File No. 763.72/1642

The Ambassador in Germany (Gerard) to the Secretary of State

No. 672]

Sir: With reference to the Department’s telegram No. 1208 of February 17, 1915,1 and to the Embassy’s telegraphic reply, No. 1648 of February 19, 1915,2 regarding the military and economic condition of Germany, I have the honor to report further as follows: The Chief of the General Staff has stated to the military attaché of the Embassy that—

No one knows the exact number of German soldiers under arms; that if anyone knew it he would know it and that he knows it only approximately. It can be estimated that there are four million men with the armies on the various fronts and that two million more are in the barracks and throughout the territory now occupied by the Germans. It is stated that 80 to 88 per cent of the wounded return to duty with their regiments. The losses of Germany [Page 21] and Austria-Hungary together amounted, the Emperor informed the military attaché, to about 1,500,000. The German losses in men not able to return to the front are probably 450,000 to 500,000. There are very many Landwehr divisions and Landwehr corps, and Landsturm battalions and regiments. There are also battalions of Landsturm called Arbeiter-Bataillons. Very many of the older men are also employed as guards on the lines of communication and in the occupied enemy’s country.

As regards the commissariat, there are ample supplies everywhere for the troops, who are fed better, as far as one can judge, at the front than they are in time of peace. The clothing is excellent and ample. What is furnished by the Government is largely supplemented by gifts from the people. These gifts are handled in the same systematic manner that the Government supplies for the army are handled and the troops have lacked nothing that is necessary. At times, for a day or two there may have been some shortage for particular units but those occasions have probably been rare. The troops have everywhere appeared to be in the best of health and there is said to be a smaller percentage of sickness at the front than in garrisons in time of peace. The supply of arms and ammunition is also ample. It must also be taken into consideration that large quantities of arms have been captured, especially machine guns, and these as well as the artillery guns have been used by the Germans.

As regards copper, there are old mines in Germany which were abandoned on account of the costs of getting out the copper, which mines can be reopened. There are copper mines in Belgium and in the part of France occupied by the Germans. In addition, a thorough account is said to have been made of the amount of copper in the houses, etc., throughout Germany and it was found that there is a sufficient quantity of copper to last two more years, if it is necessary to call on the people to give that to the Government as was done a few months since as regards woolen articles.

What strikes one most forcibly is the careful economy practiced by the German authorities in saving everything on the field of battle—everything belonging to the wounded, everything that can be useful in war. All articles, of every description, are picked up, sent back, sorted, and then utilized. For instance, clothing is disinfected, washed, repaired, pressed and reissued. This is a wonderful saving in itself.

So many field kitchens have been captured from the Russians that almost all of the German troops now have them, whereas in the beginning of the war the infantry and foot artillery only had wheeled field kitchens. All old iron is picked up and sent back. The most careful requisitioning has been made in the enemy’s country occupied by the German troops. Threshing machines have been sent to the front and wheat and other grain threshed out by or under the direction of the German soldiers, when quantities of it were found.

These are merely cited as instances of the care that is taken not to waste anything which may be useful in the prosecution of the war.

This year’s annual drafting of new men for the army certainly would more than have replaced the losses that have been suffered by the Germans and the services of the larger proportion of the volunteers have not yet been accepted by the Government.

As the army represents better than anything else the people, it is extremely interesting to see how in every special branch there are a great many experts in that branch performing and ready to perform the work required. This all tends to economy and efficiency. There seems to be absolutely no personal striving for personal reward. Every man is performing the duty assigned to him to the best of his ability wherever he may be and whatever may be the grade that he held at the beginning of the war or now holds.

A great deal has been learned by the Germans during these hostilities and advantage has been taken of all that experience in training the new, as well as in improving the old men.

As regards the fleet, Germany has preserved her principal naval forces almost intact. Those ships which have been lost have been generally of older types or scouting vessels. The esprit de corps of the naval service is of the very highest and the skill, enterprise, and daring have been at all times of the best.

The submarine service has been largely increased and has shown itself to be a very powerful weapon of offensive warfare against England.

As the German battle fleet was somewhat less than half that of England at the beginning of the war, it could hardly be expected that it could engage the [Page 22] enemy against such heavy odds. At the same time the fleet is well prepared and should opportunity occur, will be heard from.

The time has not yet come to judge of the effectiveness of the blockade of England. There can be little doubt, however, that it will seriously affect England’s commerce and probably will very much raise the cost of living in England if not bringing about actual hunger.

The personnel of the German Navy is believed to consist at the present time of about 150,000 men of all branches.

For details of ships in commission, etc., the files of the office of Naval Intelligence should be consulted.

The superior Allied fleets have completely driven German merchant ships from the seas and for the present the carefully built up and splendidly equipped German merchant service is completely paralyzed.

Enormous losses have been sustained in the commercial circles of Germany through the stopping of commerce and the confiscation or interning of so many ships lying in the enemy’s harbors or on the high seas at the outbreak of the war.

Nevertheless the enterprise, wise laws, and splendid system under which the German merchant fleet was built up, remain alive and it may confidently be expected that a few years after this war the German merchant fleet will be again occupying one of the leading positions on the seas.

I have [etc.]

James W. Gerard
  1. Ante, p. 15.
  2. Ante, p. 16.