Until the United States of America came into the First World War on the side of the Allies in 1917, it was a neutral nation considered, in theory at least, to have no interest in the outcome of the war. This enabled American journalists to visit both sides of the battle lines and this in turn enabled the author of this book, Edward Lyell Fox, to gain access to the German war effort in considerable depth and detail. Accounts of the Great War from the German perspective are not common in the English language and so this book provides interesting insights from a neutral viewpoint. Fox visited the Western Front and was present as the conflict at Ypres broke out. He also accompanied the German Army through the Flanders campaign and later visited the Russian Front with German forces. He was an eyewitness at the Battle of Augustowo Wald in East Prussia—an overwhelming German victory. Fox concludes his book with an account of the work of the American Red Cross on the battle front. This is an interesting book for students who seek both a different view of the conflict and an examination of less familiar battles fronts.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
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.<br>
It was 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.<br>
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, totalling 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.<br>
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.<br>
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.<br>
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, enfielding 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.<br>
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 kilometres 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.<br>
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.