Page 3674

3674 UNIVERSAL HISTORY-THE MODERN WORLD.

of exploding shells. A barrage was sometimes used to stop the advance of a charging

enemy. At other times, it was a curtain of

fire that would be systematically moved

forward in front of one's own infantry

when they attacked. The gunners firing

the shells rarely saw their targets, their

fire being directed entirely by telegraph,

telephones, or airplane. For an effective

barrage a certain uniformity of calibre was

essential. The guns would be carefully

trained on a certain line, and would be

gradually elevated in order to drop a

steady line of shells just far enough ahead

of the charging troops to prevent any

effective counter-thrust by the enemy.

Usually the shell would fall only a few

hundred feet ahead of the charging line,

and the greatest care must be used to

prevent mistakes. The men must not

move forward too fast nor must the gunners

permit any of their shells to fall in the

rear of a given line. Everything was

carefully regulated by time. At a given

moment, the troops must be at a given

place. If they went beyond that point,

they would be killed by their own shells.

On the other hand, the gunners must not

move the barrage forward too rapidly,

as this would give the enemy's machine

gunners and riflemen an opportunity to

creep out of their dugouts and shoot

down the assailing troops. Only precision

of observation, perfect ammunition supply,

and absolute synchrony between the movement of the assailants and of the guns

at the rear could render the creeping

barrage effective. An infinite amount

of care and practice was required. A

mistake by the artillery men might mean

the slaughter of hundreds of their own

side. Such mistakes sometimes were made.

The French now held almost complete

command of the air, and their airships

were able to direct the fire of the artillery.

The German trenches were first subjected

to a devastating fire, and even when the

infantry attacked, the bombardment was

kept up over the heads of the men until

they were almost to the German works.

The guns were then slightly elevated,.

and a curtain of fire was placed in the rear

of the German positions, a curtain of such

intensity that it was almost impossible

for reinforcements to be brought up

through it or for the defenders to retreat

through it. The work, in large measure,

was, in fact, performed by the artillery,

and so successfully was the plan carried

out that four French divisions defeated a

larger force of Germans, captured five

thousand prisoners, many guns, the village

and fort of Douaumont, the Thiaumont

field works, in fact, practically all the

positions which the Germans won on the

east side of the Meuse in five months of

bitter, bloody fighting. The cost of this

ground to the Germans had been hundreds

of thousands of men, and millions of shells;

the French took it back in a single day,

and lost less than four thousand men,

many of them being only slightly wounded.

Furthermore, the victory soon forced the

Germans to evacuate Fort Vaux.

Encouraged by this victory, General

Nivelle and his collaborators prepared

to take another bite. Realizing that

the Germans would offer bitter resistance,

the French made every possible preparation, both material and moral. The

thrusting columns were largely made up

of picked men, headed by officers noted

for sagacity and dash. Each soldier was

a specialist. Some were riflemen, some

carried bombs, others carried rifles that

fired grenades, others brought forward

light machine guns and even light cannon,

the last for use against machine guns

that survived the terrific blast of the

French bombardment. Every effort was

made to raise the men to a pitch of patriotic

fervor. In this task a new Joan of Arc

was employed. She was Mlle. Marthe

Chenal of the Opera Comique, whose

singing of the Marseillaise has already

been described. This glorious woman was

brought to the battle front to hearten

the men who were to fight and to die for

their country against a cruel invader.

Some of the soldiers had already heard her;

all knew how she had been thrilling the

heart of France. Often she sang standing

on the steps of a little church-sometimes

a church scarred by German shells-her