battle."
Rather it represents that inevitable delay which modern war, with its enormous use of machinery, with its tremendous expenditure of ammunition, with its unprecedented consumption of human life, demands.
In their first attack, the Germans succeeded beyond all calculations of their enemies. They produced a dislocation of the British front in depth and in extent unequalled in the West since the Marne. They failed only after they had won their initial and considerable advantage, and they failed only in so far as they were unable to enforce the results of their original triumph. They could not separate the British from the French, they could not reach Amiens, and in the North they were unable to isolate the British and Belgians north of the Lys and thus open the road to Calais and the way to a new Sedan.
Failing to accomplish these things, the Germans abandoned the policy pursued by the British at the Somme in 1916 and in Flanders last year, the tactics employed by the German commanders at Verdun two years ago. What was before them on April 1 and thereafter on the Somme, was a choice between two courses: first, an effort to pound their way forward against a concentrated and reinforced enemy, with good communications behind him; and second, a delay, during which they might reorganize their shattered divisions, bring forward fresh troops, restore communications, and then strike again in the grandest possible style.
The German chose the latter course. He now believes in buying outright—in paying the whole price in the first place. His Verdun method was to purchase on the instalment plan, so far as casualties were concerned. This was the Allied policy at the Somme. Instead of this method, the German now prefers gathering up all his resources, striking with the utmost force, harvesting such results as he can from this stroke, and then preparing for still another similar stroke. In a word, the old Verdun method has been discarded for the new and colossal strategy, which envisages few blows but with every ounce of weight put into each of them.
And this, after all, is good Napoleonic strategy. Napoleon believed in risking all on the single stroke. His great battles were decisive victories, save for a few exceptions, because he put his whole strength in. This method risked ultimate ruin, if the supreme blow failed. When he put the Old Guard in and it failed at Waterloo, there was an end of the Empire. But Jena, Austerlitz, Wagram, Friedland, and all the brilliant battles of the earlier Italian campaigns, of which Marengo was the most famous, were blows struck to win a decision at the risk of suffering a complete disaster.
When armies are measured by the million, when whole peoples are in arms and the battlefront reaches over provinces and nations, the decision does not come, as it did at Waterloo, in a few hours. Weeks and months may follow the delivery of the blow before the ultimate consequences are realized, as happened in 1915, after the great victory of the Dunajec. But all the great German victories of the war in the East have been victories which were decisive. Their results have endured, and in the end have given Germany that which she had sought to obtain by the blow she had prepared. The military strength of Russia, of Rumania, of Serbia was destroyed, and that of Italy gravely imperiled by the strategy which Germany is now employing in the West.
II. WHAT IS TO COME?
We have, then, no excuse for illusions in the west and in the present campaign. For more than a month on the northern front, for six weeks in the south, the German has been reorganizing his divisions, bringing up fresh divisions, not yet employed (of which he has some sixty), sending others, which were roughly-handled, to quiet sectors to refit. He has been moving his guns forward and accumulating ammunition. He has deliberately chosen to give his enemy time to reorganize and to construct new defenses, because he believes that he can profit by the 'delay and turn it to greater advantage than his opponent.
Some time in the next few days, probably before this article reaches the reader, the German will strike again with substantially as many divisions as he struck with on March 21 and the following days. First and last he put just short of one hundred divisions into the furnace on either side of the Somme. He later put nearly forty in on the Lys between Ypres and Bethune. He has in the west probably 200 divisions—perhaps 210—and it is calculated that he will be able to employ 220, before the campaign is over. But of these, at least twenty, and possibly thirty, will never be available for the hardest tasks.
With some fifty or sixty fresh divisions, with the least exhausted of the 140 divisions already used, the German is about to attack. He may attack before Amiens and between Amiens and Arras, as most observers believe, with the purpose to separate the British from the French by taking Amiens city and pushing westward to the estuary of the Somme below Abbeville. He may strike between Ypres and Béthune, with the purpose to reach the Channel, compel the evacuation of the rest of Belgium, and enable his artillery, his new superguns, to sweep the Channel and bombard Dover. If he attacks in the south, his purpose will be to renew the attempt to reach the largest possible objective, a win-the-war victory. If he strikes in the north, it will be to attain results which will put him in a position to demand satisfactory peace terms in any negotiations that may follow the end of this campaign.
The crucial point is Amiens. If the German can advance through this town and a few miles to the west of it, communication between British and French armies will become difficult; and, before this advance is long pressed, the British may have to evacuate all the north of France and retire south of the Somme, giving up Calais, Boulogne, and Dunkirk. Or they may have to accept separation from the French with all the perils that such isolation may bring.
I emphasize this circumstance because it seems to me the one thing that all of us must watch in the next few weeks. The first day after he assumed supreme command Foch told us that Amiens was safe. Clemenceau has re-echoed his words. But, against this assurance stands the fact testified to by all commentators from the front, that the German has still held one hundred divisions, half of all the forces he has west of the Rhine, concentrated between Arras and Noyon in the rough angle of which Amiens is the apex. This means that the German still believes that he can achieve his larger purposes. This means that he still expects to get to Amiens, now nine miles ahead of him, to cut the railroad communications there and to push on toward the salt water. If he gets-Amiens and does not get far beyond, he will still have to try a third attack, but a success now will be for him an invitation to make the third attempt.
Let us not be deceived by reports of huge German losses. Unquestionably the German has lost between 350,000 and 400,000 since he set out on the great adventure. But the British alone have lost more than 250,000 and the French hardly less than 75,000; and the British have lost large stores of munitions, hundreds of guns, and a wealth of material. Some British divisions have been practically annihilated; and it would, on the whole, be a mistake to say that the German is worse off than his opponents, as a result of his great attack. He has lost many of his best troops, but so have the British, His reserves are still plentiful and he has sixty fresh divisions, while there is no reason to believe that the British have any appreciable number of divisions in reserve. Their reserves have been drawn in to replace the devastation wrought in the Fifth Army by its great defeat.
III. ALLIED RESERVES
This brings me to a discussion of the whole question of Allied Reserves, which is the crucial point in the campaign. It is no longer debatable that the British Army was unexpectedly weak in numbers when Hindenburg attacked. Against the inevitable coming of German divisions from Russia, no adequate preparation had been made in the shape of new levies upon the British population. Last year British casualties were a million, the year before little less than 750,000. With the losses in recent weeks, the British "butcher's bill" since the Somme in July, 1916, approximates 2,000,000.
In addition, the British have many troops in Italy, Salonica, Mesopotamia, and Palestine. They have garrisons in Ireland, India, and Egypt. They have a certain number of divisions at home, as a guarantee against German invasion. And the British Army has never been as large as the French. Particularly costly was the Flanders campaign of last year, in which half a million casualties were the price paid for the taking of the hills about Ypres, which have been surrendered already in the opening days of the new struggle.
In the winter the British took, over a sector of the French line north of the Oise, at the urgent request of the French. The result was the drawing in of most of the reserve divisions left to Haig. In addition, a certain number of divisions, not many, were turned over to Foch for the famous Army of Maneuver, of which we heard so many rumors a month ago. Accordingly Haig found himself with only local reserves when the Germans attacked his front, and with a line too long for the forces, of which he disposed, although this by no means explains adequately the disaster to Gough's army.
Following the first German successes, such British divisions as were available in Britain were hurried to the front; and unquestionably most of the British divisions held by Foch in his reserve were turned back to Haig. By the time the battle had begun to die out, most, if not all, of the British Army available for the struggle had been engaged or was on the line. The reserves which were left were French, although to the French reserves were added whatever American troops were sufficiently trained for battle.
This French reserve, however, which was the sole considerable and trustworthy reserve of the Allies, was stationed not south of Amiens and covering Paris against a thrust down the Oise Valley, but south of Rheims, covering the capital from an attack coming through Rheims, for the French General Staff expected that the main thrust would come from this quarter.
This French reserve the Germans have placed as high as sixty divisions, which seems to me excessive. But bear in mind that since Verdun, that is, since June, 1916, the French have suffered little, except in their defeat at the Aisne last year, where their total loss did not exceed 150,000, Accordingly the French have been building up a great reserve, and, unlike the British, they have not a navy to man. We are bound to recognize, then, that practically the whole reserve of the Allies in France consisted of French divisions when the German offensive began, and consists of French troops still, save for such additions as American and Italian divisions have furnished in the past two months.
When Haig was attacked, the French reserves were unavailable at the moment—since they were east of the Oise River, between Paris and Rheims—and no more than three divisions of French got up in the most critical days. Later the reserves did come up, and when they arrived Foch announced that Amiens was safe. But about this time the Germans shifted their attack to the north; and once more the British had to carry on for some days, this time with troops who had in part fought at the Somme, a few days earlier. In the North the disaster was not due to the failure of British troops, but to the collapse of the two Portuguese divisions, who abandoned their lines and left a gap in the British front through which the Germans pushed forward.
The task of getting French reserves to the north was even more difficult than had been the task of getting them up to save Amiens; and in the grim days, during which the British held out, the peril was great, hence the outcry of General Maurice about the coming of Blücher, which cost Maurice his post and later led to a field day in the House of Commons. The French finally, arrived, too late to keep Kemmel, but in time to save the Ypres salient, temporarily, at least.
Now that Foch has come, British and French armies are being intermingled and the British will not have to bear so much of the burden. Yet it is inevitable that if the Germans keep on attacking between the sea and the Somme, the main weight will be thrown against British troops and the mission of the British troops will be to hold back the first flood and stem the wave until French reserves arrive, and the French, arriving, when both sides are weary, will seem to have saved their allies.
The fact is, of course, that each will be bearing his share of the burden in accordance with the orders of the commander-in-chief, a Frenchman. So far in the present struggle—although not in the whole war, of course—the great losses have been British and the burden of the fighting has been borne by our British ally. It is impossible to exaggerate the service of the French in the critical days; the rapidity of their movement and the skill with which, under Fayolle's command, they closed the fatal gap, are beyond praise; but we must see the thing as it is and render homage, too, to the men who did the major share of the fighting, not always successfully, but always with a courage and tenacity worthy of the race.
And we must put aside the cheerful notion of a vast Anglo-French-American-Italian army of maneuver which may intervene at any moment. There is nothing that approximates this host, which was marshalled so miraculously in the press in the crucial days of March. There is a force made up of at least forty French divisions, and some American and Italian divisions, but it is a counterbalance to sixty or seventy fresh German divisions. An Allied counteroffensive now, one of the old-fashioned Napoleonic strokes, is utterly unlikely.
The simple truth is that the numbers on the field are about equal and the problem of Foch is to keep his reserve intact until the German reserve is exhausted. He must not permit his reserve to be used up first; this spells ruin. He must strive to spend it more sparingly than his foe and have something left at the end, but the army that is to deliver the decisive blow, the reserves which are to settle the contest, must be American, and they will not be ready for an offensive this year. Foch's problem is to hold out with what he has this year, that we may be put in next.
IV. No ILLUSIONS
It is wisest to face the facts. There is no reason to believe—and I have not the smallest belief—that the Germans can win this battle. And if they do not win it, they are gone. But they have not "shot their bolt." They have not abandoned their purpose in consequence of their great losses. They have probably been less immediately successful than they expected. This is true. But we, on the Allied side, have been far more nearly defeated than we dreamed of being.
And we are going to have another rude test. If the British were not fighting a scant thirty miles from the Channel, which is at their backs, if there were not that dangerous angle or dent in the front at Amiens, the whole campaign would be simple. There would be no chance of isolating one nation's troops from those of another, and under pressure the British and French could retire to new positions and exact a price for each foot thus sold.
But the British cannot retreat far without getting too near the sea for safety. Their bases and their communications will become first threatened, and then perhaps crippled by bombardment at long range, if the Germans get forward much further. Dunkirk will be in utmost jeopardy if the Germans are able to capture the hills west of Kemmel, for which they have already made several bids. Havre will be of far less use to the British, if the Germans get Amiens, and thus cut the main railroads coming up from the Seine Valley.
When Sir Douglas Haig declared that the British were fighting with their backs to the wall, as he did at the crisis of the Battle of the Lys, last month, he told the truth literally. The one considerable chance of German success arises from this fact, not from the weakness of the British Army and not even from the relative strength of the Allied and German forces. Thus if in the next few weeks we should see the German Army creeping forward toward Calais or Abbeville, as it may, although I do not expect it, we must perceive at once what the significance and the peril of this advance is. If the advance is by way of Amiens, its importance is capital; if toward Calais, it is considerable. But it points to a German purpose to get new prizes to bargain with, rather than one to smash the whole British Army, which, was his original intention.
Let us frankly face the fact that for many weeks we shall have to consider possibilities which are far from pleasant. The Allied problem, now, is to avoid destructive defeat in the months of this year. During this time the Germans will have numbers practically equal to their opponents, possibly slightly larger—that is, during the time when no considerable fraction of the American troops now swarming over the seas can be used in the first line, save in grave crises.
If Foch holds the Germans this year, he will accomplish a result as magnificent as that of Pétain, who held the Germans before Verdun until the British were ready. To do it he ran risks, his army was cramped, with the Meuse close behind it as the British Army is now cramped with the Channel at its back. But he kept the foe in play, sold his scanty real estate at high prices only after long bargaining. And, when the British were ready and had struck at the Somme, he bought it all back for a mere song.
I think it is a mistake to expect some sudden turn of the tide, some brilliant counter-offensive by a great Allied Army of Maneuver. My army friends tell me that this will not occur, and that it is an error to keep alive the illusion, which will only increase the disappointment, if things become critical again, as they well may. The battle which is soon to begin is a battle in which the opposing strategies are patent. Foch seeks to hold on with no grave disaster until the campaign of 1918 is over. For the campaign of 1919 he will have a million Americans. Hindenburg seeks a decisive victory in advance of the American intervention. That is, he hopes and means to make the campaign of 1918 the last of this colossal conflict.
These are the two purposes which we are to keep in mind in the next five months, which is the period in which the issue must be decided. In that time we shall have, not merely one more German blow, but in all human probability several. The next will probably be greater than any that follow, although less terrible than the first. But as the armies that strike are weaker, so are those that parry. Now, as always, the game of attrition is a two-sided game, although British and French troops split the Allied losses and the German bears his alone. He will be worse off in the end, but the end is not yet in sight.
V. AMERICA EMBARKS
In the past month we have had much official information as to American participation in the war. We know that the rate of sending men has been greatly quickened, and that half a million Americans, by no means all of them fighting troops, have reached France. We are told this number will be increased to a million by the end of the year, which is possible. We hear rumors that it will reach 1,500,000 by spring, which is unlikely.
It is also true that our Allies have suddenly waked up to the fact that their chief necessity is manpower, and that tardily they have called upon us to furnish the numbers. We have responded without hesitation and in a manner which will never be forgotten by any of our Allies. There has never been anything more splendidly unselfish than American policy in this great crisis. We have turned our soldiers over to our Allies to be commanded by their officers and brigaded with their regiments. We have dropped all else to give our hard-pressed comrades that which they have asked for, as we strove to give them food and ships, when they asked for these.
If we had a million American troops fit for the firing line, in France man offensive would stop automatically. It is because our Allies underestimated their task, failing to see how fatal was the defection of Russia, that the present terrible summer opens before us. But it is the last summer of peril. There is this reassurance; and already American troops are in line in Picardy. There is an American sector—two of them—in Lorraine; and still another American force—a portion of it hailed in its march through London—has reached the training area behind the British front. Our casualty lists are beginning to indicate that the sad business has begun in earnest. In a very real sense America is arriving, and there is no longer any mistaking the fact that had we failed to take the place of Russia, had we failed to undertake to replace the Slav, our present Allies would have lost the war. They can only win it now as our efforts are constant and unfailing. Optimism which aids the slacker and invites the worker to pause may yet prevent our aid from being decisive. But nothing can prevent it, if we all recognize the situation as it is. The last reserves of the British are well-nigh in; the last reserves of France are going in. We can do little now, when the decisive conflict is about to break out again. But if we get our men over there in sufficient numbers, armed and equipped, when the reserves of our Allies and of our enemies are exhausted, we shall be ready to replace French and British divisions with our own. Their mission is to hold until we can come, ours to come as quickly as possible.
There are many reports now of German purpose to use Russian manpower. I do not believe much will come of it. Austria was not able to make any great profit out of the use of unwilling Czechs or disloyal Serbs. The resources of Germany in manpower will remain mainly, almost exclusively, Germans. She may turn to great advantage the economic resources of the lands she has overrun and now rules under one pretext or another. But that these races, which she has conquered, will fight for her in the west seems to me unlikely. In fact, she has so far failed to get Austrian, Turkish, or Bulgarian troops to aid in her attack, and these peoples are her allies, not conquered and enslaved races.
Napoleon used men of many races in his armies; but as his use of alien peoples increased, his army lost its old efficiency. His campaign on the Marne, in 1814, the last save for the Waterloo episode, was as brilliant as any achievement in Italy fifteen years before, because once more he commanded only French troops. But at Leipzig and before, the weakness of his foreign contingents was a matter of bitter comment and recrimination.
As long as the German can match division against division with his opponents, he will be a dangerous foe, provided his divisions are German. He will be able to do this to the end of the present campaign, in all human probability; and it is a mistake to look for a miracle where none is likely.
But if he' cannot emerge a conqueror from this campaign, his game is up. That is the real solid basis for optimism, if we have any time left from work in which to indulge in optimism.
VI. BEFORE AMIENS
It remains now briefly to discuss the military operations of the month. These naturally divide themselves into operations in the Picardy sector in the south and in the Flanders sector to the north. In Picardy there has been no considerable change in the situation. From the Oise below Noyon to the Avre below Montdidier the lines stand as they stood in the first days of April, when the German rush was halted. On this front the French hold much of the ground on which they stood for nearly three years, prior to the great German retreat of last year. On the whole, their situation is a little more favorable than in the past, as they hold certain important high ground which was in German hands before. But this sector has never been active since the first days of April, and there is no present hint that the Germans mean to strike for Paris by way of Compiègne and Beauvais. It is worth noting that American troops are engaged somewhere in this region and covering the Beauvais road, although in what numbers we do not, of course, know.
From Montdidier north to the point where the line crosses the Avre, a front on which the French positions follow the high ground above the Avre, the plateau separating the little Avre from the smaller Noye, along whose valley runs the main Paris-Amiens railway, the French have undertaken a few local operations and gained a little ground, useful for the future but without major importance. But between the Avre and the Somme, in the triangle which points toward Amiens, the Germans made at least one desperate local attack, which temporarily gave them Villers-Brettoneux, the only considerable town between them and Amiens. The high ground surrounding the town was fought for in 1870, and when the Germans took it Amiens fell; but history did not repeat itself. For the British promptly retook the ruins of the town, and the important high ground about it, and have so far held it since.
South of this town and nearer the Avre, along the valley of the Luce Brook, the Germans gained and held the ruins of the town of Hangard, but were not able to move forward further. These two attempts were not of real importance, they were efforts of the Germans to edge a little nearer Amiens, and perhaps to get their guns into a better position for bombarding the town, which is slowly being destroyed as was Rheims. Its cathedral, hardly less cherished by those who love beautiful architecture, has become, like that of Rheims, the target for Hun shells. The communications, the railroad lines centering in the city, must have been crippled, if not cut by shell fire. But this is the extent of the activities of the month south of the Somme.
North of the Somme and along the Ancre, the vital sector between Albert and Arras has been little disturbed. The British holding the high ground above the Somme and along the Ancre Brook have had time to strengthen their defenses on this front, which in the minds of many military men is to be the scene of the next German attack. Here the British positions should be very strong now, and, in the main, they follow the old line, from which the British attacked in the opening phase of the Battle of the Somme in July, 1916.
It will be seen by a glance at the map that a successful thrust through the British lines between Arras and Amiens, with Doullens as the objective, would make the whole Arras salient untenable. It would cut the railroad from Amiens north to Arras and to Béthune; .via St. Pol, it would, if pushed far enough home, isolate the British troops southward of the break from those to the north. Practically, it would amount to isolating the main British armies from the main French forces and from the Foch reserves. If the German means to resume his effort to get to and beyond Amiens, his probable strategy will envisage two attacks, one south of the Somme and between that river and Montdidier, the other to the north of the Somme and between Albert and Arras. These two thrusts would tend to draw a noose around Amiens, and threaten the troops in and about it with envelopment and thus compel their retirement with obvious consequences.
Speculation is idle; but this sector between the Somme and the Scarpe is worth watching in the next few weeks, with the realization that any German break-through will have grave consequences. But in the past month the Germans have attempted nothing here.
VII. ABOUT YPRES
To the northward the Germans have made no, progress and little effort on the Béthune-Givenchy side of the Flanders salient. Nor have they sought to push the salient forward toward Hazebrouck, at the extreme point of penetration in their battle of April 9 and the succeeding days. On the contrary, they have remained relatively quiescent and confined their whole attention to the north side of this salient.
As a result of their attacks here, north of Bailleul and Armentières, the Germans, on April 26, took from the French and thereafter held the high ground marked on the map as Mt. Kemmel and constituting the most important and commanding high ground in the whole Flanders region. The fall of Kemmel was the severest blow to the Allies of the entire northern struggle. The loss of the Messines-Wytschaete Ridge was a bad business, and it paved the way to the fall of Kemmel; but the British had held Ypres for more than two years, while the Ridge was in German hands—a feat which would have been impossible had Kemmel been captured by the Kaiser in 1914.
With Kemmel and Messines in their hands, the Germans sweep all the rear of the British in the Ypres salient. If they can move west from Kemmel and take the adjoining high ground, of which Mont des Cats is the culminating point and Scherpenberg the best-known summit, then there is an end to the Ypres salient. The British would have to retire out of Ypres and probably back to lines in front of Cassel, while the Belgians would have to quit their own country and stand behind the little Aa River, although they might make a temporary stand before Dunkirk, and in the marshy country about this famous old fortified city.
If the Germans take the high ground that is left to the French and British, we may see a very considerable dislocation of the Allied line in the North. Such a dislocation would not merely entail the eventual loss of Dunkirk, but would bring Calais under the fire of German long-range Artillery, and thus interfere with its use as a British base.
While the Germans were attacking Kemmel from the south and east, they made a sudden attack upon the Belgians at the north and almost at the point of intersection of the British and Belgian lines below Ypres and about Boesinghe. Their effort was to pinch the British out of Ypres and uncover the flank of the. Belgians, to drive a wedge into the north side of the Ypres salient as they were driving another wedge into the south side, thus narrowing the neck of the salient.
Thanks to Belgian resistance—and this is the first time the Belgians have been called upon for a real effort in many months—the German thrust, made by four divisions, was parried and thrown back with great loss. Unhappily, the same was not true at Kemmel, and the German success there was considerable, despite the gallantry and devotion of French defense. At least one French regiment died on the field rather than retire.
If the German hereafter decides to strike in the North, it seems inevitable that his attack will be on the front between Bailleul and the ever-famous Menin Road, leading southeastward out of Ypres. He has already made heavy local attacks on the northern end of this line, which were repulsed after desperate fighting. As I said last month, the surrender of Ypres, now, would not have anything like the meaning it would have had three years and a half ago. The British have many "switch lines" behind it, and since the northern offensive opened have had plenty of time to prepare for a withdrawal, thus insuring that there will be no great loss of heavy guns or of material. But Ypres has been transformed into an underground fortress; it is enormously strong as a position, and to lose it would be to lose a position having a limited but real military importance and having a sentimental and moral value beyond estimate for the British and for the Germans.
Aside from the loss of Kemmel, the Allies hold the northern sector about as they held it at the close of last month. On the whole the Germans have been more fortunate in the North than in the South in the progress made, regard being had to the future use of ground gained for a new offensive. Their chances of getting Ypres and even Hazebrouck are at least better than their chance of getting Doullens and Amiens. But the loss of both Ypres and Hazebrouck could have no such grave consequences as the loss of Amiens and Doullens, because the success at the North would not threaten the union between British and French armies, while an equal southern success would.
It is plain, then, that we are on the eve of one more terrific struggle; but for this struggle the Allies are better prepared than they were for the first. Former miscalculations will not be repeated and unity of command insures the prompt and effective reinforcement of any threatened point by a commander- in-chief, who sees the whole field and measures the importance of each sector.
After a month of rest and refitting, with 200 divisions in his hands on the West front, Hindenburg can strike again, where and when he chooses. Progress such as he made at St. Quentin and along the Somme two months ago, will carry him to the coast and give him Amiens, Doullens, and Abbeville. Progress such as he made about Armentières will give him Amiens and prepare the way for a third stroke, which might isolate the British armies.
It is barely possible that the German will now turn south and make his long-threatened blow against Rheims, which the French expected in March. If he does, we may see things reversed and British divisions going to the aid of French. But such a change of direction is unlikely. The German is out to destroy British military power. He is seeking to drive Haig into the sea. If the British Army escapes him and the French bear the burden of the next attack, his ultimate position with respect to the British will be worse than at the outset, and he regards the British as his principal enemy.
On the eve of a supreme battle, however, all prophecy is not only idle but likely soon to seem foolish. We have every reason for confidence and none for overconfidence. The fate of civilization is again at stake.
© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013
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THE HEADLONG FURY
A Novel of World War One
By J. Fred MacDonald