Hull in WW1
We now call it the First World War or World War One. Contemporaries certainly thought it was a world war and called it that. The term "World War" (Weltkrieg) first appeared in Germany in 1914. The French and British referred to the war as "La Grande Guerre" or the "Great War", but also adopted the term "World War" later in the conflict.
The Germans, seeing themselves pitted against the global empires of Britain and France, felt the world was against them from the outset. From their perspective, the war was of such magnitude that it created a sense of the whole world collapsing - the term World War expressed the scale of fear the conflict unleashed.
After 1945, historians found the term "First World War" appropriate because they saw 1914-1918 as the first of a particular type of international conflict - the world's first industrialised "total" war - which had been followed by a second industrialised world war of this kind - 1939-1945.
There are certainly arguments that can be made, however, that the titles "First World War" and "World War One" are misleading. The Seven Years War, the mid-18th Century battle for supremacy among Europe's great powers, and the Napoleonic Wars were also fought across the globe, on multiple continents causing severe disruption to global trade. Moreover, if measured in comparison to World War Two, which saw widespread fighting in China, South-East Asia and the Pacific, then 1914-1918 looks more like a European conflict - the key fronts that would decide the outcome of the war were all in Europe. However, the war was clearly global in reach, whether it was the first to be so or not. In 1914, the key belligerent states brought their empires automatically into war with them. Together the British and French empires spanned much of the globe, including almost all of Africa and Australasia; the Russian land-based empire reached from Siberia in the North to the Caucasus and to Vladivostok in the East. Japan went to war on the side of the Allies in 1914, invading German colonial territory in China. The entry of the Ottoman Empire into the war brought its colonial possessions in the Middle East, from Iraq to Palestine into the conflict. When, later in the war, the United States and also Brazil entered on the side of the Allied powers, joining Canada and Newfoundland which were already at war as part of the British Empire, then the war truly spanned the global continents.
While none of the war's land battles occurred in the Americas, which some historians have claimed meant that World War One was not as global as the Seven Years war or the Napoleonic Wars (if you include the Anglo-American 1812 conflict), this is to ignore the First World War at sea, which saw engagements off the Coronel and Falkland Islands, as well as the war's disruption of American shipping across the Atlantic.
World War One was also global in terms of the range of ethnicities and nationalities mobilised to fight. The British mobilised more than a million Indian men for the war. They made up one third of the British army on the Western Front in 1914 - but also fought in East Africa and in Mesopotamia. The French, meanwhile, brought men to Europe from overseas, including Indochina, Madagascar, Senegal, Algeria and Tunisia. The Germans too mobilised black colonial troops but only for use in Africa - Germany believed using non-white troops in Europe was a dangerous breach of colonial racial hierarchies.
Global attitudes were also changed. The Japanese called for a clause on the equality of all races to be inserted into the League of Nations covenant after the war - they were unsuccessful, but the idea revealed changing mindsets. The first Pan-African Congress, held in Paris in 1919, advocated that African peoples should govern themselves. The war's legacy was new global ideas about the right of peoples to self-determination and the need for a global system of international co-operation, which was embodied in the League of Nations. It was a war that utterly altered the world and in this regard, in the sheer scale of the changes it brought, it was certainly a first.
More than 60 million soldiers fought in the armies of the different combatant nations. The total number of deaths includes about 10 million military personnel and about 7 million civilians. The Allies lost about 6 million military personnel while the Central Powers lost about 4 million. At least 2 million died from diseases and 6 million went missing, presumed dead. As well as killing 17 million people, the Great War caused another 21 million wounded. Even today communities around the world are still scarred by their legacy of World War One.
The Middle East Campaign
The Middle Eastern theatre of World War I saw action between 29 October 1914 and 30 October 1918. The combatants were on the one hand, the Ottoman Empire (including Kurds, Persians and some Arab tribes), with some assistance from the other Central Powers, and on the other hand, the British (with the help of the Jews and the majority of the Arabs) and the Russians (with the aid of the Armenians and some Assyrian tribes) from the Allies of World War I. There were five main campaigns: the Sinai and Palestine Campaign, the Mesopotamian Campaign, the Caucasus Campaign, the Persian Campaign, and the Gallipoli Campaign. There were also several minor campaigns: the North African Campaign, Arab Campaign, and South Arabia Campaign.
Allied military losses are placed between 1,000,000 and 1,500,000 which include those killed, wounded, captured or missing. Against this, total Ottoman losses are recorded as being almost as high as 25% of the population, which equates to approximately 5 million out of population of 21 million. Among the 5 million killed, only 771,844 were military casualties, killed in action or who died from other causes. Military casualties therefore only represent 15% of the total casualties, while 85% – slightly more than 4,000,000 (from all millets) – remain unaccounted for. Ottoman statistics analyzed by a Turkish professor, Kamer Kasim from Manchester University, claim that the cumulative percentage was actually 26.9% (1.9% higher than the 25% reported by Western sources) of the population, which stands out among the countries that took part in World War I. This increase of 1.9% is significant, representing a further 399,000 civilians in the total number. Also, one third of the population died in the largely forgotten famine of Mount Lebanon. A devastating confluence of political and environmental factors lead to the deaths of 200,000 men, women and children in the region.
Main article: Serbian Campaign (World War I)
Austria invaded and fought the Serbian army at the Battle of Cer and Battle of Kolubara beginning on 12 August. Over the next two weeks, Austrian attacks were thrown back with heavy losses, which marked the first major Allied victories of the war and dashed Austro-Hungarian hopes of a swift victory. As a result, Austria had to keep sizable forces on the Serbian front, weakening its efforts against Russia. Serbia's defeat of the Austro-Hungarian invasion of 1914 counts among the major upset victories of the last century. However, Serbia's losses were enormous. It lost more than 1,100,000 inhabitants during the war (both army and civilian losses), which represented over 27% of its overall population and 60% of its male population. According to estimates by the Yugoslav government (1924) Serbia had lost 265,164 soldiers, or 25% of all mobilized people. By comparison, France lost 16.8%, Germany 15.4%, Russia 11.5%, and Italy 10.3%.
German forces in Belgium and France
At the outbreak of World War I, 80% of the German army (consisting in the West of seven field armies) was deployed in the west according to the plan Aufmarsch II West. However, they were then assigned the operation of the retired deployment plan Aufmarsch I West, also known as the 'Schlieffen Plan'. This would march German armies through northern Belgium and into France, in an attempt to encircle the French army and then breach the 'second defensive area' of the fortresses of Verdun and Paris and the Marne river.
Aufmarsch I West was one of four deployment plans available to the German General Staff in 1914, each plan favouring but not specifying a certain operation that was well-known to the officers expected to carry it out under their own initiative with minimal oversight. Aufmarsch I West, designed for a one-front war with France, had been retired once it became clear that it was irrelevant to the wars Germany could expect to face; both Russia and Britain were expected to help France and there was no possibility of Italian nor Austro-Hungarian troops being available for operations against France. But despite its unsuitability, and the availability of more sensible and decisive options, it retained a certain allure that the other plans due to its offensive nature and the 'cult of the offensive' that held great sway over much pre-war thinking. Accordingly, the Aufmarsch II West deployment was repurposed to initiate the 'Schlieffen Plan' offensive despite the negligible chances of its then-unrealistic goals and the insufficient forces Germany had available.
The plan called for the right flank of the German advance to bypass the French armies (which were concentrated on the Franco-German border, leaving the Belgian border without significant French forces) and move south to Paris. Initially the Germans were successful, particularly in the Battle of the Frontiers (14–24 August). By 12 September, the French, with assistance from the British forces, halted the German advance east of Paris at the First Battle of the Marne (5–12 September), and pushed the German forces back some 50 km (31 mi). The last days of this battle signified the end of mobile warfarein the west. The French offensive into Southern Alsace, launched on 20 August with the Battle of Mulhouse, had limited success.
In the east, the Russians invaded with two armies. In response, Germany rapidly moved the 8th field army, from its previous role as reserve for the invasion of France, to East Prussia by rail across the German Empire. This army, led by general Paul von Hindenburg defeated Russia in a series of battles collectively known as the First Battle of Tannenberg (17 August – 2 September). While the Russian invasion failed, it cause the diversion of German troops to the east, allowing the tactical Allied victory at the First Battle of the Marne. This meant that Germany failed to achieve its objective of avoiding a long-two front war. However, the German army had fought its way into a good defensive position inside France and effectively halved France's supply of coal. It had also killed or permanently crippled 230,000 more French and British troops than it itself had lost. Despite this, communications problems and questionable command decisions cost Germany the chance of a more decisive outcome.
Asia and the Pacific
New Zealand occupied German Samoa (later Western Samoa) on 30 August 1914. On 11 September, the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force landed on the island of Neu Pommern (later New Britain), which formed part of German New Guinea. On 28 October, the German cruiser SMS Emden sank the Russian cruiser Zhemchug in the Battle of Penang. Japan seized Germany's Micronesian colonies and, after the Siege of Tsingtao, the German coaling port of Qingdao on the ChineseShandong peninsula. As Vienna refused to withdraw the Austro-Hungarian cruiser SMS Kaiserin Elisabeth from Tsingtao, Japan declared war not only on Germany, but also on Austria-Hungary; the ship participated in the defense of Tsingtao where it was sunk in November 1914. Within a few months, the Allied forces had seized all the German territories in the Pacific; only isolated commerce raiders and a few holdouts in New Guinea remained.
Some of the first clashes of the war involved British, French, and German colonial forces in Africa. On 6–7 August, French and British troops invaded the German protectorate of Togoland and Kamerun. On 10 August, German forces in South-West Africa attacked South Africa; sporadic and fierce fighting continued for the rest of the war. The German colonial forces in German East Africa, led by Colonel Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, fought a guerrilla warfare campaign during World War I and only surrendered two weeks after the armistice took effect in Europe.
After the war former German colonies were divided between the Allied powers and this ended Europe's 'scramble for Africa'. The African campaighns caused an estimate of 350,000 casualties and a death rate of 1:7 people. African found on all sides and were largely coerced into being carriers and porters. They were rarely paid and food and cattle were stolen from civilians. A famine caused by the consequent food shortage and poor rains in 1917, led to another 300,000 civilian deaths in Ruanda, Urundi and German East Africa. The impressment of farm labour in British East Africa, the failure of the rains at the end of 1917 and early 1918, also led to famine. In September 1918, Spanish flu reached sub-Saharan Africa. In British East Africa 160,000–200,000 people died, in South Africa there were 250,000–350,000 deaths and in German East Africa 10–20 % of the population died of famine and disease. In sub-Saharan Africa, between 1,500,000–2,000,000 people died in the epidemic.
Kenya's forgotten Heroes - http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-28836752
Why was the first German Defeat in WW1 in Africa - http://www.bbc.co.uk/guides/zck9kqt
The African soldiers dragged into a Europe's war - http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-33329661
Indian support for the Allies
Contrary to British fears of a revolt in India, the outbreak of the war saw an unprecedented outpouring of loyalty and goodwill towards Britain. Indian political leaders from the Indian National Congress and other groups were eager to support the British war effort, since they believed that strong support for the war effort would further the cause of Indian Home Rule. The Indian Army in fact outnumbered the British Army at the beginning of the war. About 1.3 million Indian soldiers and labourers served in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, while the central government and the princely states sent large supplies of food, money, and ammunition. The Indian Army included 800,000 Hindus and 400,000 Muslim soldiers. Over 130,000 Sikh men also served in the war and Sikhs made up 20% of the British Indian Army in action, despite being just 1% of the Indian population at the time. In all, 140,000 men from the Indian Army served on the Western Front and nearly 700,000 in the Middle East. Casualties of Indian soldiers totalled 47,746 killed and 65,126 wounded during World War I. Eight Victoria Cross were awarded to Indian Troops, the first of which was to Khudadad Khan, VC, a Muslim soldier, on the 31st October 1914. The suffering engendered by the war, as well as the failure of the British government to grant self-government to India after the end of hostilities, bred disillusionment and fuelled the campaign for full independence that would be led by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and others.
Why the Indian soldiers of WW1 were forgotten - http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-33317368
The War at Sea
The 'Sea Front' was a global war that lasted the longest. More than two weeks before the first British soldier was killed, some 130 souls were lost on HMS Amphion when it was sunk in the North Sea. The European war was barely 30 hours old. The North Sea was the main theater of the war for surface action. Although safeguarding the English Channel was vital to protect the British Expeditionary Force. The German U-boat campaign in the Atlantic sank much of British merchant shipping causing shortages of food and other necessities. Naval combat also took place in the Meditteranean, the Black Sea, the Baltic Sea and other Oceans throughout the war.
The only full scale confrontation of the war between British and Germans fleets took place on 31st May 1916 and came to be known as the Battle Jutland. Jutland was to be the World's largest ever naval battle, and proved catastrophic for both sides. The British lost three battle cruisers, three cruisers, eight destroyers and suffered 6,100 casualties while the Germans lost one battleship, one battle cruiser, four cruisers and five destroyers and 2,550 casualties. The outcome of Jutland came as a huge shock to the British Admiralty, as the British fleet had clearly outnumbered German forces (151 to 99). However, Jutland is surprisingly still seen as a victory as it established that Britain had command over the North Sea. Victory would be total. But there was to be no further battle. After four years of naval stalemate, Germany delivered her warships into British hands, without a shot being fired. The date was 21 November 1918. World War One had ended on land 10 days earlier, but this was to be the decisive day of victory at sea. During the course of the war the Royal Navy lost; 2 dreadnoughts, 3 battle cruisers, 11 battleships, 25 cruisers, 54 submarines, 64 destroyers 10 torpedo boats and suffered total casualties of 34,642 dead and 4,510 wounded. Britain's Merchant Navy also lost 3,305 merchant ships with a total of 17,000 lives.
The British, with their overwhelming sea power, established a naval blockade of Germany immediately on the outbreak of war in August 1914. A blockade was a useful weapon to undermine German trade and keep the powerful German Navy in port. The British blockade lasted until July 1919 and was unusually restrictive in that even foodstuffs were considered "contraband of war". The Northern Patrol and Dover Patrol closed off access to the North Sea and the English Channel respectively.
The Germans regarded this as a blatant attempt to starve the German people into submission and retaliated with unrestrictive submarine warfare on Allied shipping.The blockade also had a detrimental effect on the U.S. economy which wished to profit from wartime trade with both sides, Eventually, Germany′s submarine campaign and the subsequent sinking of the RMS Lusitania and other civilian vessels with Americans on board, turned U.S. opinion against Germany.
It is widely accepted that the British Naval blockade made a large contribution to the outcome of the war. By 1915, Germany′s imports had fallen by 55% from their prewar levels and the exports were 53% of what they were in 1914. Apart from leading to shortages in vital raw materials such as coal and non-ferrous metals, the blockade also deprived Germany of supplies of fertiliser that were vital to agriculture. This latter led to staples, such as grain, potatoes, meat, and dairy products becoming very scarce. These food shortages caused looting and riots, not only in Germany, but also in Vienna and Budapest. The food shortages got so bad that Austria-Hungary hijacked ships on the Danube that were meant to deliver food to Germany. It is estimated that between 424,000 to 763,000 civilians died of malnutrition and disease deaths due to the blockade of Germany. The restrictions on food imports were not lifted until the 12th July 1919 when Germany signed the Treaty of Versailles.
Over 1.1 million British and Commonwealth troops died, during World War 1. They are buried in over 23,300 cemeteries in more than 150 countries. Their graves are maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC), which replaces 6000 of the 1.1 million individual headstones every year.
Six unexpected WW1 Battlefields http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-30098000
29 June 2014 on the Global war -WW1:Was it really the first World War?. Also Wikipedia for the Campaign information and Getty Images for the photographs. Reproduced here.
The "Great War", (or the First World War as it would be later known), was one of the most destructive wars in world history. It was a war like no other, where the British, French, Russian, German, Austria Hungarian and Ottoman Empires merged into two opposing forces. Centred in Europe, the Great War began on 28 July 1914, and lasted until the 11 November 1918. It soon became a global war, fought by 33 countries, across three continents and across all seas, and involving 70 million combatants. It was the first war to be fought in the air, and to develop new deadly weapons, like rifles, machine guns, heavy artillery, tanks, U-Boats, bombers, flame throwers, barb wire and chemical gas to win the war. These 20th Century war machines were pitted against 19th Century war tacitics, where massed human waves of attacks, were hurled against these deadly new weapons, for just a few yards of ground. However, the opponents were evenly matched and there was tactical stalemate. Industrialised warfare could not break the deadlock, but only magnified the horrors of war. On average, over 6,000 soldiers died every day, for four and half years. It cost the lives of more than 9 million troops and 7 million civilians., with another 21 million servicemen and countless civilians also wounded. Each nation was deeply scarred by the casualties, leaving a lasting impact on social memory. Such collective trauma destroyed optimism, and created a term for those killed in the war as "The Lost Generation". The First World War would pave the way for major political changes, including revolutions in many of the nations involved. The German, Russian, Austria Hungary and Ottoman empires which had ruled with absolute power, now crumbled and by the end of the war, only the British Empire remained. The war marked the beginning of modern history and due to its world impact and significance, was known by those who survived it as "The Great War". The tragedy of the Great war was not that it killed millions of people, but it caused such resentment, that would lead to a Second World War, twenty years later.
The cause of the 'Great War', was a simple problem of Germany, a relatively new country, wanting to expand its empire and economic influence, over much older powers, like, France, Russia and Britain. The term Empire is now a historical anachronism, but in 1914, the world was controlled and dominated by the five European Imperial powers, of Britan, France, Russia, Austria Hungary and the Ottoman Turkish empire. Empire was seen as a legitimate instrument to improve 'civilisation'. Oversea territories and colonies were used as economic markets, to exploit raw materials, control trade and boost national wealth and prestige. The British Empire in 1914, was the largest empire in world history. The Royal Navy ruled the seas, and Britain dominated world trade and controlled one quarter of the world's population. The Russian Empire was about three quarters the size of Britain's. French territory was about half the size and the German Empire was only 10% the size of the British Empire. To Germany, whose population increased by a million people a year, who produced more steel than all other major powers put together and exported 90% of the world's chemicals, this was a barrier to their economic expansion. Germany, frustrated by limited markets and dominated by a militaristic ruling class, increased its army and navy, in preparation to expand its empire. In a tangle of alliances, stretching back decades, a climate of agressive rivaly and tension between countries, burst into war.
The war drew in all the world's economic Great Powers, assembled in two opposing alliances: the Allies (based on the Triple Ententes of Britain, France and the Russian Empire, against the Central Powers of Germany and Austria-Hungary. Although Italy had also been a member of the Triple Alliance alongside Germany and Austria-Hungary, it did not join the Central Powers, as Austria-Hungary had taken the offensive against the terms of the alliance. These alliances were reorganised and expanded as more nations entered the war: Italy, Japan and the United States joined the Allies, and the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria, joined the Central Powers. More than 33 countries, or 1.5 billion people, were formally involved in the Great war, which represented 80% of the world's population. Only a dozen or so countries managed to remain neutral.
The trigger for war was the 28 June 1914 assasination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, by Yugoslav nationalist, Gavrilo Princip, in Sarajevo. This set off a diplomatic crises, when Austria-Hungary delivered an ultimatum to Serbia, and entangled international alliances formed over the previous decades, were invoked. Within 37 days, the major powers were at war and the conflict soon spread around the world.
On 28 July, the Austro-Hungarians, with German support, declared war on Serbia and subsequently invaded. As Russia mobilised in support of Serbia, Germany invaded neutral Belgium and Luxembourg before moving towards France, leading Britain to declare war on Germany. After the German attack on Paris was halted, what became known as the 'Western Front' settled into a war of attrition, with a trench line that would change little until 1917. Meanwhile, on the Eastern Front, the Russian army was successful against the Austro-Hungarians, but was stopped in its invasion of East Prussia by the Germans at Tannenberg. In November 1914, the Ottoman Empire joined the Central Powers, opening fronts in the Caucasus, Mesopotamia and the Sinai. Italy joined the Allies in 1915 and Bulgaria joined the Central Powers in the same year, while Romania joined the Allies in 1916, and the United States joined the Allies in 1917.
The Russian government collapsed in March 1917, and a later revolution in November, forced Russia to abandon the war, via the Treaty of Brest Litovsk. This was a massive German victory, only nullified by the 1918 victories of the Western allies. After a stunning German offensive along the Western Front, in March 1918, the Allies rallied and drove back the Germans in a series of successful offensives. On 4th November 1918, the exhausted Austro-Hungarian empire agreed to an armistice. Germany, facing starvation and problems with internal revolutionaries at home, also agreed to an armistice on 11 November 1918. Thus the First World War suddenly stopped, ending in a strange anti climax, with Germany having conquered vast territories in Russia, collapsing, without being either invaded or defeated.
By the end of 1918, the German Empire, Russian Empire, Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Ottoman Empire had ceased to exist. National borders were redrawn, with several independent nations restored or created, and Germany's colonies were shared out among the winners. The war had cost over $3.5 Trillion dollars. During the Paris Peace conference of 1919, the ‘Big Four’ (Britain, France, the United States and Italy) imposed a series of treaties on their enemies. Germany was made to accept full responsibility for starting the war and then repay the costs of the war to the Allies, through severe reparations which crippled the German economy. In addition, the German Rhineland was de-militarised and the Germany army restrictied to only 100,000 men with no tanks, aircraft, U-Boats or modern weapons. Germany re-unification with Austria was outlawed to prevent this powerful threat ever re-surfacing again. German territories were given away and millions of German speaking people were to become minorities, in the newly formed nations of Poland and Czechoslovakia. These sanctions would humiliate Germany, sowing the seeds of the next World War, twenty years later. The 'League of Nations' was formed with the aim of preventing another 'Great War', but none of the leading powers wanted another war to enforce the sanctions. The 'League', was undermined by weakened states, economic depression, renewed European nationalism, and the German feeling of humiliation contributing to the rise of Nazis. These conditions eventually contributed to World War II. The First World War left an enduring legacy which affects the World today. It included the end of empires and the decline of aristocracy; the development of new nations and the desire for self determination, the need for a global system of international co-operation, such as the 'League of Nations' and the 'United Nations'. It led to new political ideas, such as Communism, Fascism, Pacifism, Social Democracy and votes for women. It taught the world about chemical warfare, shell shock, conscription, and led to medical advances, like blood transfusions and plastic surgery. It developed filmed propaganda, war technology and planned economies. It created the 'Middle East', the growth of Arab nationalism, Zionist ambition and the emergence of modern Turkey.
The following timeline highlights the build up to the Great War and some key events between 1914-1918.
29 year old Wilhelm II, becomes ruler Kaiser Willhelm II of Germany, after his father's untimely death.
* April 8 1904 - Great Britain and France sign the 'Entente Cordiale' - increases co-operation between these two powers.
* 1904-06 - Russio-Japanese war results in a disastrous defeat for Russia and major civil rest back home.
* 1906 - Britain builds the first 'Dreadnought' class battleship. Tensions with Germany increase.
June 28 - Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austria-Hungarian throne and his wife, Sophie are assissinated by Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip while the couple were visiting Sarajevo.
- July 28 - Austria-Hungary declares war on Serbia.
- August 1 - Germany declares war on Russia.
- August 3 - Germany declares war on France. They plan to knock France out of the war by capturing Paris within the first 42 days.
- August 4 - Great Britain declares war on Germany, after Germany invades Belgium.
- August 6 - Austria-Hungary declares war on Russia and Serbia declares war on Germany.
- August 26 - The Battle of Tannenberg begins. Germany halts the Russian advance.
- August 19 - United States President, Woodrow Wilson, states that America will remain neutral.
- September 5 - The First Battle of Marne. German advance blocked. Trench warfare begins as soldiers on both sides dig in.
- October 19 - The First Battle of Ypres begins. The 'Race to the Sea' and outflanking the enemy.
- November 3 - The United Kingdom announces that the North Sea is a military area, effectively creating a blockade of goods into Germany.
- 28 December 24 The unofficial Christmas Truce is declared.
- January 19 - The First Air raids begin - two Zeppelins bomb Great Yarmouth, Kings Lyn and Sherringham.
- February 4 - Germany declares a "war zone" around Great Britain, blockading Britain from all shipping.
- February 19 - The Dardanelles Campaign begins. The Allies attempt to take the narrow waterway to the Black Sea to relieve Russia.
- March 10 - The Battle of Neuve Chapelle begins. Britain's first planned Offensive, using Indian troops runs out of ammunition.
- April 22 - The Second Battle of Ypres begins. First British mines explode under Hill 60. Germans use poison gas for the first time.
- April 25 - The Gallipoli Campaign begins. Fierce Turkish resistence. The birth of Australia and New Zealand as independent nations
- May 7 - The British ocean liner by German U-boat, U-20. German Submarine attacks are restricted.
- July 30 - Hooge Battle. Germans use flame throwers for the first time against British trenches.
- September 5 - Tsar Nicholas II takes personal control over Russia's armies.
- September 25 - The Battle of Loos. British use poison gas for first time.
- December 28 - The evacuation of Gallipoli begins after no gains and 200,000 Allied causalities.
- February 21 - The Battle of Verdun begins. 11 months of Attrition, Verdun was the longest and bloodiest battle of World War I.
- April 24 - The Dublin East Rising. The Outbreak of Rebellion in Ireland.
- May 31 - The Battle of Jutland, the major naval battle of the war, begins.
- July 1 - The Battle of the Somme begins. 20,000 British troops die on the first day and suffers on average 3,000 casualties every day. Over a million men will become casualties. Tanks will be used for the first time.
- January 19 - Germany sends the secret Zimmerman Telegram to Mexico in an effort to entice Mexico to join the war. The British intercept and decipher the coded message.
- February 1 - Germans resume unrestricted submarine warfare. Allied shipping losses peak in April.
- March 15 - Russian Tsar Nicholas II abdicates.
- April 6 - The United States declares war on Germany.
- June 7 - Battle of Messines begins. The British expode 19 mines under the German positions, killing 10,000 Germans instantly. It relieves pressure on France, after their disastrous offensive, at Chemin des Dames.
- July 31 - The Battle of Passchendaele (Third Battle of Ypres) begins: Mud, blood and 245,000 British casualties. It distracts the Germans while the French army recovers from mutiny.
- October 24 - The Battle of Corporetto. The first use of German 'Storm troopers'. The Italian army collapses.
- November 7 - The Bolsheviks successfully overthrow the Russian government during the 1917 Russian Revolution.
- December 17 - The armistice between the Bosheviks and Central Powers begins. Two million German troops are transferred to the Western front.
- January 8 - U.S. President Woodrow Wilson issues his Fourteen Points to peace.
- January - An Influenza pandemic begins. In two years, 500 million people are infected and 100 million people will die of the 'flu'.
- March 3 - Russia signs the Treaty of Brest Litovsk, which is a peace treaty between Russia and the Central Powers.
- March 21 - Germany launches the Spring Offensive: A last gamble to break the deadlock on the Western Front.
- April 21 - German flying ace Baron Manfred von Richthofen (known as the Red Baron), is shot down.
- July 15 - The Second Battle of the Marne begins. The last German Offensive fails.
- July 17 - Tsar Nicholas II and his family are executed by the Bolsheviks. The Russian Imperial dynasty ends.
- August 8 - The Allies Advance to victory. One Hundred days of Offensives.
- September 12 - Battle of St Mihiel. American troops attack for the first time.
- November 9 - German Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicates and flees to Holland.
- November 11 - Germany signs the armistice at Compiegne, France. Fighting ends on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.
- June 28 -The Treaty of Versailles. Germany is disarmed, stripped of colonies and forced to pay reparations.
Photos from the Imperial War Museum Collection:
A stonemason engraving a headstone destined for the grave of a Canadian casualty of the First World War: the bodies of Australian troops, each with its simple wooden cross, are gathered for burial, Guillemont Farm, 3 October 1918; Women's Auxiliary Army Corp attends a grave at Abbeyville, 9/02/1918.
A wide variety of sources have been used to compile the information presented on this website. Not all material is original and due credit is given to all original sources. Where possible they are listed below:
Imperial War Museum
Hull Daily Mail
Wreck Site - http://wrecksite.eu/Wrecksite.aspx
The Mann Index collections - Hull History Centre
Hull Areas the Old Years Face Book
Hull Webs History of Hull
Alex Gill - Lost Trawlers of Hull - http://hullwebs.co.uk/content/l-20c/conflict/ww1/trawlers/intro.htm
Hull Pals Memorial - Face Book, - Joe Solo's Pal stories.
Soldiers & Officers Died in the Great War 1914-18
Commonwealth War Graves Commission
The Long, Long Trail
Chris Smith - Thornwood Services Ltd
Sutton and Warne Museum
Glen Hopkins for his work on the NER in WW1
WW1 Lives Project, Beverley - http://www.briefreport.co.uk/news/volunteers-needed-for-ww1-lives-project-2525178.html
On 6 August, Parliament sanctioned an increase in Army strength of 500,000 men; day's later Lord Kitchener, Minister of War, issued his first call to arms. This was for 100,000 volunteers, aged between 19 and 30, at least 1.6m (5'3") tall and with a chest size greater than 86cm (34 inches).
Recruitment was boosted further by the decision to form the units that became known as Pals Battalions. General Henry Rawlinson initially suggested that men would be more willing to join up if they could serve with people they already knew. Lord Derby was the first to test the idea when he announced in late August that he would try to raise a battalion in Liverpool, comprised solely of local men. Within days, Liverpool had enlisted enough men to form four battalions, each a 1,000 strong.
'Pals Battalions' proved popular elsewhere. Stockbrokers, Miners, Railway workers, sportsmen and artists all formed their own battalions. In the first two years of the war, over 3 million men in the UK joined and from the 1,000 new battalions created, over two thirds of the men were locally raised Pal battalions. The 1916 Military Service Act would conscript a further 3.5 million over the next two years.
More than 50 Cities and towns raised their own 'Pal Battalions'. Hull with a relatively small population raised four Pal battalions, the same as Liverpool, and more than Birmingham and Glasgow which had three. Manchester had seven. Newcastle had two, but had an additional four called the Tyneside Scottish Brigade and another four called the Tyneside Irish Brigade. The bonds of friendship were a major strength in building an effective fighting unit. However, the tragic consequences of this were that heavy casualties could decimate all of the men from the same street, team, or workplace.
Recruitment Scenes 1914 -1918. Photos courtesy of the Imperial War Museum.
What caused the First World War?
The causes of the 1914 -18 War are long and complex, with the origins starting decades before. In 1871 the balance of power in Europe shifted to Germany, with their victory over France in the Franco-Prussian War. In 1882, Germany consolidated its' position by forming a 'Triple Alliance' between themselves, the Austria-Hungary empire and Italy. This Alliance encouraged mutual co-operation and agreed to help each other if attacked by France or Russia. In 1894, France and Russia formed an alliance to constrain this threat on their borders. Old rivalries and new ambitions created increasing tensions between these imperial powers as they competed for land, resources and trade markets. Nationalism and xenophobia grew throughout Europe over these decades, often fuelled by jingoistic propaganda, which created a widespread facination for war. Worried about German military and industrial expansion, Britain began to build bridges with old enemies. Britain signed an 'Entente Cordial', or friendly understanding with France in 1904, and a 'Triple Entente' with France and Russia in 1907, agreeing mutual support if attacked. By 1907, Europe had split into two main camps. These were Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy on one side, and France, Russia and Britain on the other. As Nations tried to expand, they increased the size of their armies and navies. This was typified by the 'arms race' for naval superiority between Britain and Germany from 1898 onwards. A series of colonial disputes between these rivals also added to international tensions, most notably with the 'Tangiers Incident' in 1905 and the Agadir Crises of 1911. While these alliances offered some National security, they also ran the risk of dragging other countries into conflict should one nation go to war. This weakness was exposed during the Balkan wars. After the 1912 Balkan War, Serbia, with Russian support, emerged the strongest of the Balkan Nations, and Austria and Hungary felt threatened. When the Heir to the Austrian Hungary Empire was assassinated in Sebia, and Austria inavded Serbia on 28th June 1914, the series of alliances quickly triggered Empires into a global conflict. Austria with German support, attacked Serbia. Russia supported Serbia and attacked Austria Hungary. Germany backed Austria Hungary and declared war on Russia and their ally France. Britain bound by their Entente, joined France and Russia, and when Germany breached the 1839 Treaty of London, by invading Belgium, Britain declared war. Internal problems within each nation also encouraged war.
Germany, which was a relatively new nation formed in 1871, was technologically and industrially advanced, and had some progressive social policies. However, it was strongly shaped by Kaiser Wilhelm II, a militaristic leader, whose keeness to expand the German empire, was a destabilising force in Europe. Germany could have withdrawn support for Austria when they attacked Serbia, accepted peace negotiations in July and withdrawn from Belgium when offered an ultimatum by Britain, but Germany refused to back down. Germany declared war on Russia and France, on 1st August 1914
Austria and Hungary was a 'dual' monachy, formed by a merger of the two older states in 1867. While the Austrians were dominant, the empire housed many different ethnic and language groups, which created many political and ethnic divisions. It's Government, led by Emperor Franz Josef I, was autocratic and dominated by aristocrats and militarists. It started the war by invading Serbia. Austria and Hungary declared war on Russia, on the 6th August 1914.
Russia, the largest of the European nations was poor and underdeveloped. Eighty percent of its population were peasants, illiterate, uneducated and still working the land. In need of modernisation, Russia's government and social structure was almost medieval. Their Tsar, Nicholas II, ruled with absolute power and was resistent to change. Keen to expand his empire in the East and humiliated by Japan in the Pacific, Nicholas II, supported Serbia, and mobilised the Russian army.
France, still bitter from their defeat to Germany in the 1870's, was keen for revenge. During the Franco Prussian war, France suffered catastrophic defeats at Metz and Sedan, and saw Paris besieged and occupied. France had to pay a 5 billion franc, 'war indemnity' to Germany and cede the Alsace-Lorraine region to Germany, in order to end the war. Plagued by class divisions and poverty, there was dissatisfaction in France over working conditions and political representation. Their President of the French Republic, was Raymond Ponicare, a conservative, nationalist, who antagonised Germany with outspoken criticism.
Britain, although a relatively stable super power, suffered from domestic strife. Britain also had strained relations with Germany. This Anglo German emnity, probably began 50 years before the war, when Britain supported Denmark, against the German reunification of Schleswig-Holstein in 1863. Britain had also sold weapons to France against Germany, during the Franco Prussian war. Germany had bitterly opposed Britain during the Boer Wars and the German Naval Bill of 1908 had directly challenged Britain's naval supremacy, accelerating a naval arms race between the two countries. Newspapers, propaganda and cartoons of the time, fostered prejudice, alarm and mutual resentment. War against Germany would prove a distraction from Britain's internal problems at home. In Britain, there was widespread and growing industrial conflict, known as the 'Great Unrest 1910-14', a militant Suffragette movement and demands for Irish, Scottish and Welsh Home Rule. Britain's Liberal Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith, opposed war, but was hesitant and unable to take decisive action to avoid war. When war came, it was seen by many, as a means of uniting their respective nations away from such domestic tensions.
All the Imperial powers had been building up their armies for some time and were confident of victory. Europe was becoming fascinated by war, fuelled by nationalism, empire building and jingoistic newspapers. Europe had not fought a war for 30 years and few understood the killing powers of modern weapons, such as heavy artillery and machine guns. It seems unthinkable today, that countries would embark so easily into a European war, but at the time, Imperial Nations saw war as a legitimate instrument of policy to improve a Nation's status. In each country the decision to enter the war was made by only a handful of individuals - monarchs, ministers, military people, party leaders ambassadors and others, each with distinct and separate agendas, sharing a culture of paranoia and mistrust. The eccentricities of these Imperial rulers and European leaders at the time, meant no nation was prepared to back down, and they 'sleep walked' into war, blind to the reality of the horror they were about to bring to the world. Similarly, the majority of people they ruled followed obediently. Unlike today, there were no news channels, television or social media, to hold the powerful to account. In fact there was little democracy. Most men and no women were allowed to vote. Most people had limited education and left school because they needed to work. They were largely deferential and subservient to their rulers wishes. When war came, populations willingly and enthusiatically joined in their country's war effort, oblivious to the dangers that faced them.
Tsar Nicolas II of Russia Emperor Franz Josef I Raymond Ponicare Kaiser Wilhelm II Herbert Asquith
Whether the First World War was inevitable, or avoidable, or could have been postponed, is the subject of much debate. The general view emerging is that Britain was right to intervene against a German invasion of neutral Belgium. By doing so, Britain preserved its International reputation. Also if Britain had waited for Germany to overun France and the coastal ports, Britain would find fighting a future war with Germany, without its Allies on the continent, much more difficult.
When did the War Start?
The First World War began in the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo on 28 June 1914. This is when a sixteen year old, Bosnian Serb, named Gavrilo Princip, shot and murdered the Arch Duke, Franz Ferdinand and his wife in the streets of Sarajevo.
(Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife descend the steps of the City Hall, Sarajevo to their motor car, a few moments before their assassination.)
Franz Ferdinand was the heir to the Austro-Hungarian dual monarchy, and had been visiting Serbia during a Public holiday. Gavrilio Princep angered by Austria/Hungary's occupation of Bosnia in 1912, fanatically believed that the assassination of the Austrian Heir would deter Austria away from Serbia and preserve Bosnian independence. It had the opposite affect. In retaliation, Austria and Hungary, supported by their German allies invaded Serbia on 28th July 1914, causing a number of atrocities on its way. Serbia desperate for help turned to Russia their Slavic neighbour, for support. Czar Nicholas the Russian Emperor had the opportunity to leave Serbia to its fate, but not wanting to lose face to his cousin Kaiser Wilhelm in Germany decided to support Serbia.
As Russian armies mobilized, there was a brief opportunity for Germany to prevent the war, by withdrawing its support for Austria. However, Germany ruled by a power obsessed Kaiser, with militaristic ambitions, gambled on winning the war in a few months. Germany declared war on Russia on 1st August 1914, and to avoid fighting a war on two fronts, quickly declared war on Russia's ally, France. Germany had long planned for this quick and massive invasion of France. This was the 'Schlieffen Plan', conceived by the German military, between,1890 -1905, to envelop French forces, with a massive 'right hook' via Belgium. The Plan was to capture Paris in 42 days, crush France first and then return to deal with the Russian army later.
There were however difficulties. The French frontier was only 150 miles long and too narrow for Germany to manoeuver it huge army of 700,000 men and another 1.3 million Reserves. The border was also well defended and contained some natural barriers, such as the Ardennes forest, which could hold up a German advance. Faced with such obstacles, Germany went round them and attacked Luxembourg on 2 August, and on 3 August declared war on France. On 4 August, after Belgium refused to permit German troops to cross its borders into France, Germany declared war on Belgium as well. Germany could not afford any delays to the 42 day timetable of the Schlieffen Plan' and Belgium resistence would be crushed. By invading Belgium, Germany broke the 'Treaty of London', that it had signed in 1839, to guarantee Belgium's Neutrality. Belgium appealed to Britain to uphold International law. Britain was internationally bound to maintain its credibility. Compelled to prevent a militaristic Germany occupying Belgium land and Ports, so close to English shores, Britain initially gave Germany an ultimatum to withdraw from Belgium. This was yet another opportunity for Germany to avoid War. However, when Germany ignored this ultimatum, Britain had little choice but to declare war on Germany on 4 August 1914.
At first, Belgium troops with the aid of the British Expeditionary Force, bravely delayed the German advance for 19 days. This effectively ended the 42 day, timetable for the 'Schleiffen Plan'. By the end of September 1914, Von Moltke, the German Army Chief, had suffered a nervous break down. He predicted to the Kaiser that Germany would lose the war and was relieved of his Command. It would take another 4 years before Von Moltke's prediction was realised.Therefore from the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, in Serbia, on 28th June 1914, It had taken just 37 days for Europe to slide into a raging global war. Ironically, Austria which had initiated the First World War was the last country to declare war on Russia! By the end of 1914, the war had already claimed over a million casualties, of which 300,000 French, 30,000, British and 150,000 Germans had been killed. This was just the first 5 months of war on the Western Front alone.
There had not been a war in Europe for decades. Nations were over confident that their armies were superior and that war would be 'over by Christmas'. Destructive lessons of recent military conflicts, such as the American Civil War, the Russian/Japanese War of 1904-1905, and the recent Balkan Wars were ignored. These wars had demonstrated that machine guns, heavy artillery and strong defensive positions could cause huge casualties. Europe would soon realize the cost of modern warfare.
The Diplomacy of Declaring War - http://www.lawgazette.co.uk/analysis/comment-and-opinion/passports-please-diplomatically-declaring-war/5042209.article
The German invasion in 1914, occupied 90% of Belgium, and 10 French regions. The resulting German-occupied territory included 64% of France's pig iron production, 24% of its steel manufacturing, and 40% of France's total coal mining capapcity. This dealt a serious, but not crippling setback to French industry.
The 'Western Front' marked the furthest German advances. It was a 400 mile battle line, extending from the North Sea coast at Nieuwpoort, to the Swiss border. Typically, the front line consisted of three individual trench lines about 100 meters apart, protected by belts of barb wire up, to 20 meters deep, and with positions for machine guns. Villages would be converted into fortresses and the cellars of houses fortified. In due course, a second defensive line, similar to the first, was dug three or four miles back, out of artillery range, so that a single attack could not break right through the defences.The German for most part occupied higher ground. Initially, the BEF held 20 miles of this 400 mile front in 1914, and by 1918 controlled over 120 miles of the Western Front. The Western Front was the principal and vital theatre of war, along which millions of men fought and died. Against the German Army fought the allied armies of the British Commonwealth, France, Belgium and later the United States.
The war on the Western Front can be thought of as being in three phases:
1) a two month war of movement in 1914, as Germany attempted to capture France within the first 42 days and the Allies sought to halt it;
2) three and half years of costly siege warfare, as the entrenched lines proved impossible to crack (late 1914 to mid 1918), and finally,
3) a return to mobile warfare, when a series of German offensives, starting on the 21st March 1918, pushed back the British lines, but failed to break through. On the 16th July 1918, the Allies launched a counter offensive. Boosted by newly arrived American reinforcements, the Allies over the next 100 days recaptured all the lost gound.
The Western Front is often remembered for a 'Christmas Truce', and a football match, between opposing sides on Christmas Day 1914. It is estimated that some 30,000 troops, along some parts of the front line, met in 'No Mans' Land, to shake hands and exchange Christmas gifts. It was also an opportunity to bury the dead and spy on each other's defences. There is some evidence that the British started some impromptu football matches, but the Germans mostly looked on, rather than took part. Generals on both sides soon halted this fratenisation, by ordering the shelling of enemy positions. There were no further 'Christmas Truces', on the Western Front, after 1914. More accurately, the Western Front proved a brutal battlefield, with attritional warfare and great slaughter over four years. It left 7.5 million acres of wasteland, polluted by chemical warfare, unexploded shells and unburied dead and thousands of villages and town oblierated.
Stalemate and the use of Terror Weapons 1915-17
It was on the Western Front, that many modern weapons of mass destruction, were used for the first time.
* On the 22nd April 1915, the Germans first used poisonous gas against French and Canadian troops. They released 168,000 tonnes of chlorine gas, along a 4 mile front, killing 5,000 men and wounding another 5,000. By the end of the war all sides were using poison gas. In fact, some 30 types of poisonous gas were developed throughout the War, and some 119,000 tons of gas were used. In total, 1,200,000 soldiers on both sides were gassed, of which 91,198 died horrible deaths.
* On the 30th July 1915, the Germans first used 'Flame Throwers'. Their flame throwers could fire jets of flame as far as 130 feet (40 m). These were deployed against British trenches at Hooge, where the lines were just 4.5 metres. The surprise attack at 3.15am, proved terrifying to the British. However, although initially pushed back, the line was later stabilised that night by the 8th Rifle Brigade and 7th Bn KRRC. In two days of severe fighting the British lost 31 officers and 751 other ranks.
* On 15th September 1916, Britain launched the first ever tank attack at Flers. While slow, prone to break down and used in limited numbers, tanks initially shocked the German and penetrated heavy defences.
* Tunnelling under the enemy defences was another extensively used weapon on the Western Front. At Messines Ridge, the Allies dug some 8,000 metres of tunnels. On the 7th June 1917, under a 9 mile ridge of villages, the British detonated 19 underground mines simultaneously, killing some 10,000 Germans instantly.
* The Western Front also saw the first mass use of machine guns, artillery duels and air warfare. The French 75mm cannon, was named by the Germans, as the 'Devil Gun', which could fire 15 shells a minute, accurately on a target, over 4 miles away.
The Germans developed 'Big Bertha', a 48-ton howitzer. It was named after the wife of its designer Gustav Krupp.
It could fire a 2,050-lb shell a distance of 9.3 miles. It took a crew of 200 men six hours or more to assemble. Germany had 13 of these huge guns or “wonder weapons.” An arms race developed betrween all sides to deploy these weapons more destructively. Over a billion shells were fired on the Western front - the equivilent of a tonne of explosives fired for every square meter of land. Killing increased on an industrial scale. The Battle of Verdun saw combined losses of 700,000 men, the Battle of the Somme caused another million casualties and the Passchendaele offensive another 600,000 casualties. Despite successes in Italy, it was the mounting casualties along the Western Front, that forced Germany and its allies to sue for peace.
The return to mobile warfare 1918
To break the stalemate on the Western Front, Germany boyed by reinforcements from the Russian front, launched four offensives in 1918. These offensives were codenamed Michael, Georgette, Gneisenau and Blücher-Yorck). While initilly successfull, these Offensives were being steadily undermined by discontent at home. Germany, and Austro-Hungary were facing bankruptcy and famine. Bulgaria, a key German ally wanted peace. Civilians on the axis home front were becoming frustrated, war weary and hungry. They wanted change, peace and democracy. In January 1918, mass strikes in Berlin and elsewhere, called openly for the Kaiser's abdication. These strikes were ruthlessly suppressed by Ludendorff, who arrested 3,000 strikers and sent them to the front. This only served to spread pessimism and revolution to German troops on the battlefield. While the German Offensives since March 1918 had captured vast territory, the land was strategically of little value and had cost Germany 785,000 dead. Advancing Germans were becoming difficult to supply with food and weapons across war torn battlefields. Many German soldiers became tired and desperate, surrendering in vast numbers. Some 386,000 demoralised German troops surrendered on the Western Front in the last three months of the war. Germany could have used its Spring Offensives as an opportunity to sue for a favourable armistice, or retreat to more fortified defences to give its army a rest. However, Germany was effectively controlled by a military dictatorship which insisted on total victory. While the Germans recovered in places and often fought stubbornly , the Allies, strengthened by American troops, and unified under the sole leadership of Marshall Foche, were developing new tactics and new weapons. Over the last 100 days, the Allies, launched a series of counter attacks all across the Western Front. To their own surprise, they pushed the Germans back, very slowly and very bloodily, to the Belgian border. While the Allies were grinding the Germans down through their superior factories, technology, manpower and command, they still lacked the logistical capacity and political will to defeat the Germans on German soil. All sides were by now becoming exhausted and reluctant to waste further lives. The Allies were planning another Offensive in 1919, when an Armistice was called on the 11th November 1918. It was thought at the time that this was just a pause in the war, but it turned out to be the end of the First World War on the Western Front.
The 1914-18 War, had cost nearly 4 million Allied casualties and over 3.5 million German casualties on the Western Front alone. The worn out Central powers sued for peace. The war on the Western Front, officially ended at 11am, on the 11th November, 1918.
The Western Front along 250 miles and 25-30 miles wide had been reduced to a wasteland. 1,659 towns and communes had been blotted out, 2,363 others were wrecked, and 630,000 houses were destroyed or seriously damaged. So many mines were ruined, that the output of coal was reduced by a half, 21,000 factories were gutted, and the great manufacturing centres at Lille, and the Longwy district, were systematically despoiled of machinery vital to their prosperity. Deaths of civillians by artllery in the battle zone, or in the back areas by areoplanes were frequent. Deaths continue today, due to unexploded munitions in the Western front area.
The Allies had not so much won the war, but had refused to lose. The Germans still held much of their initial territory and marched home in good order, with their weapons. German soldiers were welcomed home as an undefeated army. For many, their war would continue, as German troops were used to keep order and prevent revolution. Crippled by debts, the Allies forced Germany to sign the Treaty of Versailles, on 28 June 1919. It made Germany admit responsiblity for the war and pay for all costs incurred. This humiliation, rekindled Germany's desire for revenge and twenty years later, Germany would overun Europe again in 1939.
Photo: Troops of the German the 150th Regiment (37th Infantry Division) which had fought on the Eastern Front, marching home through Berlin. The placard shows the battles in which they fought.
Trench Life on the Western Front - Trenches could be infested with rats, lice and frogs!
Living in Dugouts RAMC Officer of the 12th EYR bandaging a wounded man-Roclincourt, 9 January 1918.
A soldier of the 12th Battalion, East Yorkshire Regiment in 'Brandy Trench' near Roclincourt, 9th January 1918. Men of the 12th Battalion, East Yorkshire Regiment using a perisope in a trench in the Arleux sector, 9 January 1918.
Officers of the 12th Battalion, East Yorkshire Regiment (92nd Brigade, 31st Division) in their mess dug-out, 30 feet underground. Arleux sector, near Roclincourt, 9 January 1918.
Major Battles on the Western Front
The Battle of Mons - 23 August 1914
The Battle of Mons was the first major action of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in the First World War. At Mons, the British Army which numbered 80,000, attempted to hold the line of the Mons–Condé Canal against the advancing German 1st Army. They were outnumbered by the Germans 3:1. Although the British fought well and inflicted disproportionate casualties on the numerically superior Germans, they were eventually forced to retreat. This was due both to the greater strength of the Germans and the sudden retreat of the French Fifth Army, which exposed the British right flank. Though initially planned as a simple tactical withdrawal and executed in good order, the British retreat from Mons lasted for two weeks and covered over 250 miles (400km). The British were closely pursued by the Germans throughout and fought several rearguard actions, including the Battle of Le Cateau on 26 August, the Étreux rearguard action on 27 August and the Action at Néry on 1 September. It took the BEF to the outskirts of Paris before it counter-attacked in concert with the French, at the Battle of the Marne. Both sides had success at the Battle of Mons: the British had been outnumbered by about 3:1 but managed to withstand the German 1st Army for 48 hours, inflict more casualties on the Germans and then retire in good order. At Mons the British suffered 1,638 Casualties. The Germans lost between 2,500 - 5000 men
By 22 September 1914, following the First Battle of the Marne (6–12 September 1914) and the First Battle of the Aisne (12–21 September 1914), the French and German armies began fighting a series of battles side-stepping one another through northern France in an attempt to outflank the other. These outflanking manoeuvres would take them in a north-westerly direction from the Aisne region towards the French coast. This period of fighting became known as “The Race to the Sea”.
The Battle of Loos - 25 September – 8 October 1915
The Battle of Loos was the biggest British attack of 1915, the first time that the British used poison gas and the first mass engagement of New Army units. The French and British tried to break through the German defences in Artois and Champagne and restore a war of movement. In many places British artillery had failed to cut the German wire in advance of the attack. Advancing over open fields, within range of German machine guns and artillery, British losses were devastating. Twelve attacking battalions suffered 8,000 casualties out of 10,000 men in four hours. The British were able to break through the weaker German defences and capture the town of Loos-en-Gohelle, mainly due to numerical superiority. Supply and communications problems, combined with the late arrival of reserves, meant that the breakthrough could not be exploited. British casualties at Loos were nearly 60,000 about twice as high as German losses. The Loos Memorial commemorates over 20,000 soldiers of Britain and the Commonwealth who fell in the battle and have no known grave.
The Battles for Ypres - 1914-1918:
Ypres was one of the few parts of Belgium not ooccupied by the Germans. It bacame a symbol of Belgium resistance. It was also a major strategic position during the First World War because it stood in the way of Germany's planned sweep across the rest of Belgium and into France from the north (the Schlieffen Plan). The neutrality of Belgium was guaranteed by Britain; Germany's invasion of Belgium brought the British Empire into the war. The German army surrounded the city on three sides, bombarding it throughout much of the war. To counterattack, British, French, and allied forces made costly advances from the Ypres Salient into the German lines on the surrounding hills. Ypres was one of the sites that hosted an unofficial Christmas Truce in 1914 between German and British soldiers. Men from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, India South Africa and other commonwealth countries all fought at Ypres, alongside men from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales to preserve Ypres from capture.
The land surrounding Ypres to the north is flat and canals and rivers link it to the coast. Ypres was the major centre in this part of Flanders. Control of the town gave control of the surrounding countryside and all the major roads converged on the town. To the south of the town the land rises to about 500 feet (the Mesen Ridge) which would give a significant height advantage to whichever side controlled this ridge of high land.
First Battle of Ypres (19 October to 22 November 1914), the Allies captured the town from the Germans. The first days of November directly affected the town. Each day Ypres was shelled and civilian casualties were high. This tactic set the scene for what Ypres was to suffer for several more years. By the winter, the Germans had not taken Ypres and heavy rain meant that any movement was impossible as the roads turned to mud. The first battle at Ypres limped to a halt.
Second Battle of Ypres (22 April 1915– 25 May 1915)
The battle consisted of six engagements:
- Battle of Gravenstafel: Thursday 22 April – Friday 23 April 1915
- Battle of St. Julien: Saturday 24 April – 4 May
- Battle of Frezenberg: 8–13 May
- Battle of Bellewaarde: 24–25 May
- Battle of Hooge: 30–31 July 1915 (first German use of flamethrowers)
- Second Attack on Bellewaarde 25 September
Once the weather had settled, the Germans prepared for a new attack. They used deadly chlorine gas against defending French troops. Having never experienced this before, terrified French soldiers fled. The Gas had worked as it had got them to leave their positions. The situation was saved by Canadian troops who used handkerchiefs soaked in urine as gas masks and launched a counter-attack on the Germans. It was successful and the Germans lost the gains they had made.
Third Battle of Ypres (31 July to 6 November 1917, also known as the Battle of Passchendaele)
British and Commonwealth forces were pursuing an ambitious goal: to break through the German lines to reach the Belgian coast and neutralise the U-boats that threatened British supply lines. However, the campaign coincided with the wettest summer for a century, turning the battlefield into a sea of mud.
More VCs were won on the 31st July 1917, the first day of the Battle of Passchendaele than on any other single day of battle in the First World War, and 61 VCs were awarded during the campaign as a whole.
The Battle of the Somme (1 July and 18 November 1916)
To relieve pressure on the French at Verdun, and to prevent the Germans transferring troops to the Italian or Russian fronts, a large-scale Allied offensive, was launched on 1 July 1916, against the German Front Line, along the Somme River. The British Army attacked north of the river, the French Army attacked south of the river. The battle is usually regarded in three phases. The first, from the 1st-17th July, when a footing was gained on the hill crest between Deville Wood and Bazentine-le-Petit, the second, from the 17th July to the first week of September, when violent counter attacks were beaten back, and the British position on the highland was made good, and the third phase, from September, to November, when an advance was made down the northern and eastern slopes to consoldiate the flanks. The battles lasted for a gruelling four months with many thousands of casualties on both sides of the wire. The first day on the Somme (1st July) saw a serious defeat for the German Second Army, which was forced out of its first position by the French Sixth Army, from Foucaucourt-en-Santerre, south of the Somme to Maricourt, on the north bank and by the Fourth Army from Maricourt to the vicinity of the Albert–Bapaume road. The British attack along the front, between the Albert–Bapaume road and Gommecourt, fared much worse. While the British fired over a million shells at the German lines a week before the attack, some 35% of munitions were defective and of the wrong type. Many shells failed to explode. They did not cut the german wire or penetrate the deep German bunkers under ground. Recently found German archives also reveal that the Germans had learnt from captured prisoners and listening posts, when, and where the attack would start, and in many cases, which troops would confront them on the opening day. When the whistles blew at 7.30am on the 1st July 1916, 100,000 British troops emerged from their trenches and walked slowly towards the German line. They confidently believed that nothing could have survived the previous week's bombardment. Counting from the right, the 30th, 18th and 7th Divisons were successful at Montauban and Mametz, a distance of about 5 miles, and the 21st, 34th and 8th, were partially successful at Fricourt, La Boisselle, and Ovillers. On the left, the 32nd and 36th Divisions, failed near Thiepval, the 29th and 4th, near Beaumont Hammel, the 31st at Serre, and the 56th and 46th near Gommercourt
The cause of the failure was that the Germans were expecting the attack, and had prepared their defences and brough up extra guns. They had also surveyed and defended the battlefield for the last two years. Their artillery and machine guns covered all the battlefield and were trained to follow moving targets, within range. The British troops at the Somme, facing them, comprized a mixture of the remains of the pre-war regular army, the Territorial Force; and mostly Kitchener's Army, a force of volunteer recruits including many Pals' Battalions, recruited from the same places and occupations. The "Pals", were probably Britains fittest, brightest and most enthusiastic soldiers, but they were very inexperienced and tactically naive. Britain's 'Pal' battalions which had taken two years to train, were decimated in the first 10 minutes of battle. Many troops failed to even reach their own front line, let alone the Germans and where there were successes, they were obtained at enormous cost. British losses on the first day, were the worst in the history of the British army, with 57,470 British casualties,19,240 of whom were killed.
The Somme battle is notable for the importance of air power and the first use of the tank. At the end of the battle, British and French forces had penetrated 10 km (6 miles) into German-occupied territory, taking more ground than in any of their offensives since the Battle of the Marne in 1914. The Anglo-French armies failed to capture Péronne and halted 5 km (3 miles) from Bapaume, where the German armies maintained their positions over the winter. British attacks in the Ancre valley resumed in January 1917 and forced the Germans into local withdrawals to reserve lines in February, before the scheduled retirement to he Siegfriedstellung (Hindenburg Line) began in March. The Battle of the Somme was one of the costliest battles of World War I. The original Allied estimate of casualties on the Somme, made at the Chantilly Conference on 15 November 1916, was 485,000 British and French casualties and 630,000 German. While Allied casualties were appalling, a school of thought has emerged that the battle seriously drained German resources impeding their chance of final victory. The destruction of German units in battle was made worse by lack of rest. British and French aircraft and long-range guns reached well behind the front-line, where trench-digging and other work meant that troops returned to the line exhausted. As well as capturing 38,000 prisoners, the British army had gained much needed battle experience and the confidence of driving the Germanss from strong, fortified positions and holding these gains, against frequent counter attacks.
The Somme Battle: First phase: 1st –17th July 1916
First day on the Somme, 1 July 1916 - Main article: First day on the Somme
Battle of Albert, 1–13 July 1916 - Main article: Battle of Albert (1916)
Battle of Bazentin Ridge, 14–17 July 1916 - Main article: Battle of Bazentin Ridge
A separate, but related event to the Great War, was the great 1918 flu pandemic. This deadly flu virus attacked more than one-third of the world's population, and within months had killed more than 50 million people – three times as many as the World War I – and did it more quickly, than any other illness in recorded history. Unlike other flu outbreaks which happen every year and vary in severity, this particularly flu virus attacked young, healthy adults, aged between 20-40. There was no cure, no vacine and little support that medicine could provide. It affected 200,000 British troops, 400,000 French and 500,000 German troops.
The origins of this virulent new strain of the flu are still unknown. It was first observed in Fort Riley, Kansas, USA, and is believed to have been accidentally carried to Europe by infected American forces personnel. One in every four Americans had contracted the influenza virus. The disease spread rapidly through the continental US, Canada and Europe. It eventually reached around the globe, partially because many were weakened and exhausted by the famines of the World War.
It was nicknamed ‘Spanish flu’ as the first cases were in reported in Spain's uncensored press. Newspapers during World War One, were censored, (Germany, the United States, Britain and France all had media blackouts on news that might lower morale) so although there were influenza (flu) cases elsewhere, it was the Spanish cases that hit the headlines. In Spain some 8 million people infected in May 1918 and one of the first casualties was the King of Spain. In Spain they called it 'French Flu'.
In three waves the Spanish Influenza epidemic of 1918-1919, infected 500 million people across the world, including remote Pacific islands and the Arctic, and killed 50 to 100 million of them. This was three to five percent of the world's population, making it one of the deadliest natural disasters in human history. This particular virulent strain of flu was unusual, as it was most deadly for those between the ages of 20 to 35, making war veterans among the most susceptible. It was distinct in that it had a rapid onset and it was not unusual for victims to die within hours. Another oddity was that the influenza appeared most deadly during the Summer months of the Northern Hemisphere, rather than the Winter.
Women in the First World Wara
Prior to WW1, women made up only a quarter of the working population. They worked mostly as domestic servants or in the textile industry. Women did not even have the right to vote. While Suffragettes campaigned hard for women's rights, they often faced discrimination and shocking treatment by the authorities. Parliament continued to deny women the right to vote and limited female opportunities in society.
When war broke out, many women immediately abandoned the struggle for the vote. Suffragettes promised that their followers would devote themselves to the struggle of winning the war. As men flocked to join the armed forces, women prepared to take their places in the work place. Their help was not welcomed at first. Only In March 1915, did the government begin to create a register of women willing to do work. Over 80,000 women registered for warwork. Even then, the Government failed to find enough work for all the female volunteers. Individual women often had to take the initiative and find work themselves. By this time, women started to be employed as drivers, police officers, and railway staff, but there was no official blessing for their efforts. In July 1915, due to the frustration at how little had been done, Suffragettes organised a huge demonstration in London, with 30,000 women demanding the “Right to Serve”. As a result of this protest, women became more involved in the war effort. Some Suffragettes helped train women to do men's work. Demand for female labour increased, and even more so after the compulsory conscription of men in 1916. Women entered the Armed Services in 1917, in non combatant roles, so releasing men to fight. Many 'middle class' women joined the Women's Royal Air Force (WAF's) and another 100,000 joined the Women's Royal Navy Service (WRENS). Working Class women mainly joined the Women's Army Auxillary Corps (WAC's), which later became known as the Queen Mary Army's Auxillary Corp. These women were largely employed in unglamourous tasks, such as communications: cooking and catering; store keeping; clerical work; telephones and administration; printing; and motor vehicle maintenance. Women also became truck and ambulance drivers as more men were called to the front line. By 1918, roughly 1.5 million women had replaced men in work. They were paid much less, about 11 shillings a week on average, compared to 26 shillings per week for men. Their reward was the granting of the vote to women over 30, passed in June 1918. A more important effect was the change in women's place in society.
The war was a liberating, and challenging experience for many women. It released women from the drudgery of domestic service, provided better paid work and allowed some to
socialise with people from
different backgrounds. It opened up a wider range of jobs giving women greater confidence and opportunities to show their worth.
It showed that women were more than capable of taking on men's work and in some cases were better. Their valuable war service could not be ignored by the Government and provided women with greater opportunities for citizenship. Many joined the Women's Land Army or Voluntary Aid Detachments (VAD's).
Women worked in munitions factories (Munitionettes), in engineering, ship building, furnace stoking, in banks, on buses and railways, in gasworks, as nurses near the battlefront and at home. These jobs had been largely excluded from women before the war.
200,000 women took up work in Government Departments.
500,000 women took up business clerical positions.
250,000 women worked on the land to boost food production.
80,000 women served as non combatants
700,000 women worked making shells and bullets.
Some of these new jobs were noisy, dirty and dangerous. The use of toxic chemicals, and TNT caused bilious attacks, blurred vision, depression and jaundice. Female Munitions worker’s became known as 'Canaries', as the toxins that they worked with, turned their skin yellow and their hair green. At least 109 women died working with these poisonous chemicals. The work was long and arduous.
For example, the women at the Grimsby shell factory, made 6" shells, which was on the border line for being too heavy for them. They worked shifts of 7am to 2pm, with 1.5 hour's break, and a night shift of 10pm to 6am, with 1.5 hours break. The lack of quality control caused many industrial accidents where women were the prime casualties. For example, an explosion at the Silvertown munitions factory in West Ham, on Friday, 19 January 1917, killed 73 people and injured 400 more. It destroyed 900 homes and damaged another 70,000 local properties. Similarly, the National Shell filling Factory, at Chilwell, Nottingham, exploded on 1st July 1918, killing 137, and injured 250.
The War increased the female workforce. In July 1914, 5.8 million women workers made up 26% of the workforce. By January 1918 there were over 7.3 million women workers, which made up 36% of the workforce.
The First World War helped improved some Women’s work conditions.
Many male workers, trade unions and factory owners were against women working in factories. Workers had concerns over dilution (using unskilled workers). They were also worried about women 'accepting' lower wages and taking men's jobs away. The scale of women's employment could no longer be denied, and rising levels of women left unmarried or widowed by the war, forced the hands of the established unions. In addition, feminist pressure on established trade unions and the formation of separate women's unions threatened to de-stabilise ‘men-only’ unions.
The increase in female trade union membership from only 357,000 in 1914 to over a million by 1918, represented an increase in the number of unionised women of 160 per cent. This compares with an increase in the union membership of men of only 44 per cent. However, the war did not inflate women's wages. Employers circumvented wartime equal pay regulations by employing several women to replace one man, or by dividing skilled tasks into several less skilled stages. In these ways, women could be employed at a lower wage and not said to be 'replacing' a man directly. By 1931, a working woman's weekly wage had returned to the pre-war situation of being half the male rate in more industries. Women were not only paid less, but promoted less and many were sacked at the end of the war. While World War One provided women with more varied work opportunities, it did not provide long-term employment opportunities. When the troops were demobilised these women were expected to stand aside. 750,000 women were made redundant in 1918 and the 1921 census reveals that there was a lower percentage of females working than there had been in 1911. However, employers could no longer argue that women were unable to undertake roles, and this change would contribute to growing equality between people in society.
Yet there were positives - women gained more freedom after the war. Women were largely free from being ‘chaperoned’ by men. Some women had better wages and skills than before, which gave them more independence and confidence. Pre war clothing, like corsets and long skirts which restricted walking, were replaced with looser fitting garments. Clothing became much simpler and trousers became acceptable. Women shortened their skirts, bobbed their hair, wore makeup and took to sunbathing for the first time. Previously a suntan had meant you were lower class and worked outside, but now it meant that you had wealth and the leisure time for outdoor activities. Munitionettes' organised 'Girls Night's out' and caused public alarm over their behaviour and what they spent their money on.
Womens Football. When professional football was suspended in 1915, factory girl's started their own female football leagues. These proved hugely popular, and successful. The Blyth Spartan Munitionettes remained unbeaten during the war, with their striker, Bella Reay, scoring a record 133 goals. Unfortunately, these female football teams were disbanded after the war. The famous 'Blythe Spartan Munitionettes' and their goalscoring sensation, Bella Reay.
The First World War gave women Political Rights. In recognition of women's valuable war service, the 1918 Representation of the People Act, gave Women aged 30 or over, the Right to Vote. (men aged 21 or over were also given the vote).Women were also allowed to stand as MPs and by November 1918, 8.4 million women were eligible to vote. However, women voters had to own property, or be married to a house owner. Women were not given the same voting rights as men, because if women had had the vote at the age of 21 in 1918, they would have outnumbered men. It was not until the 1928 Representation of the People Act, that all women over the age of 21 could vote. Women were the unsung hero's of the First World War, keeping the industrial wheels turning and the home fires burning. Women remained largely responsible for bringing up children and caring for dependents and carried on while their love ones were being killed and wounded. Their prospects of marriage and having children declined with the numbers of men lost in the war. There was no Welfare State and the help and support available was limited. Even with these pressures and their new war duties, women still found the time to write to those fighting on the front line. Their letters, parcels and mementos helped boost the morale of their homesick and frightened men. Women dealt with the trauma of air raids, which were a new and terrifying experience. Even more traumatic, was the painful process of readjusting to the return of loved ones from the battlefields. Hundreds of thousands of men returned from the war, injured in some way. Women bore a large part of the burden of caring for these men. Even worse, women lost their fathers, husbands, lovers, brothers, and sons. For these women, life would never be the same.
In Memory of Nurse, Florence Caroline Hodgson, 50499, Queen Mary's Auxillary Army Corps, died 1st November 1918, aged 32. Daughter of John Frederick & Rose Ann Hodgson, of 47 Lee Smith Street, Hull. Buried at Hedon Road Cemetery, Hull.
Teachers in the First World War; http://www.ww1schools.com/teachers-at-war.html
Women's lives in World war One; http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01p329t
Britain in 1914
Britain at the start of World War One, was a much different place than today. Britain in 1914 ruled the largest empire in history, through industrial might, commercial prowess and maritime supremecy. Britain through its colonies, dominions, protectorates and mandates, controlled about a quarter of the World's land surface and some 435 milion people, or 20% of the world's population. Half of these people were Hindus. The legal, linguistic and cultural influence of Britain was worldwide and immense.
Britain was the wealthiest country in the world and had the largest and most powerful navy. Britain built 50% of the world's tall ships, and 40% of the all the world's merchant fleet flew the British flag. Only Germany produced more than Britain economically. Unchallenged at sea, Britain adopted the role of global policeman. Alongside the formal control it exerted over its own colonies, Britain's dominant position in world trade meant that it effectively controlled the economies of many countries, such as China, Argentina and Siam. British imperial strength was underpinned by new technologies, like the steamship and telegraph, which allowed it to control and defend the empire.
Britain's population was about 46 million and it was considered very overcrowded. From 1900, one in twenty British citizens emigrated to the colonies for a better life. In 1912, 300,000 people left Britain. The majority moved to the United States, Australia and Canada.
Life in Britain could be very poor. About 80% of the British people were 'working class' and 90% rented their homes, rather than owned them. One percent of Britiain's richest people owned 70% of the wealth. The average weekly wage was only £1.40. Life expectancy for a wealthy man was 55 years. Most people in poorer parts of Cities were lucky to live beyond 30 years old. Beer was 2p a pint.
It was only compulsory to attend school until the age of 12. Many children left school early to work and support their families. Only 6% of children remained at school over the age of 16. Five million women worked, mostly as maids, cooks and servants, but they did not have the vote and there were no female Members of Parliament. Only half of men could vote. The First World War would change Britain.
Europe in 1914
If Britain was the worlds' Superpower, Europe in 1914 was the most wealthy and powerful continent on earth. While past civilisations might have built great cities, invented gunpowder or algebra, nothing could compare to Europe's material and technological culture. Europe was integrated more then, than it had ever been, intrinsically linked by flows of goods, money and people. Europe was an engine room of enterprise and innovation, densley interconnected and criss crossed by railway lines and telegraph wires. Europe represented the summit of interdependence, with each country relying on its neighbours for resources, markets or access to the rest of the world. The GDP of Europe before the First World War was not equalled again until 1970. Empire was Europe's supreme product. Imperialism expressed National prestige and superiority and was seen as a legitmate way of organising and improving the world. Little thought was given to the exploitation of indigenous people. Even Europe's smaller nations like Denmark, Portugal, Belgium or the Netherlands, had empires in the Caribbean, south east Asia or central Africa. Only Austria and Hungary had no colonial empire. However, the slaughter and barbarism of the First World war ended Europe's credibility as a civilising force. Europe had squandered its wealth fighting the war and many of its nations were in debt. The war and the peace that followed, would change and challenge Europe's dominance. While London and Paris remained the capital cities of the world largest empires, the Versaille Treaty, signalled a new world order of Nation States running affairs, rather than Empires. The German Kaiser would flee to exile in Holland, his empire would become the German Republic. The German capital city would be moved from Berlin to Weimar. The Austrian- Hungarian empire, built up over centuries, would after four years of war, be carved into the new states of Czechoslovakia. Both Austria and Hungary would be reduced in territory. Austria which was almost completely German speaking, would be forbidden from uniting with Germany again. The once grand imperial capital of Vienna would become an oversized capital of a much smaller Austria. In eastern Europe', Poland re-emerged as a new country. The Balkans became Yugoslavia. Russia wracked by revolution and civil war, became a Soviet Union of states. The Tsar and his family were shot. The Russian capital was moved from Petrograd to Moscow. At the end of the Great war, the Ottoman Empire was dismantled and a new country called Turkey was created. Arab territorries fell under the political influence or direct control of Britain and France, with London replacing Constantinople as the ultimate master of Jerusalem. The Great War was the beginning of the end for Europe's predominance in world affairs, and for its claim to civilisational superiority. The only countries to emerge from the Great war, stronger, richer and more influential, were Japan and the United States.
The British Expeditionary Force (BEF)
Under the 1839 Treaty of London, Britain was duty bound to protect Belgium. When Germany invaded Belgium on 4th August 1914, and refused a British ultimatum to withdraw, Britain mobilized the BEF. To a meticulously planned, pre war timetable, the BEF arrived in Belgium within 12 days to halt the German advance. This mobilisation of the BEF was phenomenal. One division alone, contained 19,000 men, 5,600 horse, 75 guns, and 650 wagons. It occupied in column, ten miles of road and required 90 trains to transport. Britan transferred 4 divisons in just 12 days, with the 2nd Corps operating near La Bassee, and 3rd Corps, based at St Omer, in just the first 3 days.
Contrary to popular belief, the BEF were not Britain's best troops. The majority, were relatively recent enlistments, with a high proportion having less than two years service. The more experienced soldiers, were reservists who had left the army years ago, and their standard of fitness and miltary knowledge varied considerably. However, the quality of Britain's military training was good and the majority of its Officers and NCO's were experienced and battle hardened. The British Battalion system was also an excellent way of bonding troops into an effective fighting force.
The Four Divisions of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), sent to France in 1914, numbered approximately 100,000 men. Although outnumbered by the Germans by at least ten times, the BEF halted the German advance from 23rd August 1914, at Mons, Le Cateau, and then along the River Marne.
These first three weeks of the war were a critical period, in which the German plans to end the war at a stroke were stopped. While the BEF was successful in holding the Germans at bay, much of the Army was destroyed in the fighting. Between 5th August and 30th November 1914, the BEF suffered 86,237 casualties. These represented a large core of the Professional British Army. To replace these numbers and commanders, Britain had to quickly recruit and train New Armies.
Thereafter, the 'Western Front' developed into a line of opposing trenches, stretching 460 miles, from the North Sea to Switzerland. There were 25,000 miles of trenches, enough to wrap around the entire planet - front line trenches, reserve and support trenches, connected by communication trenches. This 'front line' barely moved for more than two years. Both sides were evenly matched and although they produced deadly new weapons, like tanks, aircraft, and gas attacks, to break the deadlock, these were soon countered, to create a tactical stalemate The civilian population from France and Flanders was evacuated and the occupying forces settled into the long, grinding routine of trench warfare. The Germans were quick to seize the high ground and dug their trenches in deep, taking advantage of the better soil conditions. This gave them a great defensive advantage over the attacking allies.
In the first two weeks of October 1914, the BEF was moved from the central sector of the front to Ypres and Flanders. This move shortened its lines of communications which ran through Dunkirk, Calais and Boulonge. Britain was able to protect these ports which were vital to its own supplies and reinforcements, and to the Royal Navy's command of the Channel. The Battle of Neuve Chappell between the 10-13th March 1915, was an indication of things to come. Britain's Royal Flying Corps was used for the first time to take observation photos of the German defences. This innovation allowed the BEF artillery to accurate target the Germans and blow a six mile hole in the German front line. However, British telphone cables had been broken by the German shell fire and poor communications with the artillery meant that the BEF infantry could not advance until the barrage stopped. This delay alowed the Germans to regroup. When the BEF 1st Army, eventually attacked, the Germans were ready for them. Some 200 German troops from the Jager 11 Battalion, armed with two Maxim machine guns, firing 600 bullets a minute, held 9,000 British and Indian Troops, at bay for 90 minutes. They could not be moved, as the British artillery was running low on shells. A counterattack by the 16,000 Germans was similarly mowed down by machine guns, but pushed the British back to almost where they began. The battle killed 21,000 men, some of the BEF's best troops (Ten Victoria Crosses were awarded), but achieved tactically nothing It did however expose the futility and costly stalemate of trench warfare,- massive artlillery bombardments, followed by calamitous infantry assaults and costly counter attacks, with little gain. A pattern to be repeated across the entire front line, for next three years.
Over the next four years the BEFs strength rose to 50 Divisions, and 12 overseas Commonwealth Divisions. This comprised troops from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India, Newfoundland and the British West Indies.
The British and Commonwealth forces fought a number of bloody battles in the defence of the Ypres salient. Other major battles, like the Somme, Messines, Cambrai, Arras and Passchendaele took place across the entire front line during the course of the war.
In March 1918, following the earlier capitulation of Russia in the East, Germany with over a million extra troops, began their great offensive on the Western Front aiming to finish the war. Their sweeping advances reclaimed all of the ground the Allies had won before. However, by August 1918, the Germans were a spent force. They had lost many of their best troops in the offensive. The pitted battlefieds meant their supply lines were overstretched and slow. German troops became hungry, exhausted and disillusioned. While the German offensive had made large advances, their land gains were not strategic, and did not threaten the allied ports and supply lines. Stiff allied resistence, boosted by fresh American troops arriving on the Western Front, eventually halted the German attacks. The Allies then retook the offensive and through August and September 1918, counter attacked across the old battlefields and beyond.
The British Army during the First World War was the largest military force, that Britain had ever put into the field up to that point. Over the course of the war 5,399,563 men served with the BEF, the maximum strength being 2,046,901 men. On the Western Front, the BEF ended the war as the strongest fighting force, more experienced and bigger than the American Army and with better morale than the French Army.
The cost of victory was high. The official "final and corrected" casualty figures for the British Army, including the Territorial Force, were issued on 10 March 1921. The losses for the period between 4 August 1914, and 30 September 1919, included 573,507 "killed in action, died from wounds and died of other causes" and 254,176 missing (minus 154,308 released prisoners), for a net total of 673,375 dead and missing. Casualty figures also indicated that there were 1,643,469 wounded.
Photos: Courtesy of The Imperial War Museum Collection
1. Belgian civilians cheering a force of British marines on their arrival at Ostend in August 1914.
2. British troops resting in a Belgian village, 13 October 1914
3. Soldiers of the 2nd Battalion, Scots Guards in the hastilly constructed trenches near Zandvoorde, October 1914.
4. View of No Man's Land towards the German trenches, which ran along the line of trees; La Boutillerie, winter 1914-1915. 7th Division.