« AnkstesnisTęsti »
gence Section, and Colonel A. L. Conger, during the war a key man in the Intelligence Section at G.H.Q., and now American Military Attaché in Germany.
For more than a month, at the very time when the Allies were preparing and beginning to deliver the blows that ended the war, the Germans were kept guessing, and they usually guessed wrong, where and when the great new American Army, totaling more than a million strapping young doughboys, was going to strike. Right up to the armistice, they were not sure what was coming next. The deception was so complete that even American officers who were to lead in these "battles" were in the dark-as they had to be to insure success.
In August, 1918, almost everybody in France was talking about the big American attack on the St.-Mihiel salient that was then in preparation. German spies, less a joke in France than here, were busily reporting the talk, and Hindenburg and Ludendorff were getting ready. General Pershing and General Pétain agreed that something must be done to draw a herring across the trail and make the Germans believe that after all they would not be attacked at St.-Mihiel.
Soon afterward, about August 25, Captain de Viel Castel, French liaison officer at American Press Headquarters, returned to Meaux from French Grand Quartier and told a group of American newspaper correspondents, quite confidentially, a military secret. The American First Army, which was then being organized for its initial independent blow, might attain brilliant results,
he said, by an offensive in Alsace, 125 miles southeast of St.-Mihiel. The Americans might push through and capture Mulhouse, on what was then German soil, only ten miles from the Rhine! Not only would the moral effect be great, but the wrecking of the Rhine bridges by shell-fire would seriously cripple German communications.
"Of course," he cautioned, "I do not say that the Americans will do that, but it is an interesting possibility, and I am sure that Captain Morgan would pass carefully worded despatches."
And Captain Morgan did pass, for such as wrote them, despatches to American newspapers, expatiating on the great military and political results that would come from a successful American offensive in Alsace. Let us hope the German Intelligence Intelligence Section read those despatches.
The despatches indicated as the place of attack a natural breach in the mountain wall between France and Germany, a broad pass called the Gap of Belfort. On the French side of the Gap was the historic fortress city of Belfort; on the German side, Mulhouse, then, Teutonically, Mülhausen. From the dome-like summit of the Ballon d'Alsace, a near-by height, one can look through the Gap and see the Rhine, dimly beyond.
The Belfort Gap was the point on the entire Western Front nearest to that river of story and strategy, and it was also the only point from Metz to Switzerland where an Allied army could advance over level ground. Prospect of an attack there would give the Germans a real scare, would
be a most unwelcome war baby for the famous Alsatian storks to lay upon their door-step, but up to August 27, 1918, they had had no reason to expect anything of the kind.
That night, Major-General Omar Bundy, commanding the Sixth Sixth American Army Corps, sat at dinner with his staff in Bourbonne-lesBains, in the American training area, about seventy-five miles northwest of the Gap of Belfort. General Bundy was in charge of training several divisions recently arrived in France. It was understood that some of them might participate in the American attack at St.-Mihiel then scheduled for September 10 or thereabouts.
Then came a rap on the door, and in walked Captain Howe, bearing important confidential despatches from G.H.Q., and, with them, mystery and drama.
So important were the despatches that General Bundy and BrigadierGeneral Briant H. Wells, his chief of staff, left the room to read them. They found that General Conner, acting for General Pershing, directed General Bundy to take his staff at once to Belfort where, at the Grand Hôtel et du Tonneau d'Or (the Golden Cask, fit name for a mysterious rendezvous), he would receive from Colonel Conger the special instructions of General Pershing. The orders commanded absolute secrecy, and were so worded that General Bundy and General Wells could think but one thing: they were being sent on a mission of greatest moment. They returned to the dining-room, where the corps staff grew silent as they saw their generals' grave faces.
"I wish to see Colonel Baltzell,
Colonel Mackall, and Colonel Barden-at once," said General Bundy.
These three officers he directed to be ready to start next morning for an unknown destination where they would stay an indeterminate period of time, and not a word to a soul about it. When they set forth in the morning, the three colonels, General Bundy and General Wells, Captain Verney E. Pritchard, and a French liaison officer, they left Colonel Charles H. Bridges in charge, to continue the training of the several divisions in that area.
"But where are you going?" asked Colonel Bridges.
"We can't tell you," said General Wells, and the cars drove away.
At the Tonneau d'Or in Belfort they found Colonel Conger, imperturbable, almost professorial in manner, but with keen eyes behind the mask. He at once impressed upon General Bundy the need for secrecy, and then told him there had been so much loose talk about the St.Mihiel offensive that the news had leaked into Germany, and General Pershing had decided to call off that attack. The actual attack would be made about the same date, September 10, but through the Gap of Belfort, with the Rhine as objective. General Bundy and his staff were at once to occupy headquarters in the center of town that had been engaged for them by Captain Griffith and to prepare plans for the attack.
It would be a powerful blow, Colonel Conger disclosed, as befitted the first all-American attack of the war. Some two hundred and fifty thousand men, with a strong artillery, would take part. The seven front-line divisions would be the
Twenty-ninth from New Jersey, Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia; the Thirty-fifth from Kansas and Missouri; the Thirtysixth from Texas and Oklahoma; the Seventy-eighth from western New York, New Jersey, and Delaware; the Seventy-ninth from northeastern Pennsylvania, Maryland, and the District of Columbia; the Eightieth from Virginia, West Virginia, and western Pennsylvania; and the Ninety-first from Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, Nebraska, Montana, Wyoming, and Utah. Detachments from each division were now arriving in Belfort to reconnoiter the trenches they were to occupy. But the Germans must know nothing of the change in plan; all must be done most secretly.
That would be difficult in Belfort. The Alsace front had been quiet so long that this influx of American generals and other officers almost made Belfort's famous rock-hewn lion sit up and take notice. Those who indeed did sit up were the German agents who had found this city with its many blond, German-speaking Alsatians a happy huntingground, with plenty of cover. It was only ten miles from German soil, only a few miles farther from Switzerland, hotbed of spies and a center of the German spy system. As the news spread, much of Belfort's male population converged upon the Tonneau d'Or, to stand in the lobby and crane eager necks, every moment becoming more curious and more excited.
They saw General Bundy leave to stir up what had been the quietest sector of the Western Front, a rest-cure, where French soldiers, and German
too, were sent after exhausting service, for a well earned repos. There in the trenches, they smoked their pipes for hours without hearing a gun fired and looked out upon a NoMan's-Land overgrown with daisies; or else, in a forest glade a few hundred yards from the front line, sat safely at rustic tables and drank the fine foaming beer of Alsace. It was a good old war. The trenches must be held, of course, but in a spirit of live and let live. The French troops enjoyed the scenery, of which there was plenty. The deep green fir forests, the swift-rushing streams, the villages, varicolored and oddly designed, set amid the blue Alsatian mountains-they really are bluemade it a land of pure delight.
As the sector of this paradise that seemed most promising for attack lay between Altkirch and Thann, General Bundy paid a visit to MajorGeneral Charles G. Morton, commanding the Twenty-ninth Division, one of those designated for the attack, which was already in the line. Major-General W. M. Wright, commanding the Seventh Corps to the north, was directed to submit a plan for an attack through the Belfort Gap. General Wright submitted the plan but advised against such an attempt, saying, "Too many casualties for the return we would get.'
Colonel Conger called on the staffs of the Seventh and Eighth French armies, commanding in Alsace; and backed by orders from General Pétain, who was in the secret, he got them to give up their battle-maps to the Americans, who, he said, were making an étude. That aroused some perturbation among our French allies, Quoi donc, they wondered,
was this American étude all about. Did their sometimes too ardent allies propose to stir up this rest. sector with alarums and excursions? They hoped not-most sincerely they hoped not.
But it looked so. All along the twenty-mile front selected for the attack, American reconnaissance parties were now examining trenches, dugouts, gun-positions, rest-billets, which they believed their respective divisions were soon to occupy. It was too bad, Colonel Conger told them, that this could hardly fail to cause talk by the French troops and even by the Alsatian civilians who, in this peaceful sector, were permitted to remain in their homes close to the front. Colonel Conger expressed a pious hope that the German observers would not see the unusual activity in these usually almost deserted trenches.
Mountains, launched by French and American troops there, including the Sixth Regular Division. He wished the staff to study that problem a little more fully.
What General Pershing actually had said was something like this:
"We can't have the St.-Mihiel attack ready until September 12. We'll have to string out this Alsace affair a little longer, and this seems the best way.'
Meantime the Sixth Corps staff had prepared a tentative plan for the coming attack, containing many recommendations as to how the secretly forming American First Army could most readily break the German front in the Gap of Belfort and cut the Rhine bridges near Mulhouse. This plan Colonel Conger took to Chaumont, to show it to General Pershing. Immediately on his return, on September 3, Colonel Conger sought a conference with General Bundy. General Pershing, he said, not only approved the plan but had decided to make the attack even more extensive than had been contemplated. He especially liked the recommendation that as soon as the Rhine was approached, the Alsace attack should be followed and supported by a second attack to the north, in the Vosges
Now was the time, Colonel Conger decided. Surely reports of what was going on must have reached Germany. Now was the time to furnish confirmation that Hindenburg and Ludendorff could but accept as proof that a strong American attack in Alsace was coming. He had been encouraged by the frequent appearance of several gentlemen in the hotel, even in his own corridor. He hoped they were the very gentlemen. he was looking for.
Then came the crowning episode, the turning-point in the great battle of Alsace. In his room in the Tonneau d'Or, Colonel Conger sat himself
down and wrote a letter to General Pershing. He put much into He put much into that letter. He reported that all was ready for the big attack through the Belfort Gap, if General Pershing would but set the date.
Colonel Conger made a copy of the letter, using a brand-new sheet of carbon-paper. When he had finished, he held up the carbon-paper to the light. Every word to the American commander-in-chief stood out, clearly stenciled. Colonel Conger crumpled up the carbon-paper and threw it into the waste-basket. Then he left the room.
For five minutes this clever intelligence officer walked about the lobby of the Tonneau d'Or. Then, too anxious to wait longer, he returned to his room. The wastebasket was empty! It had taken no longer than that.
With the comfortable feeling of a task well done, Colonel Conger went again to Chaumont, and the door of General Pershing's office in Barrack B was closed tightly after him, perhaps to bottle up the laughter of the C.-in-C. at what his Sherlock Holmes had to report.
"It's working fine," he said. "String it out just a little longer."
So back to Belfort went Colonel Conger, to assure his little group of earnest workers that General Pershing was well satisfied and that, even though they had heard with alarm. that some of their seven divisions were moving directly away from Alsace, all was going "according to plan." General Pershing now wanted a special study made of the ground in the Vosges where the northern attack would be made, to support the one in Alsace.
The reconnaissance parties had finished their work, and were sent to tell their division commanders that they had made good progress in preparing for an Alsace attack, while General Bundy and General Wells went to Remiremont, in the Vosges, thirty miles northwest of Belfort, the headquarters of General Wright's Seventh Corps. There they studied roads and the supply situation in the event of an advance from that quarter. General Wells was beginning to ask himself some questions about this rather lengthy preparation for an attack by troops that marched away from the place where it was to be made, when the dénouement came.
General Pétain, commander-inchief of the French Army, appeared suddenly in Belfort. He held, rather ostentatiously, a conference of all the corps and division commanders in the region. To the German agents who reported the conference, it doubtless looked like part of the preparation for battle. What really happened was that General Pétain thanked the assembled generals for their coöperation with the Americans in preparing the battle of Alsace, and told them, for the first time, that the battle was never to come off. It was, he explained, a ruse. General Morton was at the conference, and it did not take him long to reach General Bundy. "Have you heard that this is all a fake?" he asked.
"No," said General Bundy, "I have not, and it doesn't matter. We have obeyed our orders. If it isn't a fake, we are ready to attack as soon as our troops arrive. If it is a fake, it's a good one, and I hope it works."
It took a real soldier to forget professional dignity and say that. He