from 'The War Illustrated', 15th December, 1917
'What Has Hindenburg Done?'
by Lovat Fraser

Germany's Hero

a magazine photo and portrait

In the German Reichstag, on November 29th, the new Chancellor, Count Hertling, made an impressive speech in which he claimed that "the arms of Germany and her allies have been successful on almost every occasion and everywhere." It is worth while to analyse his claim at this critical juncture.

If in the fourth year of the war German prowess in the field had been amply vindicated, then we might conceivably despair of obtaining the victory for which we strive. I propose to show here that Count Hertling's claim has no substantial foundation, and that the Allies are justified in believing that, if they adhere firmly to their purpose, the military defeat of Germany is fully attainable.

It is quite true that at present Germany is in a better and more promising military position than she has held since the end of 1915, but it is not true that she owes her new advantages to the superiority of her armies. She owes it to the mistakes of the Allies, and to political, changes which were not wrought upon the battlefield. At the moment her military strength has increased because her adversaries in the fighting-line are fewer; but factors are coming into play which will again restore the balance, and meanwhile Germany is suffering from grave internal weaknesses which Count Hertling studiously omitted to mention.

The thing to bear steadily in mind is that the reviving strength of Germany is not primarily due to military victories. The Allies have beaten her again and again in battle, and should continue to do so. They have a tough struggle ahead in the next few months, but time is on their side.

Falkenhayn's Failure at Verdun

German military skill is supposed to be incarnate in Marshal von Hindenburg. He is over seventy years of age, and current report suggests that the real brain which guides the German war-machine is Hindenburg's colleague, General von Ludendorff. We must take Hindenburg as we find him. Whoever does the work, he gets the credit. At Tannenberg, in the first month of the war, he won a remarkable victory. The sequel has been unduly obscured. When Hindenburg triumphantly entered Russia after his success at Tannenberg and advanced to the Niemen he was crushingly repulsed. He is a one battle soldier.

Hindenburg's chance came after Falkenhayn failed before Verdun in the summer of 1916. The Germans have no false sentiment about their military commanders. Falkenhayn had to go, and Hindenburg was exalted in his stead, bringing in his train the faithful Ludendorff. The Battle of the Somme was in full swing when he was appointed, and it cannot be said that he affected its issue one way or the other. The defensive tactics previously adopted by the Germans were continued, and there was no attempt to create a diversion at any other point on the western front. Rumania entered the war, and Hindenburg had a marvellous opportunity. Rumania's courage was in excess of her military preparedness, and almost from the outset fortune went against her. She made serious errors of strategy, and she was grievously deficient in heavy artillery. Hindenburg sent his two best generals. Falkenhayn, who is a very able soldier despite his miscalculations at Verdun, led the forces which crossed the Transylvanian Alps, and Mackensen directed the operations in the Dobruja.

What happened? In the confusion which followed the first retreat of the Rumanians, the enemy swept through Wallachia and occupied Bukarest. The German newspapers were thrilled with excitement. Hindenburg, they said, would overwhelm Rumania. He was going to Odessa. He meant to seize and occupy the rich black lands of Southern Russia, which would feed Germany for years to come.

"Marshal Backwards"

Then followed disillusion. The Rumanian Army rallied, help came from Russia, and the Austro-German march faltered and stopped. For a whole twelve months, in spite of the subsequent collapse of Russia, Hindenburg has made no appreciable farther progress in Rumania. History will assuredly give him no great credit for the Rumanian campaign in the autumn and early winter of 1916; and I have ever since thought that the inactivity of the forces which still line the Sereth and the Bistritza is one of the surest signs that Austro-German strength is the reverse of illimitable. The true test of Austro-German arms in this matter is not what they did, but what they failed to do.

Hindenburg, it must be remembered, controls all the vassal armies of Germany. The Austrians, the Bulgarians, and the Turks obey his nod. He saw Maude steadily preparing to avenge Kut, but he did not save Bagdad. He saw Murray moving across Sinai into Palestine, but if our first attacks upon Gaza failed, no credit was due to Hindenburg. In the west he was preparing at that time for the great German retreat. Whatever may have been the outcome of that retreat, it was no victory for German arms. It gained for Hindenburg the nickname of "Marshal Backwards," and it was an acknowledgment that the German Army had been driven from positions which they had spent more than two years in strengthening and consolidating. The retreat was followed by the Battles of Vimy Ridge and Arras. Were they German victories? Simultaneously the French, under the direction of General Nivelle, attacked upon the Aisne. They did not penetrate as far as they had hoped, but was the great French offensive in the spring terminated by a German victory?

Everywhere on the Defensive

The British offensive east of Ypres began on July 31st this year. It has not produced the full results which were expected, but does it bear the smallest resemblance to a German victory? The German line was broken before Cambrai last month. The enemy hurried up reinforcements and closed the gap, but was it a German victory? Maude before his death shattered the Turkish forces ia three directions, and captured the entire garrison of Ramadie. Were these victories for Germany's allies? Allenby swept into Palestine, captured Gaza and Beersheba and Jaffa, and drove the Turks headlong. Were these victories for Falkenhayn, who was responsible for the defence of Palestine? On the Russian front the Germans marched unopposed

into Riga, and occupied three islands at the entrance to the Gulf of Riga after very slight resistance. These were definite advances, but they shed no lustre upon German arms. Hindenburg has only fought once on the Russian front since he was appointed to the supreme command, and that was when the Russians broke and fled in Galicia this summer as the result of treachery. He advanced to the frontier, but he went no farther.

When Hindenburg succeeded Falkenhayn he had only one victory to his credit, and that was Tannenberg. Since he has been in charge of the German operations, the one victory he has achieved is the breaking of the Italian line on the Isonzo. The invasion of Italy has been primarily the work of the Austrians, and not of the German Army; it was rendered possible by secret propaganda rather than by military valour; and at the time of writing it has been firmly checked on the Piave and in the Venetian foot-hills. It has brought Germany great results, but so far very little fresh military glory.

It may be said that I am arguing in the face of established facts. I may be asked how I can reconcile my contention that until the Isonzo was crossed Germany had won no military victories under Hindenburg, with the statement that Germany is now in a better military position than she has held since 1915. The answer is that, whatever her position may now be, she has not won it, as Count Flertling alleges, by the success of her arms, for until recently she has been everywhere on the defensive since Verdun.

Gambling with Destiny

It may further be contended, with some show of reason, that it does not matter very much how Germany attained her present position, and that the one thing we have to consider is that she is mow able to revive the old menace of 1914. The answer is that the analysis I have been expounding here is of very present importance, because it tends to allay the new apprehensions which have been aroused among the Allies.

If Germany has not regained a somewhat advantageous position by military successes, we can afford to regard her revival of offensive activity with reasonable calmness, so long as we remain steadfastly determined to fight this issue out by force of arms. If Germany seeks to obtain a decision in the west before the armies of the United States take the field in full force, she must attack; and the moment she attacks she has to abandon the relative protection which defensive strategy and tactics have conferred upon her during the last eighteen months. If the Allies can beat down her defences when attacking, they can assuredly more than hold their own against any fresh German thrust anywhere on their line. The immortal example of the First Battle of Ypres is sufficient proof.

Germany, in short, is still gambling with destiny. She can find no comfort in Hindenburg's record or in the story of her arms during the last twelve months. Whatever forces she may bring from the Russian front, her objects are not likely to be fulfilled so long as the allied nations continue staunch; and though Count Hertling may be right when he maintains that Germany will not disintegrate internally, it is still more to the point that the Allies are able to hold out longest.


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