Page 3635


alliance, was still paying gold, and, as

she was able to carry on trade with the

outer world, was in a healthier condition, in

this sense, than any of the Central Powers.

American exchange on London was, in

fact, much nearer par than it had been

in the summer of 1915. France and Russia also still possessed great financial resources.

Their economic condition, however, gave

ground for grave thoughts even to Great

Britain and France, and there were some

neutral observers who thought that the

Central Powers, by holding out, would

ultimately be able to force the Entente

nations to grant them favorable terms,

rather than be pulled down with their

enemies in common ruin. Allied determination to fight the war to a successful

conclusion, however, never seemed

stronger than at the opening of the

spring of 1916. The British, for example, knew that they were only now beginning to reach a point where they

could throw in their real strength on

land and the mere mention of peace

made them angry. On the other hand,

the peoples of the Central Powers were

undoubtedly growing weary of the conflict. But repeated suggestions of peace

sent out from Berlin awakened no

echoes in Rome, Paris, London, or Petrograd.

The Entente Powers realized that some

of their past failures had been due to lack

of united action. With a view to remedying this weakness, they began to hold

conferences at which plans for concerted

action were considered and agreed upon.

Such a conference was held in Paris in

March, and it was generally supposed

that it laid down a plan of action for the

coming campaigns.

As if endeavoring to give the lie to

Allied arguments, the Germans, late in

February, 1916, began the most considerable offensive movement they had undertaken in the west for more than a year.

For some time they attacked at various

points along the line, but ultimately it

appeared that their main effort was directed

against the great fortress of Verdun.

This French position, which really was in

the nature of a vast entrenched camp held

by an army, projected far into the German

lines and was a constant threat to their

own town and fortress of Metz. It was

probably the strongest position in the

whole Allied line, and that the Germans

should direct their efforts against it gave

rise to considerable astonishment. In some

quarters it was contended that the attack was partly designed to rehabilitate

the German Crown Prince in public favor.

Since the outbreak of the war he had

commanded in the region of Verdun, but

his efforts at the time of the advance

against Paris had neither been brilliant

nor successful, and though he had won

some minor successes by an offensive in

the Argonne Forest In the summer of 1915,

his star as a military leader lacked much

of being of the first magnitude. It was

also thought that the Germans believed

that by the capture of Verdun they could

encourage their own people, impress wavering neutrals, and vastly discourage their

enemies. The need of a victory was

heightened by the recent success of the

Russian drive in Armenia, resulting in the

capture of Erzerum.

The plan for the attack on Verdun

was formulated by Marshal Count von

Haeseler. This aged officer, who was past

eighty, had commanded the German forces

in the attack on Antwerp and had been

prominent in subsequent operations along

the Yser. Von Haeseler was a believer

in "hacking through." He held that by