1915: World War I

The New York Times




Carl Ackerman ’13

Carl Ackerman, among the earliest graduates of the Journalism School and in later years the dean who transformed the school into a graduate institution, reported extensively from Berlin and London for United Press on the grueling grind of the Great War.

United Press – July 28, 1915
“As Seen in Germany”
By Carl W. Ackerman

[Note: This text is presented exactly as it was in the original 1915 printing. Copy-editing issues have been retained in the interest of journalistic and historical integrity.]

Berlin, July 28th—Germany’s year of war in the west has crippled France and shamed the English. From the outset of the war, the Germans developed an initiative that gave them a superiority over their enemies, and since then, no effort of the French and British commanders, has been equal to the task of overpowering the numerically Teutons.

Only once has Germany been superior in numbers to her western opponents, according to the claim of Teutonic authorities. That was during the rush through Belgium and to Paris. The superiority at that time was due to the slow mobilization of the French and the breakdown of the English plans for hurrying a large army to the continent. From the days of the Battle of the Marne, the Germans have had to fight with weaker forces than their enemies, and yet never have they been overwhelmed.

The Germans taught the French and English the secrets of defensive entrenching; the Germans revealed the superiority of siege guns over the strongest fortresses; the Germans first discovered the modern necessity for high powered shells and machine guns. All these factors of warfare were introduced by the Germans in the west. The Germans have kept ahead of their antagonists as new problem after new problem has come in the front, and the year’s balance is, therefore, greatly in their favor.

Only once did the German military machine miscalculate. That was in the battle before the gates of Paris.  General von Kluek was not informed that a field army had been hidden away in Paris, prepared to strike at his flank, and the German General Staff did not suppose the French army had in General Foch a great military leader capable of splitting the Teutonics’ centre east of Paris and driving it back to the Aisne. General von Moltke, who was a sick man throughout the summer campaign, was later replaced as chief of the General Staff by General von Falkenhayn, and since then, Germany has been well satisfied with the progress of events in the west.

The retreat from Paris will go down in German history as a brilliant feat of arms because of the manner in which it was checked at the Aisne. So puzzled were the Allies by the German maneuvers that Sir John French actually reported in the early days of the Battle of the Aisne that it probably was only a reargued action on the part of the Germans. How the Kaiser’s panting troops, almost exhausted after the Marne fighting, were able to save themselves at the Aisne, will find a permanent place in the heroic tales which this war will give to history.

In the conflicts that followed the Battle of the Aisne, the Germans completely outmaneuvered their antagonists. It is customary in England to say the Germans are defeated because they didn’t get to Dunkirk and Calais. If those two towns had been captured, the English would not be proclaiming victories for themselves, say the Germans, because Dieppo and Harve were saved from the Kaiser’s grasp. As a matter of fact, while the capture of Dunkirk and Calais would have been welcomed by the Germans, the security of those seaports is not a strategic defeat for the Germans. England in the peace conference after the war will be sufficient for German’s purposes [sic].

The French and English were able to save Dunkirk and Calais, but their offensive plans were sadly overturned by the Germans. When General Joffre started northward after the Battle of the Aisne, it was his intention to outflank the Germans, or failing that to save western Belgium and to prevent the fall of Antwerp. Sir John French’s transfer of the British expeditionary force from Coissons to Ypres was for the express purpose of preventing the Germans advancing beyond Brussels. The Germans won the campaign, for although they didn’t reach Dunkirk and Calais, they captured Antwerp and Ostend and held the British in complete check. The story has yet to be told of how the British troops were defeated at LaBassee, and how the British government lied to its people and deliberately reported a defeat as a victory.

Elsewhere in the west, the Germans have more than held their own against superior numbers. They have delivered counter attacks for every offensive developed by the enemy, and in the minor exchanges that have occurred since the siege of trenches began, the Germans have fully held their own. The most satisfactory of all these encounters to the Germans was the recent battle—north and east of Ypres, at which the English were forced to give ground and were put on the defensive. This engagement followed soon after the date fixed by Lord Kitchener for the long promised English offensive to begin May 1st. The Germans believe this second battle of Ypres has done more to confuse the English and create discontent among them than any other event of the war. By every law of warfare the British ought greatly to have outnumbered the Germans, and yet the latter were able to drive the enemy back almost at will. Ypres itself was saved to the English by little more than an accident. The British newspapers were preparing the public for its evacuation when more pressing interests demanded the attention of the Germans elsewhere.

The loss of the western border of Alsace to the French is the only continental defeat the Germans must acknowledge at the close of the first year of the war. The sentimental importance to the French of seizing a part of Alsatian territory far outweighs the military value to Germany of driving the French across the Vosges. At present the French hold little more than the foothills of the Vosges. This they have been able to do because the Alsatian slopes of the Vosges are so precipitous that troops coming down hill have an immense advantage over those trying to go uphill. But if the war goes far into its second year, and if the eastern situation permits, the French will have to climb back again.

One Comment

  1. JL
    Posted 04.14.12 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    Although this whole series is definitely a nice initiative, it would have been better if this story (others as well?) would have been properly proofread.

    Some examples:

    “…equal to the task of overpowering the numerically Teutons” should have been “…equal to the task of overpowering the numerically inferior Teutons.”

    “If those two towns had been captured, the English would not be proclaiming victories…”should have been: “If those two towns had been captured, the English would be proclaiming victories…”

    “Dieppo” should have been “Dieppe.” “Harve” should have been “(Le?) Havre.”


    Nonetheless, an interesting read.

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