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WITH THE BRITISH ARMY, Issue 15696, 9 January 1915
WITH THE BRITISH ARMY
HOW THE PRUSSIAN GUARD WAS
"Eye-witness," who is with the Headquarters' Staff, thus describes tho desperate fighting on the Yser from November 4 to 12, resulting in the capture of Ypres ; Tho diminution in force of what may, by a paraphrase, be- described a.s the German Drang na-ch Weston in this quarter has not lasted long. The section of front to the north of us was tho first to meet the recrudescence of violence-in the shape of an attack by the enemy in the neighborhood of Dixmude and Bixschooto. Our turn came next, a.nd after eight days of a comparative relaxation of pressure, from Tuesday the- 3rd to Tuesday tho 10th, the 11th saw a. repetition of the great attempt to break through onr line to the French coast. What was realised might happen, has happened. In spito of the immense losses suffered by tho enemy during the five days' attack a-gainst Ypres, which lasted from the 29th October to tho 2nd of this month, tho cessation of their more, violent efforts on tho latter day wast not an abandonment of tho whole project, but a temporary relinquishment of the main offensive until fresh troops should be massed to carry on what was proving to be a- somewhat costly find difficult operation. Meanwhile, as has been pointed out, the interval was employed in endeavoring to wear out the Allies by repeated local attacks of varying force and to shatter them by a prolonged and concentrated bombardment. By the 11th, therefore, it fw>ms that they must have considered that they had attained both objects, for on that day, as will bo described, recommenced the desperate battle for the possession of Ypres, and its neighborhood.
—The Enemy Foiled.—
Though tho struggle has nob yet come to an end, this much can bo said. The Germans have gained some ground, but they have not captured Ypres. In repulsing the enemy so far we have naturally suffered heavy casualties. But battles of "this fierce and prolonged nature cannot but bo costly to both sides, and wo. have the satisfaction of knowing that we have foiled tho enemy in what appears, at present, to be his main object, in tho western theatre, of operations, and have inflicted immensely greater loss on him than that suffered by ourselves. /To carry on the narrative for the three days—the, 10th, 11th, and 12th November—Tuesday the 10th was for us uneventful. Beyond our left flank the enemy advanced in force, against tho French, but were repulsed. On our left, however, along the greater part of our front, the shelling was less severe, and no infantry attacks took place. —A Furious Cannonade. — .South-east of. Ypres the enemy kept up a very heavy bombardment against outline as well as that of tho French, and on our loft centre tho situation remained unchanged, both sides contenting themselves with a furious cannonade. In our centre the Germans retained their hold on the small extent of ground they had gained from us, but in doing so incurred heavy loss from our artillery and machine-gun fire. Incidentally, one of tho houses held by them was so knocked about by our fire that its defenders bolted. On their way to the rear they were met by reinforcements, under an officer, who halted them, evidently in a-n endeavor to persuade them to return. While the parley was going on, one of our machine guns was quietly moved to a position of vantage, whence it opened a most effective fire on the group. On our right, one of tho enemy's saps, which were being- pushed towards our line, was attacked by us, and all tho men in it wore captured. —Desperate Fighting.—
As has been said, Wednesday the 11th was another day of desperate fighting. ISo soon a.s day broke, the Germans opened up on our trenches to the north and south of tho Menin-Ypres road what was probably the most furious artillery fire that they have yet employed against us, and a few hours later followed up this bombardment by an infantry assault in force. Tin's was carried out by the First and Fourth Brigades of the Guard Corps, which, as we now know from prisoners, had been sent for in order to make a, supremo effort to capture Ypres, that task having proved too heavy for infantry of the lino. As tho attackers surged forward they were met by our frontal fire, and since they were moving diagonally across part of our front were also taken in flank by artillery, rifles, and machine- guns. Though their casualties before they reached our lino must, have been enormous, euch was their resolution and the momentum of mass that in spite of the splendid resistance of our troops t-hev succeeded in breaking through our lino in three places near the road. They penetrated for some distance, into woods behind our trenches, but wore counter-
attacked and again enfiladed by machine guns and driven back to the line of trenches, a. certain portion of which they succeeded in holding in spite of our efforts to expel them. What their total losses must have been during the advance can to some extent be gauged from the fact that the number of dead left in the woods bohind our line alone amounted to 700. A simultaneous effort made to tho south of the road, as pa-rt of the same operation, though not carried out by the Guard Corps, failed entirely, for when the attacking infantry massed in the woods close to our line oar guns opened upon them with such effect that they did not push the assault home.
—Fighting at Close Quarters. —
As generally happens in operations in wooded country, the. fighting was to a great extent carried on at close- quarters, and was of tho most desperate and confined description. Indeed, scattered bodies of tho enemy who penetrated into the woods in the rear of our position could neither go backwards nor forwards, and were neatly all killed or captured. The portion of the line south-east of Ypres held by us was heavily shelled, but did not undergo, anv verv "serious infantry attack. That occupied by the French, however, was both bombarded and fiercely assaulted. On the Test of our front, save for the usual bombardment, all was comparatively quiet. On the right one of our trenches was mined and then abandoned. So soon as it was occupied by the enemy tho charges were fired. < and several Germans were" blown to pieces. —Night Attack by the French.—
Thursday, the 12th, was marked by a partial lull in the lighting all along our line. To the north of us the German force which had crossed the Yser and entrenched on the left bank was annihilated by a night attack with the bayonet, executed by the French. Slightly to the south the enemv was forced back for a distance of about three-quarters- of a mile. Immediately to our left the French were strongly attaVked and driven hack a- short distance, our extreme left having to conform to the movement., but *Wir Allies soon recovered the ground they bad lost, which enabled its to advance also. To the south-east of Ypres the enemy's sniriers Mere, very active. On our centre and right the enemy's bombardment was maintained, but nothing worthy of special note occurred. The fact that 'on this day the advance against our line in front of Ypres was not pushed homo after such an effort as' had been made on Wednesday tend*; to show that up (,» the moment at least of attacking the troops had had enough. —Enemy's Dogged Perseverance.—
Although the failure of this great attack by* the Guard Corp- to accomplish its object cannot yet be described as a decisive event, it possibly marks the culmination —if not the close--of the stage in the attempt to capture Ypres, and is therefore, not, without significance. It baa also dramatic interest of its own. Having once definitely failed to achieve this object by means of sheer weight of numbers, as already explained, and having done, their best to wear us down in the manner already described, tho Germans brought up fresh picked troops to carry the Ypres salient by an assault from the ninth, south, and csst. That th» Gusrd Corps should have been selected to act ai-'ainst the eastern c<]g» of thr salient rusv perhaps be taken ne. proof of the nei-essitv felt by the Germans to gain this point'in the line, and their dogged perseverance in pursuance ot their objective claims our whole-hearted admiration. The failure, of one groat attack, heralded as itwas by impassioned apneals-to -the troops
made in presence of the Emperor himself, but carried out by partially trained men, has been only the signal for another, desperate effort, in which the place of honor was assigned to the- corps d'elite of the German army. It must be admitted that that corps has retained that reputation for courage and contempt of death which it earned in 1870. when Emperor William 1., after the battle of Gravelotte, wrote: "My Guard has found its grave in front of St. Privat," and the.' swarm 3 of men who came up fo bravely to the British rifles, in the woods round Ypres repeated tho tactics of 44 years ago, when their dense columns, toiling up the slopes of Sr. Privat, melted away -iinder*ihe fir© of the French. —Cunning Fighters.— 7"hat the Germans are cunning fighters and are well up in all tho tricks of the trade has been frequently pointed out. For inetancc, they often succeed in ascertaining: what regiment or brigade is opposed to them, and owing to their knowledge of English are able to employ the information to some purpose. On one recent occasion, having by some means discovered the name of the commander of a company holding a trench, they were attacking, they called on him by name, asking- if "Captain "' was there. Fortunately the pronunciation of the 5 - iuefi was somewhat defective, and curiosity was rewarded by discovering that both tho lofljcer in question and his men were "very much there." There are reports from" so many different quarters of the enemy having been seen wearing British and French uniforms that it is impossible, to doubt, their truth. One remarkable—and absolutely authentic—case occurred during the fighting near Ypres. A man dressed in a uniform which resembled that of a British Staff officer suddenly appeared near our trenches and walked along tho line, asking if many casualties had been suffered, and stating that the situation was serious, and that a general re tirement had been ordered. A similar visit, was reported bv several men in different trenches, and orders were issued that this strange officer was to be detained if again seen. Unluckily he did not mab another appearance. —German Soldier And His Officers.- - The following remarks extracted from a German soldiers diary are published, not
because thorn is reason to believe they are justified as regards the conduct of the German officers, but because they are of interest as a human document: —■ "2nd November.—Before noon sent out in a regular storm of bullets by order of the major. These gentlemen (the officers) send their men forward in the most ridiculous way. They themselves remain far behind safely under cover. 'Our leadership is really scandalous. Enormous losses on our side, partly from the fire of our own people, for our leaders neither know where the.enemy lies nor where our own troops are, so that we are often fired on by our own men. It is a marvel to me that we have got on so far as we have done. Our captain fell; also all our section leaders, and a large number of our men. Moreover, no purpose was served by this advance, for we remained the rest ot the day under cover, and could go neither forward nor back, nor even shoot. A trench we had taken was not Occupied by us, aaid the English naturally took it back at night. That was the sole result. Then when the enemy had again entrenched themselves another attack was made, costing us many lives and 50 prisoners. "Is is simply ridiculous, this leadership. If only I had known it before! My opinion of the German officers has changed. An adjutant shouted to us from a trench far to the rear to cut down a hedge which was in front of us. Bullets were whistling round from in front and from behind. The gentleman himself, or course, remained behind. The Fourth Company has now no leaders but a couple of i\.C.O.R. When will my turn come? I hope to goodness I shall get home again. " Still in the trenches. Shells and shrapnel burst without ceasing. In the evening a cup of rice and one-third of an apple per man. Let us hope, peace will booh come. Such a. war is really too awful. English shoot like mad. \l no reinforcements come up, especially heavy artillery, we shall have a poor look-out, and must retire. |
"The first day T -went quietly into the fight with an indifference which astonished me. To-day for the first time in'advancing, when my comrades right and left fell, I felt rather nervous, but lost that feeling; again soon. One becomes horribly indifferent. Picked up a piece of bread by chance. Thank God, at least, something to eat. There are about 70,000 English, who must be attacked from all four sides and destroyed. They defend themselves, however, obstinately. *' —"Whfll the Black Watch Did.If was only when a hatch of wounded and prisoners of the Prussian Guards arrived at that out fellows actually realised the kind of men they have been fighting during the last few days, says a : Daily Chronicle ' correspondent. After submitting for over eight hours to a terrible shell fire of both lyddite and shrapnel, our men, as may well be imagined, were, getting very tired, and it was next to impossible to send relief to our advanced trenches until after dark. The. Germans, anticipating the condition of things, and realising that it was now or never, massed in force their Prussian Guards ajid .some other forces, and drove our troops back through sheer weight of numbers. Back they went, contesting stubbornly each trench as they vacated if. When within about 60yds of where our artillery was hidden our men, acting under orders, suddenly split their line and dispersed on either side, leaving a huge gap—the break in the British line which the enemy had been trying to make for weeks. Into this break the Prussian Guard, wildly shouting and cheering—into the jaws of death came the finest 01 the Kaiser's troops, for they had advanced within 50yds of the muzzles of our field guns, which belched forth hell at point blank range, while our Maxims fired the " brown " from either side.
Imagine those shells tearing their whistling and shrieking way through masses of men who a moment before, were shouting in gleeful confidence of victory already won. Not even the Prussian Guard could stand up to a terror like this. They broke and wavered—and fled. But they had penetrated to within a few yards of our artillery. They turned back in headlong flight—a flight which was aided by a, savage charge made, by the Black Watch, which regiment, in company with others, was up at them the moment the sign of wavering was seen. The whole thing was beautifully timed by both artillery and infantry alike. Not only were" the Germans driven back over the trenches which but a short time ago they had taken from our men, hut they were pursued by the Highlanders for over a mile beyond. The net result was that, the enemy" lost over 1,000 men killed and some 3.000 wounded, n.s well as their own advanced trenches, from which their final attack had originated, and our artillery, following "up, is now sending shells a mile further into the enemy's lines with deadly effect.
WITH THE BRITISH ARMY, Issue 15696, 9 January 1915
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