26 JULY 1919, Page 15



TEE war was won by the co-operation of all the Allies by land and sea. Yet, just as the British Navy was the solid core of the Allied naval forces, so the British Army was in 1918 the spear- head of the Allied military forces, piercing the enemy's line where he deemed himself invulnerable and driving him back in hopeless defeat. To show "the overwhelming and decisive influence" of the British Army in the last stage of the war is the purpose of Mrs. Humphry Ward's profoundly interesting new book. In England's Effort, published three years ago, she described how, when taken unawares by the German declara- tion of war, we created new armies and began to equip them with guns and aeroplanes on a prodigious scale. She has now sketched, with assistance from Sir Douglas Ilaig's Staff, the achievements of our new armies in the decisive campaign of last year. We are by tradition a modest people, but we should be unfair to ourselves and most unjust to our gallant soldiers if we were to depreciate, or to let others depreciate, the part played by the British Army in the final victory. France nobly bore the brunt of the struggle for the first two years of the war, while our armies were being formed. America would have taken the lead this year if the war had been prolonged over another winter. But last year, when France was greatly exhausted, while America was not ready to throw her full strength into the war, it rested with Sir Douglas Haig and his troops to withstand the enemy's most furious attacks, and then to deliver the principal counter- strokes against the Hindenburg Line which destroyed the enemy's last hope. In saying this we do not underestimate the value of French and American co-operation, nor do we forget the share of Italy in the campaign. We merely lay stress on the facts which are patent to all military students of the war, in order to show that the great national effort, which enabled the British Empire to enlist 8,654,000 men in the various armies and to keep them adequately supplied, was justified by success. Mrs. Ward has done well to make this clear in her admirable book, * Fields of Victory. By Mrs. numphry Ward. Loudon; ntachin.oua 176. 6d. nat.; She reproduces one document of surpassing interest. It is a highly confidential chart kept by the British General Staff to record in a graphic form the length of the British front, the British fighting strength, the number of guns, the casualties, and the number of prisoners taken for each month from January, 1916. When one has grasped the simple principles on which this chart is based, one may follow on it the whole later course a the war. The fighting strength rapidly mounted from 470,000 in January, 1916, to 680,000 in the following July. The red line of casualties shot up then, in the battle of the Somme to 45,000 in July and again in August. But the line of fighting strength, after sagging through the long battle, again mounted up until on the eve of Vimy Ridge in April, 1917, it touched a maximum of 760,000. The heavy casualties of Vimy and of Bullecourt in May-40,000 in each month—brought down the fighting strength, but reinforcements filled most of the gaps caused by the long and bitter fighting in Flanders. Not till October, 1917, did the line of fighting strength begin to descend for the last time. Then, in November, 1917, it fell sharply, with the hurried despatch of five divisions to Italy, and in March, 1918, when the British line had been lengthened by the inclusion ef the French strip south of St. Quentin, the fighting strength was no more than 620,000. A sudden and ominous fall in the line, coupled with a still more ominous rise of the red casualty line up to 80,000, marks the German offensive or " sortie " of March, 1918, followed, after a hurried reinforcement, by another fall and another rise in casualties to 60,000 for the enemy often- iive on the Lys. Our fighting strength in May, 1918, fell to 540,000, but the casualties fortunately declined, and reinforce- ments brought up the total to 560,000 on the eve of the great August offensive. The progress of that last battle is indicated by the steady fall of the line of fighting strength to 465,000 on Armistice Day, by the mounting up of the red casualty line— to 45,000 for the battles cf Bapaume, the Scarpe, and Peronne, and to 40,000 for the breaking of the Hindenburg Line—and by the sudden and significant rise of the line indicating prisoners to a point far above the casualty line. The British Army was weakening in numbers during the last three months, but it was inflicting such enormous losses on the enemy—far exceeding in prisoners alone the total British casualties—that its victory was assured. In the last month our casualties fell to 3,100, but we captured 19,500 Germans. The enemy's spirit was broken. The great German military machine had ceased to work. There is one other feature of this chart which we may mention. The dotted line indicating the number of our heavy and siege guns is always rising, at first rapidly and then steadily to the end. In January, 1916, we had less than 400 big guns ; in November, 1918, we had 2,214. The work of the gun-founders and of the shell-makers on the "home front" was of immense value.

Mrs. Ward's spirited sketch of last year's operations elucidates the lesson of the chart, and relates to it the fine achievements ef the French from the Somme to the Argonne and of the Ameri- cans in the Argonne and on the Meuse. She quotes an instructive paper by a Staff officer stating that, while the Higher Com- mand felt reasonably sanguine about the attack east of Amiens en August 8th, it was not quite sure that the Bapaume offensive, which began on August 21st, would be instantly successful. Still more critical was the attack on the Hindenburg Line at the end of September. If it had been repulsed, the enemy would have had time to recover his spirits and organize a new resistance. But the success of the attack was decisive. "After this battle, cur chief anxieties lay rather in the ability of our supply system to keep pace with our Armies than in any resistance that the enemy could offer." Mrs. Ward shows how the different branches ef the Service contributed to this result, while the Navy in the background assured the safety of the Armies. To illustrate the importance of the gun in modern war, she says that in the Flanders battles of the autumn of 1917 we had at one time eighty-Ave gunners engaged for every hundred infantry—a proportion which would have amazed Napoleon. She tells us that the wireless branch of " Signals " alone grew from almost nothing to a force of 520 officers and 6,200 men. The Air Force started the war with less than 2,000 Army officers and men and ended it with nearly 300,000. Mrs. Ward pays a well-deserved tribute to the Labour Corps, nearly 350,000 strong last year, which often had to work under fire, when building railways and roads up to newly captured positions, or con- structing the defences on which our men retreated slowly from St. Quentin. She devotes some fascinating pages to the tank, the new engine of war which British ingenuity and skill evolved, and which the British soldier handled with astonishing courage and cleverness. Mrs. Ward says that the British Army never had more than four hundred tanks at any given time during the last three months of the war, and that they "travelled like a circus from army to army" to perform their amazing feats. The enemy, it seems, was misled by the failure of the tanks to overcome the Flanders mud in the autumn of 1917, and even after the First Battle of Cambrai the German Higher Com- mand professed to despise the new British arm. Mrs. Ward says that the enemy never had at any one time more than fifteen German tanks, with twenty-five British tanks which had been captured and repaired. They used them successfully in one action, at Villers Bretonneux in April, 1918. General Ludendorff was undeceived in the following July, when tanks opened the counter-offensive, and still more on August 8th, when, according to his own explanation of the defeat, "the troops were surprised by the massed attack of tanks and lost their heads when the tanks suddenly appeared behind them, having broken through under cover of fog and smoke." But it was then too late for the enemy to manufacture more tanks and train their crews, and the anticipated duels between British and German "land-ships" did not take place. Towards the end the mere sight of a tank—even if it were only an unarmed carrier—sufficed to set the demoralized enemy running away.

We must not forget, however, that all our mechanical appli- ances would not have served us so well had it not been for the incomparable British infantry, who plodded on steadily, through incredible hardships and infinite perils, and. were never dis- heartened. Mrs. Ward pays them the eloquent tribute which is their due. The advance of the 46th Division, for example, on September 29th last on the St. Quentin Canal near Bellenglise, when under heavy fire it descended the steep bank, crossed the deep water, climbed up the further bank, and stormed the enemy's lines, was one of the most wonderful exploits in the history of the British Army—to be ranked with the storin of Badajoz, the charge of the infantry at Albuera, the stubborn stand at Inkerman, and other deeds that are immortal.