War Can be Won on the Western Front, Says General Haig Battle of the Somme Has Placed the Result Beyond All Doubt
Main Stay of Central Powers Smashed in Somme Offensive
General Haig, in Review of Operations since July 1, Says German Western Armies Were Only Saved From Complete Collapse and Decisive Defeat by a Protracted Period of Unfavourable Weather - British Commander Believes War Can Be Won on Western Front - High Praise for Work of Tanks - Defends Use of Gas
(Canadian Press Despatch)
"The total number of prisoners taken in the Somme battle between July 1and November 8 is just over 38,000, including over 800 officers. During the same period we captured twenty-nine heavy guns, ninety-six field guns and field bowitacres, 136 trench mortars and 314 machine guns."
--General Haig's review--
London, Dec. 29 - The battle of the Somme is pictured as a sweeping triumph for allied arms in a report by Gen. Sir Douglas Haig, which was issued to-night, and which covers operations from July 1 to November 18. Gen. Haig terms the battle a triumph, in which the German western armies were only saved from complete collapse and decisive defeat by a protracted period of unfavourable weather, which prevented the Anglo-French forces from taking full advantage of their successful advance. He declares that nevertheless it was a triumph which proved beyond doubt the ability of the allies to overthrow Germany "when the time comes." The British Commander shows himself a firm believer in the doctrine that the allies can win the war on the western front.
Result Beyond Doubt
"I desire to add a few words as to future prospects," he says at the close of the despatch, which covers sixteen pages. "The enemy's power has not yet been broken, nor is it yet possible to form an estimate as to how long the war will last. The Somme battle has placed beyond doubt the result. The German army is the mainstay of the Central powers, and a full half of that army, despite all the advantages of the defensive and supported by the strongest fortifications, suffered defeat on the Somme this year. Neither victors nor vanquished will forget this, and, although bad weather has given the enemy a respite, there are many thousands in his ranks who will begin the new campaign with little confidence in their ability to resist our assaults or overcome our defense.
More Training Wanted
"Various possible alternatives on the western front had been studied and discussed by Gen. Joffre and myself, and we were in complete agreement as to the front to be attacked by the combined French and British armies. Preparations for the offensive had made considerable progress, but the date was dependent on many doubtful factors.
"Subject tot he necessity of commencing operations before the summer was too far advanced, and with due regard to the general situation, I desired to postpone my attack as long as possible. The British armies were growing in numbers and the supply of munitions was steadily increasing, but a large proportion of the officers and men were still far from being fully trained, and the longer the attack was deferred the more efficient they would become.
Drive's Threefold Aim.
"On the other hand, the Germans were continuing to press their attacks at Verdun, and both there and on the Italian front, where the Austrian offensive was gaining, it was evident that the strain might become too great unless timely action was taken. Accordingly I agreed that the attack should be launched whenever the general situation required it, with as great a force as was available.
"On the Italian front the situation was difficult, but we gained thereby and a movement of German troops fromt he western to the eastern front resulted. This did not lessen the pressure on Verdun and therefore it was the combined French and British movement would not be postponed. The object was threefold: to relieve pressure on Verdun; to assist our allies in the other theatres of war by stopping any further transfer of German troops from the western front; to wear down the strength of the forces opposed to us."
Foe's Forces Worn Down
"The desperate struggle for the possession of Verdun had invested that place with moral and political importance out of all proportion to its military value. Its fall would probably have been proclaimed a great victory for our enemy, and would have shaken the faith of many in our ultimate success. The failure of our enemy to capture it was a severe blow to his prestige. Information obtained both during and progress of the Somme battle and since the suspension of active operations, has fully established the effect of our offensive in keeping the enemy's main forces tied to the western front.
"In November the strength of the enemy in the western theatre was greater than in July, notwithstanding the abandonment of the offensive at Verdun. It is therefore justifiable to conclude that the Somme offensive not only relieved Verdun, but held large forces which would otherwise have been employed against our allies in the east.
"The third great object of the allies' operation son the Somme was the wearing down of the enemy's powers of resistance. Any statement as to the extent to which this has been attained must depend in some degree on estimates. The enemy's looses in men and material were very much larger than ours, while morally the balance of advantage on our side is still greater. During the period under review a steady degression in the morals of the enemy has been noticed. Many of them, it is true, fought with the greatest determination even in the latest encounters, but the resistance gradually became more feeble. To-ward the end of the operations, when the weather unfortunately broke, there is no doubt that his power of resistance very seriously diminished."
Bad weather sets in
In the course of his detailed study of the operations, Gen. Haig frequently touches on the handicap of the weather. In mid-October came the allies' great chance to rally and break through the German lines.
"We had at last," he says, "reached the last stage at which a successful attack might reasonably be expected to yield much greater results than anything we had as yet attained. The resistance of the troops opposed to us had seriously weakened in the course of recent operations and there is no reason to suppose that the effort required was not within our powers. Unfortunately at this juncture very unfavourable weather set in and continued with scarcely a break during the remainder of October and the early part of November. Poor visibility seriously interfered with the work of the artillery, and constant rain turned the mass of hastily dug trenches into channels of deep mud. The country roads, broken by countless shell craters, rapidly became implausable, making the supply of food stores and ammunition a serious problem. These conditions multiplied the difficulties of attack to such an extent that it was impossible to exploit the situation and we were unable to take advantage."
Praise for the tanks
Gen. Haig's report contains frequent mention of the work of the "tanks." One example follows:
"Gueudecourt was carried, after protecting trenches to the west had been captured, in an interesting fashion. In the early morning a tank stared down a portion of a trench held by the enemy from the northwest, firing its machine guns and followed by bombers. The enemy could not escape, as we held the trench at the southern end. At the same time an airplane flew down the length of the trench, also firing its machine gun at the enemy. The enemy finally waved white handkerchiefs in token of surrender, and when this was reported by the airplane, the infantry accepted the surrender of the garrison. Besides a great number of the enemy killed, we made prisoner of eight officers and 363 men. Our total casualties were five."
Gas and Liquid Fire.
The General pays a tribute to the work of the various departments of the service during the battle. The tunnel companies have done excelled work. Discussing the use of gas and liquid fire, he says: "The employment by the enemy of gas and liquid flames compelled us not only to discover ways to protect our troops, but also to devise means of using the same instruments. Great fertility of invention has been shown, and great credit is due to the special personnel employed for the rapidity with which these new arms have been developed and perfected for the devotion to duty displayed in difficult and dangerous service shown by our inventors. Our experience of the numerous experiments and trials necessary before gas and flame could be used, and of the great preparations to be used, and of the special training required for the personnel employed shows that the employment of such methods by the Germans was not the result of discipline, but had been prepared deliberately. Since we have been compelled in self-defense to use similar methods it is satisfactory to recognize on the evidence of prisoners, documents captured and our own observations that the enemy has suffered heavy casualties from our gas attacks while the means of protection adopted by us proved thoroughly successful."