from the book ‘Behind the Scenes in Warring Germany’
'On the Heels of the Russian Retreat'
by American journalist Edward Lyell Fox, 1915

an American on the Russian Front in 1915

the Kaiser in the city square of Lyck


The Russians were retreating! In Pschoor's our waiter told us; on the Linden great pennants began to appear; an hour and Berlin had bedecked itself in flags. The Russians were retreating! In front of the newspaper offices the crowds stood twenty deep, their faces turned to a bulletin which said that Hindenburg was driving the enemy from East Prussia. Magically, vendors selling little photographic buttons of the German hero, swarmed on to the streets. "Bilder von Hindenburg! Bilder von Hindenburg!"

The great cafés which an hour ago had been empty, were suddenly filled. The air was tense with excitement. At every table the "beer strategists" were discussing this newest of great victories, which they were calling a second Tannenberg. Unable even to get a place of vantage from which to overlook this ecstasy of patriotism, I returned to Adlon just in time to receive a message from a blue-coated page boy; Major von Herwarth, of the General Staff, wanted me at the telephone.

"Good afternoon, Mr. Fox," the Major was saying. "I am very happy to say that everything has been arranged and that you start to-night for the East." Thanking Major von Herwarth, who has done everything in his power to help every open-minded American correspondent locate the facts, I hurried to my room to get my luggage together.

And an hour later we were completing arrangements for the most amazing piece of reporting done in this war. With the cooperation of the Foreign Office, the Staff had decided to permit Herbert Corey and myself to send collaborated reports from the front to America. Subsequently filed at different points on the battle line, they went by military telegraph into Germany, thence by the regular Government lines to Berlin, thence by the great wireless to Sayville, Long Island. Only a limited number of words a day are sent by the transatlantic wireless but the Foreign Office gave us one hundred and fifty of these which is why thirty-seven American cities read as swiftly as science could bring it to them, the truth of the terrific smash of Hindenburg's army.

That night, my only luggage, a change of clothing wrapped in a sleeping bag —for we had been cautioned to reduce what we had brought to the barest necessities — I went at eleven to the Friedrichstrasse Bahnhof where I met the officer who was to take me to the front. I found Baron von Stietencron, a captain in the 5th Regiment of the Prussian Guards, the crack infantry of Germany, to be a light spirited devil-may-care type of officer, gifted with a touch-and-go sense of humor, high strung and imaginative. Since the war he had let a reddish beard grow around his chin but one could see he was young and never happy in the field unless he was leading a charge. Indeed, later that night I learned that Baron von Stietencron had been shot through the throat when the Germans stormed at St. Quentin!


a German troop/supply train in the east


Troops swarmed on the platform; new recruits going out to fill the gaps in the line, officers rejoining their regiments. The train for Königsberg glided into the arc lighted shed; we managed to get a first class compartment.

"I tried to get sleeping accommodation," apologized Baron von Stietencron, who spoke good American, "but we were too late."

To the waving and calling of good-bys, the train glided past the pallid faces of soldiers' loved ones, and clanking over the switches, turned its headlight towards the Eastern night. It was near three before any of us thought of sleeping. In that short space of time we came to know Baron von Stietencron amazingly well. And I heard some things of war that made my blood run cold.

"The Russians are in retreat now at this point," explained the Baron, tracing his finger over one of those marvelously minute staff maps. "We arrive at Königsberg in the morning and from there we shall go south to Lyck. It was at Lyck that the first big engagement of the battle took place."


the Kaiser entering the city square at Lyck after the battle of the Masurian Lakes


Lyck from which only a few days ago the Russians had been sent flying! There was no bed that night; we slept sitting but the drowsy rumble of the car wheels seemed to be the clatter of the Russian retreat and when the big light glared through the window into my eyes, I had to awake fully before realizing that it was not a searchlight seeking out the retreating soldiers of the Czar, but only the station lamp at Dirschau.

Morning found us in the beery dining-room of the old station at Königsberg, breakfasting on coffee and wurst, and watching through the window a bivouac of young soldiers who had spent the night outside. We were walking down the platform to take the train for Korschen, when we saw a little boy tug at his mother's arm and stare with mouth agape into the sky. There to the south what seemed to be a stub of black pencil was slowly dissolving into the snow gray clouds. "Zeppelin! Zeppelin!" In a clamor the waiting rooms emptied but already the great bag was a thing of the mists, vanishing, with its cargo of death, towards Warsaw.

Half an hour and we were on the train for Korschen.

Running almost due south from Königsberg, the railroad enters Masurenland where swamps and lakes still hold the Russian dead of those terrible August days, when Tannenberg turned East Prussia red. There the empty yellowish fields, undulating from hillock to gully, across the picture that the car window framed, bristled but five days before with Russian lines. There at Korschen where we changed cars, they had burned the station. There we saw on flat cars, ready to be pulled to some point behind the front, three black painted motors that the Russians had abandoned in their flight; coupled to them a heavy truck, bearing a long German howitzer; beside that a Belgian freight car, marked Louvain. Somehow it seemed quite natural that they all should be there — the Russian motors, the Belgian car, the German gun.

It was just as we were leaving Korschen that a smiling slender young man who wore glasses, bowed outside the compartment door, and said: "You're an American, aren't you?" And when I told him yes, he said: "l am too." He went on to say that he was from Passaic, and I found myself recalling Gus Schwing of Newark, the Lieutenant Brevet whom we had met in Brussels and wondering if all the Americans in the German army came from New Jersey.

"I am an architect in Passaic," he said. "I happened to be in Germany on August 3rd. Before coming to America I had served my time in the army, but I, being born in Germany, offered my services at the outbreak of war to the government. They are using me to go behind the army, building up what has been destroyed. I have just come from France where we're rebuilding everything behind our battle line."

Captain von Stietencron, who had noticed my amazement, smiled and added, "In France and Belgium our soldiers planted the fields with a winter crop, last fall, and they're planting an autumn crop now."

Which seems to be a case of harvesting machines following the howitzers. At Stürlack where the railroad strikes due east for Lötzen we were made to feel the growing intimacy of the front, by being shunted on a side while troop trains rumbled by for an hour. It being four o'clock then and not having been able to eat since morning, the Baron led a foraging expedition into a track-side farmhouse, which resulted in more wurst and heavy black bread. I can still see the expression in that old farmer's eyes as, opening the cottage door, he saw the Baron outside. It was as if the gray officer's cape, hanging over the Baron's broad shoulders, at once made him in the eyes of that old man, something superhuman and to be idolized. And I did not wholly understand this until I learned that the Russians had spent a rioting night in the farmer's house and that thenceforth to him, the German troops had become avengers and deliverers.

"They are swine, these Russians," he told the Baron. "Further on you will see."

Beginning with Lötzen, the railroad became wholly military. No passenger cars went further than Lötzen, a direct feeding point to the front. Learning, upon leaving our car that a military train would pull out for Lyck in a few minutes, we ran down the tracks, stumbling on the ties, for it had become dark, trying to find a place to get on. But every freight car filled with food and ammunition was sealed and even on the flat cars there was not room to stand between the caissons and guns.

"Next to the engine," some one shouted, but even as we ran towards that car, where we now saw the pale glow of lantern light framed by an open door, the train pulled out.

"It's an hour," remarked Captain von Stietencron, "before there's another."

Picking our way back over the rails we made towards the dimly lighted station, its platform swarming with soldiers, gleaming with bayonets as they moved in a path of light. Entering a dingy waiting room, we stood beside a crowded lunch counter while the Baron went in to see the station Kommandant. Around the little stained topped table officers were eating dinner.

I wondered first at the contrast of their uniforms stained and worn with the field, and the immaculate cleanliness of their persons, at their finger nails which each man must have manicured, for they shone, at their clean shaven faces, and glistening combed hair; one fancied their eyebrows were brushed too. These officers in the well worn uniforms stained by six months of field service had obviously made their toilettes as for the opera.

We saw Captain von Stietencron coming out of the Kommandant's office.

"There will be no troop train leaving for Lyck," he said, "until to-morrow. However, in forty minutes a big supply train is going and if you can stand riding in a freight car," and the Baron paused with the unspoken question.

"Anything at all," I assured him. "When do we reach Lyck?"

"With a supply train," he smiled, "one never knows." Whereupon, being a soldier, and having a chance to eat, the Baron proposed taking advantage of this chance.

A steaming platter of an amazing good goulash, and we were picking our way over the rails to find the freight car in which we were to ride. We found it coupled to the engine and behind us, car after car, filled with ammunition, fodder and food, stretched endlessly up the track. We were in a freight car that had been painted inside and fitted with three long benches. From the white roof, two lanterns swung their flickering light across the brown walls, and at the farther end near a stiflingly hot round stove, I saw a big pile of straw where doubtless the train crew spent the night.

So we sat under the swinging lanterns, while the light car rattled and shook as with a disorder. Time never passed more quickly, listening to the Captain's stories of the war. And later I knew of many things concerning that first great drive into France, of how Namur was taken by storm, but the Iron Cross that hung from Von Stietencron's coat did not appear in the narrative, although I referred to it many times.

And with the shadows trembling on the wall and the two tired soldiers sleeping in the straw, it seemed the way to go to war, not as in the West, in a train on a soft plush seat. I involuntarily shuddered at the thought of the potential death we carried in the cars behind, the tons of ammunition coming now to make Russian dead. As the engine drew its heavy, dangerous load slowly on, through the partly opened door, I saw a drift of white falling snow beginning to blow past us in the night.

By the time we reached Windennen, the fields had turned white and when a soldier told us we would be delayed here twenty minutes, we got out. A sullen murmur, almost as of animals, met the ear, and walking up the tracks in the direction of the murmur, we saw presently, the glisten of bayonets and beyond that in the obscured light of a station lamp a horde of Russian prisoners. Herded within the confines of a barbed wire square that gave the impression of having hastily been built as a Gefangenenlager, the Russians watched our approach with suspicious eyes. Splendid types of the human animal, deep chested, tall fellows, with mighty physiques and stupid faces, the Russians of that greater Russia, who exist in the fiction of those who portray the "beautiful Russian soul." One recognized the great coats of sheepskin and goat, the round shaggy fur hats, that had succeeded the natty peaked caps of the first mustering in; one recognized the Russian smell which sickens you in the great prison camps all over Germany. As we looked at them the muttering ceased and uneasily they shifted about seeming to be waiting for something and instinctly you thought, upon realizing the utter ignorance of their faces waiting for a sentence of death.

"Over here are the officers," remarked Captain von Stietencron, and we followed him to a separate enclosure where a yellow bearded Russian glowered at us from the doorway of what had been a signal tower, while another drew his tall form up straight and smiled. The Captain spoke to this man in German. I caught the words: Doctor of Medicine, Esthland, which is one of the Baltic provinces of Russia, where five centuries ago the inhabitants were German.

"As a surgeon," the Captain was saying to tall, smiling, beardless Russian, "you might be returned to your country. There is a possibility."

Emphatically the Russian shook his head.

"No," he replied. "I've had enough of their army. I want to remain in Germany."

And then both evidently having interest in some proper noun that happened to fall into their conversation, they talked with increasing pleasure and speed.

"Queer," mused Von Stietencron, as we walked back to the freight car. "That Russian's father is the priest who gave me my first communion — and I meet him here."

But then anything is possible in this war.

From Lötzen to Lyck, by rail is twenty-five kilometers; in times of peace, the average passenger train takes little more than half an hour. In times of war, the run of a heavy supply train such as ours, is about an hour. We left Lötzen before seven; four hours and Lyck was still away. Rattling along, jumping the switches into sidings while coaches filled with troops rushed clanking past, faintly luminous phantoms in the snowy night, stopping at one little station after another, the weirdest ride of my life, even before we came to Iucha.

The village of Iucha, typical of that section of East Prussia which is known as Masurenland, hides behind the trees half a mile from the railroad. There being forty minutes before our train would leave, we gratefully accepted Julius the station master's invitation to visit his house. It would be cozy there. "Just up the track a-ways," he said. Imagining a comfortable half hour of lounging on some pillowed German chair, we followed the station master who led the way with a lantern. Outside his house, a squat two floor, stone structure, I noticed in the yard, a sofa, from which the plush cover had been removed. "A frugal man," I thought; "saving it no doubt for something else."

We followed him into the house. Nauseated by a stench we stared bewildered into a room. In the lantern's light, it was a place of pillage and filth. Torn papers made soft the floor, the walls seemed ragged with torn pictures, hanging shredlike from their frames — torn plush covers from old chairs, torn curtains — everything torn, broken or slashed.

"The Russians," he remarked, "they lived in my home," and I thought his eyes filled. "I lived here fifteen years. My boy was born here."

Following the station master into the room where the Russians had eaten, I saw the little brass meat cans of the Russian commissary, strewn around the floor amid an overpowering clutter of cooked meat and decaying vegetables. I opened a little closet in the wall and stood looking at something that my electric torch picked out on the floor. It was a pair of cow's hoofs, cut off a little below the knees. Probably left there until they got ripe enough to be cooked in a stew.


a house in East Prussia after the fighting


We found every room in that little home destroyed and filthy, and as we made our way across the snow to the village, we felt certain that we were to look upon even more depressing scenes. Little Iucha, a pretty place on a crest of the rolling country, we found to be utterly and wantonly devastated. We learned there was no fighting in Iucha, yet home after home we found destroyed. We visited the shop of G. Geydon, and found all the goods missing from his shelves, all the counters smashed, all his business papers torn and strewn on the floor. We went into another store, where amid a ruin of splintered wood, stood the owner's safe, blown open as by cracksmen.

In another house, a private dwelling, we entered a room that the Russian officers must have used as a council chamber, for chairs were drawn around one end of a long table. Beside the table, on the floor, I noticed a Russian map of this section of Germany. Here in this room, beyond doubt, the staff officers were in conference when the alarm rang through the town —"The Germans are coming!" Everywhere were signs of the panic in which they had fled.

"On that hill over there," said the station master, pointing across the snow, "the Russians had a trench. The morning after they retreated, we went up there and found it filled with loot and the dead bodies of three good women of the village whom they had taken up there, outraged, and slain."

"How long," I asked him, "were the Russians here?"

"From November sixth," he replied, "to February twelfth."

Six days ago! The trail was getting hot. As we passed the station, I looked in at a window and saw sitting on the floor there, their backs sliding down on the wall, a room filled with sleeping German soldiers, obviously two machine gun squads, for the guns were in the middle of the room; and beside this another room where in the light of a candle stub, under-officers were playing cards with ten pfennig pieces as the stakes. Feeling as though I had been walking through a dream, I followed the others back to the car.

It was after midnight when somebody said we were in Lyck and clambering down from the car, we began packing our way across the tracks towards the station. Even at a distance we could perceive the marks of destruction, with one jagged wall leaning against the night. Leading the way past the burned building, Captain von Stietencron asked us to wait while he went into a rude shack where a light burned. Out of the night stalked a shadowy form and the electric eye of a powerful torch gleamed in my face, hesitated and darkened, while with a "Gute Nacht!" the shadowy form stalked on. It was the Lyck greeting — friend or foe?

In a few minutes, the Captain called us to come into the little shack.

"Be good enough to wait here," he said, "while I go out and find the officer who was to meet us in Lyck, and tell us where we will be quartered for the night."

He was gone and we were looking around the little board walled room. In a darkened corner I discerned the sleeping forms of three soldiers and along a wooden shelf, sat two others with heavy lidded eyes, field telephones clamped to their heads. A large white shaded lamp, evidently from the same house as the sofa on which we sat and the three upholstered chairs, stood upon a rough board table in the center of the room. Getting up and walking around, I saw that the wooden shelf had been the table for the Russian field telegraph, for two of their despatches obviously left there in the excitement of retreating, had been pasted by the Germans on the wall.

The time passed with Captain von Stietencron plodding somewhere through the snow. A young officer came in, a big handsome fellow, who looked at me in polite surprise, and seating himself at the table, began to write a letter. I saw that his pencil was of gold and flashing with little diamonds.

"An American, I take it," he said after a pause. "I know your country well. I like it." I talked with him about the cities he had visited while he hesitated over his letter. "It is so difficult," he remarked, "when you are writing your wife from the front. You want to tell her all the news, and then," with a grim smile, "you don't."

We watched him deliberating long over the composition of the note which, finally sealing, he gave to a soldier and sped him away.

"I am leaving now for Russia," he said, drawing on his great coat of beaver; "I must be at headquarters by morning. Good night, I am most happy to have chanced to meet you."

We heard the muffling snort of his motor die away in the snowy night. It was after three before the Baron returned.

"I am so sorry," he apologized, "but there has been a mistake. They know nothing here about us. We must go in the morning to the —th Army headquarters at Goldap. And now," and the Baron looked about him in dismay, "we must sleep."

So we stretched our sleeping bags on the floor of the shack and in a moment were sleeping like the soldiers, whom not even a cannon could awaken.


Russian prisoners after the battle of the Masurian Lakes


I awoke to find the brown coats of Russian soldiers passing outside the window. Rubbing the drowsiness out of my eyes, I saw follow, larger men in goat and sheepskins, and then a squad of black hatted, slit-eyed Siberians, a squad of strapping fair-haired Finns. A guard of mature looking Landsturm complacently puffing at big German pipes were watching them shoveling away the snow.

It was the second night I had not been able to take my clothes off, and as for the civilized luxuries, given a tooth brush, a morning shave is not a matter of grave concern.

"Roll up your bag," advised Captain von Stietencron, "and leave it here. We'll go to the Officers' Casino for coffee. There a motor will meet us. We can pick up the baggage here and then we start for Goldap."


ruined buildings in a Russian city


As we walked down the long shaded street that seemed to be the main street of Lyck, a gray transport train of "prairie schooners," slowly but steadily rattled by. The way was strewn with discarded cartridge clips and smashed rifles. On the walls of the houses we began to see the spatter of shrapnel.

"This is where General von Buelow's army broke through," explained the Captain. "One division of our soldiers rolled up four Russian divisions here and put them in retreat for the frontier."

An automobile of the Flying Corps shrieked past. We came into a zone of looted shops. We entered a store where bottled liquors had been sold, a chaos now of smashed glass. On the day of the battle when all discipline flew to the winds the Russians had evidently sought their solace or courage in vodka. We became aware that not a house nor store in Lyck had escaped their pillage. As we crossed a little public park we found they had vented their revenge at defeat by smashing every bench in the square. Since we learned that no Germans had remained in the town of Lyck, and no sniping could have been possible, this orgy of broken shop windows, blown up safes, and robbery, before our eyes, was the indisputable evidence of Russian barbarism.

We had our coffee in a little inn that had been the Russian Officers' Casino where a squad of Germans were already at work cleaning out the filth. Black coffee, black bread, in a room where the wall was riddled with bullets, from the pistols of drunken Russian officers who had sat there making a target of a portrait of the German Emperor, now lying on the floor. A tired officer of the Hussars came in as we left and I heard him say to Von Stietencron, "So their officers were here, were they?" And Von Stietencron replied: "I'm afraid they were as bad as their men."

We climbed into the automobile, one of the gray-green army cars that I had seen in the West, and in a few minutes we were rushing by the never ending transport train. We left Lyck with its pillaged houses and shelled walls behind and swept across the open country. But we could not put the war behind us. We overtook a long shuffling column of Russian prisoners and further on, the Germans who were slightly wounded walking with almost a springy step in contrast to the dispirited Russians. We passed another of the gray supply trains, where the sleepy horses of the Uhlan escort pranced on its flanks. We came to a bridge which the engineers were rebuilding, and had to make a detour, crossing further up the stream beside a burned mill, its twisted, charred, water wheel a mute witness of the devastation that the Russians have brought to this land.

On the left the ground fell away into a gully and on the bottom of this I noticed a farmer's sled, the horse in a dead tangle beside it. I noticed a second sled, a third, a fourth; apparently these sleds having been met on the road by the beaten Russians were hurled with their drivers into the gully below.

As we drove into the great square at Goldap; a "goulash cannon," one of the German field kitchens, was smoking. It was the only smoke we saw in this once busy town of eight thousand people. We seemed to be standing in a burned sepulcher for all around us the houses were black with fire and on the streets no human thing stirred, save soldiers.

"I must go to the Kommandant," said the Captain, and noticing that I was staring at the desolation, he added, "There was no fighting in Goldap, not a shot. All this that you see has been done by the Russians."

I wondered if there would be a roof to shelter us. Where could the German general and his staff have their headquarters? It seemed impossible that they could find a single habitable house in this awful desolation. We left the motor and walked around. On one of the side streets we questioned one of the victims of Russian brutality. She found us another. And we heard from their own lips black tales of Russian savagery and violation of defenseless mothers and daughters — too ghastly for these pages.

I saw Captain von Stietencron coming across the square. He looked perturbed.

"I cannot understand it," he said. "There is no Oberkommandant here and in the office of the Etappen Kommando they told me that I must find a Rittmeister Tzschirner."

We went to Von Stietencron to find the Rittmeister, which means Captain of Cavalry. We found him standing beside a long rakish motor car, outside a looted bank. Von Stietencron held a long conference with the officer at the end of which I thought the Baron looked a trifle disappointed.

"I must say good-by to you," he said, coming over. "New orders from the staff. I must return to Berlin, and Rittmeister Tzschirner of General Hindenburg's staff will be your officer from now on."

I remembered that first night in the train to Königsberg, how Von Stietencron was constantly reiterating his boyish delight in the trip. And now with a glum face he was saying good-by. "Look me up when you return to Berlin," he said. "We'll have dinner together," and waving a farewell from the gray car he disappeared down the road.

My new guide and councilor, Rittmeister Tzschirner, was a short, springy, fair haired, young officer, of the ideal cavalry build. I saw that his were the cold steady eyes of the fighter, yet not without a twinkle, and the good natured mouth that the little mustache could not hide, suggested that here again we were in luck — another of these wonderful German officers with a sense of humor.

"Captain von Stietencron," I remarked, "said that headquarters were no longer here."

"No," said Tzschirner, "they have moved up with the pursuit of the Russians. We start now, if you like, for Suwalki, Russia."

If we liked! Suwalki was on the very dust of the Russian retreat.

"It is fifty kilometers to Suwalki," said the Rittmeister; "we should make our arrival there by seven o'clock."

He must have forgotten that it was on the line of communications.

As we set out on this road it was growing dark. Turning in a southerly direction toward Kowahlen we began a ride through a vague, darkening country, peopled — except when our searchlight picked them up — with indistinct beings. Through the trees that fringe Goldap on the east, there gleamed a huge camp-fire that spread its yellow light on a ruined wall; as long as we could, we watched the black forms that must have been soldiers, passing across the flames. The motor rumbled on; signs of the retreat began to appear. In the ditch beside the road, I saw a dead horse, a second dead horse, a third dead horse. An abandoned Russian cannon leaned against the night, its long howitzer barrel pointing an angle of ruin into the sky. One thought of that as a symbol of the Russian rout.

Along the road there commenced a strew of clothing, a trail of discarded hats and coats, the dirty brown of the Russian soldiery. I saw rifles, cartridge bones, single shoes and then a broken caisson, a hooped roofed transport, overturned in the ditch; and then even whiter in the failing light, the scarred trees torn with shrapnel and shell.

"Did your artillery harass their retreat?" I asked Rittmeister Tzschirner.

"Oh, yes," he replied. "It was very fine."

And the strewn debris of war continued in a silent clutter of horror; and an inky darkness closed round shutting it all out; and we sat listening to the motor's rumble. Where were the dead? In the fields? We strained our eyes but the damp night was impassable; yet we felt they were there.

"Rittmeister," I asked suddenly, "were many men killed here?"

"Oh, yes. The losses of the Russians were very great. Our artillery shot very well. I cannot give you the exact number. We do not know. The Russians did not wish us to know the regiments engaged so they carried away their dead. I mean they carried away as many as they could; but our soldiers came very fast and the Russians had not always the time. Yes, they left many dead but we cleared the road of them."

"And the fields too?"

“ Oh, no," he said quickly as if unwilling that I should make a mistake. "In the fields here are many Russian dead. We shall bury them."

We were passing between the fields of the unburied dead.


East Prussian refugees


It was when we had made the turn of Kowahlen, which is where the road strikes due east toward the frontier, that we saw silhouetted against the sky a man, a woman and a girl. Caught by our headlight, they stood beside the road, as if they had paused there to rest. The man in the heavy coat of an East Prussian farmer leaned on a cane, watching with suspicious eyes. The woman, stout and motherly, sat on a stone, her hands folded in her lap, her eyes blinking from an awakened sleep. And the girl seemed to draw a cheap shawl as if to hide her face but not so quickly but that I saw she was astonishingly pretty. This sudden protective movement had its origin perhaps in some horrible experience. Had the Cossacks … ?

The road tunneled through a vista of trees. We passed another peasant family — a father and a mother bearing packs, three children, one carrying a bird cage in which there was no bird. They too were on the heels of the retreat, only they were going back to the homes which they had fled in those terrifying November days when the Russians had overrun the land ... going back to what?

The sledge had stopped. A scrawny girl held the cow by a rope. As our searchlight glared into their faces, the children, piled among the household goods, frowned and blinked. The man was holding the horse. The woman was staring off into the night.

Our gaze followed hers. Our headlight was shining on a roofless house with charred windows as the empty sockets of a skull and revealed the outlines of a jagged wall that had been the barn, and a huddle of fence palings and soft earth, once the garden. The woman who sat with her children on the loaded sledge, must have sobbed — although we could not hear it above the motor's din — for the man holding the horse turned, and the girl holding the cow turned, and the frowning, blinking children turned in her direction. And after we had passed we looked back and they were standing there in the same postures, transfixed, gazing at the blackened chaos once their home.

There are many villages between Kowahlen and the frontier — the villages of Lukellen, Drosdowen and Mierunsken. But to-day they are only names by which may be characterized certain works of Russian arson. Not a house did we find intact on this road to the frontier, not a home but that was ashes or if of stone whose walls were black. Not even the church at Mierunsken had escaped the torch. In a few moments more we were in Russia. We did not need the striped frontier posts to confirm this; nor the holes and lumps, that marked the end of German road building. Something more significant revealed to us that at last we had come to the land of the Bear. For we passed through two villages but a kilometer apart and in these not a house had been burned, not even a fence smashed; they were Amt and Filipowa, in the Czar's domain.

"Rittmeister," I asked, "did German soldiers follow the Russians down this road? "

"All the way to Suwalki," replied Tzschirner.

"German soldiers," I persisted, "who passed through Goldap and all those villages to the frontier."

"Natürlich. That was the line of advance."

I was silent.

"Rittmeister, you have wonderful discipline in your army."

Tzschirner seemed surprised. "Why?"

"I cannot understand," I said, "how your soldiers, seeing what the Russians had done to East Prussian villages, could refrain from taking vengeance on the first Russian village they entered."

I think the Rittmeister was a little offended.

"We are soldiers," he said with dignity; "not criminals." He paused and perhaps guessing that Belgium was in my mind, "We only make war on non-combatants when they make war on us."


German transport column in the East


Near Jemieliste we overtook the army. Visible at the extremity of our long, yellowish light, there grew out of the darkness, the grayish tops of transports, rolling as on a sea; and as we came up with them we distinguished in their muffled clamor, the clanking of chains, the cries of the drivers and the cracking of whips on the horses' backs. Throttling down until we barely crept along, our soldier chauffeur dexterously guided the car between the maze of wagon wheels and balking horses, so on, until after I had counted twenty wagons struggling hub deep through the frozen snow, we came to the head of the column, where the serene officer, utterly oblivious to the confusion behind him, leisurely rode the lead. And I thought of that other great general who dared the Russian snows without railroads and all that modern science has given war, penetrating the land to Moscow and across such frightful roads through the heart of the Russian winter; in that night one was awed with the name Napoleon.

The yelling of the transport men died away. The gloom thickened; rain fell. Milanowizizna passed, a ghostly village. Torn, by heavy wagons, furrowed and frozen into icy ridges, the road became almost impassable. It was like going over a huge washboard, with the corrugations running in crisscrosses. Jumping insanely from ridge to hole, our motor stood up wonderfully, until we came to an abrupt hill where nubbles of frozen snow impeded the way. Three times did Gelbricke, the chauffeur, try to make it; and three times the wheels spun helplessly. Finally with reluctance the Rittmeister said it would be better if we all got out. And then in the pitch darkness and cold rain, we put our shoulders to the car, but with futile effort.

"Let's find some wood for treads," I suggested.

The Rittmeister would have none of it. He seemed to be mortified that we should be put to this inconvenience while guests of the German army. "Seyring!" he called the mechanician by name.


Of course, out on a Russian plain, in pitch darkness, it was quite easy to find wood; but one thought that Seyring's "Jawohl" would have been equally as cheery had the Rittmeister ordered him to find a bottle of wine.

I too went to find wood. Only my foot stumbled against something in the ditch and I almost fell upon it. And when I flashed on my electric torch I saw that it was a Russian soldier. His face was buried in the snow, his stiff, extended arms pawing the frozen ground. On the shoulders of his long brown coat I read the number of his regiment, 256, and on his feet, from which the boots had been stripped, were wound with strips of knitted wool. His black, bare head, intensified by the contrasting snow, seemed the blackness of a raven. The others found the wood.

The car climbed the hill. Near Mlinisko we passed a clanking transport, near Turowka, a mired limousine of the Flying Corps. The rain froze to hail and as we crossed the great open plain to Suwalki, snow came, a slow, steady fall, unnaturally white in the headlight's glow. Progress became even slower. Ahead the road seemed choked with wagons, but always there opened up a lane through which drove this soldier shaving the hub of transports with the nicety of a race driver.

And then we came up with the artillery, two batteries to pound away at the crumbling Russian front. We saw the drivers, each with a carbine slung over his shoulders, astride the straining horses, while the heavy caissons and guns rumbled behind. Our headlight shone upon a gray and red cloaked soldier, sitting on the gun carriage, his spurred boots dangling, his body jumping and jouncing, while quite complacently he munched on a bar of chocolate. The battery blocked the road; Seyring blew his horn; Rittmeister was shouting, "Los! Los! Away! Away!" But the soldier with the chocolate simply ignored us and went on munching that sweet of which the German army is so fond.

"Abspannen!" the command gutturaled from driver to driver. It was the order to unhitch the horses. It being impossible now to drive ahead, we watched the tired carabineers slide down from the saddles and loosen the horses from the spans, while the gun crews poured out oats from big gray bags and gave the horses their meal. And, two by two, the drivers led them clanking off into the night, with the gun crews following on foot, with the caissons and cannon let standing in the snow. They were going to sleep. Where? On either side the rolling snow covered plains seemed to spread inimitably, before graying into the black Russian night.

The horses gone, a gap opened in the road.

"Los! Gelbricke! Los!"

To the Rittmeister's urgings, the car sped forward, and we rushed past the battery, so silent now, in the snowy night, but on the morrow to roar forth death. Through the gray white curtain of snow, the lights of Suwalki came twinkling to meet us, and as we drove down a shaded street, even there I could see the debris of war — discarded uniforms, guns and shells. And when finally we stopped before an old stone building and followed the Rittmeister through a damp archway into a dirty looking cafe, where we had ham and tea; after I had seen two German officers pay for their meal and then bow courteously to the sullen proprietor of this Europiski Hotel, after I had stretched my sleeping bag on three chairs and said good night, I heard a swift succession of heavy reports.

"The Russian artillery," said Rittmeister Tzschirner.

"How do you know?" I asked.

"Because the Russians fire like this — one-two-three-four, then — one-two-three-four. Listen."

I caught then the quick but measured beat of their guns, but having just ridden down the road of their retreat, I could not think of their artillery as firing so methodically; rather, to me, those quick salvos seemed to be the firing of desperation, the frantic gunnery of men who knew the enemy was closing in — an enemy who upon their heels had followed the red Russian trail through East Prussia, across the snow swept plains to the pine forests of Augustowo, where even now the guns bellowed that a hell on earth was there.


columns of Russian prisoners


The Battle of Augüstowo Wald

This is the first complete account of a great battle that has been told in this war

The battles in the East are so vast and the movements of the troops are so swift and secret that up to the middle of February the war against Russia was, to all correspondents, only a thing to be seen in unimportant fragments. Through sheer good fortune I saw the Battle of Augustowo Wald, which historians may or may not write of as being a decisive conflict, but in which a Russian army of 240,000 men was annihilated; only one intact division escaping to Grodno, there to be swallowed up by a new Russian army, which became the new Tenth. And because of these huge reinforcements the Germans did not break the line of the Memen, flinging it back on Warsaw. Russia has denied this annihilation. With another American, Herbert Corey, I saw it.

The story I shall tell is a story of this battle, of its strategy, as told to me by Rittmeister Tzschirner of Field Marshal von Hindenburg's staff, of its actual fighting, which I saw, and of its celebration. For on the night of victory I was the guest of Excellence von Eichorn, commander-in-chief of one of Von Hindenburg's victorious armies, and with his staff I sat around a strange banquet — a little room in a Russian inn, with candle-light flickering on the wall, and for. music, the rolling of the guns, while the victors celebrated the battle in a way that I could not understand.


The Road to Augustowo

We awoke to hear the guns, great drums beating a sinister roll.

"To-day," said Rittmeister Tzschirner, "I take you to the front. Do you wish?"

I was for a quick breakfast.

"Oh, no, Mr. Fox. There is much time. The battle will endure all day."

Nevertheless I hurried the Rittmeister to breakfast downstairs in the Europiski Hotel. Quantities of black coffee, served in long glasses, platters of white buns coated with some tasteless powder, suspiciously Russian, and Ober-Lieutenant Lieckfeld of the Eighth Battery of the First Guards, joined us — a handsome, healthy skinned, smiling man, who spoke a fair English. He told us what an officer had seen on the road back from Augustowo this morning.

"Just this side of Augustowo," explained Lieckfeld, "the Captain saw a Russian gun that had been hit by one of our shells. The horses and men were all killed and the carriages smashed. The Captain said they looked very bloody and all sort of mixed."

This was the kind of war I had seen for years in pictures — the war of de Neuville and Verestchagin. I wonder if the officers noticed my impatience to be on the road to Augustowo. And then the Rittmeister did a significant thing. Drawing his Browning, he drew the clip from the magazine to see that it was full.

"And now," he said, "we go to Augustowo," adding with a tantalizing smile, "Do you wish?"

"Don't kill any Russians," Lieckfeld called after us and chuckled.

Following the Petersburg Prospeckt, a wide un-paved highway, obviously the Main Street of gray, squat housed Suwalki, our motor bumped out on the road to Augustowo — a road of frozen brown snow in the middle of a dreary snow covered plain and tunneling ahead into a green forest of pine. We passed a huddle of miserable huts and a great Russian church with bulb shaped cupolas, slender minarets and a dome gleaming with gold. We passed the deserted garrison barracks, places of filth, in which the Germans would not live. We ran along a line of pretty pale blue fence palings; and then we saw the boys. They seemed to be playing a game. A little fellow, whose round fur hat and brown pea jacket was typical of his chums, was poking at something with a stick. Greatly excited, he called the boys, who seemed to be looking for something across the road in the snow. Stridently he called to them.

"That boy is saying," explained Tzschirner who understands Russian, "that he has found another And we saw that the youngster was poking the snow away from a big bearded man in a sheepskin coat. The game the boys of Suwalki were playing was hunting the dead.

The woods opened up; a funeral stillness closed in. A Uhlan on patrol passed at a center. Tzschirner gave a command and the motor stopped. “Laden" he said, and while the red-haired mechanician was loading the two carbines strapped to the car, Tzschirner said, "The battle is continuing. Russians cut off from their regiments are in the woods. They are fugitives. They are hungry and if they see us, they'll shoot. I must say you this."

We began to take an interest in the woods. We saw that the slender trunks of the pines gave poor concealment to a man but in the snow we discerned many tracks. Somewhere in their depths a rifle cracked. Tzschirner stopped the car. We listened; everything was still. We drove on. We came upon an abandoned howitzer and in the snow a magnum of unexploded shells, a great stain that had turned black, and a yellow mound of fresh clay.

"A gun position," said Tzschirner briefly. "Our soldiers made advance too rapidly for the Russians to retreat."


Germans study captured Russian material


There are thirty kilometers on the road from Suwalki to Augustowo and the thirty kilometers were strewn with the tangle and debris of war. I found myself counting caps — round Russian caps of goatskin and fur, and the black peaked caps of muster day. I counted these caps until I counted thirty-three in an unbelievably short time and I found myself thinking of them as thirty-three dead. For a soldier will discard his coat before his cap.

Near Szszepki which is where the forest opens into a brief snow gray plain, ringed with a dreariness of sky, we met the woman, a young peasant woman, her loose hair wreathing her sullen eyes with thick black curls. As she saw us, she made the sign of the cross.

"Stop the car," I called to Tzschirner.

He got out with me, the woman gave a scream and fled down the road. We ran after her.

"Please, Madame," the Rittmeister asked her, "why did you make the sign of the cross when you saw us?"

She began mumbling a prayer; her shaking finger traced the sign in the air.

"Why," said Tzschirner gently, "do you fear us?"

When she spoke it was without looking up. "Our soldiers," she said, losing her fear, "told me you were devils, so I thought if I made the cross you could not pass it. They told me you would burn my house and kill me."

"Has your house been burned?"


"And you will not be killed, Madame," said Tzschirner, touching his hat. "I promise you."

We left her looking after us in a bewildered way and when we climbed into the motor she fled up the road.

"They have bad minds, the Russians," remarked Tzschirner. "They know what they have made in East Prussia."

And then near Szczobra we overtook the "clean up squad." We saw them advancing, as in extended order, the teeth of a great comb, cleaning woods, fields and ponds, of the dead. We saw segments of the line abruptly stop, and come together and begin digging in the snow.

"How," I asked Tzschirner, "did they miss the dead we saw along the road?"

"They have not been there," he explained. "They first work where considerable actions have occurred; then they take up the more isolated points of the line."

All this time the grumble of the guns had grown more distinct. We were nearing Augustowo. A horde of prisoners stolidly shuffled and I saw that their hands and faces were black with the battle. The German light wounded commenced to straggle along, holding a white bound hand, or unconcernedly handling a cheap cigar while the other arm hung cradled in a sling. I thought they all looked tired but their step was alert. And always the roll of the guns grew louder, monstrous drums insanely beating their Miserere from somewhere beyond the tops of the pines.

Finding at Szczobra a field bakery, we ate. Seated around an empty box with two officers of the commissary, we ate from deep tin dishes filled with a stew of white beans and beef; there were chunks of a brown bread made from Russian meal. And the floor almost in the long shed that the engineers had built in a night, was covered with loaves of the brown bread baked fresh in the twelve oven transports outside; while at the other end of the shed, white aproned bakers were mixing their dough.

"They are all volunteers," the commissary officer was saying. "By trade they are bakers and when war broke out they at once put themselves at the disposal of the government. I am sorry," he went on, "that I cannot give you better bread, but here in Russia," and he shrugged.

"I like the Russian meal," I told him. "What did you do, commandeer quantities of it?"

"We bought it," he replied a little indignant, "and paid cash for it. As soon as we occupied Suwalki, all the Jews took their meal out of their hiding places and brought it to us. Here," and opening a wallet he handed me a receipt that showed how Herr Friedmann, of Suwalki, had received 10,000 marks cash for meal delivered to the German army.

We continued in the motor. I saw a trooper's grave — his lance upright in the snow, the black and white Prussian pennon snapping in the wind. We passed a frozen pond where Russian prisoners were breaking the ice to fill their canteens. We stooped at a great wooden cross, on which an officer's Rosary hung; and then I saw the birds.

They were gray bellied birds with black wings and heads. They were waddling birds that grotesquely marched across the snow, pecking as they went. They were fluttering winged birds that you thought of as being too heavy to fly strong. And as I noticed one near the road, I saw that his gray breast bulged plumply; he seemed to have eaten well.

Further on in the field,— in the same field where waddled the birds,— I saw a shapeless heap of men; and then another heap, and another, until I had counted six. I saw a bristle of barbed entanglements trampled in the snow and just behind them a trench, a deep long grave that days before the living had dug for themselves — a pit filled with clay and snow and men. I had never seen such men before. They were men postured like jumping jacks only their legs and arms were still. They were men who seemed standing on their heads, their feet over the trench top, turned soles up to the sky. Somehow, they gave you the impression of being all legs and arms,— stiff grotesque legs, stiff grotesque arms. They all seemed lumpy, all but one, and he was standing up, his grayish face turned in the direction the clean up squad would come; and he was standing because the piled dead braced him so that he could not fall.


Russian prisoners


The Road Through the Forest

"Eighty thousand prisoners by to-night — I think," added Rittmeister Tzschirner. He had just left the office of the Kommandant in Augustowo, a little gray building, the walls chipped with shrapnel. From the East rolled the steady boom of the guns; the battle was two miles away.

"I have just looked at his map," continued Tzschirner, and he glanced at his watch. "One o'clock. I think by to-night we make eighty thousand prisoners — perhaps not so many, naturlich. But from the position of the lines, I think yes. And now I think I can take you to the battle. You wish?"

Above the bluish walls of Augustowo the tops of the green pines laid against a leaden sky. Over there was the battle, the dense forest an impenetrable curtain, through which reverberated the pang of shrapnel and the roar of grenaten.

"I must tell you," hesitated Tzschirner, as our motor, lurching through the mud of Augustowo, turned toward the woods. "It is very dangerous. The forest is filled with Russians and they will shoot. It may not be agreeable."

"Let's have a try at it," I suggested.

The Rittmeister smiled.

"Seyring!" he called to the red haired mechanician. "Fertig zu fetter! Be ready to fire. Gelbricke!" and he tapped the chauffeur. "If I say turn back, turn instantly and drive fast!" With a smile he turned to me. "Mr. Fox," he said, "you know how to use German rifle, do you not?"

Then making a turn to the left, we entered a better road that tunneled away through the trees.

"This is the road to Grodno," said Tzschirner, "the Russian fortress. Our soldiers make their advance here."

We rattled across a wooden bridge that the German pioneers had thrown on top of a dynamited ruin across the Augustowo Canal. The road dipped to a lower level, that pointed toward Grodno, a straight brown band finally seeming to terminate where rows of distant pines, meeting like converging railway tracks, closed across the last thin slit of sky. At a slower pace, as though sensing danger, the car passed into the woods.

There came a German soldier. He was on foot. He had no rifle and his right hand squeezed the left as though it were asleep and he would waken it. But as we drew near, he dropped the left hand as though it were of no importance — and I saw the blood spread all over it — and the right hand flashed to his cap.

"Where," asked the Rittmeister, returning the salute, "are the Russians?"

"In the woods," said the soldier, and walked on; he was holding his hand again.

Watching the woods, we drove slowly on, past the few huts, which are Bealobrzegi, until we heard a noise like a bunch of Japanese firecrackers confusedly exploding in the woods.

"The Russians!" I exclaimed.

"And our soldiers," added Tzschirner. "Our men are going through the forest hunting them down."

And I began to understand the fresh tracks in the snow that crisscrossed in among the slender trunks of the pines, until they darkened with the forest gloom. And I began to think of this battle of Augustowo Wald as another Battle of the Wilderness, although here the ground was free of underbrush; and I realized that on both sides of us a grim game was being played, that we could hear but could not see; a long pursuit in which Germans and Russians stalked each other from tree to tree, to find the quarry and kill.

A battery clanked by at a canter, and the gunners, swinging their legs, seemed stolid and tired. I began to see traces of death in the snow — discarded clothing, broken rifles, clips of cartridges, a profusion of shaggy Russian hats — all the frightful débris of war. We met a Huzzar and he too seemed tired and lethargic.

"Am wo fahren sie?" called Tzschirner.

"Von Promiska," shouted the Huzzar.

"Ist der Weg frei?"

"Jawohl! Nach Jamine."

"The road is clear of Russians as far as the village of Jamine," explained Tzschirner.

And then I saw the dead Russians. There was one who had fallen in a heap and you thought that his face, buried in the cold snow, had found solace there. I saw another who lay in a ditch, his waxy bearded face staring at the cheerless sky, his arms wide stretched as if impaled on a cross; and I noticed that his boots had been stripped from him, and that one foot was wound with a white stained cloth, as though bruised with the rush of retreating miles over the frozen roads ... and now he could rest.

And out of the gray drizzle down the road there emerged an old woman and a child. The old woman was a grotesque figure as she hobbled along in a vain attempt to run. The little girl at her heels looked incredibly old. She was carrying a school-bag, bulging with hastily packed belongings. In the old woman's arms there was something covered with a red cloth. She had a way of staring at this bundle and breaking into sobs. And as I watched them fleeing down the road, a swarm of bullets sung overhead with a sucking sound and spattered among the trees. "They will see the dead men," I thought.

A grimy trooper was galloping down the road. "Halt!" ordered the Rittmeister.

"Where are the Russians?"

"In the woods, everywhere, in front and behind you," called the trooper, and galloped away. I heard Tzschirner ask the chauffeur how quickly he could turn round the car if we were attacked. The chauffeur stopped and tried. The result was painfully slow. "I must warn you," said Tzschirner, "it is very dangerous. Entire companies of Russians that have been cut off from their regiments are in the woods. They might easily surround us before help could come."

"Let's try it a little further," I suggested, for as yet we had seen no living Russian.

"Langsam Gelbricke," called Tzschirner to the chauffeur, and then the Rittmeister drew his pistol and sat with his hand on the trigger, a precaution which until now I had never seen a German officer take in the tensest situations of the Eastern or Western front. From Jamine, the roar of the guns broke through the cold rain in a monotone of clamor, but more distinct became the rattle of rifles among the pines. A bullet kicked up the dirty snow.

At that moment I glanced toward the edge of the trees at the left, where I saw a Russian lying on his back in the snow. He wore a brown army coat with red shoulder straps, sewed with the yellow numerals of his regiments. His gun was leaning against a tree and I thought that it had been torn from his hands or placed there. For with upraised arms, rigid in the struggle with death, his clawing hands seemed to have been turned to stone. At the same time, with odd irrelevance, there flashed into my mind the remembrance of the lead soldiers that I had played with as a boy — a soldier whose gun I had broken off and whose arms I had bent, to signify his death. And I thought of the lead soldier until we passed a yellow haired Finn, whose hands were folded on his great chest, as though a comrade had fixed him for burial before fleeing among the firs. Now the crack of the rifles came closer and with more frequency, and we began to see blood upon the snow, and then a big red hole around which fragments of clothing and fragments of stiff things were strewn. "A shell burst there," remarked Tzschirner.

A few paces on we came upon a dead horse from whose flanks a square chunk had been cut, presumably by a fugitive who, with this first food of days, had crept into the woods. All around we could never see the men who were shooting or the dim outlines of their human targets. And then, from out of the trees, a German soldier came stumbling, and fell limply into the snow. Jumping out while the car was in motion, our red haired mechanician ran toward him.

"Dead," called Seyring, throwing up his hands. Tzschirner seemed to come to a decision.

"I think," he said, "that this is as far as we had better go. You have seen it. It is the same."

"But, Captain," I urged, "isn't there some place from which we could see an artillery position?"

"You would go into the woods," bantered Tzschirner. "I will take you, but it is very dangerous."

"No, Captain," I said. "We would like to see the battlefield from the position of one of your batteries in action."

"That is possible," said Tzschirner. "But we must return to Augustowo and journey by another road."

The rifles were cracking not two hundred meters away — so the Rittmeister said — as the car turned and raced down the road to Augustowo. We passed a rumbling ammunition train; and the soldier sitting beside the driver of the first car was munching on a huge chunk of black bread. We noticed more of the fresh dead as we came to a lonely shack set in a little clearing among the pines. I saw outside the door a fallen man who, like a wild animal, had crawled to some hidden place to die. Always guns were booming in the direction of Jamine, their song rolling over the sky an immeasurable travail. Here among the pines, to the right and to the left, the ruthless game of tracking and shooting went on with a cracking sound, and the snow became more cluttered with coats, and I counted furry, shaggy Russian hats until I could count no more. If a bird still lived, in that forest, it did not sing; only the black winged birds with the gray bellies of carrion were there, hovering cautiously above the trees with weird instinct that a grewsome feast was near. As we left the great green forest, and rushed the grade toward the bridge over the canal made by the German engineers, we suddenly stopped and our red haired boy of a mechanician got out and lifted a dark object which barred the way and which had not been there when we crossed the bridge before. I saw him dragging at a German soldier whose feet grotesquely bobbed against the boards, and he was careful, the red haired boy, to lay the soldier at the extreme edge of the bridge, as if to make certain that no wagon would pass over him; he was very careful of that, was the red haired boy. But when he was through I saw that the soldier's head dangled over the bridge as though needing but a push to flop into the muddy canal below.


The Battle

We had left the forest, where the rifles croaked and chugged again between the pale blue houses of Augustowo.

"Chausée nach Raygrod?" cried the Rittmeister to the sentry by the Kommandant office.

"Links gehen!" was the reply.

"We must go toward Raygrod if you would visit with the battery," explained Tzschirner. "Perhaps the road will not be good, all the way. I hope, yes."

From east and south rolled the thunder of the guns and across the street from a muddy yard that was strewn with Russian dead, I saw five German soldiers, picking the caked dirt from their boots and singing a song. And as we left behind the last squalid house of Augustowo I saw a squad of smiling soldiers crowding around a captured Russian field kitchen. But the odor that assailed my nostrils was not of steaming food; in the road nearby lay the carcass of a horse.

There opened a great grayish plain, serried with hastily thrown up trenches, filled with melting snow and the lying, the kneeling and the sitting dead; a wilderness of sky closed in, grayish like the earth, and across it an aeroplane came, the black crosses painted beneath its wings, crosses of death — for would not the bombs fall? — and it cackled away, the bird of destruction toward the eastern sky. Through Naddamki and Koszielny, into a brief dense forest, and we drove toward Bauszcke to the growing clamor of the guns.

"It is better," said Tzschirner, "that we leave our auto in Bauszcke and proceed on foot. To Tayno we must journey five kilometers. It grows dangerous and the auto might be observed by the Russians."

Leaving the car on the highway to Raygrod — Seyring, the red-haired mechanician begging in vain to be allowed to come — we tramped through the snow and mud of a narrow Russian road toward Tayno.

"I must tell you," was Tzschirner's note of warning, "this is very dangerous. The Russians no longer have any orders. They are everywhere, little bodies cut off from their commands and trying to escape. You must remember there exists no line like the West here. Everything is movement."

Still the only Russians we had seen were dead or prisoners, so we went on. Two Uhlans passed at a trot, turning from right to left with alert eyes.

"Ist der weg frei?" called Tzschirner.

"Jawohl. Alles ruhig!"

Satisfied, the Eittmeister thought we could go on. The grumble of the guns became clearer; a grenat burst not half a mile away, emitting its terrifying grinding yelp, and staining the air with an ugly spume of brownish smoke. The road turned, skirting a pond, the Drengstwo See, beyond it a grove of pines above which shrapnel was breaking in beautiful billowing clouds. And then just ahead, reverberating in a bowl in the rolling ground, I heard four crashing reports, first two, then two more; and wisps of grayish smoke rose in the air and as quickly thinned away. Hurrying up the road and into the hollow, we joined the battery. Four 10.5 field pieces, set in pairs with thirty feet between, the battery was shelling a Russian position on the Bobr. Moving with a feverish ordered haste, the black striped gunners drew the empty copper jackets of the shrapnel, returned each to its oiled cloth case, and glancing toward an officer who was kneeling beside a tree, seemed waiting for something. I saw that the officer had a telephone clamped over his ear, and then two slender wires, which led from this to another tree, festooned from one to the other like the tendrils of a vine. He was furiously scribbling in a despatch book that rested on his knee and once he looked up to fling some words to the orderly standing by. Whatever they were, these words seemed to fire the orderly with a purpose, for, leaping toward the battery, he called: "Bischen rechts. Vierzig metres tiefer!”

For this information the impatient gunners seemed to be waiting. At once they broke into the same feverish motions at the guns, setting the hand on the shrapnel clock, so the burst would come "Verzig metres tiefer"— or forty meters further on — then the breeches snapped shut, and I saw them clap their hands to their ears — just as I had seen the boyish gunners of the 7.7s do in the West — while in salvos the guns roared and a multitude of specks filled the air, and there came back to us the loose rattling sounds of four shells, getting under way on their trip to the enemy's lines. In the unreal stillness that followed, I heard the telephone buzz and drone. "Schön!" called the officer to his battery. "Viele Russlanders tot!"

"Do they get back the results so quickly?" I asked Tzschirner. "How is it possible?"

"You would wish to see?" he asked. "I shall try."

He said something to the officer, who immediately telephoned something to whoever was at the end of the line. After a brief conference Tzschirner saluted the officer and came to us with a smile.

"We shall go now. We can see the battle — if you should like."

What a wonderful little officer he was! — a Miracle Man, who now was granting the one great desire. "What luck!" I was saying, "a battle!"

With his pistol drawn — for, "were we to meet Russians, they would not know who you were and I should have to protect you,"— Rittmeister Tzschirner followed the telephone wires, along the edge of the woods until skirting a frozen reed grown pond, he moved cautiously into the forest, pausing every few strides to listen, while the feeling came upon me that I was utterly hollow and my throat was dry as a board. Once we saw tracks in the snow, a wet red stain and a sleeve of a Russian army coat, which seemed to have been slashed off; once we heard a shrapnel pang behind us on the tops of the trees; and then there came no sound to break the crunch of our boots in the snow. As we proceeded I began to experience a curious sense of security in contrast to the passage through the forest that croaked with rifles. By the time we came out on a ledge that overhung a yellowish frozen swamp, I forgot myself in the interest of the drama before me. As we gazed across the kilometers of the Netta swamp toward where the Bobr lay among the weeds, a monstrous smoking serpent, the shrapnel puffed like the clouds of June, drifting with serene white beauty, while those who had stood near, lay stricken below.

I heard Tzschirner call to some one. From the great pine at our back there came an answer in German.

"You may go into the observing post," said Tzschirner. "Do you wish?"

And I climbed up a ladder that had been nailed on the pine and squeezed my way up through the floor of a little house, hidden amid the boughs of the tree; and there I found the captain of the battery, crouching, for the pine thatched house was tiny, and staring with his glasses through a hole in the wall.

"Come in," he said pleasantly, without looking around. "You will not find it comfortable, I fear. Will you excuse me, please, a moment? It is important. I must see."

While he made his observation, I noticed that a field telephone was strapped to his head and that a writing tablet covered with figures dangled from his belt. I watched him lower the glasses and speak quickly into the phone. "Pardon me," he said when he had finished talking, "it was very necessary."

And then he went on to explain that his battery was doing great damage to the Russians now; that the shrapnel was breaking over their trenches.

"You would like to see?" he said, unstrapping his binoculars.

And now I was looking upon the battle. I saw on the edges of the great swamp two villages in flames. I located the German columns issuing from the south Augustowo woods and breaking into extended order, spread across the snow toward Mogilnice, a multitude of creeping specks of brown; and toward the south, out of Grezedy, they seemed suddenly to spring up from the earth, as if a Cadmus had sown them, and roll in a cloud toward a point beyond the yellow weeds, where now all the shrapnel seemed bursting, as if by fantastic intent, making beautiful the sky with the fleecy clouds that brought death. And in the din of it all, I heard now the harsh pecking of machine guns, and that which had been a rolling gray-green mass of men became jagged and wavering; and then as suddenly the earth gave up another armed harvest, and the wavering mass of men was caught up in this and hurled forward. Suddenly for the first time that day the sun streaked through the greasy clouds, and the bayonets flashed it back. Was that roar a cheer? As the gray-green mass rolled on, and there came a mad clamor as if all the machine guns were pecking away at once. Then it was as if the mass, swept over like a mighty inundation, for you could hear their volleys no more — only the shrapnel, which seemed suddenly to have lengthened its range, panged ever more faintly away, wreathing a covert where fugitives might flee in a halo of pure smoke.

I felt my arms growing tired. The officer looked patient. I thanked him and climbed to the ground. Tzschirner, too, looked patient.

"I thought you would remain there for the night," he smiled.

"Was I long?" I asked, surprised.

"Half an hour," he said.

But it is not the battery of 10.5's, not the village in flames, not the death stalking amid the pines, not the storm of the Germans near Grezedy, that will be my memory of the battle of Augustowo Wald. Kather it will be of an old woman — an old woman who lives in a little hut on the big farm, to the right of the road as you enter Augustowo. As we started for the battle I saw this wizened little figure with her red shawl wrapped around her head peering from the shelter of the door, like a hen thrusting its head from a coop. Two hours later, while returning, I looked toward the hut again and saw the little woman who wore the red shawl. She stood as before, her head cautiously peering through the crack of the door, as if she feared that her body might present too big a mark for the battle fire. As I looked again when our motor snorted past, I realized that she stood there frozen in terror. At the noise of our coming she turned her face to the road and I saw that her mouth was open wide — as wide as my hand.


captured Russian officers


The Feast of Victory

As we drove into Suwalki, the muffled rolling of the guns followed us through the damp twilight. Stopping at the Europiski Hotel, a faded building of painted stones, we passed to the clicking of sentries' heels under a dripping archway, opening into a filthy, watery court. One saw bare-legged women, yoked with double pails, picking their way between the shiny automobiles of the staff, to a typhus menacing well beyond. On the right of the archway a flight of heavy stone steps ran up to a dingy drinking room; a tea room now, since the days of the vodka ukase. A greasy proletarian smirked a welcome from behind a counter, laden with platters of food, as sour as his smile. Excusing himself, Kittmeister Tzschirner opened the door to a larger room on the right, which we had seen open during the day, but always closed after six at night. Taking seats at one of the little round topped tables, I watched the German officers filing in, taking plates from a high stack, and helping themselves from the large platters on the counter, always paying the price without comment and in money, while the greasy proprietor rang a merry tune on his cash register, and contemptuous, no doubt, that the conquering Germans paid his outrageous prices without protest. I knew the man with the smirk was thinking that had the Russians been the conquerors they would not have bothered about the score. No, not the Russians. They would have had his daughters dance for them, and they would have eaten their fill in the name of the Czar. To give him full measure, they might have beaten him with the flats of their swords. Bah, these Germans, they were fools!

"Excellence von Eichorn," said Tzschirner, returning, "begs that you be his guest at dinner."

I could scarcely credit my good fortune. Dinner with the Commanding General of the 10th German army on the night of his triumph.

"We shall eat with Excellence and his staff — in celebration of the victory," added the Kittmeister.

This latter was a bit of gentle irony that for the moment I missed. I later learned that the room which always closed at six, was the dining hall of General von Eichorn and his staff. As we passed in with Tzschirner, the officers showed a polite curiosity and then bent over their food. "Amerikaner!" I heard some one say. Soon I was shaking hands with the hero of the battle of Augustowo Wald. A tall white haired man, who must have been over sixty ? whose face betokened more of the scholar than the soldier. The clear twinkling eyes and the fine thoughtful forehead, were those of a serene doctor of laws who was living out his life among the flowers of some pretty university town; and yet his jaw was a. buttress of steel and his mouth had a way of thinning in a straight grim line — a strange combination of the humanitarian and militant elements.

"I congratulate your Excellency" (what a feeble attempt it was!) "upon your wonderful victory." Telling me I was very kind, he then by some trick of his marvelous personality almost succeeded in making us feel that we, not he, were the heroes of the evening. While we were meeting different members of his staff, we learned what the Russian rout was. The entire Tenth Army under General Russky had been smashed. One hundred thousand men had been made prisoners; eighty thousand wounded, forty thousand dead, ten thousand fugitives. About three hundred and fifty cannons had been captured, with munition and with machine guns, so vast in numbers that there had not yet been time to count them. An entire army annihilated! The white haired man, who, sitting at the table at the end of the room, from which radiated other tables like those at a banquet, and he who was now raising a cup of tea, and smiling about him with gentle eyes, he had directed it all — the smashing of almost a quarter million men — making ninety thousand of them captive and killing or wounding or starving the rest.

And this was the feast in celebration of victory. In English and American newspapers I had read of the drunken revels with which the Barbarians made the nights of their triumphs more terrible. I had read that the first great drive into France fell short of Paris, because entire staffs had gone drunk; and then I recalled Rittmeister Tzschirner in extending Von Eichorn's invitation had added with genial irony — "in celebration of the victory."

And this was the feast, stewed hare and fried meat cakes, mashed potatoes and rice, all covered with a brown gravy and served all in the same big platters, a slice of black bread, tea, the sweetened whipped white of an egg, and one glass of a cheap Bordeaux for each man — that was the menu with which the battle of Augustowo Wald was celebrated.

I was busy at the hare when the Rittmeister said to us:

"Excellence von Eichorn would drink wine with you."

Tzschirner told us afterwards that it was a great honor.

"I know I made a mess of it," I lamented to him. "What should I have done?"

"Oh, no," said the Rittmeister. "You are American and we do not expect you to understand our military customs," which made me feel a little easier.

On my left, Captain Kluth, who early in the morning would leave for Augustowo to bring back four captured Russian generals, spoke English, like an American. Kluth, a merry eyed, dark skinned Rheinlander, smiled when he said he was sorry that they had no grape juice — and then he did not smile when he said:

"In America, you want peace. You could bring about peace if you would stop selling ammunition. To-day we captured so much ammunition that Russia would be in a bad way for more, were it not for America."

"Did you capture any American ammunition?" I asked him.

"Quantities," he replied, "and the trouble with it is that your ammunition is good. It kills more men."

And then came the champagne, not in honor of Von Eichorn or the victory, but in honor of the American guest.

"I have," smiled Captain Kluth, "two pints of champagne in my room. We shall drink together."

Knowing that in the Russia of to-day, that next to cleanliness wine is the rarest commodity, I begged Captain Kluth to keep his treasure hidden; but he would have none of it, and when he returned with the bottles he told me their story.

"When we occupied Suwalki," he said, "I asked an old Jew if he knew where there was any champagne. He said, no. I gave him two marks and he said, yes. From somewhere he produced these two pint bottles and wanted twenty marks for them. I gave him ten. It's enough for two pints of bad champagne, isn't it? "

In response to a query of mine, a captain of the telegraph corps gave me his story of the battle.

"This morning," he began, "one of our corps telegraphed here that they were without food. They got an answer that the Russians were in the woods with plenty of food. Two hours later they telegraphed again. 'We are enjoying our dinner,' was the message."

"Yes," added Captain Kluth, "and that corps was made up of volunteers. The Emperor sent word to them that they had battled as well as first line troops."

Then we talked of many things concerning the war, while one by one the officers of the staff, leaving the table, bowed and went to the rooms. During this unique feast there was frequent laughter at witty sallies, but no boisterousness; and we began to marvel at the cool, confident, almost commonplace way with which the staff was taking the victory. It lacked a few minutes of ten when General von Eichorn said good night to us and went to his room; and after he had gone we heard something about him, that his home was in Frankfort, that his record in maneuvers was one of unbroken success, that the outbreak of war had found him ill, and that this was his first campaign. And then at a hint from Rittmeister Tzschirner, I begged to be excused.

"These officers," he whispered, "have had much to tire them to-day and must be up very early."

I nodded. As we rose the officers did also, and the soldier cook came in to smile a good- by, and the soldier waiters passed platters in which each officer dropped a few coins.

"How much?" I asked Tzschirner.

"One mark eighty pfennigs. But you are not to pay."

And so was celebrated the battle of Augustowo Wald, one of the greatest victories of modern history, with a dinner that cost one mark eighty pfennigs a cover, or about forty cents.


The Strategy of the Battle

The battle of Augustowo Wald, which resulted in the annihilation of an entire Russian army on February 21, actually began on February 7, when Field Marshal Hindenburg secretly transported troops from Poland to East Prussia and new troops, young soldiers who were to get their baptism of fire were brought up from inner garrisons. The total reinforcements were five corps. Concentrating around Gumbinnen, the Tenth German army, under the command of Excellence von Eichorn, awaited the command to advance simultaneously with General von Buelow's army, which was making its preparations behind Lyck. Like a country fence, the Russian line zigzagged across East Prussia, south of the Memel, east of Ragnit, to Gumbinnen, wedging forward along the line of the Angerapp and back through the Masuren lakes to Lyck. Since mid-November the Russians had held this line, a third of the rich East Prussian farmland behind their crooked fence. And the fence must be smashed.

It wag on the ninth of February that General von Lowenstein's troops of General von Eichorn's army began the battle by making forced marches in the snow from Gumbinnen toward Pillkallen and Stallupönen. All that night snow fell and confident the Germans would not attack because they could not bring up their artillery, the Russians fell back on Eydtkuhnen (East Prussia) and Kibarty and Wirballen, just across the frontier. Here they ate from their field kitchens — something they had been unable to do in twenty-four hours, turned in for a good sleep and left the road without outposts. Why bother with outposts? The snow was sufficient; the Germans could never bring up their cannon on those roads. Apparently since the days of Napoleon, Russia had believed too foolishly that winter is always on its side.

Not being able to advance with their cannon, the Germans came up without it. Unsupported by a single gun, forcing their way through the downpour of snow, the German infantry, young soldiers in their first battle, swept down on Eydtkuhnen. On the road stood two batteries, totaling twelve howitzers and a large number of ammunition wagons. Up to within fifty meters of the Russian batteries the Germans were able to advance before being discovered. In a panic the Russians tried with carbine fire to cover the retreat of their guns, but storming the position the Germans shot down the horses in the traces and piling the dead and the living, blocked the road of escape. Supported now by the captured cannon, the Germans rushed on and there followed a night battle in the streets of Eydtkuhnen, back across the frontier to Russian Kibarty, where ten thousand prisoners were made. By midnight another division of Von Eichorn's army, which broke through at Pillkallen, had driven the Russians down into Wirballen, where the Russians, again surprised by similar forced marches through the snowstorm, fought desperately in the streets and surrendered.

Three hospital trains, one the Czarina's, another Prince Lievin's, were captured in Kibarty, and in them General von Lowenstein's staff found unexpectedly comfortable quarters for the night, and stores of delicacies like preserves and chocolate. Captured cars filled with boots and fur lined vests made the soldiers more comfortable, and when they found one hundred and ten Russian field kitchens filled with warm food, the joy of the young German regiments was complete. For two days they had been living on knapsack rations.

Now while this movement was turning the Russian flank backward on Wilkowiszky, and at the same time General Lieutenant Boulgakew's 20th Army Corps — its communications with the 10th corps cut — was retreating pell mell from Goldap to Suwalki, two other German movements were developing. From north of Ragnit as far as the Baltic and east of the line of the Memel, the Russians were being driven back across the frontier. This important operation protected Von Eichorn's flank and allowed him to sweep down from the north, enflelding the Russians on Suwalki. And with this General von Buelow's 8th army had rolled up the Russians at Lyck, driving them back on a terrific frontal attack to the strongly entrenched line of the Bobr. So they battled from February 10th to the 21st, the crumbling Russian right, composed of the entire Army of East Prussia, under Russky's command, was hurled down from the north against the victorious troops of Von Buelow on the south. The flying Russians pouring out of East Prussia, plunged headlong across the snowy open plains, into Suwalki, where they attempted to make a stand at Suwalki. Fighting as they ran down the road to Augustowo, they were met by Von Eichorn's army, which had marched from Augustowo 120 kilometers through snow in two days. Then Von Buelow, coming across from Lyck, made a junction with Von Eichorn, and pursued them into the forests and frozen swamps — an army of 240,000 men utterly annihilated, its few remaining corps still bravely fighting for seven days in the Augustowo Wald until on the day we saw them, the day the rout was completed, their scattered, hungry remnants laid down their arms — sixty thousand men.

The most important engagement of the war since Tannenberg,— the battle of Augustowo Wald will be written in history beside the charnel fields of other wars. A terrific blow for Russia, for while she can lose thousands of those sullen conscripts, she cannot stand the loss of 350 cannon and countless machine guns, rifles and stores. One hundred and twenty thousand Russians dead and wounded lay in the snows, while a hundred thousand of their comrades shuffled back to Germany under armed guard. Whether one looks at it with the cold eyes of the strategist or appalled at its horror, one can only think of Augustowo in terms of Waterloo, Gettysburg or Sedan.


a German supply column


The War on the Russian Frontier

In the East, the war is different. With Hindenburg's army against the Russians, I saw a kind of warfare utterly different from the solid lines of the West. To portray to the most minute detail what is daily transpiring there, I wrote down all the impressions gained in a single day and night. It was near Tauroggen, a stricken village across the Russian fron- tier that I saw this war of the East; it was at Tauroggen that Prince Joachim, the youngest of the Emperor's sons, led the Germans in the storm. The diary follows:

11:50 A. M., Tilsit

We have slept late, for we came to Tilsit in the small hours, a weary ride across the snow swept plains from Suwalki. Back there in the pine woods of Augustowo, Von Eichorn's young troops are hammering away at the new army that the Grand Duke has rushed to brace the crumbling front. But we have seen the fighting there, and this morning Rittmeister Tzschirner has promised to show me the war in the north, where the Memel line is protecting Von Eichorn's northern flank.

"We shall journey to one of our outposts in Russia," proposes Tzschirner, and his eyes light hopefully. "There may be fighting there."

Our motor goes barking through the pretty streets of Tilsit, which, by two hours' fighting in the fall, the German soldiers saved from the Russian torch. We cross the winding Memel, where a century ago Napoleon and the Czar met on a canopied pontoon to sign the Peace of Tilsit, while the hills behind us at Engelsberg bristled with the cannon of France; we cross vast river-plains shimmering with snow and mount to the pine fringed hills beyond, where now are strewn the soldiers of another Czar, who thought to march the road to Berlin; and chugging along a wayside strewn with their smashed entanglements, we come to Piculponen. Across the silent stretches of snow there comes the clear scattering cracks of carbines.

"A Russian patrol!" remarks Tzschirner, and he unbuttons his holster, while our red haired mechanician removes the caps from the rifles. "One can never tell," continues Tzschirner, "down which road their patrols may ride."

This puzzles me. "But how can they get through the German lines?" I asked him.

"There is no line, as in the West. We have driven the Russians from East Prussia, but there are many roads down which their patrols can sneak from a frontier village and run back to the troops."

"Could they come down this road?" I asked.


a Russian cossack


"We hold it to Tauroggen, where we must go, but we have no trenches from Tauroggen to Woynuta, and between these points are cross roads by which they could raid this highway. But if those shots we heard were Cossacks, I do not think they will come here. They are not brave, the Cossacks."

We see that beyond, to the left, an old brick church hides among the pines.

"We shall go there," suggests the Rittmeister. "Do you wish?"

I am wondering why we should waste time on a church when Russian patrols are shooting up the countryside, when Tzschirner says:

"This church is where Queen Louise of Prussia took refuge from Napoleon in 1807."

With the dutiful air that one assumes upon examining an historical landmark, we scramble up the bank toward the church.

"Walk slowly," the Rittmeister said, as we picked our way through a snow covered graveyard, "or you may not see and kick a grenat. They explode very easily."

At once we cease thinking of the church of Piculponen as Queen Louise's retreat. We are walking amid a charnel patch of opened graves and tombs that are the gaping craters of shells.

"The Russians tried to hold a position here," remarks Tzschirner.

We turn the corner of the church and see the Russian trenches dug between the graves. We see the great windowed walls shattered with shrapnel and shell. We gaze down into an awful hole where a grenat has plunged into a grave. The fragments of the casket are blown into the black mud, and there are other fragments too, fragments a chalky white, for the grave is old; and fragments of brown Russian coats. Nearby stands a white marble cross. "Ruhig sanft," it says, "Rest in Peace." The plains of the Memel, as we leave the churchyard, brooding in the white peace of the snow and under the Engelsberg lies Tilsit, vaguely as in a mirage, its slender steepled churches, the spires of a dream.

1:08 P. M.

We are climbing a long brown slope of road that has been dug from out of the drifting snow. A kilometer from Piculponen we turn out to pass a clanking column of gray transports, plodding on toward the front. Noticing a wagon loaded with barbed wire, I said to Tzschirner: "What will you do, make this position at Tauroggen permanent? The entanglements are going up."

"Ah, yes, for a time. It is best always to be prepared," and he smiles.

In this clear, cold air our exhaust is barking in loud exaggeration, but as we crest the hill near the huddled houses of Kamstpauriken, we hear a foreign sound. Somewhere across the snows rifles are firing.

"The Russian patrols are very active this morning," Tzschirner is saying.

"How far off is that shooting?" I ask.

"About a mile. On a road which is parallel to this."

"How many in a patrol?" I was thinking that we were five — Gelbricke, who must drive the car; Seyring, the red-haired mechanician, who could use a carbine; Tzschirner, with his Browning automatic; Corey, with a fountain pen, and I with a camera.

"They are very many, the Russians," Tzschirner was saying. "They never ride a patrol under twenty men. It is dangerous," continues Tzschirner with the air of one doing his duty by saying that, although I knew he was spoiling for a scrap.

"We may be surrounded; but I do not think. Naturlich, there is the chance. You wish?"

"Rittmeister, these Russians would have to use the road and we could see them coming in time."

"Oh, no," Tzschirner says quickly. "They often ride over the fields; it is very good for patrol, the country here."

"What grand little comforter," I murmur.

Tzschirner looks around and grins. "I will protect you."

I feel he has been quietly laughing at me, until from behind a distant snow capped ridge I see a black belch of smoke.

"They have burned a village," exclaims Tzschirner.

Together we run through the snow in the direction of the smoke, until a hillock gives us a vantage point of the surrounding country. We can see the flames now, streaking through the smoke and above the snowy hills, black clouds stain the cold blue sky.

"Remain here," calls Tzschirner, who is fumbling with his map. "It is little more than a kilometer from here to the village." And while he studies his map I watch the flames through my binoculars.

"That is the village of Robkojen," he presently announces. "See," and he points to it on the Staff map, where even the little summit upon which we stand is marked.

The glasses bring to me a huddle of cottages in flames. It reminds me of a moving picture I have seen — a Western picture with tiny horsemen on a distant ribbon of road. I can see the Russians; their uniforms are different from the brown coated droves I have seen. They are dark uniforms and the horsemen wear tall dark hats. Tzschirner has put his glasses on them. "Cossacks," he mutters. "Soon our men will be there."

Taking the hint, I swing the glasses down the road, that twists like a black swing through the snow to Robkojen. And even then I can discern a tiny movement. It grows to a rush of horses. "They are coming!"

The finish of a Derby has not this thrill. Can the Germans come up fast enough? Through the smoke I can see a sudden panic. Between two flaming cottages a horse is pivoting; one seems to be rearing. The Germans are drawing nearer. "They are Uhlans!" And then as in a stampede there breaks from behind the smoking village a line of horses that go galloping in black silhouette across the snow. The Uhlans are taking up the pursuit.

Tzschirner's air is one of intense disgust.

"I say, you the Cossacks would not fight. They ended their fighting when they burned the village. They always sneak across the frontier, burn the homes of a few poor people, terrify old men, women and their children by killing a few, and then running like dogs."

"Do they always run, Rittmeister?"

"Immer, unless they are greater than our cavalry by six to one," with a sneer, he adds. "I think Russia needs them best for murdering the Jews."

Behind us the dried cottages are flaming like tinder and across the fields from Robkojen a woman, her arms filled with bundles, and leading a child, sinks almost to her knees in the snow. It seems as if she has fled a hell of fire to gain an empty world.

1:45 P. M.

"Only a few days ago the Russians ran down this road, taking their dead with them."

We have caught up with the awful refuse of battle. Near Szillutten we see that which no longer horrifies — the slain dead; and then the bloody road of retreat, where German shells split the Russian ranks, and lumped the road with things in brown that only the wheels of the heavy guns can flatten down; a furrowing of frozen ruts, shining with the pounding of transports, the packed snow broken, here and there, to reveal stiff objects, bits of brown cloth matted with flesh.

Burned Laugszargen shows its black walls, and as we cross the frontier we see the red and black striped white posts lying shattered in a ditch beside. And it seems a symbol of these days when frontiers seem but things to be smashed. We are passing through Posheruni, the silent houses echoing back our motor in a hollow, dismal sound.

We enter a woods, the tall pines crowding close to the road; and it seems as though the road has been the path of a storm, as if lightning has struck one upon another of the trees here, for torn white they seem to have fallen into each other's branches, leaning like stricken things, while finding those whom they sought, the shells have daubed them red and flung up bits of torn cloth into their shattered boughs, there to hang, perhaps, as a signal that the black winged birds might see. And passing through the forest of death, we come upon a German battery, hidden behind mounds of clay that are covered with evergreen. The soldiers are fussing about the long, gray barrels. And we have not gone half a kilometer further, when we smile at the guile of this German army; for there in a field to the right of the road is a dummy battery. We count four black logs lying between four sets of farm cartwheels, and each with its little circular shield of earth — a shield deliberately built low, though, so that from afar the Russian observer would not fail to see what seemed to be a gun; and signaling his batteries waste thereafter the ammunition. The road slopes down toward the sunken stream of the Eserina. The burned bridge lifts its skeleton posts in a warning. We get out and see that the German engineers have bent the road to the right, leading it down over a bed of wire-lashed saplings, across a string of planks, and thence up over more dirt-covered saplings to the main road again.

"It is better," suggests Tzschirner, "that we leave the auto." And as the motor bounces over the lashed saplings and takes the bridge, a company hurrying to Tauroggen comes swinging on its heels; for we are getting into Russia now, and near the line of battle, and there can be no delay. We hurry after the car.

"Please, that bridge," and Tzschirner indicates the charred piles; "it saved the Russians. By burning it, they delayed our advance an hour."

"Your engineers changed the course of the road, bending it around that burning bridge, in one hour?"

"Oh, yes," and Tzschirner is almost apologetic; "our pioneers would have finished the work in much less than an hour, but the Russians fired on them with shrapnel," and then as if remarking the weather, he added, "Fifteen were killed."

The car chugs on. A great blue bulbed cupola shows above the trees and we rattle across the Jura.

"The Russians tried to destroy this bridge, too," Tzschirner is explaining, "but we came too fast for them and drove them up into Tauroggen, where they endeavored to stand." Our motor is panting up the hill past the Russian church and turns into the village of Tauroggen.

"We put the artillery on them," continues Tzschirner, and we pass rows of narrow, squalid houses, chipped with shrapnel, " and they took Tauroggen by storm. There was street fighting and then, picking up their dead, they ran with them through the village, across the field to the woods," and Tzschirner waves his hand down the road toward a patch of pines, "and they're in the woods now."

We turn into a muddy street where the fighting must have been hot, for the way is littered with cartridge belts and guns and on a pale blue picket fence Russian accouterments dangle like unclean things hung out in the sun.

"If you will excuse me," says the Rittmeister, "I shall speak with Ober-Lieutenant Hoffman."

We find Ober-Lieutenant Hoffman quartered in a clean looking hut, distinguished by a shingle, hand-lettered with that official looking KOMMANDO. After he has conversed with the Ober-Lieutenant, Tzschirner brings him into the motor and we drive through Tauroggen in the direction the Russians have fled. We have put the last outlying house behind us and at a suggestion from Ober-Lieutenant Hoffman the motor is stopped. "It is better," explains Tzschirner, "that the auto remain here. It gives too large a target."

With a strange feeling, almost of superiority, for not thirty feet ahead, what appears to be a first line trench is filled with soldiers, we walk towards them down the road. Over there, a quarter of a mile, across the barren field where the Russians dragged their dead, are the woods, and skulking there are the Russians — the soldiers maintain a nervous vigil. Not a sound breaks the strain, only the clatter of axes, as far to the right the soldiers are clearing a zone for the enfilading fire of the machine guns. And as we walk past the trench and approach the last outpost this tension is communicated to us. We walk through the barricade — a ladder tangled with wire, that slides between two broken carts on either side of the road. We scarcely notice the two sentries who walk twenty paces from the barricade toward the woods, wheel and return. We are watching the woods — that great green semicircle across the field where the Russians are hiding.

Apparently that thought never occurs to Tzschirner. Being a good soldier, he does not indulge his imagination when he is in uniform. He and Ober-Lieutenant Hoffman are walking along, chatting easily as they might on some fine February day along the Linden. As the sentries stride by I catch the words, "Wagner ist mehr wichtig" and a little excited, the sentry with the beard cries: "Quatch! Strauss ist wunderbar!" Apparently to decide the merits of Wagner and Strauss is more absorbing than the Russians.

A little bewildered, I walk on. Down where the road divides the woods into a limitless vista of green, I think I see something move. It is about 600 meters away and I focus my glass. Four Russian soldiers sitting on a log, a little fire, and in the middle of the road something that, while indistinguishable, suggests a menace. And even as I watch I see a tree sway and I can hear it fall as it crashes across the road, falling like a barricade.

"Look! Look! The Russians!"

And the Rittmeister turns with an amused smile. How commonplace are the Russians, anyway! How incidental to those officers who have seen so many dead that even the living are not to be feared.

"In the middle of the road," I announced, "there is a machine gun. It is pointed this way."

Tzschirner and Ober-Lieutenant Hoffman are discussing some military problem. Tzschirner begins to trace in the road with his sword some formation that is beyond my pen.

"Those Russians," I am saying without putting down the glasses, "appear to be leaving their seats on the log. I think they are showing sudden interest in the gun."

Demonstrating his problem in the mud, Tzschirner turns to me.

"This is the road to Riga. Follow it and we reach that fortress. As we are now midway between the German and Russian lines, I do not think it wise that we go further. Of course, if you would care to storm the Russians in the woods, we shall go on. Do you wish?"

I do not wish. Nervy little Tzschirner, one of the gamest men to straddle a horse in this war, has taken us quite far enough. We begin our walk back to the German lines, turning our backs with difficulty upon those silent woods.

"If the Russians should fire," Tzschirner says seriously, "throw yourself at once on the road. The balls will pass over you."

A simple remedy, indeed!

"Strauss," the passing sentry is objecting, "is all chaos."

"Why not? " his bearded comrade defends. "Salome is the music of destruction."

Glancing back toward the woods, I see a flock of black birds fly leisurely across the field, and alighting, wait. Wait for what? Had the Ober-Lieutenant told them that darkness would bring the Russian attack?

"And now, if you like, we shall go to my quarters," says the Ober-Lieutenant, to whom Tzschirner has delivered me. "I am sorry you will not find them very comfortable."

It is as ever, the diffidence of these Prussian officers, putting you a little ill at ease. Self- consciously assuring the Ober-Lieutenant that to be comfortable is my last desire, we walk down a lane of the bluish walled cottages, turning in at the frame structure which is denoted headquarter«. As we enter a rather barren room, three orderlies, who appear to be transcribing reports, briefly stiffen in their chairs and go on writing. The gray, iron- bound officers' chest by the window makes a good seat and the Ober-Lieutenant in telling me that having had conscience, many of the natives of Tauroggen fled with the coming of the Germans, leaving their loot behind.

"Loot!" I interrupted. "I do not understand."

"Pardon me, but I forgot," and the Ober-Lieutenant called an orderly. "Here in Tauroggen," he said after consulting the report, "we recovered household belonging to the German frontier villages of Laugszargen, Meddiglauken and Augswilken."

"No matter how fast his flight," I observe, "the Russian soldier still has time to transport his loot."

The Ober-Lieutenant smiles. "But in this time it was not the soldiers. We have learned that the civilians of Tauroggen followed the Russian soldiers across the frontier, stealing from houses, and then sneaking back with their booty to Tauroggen."

Clicking his heels in a salute a young lieutenant comes in. He and the Ober-Lieutenant begin speaking; such hurried German is too much for me. I note the monocle the young lieutenant is wearing. What affectation on the firing line! Clicking his heels to the Lieutenant, bowing to me, the young lieutenant hurries out. The Ober-Lieutenant is drumming his fingers on the table top.

"Ober-Lieutenant," I remark with a smile, "will that young lieutenant wear his monocle if there's a battle?"

The Ober-Lieutenant's gravity dispels a jest. "I imagine he will always wear that monocle," he says. "The Lieutenant had his eye shot out in Belgium." He reaches for a map. "Please pardon me," he smiles. Quite distinctly now I can hear the shots.

"I had hoped," says the Ober-Lieutenant, studying the greenish black dotted patch that means on his map, the woods, “that there would be no engagement here until to- morrow. I wanted to finish our entanglements to-day."

I wonder if our going past the outposts has brought forth the Russians' nervous fire. That seems also to have occurred to the Ober-Lieutenant.

"They might have thought that we were reconnoitering for a night attack," and then abruptly, "Let us go out."

As we pass between the houses a bullet goes snaggering off a roof. It would seem to be a last wild shot for as we turn up the road to the outpost, everything is still. In the little cemetery to the left of the barricade, I see soldiers, squatting behind the tombstones; the great wooden cross suggests an incongruous peace. Calling the sentries who but a time ago, we heard discussing Wagner and Strauss, the Ober-Lieutenant taxes them with questions. They salute and hurry behind the cart, which they have turned blocking the road. "Any wounded?" calls the Ober-lieutenant down the trench.

"Nur Russlaenders!" The soldiers laugh and slip fresh clips into their guns.

"Alles ruhig," the Ober-Lieutenant is saying as we walk along the line, apparently scornful of the Russians that the pines will not let him see. "Only nervousness, that shooting."

"You do not believe there will be an attack?"

He shakes his head. "I think not."

But across the belt to the woods, I see the black winged birds, slowly flying and waddling over the ground.

7:30 P. M.

During dinner the Ober-Lieutenant has avoided all shop talk. No such food as in the West, here — just a stew of white beans and beef and thick bread, carved off a big black loaf. The thoughtful looking Colonel produces a flask of cognac, and we are finishing with cigarettes, when an under officer reports.

"Both lights are in position," I heard the Colonel say and dismissing the under officer, he seems absorbed in the end of his cigarette. In this barren room, where the candles are scattering strange shadows on the unpainted walls you become conscious of an unspoken army. The Ober-Lieutenant who is talking Nietzsche with me; seems not to have his mind upon it; when appealed to, the Colonel joins in with monosyllables. The orderlies who this afternoon were making reports, are gone but in the corner by the window, a soldier sits with a field telephone in his lap; slowly he writes upon a pad.

"In America," the Ober-Lieutenant is saying, "you have taken too seriously our academic thinkers. Will you believe it, that until we heard about the book from England, not a thousand of my countrymen had read Bernhardi. Suppose we were to judge America by some of the things published there?"

I can see his point. A mad buzz from the telephone jerks us up with a start. With the air, of something expected, fulfilled, the Colonel rubs the fire off his cigarettes.

"What is it?" he calls.

The soldier's manner is decisive. "Patrols report men massing from the woods in the road."

Gulping down the cognac, the Colonel gives a detailed order; the soldier telephones it to some one at the outpost. - The Ober-Lieutenant looks inquiring. "You would like to see?" he asks. As we hurry out of the room, a soldier with a rifle, runs down the street. It is dark. The low roofed houses are smothered in a thickening loom of woods and sky. In a window a candle burns but to the end of the street it is dark. The door of the last house is open and I hear a mumbling monotone of prayer. The flash of a pocket torch shows an ancient Hebrew kneeling in the open door. From his shoulders hang a brown vestment of prayer and caught full, his patriarchal, wrinkled face seems almost divine in the halo of the torch. On the heavy air a rifle cracks.

We are running forward. From the woods come a scattered sound, as of monstrous frogs croaking in the night; a bullet sucks in a whistle as it passes by. To the left of the road, behind the little cemetery, is a hut where we will be reasonably safe. Leaving the road and running along the edge of the trees, so as to keep the hut between us and the direct fire we press on. I never knew the sound of bullets could so aid one's speed.

The firing has become general now and as we peer around the edges of the hut ahead and to our right, I can hear the soldiers moving in the trench. It is too dark to see much. Nearby I can discern crouched shadows running through the night and above the place of graves, the great brown cross makes its stiff gesture of peace.

Where are the Russians? Way down among the trees, I see the occasional flashes of their fire. But this is only an exchange of shots. The Germans are not bothering to reply, only with spasmodic shots, I think of the black winged birds; has the noise frightened them away?

Still there is a tension that seems to be tightening. Down in the trench I see the flash of an officer's lamp; it is like a firefly. Other fireflies, glimmer toward the right of the line, flashing and going out. Somewhere in the darkness a young voice laughs nervously.

Where are the Russians? They may be crossing the open field for from the woods the shots no longer come. Everything is silent, everything but the orders that are being given in hushed but distinct tones — almost you think, as though the damp wind might pick up some secret and bear it to the Russian hordes. Where are they? This silence seems interminable.

And then one hears the faint scuffling of their feet; and out of the silence of the night comes a roar as of animals let loose, and across the fields we can see a vague moving mass. They are firing now but they are making as much noise with their voices as with their guns. To hoarse throaty yells they storm up the road. It occurs to me that they are like the Chinese whose idea of war is making a noise. Their bullets are raining through the pines and falling like hail on the houses beyond.

"Why don't your men open fire?"

"It is too soon," whispers the Ober-Lieutenant. Why did he have to whisper?

And then I see the Russians. I see them in the great blinding flash of dusty light. I see them revealed as pausing, blinking things, to whom the searchlights point with fingers of pitiless white. I see them — while all about me becomes the clamor of guns — stumble and fall; they stagger and crawl as if the long dusty flashes were lightning, striking them down; and wherever the white fingers point, there death comes; and their hoarse throaty shouts, become the wails of death; and that open belt between the pines becomes lumpy with men, while the night grows horrid with the rattle of rifles and the quick croaking beat of the guns.

They are being slaughtered out there; they are as bewildered as animals, blinking, then dying, in the glare of the lights that they knew not could come. And now the lights are throwing their dusty glimmer on the distant trees.

"They are retreating!" The Ober-Lieutenant still talks in a whisper.

And, as sweeping this way and that, making their monstrous gestures over the moaning field, the searchlights hold up as targets the scattering Russian retreat; as one after another shadowy form I see cross a beam of light only to fall, and the crash of the rifles seems to have become an unceasing din and in the sweeping flashes of white I see the piles upon the field.

The Ober-Lieutenant gives his opinion of it. "Very fine," he says. "There are many dead." And then, as if after all, this were the important thing, he adds:

"To-morrow, I think we can build our entanglements."

7:00 A. M.

I have slept little. All night I thought I heard groans from afar. Toward dawn I imagine I hear a screech, but of course it cannot be that. When we take coffee in the candlelight, the Colonel seems to have lost the distraction he showed at dinner. He laughs and jokes. It is rapidly growing light when I climb up on the transport that is to take me to Tilsit. Down over the pines, the black winged birds are flying — a screech? One wonders.


German cavalry passing through a Russian town


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