Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

barbed-wire obstacles. Between Lake Narotch and Lake Vishnieff the Russians captured some woods after driving out German forces which had constructed strong positions there.

Without cessation the Russian attacks continued day by day. Fresh troops were brought up continuously. The munition supply, which in the past had been one of the chief causes of Russian failure and disaster, seemed to have become suddenly inexhaustible. Not only was each attack carefully and extensively prepared by the most violent kind of artillery fire, but the latter was directed also against those German positions which at that time were immune from attack on account of the insurmountable natural difficulties brought about by climatic conditions. For by this time winter began to break up and ice and snow commenced to meet, signifying the rapid approach of the spring floods. To a certain extent these climatic conditions undoubtedly had an important influence on Russian plans. Almost along the entire northern part of the front the Germans possessed one great advantage. Their positions were located on higher and drier ground than those of the Russians, whose trenches were on low ground, and would become next to untenable, once thaw and spring floods would set in in earnest. There is little doubt that the great energy and superb disregard of human life which the Russian commanders developed throughout the March offensive were principally the result of their strong desire to get their forces on better ground before it was too late or too difficult, and from a tactical point of view the risks which they took at that time and the price which they seemed to be willing to pay to achieve their ends were not any too great.

In spite of the lack of any important success the Russian attacks against the Jacobstadt sector were renewed on March 24, 1916. But the German guns had shot themselves in so well that it availed nothing. Other attacks, attempted to the southwest of Dvinsk and at various points north of Vidzy suffered the same fate. In the neighborhood of Lake Narotch Russian activities on that day were restricted to artillery fire.

The Germans assumed the offensive on March 25, 1916, on the Riga-Dvinsk sector. Their guns were trained against Schlock, a

I-War St. 5

small town on the south shore of the Gulf of Riga, just northwest of Lake Babit, against the bridgehead at Uxkull, fifteen miles southeast of Riga on the Dvina, and against a number of other positions between that point and Jacobstadt. A German attempt to gain ground north of the small sector of the Mitau-Jacobstadt railway, that was still in Russian hands, failed in the face of a devastating Russian cannonade. A German trench was captured by Russian infantry ably supported by artillery west of Dvinsk, but neither southwest nor south of this fortress were the Russians able to register any success. Northwest of Postavy and between Lake Narotch and Lake Vishnieff heavy fighting still continued and in some places developed into hand-to-hand fighting between smaller detachments. From Lake Narotch down to the Pripet Marshes German and Russian guns again raked the trenches facing them.

On March 26, 1916, the following day, the Russians attacked at many points. Northwest of Jacobstadt, near the village of Augustinhof,.a most violent attack brought no results. Northwest of Postavy the Russians stormed two trenches. Southwest of Lake Narotch repeated heavy attacks were repulsed and some West Prussian regiments recovered an important observation point which they had lost a week before. Over 2,100 officers and men were captured that day by the Germans. Aeroplanes of the latter also resumed activity and dropped bombs on the stations at Dvinsk, and Vileika, as well as along the Baranovitchy-Minsk railroad.

Russian artillery carried death and destruction into the German trenches on March 27, 1916, before Oley, south of Riga, and before the Uxkull bridgehead. In the Jacobstadt sector, as well as near Postavy, violent engagements, launched now by the Germans and then again by the Russians, occurred all day long without yielding any results to either side. Southwest of Lake Narotch the Russians made a determined attack with two divisions against the positions captured by German regiments on the previous day, but were not able to dislodge the latter. Fighting also developed now in the Pripet Marshes and the territory immediately adjoining. Weather conditions were rapidly changing for the worse all along the eastern front. Thaw set in, and all marsh and lake ground was flooded. Everywhere, not only in the southern region, but also in the northern, the ice on the rivers and lakes became covered with water and was getting soft near the banks. Throughout the northern region the melting of the thickly lying snow in the roads was making the movements of troops and artillery extraordinarily difficult.

As a result of these conditions, which were growing more difficult every day, a decided decrease in activity became immediately noticeable on both sides. For quite a time fighting, of course, continued at various points. But both the numbers of nen employed as well as the intensity of their effort steadily increased.

Before Dvinsk and just south of the fortress artillery fire formed the chief event on March 28, 1916. But south of Lake Narotch the Russians still kept up their attacks. At one point, where the Germans had gained a wood a few days ago the Russian forces attacked seven times in quick succession and thereby recovered the southern part of the forest. Along the Oginski Canal fighting was conducted at long range. German aeroplanes again dropped bombs, this time on the stations at Molodetchna on the Minsk-Vilna railroad, as well as at Politzy and Luniniets.

Both March 30 and 31, 1916, were marked by a noticeable cessation of attacks on either side. Long-range rifle fire and artillery cannonades, however, took place at many points from the Gulf down to the Pripet Marshes. German aeroplanes again attacked a number of stations on railroads leading out of Minsk' to western points.

Of all the violent fighting which took place during the second half of March, 1916, along the northern half of the eastern front, the little village of Postavy, perhaps, saw more than any other point. The special correspondent of a Chicago newspaper witnessed a great deal of this remarkably desperate struggle during his stay with Field Marshal von Hindenburg's troops. His vivid description, which follows, will give a good idea of the valor displayed both by German and Russian troops, as well as of the immense losses incurred by the attackers during this series of battles lasting ten days.

“Despite the artillery, despite the machine guns and despite the infantry fire, the apparently inexhaustible regiments of Russians swept on over the dead, over the barbed-wire barriers before the German line, over the first trenches and routed the German soldiers, who were half frozen in the mud of their shattered shelters. A terrible hand-to-hand conflict followed. Hand grenades tore down scores of defenders and assailants' attacks. The men fought like maniacs with spades; bayonets, knives and clubbed guns.

"But the Russians won at a fearful price for so slight a gain. They stopped within a hundred feet of victory. It may have been lack of discipline, lack of officers or lack of reserves; no one knows.

“The Russians seemed helpless in the German trenches. Instead of sweeping on to the second lines they tried to intrench themselves in the wrecked German first line. Immediately German artillery hurled shells of the heaviest caliber into those lines and tore them into fragments.

“Then came the reserves and by nightfall the Russians had again been driven out.

"Four days later, suddenly without warning, a mud-colored wave began to pour forth from the forest. It was a line of Russians three ranks deep containing more than 1,000 men. Behind this was a second wave like the first, and then a third.

"The German artillery tore holes in the ranks, which merely closed up again, marched on, and made no attempt to fire. They marched as though on parade. 'It was magnificent but criminal!' said a German officer.

"When a fourth line emerged from the woods the German artillery dropped a curtain of fire behind it, and then a similar wall of shells ahead of those in front. They then moved these two walls closer together with a hail of shrapnel between them, while at the same time they cut loose with the machine guns.

"The splendid formation of Russians, trapped between the walls of fire, scattered heedlessly in vain. Shells gouged deep holes in the dissolving ranks. The air was filled with clamor and frantic shrieks were sometimes heard above the incessant roar and cracking of exploding projectiles.

“Defeated men sought to dig themselves into the ground in the foolish belief that they could find safety there from this deluge of shells. Others raced madly for the rear and some escaped in this way as if by a miracle. Still others ran toward the German lines only to be cut down by the German machine-gun fire.

“In less than twenty minutes the terrible dream was over. The attack had cost the Russians 4,000 lives, and yet not a Russian soldier had come within 600 yards of the German line."

Another important feature of the March offensive, especially in its early phases, was the patrol work, executed on both sides. This required not only courage of the highest order, but also a high degree of intelligence on the part of the leader as well as of the men working under him. The results obtained by patrol work are, of course, of the greatest importance to the respective commanding officers, and many times the way in which such a mission is carried out is the decisive factor in bringing success or failure to an important movement. At the same time patrol work is, of course, a matter of chiefly local importance, and no matter how difficult the problem or how cleverly it is solved it is only on rare occasions that the result reaches the outside world, even though a collection of detailed reports which patrol leaders are able to make would form a story that would put to shadow the most impossible book of fiction or the most unbelievable adventure film.

The following two descriptions of such work, therefore, make not only a highly sensational story, but prove also that war in modern times relies almost as much on personal valor and initiative as in times gone by, all claims to the contrary notwithstanding, and in spite of the wonderful technical progress which military science of our times shares with all other sciences.

An American special newspaper correspondent with Von Hindenburg's army reports the following occurrences and also gives a vivid pen picture of conditions in the territory immediately behind the front:

« AnteriorContinuar »