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The Great War

News Reports From the Front
100 Years Ago This Month

February 1918

The Western Front Is Now The War

February 1

Germans Torturing Prisoners To Get Information

American officers at the front have come into possession of documents, said to have been taken from Germans, which deal with the treatment to be accorded to prisoners. The documents say all prisoners, after being captured, are to be kept in cages for four days, without food, and compelled to stand at all times. After four days only small quantities of food are to be given. American officers expressed the belief that the order resulted from the difficulties that the Germans are experiencing in extracting information from American prisoners.

Exchanged Italian prisoners, who have just arrived from Austrian concentration camps, told almost unbelievable cruelty practiced against prisoners, particularly the Serbs. The Serbs are not permitted to receive any care parcels, are expected to work twenty hours a day, and are beaten if they do not comply. When in their cages, the keepers throw them scraps of bread, carrots and turnips as their sole subsidence. The prisoners are not given access to doctors and have no sanitation facilities. As a result of these conditions, upwards of 30,000 to 40,000 Serbs have died from starvation. The Italians say that they received a loaf of bread daily for division among eight men. Conditions are so terrible, the prisoners say, that they will result in not more than one third of the Italian prisoners coming back alive.

Conditions In American Trenches

Conditions continue to be quiet in the American sector because of the fog, which has showed no signs of abating. Beyond a few shots from both sides that register targets, there was very little artillery firing. There is virtually no infantry activity.

A dense fog which has rolled in over the American sector has enabled both American and enemy patrols to work freely. The American patrols, unmolested, inspected the enemy wire defenses and made some other discoveries of importance. Owing to the fog, aerial and artillery observation is impossible.

Meanwhile, mail has been delivered daily to our boys in the trenches. Letters for the return mail to the United States are coming out with equal regularity. So, if relatives and friends back home get letters with mud smeared on them, or written on mud smeared paper, they will know that it is more than likely that these messages were pieced together where the Americans and enemy guns roar intermittently through day and night.

Army censors say that for the most part the men now in the trenches write to their mothers. The general tone of such letters, which indicates the high morale of the men on the line, is: "don't worry about me; I'm all right, the food is good and I'm feeling fine."

American troops in trenches on the French front at one place are only 60 feet from the German line. In another place, a mild ground separates the opposing positions. At this point, however, there are a number of paths and neither side apparently desires to occupy the water-covered ground.

The American trenches are all in, more or less marshy ground, making the use of "duckboards" necessary at all times, except when the trench water and mud are frozen. The trenches were shallow when the Americans moved in, but since then they have been deepened.

In every dugout the soldiers work almost constantly at the pumps keeping out the water that seeps in. But the watery conditions are unfavorable for trench rats, and few of them are seen. One unit spent more than a week in the line before seeing a rat, and he apparently was in a hurry to get someplace where the ground was drier.

The scene at night is thrilling and inspiring. On the firing platforms the men stand near their rifles. Others splashed through the trenches sometimes slipping from the duckboards into waters above their knees. If the position is near the enemy lines, hardly a word is ever spoken and when a word is necessary it is spoken in a whisper. Far away to one side of the position a white stream shoots up into the sky and breaks into white balls that throw a light as if from powerful electric batteries. The reflections show wire entanglements and scrubbing brushes on the hills nearby, and then the lights die out.

All the while there is the intermittent roar of guns and a whistle as of express trains as project those of differing caliber go rushing over the American trenches seeking a German target. The American soldiers have become so accustomed to such sounds that now they apparently pay no attention to them. Every now and then, the sound of a shell explosion is audible, but most of the time the artillery targets at night are too far back from the trenches to hear the project explode.

Every man at all times has his eyes open for two kinds of colored rockets. One is green and the other is red. The first means asphyxiating gas and the other calls for a barrage. The green light to the men in the line means more than anything else, for in a gas attack they know that their allies often depend upon the speed in which the gas masks are adjusted after the alarm is given.

February 8

U.S. Troop Transport Sunk

The Canard liner Tuscania, carrying 2,179 officers and men of the 32nd National Guard Division, lies at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. At least 168 soldiers are missing.

The boat was hit at 5:45 Tuesday evening on the port side and she immediately commenced lowering lifeboats. The Tuscania remained afloat two hours after being torpedoed. The soldiers were lined up on the deck waiting for the boats. Unfortunately, many jumped overboard.

The condition of some of the survivors was pitiable. Many had cast aside all their clothes and had been swimming about for two hours before being rescued. The position of the liner, off the coast of Ireland, was such that numbers of British patrol ships were able to rushed to her side, therefore minimizing the losses.

Reports gave no details of how the transport fell in with the submarine, but it was regarded that the ship stumbled on the submarine rather than the disaster being the first shot in the much-advertised German offensive against a line of American troops and supplies.

The process of convoying has become almost routine through practice of both the British and American Navies. A screen of destroyers or other swift craft travels ahead of a convoy fleet. The destroyers are spread out over considerable area. It is known that virtually all the German U-boats are equipped with listening devices of considerable range, so the approach of the destroyers become known to the U-boat commander even before the vessels themselves were cited.

Fear of debt bombs would drive the U-boat below, to lurk motionless at some depth, until the sound of the destroyers or powers has faded out, showing that they have passed. The U-boat probably would come to the surface then to explore.

Navy officials say that the one chance against which absolute caution will not guard against, is that the submarine will come up in the passing of the approaching transport, updating the site that will turn her to train her torpedo tubes by compass and again submerge. When the listening device shows that a ship is within range, a torpedo could be fired by the submarine while still submerged. Sometimes, under the laws of chance, it might find its mark, and this may have happened with the Tuscania.

In Paris By April, Hindenburg Boasts

Advertisement of what Germany is planning to do on the Western front, before American military power can be put into the conflict, continues to be a conspicuous feature of the German newspapers.

During a recent conference at Berlin, at which Field Marshal von Hindenburg received the editors of 30 German newspapers to discuss the food situation with them, the editors told von Hindenburg that by next May there may be no food in Germany. "My reply is," said the Field Marshal, "that by next April I will be in Paris."

"The next six months will be the deciding factor," said one German paper. The Central Powers will concentrate their whole strains on the Western front for a decisive blow. French soil, those fertile, foraging fields which have already suffered so cruelly and have drunk such rivers of blood, will be the scene of a final struggle which will far suppress the fiercest struggles of the past year.

All eyes are now focused on the west, awaiting the greatest battle of the war which all expect to begin there. According to one German officer, the blow is ready to fall whenever Hindenburg gives the word. "Our troops on the Western front are beginning to realize that the days of trench warfare are almost at an end. Our rear is free and we have the reserves at our disposal. The great below cannot fall. Where and when? The enemy leaders are asking themselves these questions. The reply is, "wherever and whenever Hindenburg wishes. We know that he would choose the time and place and will lead to victory."

February 15

Bodies of 126 American Troops Recovered

The latest figures available on the Tuscania disaster showed that 2,235 have been saved. The bodies of 126 American troops have been recovered, and 101 are still missing. There is little hope that additional survivors will be found. Trawlers that cruised about the scene and along the coast report that they had discovered no additional bodies.

Between 200 American soldiers from the Tuscania arrived in Belfast on Friday. They were met at the Royal way station by a Battalion of the Royal Irish Regiment, headed by the regimental band, which escorted them to temporary quarters. Crowds of citizens assembled in the streets and greeted the Americans with enthusiasm.

Meanwhile, German newspapers are gloating over the psychological effect, which they expect the sinking of the Tuscania must produce in America. The papers believed the event must unfailingly dampen the spirit of Americans: "American vessels, some with munitions and perhaps a small number of soldiers, have been sunk before, but so far, we know this is the first case of a big transport with a considerable number of troops aboard falling victim to one of our U-boats. As such vessels must be conveyed with great care, our U-boat achievement is all the more remarkable and gratifying. This will not be the last large Transport sunk. More will come."

German And Ukrainians Sign Peace Pact

A peace agreement has been signed by the representatives of the central powers and Ukrainian government. The Bolsheviks have said that they will not recognize the peace agreement as they do not recognize the independence of the Ukraine. Since it declared independence a month ago, the Bolsheviks have been attempting to overthrow the Ukrainian government and establish a Soldiers and Workmen's Counsel as the governing authority in Ukraine.

When the peace negotiations at Brest-Litovsk began, the Bolsheviks consented to the mission of Ukrainian delegation but subsequently discovered that the Ukrainians were carrying on secret negotiations with the Germans and Austrians. They thereupon repudiated the Ukrainians and sent new delegates, representing the Bolshevik regime in the Ukraine to the peace negotiations. The Germans and Austrians, however, declined to recognize the new delegates.

Bells were rung in Berlin and there was rejoicing at Vienna over the conclusion of a separate peace with the Ukrainians. This is due to the fact that it removes a menace to Austria's frontier and raises expectations of relief of the food situation from Ukraine's grain reserves.

It is rumored that the Central Powers have offered military assistance to the Ukrainians in overcoming the Bolshevik invasion. One of the first results of the new peace has been a German ultimatum aimed at forcing Romania to take a similar step, and clearly German policy is being devoted to using Ukrainians as a lever for bringing pressure to bear on Leon Trotsky.

Russia Declares War At End, Orders Troops On All Fronts To Quit

Russia has declared the state of war to be at an end and has ordered the demobilization of Russian forces on all fronts. The President of the Russian delegation at the Brest-Litovsk peace negotiations stated that while Russia was desisting from signing a formal peace treaty, the state of war, he declared, that existed between Germany, Austria–Hungary, Bulgaria and Turkey was at an end. The Bolshevik capitulation was received in Petrograd with profound disgust and shame uttered by serious and intelligent people.

How Russia's complete withdrawal from the war will affect the Allies cannot be accurately estimated at this time, despite the fact that on paper the Russian collapse would seem to give the Germans a great numerical superiority of troops on the Western front.

However, the 147 Austrian, German and Bulgarian divisions on the Russian front are regarded as already having been stripped of their effectiveness, as the best troops have been transferred to the Western front. In addition, Germany would be obliged to keep some of those divisions in the vast conquered territory for garrison purposes.

The fact that 1.5 million German prisoners will be freed to return to Germany is regarded with no alarm at all. Military men say they could not quickly be re-organized into efficient military units. The general opinion here is that Germany would be more interested in keeping the prisoners in Russia rather than risk having them carry Bolshevik doctrine back to Germany.

Diplomatic observers say Germany is confronted with a most difficult and unprecedented problem as a result of the declaration that Russia has abandoned hostilities, without the signing of a peace treaty. The refusal of the Russians to sign any treaties will leave the Center Powers without any legal claim to their possessions. German and Austrian tenure will rest entirely upon the assertion of force, without recognition of international law.

Should Germany and Austria resolve to refuse to recognize the Bolshevik decree terminating the war, their armies would be in the position of killing an unresisting and unarmed people. The one clear thing about the whole situation from a military point of view is that the struggle has narrowed down to the Western front. The final test of arms is to come on that front.

February 22

Germany Renews Advance Into Russia

Germany has resolved to renew military activities against Russia. This decision was reached at a conference at Imperial headquarters. The "no war, but no peace" plan of Leon Trotsky, the Bolshevik foreign minister, was rejected at the conference. Dispatches say that the Germans take the view that Trotsky's declaration, though it did not end the war, automatically ended the armistice. The Germans, therefore, consider that they have a free hand and mean to use the opportunity.

This does not necessarily mean that Germany will march on Petrograd, but more probably that they will support the Ukraine by force of arms. It is declared that this is all part of Germany's scheme for breaking up the former Russian Empire, with a view of extending her own power as an influence over the new states of whom it is posing as protector. The Bolsheviks have been moving troops against the Ukrainians, and the Central Powers do not intend to allow themselves to be robbed of the fruits of their peace treaty with the Ukrainians.

Yesterday, German forces on the Russian front advanced to the northeast and east. In pushing their campaign swiftly on the long front, the Germans’ movement has taken the form of a crescent, with its convex face towards the heart of Russia. Minsk, which was occupied Wednesday by German troops, is at the extreme eastern curve of the wave.

Wild rumors are circulating in Petrograd that the Germans will be in possession of the Russian capital within two weeks and that large hordes of rifles and ammunition kept in secret within the city will be used by the 4,000 German prisoners, concentrated here when the great day comes and cooperation between the eastern armies of the Central Powers and German prisoners will seal the fate of the city.

The German advance into Russia is not the march of a conqueror, for have they met any serious opposition? The comparatively rapid progress is ascribed to the fact that the Germans found a clear passage. The Germans are making their own pace and collecting immense stores of weapons, emissions, food and other valuable property, which has disorganized Russian armies abandoned in their hurried flight.

In response to the German advance, the Bolshevik government, again, has changed its tactics and ordered opposition be given to the German army now sweeping eastward into the heart of great Russia. "All Russians are summoned to the defense of their country" stated a proclamation, signed by Premier Lenine. Commissioners appealed to soldiers to destroy railways and provisions and compel the bourgeois to dig trenches under penalty of death.

The change in the Bolsheviks’ policy to one of surrender surprised both their enemies and friends and threw their supporters into confusion. Whatever happens it is regarded as probable that the Germans will stiffen the peace terms offered at Brest-Litovsk.

Allies Prepare For German Thrust In Western Front

The great German offensive on the Western front is expected to begin. By all accounts, the main thrust will be made on the sector between Arras and St. Quentin. The plans of the German high command are complete, and, after many weeks of intense training of assault troops, the Germans are ready to make the supreme and final effort, which has been advertised so widely in the past weeks.

Tanks and a new mysterious gas will be employed by the enemy in an attempt to break through the Allied line. Other attacks will be delivered further south. These facts have become known through captured German prisoners.

Field Marshal von Hindenburg and General von Ludendorff appear to have realized that the old methods of attacks, in which a long bombardment is employed, are too well known to produce the results desired. Accordingly, the German troops are being told that surprise attacks, such as were used in Galicia last summer, at Riga, and again on the Italian front, will be tried against the Allies on the Western front.

German officers have told their troops that tanks and a new gas are to be used, leaving the infantry little to do but to walk through the gas and consolidate the positions captured. The German high command expects that few of the Allied troops who survived the effect of the tanks, the gas and the bombardment, and that fresh German infantry will overcome speedily any resistance offered and captured positions.

Despite these assurances, German troops are frankly skeptical, and are undertaking their task with enthusiasm, according to prisoners. They feel they are going to be thrown into battle to be used as cannon fodder and do not relish the prospect.

It is said that Gen. Ludendorff recently addressed a body of infantry and ask how many men were willing to fight to the finish. Only five non-commissioned officers and privates stepped forward. The others declared their desire for early peace by arrangement. German officers, on the other hand, appear to have the conviction they will be able to break through by means of their secret attacks.

Figures supplied by the French general staff give an exact notion of the numbers, which the Germans are to use in the coming attack. French figures show that the Germans have on the line in the West about 113 divisions and behind it, as a strategic reserve, about half as many – giving the Germans about 1,250,000 troops on the line and 750,000 behind it. The Germans have moved some 25 divisions, upwards of 300,000 men, from the Russian to the Western front in the last three months.

On the other hand, the French and British have one million each on the line or in reserve. In addition, the United States is reported to have about 300,000 men in France, all of which may be used sometime during the present year.

As to the Austrian troops, the French officials state that very few, if any, Austrian troops can be expected on the Western front, where Germany is to strike. Most of her men are now stationed on the Italian front, and the balance of her troops are needed to garrison Galicia, Romania and her own and conquered districts, where the population is either disloyal or in rebellion.

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