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In_the_Rut_of_War

6 THE SATURDAY EVENING POST January 2, 1915 At a G l's Headquarters Before Laon Watching Shells Fall at the Battle Front Two Mlles Away upon the stubborn forts which opposed their further progress. From the viewpoint of the Germans the consequences to the foe must amply have justified the trouble and the cost. For where a 42-centimeter shell falls it does more than merely alter landscape; you might almost say it alters geography. In the open field, where he must aim his gun with his own eye and discharge it with his own finger, I take it that the Kaiser's private soldier is no great shakes as a marksman. The Germans themselves begrudgingly admitted the French excelled them in the use of light artillery. There was wonderment as well as reluctance in this concession. To them it seemed well-nigh incredible that any nation should be their superiors in any department pertaining to the practice of war. They could not bring themselves fully to understand it. It remained as much a puzzle to them as the unaccountable obstinacy of the English in refusing to be budged out of their position by displays of cold steel, or to be shaken by the volleying, bull-like roar of the German charging cry, which at the first the Germans had counted upon as being almost as potent as the bayonet for instilling a wholesome fear of the German war god into the souls of their foes. The Work of the Forty.Twos WHILE giving the Frenchmen credit for knowing how to handle and serve small fieldpieces, the Germans nevertheless insisted that their infantry fire or their skirmish fire was as deadly as that of the Allies, or even deadlier. This I am not prepared to believe. I do not think the German is a good rifle shot by instinct, as the American often is, and in a lesser degree, perhaps, the Englishman is too. But where he can work the range out on paper, where he has to do with mechanics instead of a shifting mark, where he can apply to the details of gun firing the exact principles of arithmetic, I am pretty sure that the German is as good a gunner as may be found on the Continent of Europe to-day. This may not apply to him at sea, for he has neither the sailor traditions nor the inherited naval crafts- manship of the English; but judging by what I have seen I am quite certain that with the solid earth beneath him and a set of figures before him and an enemy out of sight of him to be damaged he is in a class all by himself. A German staff officer, who professed to have been present, told me that at Manonvilla —so he spelled the name—a 42-centimeter gun was fired one hundred and forty-seven times from a distance of 14,000 meters at a fort measuring 600 meters in length by 400 meters. in breadth—a very small target, indeed, considering the range—and that investigation after the capture of the fort showed not a single one of the one hundred and forty-seven shots had been an outright miss. Some few, he said, hit the walls or at the bases of the walls, but all the others, he claimed, had bull's-eyed into the fort itself. Subsequently, on subjecting this tale to the acid test of second thought I was somewhat inclined to doubt what the staff officer had said. To begin with, I didn't understand how a 42-centimeter gun could be fired one hundred and forty-seven times without its wearing out, for I have heard often that the larger the bore of your gun and the heavier the charge of explosives which it carries, the shorter is its period of efficiency. In the second place, it didn't seem possible after being hit one hundred and forty-seven times with 42-centimeter bombs that enough of any fort of whatsoever size would be left to permit of a tallying-up of separate shots. Ten shots properly placed should have razed it; twenty more should have blown its leveled remainder to powder and scattered the powder. However, be the facts what they may with regard to this case of the fort of Manonvilla —if that be its proper name—I am prepared to speak with the assurance of an eyewitness concerning the effect of the German fire upon the defenses of Maubeuge. What I saw at Liege I have described in a previous paper of this series. What I saw at Maubeuge was even more convincing testimony, had I needed it, that the Germans have a 42-centimeter gun, and that, given certain favored conditions, they know how to handle it effectively. Why they have not employed it more in their recent operations I have no way of knowing. We spent the better part of a day in two of the forts which were fondly presumed to guard Mau- beuge toward the north—Fort Des Sarts and Fort Boussois; but Fort Des Sarts was the one where the 42-centimeter gun gave the first exhibition of its powers upon French soil in this war, so we went there first. To reach it we ran a matter of seven kilometers through a succession of villages, each with its mutely eloquent tale of devastation and general smash to tell. Approaching Des Sarts more nearly we came to a longish stretch of highway, which the French had cleared of visual obstructions in anticipation of resistance by infantry in the event that the outer ring of defenses gave way before the German bombardment. It had all been labor in vain, for the town capitulated after the outposts fell; but it must have been very great labor. Any number of fine elm trees had been felled and their boughs, stripped now of leaves, stuck up like bare bones. There were holes in the metaled road where misaimed shells had descended, and in any one of these holes you might have buried a horse. A little gray church stood off by itself upon the plain. It had been homely enough to start with. Now with its steeple shorn away and one of its two belfry windows obliterated by a straying shot it had a rakish, cock-eyed look to it. Just beyond where the church was, our chauffeur, known to us privately as the Human Rabbit, halted the car in obedience to an order from the staff officer who had been detailed by Major von Abercron, commandant of Maubeuge, to accompany us on this particular excursion. Our guide pointed off to the right. "There," he said, "is where we dropped the first of our big ones when we were trying to get the range of the fort. You see our guns were posted at a point between eight and nine kilometers away and at the start we overshot a trifle. Still to the garrison yonder it must have been an unhappy foretaste of what they might shortly expect, when they saw the forty-twos striking here in this field and saw what execution they did among the cabbages and the beet patches." We left the car and, following our guide, went to look. Spaced very neatly at intervals apart of perhaps a hundred and fifty yards a series of craters broke the surface of the earth. Considering the tools which dug them they were rather symmetrical craters, not jagged and gouged, but with smooth walls and each in shape a perfect funnel. We measured roughly a typical specimen. Across the top it was between fifty and sixty feet in diameter, and it sloped down evenly for a depth of eighteen feet in the chalky soil to a pointed bottom, where two men would have difficulty standing together without treading upon each other's toes. Its sides were lined with loose pellets of earth of the average size of a tennis ball, and when we slid down into the hole these rounded clods accompanied us in small avalanches. We were filled with astonishment, first, that an explosive grenade, weighing upward of a ton, could be so constructed that it would penetrate thus far into firm and A Belgian Soldier's Grave in the French Frontier At General von Zwehl's Field Headquarters on the German Center solid earth before it exploded; and, second, that it could make such a neat saucer of a hole when it did explode. But there was a still more amazing thing to be pondered. Of the earth which had been dispossessed from the crevasse, amounting to a great many wagonloads, no sign remained. It was not heaped up about the lips of the funnel; it was not visibly scattered over the nearermost furrows of that truck field. So far as we might tell it was utterly gone; and from that we deduced that the force of the explosion had been sufficient to pulverize the clay so finely and cast it so far and so wide that it fell upon the surface in a fine shower, leaving no traces unless one made a minute search for it. Noting the wonder upon our faces the officer was moved to speak further in a tone of sincere admiration, touching on the capabilities of the crowning achievement of the Krupp works: "Pretty strong medicine, eh? Well, wait until I have shown you American gentlemen what remains of the fort; then you will better understand. Even here, out in the open, for a radius of a hundred and fifty meters, any man, conceding he wasn't killed outright, would be knocked senseless and after that for hours, even for days, perhaps, he would be entirely unnerved. The force of the concussion appears to have that effect upon persons who are at a considerable distance—it rips their nerves to tatters. Some seem numbed and dazed; others develop an acute hysteria." The Country About Des Sarts "HIGHLY interesting, is it not? Listen then; here is 11 something even more interesting: Within an inclosed space, where there is a roof to hold in the gas generated by the explosion or where there are reasonably high walls, the man who escapes being torn apart in the instant of impact, or who escapes being crushed to death by collapsing masonry, or killed by flying fragments, is exceedingly likely to choke to death as he lies temporarily paralyzed and helpless from the shock. I was at Liege and again here, and I know from my own observations that this is true. At Liege particularly many of the garrison were caught and penned up in underground casements, and there we found them afterward dead, but with no marks of wounds upon them—they had been asphyxiated." I suppose in times of peace the speaker was a reasonably kind mar and reasonably regardful of the rights of his fellowman. Certainly he was most courteous to us and most considerate of us; but he described this slaughter-pit scene with the enthusiasm of one who is a partner in a most creditable and worthy enterprise. Immediately about Des Sarts stood many telegraph poles in a row, for here the road, which was the main road from Paris to Brussels, curved close up under the grass-covered bastions. All the telegraph wires had been cut, and they dangled about the bases of the poles in snarled tangles like love vines. The ditches paralleling the road were choked with felled trees, and, what with the naked limbs, were as spiky as shad spines. Of the small cottages which once had stood in the vicinity of the fort not one remained standing. Their sites were marked by flattened heaps of brick and plaster from which charred ends of rafters protruded. It was as though a giant had sat himself down upon each little house in turn and squashed it to the foundation stones. As a fort Des Sarts dated back to 1883. I speak of it in the past tense, because the Germans had put it in that tense. As a fort, or as anything resembling a fort, it had ceased to be absolutely. The inner works of it— the redan and the underground barracks, and the magazines, and all—were built after the style followed by military engineers back in 1883, having revetments faced up with brick and stone; but only a little more


In_the_Rut_of_War
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