- from the the War Illustrated Deluxe volume I page 108
- 'How the French were Trapped
- on the Plateau near Metz'
- by A. G. Hales
- Expressly written for the War Illustrated
Leaves from a War Correspondents Note-Book
heroic images of war from early in the war - from a French newsmagazine
During the South African War, Mr. A.G. Hales made a high reputation as a war correspondent. His glowing descriptions, the vivid tensity of the language in which he pictures the human side of war, the aptness of his metaphors, and his fearless comments, combine to thrill us as we read his war letters. He has been to the front in France, and from Paris has sent us several noteworthy contributions, one of which appears below.
A bitter battle had been raging for hours between Mitael and Metz. The troops on both the French and German sides were of the finest. The Germans were fighting with a savage ferocity that proved their descent from the white barbarians who of old overran Europe and gave the people to the sword, their homesteads to the flames.
The French battled with all their old-time brilliancy, for never since the sons of France first learned to fight have the men of this gallant breed displayed finer qualities of dash and class than in this campaign. So fiery was their valour, so headstrong their pluck, that again and again the infantry got out of hand, and, without waiting for orders, returned headlong to the onset, trying to carry all before them at the point of the bayonet. Their officers tried to hold them back, but in vain.
The Germans Beaten Back
The German artillery gaped their charging ranks, and cut long swathes through the living lines. The German rifle fire mowed them down, and German cavalry thundered on their flanks. They fell in long, uneven lines; their red caps dotting the landscape like poppies thickly strewn in an English meadow, but the rest charged on. Neither blistering lead nor flying iron could stay the torrent of their fiery courage. Over the broken sward, or through brake and bush they rushed to the onset, and when steel crossed steel, and man met man in the death grapple, the big, heavy sons of the Fatherland found they were no match for the little lean, dark-faced, blazing-eyed sons of bonnie France.
They bore the Germans back foot by footyard by yard. Home went the bayonet; down crushed the clubbed rifles.
On went the Frenchmen right into the heart of the masses of Germanson until their strength and speed were spent, as waves that surge landward play out their force. Then into the German ranks thundered the French cavalry, to-day as of old, the fiercest arm in their service, they came as the storm comes, torrential-like. In their splendid abandon, crouching low in their saddles, gripping like grim death with thighs and knees to keep themselves firm in the impact; then, as the thrill passed, up high in their stirrups they stood, and, as they retreated at the bugle call to cover the retreat of their infantry, the big guns of the Germans spoke and regiments melted like hail that falls on a midsummer day.
Superb Rushes of the French
But the Germans fell back. They shrank at the sight of cold steel, and they could see other regiments of France crouching, tiger-like, for the spring. Those fierce rushes of the French were superb. As a French spectator said of the Light Brigade at Balaklava: "It is magnificent, but it is not war." It was courage at a high pitch of daring. But warsuccessful wardemands restraint, discipline, and prudence. These will come to the French as the campaign lengthens out; they will learn how to hold their valour in check until their guns have shattered the massed formation. Then they will go in and take their toll in dead. It was so at first with the Japanese infantry in Manchuria, but they learnt in time to hold themselves in volcanic strength until the time for eruption. Then nothing could withstand them. So will it be with France, and in that hour Heaven help the Kaiser's legions. They beat the Germans that day between Mitael and Metz, and in the night the Kaiser's army fell back towards the great fortress, the dread history of which tells of so much disaster to France.
The next day the French general went in pursuit of the enemy. He neglected proper precautions, and I may say, parenthetically, that good scouting has not been understood in any Continental army. The airship has been trusted too much for this work. A corps like the Legion of Frontiersmen, so long established in London, ought to do immense service, for there is much difficult country where the movements of troops in great bodies can be masked.
An Airship Gives the Range
The French general came to a great open plateau, and it is now known that he did not appreciate his proximity to Metz. He led his troops on to the plateau and halted to re-form them and give them a rest. A German airship came into view high up, beyond range, and hovered like some huge bird of evil omen.
She was in touch by wireless with the terrible fortress that lay some ten miles away, and was giving the German staff full and complete instructions as to the number and disposition of the French army, locating every force, every corps. She. gave the German garrison gunners the range to a yard, for every inch of that ground was mapped out and measured. The Germans of the fort could shoot almost as accurately from that ten-mile point of attack as if the French were marching on their guns in full view.
That airship and its crew belong to Metz.
The crew know every hillock and hollow as a hawk knows the ground near its nest. This is a lesson that you in England should take to heart. Let every fort have its own aircraft, and make a study of every inch of ground. Such knowledge may make all the difference between victory and defeat some day.
The French tried to bring that airship down, but failed. Suddenly came a rushing sound, a mighty swishing and hissing of iron. The dull roar of the distant guns had not time to travel through space and reach the soldiers of France before the iron storm was upon them, and the plateau was swept from end to end as by a mighty besom in some fiendish hand. Five thousand men fell in three minutes. It was as if the earth gaped suddenly and swallowed them.
An Iron Storm of Death
There was no chance for valour hereno room for bravery. The army had been trapped, led by the retreating force right within the sweep of those devastating guns. The victory of the preceding day was swept into nothingness by this catastrophe. All that matchless valour had done was undone by German craft and cunning. Small wonder that the rest of the army corps fell back in shattered disarray; flesh and blood could not stand it.
It was confidence that brought about that holocaust. A handful of men like our own Gurkhas would have saved that army corps; but they have no men equal to the Gurkhas in any Continental army. For a few hours the army corps was badly shaken. So suddenly and so utterly without warning was that terrible stroke from an unseen source that the men felt it ten thousand times more than they would have felt the shock of pitched battle against even hopeless odds. But there is nothing on earth stouter and truer than the heart of the French soldier.
They soon got hold of themselves, and they rallied and went forward again. But they gave the plateau fronting Metz a wide berth.
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