It will now be necessary, in order to insure the continuity of the narrative, to lay before the reader a brief sketch of the course of events in Europe from the actual commencement of hostilities on a general scale between the two immense forces which may be most conveniently designated as the Anglo–Teutonic Alliance and the Franco–Slavonian League.
In order that these two terms may be fully understood, it will be well to explain their general constitution. When the two forces, into which the declaration of war ultimately divided the nations of Europe, faced each other for the struggle which was to decide the mastery of the Western world, the Anglo–Teutonic Alliance consisted primarily of Britain, Germany, and Austria, and, ranged under its banner, whether from choice or necessity, stood Holland, Belgium, and Denmark in the north-west, with Bulgaria, Greece, and Turkey in the south-west.
Egypt was strongly garrisoned for the land defence of the Suez Canal and the high road to the East by British, Indian, and Turkish troops. British and Belgian troops held Antwerp and the fortresses of the Belgian Quadrilateral in force.
A powerful combined fleet of British, Danish, and Dutch war vessels of all classes held the approaches by the Sound and Kattegat to the Baltic Sea, and cooperated in touch with the German fleet; the Dutch and the German having, at any rate for the time being, and under the pressure of irresistible circumstances, laid aside their hereditary national hatred, and consented to act as allies under suitable guarantees to Holland.
The cooperation of Denmark had been secured, in spite of the family connections existing between the Danish and the Russian Courts, and the rancour still remaining from the old Schleswig–Holstein quarrel, by very much the same means that had been taken in the historic days of the Battle of the Baltic. It is true that matters had not gone so far as they went when Nelson disobeyed orders by putting his telescope to his blind eye, and engaged the Danish fleet in spite of the signals; but a demonstration of such overwhelming force had been made by sea and land on the part of Britain and Germany, that the House of Dagmar had bowed to the inevitable, and ranged itself on the side of the Anglo–Teutonic Alliance.
Marshalled against this imposing array of naval and military force stood the Franco–Slavonian League, consisting primarily of France, Russia, and Italy, supported — whether by consent or necessity — by Spain, Portugal, and Servia. The cooperation of Spain had been purchased by the promise of Gibraltar at the conclusion of the war, and that of Portugal by the guarantee of a largely increased sphere of influence on the West Coast of Africa, plus the Belgian States of the Congo.
Roumania and Switzerland remained neutral, the former to be a battlefield for the neighbouring Powers, and the latter for the present safe behind her ramparts of everlasting snow and ice. Scandinavia also remained neutral, the sport of the rival diplomacies of East and West, but not counted of sufficient importance to materially influence the colossal struggle one way or the other.
In round numbers the Anglo–Teutonic Alliance had seven millions of men on the war footing, including, of course, the Indian and Colonial forces of the British Empire, while in case of necessity urgent levies were expected to produce between two and three millions more. Opposed to these, the Franco–Slavonian League had about ten millions under arms, with nearly three millions in reserve.
As regards naval strength, the Alliance was able to pit rather more than a thousand warships of all classes, and about the same number of torpedo-boats, against nearly nine hundred warships and about seven hundred torpedo-boats at the disposal of the League.
In addition to this latter armament, it is very necessary to name a fleet of a hundred war-balloons of the type mentioned in an earlier chapter, fifty of which belonged to Russia and fifty to France. No other European Power possessed any engine of destruction that was capable of being efficiently matched against the invention of M. Riboult, who was now occupying the position of Director of the aërial fleet in the service of the League.
It would be both a tedious repetition of sickening descriptions of scenes of bloodshed and a useless waste of space, to enumerate in detail all the series of conflicts by sea and land which resulted from the collision of the tremendous forces which were thus arrayed against each other in a conflict that was destined to be unparalleled in the history of the human race.
To do so would be to occupy pages filled with more or less technical descriptions of strategic movements, marches, and countermarches, skirmishes, reconnaissances, and battles, which followed each other with such unparalleled rapidity that the combined efforts of the war correspondents of the European press proved entirely inadequate to keep pace with them in the form of anything like a continuous narrative.
It will therefore be necessary to ask the reader to remain content with such brief summary as has been given, supplemented with the following extracts from a very lengthy résumé of the leading events of the war up to date, which were published in a special War Supplement issued by the Daily Telegraph on the morning of Tuesday the 28th of June 1904:—
“Although little more than a period of six weeks has elapsed since the actual outbreak of hostilities which marked the commencement of what, be its issue what it may, must indubitably prove the most colossal struggle in the history of human warfare, changes have already occurred which must infallibly mark their effect upon the future destiny of the world. Almost as soon as the first shot was fired the nations of Europe, as if by instinct or under the influence of some power higher than that of international diplomacy, automatically marshalled themselves into the two most mighty hosts that have ever trod the field of battle since man first fought with man.
“Not less than twenty millions of men are at this moment facing each other under arms throughout the area of the war. These are almost equally divided; for, although what is now known as the Franco–Slavonian League has some three millions of men more on land, it may be safely stated that the preponderance of naval strength possessed by the Anglo–Teutonic Alliance fully counterbalances this advantage.
“There is, however, another most important element which has now for the first time been introduced into warfare, and which, although it is most unhappily arrayed amongst the forces opposed to our own country and her gallant allies, it would be both idle and most imprudent to ignore. We refer, of course, to the two fleets of war-balloons, or, as it would be more correct to call them, navigable aerostats, possessed by France and Russia.
“So tremendous has been the influence which these terrible inventions have exercised upon the course of the war, that we are not transgressing the bounds of sober truth when we say that they have utterly disconcerted and brought to nought the highest strategy and the most skilfully devised plans of the brilliant array of masters of the military art whose presence adorns the ranks and enlightens the councils of the Alliance.
“Since the day when the Russians crossed the German and Austrian frontiers, and the troops of France and Italy simultaneously flung themselves across the western frontiers of Germany and through the passes of the Tyrol, their progress, unparalleled in rapidity even by the marvellous marches of Napoleon, has been marked, not by what we have hitherto been accustomed to call battles, but rather by a series of colossal butcheries.
“In every case of any moment the method of procedure on the part of the attacking forces has been the same, and, with the deepest regret we confess it, it has been marked with the same unvarying success. Whenever a large army has been set in motion upon a predetermined point of attack, whether a fortress, an entrenched camp, or a strongly occupied position in the field, a squadron of aerostats has winged its way through the air under cover of the darkness of night, and silently and unperceived has marked the disposition of forces, the approximate strength of the army or the position to be attacked, and, as far as they were observable, the points upon which the attack could be most favourably delivered. Then they have returned with their priceless information, and, according to it, the assailants have been able, in every case so far, to make their assault where least expected, and to make it, moreover, upon an already partially demoralised force.
“From the detailed descriptions which we have already published of battles and sieges, or rather of the storming of great fortresses, it will be remembered that every assault on the part of the troops of the League has been preceded by a preliminary and irresistible attack from the clouds.
“The aerostats have stationed themselves at great elevations over the ramparts of fortresses and the bivouacs of armies, and have rained down a hail of dynamite, melinite, fire-shells and cyanogen poison-grenades, which have at once put guns out of action, blown up magazines, rendered fortifications untenable, and rent masses of infantry and squadrons of cavalry into demoralised fragments, before they had the time or the opportunity to strike a blow in reply. Then upon these silenced batteries, these wrecked fortifications, and these demoralised brigades, there has been poured a storm of artillery fire from the untouched enemy, advancing in perfect order, and inspired with high-spirited confidence, which has been irresistibly opposed to the demoralisation of their enemies.
“Is it any wonder, or any disgrace, to the defeated, that under such novel and appalling conditions the orderly and disciplined onslaughts of the legions of the League have in almost every case been completely successful? The sober truth is that the invention and employment of these devastating appliances have completely altered the face of the field of battle and the conditions of modern warfare. It is not in human valour, no matter how heroic or self-devoted it may be, to oppose itself with anything like confidence to an enemy which strikes from the skies, and cannot be struck in return.
“It was thus that the battles of Alexandrovo, Kalisz, and Czernowicz were won in the early stages of the war upon the Austro–German frontier. So, too, in the Rhine Provinces, were the battles of Treves, Mulhausen, and Freiburg turned by the aid of the French aerostats from battles into butcheries. It was under the assault of these irresistible engines that the great fortresses of Königsberg, Thorn, Breslau, Strasburg, and Metz, to say nothing of many minor, but strongly fortified, places, were first reduced to a state of impotence for defence, and then battered into ruins by the siege-guns of the assailants.
“All these terrible events, forming a series of catastrophes unparalleled in the annals of war, are still fresh in the minds of our readers, for they have followed one upon the other with almost stupefying rapidity, and it is yet hardly six weeks since the Cossacks and Uhlans were engaged in their first skirmish near Gnesen.
“This is an amazingly brief space of time for the fate of empires to be decided, and yet we are forced, with the utmost sorrow and reluctance, to admit that what were two months ago the magnificently disciplined and equipped armies of Germany and Austria, are now completely shattered and broken up into fragmentary and isolated army corps, decimated as to numbers and demoralised as to discipline, gathered in and about such strong places as are left to them, and awaiting only with the courage of desperation the moment, we fear the inevitable moment, when they shall be finally crushed between the rapidly converging hosts of the victorious League.
“Within the next few days, Berlin, Hanover, Prague, Munich, and Vienna must be invested, and may possibly be destroyed or compelled to ignominious and unconditional surrender by the irresistible forces that will be arrayed against them.
“Meanwhile, with still deeper regret, we are forced to confess that those operations in the Low Countries and the east of Europe and Asia Minor in which our own gallant troops have been engaged in conjunction with their several allies, have been, if not equally disastrous, at least void of any tangible success.
“Erzeroum, Trebizond, and Scutari have fallen; the passes of the Balkans have been forced, although at immense cost to the enemy; Belgrade has been stormed; Adrianople is invested, and Constantinople is therefore most seriously threatened.
“By heroic efforts the French attack upon the Quadrilateral has been rolled back at a fearful expense of human life. Antwerp is still untouched, and the command of the Baltic is still ours. In our own waters, as well as in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, we have won victories which prove that Great Britain is still the unconquered, and we trust unconquerable, mistress of the seas. We have kept the Dardanelles open, and the Suez Canal is still inviolate.
“Two combined attacks, delivered by the allied French and Italian squadrons on Malta and Gibraltar, have been repulsed by Admiral Beresford with heavy loss to the enemy, thanks to the timely warning delivered to Mr. Balfour by the Earl of Alanmere — upon whose mysterious disappearance we comment in another column — and the Prime Minister’s prompt and statesmanlike action in doubling the strength of the Mediterranean fleet before the outbreak of hostilities.
“Thanks to the tireless activity and splendid handling of the Channel fleet, the North Sea Division, and the Irish Squadron, the enemy’s flag has been practically swept from the home waters, and the shores of our beloved country are as inviolate as they have been for more than seven centuries. These brilliant achievements go far to compensate us as an individual nation for the disasters which have befallen our allies on the Continent, and, in addition, we have the satisfaction of knowing that, so far, the most complete success has attended our arms in the East, and that the repeated and determined assaults of our Russian foes have been triumphantly hurled back from the impregnable bulwarks of our Indian Empire.
“It has been pointed out, and it would be vain to ignore the fact, that not only have all our victories been won in the absence of the aërial fleets of the League; but that we, in common with our allies, have been worsted in each of the happily few cases in which even one of these terrible aerostats has delivered its assaults upon us. Against this, however, we take leave to set our belief that these machines do not yet inspire sufficient confidence in their possessors to warrant them in undertaking operations above the sea, or at any considerable distance from their bases of manoeuvring. It is true that we are entirely ignorant of the essentials of their construction; but the fact that no attempt has yet been made to send them into action over blue water inspires us with the hope and belief that their effective range of operations is confined to the land. . . .
“It would be superfluous to say that the British Empire is now involved in a struggle in comparison with which all our former wars sink into absolute insignificance, a struggle which will tax its immense resources to the very utmost. Nothing, however, has yet occurred to warrant the belief that those resources will not prove equal to the strain, or that the greatest empire on earth will not emerge from this combat of the giants with her ancient glory enhanced by new and hitherto unequalled triumphs.
“Certainly at no period in our history have we been so splendidly prepared to face our enemies both at home and abroad. All arms of the Services are in the highest state of efficiency, and the Government dockyards and arsenals, as well as private firms, are working day and night to still further strengthen them, and provide ample supplies of munitions of war. The hearts of all the nations united under our flag are beating as that of one man, and from the highest to the lowest ranks of Society all are inspired by a spirit of whole-souled patriotism which, if necessary, will make any sacrifice to preserve the flag untarnished, and the honour of Britain without a spot.
“At the head of affairs stands the man who of all others has proved himself to be the most fitted to direct the destinies of the empire in this tremendous crisis of her history. Party feeling for the time being has almost entirely disappeared, save amongst the few scattered bands of isolated Revolutionaries and malcontents, and Mr. Balfour possesses the absolute confidence of his Majesty on the one hand, and the undivided support of an impregnable majority in both Houses of Parliament on the other. He is admirably seconded by such lieutenants as Lord Randolph Churchill, Sir Joseph Chamberlain, and Sir George J. Goschen on his own side of the House, and by the Earls of Rosebery and Morley, Lord Brassey, and Sir Charles Dilke in what, previous to the outbreak of the war, was the opposing political camp, but which is now a party as loyal as that of the Government to the best interests of the Empire, and fully determined to give the utmost possible moral support consistent with fair and impartial criticism.
“The disastrous mistake which was made by a very small majority of the Upper House in rejecting the Government guarantee for the ill-fated Italian loan is now, of course, past repair; for Italy, as events have proved, exasperated by what her spokesmen termed her selfish betrayal by Britain, has passionately thrown herself into the arms of the League, and the Alliance has now no more bitter enemy than she is. It is, however, only justice to those who defeated the loan to add that they have now clearly seen and frankly owned their grievous mistake, and rallied as one man to the support of the Government.”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:08