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Germany Military Railways At War

German Railroads 1910 mapRailroads served many uses in war; in the first place, they are a very important means for hastening the mobilization of the army and navy. When the declaration of war affects hundreds of thousands or even millions of men, the first days of mobilization saw numerous removals of persons belonging to the active service and the reserve. The transportation of men called to the colors from their homes to the place of assembly or directly to their regiment, the transportation of the quotas oi the various districts to their regiments, the transportation of horses and material of the fortresses, of coal for the navy, and the replacing of the reserves—all this means an extraordinary demand upon the railroads which cannot be effected without preparation. Then after the mobilization came the transportation of the troops and the staff corps to the theatre of war. One train after another then departs to the menaced frontier to carry the army to the zone of deployment and to the points of debarkation determined on in advance.

Thanks to the railroads, the time necessary for mobilization required no greater number of days than weeks formerly. Without them 20th Century armies could not be placed in line of battle. Like gigantic columns of march which reach to all parts of the country, the different parts follow one another at great intervals, but in rapid succession; army corps, divisions, etc., with all their constituent parts, combatant or non-combatant, are moved to their destinations and arrive at the theatre of war with no considerable loss during the journey.

In the summer of 1914, Europe was a tinderbox awaiting a spark. The bellicosity of Germany toward both Russia and France dictated for the Germans a two-front war. To meet this contingency, the German General Staff had laid its plans to defeat France swiftly before the Russians with their ponderous masses could fully mobilize, then to shift forces rapidly to the east and destroy the Russians at will.

On 01 August 1914, Germany was to declare war on Russia, not because a solution of the Servian question appeared impossible of attainment, but because Russia was mobilizing her armv. On July 29, when Russia had ordered mobilization in four districts on the Austro-Hungarian frontier, the Kaiser had telegraphed'the warning to the Czar that "military measures by Russia, which might be construed as a menace by Austria-Hungary, would accelerate a calamity which both of us desire to avoid." The Czar had replied, July 30, that the partial Russian mobilization had been decided five days ago (i.e., July 25) and "for reason of defense against the preparations of Austria." M. Sazonov stated, moreover, on July 30, that he had absolute proof that Germany was making military and naval preparations against Russia. On July 30, also, Jules Cambon reported the German foreign minister Von Jagow as saying that the heads of the army in Germany were insisting on German mobilization since every delay would be a loss of strength to the German army.

At midnight on July 31, the German ambassador delivered a twelve-hour ultimatum demanding that Russia stop the process of mobilization not only against Germany, but against Austria-Hungary as well. To this peremptory summons, Russia vouchsafed no reply. Demobilization would have left Russia defenseless before the mobilized armies of Austria-Hungary and open to a swift attack from Germany. Two hours after the expiration of the time-limit, the Czar telegraphed asking the Kaiser to promise, as Russia had promised, that in spite of mobilization Germany would strive for peace. The Kaiser replied that war could be averted only by Russian compliance with the German ultimatum. German mobilization was ordered on August 1 at 5 PM At 7:10 PM the German ambassador at Petrograd presented a note declaring that since Russia had refused to demobilize, a state of war now existed between Russia and Germany.

The German government maintained a complete military organization of its railway lines, and construction was primarily for strategic purposes and military operations. From the time that war was declared on Aug. 2, 1914, the mobilization of the troops was effected rapidly by railway service which included not only the actual moving of military units, but also bringing men to their homes or appointed places, while at the same time a large number of tourists were transported to frontiers or elsewhere.

The early movements of the railway lines included the elimination of loading and unloading freight cars that were not needed for the transport of military material. The operation of troop trains began a few hours after the actual mobilization under the direction of the chief of the military railway organization and his staff, under whom all railways became immediately subject, as he was empowered to issue all orders for regulating the war traffic, and had at his disposal the railway sections of the great railway staff in Berlin.

As was natural, the construction operations of the German railway troops consisted during the first months of the war in replacing tracks and restoring damaged railway buildings and other plants, or laying new lines where they were required by the military authorities. The nature of the operations required the construction of small field railways to bring up ammunition and provisions to the particular places where German troops were located, and these lines became increasingly important with the development of French fighting. Many of the bridges which were destroyed, and which had been temporarily repaired, were replaced by permanent structures, various tunnels were restored, and a large number of lines opened to traffic, this requiring in many cases the construction of stations and increased station facilities.

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Page last modified: 15-11-2011 18:54:33 ZULU