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The Great War

News Reports From the Front
100 Years Ago This Month

October 1917

The US Navy draws its first blood

October 5

General Pershing Lays Out Strategy

"To carry on for the next six months or a year, with the best that the French and British have evolved as a result of their three-year war campaign, and to do our own experimenting entirely are on our side," is the gist of the policy which has been largely adopted by the American Army now in France. This policy supplies material and various instruments of war as well as tactics and methods of handling men in the trenches.

While many of the more serious students of the war among American officers believed that additional improvements could be worked out by American ingenuity, inventiveness, and resourcefulness, they realize the most important problem is to get on with the war. They believe America can most quickly become a striking force in the war by taking the best of what the British and French have proved useful and effective, and basing all building programs upon them.

In a matter of tanks, for instance, officers who have made a special study of the subject think there is much to be said in favor of both the giant British tanks and the smaller and faster French tanks. They believe the American Army should adopt those styles as emergency measures, building them immediately. American engineers are working now on what may prove to be a vast improvement over any tanks now existing. There has been some disposition on the part of certain critics to belittle tanks because the Germans have made little use of them. But ten, however, is distinctively an offensive weapon, while Germany on the Western front is fighting a purely defensive campaign.

Airplanes are also engrossing the attention of the Army in France. The great weight of the Americans in the airplane construction is expected to be felt eventually in this branch of the service.

Maj. Gen. Pershing watched a battalion of American troops storm and take three supposed enemy trenches, which had been named Wilson, Taft, and Roosevelt for the occasion. The exercise was part of a program that is being carried out daily and will be developed gradually into regimental and divisional level attacks.

Pershing watches a mock engagement with French and English advisors.
Pershing rejected requests to integrate American troops into French and British units.
Instead, he opted to keep American units together.

Pershing, while pleased with what he saw, noticed that the soldiers did not use their rifles. "This was a mistake he said. You must not forget that the rifle was distinctly an American weapon," said the General. "I want to see employed. There surely will be plenty of opportunity for rifles and if you are unfamiliar with the weapon you'll lose those opportunities. Bayonets and bombs are all very valuable, but rifle fire still has a place in modern warfare."

Battle Threatens German Submarine Bases

Shaken but still determined is a description of Germany's defensive strength on the Western front given in this week's official communiqué issued by the war Department. The superiority of the British over their enemies, the communiqué says, has been proved conclusively by last week's fighting; while it has demonstrated that the fighting stamina of the Germans is deteriorating.

The Battle of the Ypres salient, which promises to be one of the great battles of the war, is following its normal course. Last week recorded the gains of the British in this sector. This week we must note the desperate attempts made by the Germans in retaking the lost positions.

This British advance in the Ypres salient threatens the enemy's lines of communication to the Belgian coast. The railway along the road feeds German naval bases on the Belgian coast, from which German U-boats sail, will soon come within range of fire and heavy British guns.

October 12

American Destroyer Sinks U-Boat

Details of a fight between an American destroyer and a German submarine in which the submarine was destroyed by depth bombs was announced by the Navy Department. According to the press release:

"The American destroyer first sighted the submarine in the early morning of a clear day. The sea was entirely calm with hardly a ripple of foam. The submarine was running submerged, with only her periscope showing. The U-boat was less than a mile off when the periscope was discovered. It was throwing up a column of water several feet in height."

"The destroyer changed course and headed for the U-boat at full speed. At the same time it opened fire on the periscope. A course was steered that would bring the destroyer across the wake of the U-boat. As the destroyer dashed across the line of bubbles a depth charge was dropped and a column of clear water shot about 30 feet into the air. The destroyer opened up with her guns on the periscope as she came around to rush the U-boat’s wake again. Again a column of clear water showed that the depth charge had not reached its mark."

"The third charge brought up a column of clear water again and the destroyer attacked once more, but without visible results. As she neared the end of the line of bubbles the fourth charge was let go and there followed a widespread boiling of the surface of the sea, and large bubbles of heavy film of oil. The destroyers spent some time looking for further traces of the U-boat, but none was found and she then proceeded on her course. The engagement lasted twenty-two minutes."

Meanwhile, the Navy Department announced it was contracting for the immediate construction of an unnamed number of destroyers for use against German submarines. All the destroyers are to be of one model and type, and all their equipment will be standardized. The plan is to build additional shops and shipyards, with enough destroyers to more than double the present American fleet.

The Wickes-class destroyers were a class of 111 destroyers built by the United States Navy
 in 1917–19. They formed the "four-stack" type. Only a few were completed in time to
serve in World War I, including USS Wickes, the lead ship of the class.

Plans for New Russian Parliament Causes Unrest

Russian internal affairs still claim precedence in interest over happenings along the Russian front. The Russian Democratic Congress has adjourned after providing for the construction of a Parliament of 305 members. The Congress with Premier Kerensky presiding, was a unique gathering of representatives of revolutionary Russia. It was the first time that shaggy peasants and soldiers, who had been accustomed to demonstrating against and attacking the bourgeoisie, had sat with them on equal terms at the counsel table.

In a statement to the body, Premier Kersensky said: "The growth of anarchy, the condition of political ruin which confronts the country, the extravagant demands of various groups and strivings in certain quarters to restore the former regime forces, is a recognition of the necessity of union and coalition. Only the union of the bourgeoisie and the democratic elements can move the country forward. Owing to the vacillating character of the Congress, which one day welcomes the war minister with his aims of reconstituting the Army, and the next day applauds the Bolsheviks program, the government has passed 56 of the past 107 days in a state of crisis."

The Petrograd Bolshevik radicals, however, expressed disappointment at the result of this Congress and have called a session of the Russian Soldiers and Workman's Deputies to meet in Petrograd, threatening to form an opposition parliament, as they apparently consider the conservative influences too strong in the Parliament authorized by the Congress. The situation thus may result in two parliaments sitting at once and each claiming power.

Italy Calls for Allied Efforts to Shift Efforts South

What is regarded as one of the most important questions concerning the future conduct of the war is expected to be pressed for decision at the October Allied Military conference in Paris.

At that time, the Italians will seek the Allies to turn from active operations on the Western front to the Italian front throw to push on Austria, and thus attempt to eliminate the Austrian-Hungarian Empire from the war.

Italy will seek to present a strong case, holding, as she does, that even the current offensive of Gen. Haig only proves that a stalemate exist on the Western front. The pushing on towards Austria, however, would serve the triple purpose of compelling German aid to Austria, encourage the ambitions for independence of Croatia and Hungary, and would drive Hungary to a position where she would have to sustain further military assaults for the sake of the Austrians.

Also involved are the perspective operations of the Allied forces gathered in Greece, which are planning an attack upon Bulgaria, and with the remnants of the Serbian Army, advance upon Austria through Serbia and Montenegro.

These considerations bring into discussions not only military, but also entail far-reaching diplomatic considerations. The most obvious of those would be raised in respect to United States, which is not at war with Austria, though the aid, which Italy seeks from her anti-Austrian operations, coal and iron, and perhaps the presence of American officers, is mostly to be derived from this country.

Opposition of the Italian plan from a military standpoint comes primarily from the French, who point out that Italy is not being invaded, and that cessation of effort to repeal the invasion from which they consider the doubtful expediency of invading Austria for the purpose of weakening Germany has no strong psychological appeal to the French people.

October 19

Propaganda that is pro-German in its effect is doing much to discourage Liberty Bond buying. Examples of this detracting propaganda are: the efforts to show that Wall Street is seeking to drive down prices of securities in general, and Liberty Bonds along with them; that the rich are making the profits from the war and the middle class is being compelled to pay the bills; and, that the purpose of Liberty Bonds is only for lending money to the Allies.

The principle appeal of speakers on behalf of the bond issue so far has been mostly upon patriotic rounds. Audiences had been told to buy bonds to help America win the war, to make the world safe for democracy, and to crush Germany. It has been taken for granted that the good citizens would realize why buying bonds would help to do these things.

It has become apparent, however, that Mr. Average Citizen has no such conception. He knows how money contributed to the American Red Cross is going to help our soldiers; he knows how contributions to relief funds help the widows and orphans of our allied soldiers, but the intricacies of Liberty Bonds has not been fully explained. From now on, with this realization, government officials are going to seek to make this point clear.

There is the fundamental question of: "what is the loan for?’’ That is, what does the money buy? If the United States lends money to our allies how much does that help win the war?

Watch what happens when this country lends $1 billion to Great Britain. Accept the fundamental principal that to help the Allies is the most efficient way to help the cause of world democracy. When Great Britain borrows $1 billion, she turns about and spends it in this country.

Great Britain does not want our money. They want what we produce. They want raw materials and the labor to whip it into useful war materials. Spending it here lies the principle point of the transaction. Great Britain simply is asking the United States to give her so much material and so much labor, for which she will pay us back when the war is won. For her to take gold or silver across the water would do no good. She sorely needs the things that gold and silver would buy here.

Now the bearing of all this on the Liberty Loan is: the soldiers are working in the trenches, doing harder, more disagreeable work than any stay-at-home can realize. It would do no good for the clerk, the bookkeeper, the salesman, to go to work in a munitions factory, or to turn to agriculture. But he can help by converting the wages he gets into the kind of labor, which is needed. He can buy Liberty Bonds, which represents $50 or $100 of work, performed by some efficient person, which will be of aid to the Allies therefore to us.

If ever the American citizen can be made to grasp these elemental principles, it is firmly believed, this Liberty Loan issue will be subscribed as fast as banks and other agencies can rake in the coin.

Germans Unwilling to Consider Peace

Travelers returning from Germany report that Germans, though longing tremendously for peace, will stand the war so long as the Allies show their unwillingness to guarantee the integrity of the German Empire and restore to Germany her colonies or continue the economic boycott.

Dreams of world domination have long since been given up by the German people. There is not much talk now about the success of the submarine war on the part of the public; only U-boat fanatics believe that this will bring peace.

Now the ideals are to restore German trade broken by the war and beat England in the world's marketplace. Members of the German elite think there is a possibility of opening the Turkish Empire for German industry.

What is surprising is the serene calmness with which the German public takes Allied success on the Western Front. There is an absolute conviction that the German line cannot be broken. The confidence in Hindenburg is still unshaken, though the importance of the possession of the Flemish coast during the war is strongly felt. "What matters, it is said, if we lose some square miles in Belgium?" Say the Germans, "our defensive zone is growing backward, quicker than it is destroyed in front are the allies."

October 26

Submarine Sinks American Troop Transport

German submarines have claimed their first victim from America's war forces. Within 24 hours after an American destroyer had been disabled in an undersea attack, a torpedo crashed into the homecoming transport, the Antilles, and sent her to the bottom with a loss of 70 lives.

The Antilles was returning from Europe in a convoy guarded by American destroyers. The torpedo was not seen, nor was the submarine that fired it. The torpedo hit the middle of the ship, causing her to break in half and sink within minutes.

No other information is known about the sinking, not even if the disaster occurred at night or day. There is speculation that the sinking is a result of the extension of the German submarine zone, which before this country began sending troops to France extended just west of the English coast.

Some reports seem to show that since United States troops’ laden transports have been going abroad this summer, the German submarine zone has been extended further west into the middle of the Atlantic in an effort to sink ships on the way over. The fact that such effort has not been successful further adds to the belief that the attack was a matter of chance.

A submarine would have a much better chance of a successful attack on a returning transport then on one going abroad, because the convoy of the returning vessels are less adequate, for reasons of naval policy that it would not be considered good judgment to relieve from other duties destroyers to bring back transports which only have their crews aboard, and carry no cargo.

Relief was expressed that the vessel had met her fate while homeward bound and not on the way over with a large number of troops aboard. Had the attack been delivered while the Antilles was on her trip to France the loss of life probably would have been appalling. She was struck in a vital spot and plunged below so swiftly that few could have survived.

Interest is intense in the manner that the submarine managed to elude the protecting convoy and discharge the torpedo that hurdled directly into the vessel. Naval officers are of the opinion that the German commander lurked beneath the surface until the roving destroyers passed overhead and then waited for the big troop ships to come into easy range before releasing the deadly missile.

Meanwhile, it has been reported that German raiding cruisers that sank the British destroyers protecting the convoy and nine of the twelve-convoy ships attacked an Allied merchant convoy in the North Sea. The character of the raiding warships is not exactly apparent. The British Admiralty describes them as very fast, and heavily armed, while Berlin refers to them as light auxiliaries. The German ships escaped the vigilance of the British guard ships under cover of darkness, both on their outward and homeward trips.

Five Zeppelins Destroyed Over France

Germany suffered a disaster in the air on Saturday when five Zeppelin airships, believed to be returning from a raid on England, were brought down in French territory by airplanes and other aircraft gunfire.

The story began with the account of a raid on England Friday night, in which the bombs the Zeppelins dropped killed 27 persons and injured 53 others. Report soon began to be received, however, of Zeppelins being brought down in France. These were first supposed to belong to an independent raiding fleet. However, it was later determined that the raiders were returning from England. The approach of the eleven Zeppelins was signaled to France late in the evening. Air defense squadrons and batteries all over the country were warned. As the enemy's airships were attacked they scattered all over France like a flock of frightened birds.

Of the 27 deaths officially reported as the result of Friday night's air raid, seven persons were killed outright by bombs that fell in the shopping district of London and thirteen by a bomb that destroyed three houses in the residential quarter. Of the latter victims seven belonged to one family, a mother and her infant, four girls and two boys.

It is reported from the eastern country that seven Zeppelins remained overhead for several hours and dropped 50 bombs including a number of incendiary ones. No casualties resulted, but a farm building was damaged and two horses were killed.

Destroyer Crews Readied For Winter

All American destroyers and crews are now prepared for the winter. Both have been equipped for cold days ahead. Winter clothing has been issued to the men and the fast little ships have been thoroughly overhauled and have had several gadgets added to their equipment such as non-breakable glass windows for the bridges, more crews’ nest, and extra life rafts.

Thanks to the busy women at home who knit, many of the men have been provided with excellent sweaters, jerseys and socks. Now, however, an entirely new issue of extra heavy garments, designed by the British from their long experience of torpedo boats in the cold weather of the northern Atlantic, have been made.

The long summer days permits the U-boats to work long hours, but it also helps the destroyers in detecting them. The dark stormy days of winter enable the submarines to approach its prey with less chance of detection, but it also helps it to escape and helps destroyers to get closer to the U-boats without being seen.

This winter will bring new factors in favor of the anti-submarine forces and against their prey. The most important is the addition of the American ships. Next is the increase in effectiveness of the convoy system for dealing with submarines. British and American experts are confident that these new measures will continue to show even more satisfying results in the winter months ahead.

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