from the magazine - T.P.'S Journal of Great Deeds, July 17, 1915
'The Lunge for Warsaw'
By Dr. Jas. Murphy


Has Mackensen Over-reached Himself?

Field-Marshall von Mackensen on the cover of 'Die Welt'


Has Von Mackensen shot his bolt? Is his pursuit of the Russians too fast and too far? It looks like it. For a great Russian retreat is worse for the enemy than an onslaught. To the Russian commander a hundred miles are as a hundred yards to us. His mind thinks in vast spaces. He is conscious of the great uncharted steppes in his rear, and if he can play his enemy over a wide expanse of territory, it is his favourite mode of inflicting defeat. That was how Napoleon lost at Moscow.

Drawing Him On

Is the Grand Duke drawing Mackensen on? Is he getting him away from the Prussian and Austrian railroads, simply that he may have him all to himself in a country where heavy artillery cannot be moved, and where the agile Cossack is at home? Certainly the Grand Duke would come on if he had enough ammunition and rifles. But he has riot. And so he is resorting to the favourite Russian weapon of war. The farther he draws Mackensen, the longer becomes the German line, the more vast and unknown the spaces, the greater the difficulty in keeping touch with the base of supplies, the more anxious the German mothers about their sons away in the wild East, and the greater the difficulty of carrying out a German retreat should a mishap occur.

Meanwhile the Italian battering-ram is knocking at the southern wall of Germany. Immense cracks are already showing. Just when Mackensen will cry for men in the East, Prince Rupprecht will cry for them to save Bavaria, and Kitchener's Army will be taking the field in the West.

If Mackensen can carry out the task he has set himself without asking for more men and ammunition from home, there is sound sense in his pursuit; if he cannot, he is rushing into the jaws of disaster.

The Russian Front

Let me try to simplify for the ordinary reader the position of things as they are at present on the Eastern front. The Russian line stretches from Libau, on the coast of the Baltic, in the north, to Pruth, near Czernowitz, in the south. Warsaw is practically at the middle of the line. But it stands at the apex of an immense salient, for when the Russian line reaches Grodno, on the north, it strikes south-west for Warsaw, and then turns sharply south-east until it reaches Sokal, north-east of Przemysl. The two sides of the salient form practically the two sides of a triangle. And within the triangle, on lines running parallel to its sides, are the fortresses Grodno - Ossowiec - Lomza- Ostrolenka-Rozan-Pultusk-Nowo Georgiewsk-Warsaw-Iwangorod- Lublino-Kowel-Luzk-Rowno. Directly east of Warsaw, and at the centre of the base of the triangle, is the great fortress of Brest- Litowsk. This area contains one of the great Russian railroad centres, so that troops can be easily poured in from the base, and moved from one point to another along the lines of combat.

Mackensen and the Marshes

Outside of this triangle the Germans must operate, and a more unfavourable territory could not easily be found. To the south the land is flat, but full of forests and marshes, and broken up by hundreds of streams. There are no railroads and very few ordinary highways, so that it is impossible to move heavy artillery in the district. On the northern side of the salient the case is worse. There lie the great marshes of North-east Prussia, where so many disasters have already occurred.

Yet Mackensen must embrace this whole triangle with his forces, stretching them over hundreds and hundreds of miles. He must lock the whole triangle of fortresses in his arms, with Warsaw against his chest, and his fingers striving to get in at Grodno and Kowel. It will be an enormous reach, and he can allow it to weaken nowhere. If the Russians once pierce his line, his left wing will be in danger of being thrown into the East Prussian marshes and rendered helpless. His troops are already tired, worn, and terribly depleted, while the immense resources of Russia can be poured in to meet him.

The Lost Legions - Maybe!

Mackensen's task seems practically hopeless. And so the question naturally rises - why did he undertake it? There are many answers. First, he has been forced into it by the Russian commanders. It is well for us to understand that, because we have already signally failed to understand the Russian retreat.

At the time the Russian retreat commenced, a wave of pessimism was passing over this country. We were bemoaning the scarcity of shells, and prating about the hopelessness of trying to get on without them. So when the Germans began to move into Galicia, we read the whole state of affairs in the twilight shadows of our own gloom. The Russian hosts seemed to us the ghosts of the lost, banished from Galicia by the mighty spell of the shell. We saw their long lines retreating through

the vast cemetery which shells had created. We cried out to one another that the Russians were beaten.

That was because we were obsessed by the idea of shells. We forgot that there are other things besides shells, and that shells need guns. But the Grand Duke knew that he had Cossack lances, and there are countries where Cossack lances are of far more avail than shells and howitzers.

A Barren Advance

So he invited his enemy into another battlefield. To come on against shells is what shells want, but to retreat before shells is to make them useless. For heavy artillery cannot be kept constantly on the move. And there are two ways of retreating - the defensive and the offensive. You can retreat before an oncoming foe and still keep fighting him - fighting him, not with a rearguard action, but with the main body of your army. You can dictate to him the way and the pace at which he is to go. You can clear the territory as you pass of every object that could be of avail to him, so that you are putting him at the terrible disadvantage of trying to subsist on your leavings.

That is what the Russians did to the Germans. They removed every gun and every ounce of ammunition as they retreated. As they passed through the towns and cities they cleared away every man of fighting age. And yet they kept fighting all the time, inflicting more loss of men and material on the Germans than they themselves were suffering. They did not even bury their dead, but put that duty on the enemy; and he had to perform it, if he would save his ranks from pestilence.

The Still, Small Voice in Germany

So Mackensen's spectacular pursuit is not quite so triumphant an affair as it would seem at first sight. And even in Germany there are no two ideas about it. The Socialist manifesto was made, urging the Government to make peace, just when the German pursuit of the Russians looked most triumphant. Why was that? To ask for peace is to acknowledge defeat. Why, then, was Germany asked by the leaders of her largest political party to ask for peace in the moment of her triumph ?

The Socialist leader gives the answer. He prays the Government to end the War now, so that Germany may be spared the horrors of a Cossack invasion. And this at the very moment when the Cossacks are retreating !

The Cossack on his Native Plain

But the Socialist leader knows what a Russian retreat means. It draws Germany's soldiers far away into a wild country where railways are unknown, and where it will be impossible to supply invading troops with food for man and gun. They are entirely at the mercy of the Cossack, who can scour the plains like a phantom. His lance is his artillery. If his commissariat does not come up, he will light a bonfire and roast a horse. He will carve the great dish with his sword and serve it around to his comrades.

The Great Spielmann's Habit

Against such men in their own country the Western soldier is helpless. At the fall of Lemberg the Kaiser had the church bells rung throughout Germany, and Te Deums were sung in the churches. It was in keeping with the great Spielmann's habit. But mummery and bell-ringing are evidently losing their spell. So that even the Kaiser himself has had to promise his people that he will not ask them to endure the hardships of another winter campaign.

The Russian pursuit, then, has evidently failed in its political purpose. It was meant to cheer the drooping spirits of the people, and it has failed.

An Expensive Victory

No doubt it will have certain advantages of a passing nature. For instance, it will give the Germans control of the oilfields of Galicia. And if Warsaw falls, it may help to make things look brighter. But the fall even of Warsaw would not have much effect on the Russians.

The Germans have lost an enormous number of men in the pursuit of their retreating foe - some place the number at half a million. And imagine what that must mean just at the moment when a new enemy has appeared in the south, with four million fresh troops, fully equipped and trained!

Wear and Wastage

Besides, there is the terrific squandering of ammunition, to say nothing of the wear and tear of metal and rolling stock, the wastage of horses and provisions. But, worst of all, it means the total loss of the vast army that Mackensen is leading. For troops that have been swept hither and thither, and kept moving every moment of the -day through the vast spaces of the East, without proper rest or encampment, will be so utterly worn and broken after a two months' campaign that they will be perfectly helpless to assist in the West.

So probably the Russians are helping out the general campaign better by drawing the enemy into a far-off field. And probably we should have looked at it in that light at any other time; but it was happening just when we were seeing everything black. We had shells on the brain, and we attributed everything that looked like a reverse to the shortage of shells. Whereas we ought to have remembered that at the Aisne and the Marne the bayonet proved mightier than the shell. And we shall find that, on the plains of Russian Poland, the lance of the Cossack will prove mightier than the howitzer.


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