The charges were promptly denied by Secretary Baker, who was also warmly defended by the President. The Secretary at his own request was given an opportunity to appear before the Senate Military Committee on Jan. 28 and reply to the criticisms leveled at his department. He admitted that there had been delays, mistakes and false starts, but asserted that these were only the inevitable accompaniments of work prosecuted on such a colossal scale, and that in general the accomplishments of the Administration deserved praise rather than rebuke. He explained the delay in furnishing rifles and ordnance, and to the charges of hospital neglect, replied that in an army of over a million men only eighty complaints had been made of neglect or abuse. All defects and shortcomings, he declared, were being remedied as rapidly as possible.
Whatever may have been the merits of the case, the criticism resulted in a quickening of Government effort and a thorough reorganization of the War Department. An order was issued by Secretary Baker on Feb. 10, 1918, directing the establishment of five divisions of the General Staff as follows:
1. An Executive Division under an executive assistant to the Chief of Staff.
2. A War Plans Division under a Director.
3. A Purchase and Supply Division under a Director.
4. A Storage and Traffic Division under a Director.
5. An Army Operations Division under a Director.
The authority of the Chief of Staff was emphasized, and it was believed that this concentration of authority would result in greatly increased efficiency. The new organization began functioning at once, and the results speedily became apparent in the more rapid movement of troops and supplies to France.
A serious disaster to the naval arm of the service occurred Feb. 5, 1918, when the British steamship, “Tuscania,” which was engaged as a transport in carrying United States troops to France, was torpedoed by a German submarine. The attack took place off the north coast of Ireland. There were 2,179 American soldiers on board, and of these nearly two hundred lost their lives.
The vital problem of financing the war for ourselves and in large part for our Allies continued to be met by the issue of loans. The second Liberty Loan closed on Oct. 27, 1917, and amounted to $4,617,532,300. As the amount asked for was three billions, this represented an oversubscription of 54 per cent. The total of subscribers was 9,400,000. This number of buyers, vast as it was, was exceeded by those for the third loan which closed on May 4, 1918, with a subscription of over four billions, a billion more than was requested. On this occasion the buyers exceeded 17,000,000. The results were exceedingly gratifying, not only because of the amounts secured, but because of the popular determination to win the war evinced by the widespread distribution of the loan.
The treaties of Germany with dispirited Russia at Brest-Litovsk and with vanquished Rumania at Bucharest had revealed anew the cynicism of the German Government, and the threat that was held out to all the free peoples of the world, if the war should result in final German triumph. President Wilson, in an address on the treaties delivered at Baltimore, April 6, 1918, reviewed the events that led up to and followed them, and gave utterance to the “Force to the utmost” phrase which stirred the nation like a clarion call.
“Germany has once more said that force and force alone shall decide whether justice and peace shall reign in the affairs of men, whether right as America conceives it or dominion as she conceives it shall determine the destinies of mankind. There is therefore but one response possible for us: Force, force to the utmost, force without stint or limit, the righteous and triumphant force which shall make right the law of the world and cast every selfish dominion down in the dust.”
The real baptism of fire for the American troops in France was now beginning. Hitherto there had been scattered and comparatively small actions, which had, however, demonstrated American pluck and mettle. American army engineers working on the British railways near Gouzeaucourt, on Nov. 30, 1917, had been caught in the swirl of an unexpected German attack. They had dropped their picks and shovels, grasped rifles wherever they could find them, and fought side by side with the British repelling the assault. The French communique rendered “warm praise to the coolness, courage and discipline of these improvised combatants.”
The first action of note, although still only a minor operation, in which Americans took part was the affair at Seicheprey in the Toul sector, April 20, 1918. A force of Germans numbering about 1,500, of whom a considerable portion were shock troops, launched itself against the American trenches on a one-mile front. The attack had been preceded by a heavy bombardment. Gas as