Military Experts on the Course and Destiny of the European War

[Current Opinion, September 1914]

For some little time before the actual outbreak of the general war in Europe, military experts abroad were unable to agree regarding the fundamental strategical consideration it involved. Would the decisive theater of the war be in the Balkans or would it be in the north and west? If, argued the expert of the militarist Vienna Zeit, the struggle turns out one between the Slav and the Teuton, the allies—meaning Germany and Austria-Hungary—must form a bulwark against Russia. In the opinion of German experts, given through such inspired dailies as the Kreuz-Zeitung the immediate foe is France. The plan of campaign must be directed first to her destruction at any cost. Russia can wait. This theory involved the drawback, from the Vienna militarist standpoint, of transforming the struggle into a contest to be decided in part and perhaps mainly at sea, because, as the expert of the Neue Freie Presse foresaw from the start, the British would be forced to come to the aid of the little neutral powers on the Atlantic littoral if Germany molested them. Thus the war opened with a disagreement among experts regarding the point of strategy, and at this hour the question of the decisive theater of operations remains an open one.

Germany Driven by a Supreme Military Necessity.

Even prior to the outbreak of the war in Europe, the general staff of the German army in Berlin were bent upon an invasion of France by way of Belgium. The military experts of the great dailies of Paris and London agree practically in this. The expert of the London Post, six weeks before the outbreak of actual hostilities predicted the descent of Emperor William's army upon the Belgians. The fact is that a speedy and relatively complete success against France is of vital importance to Germany in a war with the dual alliance. The statesmen in Berlin knew well enough, we read, that a violation of Belgian neutrality would bring Great Britain upon the scene. From this circumstance one may measure the extent of the necessity that drove the Germans into their course. They were impelled by a vital consideration having to do with Russia. Russia mobilizes more slowly than do the other great powers on the continent. Her armies take longer to. move, "She is troubled with an awkward salient in the shape of Russian Poland, in which forces of the opposite side ought to gain a firm footing owing to their advantage of a prior start." The German plan as against the enemies on her two frontiers, we read further, amounts to an effort to crush France by very rapid movements, using practically the whole army on the western side before it need turn to face the Russians.

How France Expected to Have to Fight.

Frenchmen would not have been disconcerted had the Germans achieved important preliminary successes. At any rate, the experts of both the Gaulois and the Figaro say that. They hope much first from the close formation in which so many German army corps fight—an antiquated kind of tactics to our Paris authorities—-and secondly from the German plan to mass their forces for one decisive battle. The French theory seems to be that the Germans must be driven to divide their forces, enabling thus a resort by the French to the Napoleonic method of defeating an enemy in detail. For the moment, too, the French feel that they benefit by having taken two contingents of recruits last year. France has three contingents of new recruits under arms and trained, whereas Germany last year, took roughly—as French dailies calculate—only 60,000 additional men. She will not have effected a contemplated increase of 120,000 men until October next. Everything must be subordinated, from the German point of view, therefore, as all French dailies agree, to the delivery of the swift, terrible and complete blow to France which is the point of departure to Berlin strategy. Failure here could be compensated only by overwhelming success in the Balkans.

What Germany Will Do to Russia—If She Can.

Assuming that all went well with the German plan of campaign against France, Emperor William's forces would turn, flushed with victory, to the eastern frontier. The military expert of the Figaro, who thus analyzes her campaign, predicted before the event that Germany would respect the integrity neither of Luxembourg nor Belgium, because she could not confine her military operations to a restricted area so well guarded by fortifications. It is true that the overthrow of the French would be no easy task to the German army, adds the expert of the London Telegraph, yet it would not be a mad enterprize provided that the Russians mobilize slowly enough. Should the Russians develop unexpected capacity and promptness, the whole German plan of campaign must go by the board. This is the unanimous verdict of all the experts who speak in the dailies devoted to the triple entente. Indeed, says the London Post's expert, Germany might crush France only to be crushed in her turn should Russia throw up another Skobeleff or prove unexpectedly "intelligent." The whole war may thus turn on the forces of the Czar, concerning which there exists in Europe a bewildering variety of opinions. The facts regarding Russian armaments are likewise a matter of dispute.

Problems Connected With Russian Military Strength.

Altho the Czar of Russia stands at the head of the most gigantic military machine in the world, explains the military expert of the Manchester Guardian, no one really knows its fighting value. The European army corps of Russia which alone concern us here, would overwhelm Germany and Austria both were their efficiency equal to their numbers. The efficiency is a negligible factor to this well-informed student of the subject. Russia can mobilize twenty army corps to bring her weight into the balance of affairs upon her European frontiers. "Of those numbers, however, how many can she move and move rapidly enough?" The German general staff has guessed that the movement will be slow or the first blow would not have been directed against the French. The main asset of the Russian army is "Ivan Ivanoff," the Russian soldier in the ranks. Unimaginative, uneducated, docile from habit, he is excellent material for the type of soldier who has to die in heaps. The soldier who can die in heaps is relatively less important than he was owing to the character of modern quick-firing guns and the tactics of the new infantry, which require men to remain alive in scattered units. Russians are not quick enough to play a war game thus.

Nature of the Russian Directing Mind.

Russia is greatly handicapped in war by the character of her officers, to follow the analysis of the expert of the Manchester Guardian. In material the Russians are well equipped. That goes a long way, altho not long enough. In Manchuria the Russians had the better material in the way of cavalry, artillery and engineering tools. What failed was the directing mind. The men in the ranks died in heaps without doing their country the least good. Nothing can persuade the expert we follow here that the Russian officers can give a good account of themselves in this war. The best of the Russian officers, he admits, are brilliant theorists, but there is no one in the Czar's army to put theories into practice. The officers are, as a rule, little better than their men in initiative, force or education. "It is a case of the blind leading the blind." Sound judgment, therefore, was exhibited by the Germans in turning with their whole army against the French first. The Russians are a much easier proposition, a prediction being general in western European dailies outside France that the republic will rue her dependence upon the gigantic ally. The curse of the Russian army is sheer and hapless inefficiency, if the British paper be not guilty of libel.

Getting Russia Ready for the Great Battles.

France has long appreciated the difficulties confronting the Czar in the matter of his army, observes the military expert of the London Telegraph, a daily exceptionally well informed on all that relates to Russian official affairs. The French general staff in Paris allowed about a month for the mobilization of the Russian European force, excluding the contingents from Poland and the Jewish pale, which are not to be used. Germany, of course, was ready in barely a week, and Austria-Hungary swept her force across the Danube with an unprecedented haste. It is for this reason, too, that Russia selected the points for the assemblage of her forces at a considerable distance behind the frontiers. On the other hand, the possibility of complications with Russia has received more attention in Germany of late than was formerly the case. Since her defeat by the Japanese in the far East, Russia has made tremendous efforts to reorganize, and improve her military position. That effort was still in progress and some two years more would have been necessary to bring the preparations themselves to fruition, a detail to the importance of which military Germany was keenly alive. Most of the vast sum raised for the Emperor William's defenses in the past two years had been expended along the frontiers of Russia. Fortresses were thrown up at strategic points, strong bridgeheads were reared at critical angles where roads and railways cross the boundary, and new lines were projected. Everything was done to check the Russian whenever he appears in the capacity of invader.

Russia's Efforts to Defend Her Frontier.

Whenever the Germans appear in force against the armies of the Czar, observes the expert of the London Telegraph, they will have to rush a line of fortresses from Kovno, in the Baltic Provinces, to Radom, in the south of Poland, "and great efforts have been made to increase the efficiency for war of the Russian troops stationed in this area." On the Austro-German frontier Russia has thirteen army corps against the nine corps maintained in East Germany and Galicia. A large proportion of the 835 miles of frontier between Russia and Germany, we are assured by this expert, consists of country impassible to troops. There are vast areas of widely spread marshes and impenetrable forests in Russian Poland where no roads exist. An advance of troops in force from either the east or the west must take place along very well-defined lines. To the south, where Austria and Russia meet, the country is more open and military movements would be easier. Fortifications on the Russian side are fewer, a very wide gap existing between Dubno and Kamenetz, two places likely to become familiar by name in the war despatches of the next few months, along with Cracow and Przemysl, the latter in Galicia. The whole of Galicia eastward from the foothills of the Carpathians to the Russian frontier is open and affords easy ground for military operations. That explains why the first despatches from the theater of war, so far as Russia and Austria are concerned, referred to a clash here, the importance of which we have just now no means of deciding. The really great military events of the month, this authority assures us, took place south of the Danube, however spectacular the frays may have been elsewhere.

What Austria-Hungary and Servia Did in Their War.

France and Germany confronted one another last month, as the expert of the Rome Tribuna informs us, with a realization that events in a remote theater of operations—that is between the Adriatic and the Black Sea—might decide something far more important to Europe than the fate of Alsace-Lorraine. The war between the Slav and the Teuton may hinge upon the developments attending the Austro-Hungarian rush upon Servia, Here is the forecast of the expert of the Manchester Guardian:

"Expeditiously handled, the Austrian armies of invasion should be able to prevent a real Servian mobilization, and by sheer weight of numbers crush their weak neighbor, metaphorically speaking, before the latter opens its eyes.

"It remains to be seen whether the Austrian armies will be expeditiously handled. The writer is inclined to think that they may fail where they most hope to be successful. The Servian army is taken at a disadvantage, but such officers and men as are with the colors have learned the priceless lessons of actual war which the Austrians lack. They know what almost impossibilities may be effected in modern war by a small force of well-trained men who know their business and who, as Napoleon wrote in his axioms, have no other resources than death. The inbred hatred of the Serb for the Austrian is such that one may expect great things from the former when he meets the raw and rather gawkish soldiery of the Dual Monarchy.

One is afraid, tho, that Servia in the matter of supply is hardly in a position to resist for any length of time. The two Balkan wars must have exhausted both arsenal and exchequer. On paper the Austrian enterprise looks a moderately sure adventure—250,000 men, with a million more behind them, against about 40,000 with a possible 120,000 behind them. War, however, rarely works out on the paper estimate, and we know both by history and personal knowledge that Austria, with Hungary, has ten stupid soldiers to every one that is moderately wise. If Servia, therefore, can give the big battalions pause before Kragujevatz and thus snatch ten days in which to throw something of her resources together, she may be able to put into operation those forces in her favor upon which her original defensive plan of campaign was based."

What the Balkan Powers Must Do in the War.

Relations between one Balkan power and another are complicated, as the military expert who discusses them in the Paris Matin agrees, but he coincides with the expert of the London Post in suspecting that Rumania and Greece will oppose any attempt at expansion on the part of Bulgaria at the expense of Servia. "As for the Ottoman Empire assisting Bulgaria," opines the latter, "Russia, commanding the Black Sea as she does, dominates the situation and can forbid any move on the part of the Turks." Rumania, to pursue this analysis further, has much to gain from a victorious campaign against Austria-Hungary, owing to Transylvania being largely peopled by Rumanians. The military forces of Rumania are sufficient to enable her to place a respectable army in the field on her northwestern frontier while retaining sufficient troops on the Danube and in the Dobruja to watch the Bulgarians. The British expert can therefore conceive developments under which the dual monarchy would find enemies threatening its frontiers from Cracow, in Galicia, right around to Cattaro, on the Adriatic, and having to adopt a strictly defensive attitude. This would be a severe blow to the whole German plan of campaign, even if the German plan were fairly successful.

Russia's Relation to the Struggle in the Balkans.

That a Russian threat would cripple any Austrian advance into the heart of Servia, that the plains of Hungary are an ideal battle ground for Russia's immense masses of horse, and that by way of Hungary Russia would give aid and relief to Servia most directly, are asserts the military expert of the London News, "obvious facts." This expert thinks Russia is comparatively safe from a German attack in the north and that Germany violated the neutrality of the little powers about her because she was caught in a vice with the nine Russian corps on one frontier and the French army on the other. Extrication from, the peril that ensued was vital to official Berlin. This theorist of the war anticipates a series of brilliant clashes by the German army, but in the end the slow exhaustion of the Kaiser's empire if the struggle be prolonged. The aim of the German general staff was to take the enemy, France, "by surprise—to deal the swift and certain blow in the traditionally Moltkian manner. Our contemporary doubts if the blow has been struck in that way, if France has been caught.

The Problem of the French Military Scandals.

Just before the outbreak of the war in Europe, French public opinion was still in a state of shock due to M. Humbert's "disclosures" in the Senate at Paris with regard to deficiencies in the artillery and in other technical services of the army. Even the Minister of War, M. Messimy, did not hesitate to admit that in certain departments Germany was drawing ahead. However, since the crisis over Morocco France had been thoroly alive to her military requirements and lost ground was presumably made up. The spirit which prompted a return to a military service of three years instead of two was behind the energy with which France rose to the emergency, says the Paris Temps. The sensational manner in which M. Humbert's charges against the military administration were presented to the Senate renders necessary, according to the London Times, a word of warning lest undue alarm be aroused in regard to the condition of the French army. M. Humbert said that, in spite of the vast and increasing sums voted for the army, the heavy artillery, the eastern frontier forts, the stores of war material, uniforms and shells, the transport, bridges and wireless telegraphy, are very much inferior to those of Germany. France awoke from dreams of universal peace to a realization of this state of affairs at the time of the Morocco crisis.

German Military Impressions of the War.

Military experts in Germany, so far as their views may be gleaned in the German press, lay stress upon two points. The adhesion of Great Britain to the Dual Alliance, as the commentator in the Kreuz-Zeitung says, was considered and provided against. The war, where Germany is concerned, will not be a naval one primarily. Command of the sea is not a critical factor in a war between the Teuton and the Slav. As regards France, the expert of the Berlin Post insists that she has flung herself into the campaign with inadequate facilities, This daily takes seriously the statements in the French Senate which make the French artillery inferior at all points to the German. If this daily has consulted students of the art of war to any purpose, it will be an easy matter for Austria-Hungary, aided by Germany, to make an end of Russian military dreams in the Balkans. Russia will not be of the least use to France in the struggle, which seems to our authority destined to last for a long time. Great Britain will make no sacrifices, it predicts, but will attach importance to the influence of her seapower upon the destinies of the struggle, Even if Germany be forced to endure great loss at the outset, affirms this organ of militarism, she must triumph at last because she alone among the great powers has made a scientific study of the art of war. Had Germany delayed another year, according to a renowned military expert whose judgment is given in the Vossische, it might have been too late. France and Russia both, according to him, had attained a readiness for the struggle that was indistinguishable from open hostilities even before they began. As it is, the hour of destiny for the German empire has struck. She faces a world in arms, but she retains a serene confidence in the outcome. But why did Germany think the present so favorable a moment? Because, we are told by the London Spectator, a paper which deems Germany a danger to the world, some feeling seized her "as to the magnificence of the opportunity offered her by the existing state of Europe." This to Berlin dailies is the British libel on the fatherland in its classical form.

Has Germany Fundamentally Miscalculated Her Campaign?

With the development of the struggle upon which she has entered so brilliantly, Germany will be brought, as the military expert of the Corriere della Sera (Rome) thinks, to a realizing sense of the importance of sea power. The alienation of Great Britain, with her tremendous navy, for the sake of a short trip through a neutral's territory, must turn out the prodigious miscalculation of the Berlin strategists. The blunder is explicable when one remembers that German strategists, even the ablest, still think of naval problems in terms of army tactics. The German navy has been a mere adjunct of the German army, with the same discipline and very much .the same point of view. It is Prussianized, mechanical, lacking in initiative. No country can wage a war of armies alone. A war in which the naval factor enters at all implies defeat for the side in which the naval factor is sacrificed to any other. All history of the art of war contains examples innumerable of blunders like this one of Germany's and the blunder has always been fatal to those who made it. As this Italian expert views the struggle, it will insensibly but surely proceed from a land campaign to a sea one. Germany must find herself hopelessly outclassed. Italian military experts seem inclined, whether they write for the democratic Messaggiere or the conservative Giornale d'Italia, to take the same view.

Vienna and Berlin Differ on a Point of Strategy.

Suggestions that a serious difference exists between militarist Vienna and militarist Berlin regarding the sound plan of campaign for a struggle so extensive are made more and more definitely by experts who write for the foreign dailies. If one expert, quoted in the Independence Beige (Brussels), be well informed, Emperor William is hearing from Vienna that Europe is plunged into a struggle of the Slav and the Teuton which must not be diverted into a war between France and Germany over Alsace-Lorraine. Vienna intimates already that Belgium should have been let alone, and that the neutrality of Luxembourg ought to remain intact unless William II is content to see Europe all Cossack. Vienna is dismayed, in short, at the appearance of Great Britain as a belligerent. Berlin asks in reply, according to the military expert of the London Times, Which is the decisive theater of operations, the north or the south? The general staff is not well pleased at the conditions under which Austria-Hungary has inaugurated the campaign. "Germany is being dragged at the heels of the Hapsburg war chariot, and the position lacks comfort." If it is to be Armageddon, the Berlin general staff finds the forces of the ally pirouetting among the Servian hills in a secondary theater of operations while the German Emperor bears the brunt of battle in the decisive theater of the war.

© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013.

If you appreciate the articles, read the e-novel informed by them —


A Novel of World War One
By J. Fred MacDonald

The Headlong Fury