Turning Point of the Great War
W. M. GLADISH
"FORWARD! Follow the flag car!” The order rang out from the
lips of Lieutenant-General —
in command of the motor transport division of the combined Franco-British forces. Only a few heard the command but the drivers of many cars saw the sweep of the commander’s gauntleted arm and obeyed with military precision. The signal was relayed down the several
roads converged at-, just eleven miles
north of Paris, and immediately there was a tremendous buzzing of automobile engines, like the unmuffled start of a great international road race.
In the early morning light, the sight was excessively thrilling to the very few onlookers because it was realized that the movement was counted to be the overwhelming turning point in the world’s greatest war. If our getaway had been advertised, a million morbidly-curious sight-seers might have tried to reach the spot where we had been assembled for several days. War is war, however, and not even a real battle-front newspaper correspondent was on the job. With the small scope of vision possible from the vantage point of “our” luxuriantly-fitted touring car, the ribbons of beautiful French highways presented an inspiring spectacle. It was superb! Fascinating! Real!
Observing the brief instructions which had been issued on the previous day, our car dropped into the third position in the never-ending line of motor cars. We were driving in “column of two’s” and the
great cavalcade took up the whole width of the road. This was at once convenient and imperative. There was little difficulty ahead because the highway was painfully deserted as far as the eye could see. Not even a farmer’s cart interrupted the view.
At the head of the column drove the single pilot car, containing officers, and well we appreciated that it was the official pacemaker for the greatest endurance run ever held. This automobile was armored from hub to top and, painted a battleship grey, it skimmed over the road like a speedy cruiser spudding her way through
a rolling sea. The driver was,-, one
of the nerveless racing men who had won fame in many an automobile classic. He was now serving France for eight cents per day but he was earning a greater honor than a Grand Prix victory.
Next in line came a veritable gunboat. This second car, too, was encased in steel and in every direction machine guns poked their business ends through narrow slits in the steel plate. On our starboard roared another land-cruiser, while further back came a sturdy truck on which was mounted a huge searchlight with its necessary mechanism—one of the fifty soequipped automobiles in use in the French army.
At regular intervals British armored trucks of a new and improved type occupied positions. Much reliance was placed upon these vehicles because of numerous astonishing features. In fact, the advance had been delayed one whole day as the
Being the Narrative, Duly Censored, of a Stupendous Flanking Movement of Modern Warfare
commanding officers believed that success at arms would be assured with the able assistance of the latest additions to the British land fleet. Their arrival in line created the greatest sensation.
These gun cars were protected by heavy armor on all sides, over the top and even underneath. There was adequate protection for the four-cylinder 45-h.p. engines with which the cars were equipped. The water radiators, the puncturing of which by bullets would mean the disablement of the vehicle, were hidden behind stout steel plates. Tires and wheels were protected by shields; beneath, a long plate afforded protection for the steering rods, clutch, gear-box, brakes and other vital parts. The superstructure was composed of steel angle framing, covered with sheet steel. On the roof was mounted a revolving cupola or turret from which projected a pair of quick-firing guns. On either side of the car was a louvered door, which possessed strong hinges and which was flush with the side of the body when closed. In front were special louvers for the driver’s observation and there were slight apertures for the use of the gunners. The cars were fitted with electric starting devices their interiors were electrically illuminated and a portable searchlight was also provided. Each truck had several cases containing thousands of rounds of ammunition and in addition to this supply, were racks for rifles and receptacles for rifle cartridges. The crew of each of these mighty trucks numbered seven men. All-in-all, the new trucks were the very last word in armored motorcar practice.
In addition to the armored cars there were hundreds of vehicles of the ordinary types—almost as they had been commandeered from the homes of the wealthy or had been taken from the streets. In some instances crude attempts were made to protect the drivers by steel-plate enclosures, the idea being that by saving the chauffeurs from bullets there would be less danger of mishaps. The radiators of most of the cars were also shielded by plates to avoid, as much as possible, the ruination of engine cooling-systems by stray bullets. This was quite important.
There were touring cars, limousines, high-geared commercial cars, and motorbuses. The double-decked buses from London and Paris still bore familiar advertisements and route directions. Every car had been stripped of windshields, headlights and other unnecessary parts as a precaution against injuries by flying glass and slivers of metal. The machines were filled to capacity—the tops of limousines and charabancs were used as vantage points by riflemen as well as the upper decks of the buses which also frequently held Maxim guns. Small automobiles held five men each ; others carried seven, eight or nine soldiers. Still others carried crews of twelve to fifteen. A number of the touring cars were minus bodies which had been crudely cut off in order to increase their accommodation.
The 800 automobiles, more or less, that I could see were only a few of a flying fleet of 20,000 motor vehicles which was being used for the greatest coup ever attempted in fighting. It was a great flank-
ing movement in which our speed and suddenness of attack were to count for a great deal. We were to circumvent the enemy’s right wing and to strike a terrible blow from the rear, if possible. The mobilizing of the 20,000 cars and the troops to be carried had consumed the better part of a week but our aeroplane scouts and motorcycle patrols had kept all traffic away from our camp.
No less than 30,000 cars in one action! Thirty thousand cars, all loaded with fighters or implements of war! Thirty thousand cars darting to surprise the foe ! It seemed like a wild dream. But this number was only a mere part of the 70,000 motor vehicles in use by the French War Department, and the great British contribution was, of course, additional.
Fully 180,000 soldiers composed this great flying force. We had numerical strength as well as speed ! Both of these features were to be mighty factors in our endeavor.
There were seven of us. That is, our automobile contained six fighting men, all abundantly armed, and the trusted chauffeur. Our knapsacks were full. Likewise, our cartridge belts and pouches. We were out for business. Everybody else looked ready for the business of fighting also. It did not take two looks to convey the meaning that we were on our way to strike some terrible blow.
On and on we sped—whither we knew not, because real war means blind obedience. I looked at my compass and saw that we were traveling with the needle— northward. I looked to the rear and saw a snake of motor vehicles following the curves of the road. It was new warfare— the motorized kind. We were not traveling oq our belly ; we were traveling on our gasoline at the really remarkable speed of twelve miles per hour.
We did not stop for our midday meal. We ate a portion of our army rations without halting a moment. It was unceasing motion with our eyes strained for signs of life. The highway was always empty, however, thanks to well-organized motorcycle patrols who had cleared the way.
As for stragglers, there was none for the first fifty-odd miles but eventually, we heard a shout to the rear and saw a touring car glide into the ditch just in time to avoid causing a collision with the car behind it. A tire had been punctured, and the car was ruthlessly turned aside so that the road would not be blocked. We had strict orders to ditch a machine rather than cause a congestion. A new wheel probably soon replaced the disabled one enabling the car to re-enter the line further back.
Half of the cavalcade was making use of a parallel road for reasons quite apparent. Overhead several scores of aeroplanes darted back and forth—some vigilant for the sign of a hostile air-scout and others jumping from one road to the other to keep us informed of the progress of the other sections of the force. It was imperative that no mistakes be made and that the enemy should not discover us.
Shortly we drew near--where the
famous 569-mile Grand Prix course is
laid out. The pace of the flag car suddenly quickened for the moment and then resumed the steady pace. Its racing
driver, -, knew the course well and,
once again, he had become enthused with the thrill of competition. He could not resist one more little sprint, regardless of discipline.
As we proceeded, the vigilance of the birdmen ever increased and the guards in the armored-cars became even more alert. The beat of our hearts quickened but our twelve-mile speed never increased.
I knew North France fairly well and it was evident that we were making a wide detour in order to avoid the extended right wing of the enemy. We were not hurrying, in the usual motoring sense, but our speed was unbelievable for a movement of such prodigousness.
With machine-like precision, we swept on and on and the riding became monotonous. It was not even a joy ride. We tried to talk and joke but our conversation ran out. Some went to sleep.
Suddenly, there was the crackle of machine guns above us, and several aeroplanes sprinted ahead. The first vision of an enemy in the form of a hostile aeroplane had been discovered. The single opponent had no chance.
If the scout had seen the thousands of cars, he never lived to tell the tale because his machine was speedily ripped by the showers of lead and steel and the “bird” crashed to earth.
Once more wide-awake, we silently prepared for the great charge. For many it was to be the last battle. For the survivors, it was to be a glorious achievement. The very boldness of our plan made us confident. Suddenly, we ran into a large hostile patrol and the rapid-firers of the armored cars spoke.
Thr-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-p ! Thr-r-r-r-p ! In a few seconds every horse and man had fallen and we passed on. Our pace was advanced slightly and we knew that the crucial moment was near.
All at once we crashed into a strong force of the enemy who had been held in reserve. We did not wait to estimate the opposition nor did we wait for them to gain a fighting formation. Fortunately, they had been caught between our columns on the two roads and the surprise was complete. The roar of the machine guns and musketry was terrific. We pumped lead into the human targets until shoulders ached. The slaughter was awful. Even from above, our flying machines rained shot and bombs.
We did not hesitate so that the many automobiles in our rear could be brought into play, and it was only a few minutes before the great procession of cars formed a long firing line. The fight was short and severely one-sided. The other fellows hardly had an opportunity to reply. We had to be quick because our firing was announcing our presence.
We were really in the rear of the enemy’s battle-front and we dashed over their own pontoon bridges to find and wipe out other bodies.
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Turning Point of the Great War
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Their artillery fire did not reach us because they did not have our range and our advance had been altogether too swift.
Right into the very heart of the invaders we drove like a flying wedge and we mowed down everyone in sight. It was cruel but it was magnificent! Here and there a car was smashed but it was sent into the ditch, the occupants being left to shift for themselves or to throw themselves into other vehicles.
Everywhere the enemy began to break and flee. The fight was developing into a rout. We dealt death and destruction everywhere. For twenty miles we kept this up! No less than 400,000 troops were being cut off!
A sensational incident occurred at the
height of our charges at -, but the
day was saved by the quickness of mind
of-’ the noted driver in charge of our
flag car, who gave up his life in the act. The brave chauffeur of one of the enemy’s ammunition trucks steered his vehicle directly into our path and stalled it in the middle of the road.
Quick as a flash the officers of our front
car leaped from their machine but-
retained his place at the wheel. With full speed he dashed into the big truck. There was a blinding flash and a terrific explosion! The impact had ignited the trucks dangerous cargo! Both machines reared like colliding locomotives and with a roar both cars fell over into the field, locked in a deathly embrace. The Grand Prix hero had gone to a triumphant end and the road lay clear for us.
Without a pause the cavalcade passed
on, the officers clambering into the cars wherever there was room for them.
Presently a motorcycle buzzed at our side and with a leap the rider flung himself into our car and his machine bounded into the roadside hedge. He was a despatch bearer and the order he carried
from General-instructed us to change
our route at-, the next village, which
was in the heart of Flanders. This order spelled the termination of the enveloping movement and the turn would bring us in direct face to the rear of the foe’s main
battle line, stretched from-to-.
The principal attack was about to be made!
In a moment we saw several dark objects flying down the road before our advance. We could make out three motorcars. We had uncovered the headquarters of General -, who was in com-
mand of the hostile right wing. He and his officers were fleeing for their lives.
This was at-. We did not attempt to
pursue because our object was to capture the whole army division which was now laboring under the disadvantage of being leaderless.
Our own shell fire of the previous week had torn great holes in the highways and it required skillful operation of the cars to circumnavigate these pitfalls. But there was no danger from mines because the enemy had been in the act of using these same highways and had not foreseen anything like our wonderful raid.
We followed the directed change of direction to the right which movement brought our swift and terrible weight to bear upon the foe’s main formation. On the opposite side our own entrenched infantry kept up a perfect rattle of fire to hold the attention of their opponents while we rapidly threw ourselves into position for an attack. The third and fourth lines of the enemy had to be reversed to meet us and virtually became first and second lines of defence to them.
With spades and other trench-making tools, great numbers of men leaped from the cars and trucks and rushed ahead with the formation of rough breast-works. Some even began, with feverish haste, to throw up the earth with bayonets. Others, under orders, took machine guns from the unprotected vehicles and placed them to advantage in available ditches where they commanded a clean sweep of stretches of level country. The turreted cars took up positions where their quickfirers could be used to good purpose. Those who were not digging trenches were operating the guns to keep the enemy in check. To a certain extent we were still under fire but there was no concerted action yet on the part of our opposing forces because of the complete surprise we had given them and its resultant confusion. In addition, they had lost their commander-in-chief.
While we were digging ourselves in, our commissariat departments had not been idle. Already the field engineers were erecting the wires for a line of telegraphic communication to our headquarters at-, thirty miles away. Aero-
plane and motorcycle despatch carriers
I flew back and forth also. Trains of am munition trucks and cars carrying heav; artillery, escorted by armoured automo biles and motorcyclists, were followinj our course and squads of men from ou: service department were taking immedi ate possession of the enemy’s forsakei field kitchens which were stocked witl large quantities of food. Further along over the same highways which we ha< just covered, were lumbering various ve hides carrying food and supplies of al kinds. Red Cross ambulances wen quickly following up and field hospital were set up here and there. We had com: to stay and the necessities of life wen just as important and needful as any thing else.
As quickly as our trenches were estab lished and the maxims in place, a numbe: of the armored cars scooted down severa roads to take up outpost positions as ; defence against possible attack by re lieving columns. There were none, how ever, because the enemy was everywhen being kept busy, by the allied armies ii front of them. The surrounded righ wing was, of necessity, compelled to worl out its own salvation, if possible, unaided Assailed from all sides, however, then was really no hope for our antagonists.
Night came and still we fought on— sometimes the firing became furious bu at intervals the exchanges were desul tory. Jets of flame from the opposinj rifles and field pieces were quite discern ible but the brilliant rays from ou: powerful searchlights swept the land scape to prevent any sudden attack unde: cover of darkness. We took turns ii snatching needed sleep but our arms wer: always ready and there were man; alarms. There was really little sleep be cause of the great excitement engenders and there must have been less opportun ity for rest‘for the hemmed-in enemy.
With the breaking of day, the fightinj re-opened with fury. Time after timi the fear-driven invaders attempted t< pierce our lines but our many quick firers, upon which we placed great rell anee, mowed them down in awful num bers. Back and forth they surged an< the ground became littered with dead an< dying. For another night they endurei this terrible ordeal and thousands of then were surely starving through lack of pro visions. On the second morning thei: efforts clearly showed the want of fooc as they barely left their dug-outs an< trenches.
It was not long before we noticed evi dence of restlessness in their trenches Something seemed to have happened am we questioned each other. Were they ar ranging for one great blow as a final at tempt to crush through and escape, o: had they had enough? They seemed to b> signalling to us. They were huddled it groups—waiting for us to stop the car nage. Finally a small detachmen marched out, the foremost figure bearing a white flag. Bugles sounded the “Ceas< Fire,” officers’ whistles shrieked, and w< stopped short.
All that was left of the 400,000 invad ers were surrendering!
From trenches and from thousands of armored cars, touring automobiles and London omnibuses, splintered and ripped, cheer after cheer echoed and re-echoed.
The great coup had succeeded.
It was all over.