The German War Machine
By Armgaard Karl Graves
[Collier's, August 15, 1914]
The numerical strength, disposition, and efficiency of the German army are more or less well known. The brain and all-prevailing power controlling a fighting force of 4,500,000 men—or, taking the Triple Alliance into consideration, the forces of which would in the event of war be controlled from Berlin: a force in round numbers of 9,000,000 men—is, however, not known. Here for the first time is published an account of the inside workings of the German War Machine so far as it is possible for any one man to give them. Through my intimate connections with tire German and other Secret Service systems, through constant contact with prominent army and navy officers, I have enjoyed special facilities, of which I have availed myself to the full, to gain the inside knowledge which I here commit to paper.
The Fighting Force
The most efficient and elaborate system ever devised by the ingenuity of man, used not only for war and destruction, but as an intelligence clearing house for the whole of the Empire, is the German War Machine. Conceived by General Stein in the days of the Napoleonic wars, added to and elaborated by successive administrations, solely under the control of the ruling house, its efficiency and perfect and smooth working are due to the total absence of political machinations or preferences. Brains, ability, and thorough scientific knowledge are the only passports for entrance in the Grosser General Stab the General Staff of the German Empire. You will find blooded young officers and gray-haired generals past active efficiency, experts ranking from an ordinary mechanic to the highest engineering expert, all working harmoniously together with one end in view, the acme of efficiency. Controlled and directed by the War Lord in person through the Chef des Grossen General Stabs—at present General Field Marshal von Heeringen—this immense machine, the pulsing brain of a fighting force of 4,500,000 men, is composed of from 180 to 200 officials.
At the Peace of Tilsit, after the crushing defeat of the Prussian armies at Prussian Eylau and Friedland, Bonaparte had Prussia and the whole of central Europe at his mercy. Contrary to the advice of his generals, especially the succinct advice of his often unheeded mentor Talleyrand, completely to disintegrate Prussia, Napoleon through his fondness for pretty women let himself be tricked by Louise of Prussia. The interesting historical story of this incident may be apropos here, showing how the world's history can be changed by a kiss. At the Peace Conference in Tilsit, Napoleon on the verge of disintegrating Prussia met the beautiful Queen Louise of Prussia. Through her pleadings and the imprint of his kiss on her classic arm Bonaparte granted Prussia the right to maintain a standing army of 12,000 men. That in itself did not mean much, but it gave able and shrewd Prussian' patriots the opportunity to circumvent and hoodwink Bonaparte's policy.
The Beginnings of the German Army
Prussia has always been fortunate in producing able men at the most needed moments. A man arose with a gift for military organization. He had every province, district, town, and village in Prussia carefully-scheduled and the able-bodied men thereof put on record. He selected the 12,000 men permitted Prussia under the Napoleonic decree and drilled them. No sooner were those men drilled than they were dismissed and another 12,000 called in. From this point dates modern conscription—the father of which was General Stein—and this also inaugurated the birth of the War Machine, In three years Prussia had 180,000 well-drilled men and 120,000 reserves, quite a different proposition from the 12,000 men Napoleon thought he had to face on his retreat from Moscow, and which played a decisive factor in the overthrow of the dictator of Europe.
Through the wars of 1864 and 1866 to 1870, the Franco-Prussian War, the War Machine of Prussia, was merged into that of the German Empire and is a record of increasing efforts, entailing unbelievable hard work, and a compilation of the minutest details. The modern system of organization—especially the mobilization schedules—is the work of Helmuth von Moltke, the "Grosse Schweiger," the Great Silent One, the strategist of the campaign of 1871.
Its Present Head
It is curious that there is a great similarity between the late Moltke and Heeringen. They have the same aquiline features, tall, thin, dried-up body, the same taciturn disposition, even to their hobbies Moltke being an incessant chess player, Heeringen using every one of his spare moments to play with lead soldiers. He is reputed to have an army of 30,000 lead soldiers with which he plays the moment he opens his eyes—much in the same manner as Moltke, who used to request his chessboard the first thing in the morning. In military circles Heeringen is looked upon with the same respect and accredited with quite as much strategical knowledge as Moltke was. It is a significant fact that, whenever there is any tension in Europe, especially between Germany and France, General von Heeringen or his comrade in arms, General von Htilsen-Haeseler—also a great strategist and an iron disciplinarian—immediately takes command of Metz, the most important base and military post in the Emperor's domain.
There is no man alive who knows one-half as much about the strategical position of Mete and the surrounding country as General von Heeringen. Often on stormy, bitter cold winter nights, sentries on outposts stationed at and guarding the approaches of Metz are startled to find a gaunt, limping figure, covered by a gray army greatcoat with no distinguishing marks, stalking along. Accompanied by orderlies carrying camp stools and table, night glasses and electric torches, halting repeatedly, his men taking down in writing the short, croaking sentences escaping between the thin compressed lips, the "Geist of Metz" prowls round measuring every foot of ground fifty miles east, west, north, and south of his beloved Metz. The steel-tipped arrow ever pointing at the heart of France is safe in the hands of such guardians.
The visible head of this vast organization is called Der Grosse General Stab with headquarters in Berlin. Each army corps has a "Kleine General Stab" which sends its most able officers to Berlin. These officers, in conjunction with the most able scientists, engineers, and architects the Empire can produce, compose the Great General Staff. The virtual head is the German Emperor. The actual executive is called "Chef des Grossen General Stabs."
The Maker of War
There is a small, dingy, unpretentious room in the General Stabs Gebäude where, at moments of stress and, tension or international complications, assemble five men: His Majesty, at the head of the table; to the right the Chef des Grossen General Stabs; to the left his Minister of War; then the Minister of Railways, and the Chief of the Naval Staff. You will notice the total absence of the Ministers of Finance and Diplomacy. When these five men meet, the influence of diplomatic and financial affairs has ceased. They are there to act. The scratching of the Emperor's pen in that room means war, the setting in motion of a fighting force of 4,500,000 men.
Here is another instance:
When the feeling and stress over the Moroccan question was at its height, General von Heeringen on leaving his quarters for his usual drive in the Thiergarten was eagerly questioned by a score of officers awaiting his exit.
"Excellency! Geht's los?" ("Do we begin?")
Grimly smiling, returning their salutes and without pause, limping to his waiting carriage, he gave his answer:
"Sieben Buchstaben, meine Herren!" ("Seven letters, gentlemen!")
In German military parlance this, means the Emperor's signature, Wilhelm II, to the mobilization orders.
In order to give the reader a fairly correct view of this mighty organization, I have to explain each group separately. The whole system rests on the question of mobilization, meaning the ability to arm, transport, clothe, and feed a fighting force of 4,500,000 men in the shortest possible time at any given point in either eastern or western Europe. For let it be clearly understood that the main point of the training of the German armies is the readiness to launch the entire fighting force like a thunderbolt to any given point of the compass. Germany knows through past experience the advisability and necessity of conducting war in an enemy's country. The German army is built for aggression.
There are four main groups:
1. Organization 3. Victualization.
2. Transportation 4. Intelligence.
Each of these groups is, of course, subdivided into numerous branches which we shall go into under each individual head.
The Far-Reaching Organization
First comes organization. The German army is composed of three distinct parts: the standing army, the reserves, and Landwehr, or militia.
The standing army comprises 790,000 officers and men. This body of men is ready at an instant. It is the reserves who need an elaborate system of mobilization. The reserves are divided into two classes, first and second reserves. So is the Landwehr, having two levies—the first and second Aufgebot. Every able-bodied man on reaching the age of twenty-one may be called upon to serve the colors. One in five only is taken, as there is more material than the country needs—the fifth being selected for one of five branches: infantry, cavalry, artillery, Genie corps, or the navy. The time of service in the infantry is two years; in the cavalry three, in the artillery three, in the Genie corps two, and in the navy three. Well-conducted men get from two to four months of their time. This is by no means a charity on the part of the authorities, but a well-thrashed and deep-laid scheme to circumvent the Reichstag, for it gives the Emperor another 75,000 men. A certain class of men passing an examination called Einjähriges Zeugniss or possessing a diploma called Abiturienten-Examen (the equivalent of a B. A.) serve only one year in each branch. This class provides most of the reserve officers. The active, officers, usually the scions of aristocratic houses or the sons of the old military or feudal families of Germany, are mostly educated in one of the state Kadetten-Anstalten military academies, of which Gross-Lichterfelde-bei-Berlin is the most famous. The rear backbone and stiffening of the German army and navy are the noncommissioned officers recruited from, the rank and file. In fact, this body of men is the mainstay of the thrones in the German Empire, especially of Prussia. These men, after about twelve years of service in an army where discipline, obedience, and efficiency are the first and last word, are then drafted into all the minor administrative offices of the state, such as minor railway, post, excise, municipal, and police. The reader will see the significance of this when it is pointed out that not only the Empire but the War Machine has these well-trained men at its beck and call. The same thing applies to the drafting of officers to most of the higher and highest administrative positions in the state.
Lightning Change of Citizen to Soldier
There are twenty-five army corps, all placed in strategical positions. The strongest is in Alsace-Lorraine and along the Rhine, the second in importance garrisoning the Prussian-Russian border. The whole country is subdivided into Bezirks commandos (district posts) whose business it is to have on record not only every able-bodied man—reservists—but every motor, horse, and vehicle available; also, food and coal supply—in fact, everything likely to be wanted or useful to the army. Every German reservist, or otherwise, knows the reporting place of his district and has to report there when notified within twenty-four hours. The penalties for noncompliance are high even in peace times. In the event of war or martial law they are absolutely stringent. The commandos are so placed that they could forward their drafts of men and material to their provincial concentration points at the quickest possible notice. These provincial concentration points being railway centers are so located that the masses of men and materials pouring in from all sides can be handled and sent in the selected and needed direction without any congestion. How this is done I shall explain when I come to transportation. In each of those district commandos are depots, Montirungs-Kammern (arsenals) where a full equipment for each individual on the roll is kept. The marvelous quickness with which a civilian is transferred into a fully equipped military unit must be seen to be believed, and is only made possible through systematic training and constant maneuvers. These maneuvers are costly, but have long been recognized in German military circles as essential in training the units and familiarizing the familiarizing the commanders with the handling of enormous masses of men. In the last Kaiser maneuvers over half a million men were concentrated and massed; in fact, shuttlecocked from one end of the Empire to the other without a hitch.
The control of the army in peace or in war lies with the Emperor. He is the sole arbiter and head. No political or social body of men has any control in army matters. No political jealousies would be permitted. Obedience and efficiency are demanded. Mutual jealousies and political tricks such as we have seen in the Russian campaign in the East and lately in France are impossible in the German system, for the Emperor would break instantly—in fact, has done so—any general guilty of even the faintest indication of such an offense. And there is no appeal to a Congress, a Chamber of Deputies, or political organ against the Emperor's decision.
The War Chest
Last but not least under the heading of Organization comes the financial aspect. Out of the five milliards of francs, the war indemnity paid by France to Germany in 1871, 200,000,000 marks in gold coins, mostly French, were put away as the nucleus of a ready war chest. In a little medieval-looking watch tower, the Julius Thurm near Spandau, lies this ever-increasing driving force of the mightiest war engine the world has ever seen. It is ever-increasing, for quietly and unobtrusively 6,000,000 marks in newly minted gold coins are taken year by year and added to the store. On the first of October each year since 1871 three ammunition wagons full of bright and glittering twenty-mark pieces clatter over the drawbridge and these pieces are stored away in the steel-plated subterranean chambers of the Julius Thurm, ready at an instant's notice to furnish the sinews to the man wielding this force. This is a tremendous power in itself, for there are now close to 500,000,000 marks ($120,000,000) in minted gold coinage in storage there. This provides the necessary funds for the German army for ten calendar months. The authorities have no necessity to ask the country, warring politicians—in this instance the Reichstag—for money to start a campaign. They have got it ready to hand. Once war is declared and started they will get the rest if they need it.
This money is under the sole control of the military authorities. It has often been declared a myth. I know it to be a fact. Notwithstanding the financial straits Germany has gone through at times, or may go through, this money will never be touched. It is there for one purpose only and that purpose is war. Needless to say, it is amply guarded. Triple-posts in this garrison town, devices to flood instantly the whole under fifteen feet of water from the river Havel, are but items in the system of protection. Twice a year the Emperor, or his heir apparent, personally inspects this war chest. Mechanically balanced devices are employed to check the correct weight. It is a marvelously simple mechanism by means of which in less than two hours the whole of this vast hoard of gold can be accurately checked and the absence of a single gold piece detected.
Almost Perfect Transportation Facilities
One of the most important parts of the organization is the question of transportation. Hannibal's campaigns against Caesar and Napoleon's central European wars owed their success in a great measure, if not wholly, to their quickness of motion. This applies about tenfold in modern warfare. In actual armament the leading powers of Europe are practically on a par. The personnel, as regards personal courage, stamina, élan, or whatever you wish to call it, is fairly equal also. There is little difference in the individual prowess of French, Russian, English, and German soldiers. This is well known to military experts. The difference is mainly a question of discipline, technique, and preparedness, the main factor being, as indicated, the ability to throw the greater number of troops in the shortest possible time against the enemy at any given point, without exhausting man and beast unnecessarily and enervating the country to be traversed. It is therefore necessary to have numerous arteries of traffic at disposal. This will lead us later to the question of victualization, Germany following closely one of Moltke's axioms: "March separately, but fight conjointly."
Only in a country where all railroads highways, and waterways, and where post and telegraph are owned and controlled by the state is it possible to evolve and perfect a system of transportation such as is at the disposal of the German General Staff. Every mile of German railroads, especially the ones built within the last twenty years, has been constructed mainly for strategical reasons. Taking Berlin as the center, you will find on looking at a German, more especially a Prussian, railroad map a close similarity to a spider's web. From Berlin you will see trunk lines extending in an almost direct route to her French and Russian frontiers. Not single or double, but triple and quadruple lines of steel converging with other strategic lines at certain points such as Magdeburg, Hanover, Nordhausen, Kassel, Frankfort-on-the-Main, Cologne, or Strassburg—to name but a few. Places such, as these enumerated are invariably provincial commandos, having garrisons, arsenals, and depots on a large scale.
The capacity of the railroad yards for handling large bodies of men and vast amounts of goods swiftly is judiciously studied. At any given time, especially at tense political moments, at every large strategical railway center in Germany there are a certain number of trucks and engines kept for military purposes only—sometimes, as in the Rhine division during the acute period of the Morocco question—with steam up.
As previously related 90 per cent of all the railway officials are ex-soldiers. Five minutes after the signing of the mobilization orders by the Emperor, the whole of the railway system would be under direct military control. Specially trained transportation and railway experts on the General Staff would take over the direction of affairs. Besides this, there exists in the German standing army a number of Eisenbahn Regimenter (railway corps)—all trained railroad builders and mechanics. Elaborate time-tables and transportation cards are in readiness to be put into operation on the instant of mobilization, superseding the civil time-tables of peace. Theoretically and practically the schedules are tested twice a year during the big maneuvers.
Can Operate the Railways from One Room
The same applies to the waterways and highroads of the Empire. A keen observer will often wonder at the broadness, solidness, and excellent state of repair of the chaussées and country roads; out of all proportion to the little traffic passing along. They are simply strategical arteries kept up by the state for military purposes, The heads of the transportation and railway corps in Berlin sit before huge glass-covered tables where the whole of the German railway system to its minutest detail is shown in relief, and by pressing various single buttons they can conduct air endless chain of trains to any given point of the Empire.
To show the accurate workings of this system I shall relate an incident. During the Kaiser maneuvers in West Prussia, a few years ago, I happened to be at headquarters in Berlin delivering some plans and records of the English Midland Railway system, when a General Staff officer entered the signal hall and made inquiries as to the whereabouts of a certain train having a regiment on board destined to a certain part of the maneuver field. One of the operators through the simple manipulation of some ivory keys in the short space of two and a half minutes (as I was keenly interested, I timed it) could show the exact spot of the train between two stations, the train being over 500 kilometers distant from Berlin.
As every class A1 vessel in the merchant marine of Germany, especially the passenger boats of the big steamship lines, can be pressed into government service, so can all motor vehicles, taxis, and trucks owned either privately or by corporations be called upon if considered necessary.
Through this vast and far-reaching system of transportation, Germany is enabled to throw a million fully equipped men on to either of her frontiers within forty-eight hours. She can double this host in sixty hours more.
Napoleon's dictum that an army marches on its stomach is as true to-day as it was then, adequate provisions for man and beast being the most important factor in military science. The economic feeding of three-quarters of a million men in peace time is work enough. It becomes a serious problem in the event of war, especially to a country like Germany, which is somewhat dependent on outside sources for the feeding of her millions. The authorities, quite aware of a possible blockading and consequent stoppage of imports, have made preparations with their usual thorough German completeness. At any given time there is sufficient foodstuff for man and beast stored in state storehouses and the large private concerns to feed the entire German army for twelve months. This might seem inadequate, but it is not, the Authorities being well aware that war in Europe at the present time could not and would not last longer than such a period.
Once a year these storehouses, are overhauled and perishable or deteriorating provisions replaced. Tens of thousands of tons of foodstuffs, especially fodder, are sold far below their usual market, prices to the poorer classes, notably farmers. Likewise the material used by the army the Prussian military authorities to is as far as possible supplied by the farmer direct.
The total absence of bloated, pudgy-fingered army contractors in Germany is pleasant to the eyes of those who know the conditions in some other countries I could mention.
Besides, the whole of the German fighting machine is so organized that in all probability decisive battles would be fought in the enemy's country, in which case the onus of feeding the troops would fall on the enemy, by the military devices "requisitioning" and "commandeering."
In this German, and especially Prussian, quartermasters are in no way behind their English confreres, of whose activity in the Boer War I know from personal experience.
To give but another instance of the scientific thoroughness in detail, take a single food preparation—the Erbsenwurst (pea-meal sausage)-—a preparation of peas, meal, bacon, salt, and seasoning, compressed in a dry state into air and water tight tubes in the form of a sausage, each weighing a quarter of a pound.
Highly nutritious, light in weight, practically indestructible, wholesome, this is easily prepared into a palatable meal with the simple addition of hot water. Of this preparation huge quantities are always kept in stock for the army.
Without doubt the most important division of the General Staff and upon whose information and efforts the whole machine hinges is the Intelligence Department, really covering many different fields—for instance, general science, system of transportation, strategy, topography, ballistics, but mainly the procuring of information, data, plans, maps, etc., kept more or less secret by other powers. In this division the brightest young officers and general officials are found. The training and knowledge required of the men in this service are exacting to a degree. It requires in most cases the undivided attention—often a life study—to a single subject.
It has been the unswerving policy of the Prussian military authorities to know as much of the rest of the European countries as they know of their own. In the war of 1870-71, German commanders down to the lieutenant leading a small detachment has accurate information, charts and data of every province in France, giving them more accurate knowledge of a foreign country than that country had of itself. It is a notorious fact that, after the defeat of the French armies at Weissenburg and Wörth and later at Metz, the French commanders and officers lost valuable time and strategical positions through sheer ignorance of their own country. This is impossible under the Prussian system. To-day there is not a country in Europe of which there are not the most elaborate charts and maps, topographically exact to the minutest detail, docketed in the archives of the General Staff. This applies as a rule to the General Staff of most nations, but not to such painstaking details.
Exhaustive Knowledge of Enemies
While undergoing instructions in the Admiral Stab in the Königgräteer Strasse 70 previous to my being sent on an English mission, a controversy arose between my instructor and myself as to the distance between two towns on the Lincolnshire coast. He pushed a button and requested the answering orderly to bring map 64 and the officer in charge. With the usual promptness, both map and officer appeared. The officer, who could not have been more than twenty-five years of age, discussed, with me in fluent colloquial English the whole of this section of Lincolnshire. Not a hummock, road, road house, even to farmer's residences and blacksmith's shop, of which he did not have exact knowledge. I expressed astonishment at this most unusual acquaintance with the locality, and suggested that he must have spent considerable time in residence there. Conceive my astonishment when informed that he had never been out of Germany and the only voyage ever undertaken by him led him as far as Helgoland. Subsequently through careful inquiries and research—my work bringing me into constant contact with the various divisions—I found that the whole of England, France, and Russia was carefully cut into sections, each of those sections being in charge of two officers and a secretary whose sole duty it was to acquaint and make themselves perfectly familiar with everything in that particular locality. Through the far-reaching system of espionage, the latest and most up-to-date information is always forthcoming, and time and again I myself, often returning from a mission like one of those to the naval base in Scotland, have sat by the hour verbally amplifying my previous reports.
A part of the intelligence system is the personality squad, whose duty it is to acquaint themselves with the personality of every army and navy officer of the leading powers. I have seen reports as to the environments, habits, hobbies, and general proclivities of men such as Admiral Fisher, commanding the Channel Squadron of the British Navy, down to Colonel Ribault, in charge of a battery in Toulouse. To military or naval officers and men of affairs the reason and benefit of such a system are obvious. The general reader, however, may not quite see the point The position of a commander in the field is analogous to the executive head of a big selling concern. A semipersonal knowledge of the foibles and characteristics of his customers without doubt gives him an advantage over a rival concern, neglecting the personal equation being really more important than is generally understood. This has long been recognized and fully taken advantage of by the German Army authorities.
Within the last few years an entirely new, and, according to German ideas, most important factor has entered and seriously disturbed the relative military power of European nations. This is the aerial weapon.
Since the days of Otto Lilienthal and his glider, it has been the policy of Germany to keep track of all inventions likely to be embodied and made use of in the War Machine. It is a far cry from Lilienthal's glider to the last word in aerial construction such as the mysterious Zeppelin-Parseval sky monster that, carrying a complement of twenty-five men and twelve tons of explosives, sailed across the North Sea, circled over London, and returned to Germany. Lilienthal's glider kept aloft four minutes, but this new dreadnought of Germany's flying navy was aloft ninety-six hours, maintaining a speed of thirty-eight miles an hour, this even in the face of a storm pressure of almost eight meters. Such feats as this are significant. They are at the same time the outcome and the cause of the development of this part of the War Machine.
It is my purpose here to tell you how far Germany has advanced and progressed in this struggle for mastery of the sky. I shall expose facts about her system that have never appeared in print—that have never been heard in conversation. They are known only to the General Staff at Berlin, not even in the cabinets of Europe.
Secret Aerial Strength
Germany without doubt has the most up-to-date aerial fleet in the world. The budget of the Reichstag of 1908-1909 allowed and provided for the building and maintenance of twelve dirigibles of the Zeppelin type. So far as the knowledge of the rest of the world is concerned this is all the sky navy that Germany possesses. It is a fact, though, that she has three times the number that she officially acknowledges.
The dirigible-balloon centers in Germany are five, and they are situated at vitally strategic points. There are two on the French border, one on the Russian border, one on the Atlantic Coast, and a central station near Berlin. The exact places are Strassburg, Frankfort on the Main, Posen, Wilhelmshafen, and Berlin.
This does not include the marvelous station at Helgoland in the North Sea, this being a strategic point in relation to Great Britain. Nothing is known about this Helgoland station. None but those on official business are permitted within a thousand yards of it. I shall tell things, concerning it.
Besides these purely military posts there are a number of commercial stations necessary as depots of the regular transportation aerial lines that operate for the convenience of the public. Like Germany's commercial steamers, however, they are controlled and subsidized by the Government. At a few hour's notice they can be converted and made use of for Government purposes. Taking these transportation lines, into consideration, it is safe to state, that by now Germany could send fifty huge airships to war.
It may be a puzzle to Americans why, in the face of disasters and accidents to these Zeppelins, Germany is spending about $4,000,000 on her aerial fleet. Now we come to a very significant point. I know, and certain members of the German General Staff know as well as trusted men in the aerial corps, that there are two conditions under which airships are operated in Germany. One is the ordinary more of less well-known system which characterizes the operation of all the passenger lines now in service in the Empire. It is the system under which all the disasters that appear in the newspapers occur. Airships that are used in the general army flights and maneuvers are also run under the same system as the passenger dirigibles—for a reason.
The other system is an absolute secret of the German General Staff. It is not used in the general maneuvers, only in specific cases, and these always secretly. It has been proved to be effective in eliminating 75 per cent of the accidents which have characterized all of Germany's adventures in dirigibles and heavier-than-air machines. These statistics are known only among the German General Staff officers. Let us go into this further. Critics of the German dirigible who foolishly rate the French aeroplane superior point out that the Zeppelins have three serious defects—bulk and heaviness of structure, inflammability of the lifting power—the gas that floats them—and insufficiency of fuel carriage. In other words, they cannot ship enough gas to stay in the air a desired length of time without coming down. The secret devices of the German war office have eliminated all these objectionable features. They have overcome the condition of bulk and heaviness of structure by their government chemists devising the formula of a material that is lighter than aluminum, yet which possesses all of that metal's density and which has also the flexibility of steel. Airships not among the twelve that Germany officially admits are made of this material. Its formula is a Government secret and England or France would give thousands of dollars to possess it.
The objection of flammability of the lifting power has also been overcome. The power of the ordinary hydrogen gas in all its various forms has been multiplied threefold by a new gas discovered at the Spandau Government chemical laboratory. This gas has also the enormous advantage of being absolutely unflammable. I have seen experiments mad with it. It cannot be used for illuminating purposes. Dirigibles that are equipped with it are not liable to the awful explosions that have characterized flights under the ordinary system. The new gas has also the enormous advantage of having a liquid form. To produce the gas it is only necessary to let the ordinary atmosphere come in contact with the liquid. Carried in cylinders two feet long and with a diameter of six inches it is obvious that enough of this liquid can be carried aboard the big war dirigibles to permit their refilling in mid-air. So, you see, all the objections to the commonly known system of operation have been overcome by the War Office.
The last dirigible tried by the War Office in 1912, the mysterious Zeppelin X, made a continuous trip from Stettin over the Baltic to Uppsala in Sweden, thence across the Baltic again to Riga in the Gulf of Finland, where it doubled and sailed back to Stettin. This was a journey of 976 miles. The airship had a complement of twenty-five men and twelve tons of dead weight. It traveled under severe weather conditions, the month being March, and snowstorms, hail, and rain occurred throughout the voyage. The significance of this flight can be easily understood if you consider that the distance from Strassburg or Düsseldorf to Paris or other strategical points in France is approximately 480 kilometers. A ship like the Zeppelin X could sail over the French border, dynamite the fortifications around Paris and return, the journey being roughly about 1,000 kilometers or some hundreds of kilometers less than the actual trip made by the Zeppelin X. Moreover the German military trials have shown the possibility of an aerial fleet leaving its home ports and cruising to foreign lands and returning without the necessity of landing to replenish its gas tanks or fuel.
The Aerial Corps
Let me show you how the German aerial corps is made up. It is called the Luftschiffer Abteilung and is composed of ten battalions, each consisting of 350 men. They are all absolutely trained for this branch of the service. Only the smartest mechanics and artificers are selected. In the higher positions the most intelligent and bravest officers hold command. Comparing the usual pay in continental armies, the wages of the men in the German aerial corps are exceptionally high. In fact they are the highest paid in the German army. They are not ordinary enlisted men, meaning that they serve only their two years' time. Most of them have agreed to serve a lengthy term. Married men are not encouraged to enroll in this branch of the service. It is obvious from the nature of the work that the hazards are often great The wonderful system of the German War Machine has been installed with rare detail in the aerial corps. The equipment of the different stations is really marvelous for everything human ingenuity has been able to devise concerning the dirigible you will find in application. Each station is fully equipped and is an absolutely independent center in itself. Take the base at Helgoland. It is the newest and the one that is always cloaked with secrecy.
Guarding the Dirigibles
At the extreme eastern corner of the island of Helgoland one sees, amid the sandy dunes, three vast oblong iron-gray structures. At a distance they are not unlike overgrown gasometers. I say at a distance, for it is impossible for any visitor to get within a thousand yards of the station. The solitary approach is guarded by a triple post of the marine guard. If you walk toward the station, before you come within a hundred yards of the guard, you will find large signs setting forth in unmistakable and terse language that dire and swift penalties follow any further exploration in that direction. Not only English but German visitors to Helgoland have found out that even the slightest infringement of the rules of these signs is dangerous. I shall, however, take you a little closer.
Walking on until you are within fifty yards of the great balloon sheds, you pause before a tall fence of barbed wire, this connected with an elaborate alarm-bell system that sounds in the two guardhouses. For instance, if an enterprising secret agent of France were to try and steal up on the station, if he came by night and cut through the barbed wire, a series of bells would immediately sound the general alarm. Having passed through the six strands of barbed wire a tall octagonal tower meets the eye. In this tower are installed two powerful searchlights as well as a complete wireless outfit. All the Zeppelins carry wireless. By means of elaborate reflectors, it is possible with the searchlights to flood the whole place with daylight in the middle of night. Thus ascensions can be made safely at any hour of the twenty-four. The three oblong sheds stand in a row, the middle being the largest, having spaces for two complete dirigibles, while the other sheds house but one each. They are about 800 feet long, 200 feet broad and 120 feet high. The whole structure itself can be shifted to about an angle of forty degrees, this being worked on a plan similar to the railroad engine turntable. The reason for it is that with the veering of the wind the sheds are turned so that the doors will be placed advantageously for the removal of the airship.
Dirigibles Replace Forts
The whole layout and the vast area of space show that it is the Government's intention still further to increase the plant In fact, on my last visit to Helgoland—and it was nearly three years ago—I saw the evidence of another shed about to be built at the station is the most efficient meteorological department of all the stations. The most sensitive, and up-to-date instruments connected with this science are there in duplicate and the highest experts such as only Germany can produce are in charge of the department.
When I was at Helgoland I noticed a vast difference in the strength of the fortifications compared to what they had been. They used to be tremendous, but since the addition of the naval base they have become secondary. Half the soldiers on duty there have been transferred elsewhere; so with the big guns. There is no longer any need of them. As I stated, I saw a fourth big balloon shed in the course of construction. I have not been on the island for nearly three years. Nobody has been near the extreme eastern end except those closely identified with the service. Considering that Germany has not built more than one extra shed, that means five dirigibles, and there is nothing on earth that could stand up against them. Helgoland does not need forts any more. The new forts float in sky and can rain death.
Helgoland has long been a sore spot of British diplomacy. Seized from Denmark in 1807, it was formally ceded to England in 1814; now it is a menace to her. While Lord Salisbury was Prime Minister of England, he conceived what he believed to be a shrewd diplomatic move. He offered Bismarck the island of Helgoland in exchange for some East African concessions, and it became a German possession in 1890. Helgoland is now the key and guard of Germany's main artery of commerce, being the key to Hamburg. With the dirigible station of Helgoland to guard her, Hamburg is impregnable, and on England's northern coast they have a way of looking out across the North Sea with troubled eyes!
Let us consider one of these new war monsters, the latest and most powerful, the X 15. The latest Zeppelins, charged with the newly discovered dioxygenous gas, giving these sky battleships triple lifting capacity; the perfecting of the Diesel motor, giving enormous horsepower percentage with light fuel consumption (fifty of these Diesel engines, their workings secret to the German Government, are stored under guard at the big navy yards at Wilhelmshafen and Kiel, ready to be installed at the break of war in submarines and dirigibles), have given the German type of aircraft an importance undreamed of and unsuspected by the rest of the world.
Guns on the Zeppelins
The operating sphere of the new balloons has extended from 100 to 1,400 kilometers. Secret trial trips of a fully equipped Zeppelin like X 15, carrying a crew of twenty-four men, six quick-firing guns, seven tons of explosives, have extended from Stettin, over the Baltic, over the Swedish coast, recrossing the Baltic and landing at Swinemünde, with enough gas, fuel, and provisions left to keep aloft another thirty-six hours. The distance all told covered on one of these trips was 1,180 kilometers. This fact speaks for itself. The return distance from Helgoland to London, or any midland towns in England corresponds to the mileage covered on recent trips. In the event of hostilities between England and Germany this statement needs no explanation. That is why I mentioned that the latter-day Zeppelins were a powerful factor in bringing about an amiable understanding between those two powerful countries. For neither the historic wooden walls of Nelson's day nor the steel plates of her modern navy could help England or any other nation against the inroads of the monsters of the air.
The Damage They Can Do
The capacity of seven tons of explosives does not exhaust the resources of this type of weapon. I have it on good authority that the new Zeppelins can carry double that quantity of explosives if necessary. As the size of these vessels increases, so does the ratio of their carrying capacity.
Picture the havoc a dozen such vultures could create attacking a city like London or Paris. Present-day defense against these ships is totally inadequate. In attacking large places, the Zeppelins would rise to a height of from 6,000 to 8,000 feet, at which distance these huge cigar-shaped engines of death, 700 feet long, would appear the size of a football, and no bigger. I know that Zeppelins have successfully sailed aloft at an altitude of 10,000 feet. Picture them at that elevation, everybody aboard in war, comfortable quarters, ready to drop explosives to the ground. The half informed man—and there appear to be many such in European cabinets, which recalls the proverb about a little knowledge being a dangerous thing—likes to say that a flock of aeroplanes can put a dirigible out of business. Consider now an aeroplane at an elevation of 6,000 feet and remember that the new Zeppelins have gone thousands of feet higher. An aviator at 6,000 feet is so cold that he is practically useless for anything but guiding his machine. How in the world is he or his seat mate going to do harm to a big craft the size of the Zeppelin that is far above him? Any aviator who has ever gone up, say 8,000 feet, will tell you when he comes down what a harrowing experience he has had. What good can an individual be, exposed to the temperature and the elements at such an altitude in doing harm to the calm, comfortable gentlemen in the heated compartments of the Zeppelin?— Quatsch! which is a German army term for piffle.
At 8,000 feet the small target a Zeppelin affords would move at a rate of speed of from thirty-five to sixty miles an hour. The possible chances of being hit by terrestrial gunfire are infinitesimally small. This does not take into account the vast opportunities that a dirigible has for night attacks or the possibility of hiding among the clouds. The X15, sailing over London, could drop explosives down and create a terrible havoc. They don't have to aim. They simply dump overboard some of the new explosive of the German Government, this new chemical having the property of setting on fire anything it hits, and they sail on. And remember that whenever the new German explosive strikes conflagration begins.
Aeroplanes, biplanes, monoplanes, and the other innumerable host of small craft so often quoted as a possible counterdefense against the Zeppelin, are overrated and are in any case theoretical. The German authorities have made vast and exhaustive trials in these matters. The strenuous efforts on the part of this Empire to increase its dirigible fleet are to my way of thinking answer enough.
© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013
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THE HEADLONG FURY
A Novel of World War One
By J. Fred MacDonald