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EDITORIAL - SPECIAL ARTICLES
AUTOMOBILES PART III EIGHT PAGES Ntm ?atfc STrftum EDITORIAL . SPECIAL ARTICLES AUTOMOBILES SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 10, 1918 PART III EIGHT PAGES IMPENDINGGERMAN BLOW IN THE WEST What Strength the Kaiser Can Draw From the East for a Strong Offensive By HILA1RE BELLOC inthof of "Elementa of the Great War" and England's Most Distinguished Military Critic) THE great war at this moment is halted in a suspense which is only a preparation for the great action immediately impending. Snow has fi-illcn upon the Lower Alps ud checked the Austrian pressure upon (?6 flank of the Piave line. The crest of, Hont? Tomba, the only point on the last mountain wall which the enemy reached, ? ?#j therefore the only good observation Lpoint whenco the enemy could command i the plains to the Adriatic, was retaken oy the French, and since the supplementary Italian success action in this sector would seem to have come, for the moment, to id end. Upon the main Western front, through ' France arv4 Belgium, there is no great ' action proceeding. Both parties arc sum? ming up their strength for the struggle of the approaching lighting season, which each hopes to make final and decisive. The time at which I write this, the first if my weekly summaries for The Tribune, is therefore suited for a general review of the situation. How do the opposing forces approach the fighting season of 1918? The outline.-' arc of common knowledge: the collapse of Russia; the continued ac? tivity of the enemy's submarine offensive; '?? the certainly of an indeterminate period before the full strength of the United ! States can be brought to bear, cither in men or in materials or in building power? that is, tonnage; or in counter attacks against the submarines by sea. The Two Phases of The Submarine Campaign But these general outlines, witli which all the world is familiar, need prensi?n. The severity of the submarine campaign cannot be clearly defined, but wc must clearly recognize its various parts. It is directed against two main objects?the ; it?itary communications of the Allies and i tie civilian supply, mainly of the British ! pea (which depend for their life upon? overseas material), and to some extent of! ?he other Western powers?as, for ex- ! ?mple, the supply of Italy with coal. These two objects of the submarine cam- ! saign arc closely interconnected and over- ? lapping; they arc none the less distingish ablc. It is in the element of supply, rather 'hau in the element of communications, that the submarine offensive lias produced lis most noticeable effects, and this for the reason that military communications have lieeu rightly regarded as vital to the cam? paign?any ?serious interference with them is disastrous, while there was and is a very large margin of safety for civilian supplies. The submarine offensive conducted by the enemy upon an extensive scale for eleven months lias passed through two main phases. There was first the phase k which the sinkings were not only abso? lutely larger than they were during the second, but in which they were also rel.i tively much greater compared with the rate of replacement. This first phase ended with early or mid ?le summer of last year. The second phase has been one in which while the curve of positive lo.ss has fluctuated its general average has been declining, and during which the corresponding positive factor against tliia negative?the building to re place loss?has regularly increased, but at a rate which has not been communi ^'??ed to the public,, and therefore is not ?P?n to discussion. What we hope for, what wc cannot ! Prophesy and what only the future will COnfirta or deny is that the third phase, in "?"net result of loss and gain, will show a i declining curve. An ?Estimate of ?ae Chances on Land ">th the second clement action by land?it is otherwise. Here we can deal ?Vltn figures fairly precise and estimate ?L ? " ^ ie chances of war more accurately. First, we must regard the Bulgarian and Turkish armies as occupying their ! ?j*? fields outside the critical sectors. ; 'hey are faced and held in Macedonia, j ^?"?a and Mesopotamia. There are two, ! Possibly three, Turkish divisions lent to : .,e Central Powers upon their Eastern *! a rather larger number of Bul Jarians north of the Danube, or in the e'i?hborhood of its mouth, on the southern \ ad? bUt ?G great bulk ?f the Turkish ? tu.&-Tmn forces may be counted out ; ?l the main problem. . That problem lies upon the Italian and i rench fronts, and what we have to con- ? jj W. '? tfte effect upon those fronts of ? ful? havin?? ce*sed to fight for now a I ? year. What are the rough figures of ?entMnjr*B situation in this regard? They ! ** a? follows: | ***'??Wan forces (which means, of course, all the various groups of peoples, Magyar, Slav, Rumanian, German, subject to the Hapsburg monarchies and con? scripted 'willingly or unwillingly) are not two-thirds, but are more than one-half, as large as the German forces. The Germans, roughly, arc somewhat over 5,000,000 strong; in the field they are about 3,000, 000. Of the Austro-Hungarian forces act? ually fighting, rather more than half are at present upon the Italian front, rather less than half facing the Rumanians and the Russians. If one counted by units the Eastern forces facing Russia would be the larger, but the divisions in the East have been ''milked" to reinforce those in the West. How German Forces Are Disposed The German army is the kernel of what we have to consider. Of its 3,000,000 men upon the two fronts the general figure to retain is that two-thirds are upon the West and one-third upon the East, so far as numbers of divisions alone are concerned. There are about .160 German divisions on the West front, (the most precise and re? cent estimate, which cannot, of course, pre? tend to be exactly accurate, is 157). There are tho c(?uivalent of eighty German divi? sions on the East front (79 numbered divisions and certain extras). A superficial and false conclusion would De that, since what was once the Russian army may now be counted out. the German forces upon the West can be reinforced during 1918 by the extra 50 per cent from the East. Such a view would be a greatly exaggerated one, for the following reasons: JThe Russian front has now for nearly ? twelve months been used as a sort of rest camp. Units which could not be used in the furnace of the West are sent there to do the work of police, which is all that is required. At least a quarter of the Ger? man divisions in the East arc landwehr of the kind which will never be used in active service against the French, British or Americans. Another portion (fluctuating but always considerable) is made up of divisions which have been hammered on the West front and sent to the East, where there is no fighting, to recover. At any one moment these "resting" divisions are out of calculation, so far as reinforcement of the Western line is concerned. 2 Reinforcement of material from East ? to West, though it is considerable, can? not be upon anything like the scale of one third to two-thirds. It is not generally ap? preciated, for instance, that in aeroplanes the Germans were using more than ten in the West to one in the East. The propor? tion of heavy artillery, again, is very much less upon the East than upon the West. 3 There have already been withdrawn ? from the East in the course of the last year, and particularly since the final col lapse of Russia in the summer before Tarnopol, a considerable, though unknown, proportion of the younger and more vig ? orous elements. Apart from the movc I ments of divisions as a whole, there has j been a continuous withdrawing of younger i men from the East to the West. New bat? talions were continually being formed of selected men and sent westward?the j transfer taking, as a rule, about twelve days. A However thin you make your curtain of ? ? men who arc merely watching a doubt? ful situation, you cannot reduce it beyond a certain minimum. The Germans and I Austrians between them are watching in i the East a line which in all its sinuosities is little short of a thousand miles in ' length. They have had perhaps one man i to the yard for this duty, counting every I thing within the zone of the armies. They ! might?it is conceivable?halve that num , ber, and much more than halve its value, j by leaving for this minimum only the I older or fatigued portions of their forces. I i Limit of Reduction Of Eastern Forces i The East front includes great spaces of | marsh and lake regions, which permit of a ! very thin observing line. But there is a ; limit to its reduction.- It is generally con ! ceded that if the German Empire can ulti ; mately draw upon a further half million 1 men for the West and add another 50 per i cent of the quarter million of Austro-llun ? garians (supposing that present political conditions stand), it is a maximum. At the present reduced rate of a German . division, the equivalent of at the most fifty j such divisions of first class men might be I drawn upon. A Jitt;?. sample of the way the enemy ! has used this relief of pressure on the Eastern front may be of interest. Taking I ten selected days whereof we now have full information (about eight weeks ago), wo find four German divisions coming from ?the East to the West: the 24th, 1st and ; 107th Reserve divisions and one active i division, the 1st. We find in the same , short period the 19th Landwehr sent back i to the Eastern front after a comparatively ! short period in the West, and probably a ! second reserve division going back a few ; days later. The whole position, therefore, may be '. compared to a man using 157 pieces of j standardized machinery only by the con , tinual employment of which can he prevent j the breakdown of some plan. Each of ! these pieces of machinery, when fully occupied, wears out very rapidly and has to be withdrawn for repair. Each piece has to be kept out of line for a longer time to be repaired altogether, or for a shorter | time while spare parts are being renewed. The man. we will say, has about 50 per I cent of his active machines continuously in action. But of that 50 per cent a quarter are obsolete and cannot be used for work at all, nor even their spare parts with? drawn! for use in more modern machines And a certain unknown proportion, pcr : haps another quarter, consists of engines already under repair. If a man were in this position in a mechanical enterprise, the first thing we should ask, in order to appreciate his chance of continuing with? out a breakdown, would be th. rate of wastage. To grasp the significance of the figures I am about to quote, we must understand that the "using up" of a division in a great modern battle docs not mean its destruc? tion, but only its exhaustion and the ne cessity of withdrawing it for rest and re? cruitment. Thus the same division often appears twice or thrice in a prolonged action. But in reckoning the rato o? wastage a staff counts a division twice used as two divisions, one thrice used aa three. For if you have not the reservi power to give leisure for resting and men for recruitment you cannot send a divi? sion in again. The figures of German wastage in this ! sense during the great battles of 1917 art significant and should be retained. The French offensive in the Champagne usec up sixty-six enemy divisions. The pre vious British offensive on the Arras froni used up seventy-eight. The battle on th< Verdun front in August used up twenty four German divisions; the big effort ol the Germans upon the Chemin-des-Dame: in the middle of the summer used ui eleven, and the subsequent French blov before Laon in October exhausted twelve Minor operations used up another twelve Whole Force Was Used Twice Over The tremendous fighting for Passchen daele Ridge, in the autumn and early win ter, accounted for no less than ninety-thre? divisions, while the Battle of Cambrai ma; have used anything from twenty-five t? thirty. Altogether, the eight months of fightinj during the open season of 1917 compelle? the withdrawal for recruitment and repai of at least 221 German divisions. Yo' may say the whole of the available Germa: force on the Western front was pu through twice over, and, of course, por tions of it more than twice over. With the Western Allies definitely o the defensive?one might almost say put licly announcing that they are on the d( fensive?and with the enemy openly pn paring to use, while he yet has it and b< fore the full effort of America is felt, th advantage given him by the collapse c Russia, the prophets are hard at wor guessing where his offensive stroke wi be delivered. All prophecy in war is ridiculous. Th most you can do, even with the f?lle: j knowledge, is to show what the chances are, whatever is calculable in the problem before you. If we confine ourselves to ; that limit in this moment of strained at | tention before the German offensive or j group of offensives is launched, we shall, do all that sound criticism permits. | First, let us note that the alternative to ! this offensive upon the part of the enemy, ; though widely suggested, is improbable. ; This alternative suggestion is that the ' enemy will not deliver an offensive stroke, but will watch us as we watch him ; that he ! will trust to the development of political i trouble among the Allies, to the effect of ! the submarine campaign and to war weari I riess in general to do their work until he can propose at the right moment more ; liberal peace terms than he has yet con ? sidered, in the hope that those terms will be accepted and the Prussian military ma? chine left unbeaten. This, though a possible policy, is a most improbable one, because of two obvious elements. First, every month that passes brings nearer the moment when the full American effort will be felt; second, the strain upon the enemy, both economic and political, is more severe than upon the Allies. The enemy has the advantage of greater unity, but he has the disadvantage of much greater suffering at home, which has been prolonged over a much greater period. He has also suffered more in dead and wounded. Of the belligerent nations in the West the French alone have had losses on the same scale as the Germans and Austrians, and even they have a slightly lower per? centage. The Italians have a still lower percentage, the British one far lower, while American aid, when it comes, will come in perfectly fresh. So far as the other element, food, is con? cerned, there is no comparison between the strain now suffered in Central Europe, and long suffered, and that which is only beginning to be felt among the Allies. Everything, therefore, points to the probability of an enemy offensive or group of offensives, and even of this military policy maturing early in the year. Points Upon Which An Attack Is Likely Now, what are the points upon which such an offensive would most probably be launched? Theoretically, almost any con? siderable sector on the Western line, be? tween the Adriatic and the North Sea, might be chosen. But if we examine each in turn we shall discover what are the respective advantages and disadvantages. The southernmost, the Italian front, had, at the moment of the last great enemy success in the autumn, one supreme advantage, which was political. It was hoped that a decision here might put Italy out of the war. Tremendous as was the blow delivered by the enemy?with greater combined captures in prisoners and guns I than had ever taken place before within ? so short a time?it proved indecisive. The Italian state remained firm in its deter? mination to continue the war, and its armies, heavily reinforced by the French and British, stood upon what is called "the Piav? line." Of all sectors on the Western front this line appeared to offer the greatest advan? tages to the enemy. It was far less strong than that of the Adige, the Piavo being easily forded in all its central part, and its left flank in the hills, parallel to the main Italian communications, being high? ly vulnerable. Indeed, this difficult and perilous line was only adopted because it covered Venice and saved from invasion, as compared with the.line of the Adige, a great and rich fraction of Northern Italy. Now, the enemy already had taken ail the advantage he could of this situation. He attacked in very large force, with a concentration of not less than 2,500 guns, upon the vulnerable left flank in the hills between the Piave River and Lake Garda. Until the snow made his communications impossible he sacrificed men and spent munitions upon a most lavish scale in an attempt to break through the Italian left flank and to reach the Venetian plain and cut off the defenders' main communica? tions. It is unlikely that, after the great lapse of time that must pass before his mountain communications will be free again next spring, he will stake heavily on that card. The opportunity there would seem to have passed. Analysis of The Western Front There remains the Western front proper, from the Alps to the North Sea Here we may count on the following nine main sectors: 1. The sector of the Vosges Moun? tains and forests, including the small part of Upper Alsace now in French hands. 2. The open sector, with Metz behind it on one side and Toul on the other, which runs from the Vosges to the Meuse?and may be called the sector of Nancy. 3. The sector of Verdun. A. The Champagne, much the largest open stretch. 5. The sector of St. Quentin. 6. The sector of Cambrai, stretchinj northward to the late battlefield ol Arras. 7. The sector of Lille. 8. The sector of Ypres, which was the scene of the British effort lasi autumn. 9. The maritime sector, betw?er Ypres and the North Sea. Of these nine sectors the three to whici ' "'.V. .' Points on the West? ern Line Where Big Attacks Are Likely to Fall in the Spring _ i Copyright 1918?The Tribune Association public attention has recently been mostly directed are the first (Vosges), second (Nancy) and seventh (Lille), though late events have made one school of writers suggest the sixth (Cambrai). Why are the others?the Verdun, Champagne, St. Quentin, Ypres and maritime sectors? regarded as less probable points of attack? As to three of them, the Verdun, Cham? pagne and Ypres sectors, the reason they are thought on the whole as less likely to receive the shock is that each of them, having been the scene of a highly developed system of attack or defence in the past, ir> now provided with a mass of local com? munications and concentration points, which are the chief strength of a modem defensive. Old Battle Grounds Ready for Defence To renew the attempt on Verdun, for in? stance, would be to attack deliberately on a twenty-mile front every inch of which has been studied for months and learned in the practical school of the great battle now eighteen months past. It would be to at? tack on a sector where hundreds of miles of roads and railways have come into bein<r behind the French lines through that great battle, and where the best points for con? centration, whether for munitionments or men, are known by heart and have all been tested by experience. It would be attack? ing over ground broken by the original enormous struggle. What is thus true of Verdun is true of I every sector in which one of the great ac? tions of the West has taken place. The argument against an attack in the St. Quentin sector is that an advance there would take the enemy over ground he has himself ravaged and desolated during the retreat from Noyon. It has in its favor, however, the fact that it is the junction place of the two allied armies and, po? litically, that an advance there would be a direct threat to Paris. In the maritime sector the fullest effort of the Germans was made and failed long ago, when they were immensely stronger in proportion to the Allies than they aro now. It is a sector of peculiarly difficult ground, from its intersection with water? courses and from being subject to inun? dation. There remain the sector of Cambrai, the open sector between the Meuse and the Vosges, between Metz and Toul, which may be called the sector of Nancy; the sector of Lille, and the sector of Upper Alsace. Cambrai has the advantage that it is the best served in the way of communications of all points on the enemy front. There can be gathered most rapidly and most continuously the reinforcements'?necessary for a great action. The sector imme? diately to the north?the sector of Lille? comes second in this respect. Both are ad? mirably served with roads and railways behind the German front and stand near? est the German western centres of supply. In each case, of course, the attack would come upon the British line. Violation of Swiss Border Unlikely Of the two alternative points upon the French line the argument against the choice of Alsace is the extreme difficulty of the ground, while the talk of turning the line around by Switzerland?though ?^very thing is possible in war?is not convincing. Defiles through Swiss territory here are difficult, and this is hardly the moment in the war for the German Empire to com? mit a new breach of ordinary morals. The fact that this movement was widely adver? tised by the Germans a year ago was al? most enough to make us rule it out. For the remaining French sector of Nancy much more may be said. It has ? great base behind it at Metz, it is open country, and it threatens a rich town which the French would naturally be ex? pected to cover and save. It has not yet been the theatre of any great action since the war of movement ceased in the West and siege lines were established. I sec M Tardieu has written suggesting that this sector may most probably attract the enemy. His words always have weight, and his summary of reasons is strong. In conclusion we must remember that such a list as I have given here has no relation to forecasting or to the stupid form of sensationalism which pretends to have unmasked the enemy's design. It is merely a very brief summary of the ca? culable elements for and against the va? rious parts of the line as to the theatre of the enemy's operations this year. We must also remember that, since surprise is an essential of success, he must depend more upon tactical novelty in weapons or method of attack than on the choice of ground when all ground is continuously covered and watch-ed.