Ch 14: The United States Steps In

For nearly three years, thousands of French children had been praying "Que le coeur de Jesus, sauve la France!" That is the reason why some of them in simple faith knelt among the cheering crowd that greeted the first American contingent. In the quaint French seaport selected for the base of the new army, there was no news of the coming until the flagship swung in with the first transports early on the morning of June 26th. Rear Admiral Gleaves' squadron had escorted the ships safely across, beating off submarines, and the flower of the United States Regular Army was landed without the loss of a man. Perhaps nothing has so thoroughly tested the efficiency of the War and Navy Departments or given a happier omen for the future than the equipment and transportation of this great expeditionary force to Europe. Compare the achievement with the dispatch of Shafter's army to Cuba in the Spanish War, where confusion and mismanagement ruled from first to last. The British, who have had to face great problems in South Africa and during this war in moving large forces at sea, have given it their unstinted praise.
   General Pershing, with his staff, had arrived in France from London on the 13th. He hurried to the dock to greet General Sibert, and with little delay the troops filed off the boats and marched out to their first camp amid cheers and cries of "Vivent les Etats Unis!" and "Nos amis!" the latter phrase becoming interpreted as "Sammies," a name which has been adopted largely for the American soldiers, without enthusiasm on their part. In two days the entire force and its supplies were landed. The Age of Chivalry is not dead, and no Crusaders marched for a higher purpose than the soldiers of the United States now landing to help free France.
   On July 4th, the troops paraded through Paris, where they received a tremendous ovation, and again on July 14th, France’s Day, when a special contingent marched in the annual review with their French comrades. Special departmental forces training in England received their public reception on August 15th, when they marched across London, led by the massed bands of the Guards, and were reviewed by Ambassador Page and Admiral Sims at the Embassy, and then by the King and Queen at Buckingham Palace.
   From the necessary policy of secrecy for troop movements, England has had few opportunities for showing enthusiasm during the war. Famous battalions have been moved quietly at night, and public farewells have been prohibited. This undoubtedly led to apathy on the part of the masses in the early stages of the war, and only the Australians and the Republican Guard Band of France had given London a chance to show its fervour until the American troops marched through its historic streets to the strains of "The long, long trail." The reaction of long-suppressed feeling added to the zest of the spontaneous welcome expressed by the countless thousands packed along the route from Waterloo Station.
   Every week the arrival of fresh contingents is adding to the army in France, and though the number of men is a secret, it was officially announced in October that the hundred thousand mark had been exceeded without the loss of a single life in crossing. The incomparable marines took up land duty with avidity. The infantry also was soon busy with intensive training for trench warfare under British and French instructors, and the artillery followed under the leadership of Brigadier General Peyton March.
   The first work of the engineers was to improve the communications with the various training centres and to take over definite sections of French railroads from the coast bases to the permanent camps.
   At this interval, it was interesting to leave the subconscious war depression of Europe and spend a few weeks in the United States, to imbibe magnificent optimism and return with a full realisation of the gigantic effort that is being made to play a notable part in the conflict. Many persons in Europe expected grave disorder in the raising of a conscript army. The labour unions of Great Britain had long dreaded the word "conscription," and though a magnificent army answered the call, the unfairness and defects of the volunteer system were obvious. Voluntary recruiting in the United States had raised the Regular Army to 300,000 men of the highest grade of physical fitness, and the National Guard to 300,000.
   On July 20th, 1917, lots were drawn for selective drafts from nearly ten million men who had registered. The Secretary of War opened the drawing with the first number, 258. Many other noted men drew a capsule, and then the work devolved on regular tellers until 10,500 numbers had been listed, checked, recorded, and sent to every state so that the men holding corresponding numbers in each section of the country could hold themselves in readiness for examination, until each state quota was filled to furnish the necessary 687,000 men required for the National Army. Recalling the draft riots in 1863, the contrast in 1917 was remarkable. The system worked perfectly, in the face of the efforts of some pro-Germans and pacifist editors to emphasise the sufferings and dangers of modern warfare.
   When the National Guard regiments were federalised, they were gradually moved to the cantonments in order to start training without delay. At this time, after receiving a report from General Pershing, the War Department decided to reorganise the units of the army so as to correspond with the standard of the divisions of the Allies. The original infantry division was composed of three brigades of three regiments. The new divisions called for 27,152 men and 416 machine guns, divided into two brigades of two regiments each, but with the size of the regiments increased to 103 officers and 3,652 men, in companies of six officers and 250 men.
   To bring the National Guard regiments to war strength rapidly, drastic measures of redistribution had to be taken which caused temporary unhappiness to men who had long served with a particular regiment and were obliged to transfer in order to fill up the ranks of units specially selected to be first for France. It was a hard blow to men devoted to famous regiments, and saturated with tradition, to be moved suddenly to another command. But the men accepted the change in a proper spirit, and in a few weeks other regiments were grouped together to form commands of full strength, each receiving its Federal number in a system that is aiming at efficiency and cannot at this crisis take time to cater to tradition.
   While preparations were being made for the draft, officers' training camps were establishing at the principal army stations, while college camps and the "Plattsburg Idea," an innovative military training initiative, were enlarged to carry out this work. Germany has scoffed at this hurried training, overlooking the short but invaluable period when the call for preparedness stirred the colleges and led thousands of business men also to master the rudiments of drill. She has also forgotten the thousands of others in the National Guard who have spent their time training in the armouries and on the Texas border. These were the men whom three months of intensive training could make valuable captains for the new National Army, fully fitted to take up the first drilling of recruits while they are also learning the great lesson - the control and understanding of men - and using every spare hour in work to perfect themselves for the test to come. Britain's "contemptible" army has taught the War Lords some lessons, and yet the German mind persists in its delusions. It brags in neutral countries that the American effort will not cost them a minute's sleep, basing its contention on arguments so petty that they stir contempt, not anger.
   Many who have returned from ravished Europe have felt that Americans were not taking the war seriously. The sudden transition from areas where suffering, bereavement, and destruction are ever present, to the glare of Broadway, to people who can still enjoy music, discuss art values, and sit through plays, is startling. But after the first shock, the great deep purpose that is dominating the country, the determination to see it through, the spirit of the workers, the food conservation and preservation in homes where only the moral need was urging, requires a more powerful pen than mine to praise adequately.
   War obsession will come with the casualty lists; but it is something to shun like the plague, for it grips the mind too closely. Some writers deplore the "superficial hysteria" of parades and demonstrations which everywhere are stimulating young and old, teaching them that it is their war, their battle for right, not the effort of an official war brain which the people must passively support. And nothing has been more impressive than the enthusiasm of the conscript army, the interest shown in the new camps where men of every grade, from homes of wealth and from East Side tenements, unused to discipline, raw to military service, are learning the great lesson of democratic comradeship, together with a subjective idealism that stirs the soul. If one wishes a concrete object lesson of the spirit of the National Army, he should visit some camp where he can see the bitter disappointment of men who have failed to pass the final test. With rigid physical examination at the outset and after preliminary training, with skilled psychiatrists weeding out the mental weaklings and those with unstable nerves, the new army that is gathering for France will be the most perfect that the world has known. When the war broke out, the Allies were forced to throw in every available man to stem the tide. In exposed trenches, without proper artillery, there was often a shocking waste of perfect manhood at points where inferior troops could have done the work and saved the cream for a later era where the highest standard was imperative.
   Those days are past. In three years scientific tactics have been evolved, and high qualities of courage and initiative as well as fortitude are required to wrest supremacy from a foe which at the outset enjoyed every advantage and demanded an awful toll of "cannon fodder" until the Allies could catch up and adequately answer the challenge thrown suddenly at an unsuspicious world.
   On a broad basis of common experience, each army today employs its own methods. France, England, and personal experience are all necessary tutors for the new forces which can profit by the bitter lessons which the other troops have learned in blood and trench slime. But the United States Army will fight in its own fashion, utilising the past experience of others with an clear vision and a strong vitality. Gradually there will come a new evolution of tactics and theory on the American front.
   The use of the bayonet suits the dogged determination of the British troops. Their main idea is to close in on the enemy and engage him hand to hand in a, struggle where they soon prove that they are the better men. But this frequently leads to heavy losses in an impetuous advance. The French swear more by grenades which can effectively confuse and rout an enemy at a greater distance. Americans are learning the methods of both armies, but their tactics will still retain faith in the rifle. It needs a cool head and steady nerve amid the crash of bursting shells and the hail from machine guns, to pause for effective aim at close range, when it would seem more easy to dash through the agony and get it over. Even in these days of changed German methods, there are many times when the rifle can do the best work.
   The motto of all the Allied armies is "Forward!" and only Germany at present has reason to study permanent field works. But American engineers in France are not neglecting defensive studies, to make the front secure and save the men in case of attack. At present the United States must depend upon France for guns. The artillery is being trained on magnificent proving grounds with French guns and howitzers. Artillery is playing the major part in this fighting, and no arm of the service is so difficult to create after the outbreak of hostilities. At the outset, France's field guns proved their superiority in many ways; but in every movement the early successes of the Allies were checked when the Germans could bring heavy guns into action. The French 155 mm. gun is very effective; it has caterpillar wheels and can be both moved and operated rapidly. British batteries are now the most powerful that the world has known. But at first the Allies had no adequate heavy artillery.
   The French field gunners specialise in indirect fire, and their "75's" are the best field batteries in the world. The German in attack in open battle at first massed their batteries and flung them forward, protecting the guns by machine-gun detachments. With huge reserves of trained gunners to draw upon, they could face the loss of men entailed. With the morale shaken by the roar of guns at close range, the first lines were at a disadvantage when masses of German infantry were brought up and launched at some vulnerable point in the shell-torn front of hastily constructed trenches. But not one assault in a hundred gained success commensurate with the loss of men sustained.
   The efficiency of Krupp was ably seconded by the Skoda works of Austria. Any one who knows these works realises that the Teutonic Allies entered the war with a perfect artillery equipment. But as the months of slaughter dragged on, the French and British slowly overcame their costly and surprising deficiencies.
   In the early mobilisation, skilled French workers were swept to the front and killed before the country could recover its poise. In Pas de Calais, engineering works, imperative for scores of military necessities, had been closed through lack of labour, and valuable property was scrapped because simple repairs could not be made. The British enlisted and lost thousands of skilled men soon wanted to make guns and shells. A selective draft obviates these errors.
   Second only to Krupps are the French ordnance works at Le Creusot. From these famous factories which have given France her world-famed "75" guns, howitzers and mortars are now being turned out in quantity and quality which have rearranged the average. While the Germans were blaming the United States for making ammunition for France, the Schneider Company, co-operating with the Government, was turning out at Bourges and other works all the shells necessary for the French Army.
   Germany alone seemed to appreciate at first the expenditure of ammunition necessary to maintain an average battle. While the British were still using shrapnel, much of Germany's first success came from her high explosive shells which tore away all obstructions and killed by concussion. The secret of the penetration of their great shells against forts was the soft nose or cap which spread on impact and tore through the hardest steel. The sixteen-inch defence gun of the United States is in all points superior to the German or Austrian siege guns, except for the mounting for mobile field work. Its range is 18,580 yards, and muzzle velocity 2,250 feet per second. The projectile weighs 2,400 pounds. Yet the Krupp howitzers were called a surprise to the world.
   Trinitrotoluol, or T N T, now in general use, is a powerful and safe explosive, derived from a coal-tar product and more easily handled than Melinite or Lyddite, with their dangerous base of picric acid. T N T can easily be prepared from coal, and the seizure of the main coal and iron fields of France and Belgium has greatly solved the question of German ammunition. Ammonal, used in the Austrian shells, deteriorates easily, and in Belgium and at Maubeuge many of these shells failed to explode.
   In machine guns, the Vickers-Maxim of the latest model, which was severely tested and approved by the Sixth Cavalry in Texas, has received high praise from the British for its simplicity and durability. The Benet-Mercier (also used in the United States Army) is lighter, is air-cooled, and can be fired without a tripod, but certain disadvantages are ascribed in France to the lighter weapons, which outweigh their greater rapidity of fire. All authorities seem to favour a tripod to ensure accuracy, although the Germans frequently steady their weapon with chains from the belt-padlocked so that the gunners have no chance to escape and so work their weapons until the last.
   From guns let us turn to casualties. France owes a great debt to the American Ambulance men who have worked so tirelessly among her wounded. The United State Hospitals at Etaples have also done magnificent work for the British troops, maintaining a large and efficient staff under Major Collins, U S A, and Dr. Gushing of Harvard. American wounded will now reap the full benefit of earlier research and will escape many of the perils that have so greatly added to the death toll in France.
   Nothing is more bewildering than the stream of wounded which pours down the lines of communications after a battle. Splendid hospital trains, adjacent ports and ships to take the wounded home, have mitigated the sufferings of the British troops. With the enemy holding a vast area and contingent railroads, the French have faced greater difficulties. Enough hospital trains cannot always be run on congested railroads, and after engagements the ordinary trains have to be utilised, where the springless box cars become messengers of horror to the shattered bodies which must be conveyed beyond the war zone. But the agony of smashed bones and torn flesh is soon allayed by the splendid efficiency of the hospitals of the "Croix Rouge Francaise" under the joint management of the societies of the "Femmes de France," and "Les Dames Francaise." During the first weeks of war, the appalling records of French wounded could not be compiled. During the six weeks following the Marne victory, from September 15th to November 30th, there were 489,333 French wounded. The Army and the French Red Cross together had organised and equipped 3,968 hospitals, and had set up 400,000 permanent beds.
   Surgery and science have made vast strides during the war, where desperate cases in thousands have justified the most drastic and heroic experiments, from which accepted theories have become negatived and new facts have been successfully demonstrated, with marvellous results. The fertilised soil of the war zone abounds in deadly bacilli. At first, gangrene, tetanus, and kindred complications supervened with appalling frequency. The foremost surgeons of France, Great Britain, and the United States have devoted their time and skill to the subject, with extraordinary success. An anti-tetanus serum was soon prepared, and owing to the rapid action of the bacilli measures were instituted to inoculate the wounded on the field. The first work of the Army Medical Corps is to apply a field dressing and inject the serum.
   The continued fury of modern battle and the delay in removing the wounded on crowded lines of communications made common gangrene very frequent in the French Army. But it was soon obvious that the disease which supervenes from delay in dressing a wound also rose from direct infection by a deadly germ that long defied detection and terminated in amputation or fatality. The antidote has now been discovered.
   Clean wounds are rare among men exposed for weeks in muddy trenches. The rigors of the campaign often weaken the powers of resistance to infection. Experiments are, however, evolving a universal serum which contains the elements of the most common and deadly bacilli of the battle field. Prompt injection after a wound enables the blood to resist the progress of the most dangerous invaders, and a second injection will so stimulate the reaction that, when the infection of the wound commences, the blood of the patient is ready to neutralise the enemy. As the science is developed it may become customary in the near future to inoculate all the soldiers going to the front with a serum which will render them immune to the most horrible penalties of war, though at present cultures on an enormous scale can barely sustain the supply necessary to treat the wounded. Dothienteric Fever and Exanthematic Typhus are no longer dreaded, but there are still forms of gas gangrene which defy treatment.
   General experience in the war is proving the theory that resistance to infection should come from within rather than from without. Powerful disinfectants dry the healing lymph which nature throws out to kill bacteria, and destroy tissue, in which new germs can quickly find a home. New discoveries enable the germs to be attacked safely from without and within, and thus the dangers are minimised.
   Hundreds of thousands of lives have been saved by anti-typhoid inoculation. The valuable experience of the United States troops roused both the French and British authorities to the importance of the treatment. With thousands of decomposing bodies and the conditions which must arise from millions of men living in earthworks, their armies have enjoyed comparative immunity. Dysentery, cholera, enteric, and many other evils have raised their heads, but all have been successfully combated. Even cerebrospinal meningitis has been checked, the fatal microbe being boldly extracted in sufficient quantity to give ample supply for its study and combat. Thus from War, the grim destroyer, there has sprung scientific knowledge which must prove of enormous value to humanity.
   After first aid has been applied on the field, the casualties are carried to the ambulance stations where some attention, generally including an intravenous saline infusion, can be given; they are then sent to a regular dressing station on the edge of the danger zone, and thence to the nearest casualty clearing station, where the patients pass under the eye of skilled surgeons who operate when necessary, and the men are there prepared for the final ordeal of transfer to the base hospitals.
   The French "Premieres Posies de Secour" are bomb-proof first-aid stations excavated in the actual trenches and light cars, "Voitures de Garde," which carry two stretchers have now been installed to ply from close to the firing line to the ambulance trains which run to the evacuation hospitals. The casualty clearing stations are set up in houses safely available near the fighting. The building is scoured, drenched with carbolic, and whitewashed. Army cots are set up, bed ticks are filled with straw, and a room is fitted up for operations. Portable sterilisers, Arnold kettles for dressings, and operating tables are placed, and in a few hours an efficient hospital is improvised. Directly a convoy arrives, each patient is examined by the officer of the day, tagged, and sorted in wards. The "cases" are washed, dressed, and, unless urgent, are given a cigarette, the soldier's analgesic. Then, after a bowl of soup, the patient is induced to sleep until the surgeon is ready. It is comforting to know that the percentage of casualties is now much lighter than in the earlier battles, and the ratio of death from wounds is greatly reduced. The shambles of the earlier periods are past history.
   Special schools for the training of officers in infantry tactics have been organised in France by General Bullard, and every lesson is being thoroughly learned by eager students who will impart the knowledge to the new regiments, so that every unit will take its place at the front trained in the art of modern war. And that means conservation of life.
   When in the United States recently, I was surprised to hear contempt expressed for men who had joined ambulance companies. Those who know the danger of collecting wounded under fire, the difficulty of carrying stretchers across shell-swept, muddy ground, realise that nerve and endurance of high quality are required. France at first had to rely on ambulance men unfit for army service. They worked heroically, but they had not the stamina for the task, and suffering and death resulted. As I recently watched American stretcher bearers under training, my mind reverted to the horror of the early days of the war, from which the troops of the United States will largely be spared.
   In feeding and equipment of the American forces, efficiency and forethought are evident on every side. Most of the grave disasters that threatened the army in Cuba arose from imperfect commissary. Coffee was shipped unroasted and unground. The canned beef was offal. Crackers were sent in unlined boxes and arrived in a mouldy pulp, and there were no antiscorbutic rations. Today the supply organisation is reaching for perfection. Trained cooks, field-kitchens, a varied diet, and a rigid system of inspection which secures only the best for the army will prevent the development of those weak points which often have serious consequences in the field.
   Each war winter in Europe has been more severe than its predecessor. The human cataclysm seems to have affected the elements, and for three years the secure defensive of the enemy made the weather his greatest ally. The fourth winter started early, but on great stretches of the front the warm German dugouts have gone and in the new system of defences mud, rain, and cold are telling heavily. But the general health of the American troops remains good, and thanks to the busy fingers of devoted women large supplies of knitted garments are enabling the men to face the rawness of France with equanimity. Crush those pro-German stories that say that this work is wasted. The need for voluntary effort is great, and though in the first enthusiasm some regiments enjoyed a surfeit and others went short, a perfect organisation is growing, and nothing sent through the proper channels is wasted. With suitable clothing and food, open-air life acts as a tonic, and the first weeks of exposure to a war winter have left the American troops with a percentage of sickness one half that of the normal figures of an army post.
   The canvas legging is the only article of equipment criticised, and it will be replaced by the puttee. The British steel helmet, which is by far the most effective yet made, has been issued to the army.
   With the countryside long stripped of active men, the barns and wagon sheds in which thousands of troops are billeted needed more than ordinary policing. The story of Santiago was repeated. Every district was rapidly cleaned out. Surface drains were dug, cesspools removed, water supply installed, and with a generous scouring and whitewashing of interiors the ancient villages have been made over. Every law of sanitation is now enforced.
   Think what this vigour means to those war-tired French women and old men who have been carrying their lonely burdens with dull resignation. Today they face the future with a strengthened faith. Of course, the cheery optimism of American soldiers sometimes wounds the susceptibilities of those who have borne the awful weight from the outset. The confident way that the men speak of smashing the stubborn line, of "sweeping to the Rhine," the spirit that believes there will not be much more to do than cheer when the new army strikes in force, sometimes grates on the ears of Allies who have had to do so much with edge-worn tools, and who feel that their sacrifices have broken the back of the enemy's first power of resistance. Yet what an asset is this unshaken confidence! In itself it creates the winning spirit, and by no means should it be discouraged. Americans who appreciate the conditions faced by the Allies and who feel that these are early days for boasting, will have an easier task in explaining this spirit to those who will reap much from its virtues, than in trying to curb youthful tongues which sometimes seem tactless.
   I have seen four major air raids where Americans stood the test: two in France, where college ambulances dashed through the area when bombs and shrapnel were falling; two in England, where army nurses raced as volunteers with fearless British ambulance women, and American soldiers joined British Tommies in dragging victims from burning debris when the air was full of bursting shells. Such incidents strike a note of harmony that has the deepest import.
   The French and British officers expected self-reliance, courage, and initiative in the American Army. But they doubted its discipline. This is a quality which they no longer question. Here is one keynote of the system from United States Army regulations:
"When issuing orders, a commander should indicate clearly what should be done by each subordinate, but not how it is to be done. A subordinate who is reasonably sure that his intended action would be ordered by the commander were he present, has encouragement to go ahead confidently. When circumstances render it impracticable to consult the authority issuing an order, officers should not hesitate to vary it when it is clearly based on an incorrect view of the situation, or has been rendered impracticable on account of changes since its promulgation. Superiors should be careful not to censure an apparent disobedience when the act was done in a proper spirit and to advance a general plan."
   I could give a hundred instances of German failure from lack of subordinate initiative. At times when a specified target has been designated, the artillery has lost vital opportunities while they waited for orders to change it. Troops sent to capture a certain section have frequently failed to go on when the chance was theirs. After the first gas attack at Ypres, a wide gap was filled up and a new front built under the eyes of masses that had halted, unopposed, for supports, and came on again too late. Impetuosity must be restrained, but initiative must never be lost.
   During the last week of October, 1917, a shot was heard which echoed around the world. American troops had moved up the night before to share the first-line trenches with the French. It was wet and cold, but officers had to order their men to stop singing as they marched through the blackness which develops a sixth sense. When they moved cheerily to the first line, every soldier received a warm greeting from the French soldiers, and then settled himself in the mud for a tiresome vigil, with sentries peering for the first time across the desolation of "No Man's Land" to the enemy's position.
   The men had previously been trained on an area dugout in a replica of the section which they were to occupy. For days they had repeated every item of duty. Their final dress rehearsal took place under Joffre's eye, and then the men started on the first real step of the Great Adventure. Every unit took its place without a sound reaching the watchful enemy, and at 6 am. American gunners, sandwiched with the French gunners on the front artillery position, fired their first shot. The shell case was given to General Sibert to be forwarded to President Wilson.
   An artillery duel was soon raging, the American gunners working the famous French "75's." Though Sergeant Calderwood and Private Brannigan of the railroad troops, struck by shell splinters, were the first American soldiers to be wounded in France, the honour of the first wound under combat conditions goes to Lieutenant Harden of the Signal Corps, who was injured by a shell splinter.
   On the night of October 27th, an American patrol beyond the French wire met their first Germans, who were taking a short cut between the trenches. Bolting when challenged, one was mortally wounded, and then carried back for the most considerate treatment possible until the end. A week later, a superior German force, under a heavy barrage, raided a minor fortress on this front, killing three Americans and capturing twelve. The names of Enright, Gresham and Hay appear first on the army's roll of honoured dead.
   After a few days experience, German sniping died down. American sharp-shooters had an unpleasant knack of locating their shots and replying accurately. Week by week battalions are relieving each other on the first lines, intelligently carrying out the generally monotonous duties of trench warfare. As the training grew more complete, the French troops were permanently relieved. The final test for which all are waiting will come with the order "Over the top and the best of luck!"
   There is little pessimism among any troops at the front. The British army is at the zenith of its power and asks only for fine weather. Their guns of enormous range are giving the Germans no winter respite. The French army, with 3,000,000 seasoned fighting men, is more resigned, but never despondent. The American Army is eagerly waiting the word to attack, straining at the leash.
   No one who has seen the horrors of this or any war can pen words to glorify it. Neither can they minimise its great spiritual values. No man can face death or see his comrades go to the Great Unknown, and remain unchanged. Splendid lessons of self-sacrifice are learned daily. Everything material in life has an altered value, and new spiritual influences create an idealism over the stern veneer that hardship and lack of comfort create. Acheron has to be crossed, but in the passing there is the call of something higher than self, and a reward that cannot be judged by material standards.

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