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Secrets of World War I - Part 1

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World War I

Clockwise from top: Trenches on the Western Front; a British Mark IV tank crossing a trench; Royal Navy battleship HMS Irresistible sinking after striking a mine at the Battle of the Dardanelles; a Vickers machine gun crew with gas masks, and German Albatros D.III biplanes Clockwise from top: Trenches on the Western Front; a British Mark IV tank crossing a trench; Royal Navy battleship HMS Irresistible sinking after striking a mine at the Battle of the Dardanelles; a Vickers machine gun crew with gas masks, and German Albatros D.III biplanes

World War I

Secrets of World War I - Part 2

Date - 28 June 1914 – 11 November 1918 (cease-fire)

Peace treaty signed - 28 June 1919

Location - Europe, Africa and the Middle East (briefly in China and the Pacific Islands)

Result - Allied victory; end of the German, Russian, Ottoman, and Austro-Hungarian Empires; foundation of new countries in Europe and the Middle East; transfer of German colonies to other powers; establishment of the League of Nations.

Belligerents - Allied (Entente) Powers, Central Powers

Allied Powers Casualties and losses -
Military dead: 5,525,000
Military wounded: 12,831,500
Military missing: 4,121,000[1]

Axis and Central Powers Casualties and losses -
Military dead:4,386,000
Military wounded: 8,388,000
Military missing: 3,629,000[1]

Secrets of World War I - Part 3

A graphic depiction of the state of international relations in pre-WWI Europe. Italy joined the Triple Entente in April 1915(Image: A graphic depiction of the state of international relations in pre-WWI Europe. Italy joined the Triple Entente in April 1915)

World War I, or the First World War (often referred to as WWI, WW1, The Great War and The War to End All Wars), was a global military conflict which involved the majority of the world's great powers,[2] organized into two opposing military alliances: the Entente Powers and the Central Powers.[3] Over 70 million military personnel were mobilized in the largest war in history.[4] In a state of total war, the major combatants placed their scientific and industrial capabilities at the service of the war effort. Over 15 million people were killed, making it one of the deadliest conflicts in human history.[5]

The proximate catalyst for the war was the 28 June 1914 assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, by a Bosnian-Serb nationalist, Gavrillo Princip. Austria-Hungary's resulting demands against the Kingdom of Serbia led to the activation of a series of alliances which within weeks saw all of the major European powers at war. Because of the global empires of many European nations, the war soon spread worldwide.

Secrets of World War I - Part 4

By the war's end, four major imperial powers—Germany, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire, and Russia—had been militarily and politically defeated, with two ceasing to exist as autonomous countries.[6] The revolutionized Soviet Union emerged from the Russian Empire, while the map of central Europe was completely redrawn into numerous smaller states.[7] The League of Nations was formed in the hope of preventing another such conflict. The European nationalism spawned by the war, the repercussions of Germany's defeat, and the Treaty of Versailles would eventually lead to the beginning of World War II in 1939.[8]


Conflicting interests among the nations of Europe created dangerous rivalries for colonies, greater national glory, and superior military might. Another matter was the so called "eastern question" of who would control Eastern Europe, including the Balkan peninsula located north of Greece.

Secrets of World War I - Part 5

On 28 June 1914, Gavrilo Princip, a Bosnian Serb student, shot and killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne in Sarajevo. Princip was a member of Young Bosnia(The Black Hand at the time), a group whose aims included the unification of the South Slavs and independence from Austria-Hungary. The assassination in Sarajevo set into motion a series of fast-moving events that eventually escalated into full-scale war.[9] Austria-Hungary demanded action by Serbia to punish those responsible and, when Austria-Hungary deemed Serbia had not complied, declared war. Major European powers were at war within weeks because of overlapping agreements for collective defense and the complex nature of international alliances.

Arms race

The Royal Navy's HMS Dreadnought.(Image: The Royal Navy's HMS Dreadnought.)

The German industrial base had, by 1914, overtaken that of Britain, though Germany did not have the commercial advantages of a large empire. In the years running up to the war a race to possess the strongest navy arose between Britain and Germany, each country building large numbers of dreadnoughts. The naval race between Britain and Germany was intensified by the 1906 launch of HMS Dreadnought, a revolutionary craft whose size and power rendered previous battleships obsolete. Britain also maintained a large naval lead in other areas particularly over Germany and Italy.

David Stevenson described the arms race as "a self-reinforcing cycle of heightened military preparedness."[10] David Herrmann viewed the shipbuilding rivalry as part of a general movement in the direction of war.[11] The revisionist Niall Ferguson, however, argued Britain's ability to maintain an overall lead signified this was not a factor in the oncoming conflict.[12]

The cost of the arms race was felt in both Britain and Germany. The total arms spending by the six Great Powers (Britain, Germany, France, Russia, Austria-Hungary and Italy) increased by 50% between 1908 and 1913.[13]

Plans, distrust, and mobilization

French heavy cavalry, wearing armoured breastplate and helmet, parade through Paris on the way to battle, August 1914(Image: French heavy cavalry, wearing armoured breastplate and helmet, parade through Paris on the way to battle, August 1914)

Closely related is the thesis adopted by many political scientists that the mobilization plans of Germany, France and Russia automatically escalated the conflict. Due to the complicated logistics required to activate, move, and supply millions of troops, each nation's mobilization plans were worked out well in advance, creating a situation where mobilization almost required the country to immediately go on the attack. In particular, historian Fritz Fischer emphasized the inherently aggressive nature of the Schlieffen Plan, which outlined a two-front strategy. Fighting on two fronts meant Germany had to eliminate one opponent quickly before taking on the other. It called for a strong right flank attack, to seize Belgium and cripple the French army by pre-empting its mobilization. After the attack, the German army would rush east by railroad and quickly destroy the slowly mobilizing Russian forces.[14]

France's Plan XVII envisioned a quick thrust into the Ruhr Valley, Germany’s industrial heartland, which would in theory cripple Germany's ability to wage a modern war.

Russia's Plan 19 foresaw a concurrent mobilization of its armies against Austria-Hungary, Germany, and the Ottomans, while Plan 19 Revised saw Austria-Hungary as the main target, reducing the initial commitment of troops against East Prussia.[15][16]

All three plans created an atmosphere in which speed was thought to be one of the determining factors for victory. Elaborate timetables were prepared; once mobilization had begun, there was little possibility of turning back. Diplomatic delays and poor communications exacerbated the problems.

Also, the plans of France, Germany and Russia were all biased toward the offensive, in clear conflict with the improvements of defensive firepower and entrenchment.[17][18][19][20]

Militarism and autocracy

US President Woodrow Wilson and others blamed the war on militarism.[21] Some argued that aristocrats and military élites had too much power in countries such as Germany, Russia, and Austria-Hungary.[22] War was thus a consequence of their desire for military power and disdain for democracy. This theme figured prominently in anti-German propaganda.[23][24] When the German effort was failing in 1918, calls grew for the abdication of rulers such as Kaiser Wilhelm II[25], as well as an end to aristocracy and militarism in general. This platform provided some justification for the American entry into the war when the Russian Empire surrendered in 1917.[26]

The Allies consisted of Great Britain and France, both democracies, fighting the Central Powers, which included Germany, Austro-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire. Russia, one of the Allied Powers, was an empire until 1917, but it was opposed to the subjugation of Slavic peoples by Austro-Hungary. Against this backdrop, the view of the war as one of democracy versus dictatorship initially had some validity, but lost credibility as the conflict continued.

Wilson hoped the League of Nations and disarmament would secure a lasting peace. Borrowing a thesis from H. G. Wells, he described the war as a "war to end all war". He was willing to side with France and the Britain to this end, despite their own militarism.

Fritz Fischer famously[27] put most of the blame on Germany's aristocratic leaders. He argued that the German leaders thought they were losing power and time was running out. The German social democratic party had won several elections, increasing their voting share and had by 1912 become the most represented party in Germany. While the elected institutions had little power compared with the Kaiser it was feared that some form of political revolution was imminent. Russia was in midst of a large scale military build-up and reform which was to be completed in 1916-17. A war would unite Germany and defeat Russia before this. In his later works Fischer went further and argued[28] that Germany had planned the war in 1912.

Historian Samuel R. Williamson has emphasized the role of Austria-Hungary. Convinced that Serbian nationalism and Russian Balkan ambitions were disintegrating a monarchy comprising eleven different nationalities, Austria-Hungary hoped for a limited war against Serbia and that the strong German support would force Russia to keep out of the war and weaken its Balkan prestige.[29]

Balance of power

European military alliances prior to the war(Image: European military alliances prior to the war)

One of the goals of the foreign policies of the Great Powers in the pre-war years was to maintain the 'Balance of Power' in Europe. This evolved into an elaborate network of secret and public alliances and agreements. For example, after the Franco-Prussian War (1870–71), Britain seemed to favour a strong Germany, as it helped to balance its traditional enemy, France. After Germany began its naval construction plans to rival that of Britain, this stance shifted. France, looking for an ally to balance the threat created by Germany, found it in Russia. Austria-Hungary, facing a threat from Russia, sought support from Germany.

When World War I broke out, these treaties only partially determined who entered the war on which side. Britain had treaties with France or Russia, entering the war on their side. Italy had a treaty with both Austria-Hungary and Germany, yet did not enter the war with them; Italy later sided with the Allies. Perhaps the most significant treaty of all was the initially defensive pact between Germany and Austria-Hungary, which Germany in 1909 extended by declaring that Germany was bound to stand with Austria-Hungary even if it had started the war.[30]

Economic imperialism

Vladimir Lenin asserted that imperialism was responsible for the war. He drew upon the economic theories of Karl Marx and English economist John A. Hobson, who predicted that unlimited competition for expanding markets would lead to a global conflict.[31] Lenin and others pointed out that the dominant economic position of Great Britain was threatened by the rapid rise of German industry; However, Germany did not have the commercial advantages of a major empire, and was therefore inevitably going to fight Britain for more economic space for German capital. This argument was popular in the wake of the war and assisted in the rise of Communism. Lenin argued that the banking interests of various capitalist-imperialist powers orchestrated the war.[32]

Trade barriers

Cordell Hull, American Secretary of State under Franklin Roosevelt, believed that trade barriers were the root cause of both World War I and World War II. In 1944, he helped design the Bretton Woods Agreements to reduce trade barriers and eliminate what he saw as the cause of the conflicts.[33][34]

Ethnic and political rivalries

A Balkan war between Austria-Hungary and Serbia was considered inevitable, as Austria-Hungary’s influence waned and the Pan-Slavic movement grew. The rise of ethnic nationalism coincided with the growth of Serbia, where anti-Austrian sentiment was perhaps most fervent. Austria-Hungary had occupied the former Ottoman province of Bosnia-Herzegovina, which had a large Serb population, in 1878. It was formally annexed by Austria-Hungary in 1908. Increasing nationalist sentiment also coincided with the decline of the Ottoman Empire. Russia supported the Pan-Slavic movement, motivated by ethnic and religious loyalties and a rivalry with Austria dating back to the Crimean War. Recent events such as the failed Russian-Austrian treaty and a century-old dream of a warm water port also motivated St. Petersburg.[35]

Myriad other geopolitical motivations existed elsewhere as well, for example France's loss of Alsace and Lorraine in the Franco-Prussian War helped create a sentiment of irredentist revanchism in that country. France eventually allied itself with Russia, creating the likelihood of a two-front war for Germany.

July crisis and declarations of war

Wilhelm's declaration of the state of martial law in the German Empire, 31 July 1914(Image: Wilhelm's declaration of the state of martial law in the German Empire, 31 July 1914)

The Austro-Hungarian government used the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand as a pretext to deal with the Serbian question, supported by Germany. On 23 July 1914, an ultimatum was sent to Serbia with ten demands, some so extreme that the Serbian reply included reservations and rejected the sixth demand. The Serbians, relying on support from Russia, removed acceptance of the sixth key demand (the draft reply had accepted it), and also ordered mobilization. In response, Austria-Hungary issued a declaration of war on 28 July.

On July 29th and 30th, Russia began its mobilization directed at the Austrian frontier.

On July 30th, Helmuth von Moltke (the younger), Germany's Chief of General Staff, announced a "state of imminent war danger". The next day Russia completed its mobilization, but still maintained that it would not attack if peace talks were to begin. Germany then replied that Russia must demobilize within the next twelve hours.[2]

On the night of 30/31 July when handed a document stating that Russia would not cancel its mobilisation, German Kaiser Wilhelm II wrote a lengthy commentary containing the startling observations:

"For I no longer have any doubt that England, Russia and France have agreed among themselves - knowing that our treaty obligations compel us to support Austria - to use the Austro-Serb conflict as a pretext for waging a war of annihilation against us. ... Our dilemma over keeping faith with the old and honorable Emperor has been exploited to create a situation which gives England the excuse she has been seeking to annihilate us with a spurious appearance of justice on the pretext that she is helping France and maintaining the well-known Balance of Power in Europe, i.e. playing off all European States for her own benefit against us."[36]

On 31 July, after the Russian General Staff informed Russian Emperor Nicholas II that partial mobilization was logistically impossible, a full mobilization was ordered.

On August 1, German discussions regarding declaring war on Russia were interrupted when at 4:23PM a telegram from the German Ambassador to Britain arrived with a planned British proposal to guarantee the neutrality of France and thus limit the war to one fought in the east. Despite opposition from the German military, Germany immediately accepted the proposal by telegrams at the ambassadorial and royal levels."[37] In keeping with this decision, Kaiser Wilhelm II demanded his generals shift the mobilization to the east. Helmuth von Moltke (the younger), the German Chief of General Staff, told him that this was impossible, to which the Kaiser replied "Your uncle would have given me a different answer!"[38] Instead, it was decided to mobilize as planned and cancel the planned invasion of Luxembourg. Once mobilization was complete the army would redeploy to the east.

The British soon realized the stupidity of their proposal and backed out of it using the face-saving device of saying their proposal was misunderstood. The net effect of this incident was to modestly disrupt the German mobilization and war plan in the west. Germany and France mobilized nearly simultaneously.

In Saint Petersburg, at 7PM, with the ultimatum to Russia expired, the German ambassador to Russia met with the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Sazonov , asked three times if Russia would not reconsider and then with shaking hands delivered the note accepting Russia's war challenge and declaring war.

On August 2, Germany occupied Luxembourg as a preliminary step to the invasion of Belgium and implementation of the Schlieffen Plan (which was rapidly going awry because of the British proposal and the head start Russia had on mobilization). Seven German armies were sent to attack France and the remaining Eighth Army had to protect Germany from the Russian attack.

Also on August 2, British Foreign Minister Edward Grey gave Britain's firm assurance to protect France with its navy to French Ambassador Paul Cambon. Cambon's account stated: "I felt the battle was won. Everything was settled. In truth a great country does not wage war by halves. Once it decided to fight the war at sea it would necessarily be led into fighting it on land as well."[39]

A German ultimatum was delivered, this time to Belgium on August 2, requesting free passage for the German army on the way to France. The Belgians refused. On August 3, Germany declared war on France and Belgium on August 4. This act violated Belgian neutrality, the status to which Germany, France, and Britain were all committed by treaty after the Belgian Revolution of 1830. It was inconceivable that Great Britain would remain neutral if Germany declared war on France; German violation of Belgian neutrality provided the casus belli that the British government sought.

Later on August 4, German Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg told the Reichstag that the German invasions of Belgium and Luxembourg were in violation of international law, but he argued that Germany was "in a state of necessity, and necessity knows no law." At 7PM that evening British Ambassador Sir Edward Goschen delivered Britain's ultimatum to German Secretary of State to the Ministry for Foreign Affairs Gottlieb von Jagow. A positive reply to commit to go no further with Germany's violation of Belgian neutrality was demanded by midnight that evening (within 5 hours). Jagow replied that Germany could not give a positive reply and Goschen demanded his passports and requested a private and personal meeting with Bethmann Hollweg; Bethmann invited Goschen to dine with him. During their highly emotional conversation Bethmann Hollweg expressed astonishment that the British would go to war with Germany over the 1839 treaty guaranteeing the neutrality of Belgium, referring to the treaty as a "scrap of paper" compared to the "fearful fact of Anglo-German war."[40]

Goschen's telegrams on August 4 to Grey never reached London; whether a state of war existed between Britain and Germany was therefore a confused matter until the expiry of the ultimatum at midnight, Berlin time."[41]

With this, five of the six European powers were now involved in the largest continental European conflict since the Napoleonic Wars.[42]


Opening hostilities

Confusion among the Central Powers

The strategy of the Central Powers suffered from miscommunication. Germany had promised to support Austria-Hungary’s invasion of Serbia, but interpretations of what this meant differed. Austro-Hungarian leaders believed Germany would cover its northern flank against Russia. Germany, however, envisioned Austria-Hungary directing the majority of its troops against Russia, while Germany dealt with France. This confusion forced the Austro-Hungarian Army to divide its forces between the Russian and Serbian fronts.

African campaigns

Haut-Rhin, France, 1917(Image: Haut-Rhin, France, 1917)

Some of the first clashes of the war involved British, French and German colonial forces in Africa. On 7 August, French and British troops invaded the German protectorate of Togoland. On 10 August German forces in South-West Africa attacked South Africa; sporadic and fierce fighting continued for the remainder of the war.
Haut-Rhin, France, 1917

Serbian campaign

The Serbian army fought the Battle of Cer against the invading Austrians, beginning on 12 August, occupying defensive positions on the south side of the Drina and Sava rivers. Over the next two weeks Austrian attacks were thrown back with heavy losses, which marked the first major Allied victory of the war and dashed Austrian hopes of a swift victory. As a result, Austria had to keep sizable forces on the Serbian front, weakening its efforts against Russia.

German forces in Belgium and France

Initially, the Germans had great success in the Battle of the Frontiers (14 August–24 August). Russia, however, attacked in East Prussia and diverted German forces intended for the Western Front. Germany defeated Russia in a series of battles collectively known as the First Battle of Tannenberg (17 August – 2 September), but this diversion exacerbated problems of insufficient speed of advance from rail-heads not foreseen by the German General Staff. Originally, the Schlieffen Plan called for the right flank of the German advance to pass to the west of Paris. However, the capacity and low speed of horse-drawn transport hampered the German supply train, allowing French and British forces to finally halt the German advance east of Paris at the First Battle of the Marne (5 September–12 September). The Central Powers were thereby denied a quick victory and forced to fight a war on two fronts. The German army had fought its way into a good defensive position inside France and had permanently incapacitated 230,000 more French and British troops than it had lost itself. Despite this, communications problems and questionable command decisions cost Germany the chance of obtaining an early victory.

Asia and the Pacific

New Zealand occupied German Samoa (later Western Samoa) on 30 August. 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. Japan seized Germany's Micronesian colonies and after the Battle of Tsingtao, the German coaling port of Qingdao, in the Chinese Shandong peninsula. Within a few months, the Allied forces had seized all the German territories in the Pacific.

Early stages

Trench warfare begins

In the trenches: Infantry with gas masks, Ypres, 1917(Images: In the trenches: Infantry with gas masks, Ypres, 1917)

Military tactics before World War I had failed to keep pace with advances in technology. These changes resulted in the building of impressive defence systems, which out-of-date tactics could not break through for most of the war. Barbed wire was a significant hindrance to massed infantry advances. Artillery, vastly more lethal than in the 1870s, coupled with machine guns, made crossing open ground very difficult. The Germans introduced poison gas; it soon became used by both sides, though it never proved decisive in winning a battle. Its effects were brutal, causing slow and painful death, and poison gas became one of the most-feared and best-remembered horrors of the war. Commanders on both sides failed to develop tactics for breaching entrenched positions without heavy casualties. In time, however, technology began to produce new offensive weapons, such as the tank. Britain and France were its primary users; the Germans employed captured Allied tanks and small numbers of their own design.

After the First Battle of the Marne, both Entente and German forces began a series of outflanking maneuvers, in the so-called 'Race to the Sea'. Britain and France soon found themselves facing entrenched German forces from Lorraine to Belgium's Flemish coast. Britain and France sought to take the offensive, while Germany defended the occupied territories; consequently, German trenches were generally much better constructed than those of their enemy. Anglo-French trenches were only intended to be 'temporary' before their forces broke through German defenses. Both sides attempted to break the stalemate using scientific and technological advances. In April 1915 the Germans used chlorine gas for the first time (in violation of the Hague Convention), opening a six kilometre (four mile) hole in the Allied lines when British and French colonial troops retreated. Canadian soldiers closed the breach at the Second Battle of Ypres. At the Third Battle of Ypres, Canadian and ANZAC troops took the village of Passchendaele.

The British Army endured the bloodiest day in its history, suffering 57,470 casualties and 19,240 dead on 1 July 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme. Most of the casualties occurred in the first hour of the attack. The entire Somme offensive cost the British Army almost half a million men.[43]
A French assault on German positions. Champagne, France, 1917

A French assault on German positions. Champagne, France, 1917(Image: A French assault on German positions. Champagne, France, 1917)

Neither side proved able to deliver a decisive blow for the next two years, though protracted German action at Verdun throughout 1916, combined with the Entente's failure at the Somme,[citation needed] brought the exhausted French army to the brink of collapse. Futile attempts at frontal assault, a rigid adherence to an ineffectual method,[citation needed] came at a high price for both the British and the French poilu (infantry) and led to widespread mutinies, especially during the Nivelle Offensive.

Canadian troops advancing behind a British Mark II tank at the Battle of Vimy Ridge(Image: Canadian troops advancing behind a British Mark II tank at the Battle of Vimy Ridge)

Throughout 1915–17, the British Empire and France suffered more casualties than Germany, due both to the strategic and tactical stances chosen by the sides. At the strategic level, while the Germans only mounted a single main offensive at Verdun, the Allies made several attempts to break through German lines. At the tactical level, the German defensive doctrine was well suited for trench warfare, with a relatively lightly defended "sacrificial" forward position,[citation needed] and a more powerful main position from which an immediate and powerful counter-offensive could be launched. This combination usually was effective in pushing out attackers at a relatively low cost to the Germans.[citation needed] In absolute terms, of course, the cost in lives of men for both attack and defense was astounding.

Officers and senior enlisted men of the Bermuda Militia Artillery's Bermuda Contingent, Royal Garrison Artillery, in Europe(Image: Officers and senior enlisted men of the Bermuda Militia Artillery's Bermuda Contingent, Royal Garrison Artillery, in Europe)

Ludendorff wrote on the fighting in 1917, "The 25th of August concluded the second phase of the Flanders battle. It had cost us heavily…. The costly August battles in Flanders and at Verdun imposed a heavy strain on the Western troops. In spite of all the concrete protection they seemed more or less powerless under the enormous weight of the enemy’s artillery. At some points they no longer displayed the firmness which I, in common with the local commanders, had hoped for. The enemy managed to adapt himself to our method of employing counter attacks… I myself was being put to a terrible strain. The state of affairs in the West appeared to prevent the execution of our plans elsewhere. Our wastage had been so high as to cause grave misgivings, and had exceeded all expectation."

On the battle of the Menin Road Ridge Ludendorff wrote: "Another terrific assault was made on our lines on the 20 September…. The enemy’s onslaught on the 20th was successful, which proved the superiority of the attack over the defence. Its strength did not consist in the tanks; we found them inconvenient, but put them out of action all the same. The power of the attack lay in the artillery, and in the fact that ours did not do enough damage to the hostile infantry as they were assembling, and above all, at the actual time of the assault."[44]
Officers and senior enlisted men of the Bermuda Militia Artillery's Bermuda Contingent, Royal Garrison Artillery, in Europe

Around 800,000 soldiers from the British Empire were on the Western Front at any one time.[citation needed] 1,000 battalions, occupying sectors of the line from the North Sea to the Orne River, operated on a month-long four-stage rotation system, unless an offensive was underway. The front contained over 9,600 kilometres (5,965 mi) of trenches. Each battalion held its sector for about a week before moving back to support lines and then further back to the reserve lines before a week out-of-line, often in the Poperinge or Amiens areas.

In the 1917 Battle of Arras the only significant British military success was the capture of Vimy Ridge by the Canadian Corps under Sir Arthur Currie and Julian Byng. The assaulting troops were able for the first time to overrun, rapidly reinforce and hold the ridge defending the coal-rich Douai plain.[45]

Naval war

The British Grand Fleet.(Image: The British Grand Fleet.)

At the start of the war, the German Empire had cruisers scattered across the globe, some of which were subsequently used to attack Allied merchant shipping. The British Royal Navy systematically hunted them down, though not without some embarrassment from its inability to protect Allied shipping. For example, the German detached light cruiser SMS Emden, part of the East-Asia squadron stationed at Tsingtao, seized or destroyed 15 merchantmen, as well as sinking a Russian cruiser and a French destroyer. However, the bulk of the German East-Asia squadron—consisting of the armoured cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, light cruisers Nürnberg and Leipzig and two transport ships—did not have orders to raid shipping and was instead underway to Germany when it encountered elements of the British fleet. The German flotilla, along with Dresden, sank two armoured cruisers at the Battle of Coronel, but was almost completely destroyed at the Battle of the Falkland Islands in December 1914, with only Dresden escaping.[46]

Soon after the outbreak of hostilities, Britain initiated a naval blockade of Germany. The strategy proved effective, cutting off vital military and civilian supplies, although this blockade violated generally accepted international law codified by several international agreements of the past two centuries.[47] Britain mined international waters to prevent any ships from entering entire sections of ocean, causing danger to even neutral ships.[48] Since there was limited response to this tactic, Germany expected a similar response to its unrestricted submarine warfare.[49]
A battleship squadron of the Hochseeflotte at sea

A battleship squadron of the Hochseeflotte at sea(Image: A battleship squadron of the Hochseeflotte at sea)

The 1916 Battle of Jutland (German: Skagerrakschlacht, or "Battle of the Skagerrak") developed into the largest naval battle of the war, the only full-scale clash of battleships during the war. It took place on 31 May–1 June 1916, in the North Sea off Jutland. The Kaiserliche Marine's High Seas Fleet, commanded by Vice Admiral Reinhard Scheer, squared off against the Royal Navy's Grand Fleet, led by Admiral Sir John Jellicoe. The engagement was a standoff, as the Germans, outmaneuvered by the larger British fleet, managed to escape and inflicted more damage to the British fleet than they received. Strategically, however, the British asserted their control of the sea, and the bulk of the German surface fleet remained confined to port for the duration of the war.

German U-boats attempted to cut the supply lines between North America and Britain.[50] The nature of submarine warfare meant that attacks often came without warning, giving the crews of the merchant ships little hope of survival.[51] The United States launched a protest, and Germany modified its rules of engagement. After the notorious sinking of the passenger ship RMS Lusitania in 1915, Germany promised not to target passenger liners, while Britain armed its merchant ships, placing them beyond the protection of the "cruiser rules" which demanded warning and placing crews in "a place of safety" (a standard which lifeboats did not meet).[52] Finally, in early 1917 Germany adopted a policy of unrestricted submarine warfare, realizing the Americans would eventually enter the war.[53] Germany sought to strangle Allied sea lanes before the U.S. could transport a large army overseas.

The U-boat threat lessened in 1917, when merchant ships entered convoys escorted by destroyers. This tactic made it difficult for U-boats to find targets, which significantly lessened losses; after the introduction of hydrophone and depth charges, accompanying destroyers might actually attack a submerged submarine with some hope of success. The convoy system slowed the flow of supplies, since ships had to wait as convoys were assembled. The solution to the delays was a massive program to build new freighters. Troop ships were too fast for the submarines and did not travel the North Atlantic in convoys.[54][55]

World War I also saw the first use of aircraft carriers in combat, with HMS Furious launching Sopwith Camels in a successful raid against the Zeppelin hangars at Tondern in July 1918, as well as blimps for antisubmarine patrol.[56]

Southern theatres

War in the Balkans

Faced with Russia, Austria-Hungary could spare only one third of its army to attack Serbia. After suffering heavy losses, the Austrians briefly occupied the Serbian capital, Belgrade. A Serbian counterattack in the battle of Kolubara, however, succeeded in driving them from the country by the end of 1914. For the first ten months of 1915, Austria-Hungary used most of its military reserves to fight Italy. German and Austro-Hungarian diplomats, however, scored a coup by convincing Bulgaria to join in attacking Serbia. The Austro-Hungarian provinces of Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia provided troops for Austria-Hungary, invading Serbia as well as fighting Russia and Italy. Montenegro allied itself with Serbia.

Serbia was conquered in a little more than a month. The attack began in October, when the Central Powers launched an offensive from the north; four days later the Bulgarians joined the attack from the east. The Serbian army, fighting on two fronts and facing certain defeat, retreated into Albania, halting only once in order to make a stand against the Bulgarians. The Serbs suffered defeat near modern day Gnjilane in the Battle of Kosovo[citation needed]. Montenegro covered the Serbian retreat toward the Adriatic coast in the Battle of Mojkovac in 6-7 January 1916, but ultimately the Austrians conquered Montenegro, too. Serbian forces were evacuated by ship to Greece.

In late 1915 a Franco-British force landed at Salonica in Greece, to offer assistance and to pressure the government to declare war against the Central Powers. Unfortunately for the Allies, the pro-German King Constantine I dismissed the pro-Allied government of Eleftherios Venizelos, before the Allied expeditionary force could arrive.

After conquest, Serbia was divided between Austro-Hungary and Bulgaria. Bulgarians commenced bulgarization of the Serbian population in their occupation zone, banishing Serbian Cyrillic and the Serbian Orthodox Church. After forced conscription of the Serbian population into the Bulgarian army in 1917, the Toplica Uprising began. Serbian rebels liberated for a short time the area between the Kopaonik mountains and the South Morava river. The uprising was crushed by joint efforts of Bulgarian and Austrian forces at the end of March 1917.

The Macedonian Front proved static for the most part. Serbian forces retook part of Macedonia by recapturing Bitola on 19 November 1916. Only at the end of the conflict were the Entente powers able to break through, after most of the German and Austro-Hungarian troops had withdrawn. The Bulgarians suffered their only defeat of the war at the Battle of Dobro Pole but days later, they decisively defeated British and Greek forces at the Battle of Doiran, avoiding occupation. Bulgaria signed an armistice on 29 September 1918.

Ottoman Empire

British artillery placements during the Battle of Jerusalem, 1917.(Image: British artillery placements during the Battle of Jerusalem, 1917.)

The Ottoman Empire joined the Central Powers in the war, the secret Ottoman-German Alliance having been signed in August 1914. It threatened Russia's Caucasian territories and Britain's communications with India via the Suez Canal. The British and French opened overseas fronts with the Gallipoli (1915) and Mesopotamian campaigns. In Gallipoli, the Turks successfully repelled the British, French and Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZACs). In Mesopotamia, by contrast, after the disastrous Siege of Kut (1915–16), British Imperial forces reorganised and captured Baghdad in March 1917. Further to the west, in the Sinai and Palestine Campaign, initial British setbacks were overcome when Jerusalem was captured in December 1917. The Egyptian Expeditionary Force, under Field Marshal Edmund Allenby, broke the Ottoman forces at the Battle of Megiddo in September 1918.

Russian armies generally had the best of it in the Caucasus. Enver Pasha, supreme commander of the Turkish armed forces, was ambitious and dreamed of conquering central Asia. He was, however, a poor commander.[57] He launched an offensive against the Russians in the Caucasus in December 1914 with 100,000 troops; insisting on a frontal attack against mountainous Russian positions in winter, he lost 86% of his force at the Battle of Sarikamis.[58]

The Russian commander from 1915 to 1916, General Yudenich, drove the Turks out of most of the southern Caucasus with a string of victories.[58] In 1917, Russian Grand Duke Nicholas assumed command of the Caucasus front. Nicholas planned a railway from Russian Georgia to the conquered territories, so that fresh supplies could be brought up for a new offensive in 1917. However, in March 1917, (February in the pre-revolutionary Russian calendar), the Czar was overthrown in the February Revolution and the Russian Caucasus Army began to fall apart. In this situation, the army corps of Armenian volunteer units realigned themselves under the command of General Tovmas Nazarbekian, with Dro as a civilian commissioner of the Administration for Western Armenia. The front line had three main divisions: Movses Silikyan, Andranik, and Mikhail Areshian. Another regular unit was under Colonel Korganian. There were Armenian partisan guerrilla detachments (more than 40,000[59]) accompanying these main units.

The Arab Revolt (described in Lawrence of Arabia) was a major cause of the Ottoman Empire's defeat. The revolts started with the Battle of Mecca by Sherif Hussain of Mecca with the help of Britain in June 1916, and ended with the Ottoman surrender of Damascus. Fakhri Pasha the Ottoman commander of Medina showed stubborn resistance for over two and half years during the Siege of Medina.

Along the border of Italian Libya and British Egypt, the Senussi tribe, incited and armed by the Turks, waged a small-scale guerrilla war against Allied troops. According to Martin Gilbert's The First World War, the British were forced to dispatch 12,000 troops to deal with the Senussi. Their rebellion was finally crushed in mid-1916.

Italian participation

Austro-Hungarian mountain corps in Tyrol(Image: Austro-Hungarian mountain corps in Tyrol)

Italy had been allied with the German and Austro-Hungarian Empires since 1882 as part of the Triple Alliance. However, the nation had its own designs on Austrian territory in Trentino, Istria and Dalmatia. Rome had a secret 1902 pact with France, effectively nullifying its alliance.[citation needed] At the start of hostilities, Italy refused to commit troops, arguing that the Triple Alliance was defensive in nature, and that Austria-Hungary was an aggressor. The Austro-Hungarian government began negotiations to secure Italian neutrality, offering the French colony of Tunisia in return. The Allies made a counter-offer in which Italy would receive the Alpine province of Alto Adige and territory on the Dalmatian coast after the defeat of Austria-Hungary. This was fomalised by the Treaty of London. Further encouraged by the Allied invasion of Turkey in April 1915, Italy joined the Entente and declared war on Austria-Hungary in May. Fifteen months later Italy declared war on Germany.

Militarily, the Italians had numerical superiority. This advantage, however, was lost, not only because of the difficult terrain in which fighting took place, but also because of the strategies and tactics employed. Field Marshal Luigi Cadorna, a staunch proponent of the frontal assault, had dreams of breaking into the Slovenian plateau, taking Ljubljana and threatening Vienna. It was a Napoleonic plan, which had no realistic chance of success in an age of barbed wire, machine guns, and indirect artillery fire, combined with hilly and mountainous terrain.

On the Trentino front, the Austro-Hungarians took advantage of the mountainous terrain, which favoured the defender. After an initial strategic retreat, the front remained largely unchanged, while Austrian Kaiserschützen and Standschützen (German wikipedia) engaged Italian Alpini in bitter hand-to-hand combat throughout the summer. The Austro-Hungarians counter-attacked in the Altopiano of Asiago, towards Verona and Padua, in the spring of 1916 (Strafexpedition), but made little progress.

Beginning in 1915, the Italians under Cadorna mounted eleven offensives on the Isonzo front along the Isonzo River, north-east of Trieste. All eleven offensives were repelled by the Austro-Hungarians, who held the higher ground. In the summer of 1916, the Italians captured the town of Gorizia. After this minor victory, the front remained static for over a year, despite several Italian offensives. In the autumn of 1917, thanks to the improving situation on the Eastern front, the Austrians received large numbers of reinforcements, including German Stormtroopers and the elite Alpenkorps. The Central Powers launched a crushing offensive on 26 October 1917, spearheaded by the Germans. They achieved a victory at Caporetto. The Italian army was routed and retreated more than 100 km (60 miles) to reorganise, stabilizing the front at the Piave River. Since in the Battle of Caporetto Italian Army had heavy losses, the Italian Government called to arms the so called '99 Boys (Ragazzi del '99), that is, all males who were 18 years old. In 1918, the Austro-Hungarians failed to break through, in a series of battles on the Asiago Plateau, finally being decisively defeated in the Battle of Vittorio Veneto in October of that year. Austria-Hungary surrendered in early November 1918.[60][61][62]

Fighting in India

The war began with an unprecedented outpouring of loyalty and goodwill towards the United Kingdom from within the mainstream political leadership, contrary to initial British fears of an Indian revolt. India under British rule contributed massively to the British war effort by providing men and resources. This was done by the Indian Congress in hope of achieving self-government as India was very much under the control of the British. The United Kingdom disappointed the Indians by not providing self-governance, leading to the Gandhiian Era in Indian history. About 1.3 million Indian soldiers and labourers served in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, while both the Indian government and the princes sent large supplies of food, money, and ammunition. In all 140,000 men served on the Western Front and nearly 700,000 in the Middle East. 47,746 Indian soldiers were killed and 65,126 wounded during World War I.[63]

Indian independence movement

Bengal and Punjab remained hotbeds of anti-colonial activities. Terrorism in Bengal, increasingly closely linked with the unrests in Punjab, was significant enough to nearly paralyse the regional administration. Also from the beginning of the war, expatriate Indian population, notably in Germany, United States and Canada, headed by the Indian Independence Committee and the Ghadar Party respectively, attempted to trigger insurrections in India on the lines of the 1857 uprising with Irish Republican, German and Turkish help in a massive conspiracy that has since come to be called the Hindu German conspiracy. The conspiracy also made attempts to rally the Amir of Afghanistan against British India, starting a political process in that country that culminated three years later in the assassination of Amir Habibullah and precipitation of the Third Anglo-Afghan war. A number of failed attempts at mutiny were made in India, of which the February mutiny plan and the Singapore mutiny remain most notable. This movement was suppressed by means of a massive international counter-intelligence operation and draconian political acts (including the Defence of India act 1915) that lasted nearly ten years.[64][65][66]

The Ghadarites also attempted to organise incursions from the western border of India, recruiting Indian prisoners of war from Turkey, Germany, Mesopotamia. Ghadarite rebels, led by Sufi Amba Prasad, fought along with Turkish forces in Iran and in Turkey. Plans were made in Constantinopole to organise a campaign from Persia, through Baluchistan, to Punjab. These forces were involved skirmishes that captured the frontier city of Karman, taking into custody the British consul. Percy Sykes's campaign in Persia was directed mostly against these composite forces. It was at this time that the Aga Khan and his brother were recruited into the British War effort. However, the Aga Khan's brother was captured and shot dead by the rebels, who also successfully harassed British Forces in Sistan in Afghanistan, confining British forces to Karamshir in Baluchistan, later moving towards Karachi. They were able to take control of the coastal towns of Gawador and Dawar. The Baluchi chief of Bampur, having declared his independence from the British rule, also joined the Ghadarite forces. It was not before the war in Europe turned for the worse for Turkey and Baghdad was captured by the British forces that the Ghadarite forces, their supply lines starved, were finally dislodged. They retreated to regroup at Shiraz, where they were finally defeated after a bitter fight. Amba Prasad Sufi was killed in this battle. The Ghadarites carried on guerrilla warfare along with the Iranian partisans till 1919.[67][68][69][70]

Although the conflict in India was not explicitly a part of the First World War, it was part of the wider strategic context. The British attempt to subjugate the rebelling tribal leaders drew away much needed troops from other theaters, in particular, of course, the Western Front, where the real decisive victory would be made.

The reason why some Indian and Afghani tribes rose up simply came down to years of discontent which erupted, probably not coincidentally, during the First World War. It is likely that the tribal leaders were aware that Britain would not be able to field the required men, in terms of either number or quality, but underestimated the strategic importance of India to the British. Despite being far from the epicenter of the conflict, India provided a bounty of men for the fronts. Its produce was also needed for the British war effort and many trade routes running to other profitable areas of the Empire ran through India. Therefore, although the British were not able to send the men that they wanted, they were able to send enough to mount a gradual but effective counter-guerrilla war against the tribesmen. The fighting continued into 1919 and in some areas lasted even longer.

Eastern Front

Initial actions

While the Western Front had reached stalemate, the war continued in East Europe. Initial Russian plans called for simultaneous invasions of Austrian Galicia and German East Prussia. Although Russia's initial advance into Galicia was largely successful, they were driven back from East Prussia by Hindenburg and Ludendorff at Tannenberg and the Masurian Lakes in August and September 1914. Russia's less developed industrial base and ineffective military leadership was instrumental in the events that unfolded. By the spring of 1915, the Russians had retreated into Galicia, and in May the Central Powers achieved a remarkable breakthrough on Poland's southern frontiers. On 5 August they captured Warsaw and forced the Russians to withdraw from Poland.

Ukrainian oppression

Russian Revolution

Vladimir Illyich Lenin(Image: Vladimir Illyich Lenin)

Dissatisfaction with the Russian government's conduct of the war grew, despite the success of the June 1916 Brusilov offensive in eastern Galicia. The success was undermined by the reluctance of other generals to commit their forces to support the victory. Allied and Russian forces were revived only temporarily with Romania's entry into the war on 27 August. German forces came to the aid of embattled Austrian units in Transylvania and Bucharest fell to the Central Powers on 6 December. Meanwhile, unrest grew in Russia, as the Tsar remained at the front. Empress Alexandra's increasingly incompetent rule drew protests and resulted in the murder of her favourite, Rasputin, at the end of 1916.
Vladimir Illyich Lenin

In March 1917, demonstrations in Petrograd culminated in the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II and the appointment of a weak Provisional Government which shared power with the Petrograd Soviet socialists. This arrangement led to confusion and chaos both at the front and at home. The army became increasingly ineffective.

The war and the government became more and more unpopular. Discontent led to a rise in popularity of the Bolshevik party, led by Vladimir Lenin. He promised to pull Russia out of the war and was able to gain power. The triumph of the Bolsheviks in November was followed in December by an armistice and negotiations with Germany. At first the Bolsheviks refused the German terms, but when Germany resumed the war and marched across Ukraine with impunity, the new government acceded to the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk on 3 March 1918. It took Russia out of the war and ceded vast territories, including Finland, the Baltic provinces, parts of Poland and Ukraine to the Central Powers. The manpower required for German occupation of former Russian territory may have contributed to the failure of the Spring Offensive, however, and secured relatively little food or other war materiel.

With the Bolsheviks' accession to the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, the Entente no longer existed. The Allied powers led a small-scale invasion of Russia to stop Germany from exploiting Russian resources and, to a lesser extent, to support the Whites in the Russian Civil War. Allied troops landed in Archangel and in Vladivostok.
Further information: North Russia Campaign


In the trenches: Royal Irish Rifles in a communications trench on the first day on the Somme, 1 July 1916(Image: In the trenches: Royal Irish Rifles in a communications trench on the first day on the Somme, 1 July 1916)

Events of 1917 proved decisive in ending the war, although their effects were not fully felt until 1918. The British naval blockade began to have a serious impact on Germany. In response, in February 1917, the German General Staff convinced Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg to declare unrestricted submarine warfare, with the goal of starving Britain out of the war. Tonnage sunk rose above 500,000 tons per month from February to July. It peaked at 860,000 tons in April. After July, the reintroduced convoy system became extremely effective in neutralizing the U-boat threat. Britain was safe from starvation and German industrial output fell.

The victory of Austria-Hungary and Germany at the Battle of Caporetto led the Allies at the Rapallo Conference to form the Supreme War Council to coordinate planning. Previously, British and French armies had operated under separate commands.

In December, the Central Powers signed an armistice with Russia. This released troops for use in the west. Ironically, German troop transfers could have been greater if their territorial acquisitions had not been so dramatic. With German reinforcements and new American troops pouring in, the final outcome was to be decided on the Western front. The Central Powers knew that they could not win a protracted war, but they held high hopes for a quick offensive. Furthermore, the leaders of the Central Powers and the Allies became increasingly fearful of social unrest and revolution in Europe. Thus, both sides urgently sought a decisive victory.[71]

Entry of the United States


Taking photographs during the war required the use of a helmet(Image: Taking photographs during the war required the use of a helmet)

The United States originally pursued a policy of isolationism, avoiding conflict while trying to broker a peace. This resulted in increased tensions with Berlin and London. When a German U-boat sank the British liner Lusitania in 1915, with 128 Americans aboard, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson vowed, "America is too proud to fight" and demanded an end to attacks on passenger ships. Germany complied. Wilson unsuccessfully tried to mediate a settlement. He repeatedly warned the U.S. would not tolerate unrestricted submarine warfare, in violation of international law and U.S. ideas of human rights. Wilson was under pressure from former president Theodore Roosevelt, who denounced German acts as "piracy".[72]

An American doughboy, circa 1918(Image: An American doughboy, circa 1918)

Wilson's desire to have a seat at negotiations at war's end to advance the League of Nations also played a significant role.[73] Wilson's Secretary of State, William Jennings Bryan, resigned in protest of the President's decidedly warmongering diplomacy. Other factors contributing to the U.S. entry into the war include the suspected German sabotage of both Black Tom in Jersey City, New Jersey, and the Kingsland Explosion in what is now Lyndhurst, New Jersey.

Making the case

In January 1917, after the Navy pressured the Kaiser, Germany resumed unrestricted submarine warfare. Britain's secret Royal Navy cryptanalytic group, Room 40, had broken the German diplomatic code. They intercepted a proposal from Berlin (the Zimmermann Telegram) to Mexico to join the war as Germany's ally against the United States, should the U.S. join.

In December 1916, the Germans attempted to negotiate peace with the Allies, declaring themselves the victors. The Allies rejected the offer. This German poster from January 1917 quotes a speech by Kaiser Wilhelm II lambasting them for their decision(Image: In December 1916, the Germans attempted to negotiate peace with the Allies, declaring themselves the victors. The Allies rejected the offer. This German poster from January 1917 quotes a speech by Kaiser Wilhelm II lambasting them for their decision)

The proposal suggested, if the U.S. were to enter the war, Mexico should declare war against the United States and enlist Japan as an ally. This would prevent the United States from joining the Allies and deploying troops to Europe, and would give Germany more time for their unrestricted submarine warfare program to strangle Britain's vital war supplies. In return, the Germans would promise Mexico support in reclaiming Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona.[74]

U.S. declaration of war on Germany

After the British revealed the telegram to the United States, President Wilson, who had won reelection on his keeping the country out of the war, released the captured telegram as a way of building support for U.S. entry into the war. He had previously claimed neutrality, while calling for the arming of U.S. merchant ships delivering munitions to combatant Britain and quietly supporting the British blockading of German ports and mining of international waters, preventing the shipment of food from America and elsewhere to combatant Germany.

President Wilson before Congress, announcing the break in official relations with Germany on 3 February 1917(Image: President Wilson before Congress, announcing the break in official relations with Germany on 3 February 1917)

After submarines sank seven U.S. merchant ships and the publication of the Zimmerman telegram, Wilson called for war on Germany, which the U.S. Congress declared on 6 April 1917.[75]

Crucial to U.S. participation was the massive domestic propaganda campaign executed by the Committee on Public Information overseen by George Creel. The campaign included tens of thousands of government-selected community leaders giving brief carefully scripted pro-war speeches at thousands of public gatherings. Along with other branches of government and private vigilante groups like the American Protective League, it also included the general repression and harassment of people either opposed to American entry into the war or of German heritage. Other forms of propaganda included newsreels, photos, large-print posters (designed by several well-known illustrators of the day, including Louis D. Fancher and Henry Reuterdahl), magazine and newspaper articles, etc.

First active U.S. participation

African-American soldiers marching in France(Image: African-American soldiers marching in France)

The United States was never formally a member of the Allies but became a self-styled "Associated Power". The United States had a small army, but it drafted four million men and by summer 1918 was sending 10,000 fresh soldiers to France every day. In 1917, the U.S. Congress gave U.S. citizenship to Puerto Ricans when they were drafted to participate in World War I, as part of the Jones Act. Germany had miscalculated, believing it would be many more months before they would arrive and that the arrival could be stopped by U-boats.[77]
M1905 Howitzer used by Allied Forces

American recruitment poster by Louis D. Fancher(Image: American recruitment poster by Louis D. Fancher)

The United States Navy sent a battleship group to Scapa Flow to join with the British Grand Fleet, destroyers to Queenstown, Ireland and submarines to help guard convoys. Several regiments of U.S. Marines were also dispatched to France. The British and French wanted U.S. units used to reinforce their troops already on the battle lines and not waste scarce shipping on bringing over supplies. The U.S. rejected the first proposition and accepted the second. General John J. Pershing, American Expeditionary Force (AEF) commander, refused to break up U.S. units to be used as reinforcements for British Empire and French units. As an exception, he did allow African-American combat regiments such as the Harlem Hellfighters to be used in French divisions.[78]AEF doctrine called for the use of frontal assaults, which had long since been discarded by British Empire and French commanders because of the large loss of life.[79]

German Spring Offensive of 1918

M1905 Howitzer used by Allied Forces(Image: M1905 Howitzer used by Allied Forces)

German General Erich Ludendorff drew up plans (codenamed Operation Michael) for the 1918 offensive on the Western Front. The Spring Offensive sought to divide the British and French forces with a series of feints and advances. The German leadership hoped to strike a decisive blow before significant U.S. forces arrived. The operation commenced on 21 March 1918 with an attack on British forces near Amiens. German forces achieved an unprecedented advance of 60 kilometers (40 miles).[80]

For most of World War I, Allied forces were stalled at trenches on the Western Front(Image: For most of World War I, Allied forces were stalled at trenches on the Western Front)

British and French trenches were penetrated using novel infiltration tactics, also named Hutier tactics, after General Oskar von Hutier. Previously, attacks had been characterised by long artillery bombardments and massed assaults.[citation needed] However, in the Spring Offensive, the German Army used artillery only briefly and infiltrated small groups of infantry at weak points. They attacked command and logistics areas and bypassed points of serious resistance. More heavily armed infantry then destroyed these isolated positions. German success relied greatly on the element of surprise.[citation needed]

The front moved to within 120 kilometers (75 mi) of Paris. Three heavy Krupp railway guns fired 183 shells on the capital, causing many Parisians to flee. The initial offensive was so successful that Kaiser Wilhelm II declared 24 March a national holiday. Many Germans thought victory was near. After heavy fighting, however, the offensive was halted. Lacking tanks or motorised artillery, the Germans were unable to consolidate their gains. The sudden stop was also a result of the four AIF (Australian Imperial Forces) divisions that were "rushed" down, thus doing what no other army had done and stopping the German advance in its tracks. During that time the first Australian division was hurriedly sent north again to stop the second German breakthrough.

(Image: British 55th (West Lancashire) Division troops blinded by tear gas during the Battle of Estaires, 10 April 1918British 55th (West Lancashire) Division troops blinded by tear gas during the Battle of Estaires, 10 April 1918)

American divisions, which Pershing had sought to field as an independent force, were assigned to the depleted French and British Empire commands on 28 March. A Supreme War Council of Allied forces was created at the Doullens Conference on 5 November 1917.[81] General Foch was appointed as supreme commander of the allied forces. Haig, Petain and Pershing retained tactical control of their respective armies; Foch assumed a coordinating role, rather than a directing role and the British, French and U.S. commands operated largely independently.[81]

Following Operation Michael, Germany launched Operation Georgette against the northern English channel ports. The Allies halted the drive with limited territorial gains for Germany. The German Army to the south then conducted Operations Blücher and Yorck, broadly towards Paris. Operation Marne was launched on 15 July, attempting to encircle Reims and beginning the Second Battle of the Marne. The resulting Allied counterattack marked their first successful offensive of the war.

By 20 July the Germans were back at their Kaiserschlacht starting lines,[citation needed] having achieved nothing. Following this last phase of the war in the West, the German Army never again regained the initiative. German casualties between March and April 1918 were 270,000, including many highly trained stormtroopers.

Meanwhile, Germany was falling apart at home. Anti-war marches become frequent and morale in the army fell. Industrial output was 53% of 1913 levels.

New states under war zone

In 1918, the internationally recognized Democratic Republic of Armenia and Democratic Republic of Georgia bordering the Ottoman Empire were established, as well as the unrecognized Centrocaspian Dictatorship and South West Caucasian Republic.

In 1918, the Dashnaks of the Armenian national liberation movement declared the Democratic Republic of Armenia (DRA) through the Armenian Congress of Eastern Armenians (unified form of Armenian National Councils) after the dissolution of the Transcaucasian Democratic Federative Republic. Tovmas Nazarbekian became the first Commander-in-chief of the DRA. Enver Pasha ordered the creation of a new army to be named the Army of Islam. He ordered the Army of Islam into the DRA, with the goal of taking Baku on the Caspian Sea. This new offensive was strongly opposed by the Germans. In early May 1918, the Ottoman army attacked the newly declared DRA. Although the Armenians managed to inflict one defeat on the Ottomans at the Battle of Sardarapat, the Ottoman army won a later battle and scattered the Armenian army. The Republic of Armenia was forced to sign the Treaty of Batum in June 1918.

Allied victory: summer and autumn 1918

U.S. engineers returning from the front during the Battle of Saint-Mihiel in September 1918(Image: U.S. engineers returning from the front during the Battle of Saint-Mihiel in September 1918)

The Allied counteroffensive, known as the Hundred Days Offensive, began on 8 August 1918. The Battle of Amiens developed with III Corps Fourth British Army on the left, the First French Army on the right, and the Australian and Canadian Corps spearheading the offensive in the centre through Harbonnières.[82][83] It involved 414 tanks of the Mark IV and Mark V type, and 120,000 men. They advanced 12 kilometers (7 miles) into German-held territory in just seven hours. Erich Ludendorff referred to this day as the "Black Day of the German army".[82][84]

The Australian-Canadian spearhead at Amiens, a battle that was the beginning of Germany’s downfall,[44] helped pull the British armies to the north and the French armies to the south forward. While German resistance on the British Fourth Army front at Amiens stiffened, after an advance as far as 14 miles (23 km) and brought the battle there to an end, the French Third Army lengthened the Amiens front on 10 August, when it was thrown in on the right of the French First Army, and advanced 4 miles (6 km) liberating Lassigny in fighting which lasted until the 16th. South of the French Third Army General Mangin (The Butcher) drove his French Tenth Army forward at Soissons on 20 August to capture eight thousand prisoners, two hundred guns and the Aisne heights overlooking and menacing the German position north of the Vesle.[85] Another "Black day" as described by Ludendorff.

Meanwhile General Byng of the Third British Army, reporting that the enemy on his front was thinning in a limited withdrawal, was ordered to attack with 200 tanks toward Bapaume, opening what is known as the Battle of Albert with the specific orders of "To break the enemy's front, in order to outflank the enemies present battle front" (opposite the British Fourth Army at Amiens).[44] Allied leaders had now realized that to continue an attack after resistance had hardened was a waste of lives and it was better to turn a line than to try and roll over it. Attacks were being undertaken in quick order to take advantage of the successful advances on the flanks and then broken off when that attack lost its initial impetus.[85]

The British Third Army's 15-mile (24 km) front north of Albert progressed after stalling for a day against the main resistance line to which the enemy had withdrawn.[86] Rawlinson’s Fourth British Army was able to battle its left flank forward between Albert and the Somme straightening the line between the advanced positions of the Third Army and the Amiens front which resulted in recapturing Albert at the same time.[85] On 26 August the British First Army on the left of the Third Army was drawn into the battle extending it northward to beyond Arras. The Canadian Corps already being back in the vanguard of the First Army fought their way from Arras eastward 5 miles (8 km) astride the heavily defended Arras-Cambrai before reaching the outer defenses of the Hindenburg line, breaching them on the 28th and 29th. Bapaume fell on the 29th to the New Zealand Division of the Third Army and the Australians, still leading the advance of the Fourth Army, were again able to push forward at Amiens to take Peronne and Mont St. Quentin on August 31. Further south the French First and Third Armies had slowly fought forward while the Tenth Army, who had by now crossed the Ailette and was east of the Chemin des Dames, was now near to the Alberich position of the Hindenburg line.[87] During the last week of August the pressure along a 70-mile (113 km) front against the enemy was heavy and unrelenting. From German accounts, "Each day was spent in bloody fighting against an ever and again on-storming enemy, and nights passed without sleep in retirements to new lines."[85] Even to the north in Flanders the British Second and Fifth Armies during August and September were able to make progress taking prisoners and positions that were previously denied them.[87]

Close-up view of an American major in the basket of an observation balloon flying over territory near front lines.(Image: Close-up view of an American major in the basket of an observation balloon flying over territory near front lines.)

On 2 September the Canadian Corps outflanking of the Hindenburg line, with the breaching of the Wotan Position, made it possible for the Third Army to advance and sent repercussions all along the Western Front. That same day OHL had no choice but to issue orders to six armies for withdrawal back into the Hindenburg line in the south, behind the Canal Du Nord on the Canadian-First Army's front and back to a line east of the Lys in the north, giving up without a fight the salient seized in the previous April.[88] According to Ludendorff “We had to admit the necessity…to withdraw the entire front from the Scarpe to the Vesle.”[89]

In nearly four weeks of fighting since 8 August over 100,000 German prisoners were taken, 75,000 by the BEF and the rest by the French. Since "The Black Day of the German Army" the German High Command realized the war was lost and made attempts for a satisfactory end. The day after the battle Ludenforff told Colonel Mertz "We cannot win the war any more, but we must not lose it either." On 11 August he offered his resignation to the Kaiser, who refused it and replied, "I see that we must strike a balance. We have nearly reached the limit of our powers of resistance. The war must be ended." On 13 August at Spa, Hindenburg, Ludendorff, Chancellor and Foreign minister Hintz agreed that the war could not be ended militarily and on the following day the German Crown Council decided victory in the field was now most improbable. Austria and Hungary warned that they could only continue the war until December and Ludendorff recommended immediate peace negotiations, to which the Kaiser responded by instructing Hintz to seek the Queen of Holland's mediation. Prince Rupprecht warned Prince Max of Baden "Our military situation has deteriorated so rapidly that I no longer believe we can hold out over the winter; it is even possible that a catastrophe will come earlier." On 10 September Hindenburg urged peace moves to Emperor Charles of Austria and Germany appealed to Holland for mediation. On the 14th Austria sent a note to all belligerents and neutrals suggesting a meeting for peace talks on neutral soil and on 15 September Germany made a peace offer to Belgium. Both peace offers were rejected and on 24 September OHL informed the leaders in Berlin that armistice talks were inevitable.[87]

September saw the Germans continuing to fight strong rear guard actions and launching numerous counter attacks on lost positions, with only a few succeeding and then only temporarily. Contested towns, villages, heights and trenches in the screening positions and outposts of the Hindenburg Line continued to fall to the Allies as well as thousands of prisoners, with the BEF alone taking 30,441 in the last week of September. Further small advances eastward would follow the Third Army victory at Ivincourt on 12 September, the Fourth Armies at Epheny on the 18th and the French gain of Essigny Le Grand a day later. On the 24th a final assault by both the British and French on a four mile (6 km) front would come within two miles (3 km) of St. Quentin.[87] With the outposts and preliminary defensive lines of the Siegfried and Alberich Positions eliminated the Germans were now completely back in the Hindenburg line. With the Wotan position of that line already breached and the Siegfried position in danger of being turned from the north the time had now come for an assault on the whole length of the line.

The Allied attack on the Hindenburg Line began on 26 September. 260,000 U.S. soldiers went "over the top". All initial objectives were captured; the U.S. 79th Infantry Division, which met stiff resistance at Montfaucon, took an extra day to capture its objective. The U.S. Army stalled due to supply problems because its inexperienced headquarters had to cope with large units and a difficult landscape.[90] At the same time, French units broke through in Champagne and closed on the Belgian frontier.[citation needed] The most significant advance came from Commonwealth units, as they entered Belgium.[citation needed] The last Belgian town to be liberated before the armistice was Ghent, which the Germans held as a pivot until Allied artillery was brought up.[91][92] The German army had to shorten its front and use the Dutch frontier as an anchor to fight rear-guard actions.

By October, it was evident that Germany could no longer mount a successful defence.[citation needed] They were increasingly outnumbered, with few new recruits. Rations were cut. Ludendorff decided, on 1 October,[citation needed] that Germany had two ways out — total annihilation or an armistice. He recommended the latter at a summit of senior German officials. Allied pressure did not let up.

Meanwhile, news of Germany's impending military defeat spread throughout the German armed forces. The threat of mutiny was rife. Admiral Reinhard Scheer and Ludendorff decided to launch a last attempt to restore the "valour" of the German Navy. Knowing the government of Max von Baden would veto any such action, Ludendorff decided not to inform him. Nonetheless, word of the impending assault reached sailors at Kiel. Many rebelled and were arrested, refusing to be part of a naval offensive which they believed to be suicidal. Ludendorff took the blame—the Kaiser dismissed him on 26 October. The collapse of the Balkans meant that Germany was about to lose its main supplies of oil and food. The reserves had been used up, but U.S. troops kept arriving at the rate of 10,000 per day.[93]

Having suffered over 6 million casualties, Germany moved toward peace. Prince Max von Baden took charge of a new government as Chancellor of Germany to negotiate with the Allies. Negotiations with President Wilson began immediately, in the vain hope that better terms would be offered than with the British and French. Instead Wilson demanded the abdication of the Kaiser. There was no resistance when the social democrat Philipp Scheidemann on 9 November declared Germany to be a republic. Imperial Germany was dead; a new Germany had been born: the Weimar Republic.[94]

Allied superiority and the stab-in-the-back legend, November 1918

In November 1918 the Allies had ample supplies of men and materiel; continuation of the war would have meant the invasion of Germany. This had unforeseeable consequences; some Allied decision-makers felt the war should be "finished," not just stopped, and many voices on both sides voiced the opinion that the war was not really over.[citation needed] But most Allied decision-makers were eager to see the end of hostilities.

Berlin was almost 900 miles (1,400 km) from the Western Front; no Allied soldier had ever set foot on German soil in anger, and the Kaiser's armies retreated from the battlefield in good order. Thus many Germans, including Adolf Hitler, were convinced their armies had not really been defeated, resulting in the stab-in-the-back legend.

End of war

In the forest of Compiègne after reaching an agreement for the armistice that ended World War I, Foch is seen second from the right. The carriage seen in the background, where the armistice was signed, later was chosen as the symbolic setting of Pétain's June 1940 armistice. It was moved to Berlin as a prize, but due to Allied bombing it was eventually moved to Crawinkel, Thuringia, where it was deliberately destroyed by SS troops in 1945.(Image: In the forest of Compiègne after reaching an agreement for the armistice that ended World War I, Foch is seen second from the right. The carriage seen in the background, where the armistice was signed, later was chosen as the symbolic setting of Pétain's June 1940 armistice. It was moved to Berlin as a prize, but due to Allied bombing it was eventually moved to Crawinkel, Thuringia, where it was deliberately destroyed by SS troops in 1945.)

In the forest of Compiègne after reaching an agreement for the armistice that ended World War I, Foch is seen second from the right. The carriage seen in the background, where the armistice was signed, later was chosen as the symbolic setting of Pétain's June 1940 armistice. It was moved to Berlin as a prize, but due to Allied bombing it was eventually moved to Crawinkel, Thuringia, where it was deliberately destroyed by SS troops in 1945.[95]

The collapse of the Central Powers came swiftly. Bulgaria was the first to sign an armistice on 29 September 1918 at Saloniki.[96] On 30 October the Ottoman Empire capitulated at Mudros.[96]

On 24 October the Italians began a push which rapidly recovered territory lost after the Battle of Caporetto. This culminated in the Battle of Vittorio Veneto, which marked the end of the Austro-Hungarian Army as an effective fighting force. The offensive also triggered the disintegration of Austro-Hungarian Empire. During the last week of October declarations of independence were made in Budapest, Prague and Zagreb. On 29 October, the imperial authorities asked Italy for an armistice. But the Italians continued advancing, reaching Trento, Udine and Trieste. On 3 November Austria-Hungary sent a flag of truce to ask for an Armistice. The terms, arranged by telegraph with the Allied Authorities in Paris, were communicated to the Austrian Commander and accepted. The Armistice with Austria was signed in the Villa Giusti, near Padua, on 3 November. Austria and Hungary signed separate armistices following the overthrow of the Habsburg monarchy.

Following the outbreak of the German Revolution, a republic was proclaimed on 9 November. The Kaiser fled to the Netherlands. On 11 November an armistice with Germany was signed in a railroad carriage at Compiègne. At 11 a.m. on 11 November 1918 — the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month — a ceasefire came into effect. Opposing armies on the Western Front began to withdraw from their positions. Canadian George Lawrence Price is traditionally regarded as the last soldier killed in the Great War: he was shot by a German sniper and died at 10:58.[97]

A formal state of war between the two sides persisted for another seven months, until signing of the Treaty of Versailles with Germany on 28 June 1919. Later treaties with Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire were signed. However, the latter treaty with the Ottoman Empire was followed by strife (the Turkish Independence War) and a final peace treaty was signed between the Allied Powers and the country that would shortly become the Republic of Turkey, at Lausanne on 24 July 1923.

Some war memorials date the end of the war as being when the Versailles treaty was signed in 1919; by contrast, most commemorations of the war's end concentrate on the armistice of 11 November 1918. Legally the last formal peace treaties were not signed until the Treaty of Lausanne. Under its terms, the Allied forces abandoned Constantinople on 23 August 1923.


British Army Vickers machine gun.(Image: British Army Vickers machine gun.)

The First World War began as a clash of 20th century technology and 19th century tactics, with inevitably large casualties. By the end of 1917, however, the major armies, now numbering millions of men, had modernised and were making use of telephone, wireless communication, armoured cars, tanks, and aircraft. Infantry formations were reorganised, so that 100-man companies were no longer the main unit of maneuver. Instead, squads of 10 or so men, under the command of a junior NCO, were favoured. Artillery also underwent a revolution.

RAF Sopwith Camel.(Image: RAF Sopwith Camel.)

In 1914, cannons were positioned in the front line and fired directly at their targets. By 1917, indirect fire with guns (as well as mortars and even machine guns) was commonplace, using new techniques for spotting and ranging, notably aircraft and (often overlooked) field telephone. Counter-battery missions became commonplace, also, and sound detection was used to locate enemy batteries.

Germany was far ahead of the Allies in utilizing heavy indirect fire. She employed 150 and 210 mm howitzers in 1914 when the typical French and British guns were only 75 and 105 mm. The British had a 6 inch (152 mm) howitzer, but it was so heavy it had to be assembled for firing. Germans also fielded Austrian 305 mm and 420 mm guns, and already by the beginning of the war had inventories of various calibers of Minenwerfer ideally suited for trench warfare.[98]

French Nieuport 17 C.1 fighter, 1917(Image: French Nieuport 17 C.1 fighter, 1917)

Much of the combat involved trench warfare, where hundreds often died for each yard gained. Many of the deadliest battles in history occurred during the First World War. Such battles include Ypres, the Marne, Cambrai, the Somme, Verdun, and Gallipoli. The Haber process of nitrogen fixation was employed to provide the German forces with a constant supply of gunpowder, in the face of British naval blockade. Artillery was responsible for the largest number of casualties and consumed vast quantities of explosives. The large number of head-wounds caused by exploding shells and fragmentation forced the combatant nations to develop the modern steel helmet, led by the French, who introduced the Adrian helmet in 1915. It was quickly followed by the Brodie helmet, worn by British Imperial and U.S. troops, and in 1916 by the distinctive German Stahlhelm, a design, with improvements, still in use today.
French Nieuport 17 C.1 fighter, 1917

Russian Ilya Muromets the world's first strategic bomber, 1913(Image: Russian Ilya Muromets the world's first strategic bomber, 1913)

There was chemical warfare and small-scale strategic bombing, both of which were outlawed by the 1907 Hague Conventions, and both proving of limited effectiveness,[99] though they captured the public imagination.[100]

The widespread use of chemical warfare was a distinguishing feature of the conflict. Gases used included chlorine, mustard gas and phosgene. Only a small proportion of total war casualties were caused by gas. Effective countermeasures to gas attacks were quickly created, such as gas masks.

Armoured cars(Image: Armoured cars)

The most powerful land-based weapons were railway guns weighing hundreds of tons apiece. These were nicknamed Big Berthas, even though the namesake was not a railway gun. Germany developed the Paris Gun, able to bombard Paris from over 100 km (60 mi), though shells were relatively light at 94 kilograms (210 lb). While the Allies had railway guns, German models severely out-ranged and out-classed them.
Russian Ilya Muromets the world's first strategic bomber, 1913

Fixed-wing aircraft were first used militarily by the Italians in Libya 23 October 1911 during the Italo-Turkish War for reconnaissance, soon followed by the dropping of grenades and aerial photography the next year. By 1914 the military utility was obvious. They were initially used for reconnaissance and ground attack. To shoot down enemy planes, anti-aircraft guns and fighter aircraft were developed. Strategic bombers were created, principally by the Germans and British, though the former used Zeppelins as well.

Johnson's Nieuport 11 armed with rockets for attacking observation balloons(Image: Johnson's Nieuport 11 armed with rockets for attacking observation balloons)

Towards the end of the conflict, aircraft carriers were used for the first time, with HMS Furious launching Sopwith Camels in a raid against the Zeppelin hangars at Tondern in 1918.

German U-boats (submarines) were deployed after the war began. Alternating between restricted and unrestricted submarine warfare in the Atlantic, they were employed by the Kaiserliche Marine in a strategy to deprive the British Isles of vital supplies. The deaths of British merchant sailors and the seeming invulnerability of U-boats led to the development of depth charges (1916), hydrophones (passive sonar, 1917), blimps, hunter-killer submarines (HMS R-1, 1917), forward-throwing anti-submarine weapons, and dipping hydrophones (the latter two both abandoned in 1918).[101] To extend their operations, the Germans proposed supply submarines (1916). Most of these would be forgotten in the interwar period until World War II revived the need.

Trenches, machineguns, air reconnaissance, barbed wire, and modern artillery with fragmentation shells helped bring the battle lines of World War I to a stalemate. The British sought a solution with the creation of the tank and mechanised warfare. The first tanks were used during the Battle of the Somme on 15 September 1916. Mechanical reliability became an issue, but the experiment proved its worth. Within a year, the British were fielding tanks by the hundreds and showed their potential during the Battle of Cambrai in November 1917, by breaking the Hindenburg Line, while combined arms teams captured 8000 enemy soldiers and 100 guns. Light automatic weapons also were introduced, such as the Lewis Gun and Browning automatic rifle.

Manned observation balloons, floating high above the trenches, were used as stationary reconnaissance platforms, reporting enemy movements and directing artillery. Balloons commonly had a crew of two, equipped with parachutes.[102] In the event of an enemy air attack, the crew could parachute to safety. At the time, parachutes were too heavy to be used by pilots of aircraft (with their marginal power output) and smaller versions would not be developed until the end of the war; they were also opposed by British leadership, who feared they might promote cowardice.[103] Recognised for their value as observation platforms, balloons were important targets of enemy aircraft. To defend against air attack, they were heavily protected by antiaircraft guns and patrolled by friendly aircraft; to attack them, unusual weapons such as air-to-air rockets were even tried. Blimps and balloons contributed to air-to-air combat among aircraft, because of their reconnaissance value, and to the trench stalemate, because it was impossible to move large numbers of troops undetected. The Germans conducted air raids on England during 1915 and 1916 with airships, hoping to damage British morale and cause aircraft to be diverted from the front lines. The resulting panic took several squadrons of fighters from France.[103]

Another new weapon, flamethrowers, were first used by the German army and later adopted by other forces. Although not of high tactical value, they were a powerful, demoralizing weapon and caused terror on the battlefield. It was a dangerous weapon to wield, as its heavy weight made operators vulnerable targets.

Trench railways evolved to supply the enormous quantities of food, water, and ammunition required to support large numbers of soldiers in areas where conventional transportation systems had been destroyed. A trench railway system was included in construction of the Maginot Line, but internal combustion engines and improved traction systems for wheeled vehicles rendered trench railways obsolete within a decade.

Trying to comprehend

The first tentative efforts to comprehend the meaning and consequences of modern warfare began during the initial phases of the war, and this process continued throughout and after the end of hostilities.

Soldiers' experiences

The First Bermuda Volunteer Rifle Corps Contingent, raised in 1914, sent as an extra, 90-man company to the 1 Lincolns in June, 1915, the first colonial volunteer unit to reach the Front. Its strength rapidly reduced. After losing 50% of its remaining men at Gueudecourt on 25 September 1916, the survivors merged with a Second Contingent of thirty-seven, and trained as Lewis gunners. By the War's end, the two contingents had lost over 75% of their combined strength. Forty died on active service. 16 were commissioned., one received the O.B.E, and six the Military Medal(Image: The First Bermuda Volunteer Rifle Corps Contingent, raised in 1914, sent as an extra, 90-man company to the 1 Lincolns in June, 1915, the first colonial volunteer unit to reach the Front. Its strength rapidly reduced. After losing 50% of its remaining men at Gueudecourt on 25 September 1916, the survivors merged with a Second Contingent of thirty-seven, and trained as Lewis gunners. By the War's end, the two contingents had lost over 75% of their combined strength. Forty died on active service. 16 were commissioned., one received the O.B.E, and six the Military Medal)

This photograph shows an emaciated Indian army soldier who survived the Siege of Kut(Image: This photograph shows an emaciated Indian army soldier who survived the Siege of Kut)

The First Bermuda Volunteer Rifle Corps Contingent, raised in 1914, sent as an extra, 90-man company to the 1 Lincolns in June, 1915, the first colonial volunteer unit to reach the Front. Its strength rapidly reduced. After losing 50% of its remaining men at Gueudecourt on 25 September 1916, the survivors merged with a Second Contingent of thirty-seven, and trained as Lewis gunners. By the War's end, the two contingents had lost over 75% of their combined strength. Forty died on active service. 16 were commissioned., one received the O.B.E, and six the Military Medal

The soldiers of the war were initially volunteers, except for Italy, but increasingly were conscripted into service. Books such as All Quiet on the Western Front detail the mundane time, but also the intense horror, of soldiers that fought the war. Britain's Imperial War Museum has collected more than 2,500 recordings of soldiers' personal accounts and selected transcripts, edited by military author Max Arthur, have been published. The museum believes that historians have not taken full account of this material and accordingly has made the full archive of recordings available to authors and researchers.[104]

Prisoners of war

About 8 million men surrendered and were held in POW camps during the war. All nations pledged to follow the Hague Convention on fair treatment of prisoners of war. In general, a POW's rate of survival was much higher than their peers at the front.[105] Individual surrenders were uncommon. Large units usually surrendered en masse. At the Battle of Tannenberg 92,000 Russians surrendered. When the besieged garrison of Kaunas surrendered in 1915, 20,000 Russians became prisoners. Over half of Russian losses were prisoners (as a proportion of those captured, wounded or killed); for Austria 32%, for Italy 26%, for France 12%, for Germany 9%; for Britain 7%. Prisoners from the Allied armies totalled about 1.4 million (not including Russia, which lost between 2.5 and 3.5 million men as prisoners.) From the Central Powers about 3.3 million men became prisoners.[106]

Germany held 2.5 million prisoners; Russia held 2.9 million and Britain and France held about 720,000. Most were captured just prior to the Armistice. The U.S. held 48,000. The most dangerous moment was the act of surrender, when helpless soldiers were sometimes gunned down.[107][108] Once prisoners reached a camp, in general, conditions were satisfactory (and much better than in World War II), thanks in part to the efforts of the International Red Cross and inspections by neutral nations. Conditions were terrible in Russia, starvation was common for prisoners and civilians alike; about 15–20% of the prisoners in Russia died. In Germany food was in short supply, but only 5% died.[109][110][111]

The Ottoman Empire often treated POWs poorly.[112] Some 11,800 British Empire soldiers, most of them Indians, became prisoners after the Siege of Kut, in Mesopotamia, in April 1916; 4,250 died in captivity.[113] Although many were in very bad condition when captured, Ottoman officers forced them to march 1,100 kilometres (684 mi) to Anatolia. A survivor said: "we were driven along like beasts, to drop out was to die."[114] The survivors were then forced to build a railway through the Taurus Mountains.

In Russia, where the prisoners from the Czech Legion of the Austro-Hungarian army were released in 1917 they re-armed themselves and briefly became a military and diplomatic force during the Russian Civil War.

Military attachés and war correspondents

Military and civilian observers from every major power closely followed the course of the war. Many were able to report on events from a perspective somewhat like what is now termed "embedded" positions within the opposing land and naval forces. These military attachés and other observers prepared voluminous first-hand accounts of the war and analytical papers.

For example, former U.S. Army Captain Granville Fortescue followed the developments of the Gallipoli campaign from an embedded perspective within the ranks of the Turkish defenders; and his report was passed through Turkish censors before being printed in London and New York.[115] However, this observer's role was abandoned when the U.S. entered the war, as Fortescue immediately re-enlisted, sustaining wounds at Montfaucon d'Argonne in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, September 1918.[116]

In-depth observer narratives of the war and more narrowly focused professional journal articles were written soon after the war; and these post-war reports conclusively illustrated the battlefield destructiveness of this conflict. This was the not first time the tactics of entrenched positions for infantry defended with machine guns and artillery became vitally important. The Russo-Japanese War had been closely observed by Military attachés, war correspondents and other observers; but, from a 21st Century perspective, it is now apparent that a range of tactical lessons were disregarded or not used in the preparations for war in Europe and during the course of the Great War.[117]

An early recorded use of the term "World War" is attributed to a well-known journalist for The Times, Colonel Charles Repington, who wrote in his diary on 10 September 1918: "We discussed the right name of the war. I said the we called it now The War, but that this could not last. The Napoleonic War was The Great War. To call it The German War was too much flattery for the Boche. I suggested The World War as a shade better title, and finally we mutually agreed to call it The First World War in order to prevent the millennium folk from forgetting that the history of the world was the history of war."[118]

Opposition to the war

The trade union and socialist movements had long voiced their opposition to a war, which they argued, meant only that workers would kill other workers in the interest of capitalism. Once war was declared, however, many socialists and trade unions backed their governments. Among the exceptions were the Bolsheviks, the Socialist Party of America, and the Italian Socialist Party, and individuals such as Karl Liebknecht, Rosa Luxemburg and their followers in Germany. There were also small anti-war groups in Britain and France. Other opposition came from conscientious objectors - some socialist, some religious - who refused to fight. In Britain 16,000 people asked for conscientious objector status.[119] Many suffered years of prison, including solitary confinement and bread and water diets. Even after the war, in Britain many job advertisements were marked "No conscientious objectors need apply". Many countries jailed those who spoke out against the conflict. These included Eugene Debs in the United States and Bertrand Russell in Britain. In the U.S. the 1917 Espionage Act effectively made free speech illegal and many served long prison sentences for statements of fact deemed unpatriotic. The Sedition Act of 1918 made any statements deemed "disloyal" a federal crime. Publications at all critical of the government were removed from circulation by postal censors.[73]

War crimes


The ethnic cleansing of the Ottoman Empire's Christian population, with the most prominent among them being the massacres of Armenians (similar policies were enacted against the Assyrians and Greeks), during the final years of the Ottoman Empire is considered by some genocide.[120] The Ottomans saw the entire Armenian population as an enemy[121] that had chosen to side with Russia during the beginning of the war.[122] The exact number of deaths is unknown although a range of 250,000 to 1.5 million is given for the deaths of Armenians.[123] The government of Turkey has consistently rejected charges of genocide and of others, arguing that those who died were simply caught up in the fighting or that killings of Armenians and other Christians were justified by their individual or collective treason.[124]

Rape of Belgium

In Belgium, German troops, in fear of French and Belgian guerrilla fighters, or francs-tireurs, massacred townspeople in Andenne (211 dead), Tamines (384 dead), and Dinant (612 dead). On 25 August 1914, the Germans set fire to the town of Leuven, burned the library containing about 230,000 books, killed 209 civilians and forced 42,000 to evacuate. These actions brought worldwide condemnation.[125]


The Beaumont Hamel Newfoundland Memorial in the Somme(Image: The Beaumont Hamel Newfoundland Memorial in the Somme)

No other war had changed the map of Europe so dramatically — four empires disappeared: the German, Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman and the Russian. Four defunct dynasties, the Hohenzollerns, the Habsburg, Romanovs and the Ottomans together with all their ancillary aristocracies, all fell after the war. Belgium was badly damaged, as was France with 1.4 million soldiers dead, not counting other casualties. Germany and Russia were similarly affected.

Of the 60 million European soldiers who were mobilized from 1914 – 1918, 8 million were killed, 7 million were permanently disabled, and 15 million were seriously injured. Germany lost 15.1% of its active male population, Austria-Hungary lost 17.1%, and France lost 10.5%.[126] About 750,000 German civilians died from starvation caused by the British blockade during the war.[127] The war had profound economic consequences. In addition, a major influenza epidemic that started in Western Europe in the latter months of the war, killed millions in Europe and then spread around the world. Overall, the Spanish flu killed at least 50 million people.[128][129] During the war, typhus epidemics killed 150,000 in Serbia. There were about 30 million infections and 3 million deaths from epidemic typhus in Russia from 1918 to 1922.[130] By 1922 there were at least 7 million homeless children in Russia as a result of nearly a decade of devastation from World War I and the Russian Civil War.[131]

Later conflicts

The end of World War I set the stage for other world conflicts, some of which are continuing into the 21st century. The Bolsheviks, led by Vladimir Lenin, pushed for socialist revolution. Out of German discontent with the still controversial Treaty of Versailles, Adolf Hitler was able to gain popularity and power.[132][133] World War II was in part a continuation of the power struggle that was never fully resolved by the First World War; in fact, it was common for Germans in the 1930s and 1940s to justify acts of international aggression because of perceived injustices imposed by the victors of the First World War.[134]

The birth of Israel and the roots of the continuing Israeli-Palestinian Conflict are partially found in the unstable power dynamics of the Middle East which were born at the end of World War I.[135] Previous to the end of fighting in the war, the Ottoman Empire had maintained a modest level of peace and stability throughout the Middle East.[136] With the end of the war and the fall of Ottoman government, power vacuums developed and conflicting claims to land and nationhood began to emerge.[137] Sometimes after only cursory consultation with the local population, the political boundaries drawn by the victors of the First World War were quickly imposed, and in many cases are still problematic in the 21st century struggles for national identity.[138][139] While the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I was a pivotal milestone in the creation of the modern political situation of the Middle East, including especially the Arab-Israeli conflict,[140][141][142] the end of Ottoman rule also spawned lesser known disputes over water and other natural resources.[143]

Peace treaties

After the war, the Allies imposed a series of peace treaties on the Central Powers. The 1919 Treaty of Versailles, which Germany was kept under blockade until she signed, ended the war. It declared Germany responsible for the war and required Germany to pay enormous war reparations and award territory to the victors. Unable to pay them with exports (a result of territorial losses and postwar recession),[144] she did so by borrowing from the United States, until the reparations were suspended in 1931. The "Guilt Thesis" became a controversial explanation of events in Britain and the United States. The Treaty of Versailles caused enormous bitterness in Germany, which nationalist movements, especially the Nazis, exploited with a conspiracy theory they called the Dolchstosslegende. The treaty contributed to economic collapse of the Weimar Republic by sparking runaway inflation in the 1920s.

The German Empire lost its colonial possessions and was saddled with accepting blame for the war, as well as paying punitive reparations for it. The Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires were completely dissolved.

Austria-Hungary was also partitioned, largely along ethnic lines, into several successor states including Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia, as well as adding Transylvania to the Greater Romania who was allied with the victors. . The details were contained in the Treaty of Saint-Germain and the Treaty of Trianon.

The Russian Empire, which had withdrawn from the war in 1917 after the October Revolution, lost much of its western frontier as the newly independent nations of Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland were carved from it; Bessarabia was also re-attached to the Greater Romania as it had been a Romanian territory for more than a thousand years.[145]

The Ottoman Empire disintegrated, and much of its non-Anatolian territory was awarded as protectorates of various Allied powers, while the remaining Turkish core was reorganised as the Republic of Turkey. The Ottoman Empire was to be partitioned by the Treaty of Sèvres in 1920. The treaty, however, was never ratified by the Sultan and was rejected by the Turkish republican movement. This led to the Turkish Independence War and, ultimately, to the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne.

New national identities

Poland reemerged as an independent country, after more than a century. Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia were entirely new nations agglomerating previously independent peoples. Russia became the Soviet Union and lost Finland, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia, which became independent countries. The Ottoman Empire was soon replaced by Turkey and several other countries in the Middle East.

In the British Empire, the war unleashed new forms of nationalism. In Australia and New Zealand the Battle of Gallipoli became known as those nations' "Baptism of Fire". It was the first major war in which the newly established countries fought and it was one of the first times that Australian troops fought as Australians, not just subjects of the British Crown. Anzac Day, commemorating the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, celebrates this defining moment.[146][147]

After the Battle of Vimy Ridge, where the Canadian divisions fought together for the first time as a single corps, Canadians began to refer to theirs as a nation "forged from fire".[148] Having succeeded on the same battleground where the "mother countries" had previously faltered, they were for the first time respected internationally for their own accomplishments. Having entered the war as a Dominion of the British Empire, by its end Canada emerged as a fully independent nation.[149][150] While the other Dominions were represented by Britain, Canada was an independent negotiator and signatory of the Versailles Treaty.

Social trauma

The experiences of the war led to a collective trauma for all participating countries. The optimism of the 1900s was gone and those who fought in the war became known as the Lost Generation. For the next few years, much of Europe mourned. Memorials were erected in thousands of villages and towns. The soldiers returning home from World War I suffered greatly from the horrors they had witnessed. Many returning veterans suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, called shell shock at the time.

The social trauma caused by years of fighting manifested itself in different ways. Some people were revolted by nationalism and its results, and so they began to work toward a more internationalist world, supporting organisations such as the League of Nations. Pacifism became increasingly popular. Others had the opposite reaction, feeling that only strength and military might could be relied upon in a chaotic and inhumane world. Anti-modernist views were an outgrowth of the many changes taking place in society. The rise of Nazism and fascism included a revival of the nationalist spirit and a rejection of many post-war changes. Similarly, the popularity of the Dolchstosslegende ("stab-in-the-back legend") was a testament to the psychological state of defeated Germany and was a rejection of responsibility for the conflict. The conspiracy theory of betrayal became common and the German public came to see themselves as victims. The Dolchstosslegende's popular acceptance in Germany played a significant role in the rise of Nazism. A sense of disillusionment and cynicism became pronounced, with nihilism growing in popularity. This disillusionment for humanity found a cultural climax with the Dadaist artistic movement. Many believed the war heralded the end of the world as they had known it, including the collapse of capitalism and imperialism. Communist and socialist movements around the world drew strength from this theory and enjoyed a level of popularity they had never known before. These feelings were most pronounced in areas directly or harshly affected by the war.[151][152]
Lt. Col. John McCrae of Canada, who wrote the poem "In Flanders Fields", died in 1918 of pneumonia

Lt. Col. John McCrae of Canada, who wrote the poem (Image: Lt. Col. John McCrae of Canada, who wrote the poem "In Flanders Fields", died in 1918 of pneumonia)

On 3 May 1915, during the Second Battle of Ypres, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer was killed. At his graveside, his friend John McCrae, M.D., of Guelph, Ontario, Canada wrote the memorable poem In Flanders Fields as a salute to those who perished in the Great War. Published in Punch on 8 December 1915, it is still recited today, especially on Remembrance Day and Memorial Day.[153][154]

Macro- and micro-economic effects

One of the most dramatic effects of the war was the expansion of governmental powers and responsibilities in Britain, France, the United States, and the Dominions of the British Empire. In order to harness all the power of their societies, new government ministries and powers were created. New taxes were levied and laws enacted, all designed to bolster the war effort; many of which have lasted to this day. Similarly, the war strained the abilities of the formerly large and bureaucratised governments such as in Austria-Hungary and Germany; however, any analysis of the long-term effects were clouded by the defeat of these governments.

Gross Domestic Product (GDP) increased for three Allies (Britain, Italy, and U.S.), but decreased in France and Russia, in neutral Netherlands, and in the main three Central Powers. The shrinkage in GDP in Austria, Russia, France, and the Ottoman Empire reached 30 to 40%. In Austria, for example, most of the pigs were slaughtered and, at war's end, there was no meat.

All nations had increases in the government's share of GDP, surpassing fifty percent in both Germany and France and nearly reaching fifty percent in Britain. To pay for purchases in the United States, Britain cashed in its massive investments in American railroads and then began borrowing heavily on Wall Street. President Wilson was on the verge of cutting off the loans in late 1916, but allowed a massive increase in U.S. government lending to the Allies. After 1919, the U.S. demanded repayment of these loans, which, in part, were funded by German reparations, which, in turn, were supported by American loans to Germany. This circular system collapsed in 1931 and the loans were never repaid.

Macro- and micro-economic consequences devolved from the war. Families were altered by the departure of many men. With the death or absence of the primary wage earner, women were forced into the workforce in unprecedented numbers. At the same time, industry needed to replace the lost laborers sent to war. This aided the struggle for voting rights for women.

As the war slowly turned into a war of attrition, conscription was implemented in some countries. This issue was particularly explosive in Canada and Australia. In the former it opened a political gap between French-Canadians — who claimed their true loyalty was to Canada and not the British Empire — and the Anglophone majority who saw the war as a duty to both Britain and Canada. Prime Minister Robert Borden pushed through a Military Service Act, provoking the Conscription Crisis of 1917. In Australia, a sustained pro-conscription campaign by Prime Minister Billy Hughes, caused a split in the Australian Labor Party and Hughes formed the Nationalist Party of Australia in 1917 to pursue the matter. Nevertheless, the labour movement, the Catholic Church, and Irish nationalist expatriates successfully opposed Hughes' push, which was rejected in two plebiscites.

In Britain, rationing was finally imposed in early 1918, limited to meat, sugar, and fats (butter and oleo), but not bread. The new system worked smoothly. From 1914 to 1918 trade union membership doubled, from a little over four million to a little over eight million. Work stoppages and strikes became frequent in 1917–18 as the unions expressed grievances regarding prices, alcohol control, pay disputes, fatigue from overtime and working on Sundays and inadequate housing. Conscription put into uniform nearly every physically fit man, six of ten million eligible. Of these, about 750,000 lost their lives and 1,700,000 were wounded. Most deaths were to young unmarried men; however, 160,000 wives lost husbands and 300,000 children lost fathers.[155]

Britain turned to her colonies for help in obtaining essential war materials whose supply had become difficult from traditional sources. Geologists, such as Albert Ernest Kitson, were called upon to find new resources of precious minerals in the African colonies. Kitson discovered important new deposits of manganese, used in munitions production, in the Gold Coast.[156]

Cognate names for the war

Before World War II, the war was also known as The Great War, The World War, The War to End All Wars, The Kaiser's War, The War of the Nations and The War in Europe. In France and Belgium it was sometimes referred to as La Guerre du Droit (the War for Justice) or La Guerre Pour la Civilisation / de Oorlog tot de Beschaving (the War to Preserve Civilization), especially on medals and commemorative monuments.

The term used by official histories of the war in Britain and Canada is The First World War, while American histories generally use the term World War I.

There is evidence that German biologist and philosopher Ernst Haeckel used the key phrase shortly after the start of the fighting in Europe: "There is no doubt that the course and character of the feared "European War"...will become the first world war the full sense of the word."[157]

Although the widespread use of the term First World War has been dated to 1931, the first known appearance of the phrase in print was in the Indianapolis Star's issue for 20 September 1914.[157]

In many European countries, it appears the current usage is tending back to calling it The Great War / la Grande Guerre / de Grote Oorlog / der Große Krieg, because of the growing historical awareness that, of the two 20th century world wars, the 1914–1918 conflict caused more social, economic and political upheaval.[citation needed] It was also one of the prime factors in the outbreak of the Second World War.

Animated maps

An animated map "Europe plunges into war"
An animated map of Europe at the end of the First World War


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Tuchman, Barbara Wertheim (1966), The Zimmerman Telegram (2nd ed.), New York: Macmillan, ISBN 0026203200, OCLC 233392415
Tucker, Spencer (1999), European Powers in the First World War: An Encyclopedia, ISBN 081533351X, OCLC 40417794
Tucker, Spencer C (2005), Encyclopedia of World War I. A Political, Social and Military History, Santa Barbara: ABC-Clio, ISBN 1851094202
van der Vat, Dan (1988), The Atlantic Campaign, London: Grafton, ISBN 0586206957 Connects submarine and antisubmarine operations between wars, and suggests a continuous war
Venzon, Anne Cipriano; Miles, Paul L, eds. (1995), The United States in the First World War: An Encyclopedia, Taylor & Francis, ISBN 0824070550
von der Porten, Edward P (1969), German Navy in World War II, New York: T. Y. Crowell, OCLC 164543865
Westwell, Ian (2004), World War I Day by Day, St. Paul, Minnesota: MBI Pub., pp. 192pp, ISBN 0760319375, OCLC 57533366
Wiggin, Addision (29 November 2006), [ Bretton Woods agreement], Port Phillip Publishing,
Wilgus, William John (1931), Transporting the A. E. F. in Western Europe, 1917–1919, New York: Columbia University Press, OCLC 1161730
Winter, Denis (1982), The First of the Few: Fighter Pilots of the First World War, Allen Lane, pp. 223pp, ISBN 0713912782
Winter, Jay M (2005), The Experience of World War I (2nd ed.), Oxford University Press, ISBN 0195207769 , topical essays; well illustrated
Zieger, Robert H (2001), America's Great War: World War I and the American experience, Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, pp. 50, ISBN 0847696456
"Country Briefings: Israel", The Economist, 28 July 2005,, retrieved on 2008-12-30
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