The casualties suffered in the First World War were of a scale never before experienced. Great Britain and her Empire lost over 1,000,000 combatants; France, 1,300,000; Russia, 1,700,000; Germany and its allies, 3,500,000. Losses in life per day of the war exceeded 5,500.
Although each soldier would have been involved in some form of continual conflict whilst serving on the front-line (e.g. trench raids, snipers, shelling), it is possible to distinguish major battles (or pushes) whose names have gone down in history as some of the bloodiest conflicts ever waged. in this link are details on five of the main battles involving British troops and their allies.
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On the night of 15 December German company commanders gave their men the watchword which had come from the Fuehrer himself: "Forward to and over the Meuse!" The objective was Antwerp. Hitler's concept of the Big Solution had prevailed; the enemy was not to be beaten east of the Meuse but encircled by a turning movement beyond that river.
The main effort would be made by Dietrich's Sixth Panzer Army on the north wing, with orders to cross the Meuse on both sides of Liège, wheel north, and strike for the Albert Canal, fanning out the while to form a front extending from Maastricht to Antwerp. Meanwhile the infantry divisions to the rear of the armored columns would form the north shoulder of the initial advance and a subsequent blocking position east of the Meuse along the Vesdre River. Eventually, or so Hitler intended, the Fifteenth Army would advance to take a station protecting the Sixth Panzer Army right and rear.
Manteuffel's Fifth Panzer Army, initially acting as the center, had the mission of crossing the Meuse to the south of the Sixth, but because the river angled away to the southwest might be expected to cross a few hours later than its armored partner on the right. Once across the Meuse, Manteuffel had the mission of preventing an Allied counterattack against Dietrich's left and rear by holding the line Antwerp-Brussels-Namur-Dinant.
The left wing of the counteroffensive, composed of infantry and mechanized divisions belonging to Brandenberger's Seventh Army, had orders to push to the Meuse, unwinding a cordon of infantry and artillery facing south and southwest, thereafter anchoring the southern German flank on the angle formed by the Semois and the Meuse. Also, the Fuehrer had expressed the wish that the first segment of the Seventh Army cordon be pushed as far south as Luxembourg City if possible.
What course operations were to take once Antwerp was captured is none too clear. Indeed no detailed plans existed for this phase. There are numerous indications that the field commanders did not view the Big Solution too seriously but fixed their eyes on the seizure of the Meuse bridgeheads rather than on the capture of Antwerp. Probably Hitler had good reason for the final admonition, on 15 December, that the attack was not to begin the northward wheel until the Meuse was crossed.
Dietrich's Sixth Panzer Army, selected to make the main effort, had a distinct political complexion. Its armored divisions all belonged to the Waffen SS, its commander was an old party member, and when regular Wehrmacht officers were assigned to help in the attack preparations they were transferred to the SS rolls. Hitler's early plans speak of the Sixth SS Panzer Army, although on 16 December the army still did not bear the SS appellation in any official way, and it is clear that the Sixth was accorded the responsibility and honour of the main effort simply because Hitler felt he could depend on the SS. "click image below to read more"
World War I saw a new form of mass battle with newly formed mechanized armies battling along various Front lines. The most well know is the Western Front. This referred to the German Western Front from 1915 through 1918 in which they fortified their newly won borders with easily defend-able trenches. The term took on even more meaning when the British and French allies began using it in their battle plans as well. From there, as they say, the name is history. This designation made it easier to identify the geography on a map and keep it separate from other Fronts observed at the time.
Made infamous by the fact that it was the prominent battle line during this full scale war. The battle line remained unbroken for nearly 400 miles in 1915, an incredible feat and monumental task to hold. It went from the Belgian coast to the Swiss borders, north and south, but also east and west to the city of Verdun and then again south to east to Belfort making it an odd line that showed the variety of geography and level of resistance the Germans and Austrians experienced.
The allies were in specific areas of the Western Front- Belgium the north, Britain the north central and the French held on to the rest. As you can imagine there were many conflicts that saw the armies fighting side-by-side of each other. This must have made for an interesting mix of technology as firearms, knives, bayonets, shovels and more were used daily in the trenches.
The trench systems employed were heavily protected by barbed wire, zig-zagged through the landscape and were so long and deep they were difficult to conquer. A perfect defense for the tech and strategies of the day, as you could not go around or through them without suffering tremendous loss. So hard in fact, that neither side saw any decisive victories for 3 years. Hundreds of battles erupted continuously during this time, from small skirmishes to larger well planned engagements, but it took years and many lives for any side to realize an advantage. More times than not the allies initiated the battles and as we look back we see the heavy losses each side experienced.
Casualties were approximately: 5 million German and Austrian troops wounded or killed, over 5 million French wounded or killed, just fewer than 3 million British wounded or killed and 58 thousand Belgians wounded or killed. Over 13 million casualties on both sides were so devastating and grand in scale that some proclaimed this "the War to end War". Sadly this was not to be.
Trench warfare is a form of warfare where both combatants have fortified positions and fighting lines are static. Trench warfare arose when there was a revolution in fire-power without similar advances in mobility. The result was a slow and grueling form of defense-oriented warfare in which both sides constructed elaborate and heavily armed trench and dugout systems opposing each other along a front, with soldiers in both trench lines largely defiladed from the other's small arms fire and enclosed by barbed wire.
The area between opposing trench lines (known as "no man's land") was fully exposed to small-arms and artillery fire from both sides. Attacks, even successful ones, often sustained severe casualties as a matter of course. Periods of trench warfare occurred during the American Civil War, the Russo-Japanese War, and reached peak bloodshed on the Western Front of World War I. Trench warfare is often a sign of attrition warfare.
Following the outbreak of World War I in 1914, the German army opened the Western Front by first invading Luxembourg and Belgium, then gaining military control of important industrial regions in France. The tide of the advance was dramatically turned with the Battle of the Marne. Both sides then dug in along a meandering line of fortified trenches, stretching from the North Sea to the Swiss frontier with France. This line remained essentially unchanged for most of the war.
Between 1915 and 1917 there were several major offensives along this front. The attacks employed massive artillery bombardments and massed infantry advances. However, a combination of entrenchments, machine gun nests, barbed wire, and artillery repeatedly inflicted severe casualties on the attackers and counter attacking defenders. As a result, no significant advances were made.
In an effort to break the deadlock, this front saw the introduction of new military technology, including poison gas, aircraft, and tanks. But it was only after the adoption of improved tactics that some degree of mobility was restored.
In spite of the generally stagnant nature of this front, this theater would prove decisive. The inexorable advance of the Allied armies in 1918 persuaded the German commanders that defeat was inevitable, and the government was forced to sue for conditions of an armistice.
Tommy Atkins (often just Tommy) is a term for a common soldier in the British Army that is particularly associated with World War I. German soldiers would call out to Tommy across no man's land if they wished to speak to a British soldier. French and Commonwealth troops would also call British soldiers "Tommies". In more recent times, the term Tommy Atkins has been used less frequently, although the name "Tom" is occasionally still heard, especially with regard to paratroopers.
Henry John Patch (born June 17, 1898 in Combe Down, a village in Somerset, England) is, at the age of 109 years, the second-oldest living man in the UK. He is one of the last three surviving British veterans of the First World War still living in the country, and also one of the last three to have seen action. He is the last surviving Tommy to have faced combat, as Sydney Lucas was still in training. Following the death of Lazare Ponticelli, Patch is the last serviceman in the world to have fought in the trenches of the Western Front.
Any one of them could have been me. Millions of men came to fight in this war and I find it incredible that I am the only one left
During the war, Patch was conscripted into the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry, serving as an assistant gunner in a Lewis Gun section. He was a private at the Battle of Passchendaele (also known as the Third Battle of Ypres). After the war, Patch returned to work as a plumber, during which time he spent four years working on the Wills Memorial Building in Bristol and, during the Second World War, a fireman.
Patch featured in the 2003 television series World War I in Colour, and was quoted as saying "if any man tells you he went over the top and he wasn't scared, he's a damn liar."
In the same series, he reflected upon his lost friends and the moment when he came face to face with a German soldier.
'He recalled Moses descending from Mount Sinai with God's commandment, 'thou shalt not kill', and couldn't kill the German. He shot him above the knee, and in the ankle. Patch said, "I had about five seconds to make the decision. I brought him down, but I didn't kill him".
In November 2004 (at the age of 106), he met Charles Kuentz, a 108-year-old veteran who had fought on the German side at the battlefield of Passchendaele (and on the French side in World War II). Patch was quoted as saying: "I was a bit doubtful before meeting a German soldier. Herr Kuentz is a very nice gentleman however. He is all for a united Europe and peace and so am I". Kuentz had brought along a tin of Alsatian biscuits and Patch gave him a bottle of Somerset cider in return.
Battle of the Yser
The entire Belgian Army was deployed to defend the front. The troops were exhausted and low on ammunition after two months of fighting and retreat. France reinforced the Belgians with 6,000 Marines and an infantry division.
The first skirmishes started on 16 October 1914. The town of Diksmuide was attacked but the Germans were repelled by French marines and Belgian artillery. The following day German troops (consisting of trained conscripts, reservists and untrained students) moved southwards from Bruges and Ostend in the direction of the Yser river.
It became clear that the German Fourth Army was to take the line from Nieuwpoort to Ypres.
Admiral Hood of the Royal Navy commanded three monitors, Severn, Humber and Mersey, which bombarded the German army in Lombardsijde from the sea the following day. On 18 October the German offensive started.
On the 14th, Belgian engineers began to prepare the defence line on the Yser. The Germans were never able to penetrate this defence, and for four more years, this was the Belgian army's calvary.
The River Yser formed a natural defensive obstacle facing the Germans in Belgium, just as the Gete and the Nete had before. But here, in the north-west corner of Belgium known as the Westhoek, the landscape was totally different. The flat coastal area, known locally as 'Bachten de Kupe' is woven through with a network of tiny drainage canals, for this is reclaimed land, or polder. The water level is just below the surface, and is regulated by the canals, and a widespread system of sluices and pumps. The head of this system was at Nieuwpoort, where the Yser meets the sea, and where several important transportation canals join.
In the Westhoek, there were only two possible lines of defence, which were the Yser, which is canalised for much of its length, and the embankment of the Nieuwpoort - Diksmuide railway. The minor heights of the canal and railway embankments gave dominance in such flat country. The occupants could observe for many miles. The only other heights of any consequence were the high dunes around Lombardsijde, a small rise at Klerken near Diksmuide, and the Flemish hills, several miles to the south-west behind Ypres. The Belgians, in holding the embankments, were in a very strong position. The weak points in their front were the bridges over the Yser at - from north to south - St Joris, Schoorbakke and Tervate.
Diksmuide lay some twelve miles to the south of Nieuwpoort. It was of enormous importance, as the town formed a bridgehead on the eastern side of the river. Holding it gave the Belgians a starting point should the allies advance. The town was typical of West Flanders, possessing a mediaeval market square, with a beautiful 15th Century town hall and many churches.
The remnant of the Belgian army dug in on the Yser
The battle opened on 18th October, with a heavy bombardment all along the Belgian lines, followed by German infantry probing into the forward defences. The first serious clash occurred when a group of Belgian cyclists and lancers were shelled out of Sint Pieters Kapelle, lying a little east of Schore. After a fierce, two hour combat, the German infantry moved into the ruins of the hamlet.
At 9am on the same morning, the Belgian 2nd Division made first contact with the attacking forces of the 3rd Reserve Korps just to the east of Westende. The attack here threatened to break through, but was brought to a shattering standstill by heavy shelling from British warships lying off the coast. For during the night of the 17th/18th October, Admiral Hood had brought up three monitors, the HMS's Severn, Humber and Mersey. (These ships were flat-bottomed and with a very shallow draught, being originally designed for the Brazilian navy operating in the estuary waters of the Amazon.
They were heavily armoured, and carried two 6-inch guns and two 4.7-inch howitzers each, in addition to machine guns. Later, when attacked by torpedo, they avoided destruction, as German torpedoes generally travelled at a depth of around twelve feet. The monitors drew only four feet.) The Germans, shocked, withdrew to Oostende.
The naval shelling causes great losses among men and horses. Over the next days of the battle, the Royal Navy played a key part, keeping the coastal strip under constant fire, causing casualties and disruption to German operations. For example, on the 23rd, a Royal Navy flotilla bombarded German positions in Oostende, following an unsuccessful attempt by a German submarine on the destroyers HMS's Wildfire and Myrmidon. A British naval balloon, moored beyond German shelling at Koksijde, directed operations.
Further inland, and beyond the range of the monitors, the villages of Leke, Schore and Schoorbakke received their baptism of fire from the German heavy artillery. At Mannekensvere, the Belgian 7th Linie held on under fire all day, but were forced to withdraw in the evening. They counterattacked with the bayonet the following morning, but were brought to a halt by the weight and accuracy of the shelling.
The advance posts of the 4th Division at Keiem were lost to units of the 6th Reserve Division, but the 8th and 13th Linie attacked and recovered them at the point of the bayonet. The 6th Division were ordered to thin the ranks holding out further south to provide reinforcements at Keiem, and at other posts under similar threat. The position was increasingly precarious, and the Germans threatened to engulf the Belgian positions on the right bank of the Yser, north of Diksmuide. The 4th Division committed its last reserves to assist the defence of the bridge at Tervate, and the 3rd Division were committed to strengthen the defences in front of Nieuwpoort. At this point, the French came to the assistance of the Belgians by relieving the 6th Division on the Ieperlee. The line held by the 40,000 effective men of the Belgian field army was reduced to 28km.
To the south of Diksmuide, there was much better news. The right wing was firmly held by the cavalry of de Witte and de Mitry, from Kortemark to Roeselare.
On the 19th, the Germans doubled their efforts to smash the Belgians and move forward along the coast into France. The village of Schore was seen as being of immense tactical importance, as the river bend between Schoorbakke and Tervate could be attacked from the flank if it could be taken.
The Belgians, incredibly enough, planned a serious counterattack. Leaving a brigade of the 3rd Division to hold the Diksmuide bridgehead, they would move the 5th Division, together with the French Marins Fusiliers, via Vladslo and Beerst, north-east towards Torhout. At the same time, the French and Belgian combined cavalry would make a daring sweep to Torhout. But it was not to be, for shortly after the infantry took up positions, Keiem fell again, and the 13th Linie had to quit Beerst (between Diksmuide and Keiem).
The Marins Fusiliers, however, continued with their part of the counterattack plan. They quickly captured Vladslo and pushed the Germans back out of Beerst, with the help of two battalions of the 4th Division.
To the north, Belgian pilots had spotted German pioneers making strongpoints at the St Joris bridgehead
The 20th saw the Germans beginning to attack the last of the forward posts. General von Beseler ordered a breakthrough between Mannekensvere and Schoorbakke. He assembled three divisions (5th and 6th Reserve, and 4th Ersatz) for the task.
They, including all of their associated artillery, would face three Linie regiments, the 5th, 6th and 9th. Under this overwhelming pressure, the 9th Linie had to give up the fortified position of Bamburg farm, just east of the sluice complex at Nieuwpoort, which had held the German attempts over the last two days. Once that had gone, the German artillery turned its weight onto the canals and Lombardsijde. Gradually, the Belgian hold east of the Yser began to slip.
The heavy 210mm howitzers, recently brought up from Antwerp, now opened up on the sector between St Joris and Schoorbakke. Huge columns of water went up as shells fell in the Yser, and men died, buried by tens of feet of debris, when they fell in the trenches. The German troops, massed in Mannekensvere, moved forward. They were beaten off, countless times, by spirited Belgian small arms fire. Schoorbakke held.
The use of poison gas in World War I was a major military innovation. The gases ranged from disabling chemicals, such as tear gas and the severe mustard gas, to lethal agents like phosgene and chlorine. This chemical warfare was a major component of the first global war and first total war of the 20th century. The killing capacity of gas was limited only 4% of combat deaths were due to gas however, the proportion of non-fatal casualties was high, and gas remained one of the soldiers' greatest fears.
Because it was impossible to develop effective countermeasures against gas attacks, it was unlike most other weapons of the period. In the later stages of the war, as the use of gas increased, its overall effectiveness diminished. This widespread use of these agents of chemical warfare, and wartime advances in the composition of high explosives, gave rise to an occasionally expressed view of World War I as "the chemists' war".
"It is a cowardly form of warfare which does not commend itself to me or other English soldiers.... We cannot win this war unless we kill or incapacitate more of our enemies than they do of us, and if this can only be done by our copying the enemy in his choice of weapons, we must not refuse to do so."
Caporetto in Italy, where the Allies(G.B., France, and the US) drove back German and Austrian armies; France in general, largely the scene of the horrific trench warfare that has come to typify the struggle, eventually won by the Allies, but initially, during the Frontiers of France campaign that began the war, a decided German advance checked by desperate reinforcement(some French troops arriving to the front in Parisian cabs). Russia was also the scene of several major battles, and defeats against the German army, specifically Tannenberg and Masurian Lakes.
However, the Russians were not knocked out of the war until the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. A fourth and equally decisive campaign was that of the British and Arabs versus the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East, the English victory presaging a long and difficult presence of Western power and influence in Muslim nations for the benefit of internationmal oil cartels. Those important battles were Bagdad, Jersalem, and Gaza, all three scenes of unrest to this very day.
Following the successful Allied attack and penetration of the German defences at Cambrai, Ludendorff and Hindenburg determined that the only opportunity for German victory now lay in a decisive attack along the western front during the spring, before American manpower became a significant presence. On 3 March 1918, the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was signed, and Russia withdrew from the war.
This would now have a dramatic effect on the conflict as 44 divisions were now released from Eastern Front for deployment to the west. This would give them an advantage of 192 divisions to the Allied 173 divisions, which allowed Germany to pull veteran units from the line and retrain them as sturmtruppen. In contrast, the Allies still lacked a unified command and suffered from morale and manpower problems: the British and French armies were sorely depleted, and American troops had not yet transitioned into a combat role.
Ludendorff's strategy would be to launch a massive offensive against the British and Commonwealth designed to separate them from the French and her allies, then drive them back to the channel ports. The attack would combine the new storm troop tactics with ground attack aircraft, tanks, and a carefully planned artillery barrage that would include gas attacks.
In July, Foch initiated an offensive against the Marne salient produced during the German attacks, eliminating the salient by August. A second major offensive was launched two days after the first, ending at Amiens to the north. This attack included Franco-British forces, and was spearheaded by Australian and Canadian troops, along with 600 tanks and supported by 800 aircraft. The assault proved highly successful, leading Hindenburg to name 8 August as the "Black Day of the German Army".
The German army's manpower had been severely depleted after four years of war, and its economy and society were under great internal strain. The Hundred Days Offensive beginning in August proved the final straw, and following this string of military defeats, German troops began to surrender in large numbers. As the Allied forces broke the German lines at great cost, the Chief QuarterMaster-General of the army, Ludendorff (who had wielded almost dictatorial power in , was forced to step aside to allow peace feelers to be extended to the Allies.
Fighting was still continuing, but the German armies were in retreat when the German Revolution put a new government in power that quickly signed an armistice which stopped all fighting on the Western Front on Armistice Day (11 November 1918). The German Imperial Monarchy collapsed as Ludendorff's successor General Groener agreed, for fear of a revolution like that in Russia the previous year, to support the moderate Social Democratic Government under Ebert rather than sustain the Hohenzollern Monarchy.
1915 May 23 - Italy entered the war, and Italian Chief of Staff Gen. Luigi Cadorna began attack on the Isonzo where Austrian Gen. Boroevic took command of the 5th Army and built defensive line, Italy took Brado by May 26, but failed to break through Austrian lines. The battles on the Isonzo over the next 2 years would be "a disaster" for Italy, according to the documentary film Fight for the River.
June 5 - Italy attacked Doberdo plateau on the Isonzo, advanced behind sandbags to take the strategic summit of Mt. Krn
June 23 - 1st Battle of the Isonzo began with Italian artillery bombardment for one week, then main assault June 30 on 21-mile front.
July 18 - 2nd Battle of the Isonzo began with attack by Italian 2nd and 3rd Armies, but run out of artillery shells and stopped by Austrian barbed wire defense lines; battle ended Aug. 3 with 41,886 Italian casualties.
Oct. 18 - 3rd Battle of the Isonzo began with Italian 3rd Army attack on Mt. Sabotino and Mt. San Michele with the main objective of occupying Gorizia with its stone arched bridge; battle ended Nov. 4.
Nov. 10 - 4th Battle of the Isonzo began with italian attack at Carso. On Nov. 29, italians took Oslavia Ridge. Battle ended Dec. 3, with 48,967 Italian casualties and 30,000 Austrian.
1916 Mar. 11 - 5th Battle of the Isonzo stopped early by snow and rain.
May 15 - Trentino offensive, or Asiago Offensive, began with Austrian barrage and attack, forced Italian retreat to 3rd line of defense.
June 16 - Italian counter-attack at Trentino stopped Austrian attack.
June 28 - Austrians fired cyanide gas shells at Italians near Mt. Cosich, but winds blew gas back into Austrians and attack failed.
Aug. 4 - 6th Battle of the Isonzo began with barrage and attack of Duke of Aosta's 3rd Army against Austrian 5th Army of Boroevic, gained west bank of middle Isonzo and Podgora, began to enter Gorizia by Aug. 8. Cadorna ended the offensive Aug. 17, even though it was one of the most successful, and gained 3-4 miles.
Sept. 14 - 7th Battle of the Isonzo began with Italian 3rd Army gas attack on 6-mile front.
Oct. 9 - 8th Battle of the Isonzo began with attack of Italian 2nd and 3rd Armies against Austrian 5th Army. Cadorna still emphasized the frontal assault, packed 6 soldiers per yard in the advance, the highest concentration of the war.
Nov. 1 - 9th Battle of the Isonzo began with Italian attack on Carso east of Gorizia.
Nov. 21 - Emperor Franz Joseph died, succeeded by Charles I.
1917 Apr. 1 - British 6-in howitzers and French heavy guns arrived on Isonzo front. Gen Diaz took command of new 23rd Corps; Cadorna added 10 divisions to reserves. On Apr. 8, foch visited Cadorna at Vicenza and planned Allied reinforcements in case of German intervention in Italy.
Apr. 28 - young Atalo Balbo joined 8th Alpini Regiment.
May 12 - 10th Battle of the Isonzo began with 2-day Italian barrage on 25-mile front. Allied artillery helped to stop Austrian counter-attacks May 17. By the end of May, Italians won some gains around Carso, and Italian artillery moved to10 miles from Trieste.
May 23 - British monitors at sea and 130 Allied airplanes attack Austrians near Adriatic Sea at Kostanjevica.
June 10 - Italian 6th Army offensive in Trentino failed.
June 30 - In the Trentino, the Ortigara tragedy demoralized Italian troops; 28,000 Italians and 9000 Austrians were killed in 12 days on Mt. Ortigara .
Aug. 18 - 11th Battle of the Isonzo began on 30-mile front by Italian 2nd and 3rd Armies, but lost 166,000 by Sept. 12. Cadorna was warned of impending German-Austrian attack and began to dig in with defenses, faced growing desertion rate up to 5500 per month
Oct. 24 - 12th Battle of the Isonzo, or the Battle of Caporetto, began with Austrian gas bombardment and attack by 10 divisions along 20-mile front. The German 12th Division took Caporetto. On Oct. 27, Cadorna ordered general retreat. French and British divisions began arriving Oct. 30. Cadorna ordered final defense line behind the Piave River. On Nov. 9, Gen. Diaz replaced Cadorna.
Nov. 11 - 1st Battle of the Piave succeeded in stopping the Austrian-German offensive. By Nov. 20, British and French divisions reinforce the line
1918 June 15 - 2nd Battle of the Piave began with Austrian attack, stopped by British and French. The Italian 4th Army began counter-attack. On June 20, Boroevic ordered retreat of Austrian army back across river.
July 8 - Ernest Hemingway, an American Red Cross ambulance driver, was wounded at Fossalta di Piave.
Oct. 24 - 3rd Battle of the Piave, or Battle of Vittorio Veneto, began on anniversary of Caporetto, with barrage from 1400 guns and attack by Italian 4th Army on 13-mile front.
Oct. 29 - Austria sought armistice, signed on Nov. 3
Nov. 3 - in the last hours before armistice took effect at 1500, the U.S. 332nd regiment took part in attack on Austrians at Tagliamento River.
At the opening of the war, France held the lead in the air with the most aircraft and the most experienced pilots. Aircraft were used mainly for reconnaissance, but in the early days of 1914 aerial reconnaissance reports (such as those detailing the German advance through Belgium as General von Moltke outflanked the French and British armies) were ignored.
The Allies were just barely able to recoup and, this time believing aerial reports, halted the German advance at the Maine River, along which both sides dug in for a long standoff. At first, spotters who rode as passengers waved to enemy aircraft; soon they used pistols and rifles to try and shoot down their adversaries.
This was totally ineffective given all the buffeting and vibrations the spotter would experience even in a smooth flight. (The rotary Gnome engines were highly efficient and reliable, but the fact that the entire engine rotated with the propeller meant the aircraft experienced a great deal of vibration.)
The solution was thought to be machine guns.
The French Hotchkiss, the Belgian Lewis, the British Vickers, and the German Spandau and Parabellum were all well-crafted weapons that allowed gunners to spray the enemy with a barrage of fire, increasing the chance of a hit. But this was a very limited solution, first, because the gunner was at the mercy of the pilot’s sudden manoeuvring, and second, because a very important target area right in front of the plane was eliminated from the gunner’s field of fire.
Kitchener was a British military leader and statesman who, as secretary of state for war in the first years of World War One, organized armies on an unprecedented scale. He was also depicted on the most famous British army recruitment poster ever produced.
Horatio Kitchener was born on 24 June 1850 in County Kerry, Ireland. He was educated in Switzerland and at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich. In 1871, he joined in the Royal Engineers.
He took part in the unsuccessful operation to relieve General Charles Gordon at Khartoum in 1884-1885, and in 1886 was appointed governor general of eastern Sudan. Six years later served he became commander in chief of the Egyptian army. In 1896, he began the reconquest of Sudan from the forces of al-Mahdi, culminating in the Battle of Omdurman and the reoccupation of Khartoum in 1898. Kitchener was then made governor of Sudan, having become a national hero.
In 1900, Kitchener was appointed chief of staff to Lord Roberts, British commander in the Boer War. When Roberts returned to England, Kitchener was left to deal with continuing Boer resistance. His ruthless measures - including the use of camps to imprison civilians (the origin of the term 'concentration camp') - were much criticised.
On returning to England in 1902, he was created Viscount Kitchener (he was made an earl in 1914) and was appointed commander in chief in India. In 1911, he became the proconsul of Egypt, serving there and in the Sudan until 1914. When war broke out, Kitchener reluctantly accepted the appointment of secretary of state for war. Unlike many in government and the military, he foresaw a war lasting for years, and planned accordingly. He rapidly enlisted and trained huge numbers of volunteers for a succession of entirely new 'Kitchener armies'.
But his cabinet colleagues did not share the public worship of Kitchener and he was gradually relieved of his responsibilities. His support for the disastrous Dardanelles operation, combined with the 'shell crisis' of 1915, eroded his reputation further. Sent on a mission to Russia in June 1916, he drowned on 5 June when his ship, HMS Hampshire was sunk by a German mine off the Orkneys.
Historically, artillery (from French artillerie) refers to any engine used for the discharge of large projectiles in war. The term also describes soldiers with the primary function of manning such weapons and is used organizationally for the arm of a nation's land forces that operates the weapons. This term includes coastal artillery which traditionally defended coastal areas against seaborne attack and controlled the passage of ships. With the advent of powered flight at the start of the 20th century, artillery also included ground-based anti-aircraft batteries. In military terminology, a unit of artillery is commonly referred to as a battery.
The Battle of Verdun began on 21 February 1916 after a nine-day delay due to snow and blizzards. After a massive eight-hour artillery bombardment, the Germans did not expect much resistance as they slowly advanced on Verdun and its forts. However, heavy French resistance was countered by the introduction of flamethrowers by the Germans. The French lost control of Fort Douaumont. Nonetheless, French reinforcements halted the German advance by 28 February.
The Germans turned their focus to Le Mort Homme to the north from which the French were successfully shelling them. After some of the most intense fighting of the campaign, the hill was taken by the Germans in late May. After a change in French command at Verdun from the defensive-minded Philippe Pétain to the offensive-minded Robert Nivelle the French attempted to re-capture Fort Douaumont on 22 May but were easily repulsed. The Germans captured Fort Vaux on 7 June and, with the aid of the gas phosgene, came within 1,200 yards (1 km) of the last ridge over Verdun before stopping on 23 June.
Over the summer, the French slowly advanced. With the development of the rolling barrage, the French recaptured Fort Vaux in November, and by December 1916 they had pushed the Germans back 1.3 miles (2 km) from Fort Douaumont, in the process rotating 42 divisions through the battle. The Battle of Verdun also known as the 'Mincing Machine of Verdun' or 'Meuse Mill' became a symbol of French determination and sacrifice.
While World War I on the Western Front developed into trench warfare, the battle lines on the Eastern Front were much more fluid and trenches never truly developed. This was because the greater length of the front ensured that the density of soldiers in the line was lower so the line was easier to break. Once broken, the sparse communication networks made it difficult for the defender to rush reinforcements to the rupture in the line to mount a rapid counter offensive and seal off a breakthrough.
There was also the fact that the terrain in the Eastern European theatre was quite solid, often making it near impossible to construct anything resembling the complicated trench systems on the Western Front, which tended to have muddier and much more workable terrain. In short, on the Eastern front the side defending did not have the overwhelming advantages it had on the Western front.
Because of this, front lines in the East kept on shifting throughout the conflict, and not just near the beginning and end of the fighting, as was the case in the West. In fact the greatest advance of the whole war was made in the East by the German Army in the summer of 1915.
The Battle of Albert began on September 25, 1914 as part of the Race to the Sea during World War I. It directly followed the First Battle of the Marne and the First Battle of the Aisne as progress toward advancing the trench lines to the sea continued.
The French Tenth Army began to assemble at Amiens from mid-September and on September 25 began to push eastwards. De Castelnau, under the command of Joffre, launched a frontal attack on the German lines near Albert after attempts to stretch the line northward failed.
De Castelnau was met with immediate resistance and counterattack as the German Sixth Army had reached Bapaume on September 26 and advanced to Thiepval on the 27th, in the midst of what was to become the Somme battlefield of 1916. The German aim was to drive westward to the English Channel, seizing the industrial and agricultural regions of Northern France, cutting off the supply route of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and isolating Belgium.
Neither side was able to make any decisive ground and the battle around Albert ended around September 29 as the fighting moved northwards towards Arras and Lille and into West Flanders. This confrontation and those to follow were deemed draws as the fighting settled into prolonged trench warfare.
The German army came within 43 miles (70 km) of Paris, but at the First Battle of the Marne (September 6), French and British troops were able to force a German retreat by exploiting a gap which appeared between the 1st and 2nd Armies, ending the German advance into France.
The German army retreated north of the Aisne River and dug in there, establishing the beginnings of a static western front that was to last for the next three years. Following this German setback, the opposing forces tried to outflank each other in the Race for the Sea, and quickly extended their trench systems from the English Channel to the Swiss frontier.
On the Entente side, the final lines were occupied by the armies of the allied countries, with each nation defending a part of the front. From the coast in the north, the primary forces were from Belgium, the British Empire and France. Following the Battle of the Yser in October, the Belgian forces controlled a 35 km length of Flanders territory along the coast, with their front following the Yser river and the Yperlee canal, from Nieuport to Boesinghe.
Stationed to the south was the sector of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). Here, from 19 October until 22 November, the German forces made their final breakthrough attempt of 1914 during the First Battle of Ypres. Heavy casualties were suffered on both sides but no breakthrough occurred.By Christmas, the BEF guarded a continual line from the La Bassée Canal to south of St. Eloi in the Somme valley.The remainder of the front, south to the border with Switzerland, was manned by French forces.
The Battle of the Somme, fought in the summer and autumn of 1916, was one of the largest battles of the First World War. With more than one million casualties, it was also one of the bloodiest battles in human history. The Allied forces attempted to break through the German lines along a 25-mile (40 km) front north and south of the River Somme in northern France. One purpose of the battle was to draw German forces away from the Battle of Verdun; however, by its end the losses on the Somme had exceeded those at Verdun.
Verdun would bite deep into the national consciousness of France for generations, and the Somme would have the same effect on generations of Britons.
The battle is best remembered for its first day, 1 July 1916, on which the British suffered 57,470 casualties, including 19,240 dead the bloodiest day in the history of the British Army. As terrible as the battle was for the British Empire troops who suffered there, it naturally affected the other nationalities as well.
One German officer (Captain von Hentig) famously described it as "the muddy grave of the German field army". By the end of the battle, the British had learned many lessons in modern warfare, while the Germans had suffered irreplaceable losses. British historian Sir James Edmonds stated: "It is not too much to claim that the foundations of the final victory on the Western Front were laid by the Somme offensive of 1916."
For the first time, the home front in the United Kingdom was exposed to the horrors of modern war with the release in August of the propaganda film The Battle of the Somme, which used actual footage from the first days of the battle.
On 7 June a British offensive was launched on Messines ridge, south of Ypres, to retake the ground lost in the First and Second Battles of Ypres in 1914. Since 1915 engineers had been digging tunnels under the ridge, and about 500 tons (roughly 500,000 kg) of explosives had been planted in 21 mines under the enemy lines. Following four days of heavy bombardment, the explosives in 19 of these mines were set off resulting in the deaths of 10,000 Germans. The offensive that followed again relied on heavy bombardment, but these failed to dislodge the Germans. The offensive, though initially stunningly successful, faltered due to the flooded, muddy ground, and both sides suffered heavy casualties.
On 11 July 1917 during this battle, the Germans introduced a new weapon into the war when they fired gas shells delivered by artillery. The limited size of an artillery shell required that a more potent gas be deployed, and so the Germans employed mustard gas, a powerful blistering agent.
The artillery deployment allowed heavy concentrations of the gas to be used on selected targets. Mustard gas was also a persistent agent, which could linger for up to several days at a site, an additional demoralizing factor for their opponents. Along with phosphine, gas would be used lavishly by both German and Allied forces in later battles, as the Allies also began to increase production of gas for chemical warfare.
On 25 June the first U.S. troops began to arrive in France, forming the American Expeditionary Force. However, the American units did not enter the trenches in divisional strength until October. The incoming troops required training and equipment before they could join in the effort, and for several months American units were relegated to support efforts.In spite of this, however, their presence provided a much-needed boost to Allied morale.
Beginning in late July and continuing into October the struggle around Ypres was renewed with the Battle of Passchendaele (technically the Third Battle of Ypres, of which Passchendaele was the final phase). The battle had the original aim of pushing through the German lines and threatening the submarine bases on the Belgian coast, but was later restricted to advancing the British Army onto higher (and drier) ground around Ypres, no longer constantly under observation from German artillery.
1st battle of Passchendaele.
On those days, the battalion was in the front line for the first Battle of Passchendaele. A very significant feature of the battle was the rain. Torrential rain fell on a battlefield where all the field drainage system had been destroyed in the fighting.
In the two days up to the 9th October an inch of rain had fallen, over half the normal rainfall for the month. The whole battlefield was a sea of mud. October 1917 was the wettest October that century.
The main attack on the 12th October was carried out by the Australian and New Zealand troops. Their losses were enormous. They had little success. The casualties experienced by the 9th battalion York & Lancaster Regiment must have been incidental to the main attack, drawing significant casualties from the fighting resulting from it.
"Recovering the New Zealand wounded from the battlefield took two and a half days days even with 3,000 extra men from the Fourth Brigade, artillery and other units plus a battalion from the British 49th Division.
The conditions were horrendous and six men were needed to carry each stretcher because of the mud and water. The Germans suffered the same problems and an informal truce for stretcher-bearers came into force, although anyone without a stretcher was fired on. By the evening of October 14 there simply was no one left alive on the battlefield."
Field-Marshall Sir Douglas Haig’s account of the battle paints a sorry picture of brave men engaged in a totally futile task.
“They advanced every time with absolute confidence in their power to overcome the enemy, even though they had sometimes to struggle through mud up to their waists to reach him. So long as they could reach him they did overcome him, but physical exhaustion placed narrow limits on the depth to which each advance could be pushed, and compelled long pauses between the advances.”
Throughout the duration of the war Haig never once visited the front line to see, first-hand, what his troops endured.
A formal state of war between the two sides persisted for another seven months, until the signing of the Treaty of Versailles with Germany on 28 June 1919. However, the American public opposed ratification of the treaty, mainly because of the League of Nations the treaty created; the United States did not formally end its involvement in the war until the Knox–Porter Resolution was signed in 1921.
After the Treaty of Versailles, treaties with Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria, and the Ottoman Empire were signed. However, the negotiation of the latter treaty with the Ottoman Empire was followed by strife (the Turkish War of Independence), and a final peace treaty between the Allied Powers and the country that would shortly become the Republic of Turkey was not signed until 24 July 1923, at Lausanne.
Some war memorials date the end of the war as being when the Versailles Treaty was signed in 1919, which was when many of the troops serving abroad finally returned to their home countries; by contrast, most commemorations of the war's end concentrate on the armistice of 11 November 1918. Legally, the formal peace treaties were not complete until the last, the Treaty of Lausanne, was signed. Under its terms, the Allied forces divested Constantinople on 23 August 1923.
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