World War One WWI 1914 - 1918 - The War Started
Fighting started in Europe at the end of July 1914
The British landed in Calais and Ostend in north western France and was much aided by the Navy which patrolled the Channel and North Sea keeping the Germans warships and mine layers at bay. They could immediately march northwards to meet the oncoming Germans in Belgium although they had no idea were abouts they were.
In the Middle East Britain had troops there by the end of October 1914 to protect the Suez Canal from the Ottoman Turks.
Britain was not involved in the battles on the Eastern Front between Germany and Austria against Russia. This was the war triggered by the assassination of Austrian Archduke Ferdinand by Serbian rebels.
The Western Front
In Europe Britain mustered their Expeditionary Force (BEF) which amounted to only 3% of the size of the French army and were ordered by the dominant French to man the extreme west of a line which was forming from the English Channel all the way to Switzerland. Unfortunately nobody had considered that the English officers were unlikely to speak French and visa versa. This led to an atmosphere of distrust and isolated the small British force which both arrogant sides were initially quite happy about.
The first 3 months of the war is generally ignored in popular school accounts but consisted initially of the whole allied (French + British) line marching on foot northward to meet the Germans coming south initially by train. When they did meet in Northern France/Belgium both sides started old style heroic cavalry charges forgetting that each side had machine guns which instantly annihilated huge numbers of the enemy particularly the leading Cavalry officers. The French even charged in old style brightly coloured tunics. The Germans being better supported by replacements by train, rapidly advanced and the Allies could only retreat as fast as possible to set up defensive position just outside Paris. The Germans thought the war, as planned, would soon be won but the allies were saved when the Germans, not being able to use French railways, soon ran out of ammunition and human replacements. The Brits were totally demoralised and fed up with effectively running away as were the French but the latter could muster replacements and food via their own railways.
This period saw the biggest loss of life during the whole of the war in any one campaign by the French until they learnt that old fashioned bravery by charging head long at the enemy should have gone out with the invention of the machine gun and the accurate breach loading rifle.
The German "Schlieffen" battle Plan
Prussia, the then dominant German state, invaded France in 1870 and won the battle in 2 months easily overpowering the French nation and winning territory on the south side of the Rhine. (Alsace capital Strasburg and Lorraine).
In 1871 under Otto von Bismarck the leader in Prussia, the remainder of the German states formed a united German federation with their new capital in the old capital of Prussia, Berlin. If Prussia could smash France in two months what could the whole new German federation do? This concept worried the other main countries in Europe and slowly developed partnership between them.
1904 France signs a friendship pact with Britain called the Entente Cordiale. France already had a similar agreement with Russia.
Britain also had a friendship agreement with Belgium and signed a non aggression pact with Russia with the main aim of not going to war over the lands north of the British Indian Sub-continent and the south of Russia. (Like modern day Kazakhstan).
The Germans were not fazed by these moves.
1905 The German Keiser, Wilhelm 2nd instructed Count Schlieffen to produce a battle plan to allow Germany to fight a war simultaneously against France in the west and Russia in the east. The Schlieffen Plan said the best way of doing this would be to attack France in the west as fast as possible going through neutral Holland and Belgium and to encircle Paris to force a quick victory in about 6 weeks. Then to move their forces over to the East and attack Russia who although huge were backward and would be slow to mobilize.
1914 What actually happened was that the Germans by-passed Holland but were surprised to be held up by the plucky Belgium's giving time for the British to send their crack but small Expeditionary Force to hold them up further at Mons in Belgium. The French were also quick to react and in no time held up a secondary Front with fewer German troops further east in France. Worse for the German plan the Russians alerted by the potential problems in Serbia used their new Russian railway network to bring troops up to simultaneously attack Austro Hungary in their most northern state, Galicia, and to invade eastern Prussia causing the Germans to move forces planned for the Western Front back to defend the East.
The Western Front extended the 450 miles from the Channel north of Calais to the boarders of Switzerland. The French looked after the bulk, 430 miles from Switzerland and the BEF and a small number of Empire troops looked after the 15 miles from the sea in the West. The remainder was Belgium's responsibility. Note that by 1918 the British had extended their line eastwards to 100 miles from the coast taking over much of the Somme valley in the picturesque area known as Picardy.
The Eastern Front
The actual trigger for the war was fired by Serbia in the Balkans demonstrating their distaste of the Austro Hungarian Empire by organising the assassination of their Emperor elect. The Balkan area had been a tinder box ever since it had gained independence from the Muslim Ottomans in the late nineteenth centaury. From that moment on there had been almost continuous war in the Balkans as each individual country tried to use their new found freedom to gain territorial advantage at the expense of their neighbours. The most successful were Serbia who had almost doubled their territory and population and Greece who also gained key areas like Salonika (Thessaloniki).
It was partly a religious war with both Serbia and Greece being Orthodox Christian, Austria being Roman Catholic Christian and much of the rest in the Balkans Muslim converted by the Ottomans . Russia, following the invasion of Constantinople now Istanbul in the 1450s, the 1250 year old religious centre of the Orthodox Christian Church, had taken over that Christian theological leadership role and would fiercely back Serbia or Greece against the Austrian Roman Catholics. Serbia, following their success in the Balkan wars had a relatively large army of battle trained men ready to go.
Following the assassination of Austria's Archduke Ferdinand by Serbian backed Bosnian teenagers in Sarajevo on 28th June 1914 the German Kaiser pledged their support for any action Austria might make. A month later Austria declared war on Serbia and Germany declared war on Russia and France and marched south through Belgium. Then on the 29th June Austria shelled tiny Belgrade the capital of Serbia followed by an intended invasion but were quickly repulsed by the skilled Serbian fighters.
The next significant move was by Russia who invaded East Germany on the 17th of August hoping to catch them napping as they could see Germany had their largest armies in the West having invaded Belgium on the way to France on the 3rd August. In no time they were all involved creating an Eastern Front which stretched 1000 miles North-South from the Baltic Sea at Riga, Latvia west of St Petersburg all the way to Romania on the Black Sea through the east of modern day Poland and the west of modern day Ukraine.
Remember the Western Front was 450 miles from the English Channel 30 miles North East of Dunkirk all the way to Switzerland through the famous battle areas in Belgium like Ypres and the Somme and Verdun in France.
The Middle Eastern Theatre
The Ottoman Turks did not entre the war until October the 29th 1914 causing the British like the Germans to operate in two theatres. Germany West and East of their own territorial boarders and the British in north west of France and Belgium and throughout the Middle East then ruled by the Ottomans in Turkey, making the Suez Canal and the vital oil port of Basra (now in Iraq) particularly vulnerable.
Chronological Timeline - The Western Front
August to Christmas 1914
August saw a rapid development towards the potential collapse of France.
3rd August: Germany declared war on France and invaded Belgium on the same day. They were following a slightly modified version of the Schlieffen Plan with the majority, but fewer than planned, troops in the extreme west, a small force in the East of France west of Alsace and some fifth of their troops in the East of Prussia to deal with any early Russian invasion and to support Austria in the Balkans.
Unforeseen in the Schlieffen plan was a rapid response by the British
14th August: The British Expeditionary Force of crack battle hardened infantry under Field Mashall John Pinkstone French landed in France. (Yes his name was French!)
22nd August: Battle of Mons. The BEF having made contact with their French Allies under General Joffre agreed to march north to meet the Germans who had fortunately been held up in Belgium by highly aggressive local resistance and were as surprised to meet the British (at Mons in Belgium) as the British were to meet them. When the British opened fire the Germans thought they were up against a significant number of troops armed with machine guns. The facts were unfortunately different. This was a small force carrying largely rifles but their ability to generate such rapid fire fooled the Germans who dug in. General French realised he was vastly outnumbered and to continue was suicidal and the next day ordered a controlled retreat towards Paris.
6th September: Battle of Marne. The French troops under Joseph Joffre had a similar fate and both agreed to retreat to the river Marne just North of Paris to save the capital. The Battle of Marne saved Paris and the Germans from fulfilling their Schlieffen Plan.
The Germans ran short of both ammunition and replacement troops due to the rail transport in France being unsurprisingly not available to them. The French were only able to re-supply with ammunition and men by commandeering all the 600 taxis operating in Paris. Exploiting a gap which appeared in the German line the French and small British Expeditionary Force drove the Germans northwards 30 miles where they dug in and trench warfare had begun. Casualties were high on both sides the French and Germans loosing about a quarter of a million men each with the small BEF some 12,000. The Battle at Marne lasted 6 days. (Yes a quarter of a million deaths)
18th October The first Battle of Ypres.
After Marne both sides commenced what was soon dubbed the race for the sea. The Germans wanted to get into position from where they could attack and hold the key Channel Ports of Ostend, Dunkirk and Calais to stop reinforcements from Britain and for a base for their submarines, "U boats". The Allies had to stop them. The unfortunate town they were both making for was Ypres in Belgium positioned on the main road through Belgium to these ports.
Both sides were in trouble having been demoralised by the huge casualties at Marne. The Germans were also short of crack troops in this part of the Western Front but not short of heavy artillery with which they pulverised the beautiful city of Ypres and the Allies, largely British (as it was their sector) were exhausted after the Marne offensive and the long forced march.
The Germans still far outnumbered the British but the latter were able to commence a reinforcement by Indian soldiers via the channel ports. The British could claim a victory in that they stopped the Germans from attacking the French Channel ports but otherwise it was stalemate with the Germans holding the Belgium port of Ostend and proceeded to fill it full of U boats. Ypres became a permanent key point along the Western Front now developing into an unbroken trench which stretched east from Ypres in Belgium, through the Somme and Verdun in France all the way to the German boarder at Alsace. This feature did not change radically until the late Summer of 1918.
1914 Christmas - Fighting stopped along three quarters of the British sector between Ypres and Lille. This was a German initiative started by a single German officer who climbed out of his trench and shouted to the British 60 yards away in their trench with every gun pointing at him. As it was Christmas he did not want to fight, instead a game of football? This actually happened and there was a truce for the 3 days of Christmas as both sides sang carols and fabricated makeshift Christmas trees and exchanged presents.
Some of the Germans could speak English having worked in London, one as a barber. He gave a Brit a shave with a cut throat razor remarking as he cut round his neck that this would be an easier way of killing him that with his rifle. Some Germans who had worked in London even greeted the English they met with the London slang using greetings of the time like "Watcher- Cock". After the three days the officers of both sides had to force the battle to recommence with the threat being shot like deserters if they did not start shooting their new found friends.
Chronological Timeline - The Middle Eastern Theatre
29th October 1915: Turkey joined the war on the German side
This caused Britain huge further problems as more manpower was required as they had to open up a new theatre of war to defend the key British assets in the Middle East.
Britains were reluctant to enter into the European battle between Germany and France particularly because they were fully occupied at home with Ireland wanting their independence, but not so in the Middle East against the muslim Ottoman Turks.
It would be only too easy for the Ottomans with German backing, training and military support to grab the Suez canal and take the port of Basra in present day Iraq. The Iranian (Persian) oil wells with their huge refinery and pipeline to the large deep see port of Basra were accessed by British ships via the Suez canal. Worse many of the latest ships in the British Navy had, under instructions from Churchill, changed their fuel from coal to oil giving them greater range and power with a smaller boiler crew.
The British already had sizable defence forces for both, Suez, with the help of British Egyptians and Basra with the help of British Indians. Both countries' army's being trained and equipped by the British and both used to fighting in extremely hot countries. On top of this both areas were rapidly reinforced by others from the British Empire.
1914 October 29: Ottomans officially announced they had joined the war on the German side. They had actually agreed to do so with Germany in a secret deal in August 1914.
1915 January - Simultaneous attacks by the Ottomans based in Baghdad on Basra and by Ottomans based in Jerusalem and Gaza in Palestine on the Suez Canal. Both attacks were repelled by British forces augmented by Indians and Egyptians.
In Basra: Ottoman forces were surrounded 30 miles from Basra and half the attacking forces were taken prisoner while the remainder fled back to Baghdad.
In the Suez area as in Basra British forces were ready for the attacks using spotter planes and in the canal the British had prepared defences using naval ships with guns suitable for firing at close range (under 10 miles), and as in Basra the Ottomans retreated along the long, hot and sandy route back to Palestine.
GALIPOLI also called the Dardanelles campaign.
The Dardanelles is the sea passage originally called the Hellespont and later "The Straits" between the Aegean part of the Mediterranean past Istanbul (previously Constantinople) and the Black Sea. It is the only sea passage from Russia and the Ukraine out to the Mediterranean sea and beyond or indeed from Istanbul.
Gallipoli is the narrow peninsular on the west or European side of the Dardanelles and has some sand beaches and is a very rough land route to Istanbul the historic capital of both the Muslim Ottoman Turkey from 1460 and the Christian Eastern Roman or Byzantium Empires from 300 AD to 1460. Constantinople had for over 2000 years been considered an ideal place for a capital city because of its natural defences both from land and sea.
Churchill considered modern naval vessels could blast their way through these natural defences. Indeed the urgency to do something was increased when German ships steamed up the Dardanelles past friendly Istanbul and shelled key Russian ports in the Crimea.
Winston Churchill, in charge of the Navy, persuaded the British government that Turkey could be broken by attacking their capital Istanbul using mainly the navy via the narrow Dardanelles sea way.
19th February 1915 - British ships shelled Turkish gun emplacements in the Dardanelles. This was not very effective as the ships guns did not fire effectively at targets so close to the horizontal and too many ships were lost to Turkish mines supplied by the Germans. Britain lost two thirds of its fleet of pre-Dreadnaught battle ships in this short incursion.
25th April - Notwithstanding the failure of the "softening up" campaign British and Empire forces landed on the Gallipoli peninsula with a view of marching to Istanbul and putting the Ottoman Empire out of the war. The troops under British command consisted of men from the British Iles, plus the first serious involvement from Australia and New Zealand who become known as the ANZACs.
The Turks were considered to be easy meat and the Allies were trained to watch out for the strange signals from the Turks like holding their rifles above their heads upside down which meant, we surrender. All Allied forces landed safely onto pre-chosen beaches for the three main separate nations and all gained rapid footholds only to discover their way inland effectively blocked by Turks dug in trenches European style under their German commanders plus one rather effective young 33 year old Turk commander a certain Kemal Ataturk who eventually rose to be the first President of the modern Turkey we know today.
A stalemate lasted for 7 months and after huge losses on both sides British and Empire forces withdrew back to Egypt. This is still considered one of the big disasters for the Brits in the First World War and was a hard commencement of the war by ANZAK troops who still annually remember this disaster for their young men in the annual ANZAK day in late April every year.
Casualties British 120k, Australian 38k, New Zealand 7k, Turks 175k.
British aims after Gallipoli
The British obviously had to maintain a defensive position round Basra for oil and the Suez for shipping and with the help of British Indian and Egyptian forces and of Australian New Zealand and South Africa they were given the additional task of pulling Ottoman forces away from the Russian Southern Front and perhaps even to eliminate the Ottoman forces altogether.
Lawrence of Arabia
British intelligence was aware that the Ruler of Arab Arabia located in Mecca, Sheriff Hussein ibn Ali who had lived under Turkish dominance all his life was interested in developing an Arab Revolt against the Ottomans Serbian style. British intelligence was also aware that an Oxford historian Thomas Lawrence was friendly with Hussein, was studying archaeology in Arabia, was fluent in Arabic, dressed like an Arab and was even more Arabic than the Arabs. He was recruited to form the masses of Bedouin Arabs he knew well into a useful fighting force for liberation. He was initially but only for a short time located in Cairo as a military intelligence officer.
Lawrence's main contribution to the war, as a major, ultimately working under General Allenby, who always gave him the greatest praise, was to persuade the fiery and independent Arabs to work in coordination with the British rather as an independent force. He died a sad man back in England as he realised the main promises he had given to Sheriff Hussein to be able to rule all of Ottoman Arabia including Syria, Iraq, Palestine, Jordan and the present Saudi Arabia came to naught as the area was divided between the French and the British and the latter gave part of Palestine to the Jews. Readers must realise that at the time most of these territories were seen as useless desert as oil had not been discovered in so many places in the region.
British and Allied progress to victory in the Middle East.
1915 - The British forces based in Basra made their way northwards towards Baghdad accompanied by naval shipping on the Euphrates. The Ottoman Arab militia joined forces with the Allies as soon as they saw the British military superiority. Sheriff Hussein was promised by the British all the land between Persia and Egypt if he persuaded his forces to join the Allies.
1916 - Lawrence of Arabia began his gorilla actions against the Ottoman infrastructure including blowing up parts of the German built railway down the Mediterranean coast towards Suez. Ottomans based in the Gaza military stronghold commenced their second raid south to Suez but were repelled and a British counter attack attempt to take Gaza. The mission failed and General Maude was sacked and replaced by the experienced General Edmund Allenby plus substantial reinforcements.
1917 March; British take Baghdad
July; Lawrence led his Gorillas to take the important port of Aqaba in the Red Sea. He was victorious and so impressed his superiors he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel.
Sheriff Hussein welcomed Lawrence as one of his sons.
December; as Russia collapses because of their Revolution they offer the Ottomans an Armistice.
Allenby and his British plus Egyptian forces and Lawrence's gorillas broke through the heavily fortified Ottoman Gaza-Bathsheba line and march into Jerusalem unmolested. This was the first time Jerusalem had been conquered by Christians since the Crusades. But the Christians victors did not celebrate but prayed silently as more than half Allenby's forces were Muslim Egyptians and Lawrence's Muslim Arabs.
Summer; Lawrence had a price of £15,000 put on his head by the Ottomans but none of his Arab Gorillas betrayed him. He returned to England as a full Colonel. The Ottomans are now in full retreat and Allenby took Damascus where Sheriff wanted to make his new headquarters.
November 13th Istanbul occupied by British and French troops.
Aftermath - Hussein does not get his promised dream empire of all lands between Persia and Egypt as the French and British divide the area up between them and carve out the countries we have today:-
Syria(with Damascus) and Lebanon to the French
Iraq (Mesopotamia) Jordan, Palestine (now partly Israel) Saudi Arabia to the British.
The Ottoman Empire does not exist now only Turkey but still Muslim with the capital Ankara in the Asian part well east of the Dardanelles with Istanbul the old historic city of Constantinople the only key area left in Europe on the Greek side of the Hellespont (Dardanelles and Bosporus). Fighting went on here locally for the next 4 years to sort out the various ethnic groups, mainly between Christian Greek and MuslimTurks.
Back in Europe.
Chronological Timeline - The Eastern Front
Remember from above in August 1914, Austria invaded Serbia and Russia invaded both Germany (East Prussia) and Austria-Hungary (the province of Galicia, adjacent to Ukraine)
Those taking part were;
Allies; Russia, Serbia and later Italy and Romania.
Central Powers; Germany, Austro Hungarian Empire, Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria
We have seen before that the Eastern Front stretched from the Baltic sea in the north to the Black sea in the south and across to the southern alps to Venice (when Italy joined in). Russia, Germany and the Austro Hungarian Empire were the most populous areas in Europe at this time. Germany was by far the most industrialized, the opposite of Russia and Serbia both whose soldiers sometimes did not have even a rifle of their own and some times no boots to march in. Notwithstanding this Germany was probably more nervous of Russia than Russia was of Germany due to successful propaganda in Russia.
July Early: Turkey did a secret military support deal with Germany as Turkey was nervous of Russia who had the largest army of all belligerents and were building up troops on their boarders with the Caucasus mountains.
July 29th: The first battle was the invasion of Serbia by the Austrians who were quickly repulsed by tiny but battled trained Serbia.
August 12th: Russia invaded Germany and Austria simultaneously. Germany in East Prussia and Austro Hungary in Galicia a province adjacent to present day western Ukraine.
(This was at the time when the British forces met and were vastly outnumbered by the Germans at Mons in Belgium.)
August 26th: The Germans in Prussia listening to un-coded Russian military radio messages surrounded two Russian Armies at Tannenburg and captured 92,000 soldiers killed 78,000 more with only 10,000 escaping. 60 trains were required to collect the Russian arms captured. This famous victory for the Germans was immediately followed by the Battle of the Masurian Lakes when the Russians fled.
October 8th: Fighting continued, now on Russian soil in Poland just east of the town of Wirballen. Russian armies attacked a German position of dug in troops with shells and then sent their armies into attack again and again but were mown down by accurate German Machine gun fire. This was another disaster for the Russians who were forced to attack the German lines by their commanders and tens of thousands of Russians lost their lives some immediately but the majority slowly and with out medical support alone somewhere in no-mans land. This disaster was reported in the Haig and in London in graphic detail as was a major contributor in the Russian Revolution to come in 1917
October the 29th: Turkey finally entered the war with the backing of Germany within the Central Powers.
January - Turkey decided to attack Russia via Armenia into the Caucasus mountains. Winter was the wrong time of year for this venture and some 50,000 Turks froze to death in the mountains before they reached the Russian positions. Turkey looking for a scapegoat, blamed the Armenians who were Christians, and forced about a million and a half men, women and children on a "forced march" all the way our of Turkey into the Arab city of Aleppo where over a period of 2 years they starved or froze to death. This is the so called Armenian Massacre which even today the Turks say never happened.
February 19th: This was the commencement of the British Allies actions on the Gallipoli peninsular in Turkey described in the Middle East section.
March 22nd: In one of their few military successes the Russians capture 120,000 Austrians at Przmysl in Galicia. This causes the Germans to move more troops from the Western Front to permanently take charge of the Austrian armies against the Russians.
May 23rd: Italy enters the war on the side of the Allies seeing an opportunity to recapture mountain land in the Alps dominated by Italian speakers but then under Austrian rule.
June 23rd: Italians open their campaign against the Austrians at Isonzo on the boarders of Italy, Slovenia and Austria. This was a trench war in the mountains which lasted 4 years with 12 major battles until the Armistice in 1918 with huge losses on both sides without any gain or loss of territory. A significant part of the Austrian army were Slovenians which was also part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The actual Front between the armies was like an S on its side between Trieste and Switzerland.
August 5th: The Germans capture Warsaw the capital of present day Poland from the Russians.
This successful offensive by the Garman-Austria military commences after a regrouping after the debacle in Przmysl and now with the Russian Army weakening by the day as they become short of ammunition and loose the will to fight.
September 6th: Bulgaria now enters the war on the side of the Germans with the object of invading Serbia which has already been invaded three times by Austria but each time repelled with huge losses on both sides which small Serbia can ill afford.
October 6th: Invasion of Serbia commences with German led troops for the first time from the north who finally take Belgrade and Bulgarians in the south who with the Germans totally out number little Serbia who can do nothing but retreat en-mass to Albania where they hope to meet up with a British/French Navy who can take them to the Greek islands to regroup and recover. This is a mass exodus of men women and children who have to march through very rugged territory with little food and water.
November 20th: Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria dies and is succeeded by Archduke Charles who wants to take Austria out of the war
December 5th 1916: Bucharest capital of Romania falls to the German led Austrians and the huge corn stores and crops and oil fields are available to the Germans which is a huge boost to the German U boat fleet who need this oil for lubrication.
March 8th: Revolution in Russia. With the collapse of the Russian army driven backwards by the German lead Central Powers and the shortage of food in the large cities including Moscow and St Petersburg the capital, caused by farmers being at war and the disintegration of non war supported railway system. Firstly the women of St Petersburg start a demonstration for bread and the following day the army based in the city mutiny and join the demonstrating civilians demanding the resignation of the Czar Nicholas 2nd .
March 15th: The 300 year old Russian (Romanov) Dynasty comes to an end as the Czar abdicates and a democratically minded provisional government is hastily appointed which the Allies including America quickly recognise in the hope of persuading the Russians to remain in the war to give the Germans something to occupy them on the Eastern Front particularly as in the West the Germans are retreating to a new defensive line (The Hindenburg Line) under constant British and French pressure.
April 2nd – 6th: President Woodrow Wilson persuades congress to join the war following huge losses of American shipping to German U boats.
April 16th: The Germans arrange for a special train to take Vladimir Lenin, a known pacifist who has been exiled in Switzerland back to St Petersburg in the hope that his Bolshevik followers (advocates of a dictatorship by the working people rather than the nobility) will overthrow the interim government and stop the need for a large German presence on the eastern Front. He is soon joined by a like minded Stalin.
May 19th: Russia's provisional government announces it will stay in the war. But for how long, as the Russian peasants are rushing to join Lenin's Bolshevik party?
July 2nd: Greece joins in the war on the side of the Allies.
September 1st: The final battle on the Eastern Front. The Germans using "Storm Troops" for the first time take Riga, too close to St Petersburg for comfort, and push the Russians back towards their capital.
Storm Troops are lightly armoured infantry carrying only rifles, machine guns and flame throwers, they by pass any heavily fortified Russian positions and cause havoc in their rear by attacking communications and supplies.
October 24th: The Germans lead an Austrian force (the first time the Germans had supported the Austrians on the Italian Front) into the battle of Caporetto crossed the river and routed the Italians who were driven back 60 miles to close by Venice. The Central Powers were only stopped from taking Venice because they could not get supplies from their local HQ they has left far behind.
November 6th: Russian October Revolution (October by the Russian calendar)
Lenin aided by Leon Trotsky brought down the provisional government and established a Marxist republic and immediately orders a cease fire with Germany and tears up his agreement with the Allies allowing the Germans to transfer troops to the Western Front.
December 7th: With no Russia, Romania declares an Armistice with Germany
March 3rd: Russia signs the official Armistice agreement with Germany who realise that the Russians will sign anything and take possession of a quarter of the pre-war Russian territory and half their industrial base.
June 15th: Austrians being urged by the Germans commence their final significant campaign and cross the Piave river in Italy right by Venice but they find the Italian army has regrouped and has been supplied with arms and support by the Allies. Faced with this unforeseen dilemma the Austrian troops desert en mass and are routed by the Italians.
This coincides with the beginning of the collapse of the German army on the Western Front.
This is not the end of the blood shed and massive loss of life in the East.
July 17th: The Bolsheviks under Lenin murder Czar Nicholas and the whole of his family which prompts the commencement of the Russian Civil war when a further 15 million more Russians die during the struggle between the Bolsheviks and their opponents which will last a further 3 years with victory for the Marxist Bolsheviks creating the communist state of today.
September 15th: Attacking from Greece the Allies, mainly French, Greeks and Serbs attack Serbia and push the Bulgarians out to their own country. This results in a revolution in Bulgaria as they adopt a Russian style of Soviet leadership.
September 29th: Bulgaria signs an Armistice with the Allies and thus becomes the first of the Central Powers to quit the war.
October 6th: This commencement the breakup of the 500 year old Austro Hungarian Empire.
THE WESTERN FRONT
A reminder of what happened between August and Christmas 1914:-
After 6 months of fighting the British forces aiding the French stop the Germans as they come within shelling distance of Paris when they thought they had won the war. Then the Allies drove them back towards Belgium in the West and Reims in the East where both sides had "dug in" and a four year stale mate of Trench Warfare had begun. Then:
From 1915 to 1918
During 1915 the Germans had made the decision to concentrate on the Eastern Front in an attempt to knock the Russians out of the war. In the event it took the Germans 2 years to beat the Russians into submission. In the mean time on the Western Front en- mass killing continued.
The Germans commence a bombing campaign against London using Zeppelins. These were fat cigar looking, hydrogen filled, balloons the size of a Battleship driven with a motor powered propeller on a boat like cabin suspended from their underside. Bombs could be dropped by hand over the target from these boat shaped carriages.
Germany declares the seas around the British Isles as a war zone and commences the random sinking of any ship, navy or commercial in the area using their submarines they called U boats. This is the start of an attempt to starve the British out of the war. In the meantime the British prepared to use their superior Navy to blockade German used ports including the whole of the Baltic Sea.
February 16th: French try a major offensive in the Champagne area around Reims against the German trenches and loose a quarter of a million men demonstrating the impossibility of attacking well dug in positions with men equipped with modern Machine Guns.
February 18th: Germans commence a huge U boat campaign against all Allied shipping around Britain. The Brits loose more ships than they can replenish from their ship yards. The British realise this can't go on. Fortunately the Germans also sink American ships which anger England's ally, the sleeping giant, the neutral USA.
British Navy commence the total blockade of all German ports cutting off their supplies of food and war materials like chemicals for explosives in bombs and shells.
March 10th: Battle of Neuve Chappell. British and Indian troops attack the German trenches in the Artois region of Picardy and make a significant breakthrough but can't get in reinforcements to hold the new position. British have 11,000 casualties to the German 10,000.
April 22nd: The second battle of Ypres in Belgium Flanders.
This offensive was started by the Germans as getting occupation of the Channel ports for U boat deployment was still a major objective and Allied forces at Ypres blocked the way.
The Germans commenced the battle with the use of Chlorine Gas dropped in canisters which was the first significant use of poisoned gas in any major battle and took the Allies by surprise. Anybody caught by the gas cloud either died of asphyxiation or was quickly blinded and had to be lead away from the battle field for treatment.
The Germans made significant gains initially but were eventually driven back by a combination of British, Indian and Canadian troops and a large French contingent. The Brits suffered some 60,000 casualties the Germans 35,000 and the French some 10,000.
May 7th: German U boats sink a British Cunard passenger liner off the Irish coast on route to Liverpool drowning over 1000 people including 128 Americans. US outraged.
During May there were a number of Allied attacks against German trenches in Picardy with no gains. Each offensive caused some 10,000 deaths to Allied forces. Was it possible to attack a well dug in enemy defended by barbed wire and machine guns?
May 31st: Germans kill 28 people in London by dropping bombs from Zeppelins.
June 16th: Another major battle in western Artois/Picardy many lives lost on both sides.
August: German Fokker Scourge fighter plane fitted with a machine gun synchronised to fire through the propeller caused havoc against Allied planes.
September 18th: Germans stop all out indiscriminate U boat attacks around Britain after US warns them of the consequences and switch the U boat fleet to the Mediterranean.
September 25th: Battle of loos. This was another battle in West Picardy close to Lille when the Brits used poisoned gas for the First time against a German army now not at full strength having moved more troops to the Eastern Front to try and finish off the Russians. The Allies made substantial advances but once again the Germans fought back with the Brits sustaining more than 50,000 casualties.
General French was sacked and replaced by Douglas Haig.
February: German Fokker fighter plane now overtaken by British and French designs both bi-planes. The British the FE2 had the propeller behind the pilot allowing an unrestricted forward view and a clear site for the foreword looking Vickers machine gun. The French plane a Harniot also with a British Vickers machine gun but synchronised through the propeller. Both top speeds just over 100 mph.
February to December 1916
Battle of Verdun
This was a 10 month battle for one town in the East of France beyond Reims on the road to Metz close to the German boarder between the Germans and French as the only participants. In French memories, it holds the same horror as the Battle of the Somme holds for the British which also lasted many months both with death numbers close to the half million mark on both the sides. Hence for the German side the death numbers for both battles totalled almost a million men.
Verdun had been a fortified town for 1000s of years even before the arrival of the Romans, being seen by the French and the Gaul's before them as being an obvious route into France for anybody attacking from the north and east. The Germans knew the faith the French had in the defences of this fortified town built even to withstand a siege of 6 months and decided the French would probably never retreat and would continue to pour in resources to hold it. So the Germans decided to attack and attack again until much of the French army was totally annihilated and they would be only left with the British on the Western Front.
During the first sis months the Germans attacked using up to a million shells at the start of each phase of which there were five, all taking place in an area of less than 10 square miles. The Germans took strategic French front positions bet never the town.
During October, November and December of 1916 the French counter-attacked and pushed the Germans back to their starting point.
This battle goes into history as the longest battle ever for one town, with the greatest number of casualties with no sensible strategic goals. The only thing that drove the Generals on to continue the battle was national pride.
July to November 1916
The Battle of the Somme
As the memories of Verdun have remained with the French 100 years after the battle the same can be said for the Somme in British folk law. More British and their commonwealth allies died at the Somme during the 5 months of battle than at any other battle before or since.
- The British were supported by Tanks for the first time which were supposed to be the answer to trench warfare and barbed wire but tanks were rushed into battle before their design and reliability had been tested sufficiently.
- The latest British designed aircraft were now better than the Germans
- This was the first battle when large numbers in the British Army had volunteered, many serving alongside lads from the same village back home. Training was rudimentary, nearly all the professional soldiers of the original BEF had been killed.
- The original concept of the campaign was to be French lead as the French army on the Western Front was much larger than the British. However the problems at Verdun had sucked in most of the French Army.
The Somme offensive was designed to
- Take Germans away from Verdun to relieve the French
- To kill as many Germans as possible. Wars of attrition with its resulting huge death rate was deemed to be acceptable in World War 1! Almost certainly not now in the Western World.
The battle was commenced by the British with 10 days of shelling with heavy guns to knock out the German trenches and blast through the protecting barbed wire.
After the bombardment the British soldiers were ordered to walk shoulder to shoulder towards the German trenches and finish off any German who was still alive. Having done that the waiting Cavalry (men on horses!) was supposed to charge forward, jump the trenches and kill any stragglers.
Unfortunately when the bombardment started the Germans climbed down into their previously dug deeper trenches and waited until the bombardment stopped then climbed back, re manned their machine gun and sniper posts and proceeded to mow down the new young British recruits particularly the officers which the German snipers were told to aim for. Many young British boys were shot while caught in the barbed wire which also had not been destroyed.
A total and unmitigated disaster.
• Over 60,000 British and Commonwealth troops were killed on the first day of the battle
• Both sides lost about 600,000 men over the duration of the Battle of the Somme.
The Battle of the Somme continued with the Allies gaining about 5 miles across a 15 mile front when early snow storms on November 18th persuaded the British generals to cease the carnage as their was no light at the end of the tunnel.
Other important changes in 1916
November 20th: Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria dies and the new Emperor Archduke Charles decides his country has had enough and says he would like to leave the war.
December 6th: Romania collapses to the Germans who now have access to their oil wells and huge wheat fields.
December 7th: Lloyd George becomes Britain's Prime minister and commences to put England under military rule to maximise the war effort and resources
December 12th: French supreme war commander, Joseph Joffre resigns following the French losses at Verdun and is replaced by General Robert Nivelle.
December 15th: Final offensive in the Battle of Verdun. French take back all gains won by Germans.
December 18th: US President Woodrow Wilson acting as peace negotiator finishes off the year by asking all the combatants to send him their peace plans.
Big changes take place after two and half years of bitter war with huge casualties on both sides but no gains or losses on either side of the 450 mile dividing line (The Siegfried or Hindenburg line) stretching from the English Channel to Switzerland.
The Americans, with only 145,000 enlisted men and only small munitions factories declare war on Germany and the Russians have an internal revolution and quit. All main countries are getting short of food.
January: Germans send a letter to Mexico inviting them to attack the US and get back New Mexico and other recently lost territories with German help. British intelligence intercept the letter and pass it to the Americans who are understandably furious.
February: Germans recommence unrestricted submarine and sink 500 ships in 60 days including a huge American grain ship. America cuts off diplomatic ties with Germany.
March: The start of the Russian Revolution triggered by a shortage of food in the capital St Petersburg.
Russian Czar Nicholas 2nd abdicates and a provisional government is formed which avows to stay in the war against Germany.
April: British fighter pilots suffer worst ever month against Germans with a 50% casualty rate. Average life of a combat pilot is just 3 weeks.
US declares war on Germany as President Woodrow Wilson persuades Congress to change their minds.
April 9th: British, Canadian and Australian troop break through the Siegfried Line around Arras and advance 4 miles and for the first time the Germans do not retake their lost trenches. British and Allies suffer 150,000 casualties.
April 16th: French under new commander in chief Robert Nivelle make a similar aggressive move around Reims but it fails and they loose 100,000 more casualties. French close to mutiny. Nivelle replaced by General Henri Petain who visits the Trenches to quell the riots.
Lenin leaves Switzerland and heads back to Russia aided by German transport who know Lenin is a pacifist and wants to take Russia out of a war they can't win.
May: US army is only 145,000 so they introduce conscript to increase their numbers to 4 million. Obviously 145,000 could be lost in one battle.
Russia. The people flock to Lenin the devout communist and pacifist.
May/June: The stoic British hold the fort as mutiny spreads through the French sector. The Brits explode a series of enormous bombs totalling 600 tons under the German lines killing 10,000 men and destroying trenches. The tunnels to the German trenches have taken more than a year to build using coal miners from Wales and elsewhere. Back home much needed coal for the war effort is dug using unwilling conscripts who are prone to strike.
In London 158 civilians are killed by bombs dropped by German light aeroplanes.
The French sector; mutiny spreads throughout and Petain has to bring in the firing squad but his words are very persuasive and he manages to tell the French that fighting in rat infested water filled trenches is not as bad as they think and anyway they must not let the Germans over run their country.
June 25th 1917: First American troops arrive in France. They are kept well away from the battle Front as they need to continue their field training. This is 2 months after America declared war on Germany. The Allies will have to wait another year before the Americans feel they are fit for battle.
July: Greece enters the war on the side of the Allies
August, September, October: British under General Haig make a triple assault at Ypres, fail in the first offensive but finally make the breakthrough in September but then loose thousands of troops as the rains fall and all the shell holes fill with water. Then with a third assault supported by Canadians in October they drive the Germans out of nearby Passchendale.
Meanwhile on the Eastern Front the Russians launch what is to be their final offensive called the Kerensky offensive but their plans are leaked to the Germans who finish off the Russians in 5 days and the Russians flee for their lives. This is followed almost immediately by a German "Storm Trooper" attack from Riga where the Storm Troopers leap frog their comrade's battles to bring the fighting behind the Russian lines. The Russians run away again being short of ammunition and close to home. (St Petersburg)
In November the full October Revolution takes place and Lenin takes the Russians out of the war even though they sign a third of their territory over to the Germans.
One Million extra German soldiers are now available to join the fight on the Western Front and are moved quickly in an attempt to make a final push to Paris before the American can get their act together.
December: Russians finally sign their Armistice with Germany and Romania also pulls out of the war having lost their Russian ally.
January: American President Woodrow Wilson sent a plan for peace to the Germans with a copy to the Allies which contained 14 points. The main points the Germans and the other Central Powers had to implement immediately were:-
Get out of the occupied lands of Russia, Belgium, France, Poland, the Balkan States and Italy where they must also redraw the boarder northwards in the Alps to include some of the long disputed territory in Alpine Austria. Turkey had to withdraw all control of the Arab states and to only retain control of mainland Turkey, that is the end of the 450 year old Ottoman Empire.
Clearly the Germans who still considered they were close to victory with the freeing of 1 million extra troops from the Eastern Front thought the whole thing was a joke and blatant insult.
March to July: German Spring offensive. This has to be an all or nothing attack across the whole of the Western Front to make use of the extra million men who now can be transferred from the Eastern Front. Vital for the Germans to take Paris before the Americans arrive in Force.
March 21st: 1st battle made on the British sector in the Somme. Here the British are totally out numbered but miraculously manage to hold on to the key towns of Arras and Amiens. The Allies appoint a supreme commander of all the Allied forces on the Western Front the Frenchman General Ferdinand Foch.
April: The Brits now have the largest and best Air force in the world as the factories in Farnborough (Hants) work flat out and the RAF is formed out of Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Navy Air Services.
April 9th: The Germans mount their 2nd battle in the Spring Offensive again in the British sector at Ypres. The Allies again hold their ground as the Brits are reinforced by French and Canadians. Even with the extra men from the Eastern Front the Germans run out of reserves having suffered 330,000 casualties.
May 28th: First American action is successful. They take the village of Cantigny near Arras in the Somme. Their second offensive in Belleau Wood west of Reims is also successful but the Americans suffer 5000 casualties.
June 3rd: Now its the turn of the French west of Reims. The French are bowled over and the Germans are so euphoric with their success that they change plans and decide to make a dash to Paris. This desperate day is saved as the Germans run out of ammunition and reinforcements arrive from the British in the west and finally the Americans.
The Americans now have 65,000 men in France and are arriving at the rate of 10,000 a day. US General John Pershing does not want his men to be absorbed into the British or French sectors but prefers his men to stand alone and do their own battles. They have not managed to build up any sort of armament production and on arrival have to borrow French tanks, field guns, machine guns and rifles. Fortunately they like the available equipment.
July 1918: Spanish Flue hits the Front lines in France. This is a deadly plague type flue which can kill anyone afflicted within 12 hours. We now know it started in China not Spain and killed 20 million people more than in the First world war.
July 15th: Last German offensive in the war takes place in the Reims area. The Allies are however prepared and the Germans are blocked on the east side by the French and the west by the Americans.
July 17th: Russian Bolsheviks murder the ex Czar, Nicholas 2nd and the whole of his family. The Russian civil war commences in earnest and after 3 years over 15 million people are dead but Lenin's communists come out on top.
July 18th: Allied counter offensive on the Western Front commences.
French and Americans drive the Germans back north around Reims.
August 8th British and commonwealth troops using 450 tanks, plus air supremacy, over run the Germans in the Somme and take 13,000 prisoners.
August and September: The Germans are now beaten but they fight on. The French and American making steady northward progress in the East around Reims and Verdun and the British and Canadians supported by some Americans finally break through the Siegfried line on September 28th at Cambrai and St Quinten and the British and the Belgium's push the Germans out of Ypres for the last time. Unfortunately the American suffered 75,000 casualties in the west of Verdun.
The German commander General Ludendorff suffers a nervous breakdown knowing that so many of his crack troops have been taken prisoner or are dead and he persuades his Superior General von Hindenburg the visit the Kaiser tell him the war is lost and to request him to ask the Allies for an armistice.
October 4th: The Germans having asked for an Armistice are hoping the US president will agree and they can cease fighting and hold onto all the lands they still occupy. Woodrow Wilson knows that the Allies have now broken through the Siegfried line at all points and are totally in charge in all areas and replies the Germans must withdraw from all occupied lands and cease U boat attacks and the Allies will then sign an Armistice.
November 1918: At 11 o'clock, on the 11th day, in the 11th month an Armistice is signed in a railway carriage in France.