World War 1 inflicted hitherto unseen violence on Europe and entangled the entire planet in the conflict—the first time a war was so far reaching. It broke empires, launched new nations onto the international stage, and caused humanity to question its innate goodness.

Scroll down to learn about the causes of World War 1, major battles, its end, treaties, and aftermath.

World War 1 Timeline

Date

Summary

Detailed Information

28 June 1914 Assassination of Franz Ferdinand The Balkan states of Bosnia and Herzegovina, had been annexed from Turkey and taken into the Austro-Hungarian Empire. This was strongly resented by many Serbs and Croats and a nationalist group, The Black Hand, was formed.

Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, and his wife, had decided to inspect Austro-Hungarian troops in Bosnia. The date chosen for the inspection was a national day in Bosnia. The Black Hand supplied a group of students with weapons for an assassination attempt to mark the occasion.

A Serbian nationalist student, Gavrilo Princip, assassinated the Austrian Archduke Ferdinand and his wife, when their open car stopped at a corner on its way out of the town.

28 July 1914 Austria declared war on Serbia The Austrian government blamed the Serbian government for the assassination of Franz Ferdinand and his wife and declared war on Serbia.

Although Russia was allied with Serbia, Germany did not believe that she would mobilise and offered to support Austria if necessary.

However, Russia did mobilise and, through their alliance with France, called on the French to mobilise.

1 Aug 1914 Germany declared war on Russia Germany declared war on Russia.
3 Aug 1914 Germany declared war on France Germany declared war on France. German troops poured into Belgium as directed under the Schleiffen Plan, drawn up in 1905. The British foreign secretary, Sir Edward Grey, sent an ultimatum to Germany demanding their withdrawal from the neutral Belgium.
4 Aug 1914 British declaration of war Germany did not withdraw from Belgium and Britain declared war on Germany.
Aug 1914 Battle of Tannenberg The Russian army marched into Prussia. However, because of the differences in railway gauge between Russia and Prussia it was difficult for the Russians to get supplies through to their men. The Germans, on the other hand, used their railway system to surround the Russian Second army at Tannenberg before it’s commander could realise what was happening. The ensuing battle was a heavy defeat for the Russians with thousands of men killed and 125,000 taken prisoner. Although the Germans won the battle, 13,000 men were killed.
13 Aug 1914 Japan declared war on Germany Japan declared war on Germany through her alliance with Great Britain, signed in 1902
Sept 1914 Battle of Masurian Lakes Having defeated the Russian Second army, the Germans turned their attention to the Russian First army at Masurian Lakes. Although the Germans were unable to defeat the army completely, over 100,000 Russians were taken prisoner.
29 Oct 1914 Turkey Turkey entered the war on the side of the central powers and gave help to a German naval bombardment of Russia.
2 Nov 1914 Russia declared war on Turkey Because of the help given by Turkey to the German attack of Russia, Russia declared war on Turkey.
5 Nov 1914 Britain and France declared war on Turkey Britain and France, Russia’s allies, declared war on Turkey, because of the help given to the German attack on Russia.
late 1914 Early stages of the war The German advance through Belgium to France did not go as smoothly as the Germans had hoped. The Belgians put up a good fight destroying railway lines to slow the transport of German supplies.

Despite a French counter-attack that saw the deaths of many Frenchmen on the battlefields at Ardennes, the Germans continued to march into France. They were eventually halted by the allies at the river Marne.

British troops had advanced from the northern coast of France to the Belgian town of Mons. Although they initially held off the Germans, they were soon forced to retreat.

The British lost a huge number of men at the first battle of Ypres.

By Christmas, all hopes that the war would be over had gone and the holiday saw men of both sides digging themselves into the trenches of theWestern Front.

Dec 1914 Zeppelins The first Zeppelins appeared over the English coast.
7 May 1915 Lusitania sunk There outraged protests from the United States at the German U-boat campaign, when the Lusitania, which had many American passengers aboard, was sank. The Germans moderated their U-boat campaign.
23 May 1915 Italy  Italy entered the war on the side of the Allies.
2 Apr 1915 Second Battle of Ypres Poison gas was used for the first time during this battle. The gas, fired by the Germans claimed many British casualties.
Feb 1915 Zeppelin bombing Zeppelin airships dropped bombs on Yarmouth.
Feb 1915 Dardenelles The Russians appealed for help from Britain and France to beat off an attack by the Turkish. The British navy responded by attacking Turkish forts in the Dardenelles.
Apr – Aug 1915 Dardenelles/ Gallipoli  Despite the loss of several ships to mines, the British successfully landed a number of marines in the Gallipoli region of the Dardenelles. Unfortunately the success was not followed up and the mission was a failure.
after Feb 1915 Winston Churchill resigns Winston Churchill, critical of the Dardenelles campaign, resigned his post as First Lord of the Admiralty. He rejoined the army as a battalion commander.
April 1915 Zeppelins The use of airships by the Germans increased. Zeppelins began attacking London. They were also used for naval reconnaissance, to attack London and smaller balloons were used for reconnaissance along the Western Front. They were only stopped when the introduction of aeroplanes shot them down.
early 1916 Winston Churchill Winston Churchill served in Belgium as lieutenant colonel of the Royal Scots Fusiliers.
April 1916 Romania enter the war Romania joined the war on the side of the Allies. But within a few months was occupied by Germans and Austrians.
31 May 1916 Battle of Jutland This was the only truly large-scale naval battle of the war. German forces, confined to port by a British naval blockade, came out in the hope of splitting the British fleet and destroying it ship by ship. However, the British admiral, Beatty, aware that the German tactics were the same as those used by Nelson at Trafalgar, sent a smaller force to lure the German’s into the range of Admiral Jellicoe’s main fleet. Although Beatty’s idea worked, the exchange of fire was brief and the German’s withdrew.
1 June 1916 Battle of Jutland The British and German naval forces met again but the battle was inconclusive. The German ships did a great deal of damage to British ships before once again withdrawing and the British Admiral Jellicoe decided not to give chase.

Although British losses were heavier than the German, the battle had alarmed both the Kaiser and the German Admiral Scheer and they decided to keep their fleet consigned to harbour for the remainder of the war.

28 Nov 1916 First Aeroplane raid The first German air raid on London took place. The Germans hoped that by making raids on London and the South East, the British Air Force would be forced into protecting the home front rather than attacking the German air force.
Dec 1916 Lloyd George Prime Minister Lloyd George became Prime Minister of the war time coalition. His war cabinet, unlike that of his predecessor, met every day. However, there was considerable disagreement among the members of the Cabinet, especially between Lloyd George and his war secretary, Sir Douglas Haig. Lloyd George suspected Haig of squandering life needlessly and was suspicious of his demands for more men and freedom of action in the field.
21 Feb – Nov 1916 Battle of Verdun The Germans mounted an attack on the French at Verdun designed to ‘bleed the French dry’. Although the fighting continued for nine months, the battle was inconclusive. Casualties were enormous on both sides with the Germans losing 430,000 men and the French 540,000.
1 July – Nov 1916 Battle of the Somme The battle was preceded by a week long artillery bombardment of the German line which was supposed to destroy the barbed wire defences placed along the German line but only actually succeeded in making no mans land a mess of mud and craters. The five month long battle saw the deaths of 420,000 British soldiers (60,000 on the first day), 200,000 French soldiers and 500,000 German soldiers all for a total land gain of just 25 miles.
1917 New war commander Lloyd George, who had never trusted his war minister’s ability to direct the war, persuaded the Cabinet to appoint the French General Nivelle as supreme war commander over Haig’s head. Haig was assured that the appointment was for one operation only and that if he felt the British army was being misused by the Frenchman he could appeal to the British government.
July – Nov 1917 W.front Passchendale The operation commanded by the French General, Nivelle, went wrong and caused the loss of many French soldiers. Haig protested to the British government and advocated trying his own scheme for a breakthrough. At the resulting battle of Passchendale, Haig broke his promise to call off the battle if the first stage failed because he did not want to lose face with the government.
1917 Churchill Minister of Munitions Following the heavy defeat at Passchendale, Lloyd George decided that he wanted Churchill in the Cabinet. Churchill was duly appointed Minister of Munitions.
1917 Reinforcements sent to Italy The Italians had lost many men trying to hold the line between Italy and the Central Powers. British and French reinforcements were sent to hold the line.
early 1917 German U-boat campaign In Germany, orders were given to step up the U-boat campaign. All allied or neutral ships were to be sunk on sight and in one month almost a million tons of shipping was sunk. Neutral countries became reluctant to ship goods to Britain and Lloyd George ordered all ships carrying provisions to Britain to be given a convoy.
6 April 1917 USA declares war on Germany The United States of America declared war on Germany in response to the sinking, by German U boats, of US ships.
Nov 1917 W. Front Cambrai The British took a large force of tanks across the barbed wire and machine gun posts at Cambrai.
Dec 1917 Treaty of Brest-Litovsk Following the successful revolution by the Bolsheviks, the Russians signed an Armistice with Germany at Brest-Litovsk. The terms of the treaty were harsh: Russia had to surrender Poland, the Ukraine and other regions. They had to stop all Socialist propaganda directed at Germany and pay 300 million roubles for the repatriation of Russian prisoners.
April 1918 RAF formed The Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service were merged to form the Royal Air Force.
8 – 11 Aug 1918 Battle of Amiens The British general, Haig, ordered the attack of the German sector at Amiens. At the same time the news came through that the allies had broken through from Salonika and forced Bulgaria to sue for peace.
mid Oct 1918 Allies recover France and Belgium The allies had taken almost all of German-occupied France and part of Belgium.
30 Oct 1918 Armistice with Turkey The allies had successfully pushed the Turkish army back and the Turks were forced to ask for an armistice. The terms of the armistice treaty allowed the allies access to the Dardenelles.
early Nov 1918 Hindenberg line collapsed By the beginning of November the allies had pushed the Germans back beyond the Hindenberg line.
9 Nov 1918 Kaiser abdicated Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated.
11 Nov 1918 Armistice signed At 11 am, in the French town of Redonthes, the Armistice was signed bringing the war to an end.

 

 

Causes of World War 1

The first world war began in August 1914. It was directly triggered by the assassination of the Austrian archduke, Franz Ferdinand and his wife, on 28th June 1914 by Bosnian revolutionary, Gavrilo Princip.

This event was, however, simply the trigger that set off declarations of war. The actual causes of the war are more complicated and are still debated by historians today.

Alliances

An alliance is an agreement made between two or more countries to give each other help if it is needed. When an alliance is signed, those countries become known as Allies.

A number of alliances had been signed by countries between the years 1879 and 1914. These were important because they meant that some countries had no option but to declare war if one of their allies. declared war first. (the table below reads clockwise from the top left picture)

1879
The Dual Alliance

Alliances
Germany and Austria-Hungary made an alliance to protect themselves from Russia
1881
Austro-Serbian Alliance

Alliances
Austria-Hungary made an alliance with Serbia to stop Russia gaining control of Serbia
1882
The Triple Alliance

Alliances
Germany and Austria- Hungary made an alliance with Italy to stop Italy from taking sides with Russia
1914
Triple Entente (no separate peace)

Alliances
Britain, Russia and France agreed not to sign for peace separately.
Arrows 1894
Franco-Russian Alliance

Alliances
Russia formed an alliance with France to protect herself against Germany and Austria-Hungary
1907
Triple Entente

Alliances
This was made between Russia, France and Britain to counter the increasing threat from Germany.
1907
Anglo-Russian Entente

Alliances
This was an agreement between Britain and Russia
1904
Entente Cordiale

Alliances
This was an agreement, but not a formal alliance, between France and Britain.

Imperialism

Imperialism is when a country takes over new lands or countries and makes them subject to their rule. By 1900 the British Empire extended over five continents and France had control of large areas of Africa. With the rise of industrialism countries needed new markets. The amount of lands ‘owned’ by Britain and France increased the rivalry with Germany who had entered the scramble to acquire colonies late and only had small areas of Africa. Note the contrast in the map below.

Map of Empires 1914

Militarism

Militarism means that the army and military forces are given a high profile by the government. The growing European divide had led to an arms race between the main countries. The armies of both France and Germany had more than doubled between 1870 and 1914 and there was fierce competition between Britain and Germany for mastery of the seas. The British had introduced the ‘Dreadnought’, an effective battleship, in 1906. The Germans soon followed suit introducing their own battleships. The German, Von Schlieffen also drew up a plan of action that involved attacking France through Belgium if Russia made an attack on Germany. The map below shows how the plan was to work.

Schlieffen Plan

Nationalism

Nationalism means being a strong supporter of the rights and interests of one’s country. The Congress of Vienna, held after Napoleon’s exile to Elba, aimed to sort out problems in Europe. Delegates from Britain, Austria, Prussia and Russia (the winning allies) decided upon a new Europe that left both Germany and Italy as divided states. Strong nationalist elements led to the re-unification of Italy in 1861 and Germany in 1871. The settlement at the end of the Franco-Prussian war left France angry at the loss of Alsace-Lorraine to Germany and keen to regain their lost territory. Large areas of both Austria-Hungary and Serbia were home to differing nationalist groups, all of whom wanted freedom from the states in which they lived.

Crises

Moroccan Crisis

In 1904 Morocco had been given to France by Britain, but the Moroccans wanted their independence. In 1905, Germany announced her support for Moroccan independence. War was narrowly avoided by a conference which allowed France to retain possession of Morocco. However, in 1911, the Germans were again protesting against French possession of Morocco. Britain supported France and Germany was persuaded to back down for part of French Congo.

Bosnian Crisis

In 1908, Austria-Hungary took over the former Turkish province of Bosnia. This angered Serbians who felt the province should be theirs. Serbia threatened Austria-Hungary with war, Russia, allied to Serbia, mobilized its forces. Germany, allied to Austria-Hungary mobilised its forces and prepared to threaten Russia. War was avoided when Russia backed down. There was, however, war in the Balkans between 1911 and 1912 when the Balkan states drove Turkey out of the area. The states then fought each other over which area should belong to which state. Austria-Hungary then intervened and forced Serbia to give up some of its acquisitions. Tension between Serbia and Austria-Hungary was high.

 

A Closer Look at the Origins of World War 1

At first it all seemed very far away. The possibility of a Great War engulfing Europe had not become a reality since the terrifying days of the Napoleonic Wars. But it did not begin due to failure of diplomacy. The reasons for the beginning of World War One all start with a wrong turn taken on a road in Sarajevo.

On 28 June 1914 the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Countess Sophie, were assassinated in Sarajevo, Bosnia. It was the couple’s fourteenth wedding anniversary. They were utterly devoted; indeed it sometimes seemed Sophie was Ferdinand’s only friend. Politically liberal and personally difficult, Ferdinand had married against the wishes of his uncle, Austria’s emperor Franz Joseph. As a result, his children were removed from any right to succession, but he was still next in line to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

An empire it surely was, even if its welter of nationalities were only tenuously welded together. Ferdinand was an Austrian, skeptical of Hungarians, married to a Czech, and inclined to be indulgent with Croats and Serbs. His reputation for liberalism—in what was a tolerant, cosmopolitan, fatalistic, conservative-reactionary empire, which regarded itself, in the famous Viennese phrase, as being in a situation that was hopeless but not serious—came largely from his support for expanding the dual monarchy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire into a tripartite monarchy that would have given greater autonomy to the Slavs.

It was not a popular position. Austrian hardliners saw no reason for change, Hungarians feared it would lessen their influence, and Slavic nationalists did not want their people reconciled to Austrian rule; they wanted violence, bloodshed, and nationalist revolution. On 28 June 1914, one of their number—Gavrilo Princip, a tubercular student, an atheist in a famously Catholic if multireligious empire, and a member of the Black Hand, a Serbian terrorist movement—committed the murders that eventually created an independent Yugoslavia, all at the cost of a cataclysmic world war.

What started World War 1 began with one death. It ended with 17 million more dead.

ATTEMPTING TO HOLD THE EMPIRE TOGETHER

Austria-Hungary’s statesmen knew just how vulnerable they were as a multinational empire. Avenging Franz Ferdinand’s death—even if he was not much liked—was necessary to affirm the dual monarchy’s staying power. Heirs to the throne simply could not be picked off by Slavic nationalists at will and without consequences.While the reaction throughout much of Europe was measured, shock mingling with the assumption that this was a local affair—there was always something new out of Austria-Hungary—Austria’s foreign minister, Count Leopold von Berchtold, advocated “a final and fundamental reckoning with Serbia,” a terror-sponsoring state, the power behind the assassins. He was supported by the hawkish chief of the Austrian general staff, Count Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf, who recognized the danger of Slavic nationalism if it were led by Serbia rather than contained within the Habsburg Empire.

If the the start of the war were limited to Serbia, the empire could fight it successfully. But of Europe’s five great powers—Austria-Hungary, Germany, France, Russia, and Britain—Austria-Hungary was by far the weakest; it could make no pretense to dominate Europe; defending itself in the Balkans was challenge enough. Barely a quarter of its army was Austrian, another near quarter was Hungarian, and the rest, the majority, was a motley of Czechs, Italians, and Slavs whose devotion to the dual monarchy was open to question. Germany was Austria’s necessary ally to keep the Russian bear from mauling the Austrian eagle—especially as the Russian bear made a pretense of looking on the Balkan states as her lost cubs. What the Russian bear wanted most of all was to splash in the warm water port of Constantinople, the gateway from the Black Sea to the Aegean Sea and the Mediterranean, and her cubs could lead her there.

THE GERMAN BLUNDERBUSS

The Austrians took the position that one was either with the dual monarchy or with the terrorists. Germany was with the dual monarchy. But despite Prussian stereotypes to the contrary, turmoil in the Balkans potentially pitting Austria-Hungary against Russia had for decades made Germany the peacemaker of Central Europe. In the famous formulation of Otto von Bismarck, chancellor of the German Reich from 1871 to 1890, “The whole Eastern question”—by which he meant the Balkans—“is not worth the healthy bones of a Pomeranian musketeer.”

Germany was Europe’s most powerful state. United only since 1871 (before that it had been a congeries of kingdoms, principalities, duchies, free cities, and confederations), Germany was an industrial superpower, with the second-largest manufacturing economy in the world (behind the United States), double the steel production of Britain, and world leadership in fields from applied chemistry to electrical engineering. Germany’s industrious population was growing—to 65 million in 1913—casting an ominous shadow over the French, who, for all their reputation as lovers, were not having babies; France boasted a population of only 39 million.

The German education system was broad, deep, and effective, stamping out engineers, physicists, and highly trained specialists in every academic and technical field—including the profession of arms, where even the lowliest private was literate. So professional, well-trained, and highly educated was the German army—and so politically dominant was militaristic Prussia within Germany—that the Second Reich was really the kingdom of the German general staff.

But Bismarck knew how important it was for Germany, having forged itself through “blood and iron,” to reassure Europe that it was a “contented” power. His chief foreign policy goal was to isolate France and keep Germany allied with Austria and Russia. As Bismarck said, “I am holding two powerful heraldic beasts by their collars, and am keeping them apart for two reasons: first of all, lest they should tear each other to pieces; and secondly, lest they should come to an understanding at our expense.”

All this changed with the arrival of Kaiser Wilhelm II, who assumed the throne in 1888 and dismissed Bismarck two years later. The Kaiser did not follow Theodore Roosevelt’s foreign policy admonition about speaking softly and carrying a big stick. Instead, he spoke like an exploding blunderbuss while insisting on having the biggest stick possible and waving it furiously. He practiced diplomatic brinksmanship, thrusting himself forward, asserting German rights—and then almost invariably backing down, grumbling about the lack of respect granted to his empire.

He twisted the lion’s tail when he could. About a third of the world’s Muslim population lived under the Union Jack, so the Kaiser made a trip to Damascus in 1898 and declared himself a Teutonic Saladin: “The [Ottoman] sultan and the 300 million Muslims who revere him as their spiritual leader should know that the German Emperor is their friend forever.” German railroad engineers backed his boast by helping to build the Berlin-to-Baghdad railway and the Hijaz Railway from Damascus to Medina—neither of which was completed before the war, but both of which Britain saw as potential threats to India.

Germany’s diplomatic sabre-rattling had inspired some odd alliances. Since 1892 anti-clerical republican France had been allied with Orthodox czarist Russia. Russia was notoriously weak—her armed forces had been humiliated in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–1905—but the German general staff could not discount her size (170 million people) or her potential to cause trouble in the Balkans. In the west, Britain’s John Bull became the unlikely escort of the French Marianne in 1904 with the Entente Cordiale. On its face the entente simply resolved imperial issues, but de facto it made Britain an ally of France. It was followed in 1912 by an Anglo-French naval agreement committing the Royal Navy to defend France’s Atlantic coast. In 1907, Britain even agreed to an entente with Russia, which had long been regarded as the great imperial threat to British India. In British eyes the railroad-building, battleship-constructing, Boer-supporting, philo-Islamic German Kaiser had become the greater threat; and the Russians were equally worried that Germany’s increasingly friendly relationship with the Ottoman Turks could block their dream of acquiring Constantinople.

AUSTRIA DECLARES A SMALL WAR; FRANCE, RUSSIA, AND GERMANY MAKE IT A BIGGER ONE

On 23 July, Austria delivered an ultimatum to Serbia. The assassination of the Archduke had put an end to Austrian tolerance. Austria demanded that Serbia ban all propaganda directed against the Habsburg Empire, shut down the nationalist organizations that fanned it, allow Austrian officials to help suppress anti-imperial groups in Serbia, sack Serbian officers as specified by Austria, and allow imperial investigators to bring the terrorists who had conspired against the Archduke to justice. The Serbians were given forty-eight hours to respond. To the Austrians’ surprise, the Serbians agreed to almost everything, quibbling only at allowing Austrian police onto Serbian territory, which the Serbs considered an unacceptable violation of their sovereignty. Even the Kaiser thought Serbia’s response was a “capitulation of the most humiliating character. Now that Serbia has given in, all grounds for war have disappeared.” For the Austrians the point had been to establish the pretext for war, not to get Serbian agreement, and Austria decided Serbia’s response was insufficient. On 28 July, the Habsburg Empire declared war on Serbia.

The Austrians’ declaration of war put the cat among the pigeons, or the Teutons among the Slavs. But the first major power to go on full mobilization for what could be a wider war was not Austria or Germany, it was Russia. Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Sazonov saw the Austrian ultimatum as a starting pistol—“c’est la guerre européene!”—that provided Russia cover (and allies) for a strategic lunge at Constantinople.

Encouraging Russian belligerence was France, which had its own territorial designs if Russia could tie down German armies on an eastern front. For more than forty years, the French had wanted to regain the territory of Alsace-Lorraine in southwestern Germany. The French knew they could not regain the territory by diplomacy or by fighting Germany on their own. The French could never instigate a war; they could only hope for one in which they had surrounded Germany with enemies and strengthened themselves with allies. And now they had done just that. With the Entente Cordiale, the French believed they had seduced Britain from her previous policy of “splendid isolation” from the Continent. The “Triple Entente” had put the Russian steamroller in the East on the side of la belle France, and in the West procured her the tacit support of the world’s largest navy, backed by the resources of the world’s largest empire.

While Europe’s diplomats and statesmen talked peace, more than a few wanted war. All the major belligerents in the First World War, with the exception of the British Empire and the United States, entered the war thinking they had something to gain. In one sense, what started World War I was opportunism. But all had made fatal miscalculations. Austria, in its desire to punish the Serbs, had misjudged the possibility of a greater war. The Russians, with their eyes on seizing Constantinople, failed to recognize how vulnerable their society was to the shock of a European conflagration. French revanchists misjudged the price of glory.

Germany military planning was for a two-front war. The Schlieffen Plan, drawn up by Field Marshal Alfred Graf von Schlieffen in 1905—and implemented in 1914 by General Helmuth von Moltke the Younger, chief of the German general staff—was to knock out France in six weeks with one enormous blow and then turn Germany’s full strength against the lumbering Russians. Schlieffen polished his plan until the end of his life in 1913. From a purely military point of view, it was a plan of genius, and had it been implemented as designed it might very well have achieved its aims. But the Achilles’ heel of the plan was its amorality. It utterly disregarded the rights of neutral Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg—rights that Germany was pledged to uphold. While to the German general staff these rights were insignificant, they became the direct cause of British intervention in the war.

On 1 August, the Germans declared war on Russia; two days later they declared war on France; and on 4 August, they invaded Belgium, which had rejected Germany’s ultimatum for free passage of its troops. Britain then declared war on Germany. German chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg rebuked Britain’s ambassador to Berlin: “Just for a scrap of paper, Britain is going to make war on a kindred nation.” That amoral disregard for scraps of paper was one reason Europe’s Armageddon had begun.

When Sir Edward Grey, Britain’s foreign secretary, received word that Germany had declared war on France, he was watching the street lamps being lit below his office window. He remarked to a friend, “The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.” In the United States, the lamps would continue to burn brightly, and they would be lit again in Europe, but only after the New World came to redress the balance in the Old.

The Assassination of Franz Ferdinand

Franz Ferdinand, aged 51, was heir to the Austro-Hungarian empire. He was married to Sophie Chotek von Chotvoka and had three children. Franz Ferdinand was, however, very unpopular because he had made it clear that once he became Emperor he would make changes.

The map below, of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1914, shows that Bosnia/ Herzegovnia was controlled by Austria. Austria had annexed Bosnia in 1908, a move that was not popular with the Bosnian people.

Franz Ferdinand decided to visit Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovnia, to make an inspection of the Austro-Hungarian troops there. The inspection was scheduled for 28th June 1914. It was planned that Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie would be met at the station and taken by car to the City Hall where they would have lunch before going to inspect the troops.

A Serbian terrorist group, called The Black Hand, had decided that the Archduke should be assassinated and the planned visit provided the ideal opportunity. Seven young men who had been trained in bomb throwing and marksmanship were stationed along the route that Franz Ferdinand’s car would follow from the City Hall to the inspection.

The first two terrorists were unable to throw their grenades because the streets were too crowded and the car was travelling quite fast. The third terrorist, a young man called Cabrinovic, threw a grenade which exploded under the car following that of the Archduke. Although the Archduke and his wife were unhurt, some of his attendants were injured and had to be taken to hospital.

After lunch at the City Hall, Franz Ferdinand insisted on visiting the injured attendants in hospital. However, on the way to the hospital the driver took a wrong turn. Realising his mistake he stopped the car and began to reverse. Another terrorist, named Gavrilo Princip, stepped forward and fired two shots. The first hit the pregnant Sophia in the stomach, she died almost instantly. The second shot hit the Archduke in the neck. He died a short while later.

Gavrilo Princip was arrested but was not executed because he was under 20 years. He was sentenced to twenty years in prison where he died of TB in 1918.

 

Theatres of War in World War 1

The Theatres of War of the First World War are listed in this article, particularly those on the Western Front in France, Belgium, and elsewhere. Although World War One was a world war, most of the fighting was confined to a few key areas. These areas are usually referred to as the theatres of war.

  • Western Front
  • Eastern Front
  • Italian Front
  • Gallipoli
  • The War at Sea

The German army crossed the Belgian border on August 3rd 1914. Britain and France declared war on Germany on August 4th. The Germans pushed through Belgium, occupying Brussels before entering France.

The British and French armies marched to stop the German advance. The Battle of Marne 4th – 10th September prevented the Germans from marching on Paris.

To avoid losing the territory already gained in France, the Germans began digging trenches. The British and French unable to break through the line of trenches, began to dig their own trenches. Throughout the entire war, neither side gained more than a few miles of ground along what became known as the Western Front.

The map above, which can be clicked to enlarge, shows the geographical position of the Western Front stretching from Belgium in the north to Switzerland in the south. Each coloured square represents 50,000 men. Yellow represents the German army, blue the French, red the British and orange the Belgian army.

Battles fought along this front include – Marne, September 1914; first battle of Ypres, October – November 1914; Verdun, February – December 1916; Somme, July – November 1916; Passchendale, July – November 1917; Cambrai, November 1917; Marne, July 1918.

Full details of all Western Front battles can be found at  http://www.firstworldwar.com/battles/wf.htm

Eastern Front

 

The line of fighting on the Eastern side of Europe between Russia and Germany and Austria-Hungary is known as the Eastern Front.

Fighting began on the Eastern front when Russia invaded East Prussia on 17th August 1914. Germany immediately launched a counter-offensive and pushed Russia back. This pattern of attack and counter-attack continued for the first two years of the war and meant that the Eastern Front changed position as land was captured and lost by both sides.

By 1917, the Russian people were fed up and demoralised by the huge number of Russian losses. The government and monarchy were overthrown and the new Bolshevik government signed the treaty of Brest Litovsk which took the Russians out of the war.

The map above, which can be clicked to enlarge, shows the geographical location of the Eastern front stretching from Riga in the north to Czernowitz in the south. The orange line shows the position of the Eastern Front in 1915. Each coloured square represents 50,000 men. Red represents the Russian army, yellow, German soldiers and blue Austro-Hungarian.

Battles fought along this front include – Tannenberg, August 1914; Masurian Lakes, September 1914; Bolimov, January 1915; Lake Naroch, March 1916; Riga, September 1917.

Full details of all eastern Front battles can be found at http://www.firstworldwar.com/battles/ef.htm

Italian Front

 

Prior to the outbreak of war in August 1914, Italy had tended to side with Germany and Austria-Hungary. To begin with, Italy kept out of the war. However, tempted by offers of more land once the war was won, Italy entered the war in April 1915 on the side of the allies.

The Italian front is the name given to the fighting that took place along the border between Italy and Austria. The Italians only managed to advance a short way into Austria (shown by the red line on the map [Click to enlarge]). Between 1915 and 1917 there were twelve battles fought along the river Isonzo. just inside the Austrian border (shown in blue on the map). After being defeated at the battle of Caporetto the Italians were pushed back. The 1918 location of the Italian front is marked on the map in yellow.

Full details of all Italian Front battles can be found at http://www.firstworldwar.com/battles/if.htm

Gallipoli

 

The Gallipoli peninsula is located in the south of Turkey. In 1915, the allied commanders decided to try to attack Germany by attacking her ally, Turkey.  Allied soldiers, mainly from Australia and New Zealand, were sent to the Peninsula while British ships tried to force a way through the Dardanelles.

The entire mission was a failure. The allies lost more than 50,000 men but gained hardly any land. The map above, which can be clicked to enlarge, shows the front line. The blue line shows the allies position while the green shows the Turkish line.

Full details of all battles fought on the Gallipoli front can be found at http://www.firstworldwar.com/battles/gf.htm

The War at Sea

Even before hostilities began, Germany and Britain were involved in a naval race for mastery of the seas. Britain had a long tradition of being the master of the seas and Germany knew that she was unlikely to win a naval war against Britain. For this reason, Germany tended to avoid open naval conflict with Britain.

Britain’s main naval tactic was to keep German ships in German ports and to block supplies from reaching Germany. Germany’s main naval tactic was to post u-boats in the Atlantic ocean and to destroy ships taking supplies from America and other countries to Britain. On 7th May 1915, the passenger liner Lusitania, was torpedoed by a German submarine. Nearly 1200 civilians lost their lives.

The most notable sea battle of World War One was the Battle of Jutland between Germany and Britain, which ended inconclusively.

 

The Outbreak of Hostilities

When Sir Edward Grey, Britain’s foreign secretary, received word that Germany had declared war on France, he was watching the street lamps being lit below his office window. He remarked to a friend, “The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.” In the United States, the lamps would continue to burn brightly, and they would be lit again in Europe, but only after the New World came to redress the balance in the Old.

To reach France, Germany overran Belgium. But Belgium was more than overrun, it was terrorized. While propagandists exaggerated German atrocities in Belgium, the reality was striking enough. The Germans razed Belgian villages and executed villagers—men, women, and children, eventually numbering into the thousands—en masse. Priests, as authority figures and potential symbols of resistance, were particular targets. If that outraged some, even more were outraged by the burning and looting of the famous university town of Louvain. Over the course of five days, beginning on 25 August 1914, the Germans pillaged the city. Its celebrated library, with its collection of medieval manuscripts, was put to the torch; its townspeople were driven out as refugees.

NECESSITY KNOWS NO LAW”

The Germans, however, believed they were fighting a war for civilization—for German Kultur against Latin decadence and Slavic barbarism. The highly educated German general staff had readily adopted social Darwinist ideas and applied them to the conduct of war—for example, in General Friedrich von Bernhardi’s book Germany and the Next War (published in 1911). He called war “a biological necessity” in the struggle for existence, adding that war “is not merely a necessary element in the life of nations, but an indispensable factor of culture, in which a true civilized nation finds the highest expression of strength and vitality.”

The first problem was the Belgians. They refused to capitulate, blunting the initial German assault, inflicting heavy casualties, and withdrawing only when the German army’s determination to stay on schedule at any price was backed by heavy guns. Despite gallant Belgian resistance, the German juggernaut bombarded its way through the country: the Germans took Brussels on 20 August and sped to France.

The French, meanwhile, in traditional finery—blue coats, red trousers, officers in white gloves, all of which gave courage to their hearts if not concealment from the enemy—stormed into Lorraine and the forest of the Ardennes to be met by Germans in field grey manning entrenched machine guns and artillery. The results were what might be expected: a grand sacrifice pour la patrie. In the single month of August, 10 percent of the French officer corps fell as casualties.

As the Germans made their great wide sweep through Belgium and into France, they stubbed their toe on the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) on the far left of the French line at the Belgian city of Mons. At the war’s commencement, Kaiser Wilhelm had ordered the BEF destroyed, dismissing it as a “contemptibly small army.” Small it was, at least in the context of the Great War. About eighty thousand men of the BEF were at the Battle of Mons on 23 August. Contemptible it was not, as the British regulars stopped the German advance before being ordered to withdraw against an enemy that had twice their number of men and guns. The Battle of Mons was the sort of thing the British specialize in—heroic withdrawals, which if they do not win wars at least exemplify the bulldog spirit. The Battle of Mons inspired a legend about the Angels of Mons, where St. George and the Bowmen of Agincourt were said to have descended from the heavens to help the British.

In the East, Austria had to divert troops from its Serbian offensive to fend off the Russians, and a worried Moltke reinforced East Prussia. Before those reinforcements arrived, the German Eighth Army, under Generals Paul von Hindenburg (called out of retirement to meet the crisis) and Erich von Ludendorff, had knocked the wheels off the Russian steamroller, destroying its Second Army at the Battle of Tannenberg (26–30 August). Russian losses (170,000 casualties, more than 90,000 of them surrendering) were greater in size than the entire German Eighth Army, which suffered 12,000 casualties. The stolid, determined Hindenburg, the embodiment of the tough, dutiful virtues of the Prussian aristocracy, became a hero, as did the emotionally tempestuous and not quite as well-born Ludendorff. Ludendorff, brilliant and aggressive, had already made his name and been awarded the Blue Max for his conduct in Belgium, where he had taken a sword and pounded on the gates of the citadel at Liège, and accepted the surrender of hundreds of Belgian soldiers.

Though impeded in the West and outnumbered in the East, the Germans were crushing their enemies, proving themselves the best soldiers in Europe. The Austrians, however, were taking a pounding. The Austrian Field Marshal Conrad von Hötzendorff was as aggressive as Ludendorff but with an army incapable of carrying out his ambitious plans. By the end of 1914, the Habsburg Empire had suffered an astonishing number of casualties—more than six hundred thousand men—and was in constant need of German support. Many German officers felt that being allied to the Habsburg Empire was, in the famous phrase, like being “shackled to a corpse.”

While the Austrians were struggling, the Germans had blown through Belgium and now appeared almost unstoppable: the French government felt compelled to evacuate Paris on 2 September. One very important Frenchman, however, retained his savoir faire. The French commander General Joseph Joffre—walrus-moustached, imposing, imperturbable—rallied his army for what became “the miracle of the Marne.” French troops, still in their prideful blue coats and pantaloons rouge, came ferried to the front in an armada of French taxis pressed into emergency service. The French hit the exhausted German First and Second Armies, surrounding them on three sides and bringing them to a shuddering halt; Moltke had a nervous breakdown, fearing he had stumbled into a disaster (though the Germans were able to extricate themselves); and the Schlieffen Plan fell to pieces. Two million men fought at the First Battle of the Marne (5–12 September 1914), and the consequence of this epic battle was not just an Anglo-French parrying of the German slash and thrust, it was a stalemated war of trenches from which there appeared no escape.

STALEMATE

When Confederate veteran John Singleton Mosby was asked to comment on the trench warfare in Europe, he said that Robert E. Lee or Stonewall Jackson would have found a way around. “As it is, the forces are just killing. The object of war is not to kill. It is to disable the military power.” But with all due respect to Mosby, Jackson, and Lee, there was no easy way around.

If you followed the war through American newspapers, you were getting a quick refresher course in the geography of Europe and Asia as generals struggled to find a way to break the deadlock on the Western Front. In 1914, there was the “race to the sea,” with both sides attempting to outflank each other in northwestern France and southwestern Belgium. When the belligerents’ confronting trenches stretched from the English Channel to Switzerland, there were attempts to turn more distant strategic flanks, as in the Gallipoli Campaign against the Turks in 1915. Of massive battles there was no shortage, but by sticking pins in a map you could see that huge expenditures of men often moved the armies hardly at all, or moved them in ways that seemed marginal to any ultimate victory.

French fought the First Battle of Ypres (19 October to 22 November 1914), where each side tried to gain the offensive in southwestern Belgium. The resulting combined casualties were nearly three hundred thousand men. While the Entente Powers blocked German attempts to renew the rightward thrust of the Schlieffen Plan, the battle also marked the end of the British regulars, the “Old Contemptibles.” They had fought brilliantly throughout, starting at the Battle of Mons, but were worn to the quick by casualties.

French’s last battle with the BEF was the Battle of Loos (25 September to 14 October 1915) in northwestern France. Outnumbering the Germans in front of him, he thought he could blast his way through. The result was fifty thousand British casualties (including Rudyard Kipling’s son, John, missing, presumed dead) and half that many German. The British tried using chlorine gas, already employed by the Germans, to overcome the stasis of the trenches. Instead, it blew back over the British, who had to charge through their own poison mist. Lack of artillery support and replacements for exhausted infantry units meant that while the British captured Loos, they could go no farther and were forced to withdraw.

To the relief of the American newspaper reader, French’s replacement was the much less confusingly named Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig. Haig had the additional advantage of confirming American stereotypes that British commanding officers were all bluff, wellturned-out, well-mannered, white-moustached British aristocrats (as indeed many of them were). Haig held command of the British forces through the end of the war, so it was he who would eventually greet General John J. Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Forces, in late July 1917, about a month after Pershing arrived in France.

On the French side, American newspaper readers would have been familiar with General Joffre—who actually came to America in April 1917 on a goodwill mission after Congress’s declaration of war—because Americans still remembered him as the hero who had saved France at the Battle of the Marne. Joffre, like Sir John French, had believed the Germans could be defeated on the Western Front if the Western Allies applied sufficient artillery and men at the crucial point. Finding that crucial point, however, was proving immensely costly; it was not easily discovered.

Another familiar French general was Joffre’s fellow hero of the Marne, Ferdinand Foch. A renowned writer and lecturer on military strategy and allegedly the finest military mind of his generation, he was sixty-two years old in August 1914, and up to that point he had never seen combat. Nor had he served abroad, in the training ground of France’s empire. But those disadvantages paled to insignificance compared with his detailed understanding of the German army, which he had always regarded as the main enemy. The key problem for Foch was how to overcome German military superiority in numbers, equipment, and training. He found part of the answer in a patriotic assertion of the French spirit. Foch’s own spirit was one of the legends of the Battle of the Marne. Commanding the Ninth Army, his headquarters exposed to the enemy, he famously proclaimed, “My center is giving way, my right is in retreat. Situation excellent. I attack.”

Foch and Haig were commanders at the Battle of the Somme, which lasted from July through November 1916. To the newspaper reader, it was doubtless an awful and awe-inspiring event, with more than a million combined casualties between the Germans and the Western Allies. To the soldiers in the trenches, it was a test of fire and endurance that most of them met with incredible but matter-offact fortitude, even with “Death grinning at you from all around and hellish 5.9 inch shells shrieking through the air and shrapnel dealing death all round,” as one Australian captain wrote to his parents. “I don’t know how long I stood it without breaking.” He was “very thankful to get my wound as it got me out of the firing line for a rest.” Rest, aside from the permanent kind, was hard to come by.

The Battle of the Somme was an Anglo-French offensive to break the German line in northwestern France through a mighty assault; the hope was to force a gap that would allow cavalry (and tanks, which made their first appearance here) to plunge through, starting a war of movement that would end the deadlock of the trenches. The British lost nearly sixty thousand casualties on the first day of the Battle of the Somme trying to make this happen, with an opening artillery barrage so earth-shattering it was heard across the English Channel. But in four and a half months of battle, there never was a major gap to exploit. The Somme was primarily a British battle, and Haig kept thinking that a tenaciously pursued offensive must eventually “overthrow” the enemy. His resolute confidence was not matched by his political minders in London, who wondered how such losses could be justified, even as part of a war of attrition, for such minimal territorial gains. German lines had been pushed back six or seven miles at most.

The Battle of the Somme was preceded and outlasted by another battle equally enormous in cost, the Battle of Verdun, fought between the Germans and the French from February to December 1916. Erich von Falkenhayn, Helmuth von Moltke’s successor as chief of the German general staff (since November 1914), recognized that attacks against fortified lines were generally futile, but nevertheless concluded that a decisive blow could be made against Verdun, a heavily fortified French city of the northeast, which projected into a pocket of the German front line. The French, out of pride and because it guarded a path to Paris, could not abandon it, and for that reason Falkenhayn believed he could turn Verdun, ringed on three sides by the Germans, into a killing ground for the French army, a massive battle of attrition fought by artillery. The Germans opened with a barrage that lasted nine hours.

General Philippe Pétain was given command of the citadel of Verdun. He would not relinquish it. Pétain, who believed in superior firepower as the way to win battles, worked hard to keep Verdun well supplied, tried to match German artillery shells with his own, and rotated his men to lessen the nerve-shattering effects of perpetual bombardment. The Germans, commanded in the field by Crown Prince Wilhelm, inflicted enormous numbers of casualties, but ended the battle suffering almost as badly as the French; and because Verdun was held, it was the French who claimed the victory. Frenchmen, and Americans who read about the battle, would remember the order given in June 1916 by Pétain’s subordinate, General Robert Nivelle, commanding the French Second Army at Verdun: “They shall not pass”—and the Germans, by battle’s end, had not. By the time the Americans arrived in France, Pétain was commander in chief of the French army, and Hindenburg had replaced Falkenhayn as chief of the German general staff.

 

World War 1 Trenches: The Heart of Battle

Trench warfare characterized much of the fighting during World War One, particularly along the Western Front. Trench systems were complicated with many interlinking lines of trenches.

ww1 trenches

Front Line Trench Cross Section

Artillery Line

The artillery line was where the big field guns were located. They were used to fire shells at the enemy. The noise from a barrage of guns was deafening.

Communication Trench

The communication trenches were used to move between the front and rear trenches. They were also used to transport injured men to the field hospitals.

Support Trenches

The support trenches provided a second line of defense in case the front line trench was taken by the enemy. They also contained first aid stations and kitchens to ensure men in the front line had medical treatment and hot food.

Bunker

The underground bunkers were used to store food, weapons and artillery. They were also used as command centres and had a telephone link to report information and receive instructions. The underground bunkers also offered the men protection from fire and the elements.

Traverse

Trenches were not built in straight lines. This was so that if the enemy managed to get into the front line trench they would not have a straight firing line along the trench. Trenches were therefore built with alternating straight and angled lines. The traverse was the name given to the angled parts of the trench.

Machine Gun Nest

The machine gun nest was where the machine guns were located. They were manned by two or three soldiers who fired on any advancing enemy.

Front Line Trench

The front line trenches were generally about 8 feet deep and between 4 and 6 feet wide. Soldiers would spend around a week in the front line trench then would spend a week in the rear trenches or a rest camp. Life at the front line was not pleasant; soldiers were liable to be hit by enemy fire or sometimes by their own artillery. The soldier in the picture is standing on a fire-step – built to enable men to see out of the trench and also to climb out to venture into no-man’s land.

Barbed Wire

Barbed wire was used extensively in the trench warfare of world war one. It was laid, several rows deep, by both sides to protect the front line trench. Wire breaks were placed at intervals to allow men access to no man’s land. However attackers had to locate the wire breaks and many men lost their lives through becoming entangled in the wire and shot.

Listening Post

Listening posts were used to monitor enemy activity. They were usually approximately 30 metres in front of the front line trench. The man in this picture is using a stethoscope to listen to the enemy.

No Man’s Land

No Man’s Land was the name given to the area between the two lines of trenches. It was the land that both sides were fighting to gain control of.

Sandbags

Sandbags were used to protect the soldiers from enemy rifle fire. They were, however, less effective in the event of shell fire. Sandbags were also sometimes placed in the bottom of the trench to soak up water.

Parapet

The parapet was the name given to the front wall of the trench – that is, the wall nearest to the enemy. It would often be strengthened with wood and then covered with sandbags. The sandbags protected the heads of the men standing on the fire step from rifle fire.

Bolt Hole/Dug Out

The bolt hole or dug out was built into the sides of the trench. The earth was shored up with wood and the roof often lined with corrugated iron. The men used the bolt hole for protection, eating and sleeping.

Duck Board/Sump

To prevent the trenches from becoming waterlogged, a narrow drainage channel known as a sump would be built at the bottom of the trench. This would then be covered with wooden trench boards known as duck boards.

Soldiers who spent prolonged periods of time standing in waterlogged trenches were liable to suffer from frostbite and/or trench foot. To prevent trench foot, soldiers were instructed to change their socks frequently, wear waterproof footwear and to cover their feet with whale oil.

Parados

The parados was the name given to the back wall of the trench – that is, the wall farthest away from the enemy. It would often be strengthened with wood and then covered with sandbags.

Trench Block

A trench block was a wood and wire structure that was made to block the trenches and prevent the enemy from advancing through a trench system.

Machine Gun

The machine gun was the most widely used weapon in world war one. The guns were very heavy and had to be supported on a tripod. They also required three or four men to operate them. The men in this picture are also wearing gas masks for protection against gas attacks.

 

World War 1 Weapons

During World War One a variety of weapons were used. The tried-and-true small arms and artillery were prominent features of the battlefield, as they had been for the last three centuries. But in the early 20th century a number of technological innovations created entirely new classes of weapons. These WW1 weapons were responsible for the staggering scale of death from the Great War.

Rifle

The main weapon used by British soldiers in the trenches was the bolt-action rifle. 15 rounds could be fired in a minute and a person 1,400 meters away could be killed.

 Machine Gun

Machine guns needed 4-6 men to work them and had to be on a flat surface. They had the fire-power of 100 guns.

Large field guns had a long range and could deliver devastating blows to the enemy but needed up to 12 men to work them. They fired shells which exploded on impact.

Gas

The German army were the first to use chlorine gas at the battle of Ypres in 1915. Chlorine gas causes a burning sensation in the throat and chest pains. Death is painful – you suffocate! The problem with chlorine gas is that the weather must be right. If the wind is in the wrong direction it could end up killing your own troops rather than the enemy.

Mustard gas was the most deadly weapon used. It was fired into the trenches in shells. It is colourless and takes 12 hours to take effect. Effects include: blistering skin, vomiting, sore eyes, internal and external bleeding. Death can take up to 5 weeks.

 Zeppelin

The Zeppelin, also known as blimp, was an airship that was used during the early part of the war in bombing raids by the Germans. They carried machine guns and bombs. However, they were abandoned because they were easy to shoot out of the sky.

 Tank

Tanks were used for the first time in the First World War at the Battle of the Somme. They were developed to cope with the conditions on the Western Front. The first tank was called ‘Little Willie’ and needed a crew of 3. Its maximum speed was 3mph and it could not cross trenches.

The more modern tank was not developed until just before the end of the war. It could carry 10 men, had a revolving turret and could reach 4mph.

Planes

Planes were also used for the first time. At first they were used to deliver bombs and for spying work but became fighter aircraft armed with machine guns, bombs and some times cannons. Fights between two planes in the sky became known as ‘dogfights’

Torpedoes

Torpedoes were used by submarines. The Germans used torpedoes to blow up ships carrying supplies from America to Britain.

The Germans torpedoed the passenger liner Lusitania on May 1st 1915 which sank with a loss of 1,195 lives. Americans were outraged and joined the war in 1917 on the side of the allies.

 

Zeppelin Raids

On the morning of January 19th 1915 two German Zeppelin airships, the L3 and L4 took off from Fuhlsbüttel in Germany. Both airships carried 30 hours of fuel, 8 bombs and 25 incendiary devices. They had been given permission by the Emperor Wilhelm II to attack military and industrial buildings. The Emperor had forbidden an attack on London due to concern for the Royal family to whom he was related.

The two German Zeppelin airships crossed the Norfolk coastline at around 8.30pm. Having crossed the coast the L3 turned north and the L4 south. The incendiary bombs were dropped to enable the pilots to navigate to their chosen locations Great Yarmouth and Kings Lynn where they dropped their bombs.

A total of nine people were killed and some buildings were damaged. But the effect of the raid on a population who were used to battles being fought by soldiers on the battlefield was immense.

Morale dropped and people feared further raids and believed that a German invasion would follow.

Further raids were carried out on coastal towns and London during 1915 and 1916. The silent airships arrived without warning and with no purpose built shelters people hid in cellars or under tables. There were a total of 52 Zeppelin raids on Britain claiming the lives of more than 500 people.

Although artillery guns were used against the airships they had little effect. In May 1916 fighter planes armed with incendiary bullets were used to attack the Zeppelins. The incendiary bullets pierced the Zeppelins and ignited the hydrogen gas they were filled with. Once alight the airships fell to the ground. It was the beginning of the end of the raids.

 

US Involvement in World War 1

Although the U.S. tried to remain neutral when WW1 broke out, it finally joined on April 6, 1917 after declaring war on Germany. The reason for America to become involved in WW1 was Germany’s unrestricted submarine warfare, which had already sunk several American merchant ships. The U.S. was initially contributed to the war by supplying raw material, supplies and money. American soldiers first arrived to the Western Front by the summer of 1918 and by the end of the war, over 4,000,000 U.S. military personnel had been mobilized. 110,000 Americans died during WW1, of which 43,000 lost their lives in the influenza pandemic.

How the U.S. contributed to World War 1

Supplying raw materials, arms and other supplies. The U.S. actually saved Britain and some other Allied powers from bankruptcy by joining the war. Previously, Britain and its allies used to buy supplies from the U.S. amounting to over 75 billion dollar per week.

The American Expeditionary Forces were sent to all the campaigns the U.S. got involved in. By the time, the weary French and British troops were badly in need of relief. The first American soldiers reached Europe in June 1917 already, but only started fully participating in October in Nancy, France. The U.S. wanted its forces to be capable of operating independently, but didn’t have the necessary supplies and trained troops in Europe yet at the time.

  • The AEF fought in France against the German Forces, along with French and English allies.
  • Some fought in Italy against the Austro-Hungarian troops.
  • The AEF also fought on the Western Front at Belleau Wood and Chateau-Thierry, helping the French with the Aisne Offensive as well as other major offensives such as Meuse-Argonne and Saint Mihiel.

 

Battle of Cantigny

It was one thing for Congress to declare war—which it did on 6 April 1917 against Imperial Germany, adding Austria-Hungary on 7 December. It was quite another for America’s armed forces to wage it. Wilson’s former strict neutrality—and pacifist politicos who believed preparedness was provocative—had helped ensure that America’s war fighters were short of nearly everything but courage. The shortage included men. Though Americans rallied round the flag and damned the Kaiser, relatively few followed that up by marching down to the recruiting sergeant, at least at first. Neither the president nor the Congress had any idea how many men might be needed; some, indeed, thought the United States need only supply aid and perhaps some naval support to the embattled Western allies. Military delegations from Britain and France soon put paid to such minimalism. The war machine in Europe needed men—and America was far wealthier in young men, even if they were not yet uniformed, than it was in military material.

The regular Army was 127,000 strong, backed by 67,000 National Guardsmen in federal service and another 100,000 National Guard troops controlled by their respective governors. In terms of numbers, the United States was on par with the military strength of Portugal; in terms of supplies and training for trench warfare, and modern warfare in general, the American Army was hardly prepared at all. It was an army better suited to the wars of the past—fighting Apaches or Filipino insurgents—than the new, modern warfare of artillery and machine guns now being waged by the massive veteran armies of Europe. France and Britain weren’t looking for one hundred thousand Americans to join the Western Front—they wanted a million men, at least for starters, and they wanted them fast, before the German armies of Ludendorff and Hindenburg crashed through the Western Front.

This apparently modest army would fight its first offensive battle in the Battle of Cantigy; by doing so American announced to the world that America was a military power to be reckoned with.

BUILDING AN AMERICAN ARMY: PRELUDE TO THE BATTLE OF CANTIGNY

Given the task of forming and leading this army was the newly appointed (as of 10 May 1917) commander of the American Expeditionary Force, Major General John J. “Black Jack” Pershing, a veteran of the Indian wars and the Spanish-American War and most recently commander of the campaign against Pancho Villa. Pershing was charged with building a division that could embark for France in June. Wilson and Pershing agreed on another item: American troops would not be fed piecemeal, or “amalgamated,” into the French or British armies—however hungry they were for immediate reinforcements—but remain separate and distinct, under their own officers. This was the military corollary of President Wilson’s insistence that the United States had entered the war not as an Allied Power but as an “associated” power. To Wilson, there was still such a thing as a man too proud to be an ally. For Pershing, a different, more readily admirable, martial pride was involved.

Although there was a wave of enlistments in the days immediately after Congress declared war, to put a sufficient number of men in uniform and behind rifles—of which there was inevitably a shortage—the Wilson administration resorted to conscription, the president signing the Selective Service Act into law on 18 May 1917. By the end of the war, the Army had more than 3 million men, more than 2 million of whom had been drafted.

Not all Yanks, however, were created equal. A shocking number of conscripts were deemed unfit for service (about a third). But those who eventually landed in France had an electric effect on the population. The American soldier was big, he was confident, and as he gained experience of the “wind-pipe slitting art,” he became sardonic. What he lacked in training he made up for in élan, something the French, of all peoples, could well appreciate.

First to arrive were Pershing, his staff officers, and a smattering of sergeants and other ranks, a grand total of 187 men, including Lieutenant George S. Patton and a former race car driver named Eddie Rickenbacker, now a sergeant and a chauffeur for the general. Pershing met with General Philippe Pétain, the new commander in chief of the French army who had just averted disaster on the Western Front. In April 1917, his predecessor, General Robert Nivelle, had launched a massive offensive, deploying some 1.2 million soldiers and 7,000 artillery pieces, with which he promised to break the German line within forty-eight hours. More than three weeks later, he had gained 70 square miles at a cost of some 187,000 men. He had achieved no breakout, no rush to victory; instead, it was the long-suffering poilus who broke, with mutiny flaming through the French divisions. Nivelle was relieved, and “on the day when France had to choose between ruin and reason,” as Charles de Gaulle wrote, “Pétain was promoted.” Pétain was a friend of the common soldier and had been an open critic of Nivelle’s plan. He believed in fighting firepower with firepower and in protecting the lives of his men. He made a personal inspection of the front lines, visiting nearly every battalion, reassuring the poilus that he would not waste their lives in futile offenses, he would clean up the trenches, he would give them more generous leave; and now he could also promise them that help—in the form of American doughboys—was on the way.

American troops were eager to meet the challenge, though some of the initial arrivals had never even fired their weapons. Pershing would not be rushed; the men must be trained; and he was unimpressed by the British and French instructors available to him; he thought they taught tactical defeatism. American soldiers, he argued, should be riflemen and fight a war of mobility—not hide in trenches, ducking artillery rounds. Through the fall and into the winter—a harsh one for which they were unprepared, reviving historical memories of Valley Forge—they trained for a war of rifle-led firepower.

Men of the 1st Division began moving into a quiet sector of frontline trenches in northeastern France on 21 October 1917. The first American-fired artillery shell was sent crashing into the German lines two days later, though the sector remained relatively quiet. It was a week before an American soldier was wounded (a lieutenant on the twenty-eighth, a private on the twenty-ninth). Prior to the Battle of Cantigy, the first real action was at Artois on 3 November 1917 when a German artillery barrage was followed by a trench raid that captured eleven Americans, killed three, and wounded another five. Small beer by Great War standards, but for the doughboys it marked the beginning of serious engagement with the enemy. The war became real to the folks at home as well. The three American dead were noticed in papers across the country. They became heroes in their hometowns. In the grim toll of the Great War, they were statistics.

On 21 March 1918, German Gen. Ludendorff launched an offensive with which he meant to win the war. He knew he had miscalculated the effectiveness of German U-boats to stop the Americans. The Americans had now amassed six divisions in Europe, about 325,000 men, with more on the way. Germany, Ludendorff recognized, must seize immediately on its advantage in defeating Russia; it must fall on the Western Front with a scythe, dividing the British from the French; it must open a gap for a massive and final German invasion leading to French capitulation. Unless the German army could do that, the game was up. Ludendorff thought he had the men—and the new tactics—to make it work. He would not waste time with lengthy artillery barrages; instead they would be relatively short, concentrated, and of unsurpassed ferocity. Allied lines would be penetrated by fearsome storm troops armed with light machine guns, flamethrowers, and other havoc-wreaking weapons. Gains made by the storm troopers would be followed up by masses of infantry, supported from the air. A cousin of Ludendorff’s, General Oskar von Hutier, had employed these tactics with immense success on the Eastern Front.

Ludendorff had his Western divisions trained to inflict them on the French and the British.

Ludendorff’s offensive, codenamed Michael, was directed at the British along a fifty-mile front stretching south from Arras to La Fère on the Oise River in northeastern France. Under a cloud of poison gas, the Germans hit the Limeys—with General Hutier’s Eighteenth Army, on the southern end, making by far the biggest gains, more than nine miles the first day—eventually driving forty miles into France, effectively crippling the British Fifth Army of General Sir Hubert Gough. The French government once again prepared to evacuate itself from Paris, as booming long-range artillery shells came raining toward the capital.

But by 9 April 1918, the Allied lines had stabilized; the crisis seemed to have passed. Ludendorff then launched a second grand offensive, this time on Flanders, farther to the north, on a line extending slightly above Ypres in Belgium, to destroy the British army and isolate the French. British Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig issued his famous rallying cry to his troops that though their backs were to the wall, they had to fight it out—to the last man if necessary—lest they be driven to the sea and the war be lost.

Pershing had hoped to amass a well-trained million-man army before hurling his doughboys against the enemy, but circumstances had changed. His best-trained troops took up positions in the line. Their first major action took place south of Ludendorff’s offensives, in what was supposed to be relatively quiet Lorraine, northeastern France, at the blown-out village of Seicheprey. Two companies from the 26th “Yankee” Division, formed from New England National Guard units, held the town. The division was newly arrived at the sector, having just replaced the American 1st Division, which was moving north, to where the action was hot—though the New Englanders found Seicheprey hot enough. They engaged in small skirmishes with the Germans, the fights growing in size as the Yankees frustrated German attempts to capture prisoners for interrogation (though the Germans got a few), and inflicted embarrassing losses on the Kaiser’s troops, who were rightly proud of their professionalism, military intelligence, and ability to infiltrate Allied lines almost at will.

On 20 April, the Germans, hoping to expose American inexperience, walloped Seicheprey with artillery. Sturmtruppen then burst among the New Englanders with weapon barrels spewing flame and lead, driving the doughboys out—though only temporarily. The Yankee division counterattacked and retook Seicheprey. But the Germans had scored the propaganda victory they wanted, at least for domestic German consumption: the troops the British were counting on to save their bacon were schwein well and truly ready for the slaughter.

The New Englanders of the 26th Division thought differently. They were not shaken by the experience, they were exhilarated by it. They had met the enemy and seen him off—a test of their mettle and a preview of the big show to come. Yes, they had been taken by surprise—but the Germans had crept in under cover of fog, and German artillery had ravaged the American 26th Division’s communications. Yes, the 26th had suffered the worst casualties so far for the American Army—more than 650 men, including 136 taken prisoner—but the division had been outnumbered five to one, fought back hard, and recovered its ground in a counterattack. The Germans had hit them with everything they had, and what was the result? Aye yuh, the Yanks were back where they started, still holding the ground at Seicheprey. American newspapers treated the action at Seicheprey as proof of the hard-as-flint New England spirit. Pershing and his generals thought its temporary loss an embarrassment that needed to be expunged, and looked for a chance to strike back—not with the New England troops but with the 1st Division farther north.

At the end of the Flanders offensive, Ludendorff’s armies had moved another twenty miles forward, but the British had regrouped, dug in, and were waiting for the next German lunge. Also digging in was the Big Red One, the American Army 1st Division. It was the best-trained division Pershing had to put an American marker against Ludendorff—and it was a division that Ludendorff targeted for special attention by German artillery. The division took the place of two French divisions at Montdidier in northern France and was charged with launching the first American offensive of the war, meant to distract Ludendorff when he made his next major assault on the Allied line.

THE BATTLE OF CANTIGNY: AMERICA TAKES THE OFFENSIVE

When that assault failed to materialize on the Allied schedule, Pershing and Pétain found an objective for an American attack: Cantigny, a village on high ground that needed to be denied to German artillery spotters who were sending death and destruction into the American lines. The Battle of Cantigny would be led by the six-foot-two, 220-pound former West Point football player Colonel Hanson Ely, a man as physically imposing as he was militarily efficient. He would have the 28th Infantry Regiment at his command.

Though he trained his men well and prepared to make up for a lack of numerical superiority with surprise, speed, and massive firepower (including tanks), the Battle of Cantigny started badly. On the night of 24–25 May 1918, one of his lieutenants of engineers, carrying maps of the American positions, lost his way in no-man’s-land and was captured (and, unknown to Ely, killed) by the Germans. On 27 May, the day before Ely’s planned assault, Ludendorff’s third great offensive, Operation Blücher-Yorck, came crashing toward the Marne with an apparent objective of Paris, though the actual plan was to draw French armies to the frightened defense of their own capital, and away from the British. As a diversion from that giant feint, the Germans raided the Americans in front of Cantigny.

The Americans repelled the raids against them and went ahead with their own assault. American-manned artillery pieces under the command of General Charles P. Summerall opened up before dawn, and at 6:40 a.m. on 28 May, Ely’s units rolled forward led by French tanks. Flame-throwing Americans burnt the Germans out of their defensive positions, and the Battle of Cantigny ended quickly and with relative ease. The doughboys braced themselves for the inevitable counterattack.

It started that afternoon with a heavy German bombardment, against which the Americans had little defense because they had scant artillery of their own. The French artillery that was to support them had to be rushed away to meet the new threat on the Marne. By evening, the combination of German shells and machine gun fire had made Ely’s position tenuous. But the Americans held nevertheless. They might have been battered to pieces, but they refused to give ground to the German infantry. For three days Ely and his men held on against earth- (not to mention nerve-) shattering bombardment and counterattacks, before it was deemed safe to send in a relief column and pull the 28th Regiment out.

In the Battle of Cantigny, the regiment had endured nearly 900 casualties (the division as a whole suffered more than 1,600), but in doing so it had demonstrated to the Germans—and to the French—that the Americans were no callow soldiers, but aggressive in attack and stubborn in defense.

 

The Battle of Chateau-Thierry

With the arrival of the U.S. marines, and their support of the beleaguered French military, the misshapen croissant of Belleau Wood (located less than 40 miles from Paris) had been taken in 1918. The American performance there had impressed the Germans. German intelligence noted, “The Second American Division [Army and Marines] must be considered a very good one and may even perhaps be reckoned as a storm troop. The different attacks on Belleau Wood were carried out with bravery and dash. The moral effect of our gunfire cannot seriously impede the advance of the American infantry. . . . The qualities of the men individually may be described as remarkable. . . . [T]he words of a prisoner are characteristic—‘We kill or we get killed.’”

Still, “Hell Wood,” as the Marines took to calling the Bois de Belleau, was only one spinney of concentrated horror in a massive field of battle. Throughout the spring and summer, it was the Germans who had advanced, not the Allies, and where the German army had faltered, it was only because it had outrun General Ludendorff’s ability to reinforce and supply it. It had also, however, suffered a million casualties and was enduring an epidemic of influenza. Still, Ludendorff was determined to make good his gains and was convinced the Allies were in no condition to strike back. He had one of his best generals, Oskar von Hutier, expand the German salient into France until he was halted by a French counterattack. By the end of the second week of July, the Allied front line appeared to have stabilized. It had stabilized for the Second Battle of the Marne.

They prepared for a counter-assault. It would happen in July and be known as the Battle of Chateau-Thierry.

Preparing for the Battle of Chateau-Thierry

Ludendorff intended, yet again, to separate the British army from the French—to isolate the British Expeditionary Force and annihilate it, while continuing to threaten Paris. On 15 July 1918, the Germans struck through the gap between Château-Thierry and the Argonne Forest— a geographic decision that would determine the site of the Battle of Chateau-Thierry. The French knew they were coming; captured German prisoners had divulged all. A week before the German attack, on 7 July, the French general Henri Gouraud rallied his army with a message to rival Haig’s “backs to the wall” order of 11 April:

We may be attacked at any moment. You all know that a defensive battle was never fought under more favorable conditions. You will fight on terrain that you have transformed into a redoubtable fortress. . . . The bombardment will be terrible. You will stand it without weakening. The assault will be fierce. . . . In your hearts beat the brave and strong hearts of free men. None shall look to the rear; none shall yield a step. . . . Each shall have but one thought, to kill, to kill plenty. . . . Your General says to you, ‘You will break this assault and it will be a glorious day.’

The power of these words is intensified if one remembers that the French general, the youngest in the army (forty-six when promoted brigadier, now fifty), was commanding a sector stretching from Verdun to Amiens. He was a dashing veteran of Africa, from which he carried a limp, his right sleeve (the arm sacrificed at Gallipoli) pinned to his uniform, his beard a flaming red, his kepi at a rakish tilt. General Harbord said of him, “His manner, his bearing and address more nearly satisfied my conception of the great soldiers of the First Empire than any other commander I met in France.”

When Gouraud referred to the French positions as a “redoubtable fortress,” it was not a mere rhetorical sally. He had put into practice General Pétain’s doctrine of defense-in-depth: a front line of trenches packed with mines and mustard gas, meant to absorb the terrible German bombardment, and a line of isolated machine gun squads to direct responding artillery fire and alert the stronger subsidiary lines of the coming German assault—though in this case the Allied artillery struck first, on the night of 14–15 July. For weeks, the Germans and Americans had tried small raids across the Marne to capture prisoners until this full-scale collision. Now the Allied shelling was so fierce that some of the assembling German units were devastated and had to be replaced, a blow that more than made up for the risk of revealing the Allied gun placements. Gouraud assumed the enemy would try to force his way down the road to Châlons-surMarne. He entrusted the defense of that road to the American 42nd Division. Pershing doubted the 42nd was ready; Gouraud had no such doubts, faith that was seen at the Battle of Chateau-Thierry.

When battle came, the French and Americans in this sector bent but didn’t break. They fell back no more than four miles, and the Germans, seeing that their offensive was kaput and under threat of counterattack, gave up trying to dislodge them. A French major who saw the 42nd “Rainbow” Division in action wrote, “The conduct of American troops has been perfect and has been greatly admired by French officers and men. Calm and perfect bearing under artillery fire, endurance of fatigue and privations, tenacity in defense, eagerness in counterattack, willingness to engage in hand-to-hand fighting—such are the qualities reported to me by all the French officers I have seen.”

The Germans pounded the regiment for two days and charged into the Surmelin Valley—to no avail; in fact, to the near annihilation of some German units, such as the Sixth Grenadiers, who entered the battle with 1,700 men and left it with 150. American rifle fire was deadly accurate, and as at Belleau Wood, the Germans were occasionally dismayed at the Americans’ fearsome appetite for battle, an appetite that began with Colonel McAlexander himself, who issued orders stating, “Don’t let anything show itself on the other side [of the Marne] and live.”

The Germans did breach the Marne and push forward as much as three miles, but their hopes of racing to Paris were thwarted—in large part by McAlexander’s stubborn defense of the Surmelin Valley. The Germans’ great dash, the Friedensturm (“Peace Offensive”) to end the war in Paris, was over. The American 3rd Division’s valor, and the 38th Infantry’s in particular, won it the battle moniker “the Rock of the Marne.”

Hardships in the Battle of Chateau-Theirry

General Ferdinand Foch, the supreme Allied commander, or generalissimo, believed German Gen. Ludendorff had shot his bolt. He ordered a counterattack against the bulge in the German line along the Marne. The Franco-American assault would be a western flank attack through the Retz Forest between Soissons and Château-Thierry. In the front line was the newly organized American IV Corps, incorporating the 1st and 2nd Divisions, under the command of Major General Robert Lee Bullard. Bullard in turn would be serving under the direction of the French general Charles Mangin, commander of the French Tenth Army.

Mangin acquired nine American divisions—more than three hundred thousand men—to support his offensive, launched on 18 July 1918. It was a tribute to the fighting prowess of the 1st and 2nd Divisions that they were at the far left of the line, pointed to lead the attack at Soissons. Between the Americans was the 1st Moroccan Division, a polyglot array of Senegalese, French Foreign Legionnaires, Arabs, and assorted international riff-raff who wore fezzes and knew how to fight. Behind Belleau Wood were the 26th, 42nd, 4th, and 77th Divisions. At the Battle of Château-Thierry, marking the center of the German salient that was to be dissolved, were the American 3rd, 28th, and 32nd Divisions.

in the run-up to the Battle of Chateau-Thierry, the American divisions hurried into their lines, hard marched, amid pouring rain, without much in the way of intelligence about the German dispositions before them, or even where they were going, and without much in the way of supplies, lacking ammunition, grenades, mortars, and machine guns; some hadn’t slept or eaten for twenty-four or even forty-eight hours. Secrecy and last-minute haste were the watchwords. This was a French show, the battle plan depended on surprise, and the Americans were to be its shock troops, moving behind a rolling artillery barrage rather than a long preparatory bombardment. The big guns sounded off at 4:35 a.m. The Americans advanced, officers to the front, taking heavy casualties, including, before the battle was over, every battalion commander of the 26th Infantry. Junior officers and sergeants filled the breach, and the soldiers did not waver, even as the casualties stacked up to fifty thousand men.

The American advance was swift—they had achieved surprise and struck in greater force in the Battle of Chateau-Thierry than the Germans could have expected— and confused, as units became mixed in the chaos of fiercely contested battle, which included German gas, artillery, and air attacks, over ground the Americans had not, of necessity, scouted beforehand. At least it was no battle of static trenches (though shallow trenches were dug and ducked into) but of open field maneuver, with French tanks in occasional support (they were lightning rods for German artillery); and the doughboys took a perhaps unwise pride in their ability to directly charge and overwhelm German machine gun nests when flanking them might have been less costly. But it was this aggressive spirit that made the doughboys what they were—and that made them think the French were often slow and unreliable. If élan had been beaten out of the poilus, it was still brimming over in the Americans.

The Germans remained disciplined, resolute opponents. They had given ground the first day in the Battle of Chateau-Thierry, but their fighting retreat stiffened on the second day. By the third, some doughboy units and officers had been pushed to the point of exhaustion. General Summerall met with his regimental commanders to assess their situations and encourage them. Colonel Frank Parker of the 18th Infantry told him, “General, my regiment has lost 60 percent of its officers, nearly all of its non-commissioned officers and most of its men and I don’t think that’s any way to treat a regiment.” According to Parker, Summerall replied, “Colonel, I did not come here to have you criticize my orders or to tell me your losses. I know them as well as you do. I came here to tell you that the Germans recrossed the Marne last night and are in full retreat and you will attack tomorrow morning at 4:30.” Parker said he never again questioned Summerall’s orders.

BATTLES ARE WON BY REMNANTS”

The Battle of Chateau-Thierry—wrapped up, at least in the history books, on 22 July—was the turning point of the war. George Marshall called it exactly that; Pershing compared it to Gettysburg; and German chancellor Georg Hertling offered independent confirmation of how the Battle of Chateau-Thierry had changed the war: “At the beginning of July, 1918, I was convinced, I confess it, that before the first of September our adversaries would send us peace proposals. . . . We expected grave events in Paris for the end of July. That was on the 15th. On the 18th even the most optimistic of us knew that all was lost. The history of the world was played out in three days.” Ludendorff could not lunge again to destroy the British army. He had used up his reserves extracting his men from across the Marne.

The American experience of the Battle of Chateau-Thierry was not merely one of victory—but also of what victory cost. To the question what price glory, General Hanson Ely could answer, “Men must be trained that when they have been in battle for days and nights, when perhaps they have been badly handled by the enemy and have had heavy casualties, yet when the signal comes to go they will go again to the limit of their endurance. . . . it is the last five percent of the possible exertion that often wins the battle . . . not the first attack nor the second or the third, but it was that last straggling fourth attack. . . . battles are won by remnants, remnants of units, remnants of material, remnants of morale, remnants of intellectual effort.”

The Americans had proved beyond doubt at the Battle of Chateau-Thierry they had the grit to see things through.

 

Battle of Belleau Wood

In the early stages of World War I, Germany was obsessed with knocking France out of the war in weeks. With this goal accomplished, it could focus its entire military might on the Eastern front and take out its enemy Russia. While newly-Bolshevik Russia eventually ceded massive amounts of its territory to Germany in order to purge itself of non-Bolsheviks, Germany had not succeeded in defeating France after years of efforts and the lives of hundreds of thousands. By 1918 German General Erich Friedrich Wilhelm Ludendorff chose to redouble the threat to Paris. If he could seize their capital, surely the French would sue for peace, and imperial Germany, greatly enlarged by its annexations in the east, would be victorious. By 3 June 1918, Ludendorff’s lunge had left Paris only thirty-five miles from his grasp. The French armies were reeling, and General Pétain needed help. He called on US. General John J. Pershing, and Pershing in turn called his 2nd and 3rd Divisions to Château-Thierry, straddling the Marne River. He would launch an offensive against the German military that saw a particularly memorable episode in the Battle of Belleau Wood.

The 3rd Division had been in France only since April, but advance elements of it were first on the scene. They discovered that the Germans had occupied the northern half of Château-Thierry, and the best the Yanks could do at the outset was set up machine guns to help extract French troops, Senegalese colonials, caught on the north side of the river. All along the road to Château-Thierry, the Americans had been warned of the German juggernaut by refugees and streams of retreating French troops. But the Americans were unfazed—this was what they had come to do: fight the Germans. Though they were new to combat, the men of the 7th Machine Gun Battalion, an Army unit under the temporary command of a Marine Corps major, did their job beautifully.

“THE BEST BRIGADE IN FRANCE”: PRELUDE TO THE BATTLE OF BELLEAU WOOD

The 2nd Division raced to the scene. For the Marines attached to the 2nd Division—the 4th Marine Brigade, composed of two regiments, and a machine gun battalion—this was the most dangerous aspect of the war so far. The Marines were commanded by James Harbord, an Army brigadier general who had been Pershing’s chief of staff. Pershing had originally not wanted Marines in his army. But he told Harbord, “Young man, I’m giving you the best brigade in France—if anything goes wrong, I’ll know whom to blame.” As Harbord noted later, “They never failed me.”

Harbord, recognizing the esprit de corps of the Marines, donned Marine Corps insignia (the globe and anchor), and for extra dash wore a close-fitting French helmet rather than the British-inspired broad-brimmed American one, which bore a passing resemblance to an overturned gold prospector’s sifting pan. He was proud of his Marines—as well he might be. The 5th and 6th Marine Regiments were the best-trained units in the American Expeditionary Force, aggressive with the bayonet and famously proud marksmen. At the newly built Marine base at Quantico, they had been drilled in muddy trenches to get ready for the Western Front. But even Quantico’s famous mud couldn’t match the miserable, lice-ridden, dank, dark, waterlogged trenches of France, infested with monstrous rats that feasted on the dead and that Marines bayoneted or shot, treating them like mini-Boche.

Pershing’s lack of enthusiasm of the Marines joining is ironic consider the place that the Battle of Belleau Wood has in Marine lore. In honor of their tenacity in battle, the French renamed the wood “Wood of the Marine” Bridgade to honor their sacrifice in the Battle of Belleau Wood

A PRICE TO PAY FOR THE LEARNING”

The 2nd Division was ordered to Montreuil-aux-Lions, about nine miles west of Château-Thierry. Cutting through roads clogged with refugees—bedraggled civilians and defeated poilus convinced that the war was over and the Germans had won—the division marched to the sound of the guns. One of Pétain’s staff officers, Jean de Pierrefeu, noted that “swarms of Americans began to appear on the roads . . . they passed in interminable columns, closely packed in lorries, with their feet in the air in extraordinary attitudes . . . almost all bare headed and bare chested, singing American airs at the top of their voices. . . . The spectacle of these magnificent youths from overseas . . . produced a great effect. . . . Life was coming in floods to reanimate the dying body of France.” It wasn’t just the French who thought so. Vera Brittain, an English nurse, remembered that the Americans “looked larger than ordinary men; their tall, straight figures were in vivid contrast to the undersized armies of pale recruits to which we had grown accustomed.”

The Marines and the French soldiers with whom they had trained—especially the 115th French Chasseurs Alpins, the “Blue Devils”—generally got along well, their friendship lubricated by a shared taste for vin and brandy. But the leathernecks were appalled at the demoralized, hollow-eyed, sauve qui peut attitude of the French soldiers streaming past them, which led to one of the great exchanges in Marine Corps history. When a French officer told Marine Captain Lloyd “Josh” Williams that the situation was hopeless and he must retreat, Williams replied, “Retreat, hell. We just got here!” They were ready to make their mark in history at the Battle of Belleau Wood.

The American 9th Infantry was first into the defensive line backing up the French. French general Jean Degoutte had planned to shuttle American units into the ranks of battered poilus, but the Americans insisted on holding a position of their own. When Degoutte asked whether the Americans could really hold against the fearsome Boche who had shredded so many Frenchmen, Colonel Preston Brown responded, “General, these are American regulars. In a hundred and fifty years they have never been beaten. They will hold.”

The Marines were assigned to the sector of Belleau Wood, and they and the rest of the 2nd Division marched to their assigned places through German shellfire. As men fell to the blasts, Captain Lester S. Wass urged his Marines on, barking, “What do you think this is, a kid’s game?” The Americans covered a French retreat, their deadly Marine marksmanship surprising the Germans, and when the French had cleared out—and new French units arrived alongside the Americans—Degoutte and General Omar Bundy, commander of the 2nd Division, decided to go in and take Belleau Wood and the town of Bouresches that lay behind it. The wood, a former hunting preserve, jutted out from the Allied line like an enormous green croissant, its total area perhaps half a square mile. The initial attack of the Battle of Belleau Wood would be on Hill 142, fronting the northwestern side of the forest.

At 3:45 a.m. on 6 June 1918, the Marines plowed through a wheat field against the stinging lead of German machine guns and shrapnel. When someone yelled to First Sergeant Daniel Amos “Pop” Hunter, “Hey Pop, there’s a man hit over here!” the thirty-year veteran, directing his troops with a cane, replied, “C’mon, goddamnit! He ain’t the last man who’s gonna to be hit today.” Among those hit was Sergeant Hunter himself: “Hit twice and up twice, hit the third time, he went down for good.” Through sheer diligence the Marines kept moving against the confusion and havoc wreaked by expertly fired machine guns, seized Hill 142, and held it against counterattacks. As Marine Captain John Thomason recounted, “The Boche wanted Hill 142; he came, and the rifles broke him, and he came again. All his batteries were in action, and always his machine guns scoured the place, but he could not make head against the rifles. Guns he could understand; he knew all about bombs and auto-rifles and machine-guns and trench-mortars, but aimed, sustained rifle-fire . . . demoralized him.” Thomason took the Marine Corps attitude: “the rifle and bayonet goes anywhere a man can go, and the rifle and the bayonet win battles.” Its wisdom was proved at Hill 142.

The price was high, more than a thousand men. For that, the Americans had gained Hill 142, the periphery of Belleau Wood, and the ruins of Bouresches, which had been shelled by both sides and taken, methodically, by Marines using grenade, rifle, and bayonet to root out rubble-guarded machine gun nest after rubble-guarded machine gun nest—the mopping up was not completed until 13 June, when Harbord could report, “There is nothing but U.S. Marines in the town of Bouresches.”

In the early stages of World War I, Germany was obsessed with knocking France out of the war in weeks. With this goal accomplished, it could focus its entire military might on the Eastern front and take out its enemy Russia. While newly-Bolshevik Russia eventually ceded massive amounts of its territory to Germany in order to purge itself of non-Bolsheviks, Germany had not succeeded in defeating France after years of efforts and the lives of hundreds of thousands. By 1918 German General Erich Friedrich Wilhelm Ludendorff chose to redouble the threat to Paris. If he could seize their capital, surely the French would sue for peace, and imperial Germany, greatly enlarged by its annexations in the east, would be victorious. By 3 June 1918, Ludendorff’s lunge had left Paris only thirty-five miles from his grasp. The French armies were reeling, and General Pétain needed help. He called on US. General John J. Pershing, and Pershing in turn called his 2nd and 3rd Divisions to Château-Thierry, straddling the Marne River. He would launch an offensive against the German military that saw a particularly memorable episode in the Battle of Belleau Wood.

The 3rd Division had been in France only since April, but advance elements of it were first on the scene. They discovered that the Germans had occupied the northern half of Château-Thierry, and the best the Yanks could do at the outset was set up machine guns to help extract French troops, Senegalese colonials, caught on the north side of the river. All along the road to Château-Thierry, the Americans had been warned of the German juggernaut by refugees and streams of retreating French troops. But the Americans were unfazed—this was what they had come to do: fight the Germans. Though they were new to combat, the men of the 7th Machine Gun Battalion, an Army unit under the temporary command of a Marine Corps major, did their job beautifully.

THE BEST BRIGADE IN FRANCE”

The 2nd Division raced to the scene. For the Marines attached to the 2nd Division—the 4th Marine Brigade, composed of two regiments, and a machine gun battalion—this was the most dangerous aspect of the war so far. The Marines were commanded by James Harbord, an Army brigadier general who had been Pershing’s chief of staff. Pershing had originally not wanted Marines in his army. But he told Harbord, “Young man, I’m giving you the best brigade in France—if anything goes wrong, I’ll know whom to blame.” As Harbord noted later, “They never failed me.”

Harbord, recognizing the esprit de corps of the Marines, donned Marine Corps insignia (the globe and anchor), and for extra dash wore a close-fitting French helmet rather than the British-inspired broad-brimmed American one, which bore a passing resemblance to an overturned gold prospector’s sifting pan. He was proud of his Marines—as well he might be. The 5th and 6th Marine Regiments were the best-trained units in the American Expeditionary Force, aggressive with the bayonet and famously proud marksmen. At the newly built Marine base at Quantico, they had been drilled in muddy trenches to get ready for the Western Front. But even Quantico’s famous mud couldn’t match the miserable, lice-ridden, dank, dark, waterlogged trenches of France, infested with monstrous rats that feasted on the dead and that Marines bayoneted or shot, treating them like mini-Boche.

Pershing’s lack of enthusiasm of the Marines joining is ironic consider the place that the Battle of Belleau Wood has in Marine lore. In honor of their tenacity in battle, the French renamed the wood “Wood of the Marine” Bridgade to honor their sacrifice in the Battle of Belleau Wood

 

Meuse-Argonne Offensive: How 1.2 Million Americans Helped End World War 1

The American Expeditionary Force not only had vigor and tenacity, it was building mass and strength, with 1.2 million men under arms in France, joined by more than 60,000 every week. It was the growing power of the AEF that gave Marshal Foch what he wanted—the opportunity to go on the offensive, not merely to halt German Gen. Ludendorff on the Marne, but to drive the Germans back, perhaps even behind the Rhine. Experience had made Foch cautious, but a spring of near disaster had become a summer of hope for defeating the Hun.

Foch had a special assignment for Pershing’s doughboys—to attack the German salient at Saint-Mihiel on the Meuse River, south of Verdun. The Americans would go into action led by Gen. John Pershing in a newly configured United States First Army. Pershing, if not Foch, had his eye on a bigger prize than reducing the salient; he wanted to liberate Metz, a French city on the Moselle, a little more than forty miles due east. That would be a battle honor worthy of his new First Army and would put it in a position to threaten the industrial Saarland of Germany. This battle would be part of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.

By the end of 13 September, the job of conquering Saint-Mihiel was essentially done. The Germans were fully withdrawn behind the Michel Line, and Pershing was content to leave them there and move his troops on to the Meuse-Argonne to prepare for the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. It sounds easy on paper, and relatively speaking it was, but the Americans still suffered 7,000 casualties (the Germans, about 22,500: 15,000 surrendered, 7,500 killed or wounded). Pershing was bullish, and the reduction of the Saint-Mihiel salient was considered an American success. It was the largest American battle since the War Between the States, and the troops had executed their assignments admirably.

If the German units were not the best, if they were in the process of withdrawing anyway, it was equally true that the Germans had held this line for four years; that in that time the Germans had repelled two French attempts to drive them out; and that the German high command considered Saint-Mihiel a terrible defeat. Hindenburg was appalled at how quickly the salient had been overrun; Ludendorff was depressed to the point of a nervous breakdown. Two hundred square miles of French territory had been liberated, and the Americans had badly dented the Germans’ sense of military superiority. But in retrospect, for the Americans the battle of Saint-Mihiel was in many ways a meticulously well-planned, enormous live-fire training exercise. The Meuse-Argonne Offensive would be something else entirely.

THE BIG PUSH: THE MEUSE-ARGONNE OFFENSIVE

Pershing was fighting the biggest and costliest battle in American history. By battle’s end, which was the end of the war, 11 November 1918, 1.2 million American troops had been involved, one-tenth of them were casualties, and more than 26,000 of those were dead. Pershing had a gargantuan task in front of him: doing his not inconsiderable part to roll back the Germans from France and win the war.

New divisions brought up, units reorganized, orders issued, Pershing’s army went back into action on the morning of 4 October—and found the Germans waiting with reinforced positions and showers of artillery shells raining down from the Heights of the Meuse. Against this storm of steel and lead, the doughboys set their helmet straps and trudged forward, but bullets and artillery shells can slow an advance even more effectively than rain and mud; so Pershing ordered the French XVII Corps (which included an American division) to suppress the German guns on the Heights of the Meuse with a direct assault, constituting the opening actions of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive

In the west, in the Argonne Forest, the 77th Division had a similar task—to find and suppress the big German guns—but it had to fight amid the large, dense, tangled forest that effectively cut regiments into their component parts and that was spiked with German machine gun nests, snipers, and blockhouses. It left some troopers feeling, not for the first time, as if they were reliving their ancestors’ experiences of Indian fighting, though the Indians in this case had higher-powered weapons and better discipline.

The landscape itself was sobering. If Belleau Wood was “Hell Wood,” it was but a small corner of hell compared to the Argonne, which, as one American officer charged with its conquest wrote, “was a bleak, cruel country of white clay and rock and blasted skeletons of trees, gashed into innumerable trenches and seared with rusted acres of wire, rising steeply into claw-like ridges and descending into haunted ravines, white as leprosy in the midst of that green forest, a country that had died long ago, in pain.” The Meuse-Argonne Offensive would be no brisk march.

Some of that pain was assuaged, at least for the troopers, when they found abandoned blockhouses laden with almost unimaginable luxuries, including the odd piano, a wine cellar, and other signs of how well-supplied these long-standing German positions had been. The doughboys liberated a few bottles into the security of their packs, but they had to be careful—some abandoned German dugouts were boobytrapped—and their orders were to continually press forward the attack.

THE MEUSE-ARGONNE OFFENSIVE AND THE END OF THE WAR

The Meuse-Argonne Offensive took place amid aggressive politicking. On 8 October, President Woodrow Wilson responded to a note from Prince Maximilian von Baden, Germany’s new chancellor, seeking an armistice on the grounds of Wilson’s Fourteen Points, which put forward a liberal program of open diplomacy, freedom of the seas, free trade, freedom for Belgium and France (and Alsace-Lorraine) from German occupation, disarmament, borders drawn on the basis of nation-states rather than multinational empires, and the establishment of a League of Nations.

Prince Max, as he was known, did not agree with everything in the Fourteen Points, but offered to accept them as the basis for negotiations. A democratically inclined aristocrat, he had clipped some of the powers of the Kaiser, brought Social Democrats into the government, and removed Generals Hindenburg and Ludendorff as the de facto leaders of Imperial Germany. Hindenburg and Ludendorff had towered over the civilian government, but they now conceded that the war was lost and that Germany must seek terms. Their goal was an orderly retreat to Germany’s western borders in exchange for Britain, the United States, Italy, and France accepting Germany’s territorial gains in the east.

Wilson took four days to respond to Prince Max—and then it was through Secretary of State Robert Lansing. Lansing sought assurances that the prince did in fact speak for the German government and stated flatly that no negotiations could begin while the Germans occupied Belgium and France. Nothing came of the overture, and the war continued.

West of the Argonne, the American 2nd and 36th Divisions—the former a collection of Marines and soldiers, the latter made up of cowboys and Indians from the Texas and Oklahoma National Guard—took over a position from the French and on 4 October seized the Blanc Mont Ridge in tough fighting. The Americans then led the French in driving the Germans to the Aisne River, so that by 27 October the French Fourth Army could finally take its place alongside the American First Army.

The First Army, meanwhile, had continued to slog its way through the forest as part of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. As Laurence Stallings, a Marine veteran of Belleau Wood, put it in his own history of the war, “From now until the end . . . it was to be five weeks of unremitting pressure all along the front, and for the Doughboys in the line, of ‘one damn machine gun after another.’” In front of them lay the still unbroken Kriemhilde Stellung, reinforced by the Germans, who now had forty divisions in the Meuse-Argonne, joining the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. Organized both by terrain and by its grid of trenches into interlocking fields of defensive fire, the Kriemhilde Stellung allowed the Germans to move from one strong point to another, which meant the Americans’ only strategy could be tenaciously repeated assaults. It was now the French who were demanding that the Americans move more quickly.

The Germans were everywhere falling back, while in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive the Yanks were clawing their way forward against stiff resistance. But they were making progress. By mid-October, the Argonne Forest had been cleared, which put the American main thrust between the River Aire on the left, just east of the Argonne, and the River Meuse on the right. The chief objective was the area surrounding Romagne, about five miles north from Montfaucon, bracketed by the Côte de Châtillon and the Côte Dame Marie on the one side and Cunel on the other. The Côte Dame Marie was considered the key to unlocking the Kriemhilde Stellung. On 14 October, the Americans seized it and Romagne, but they could advance no farther until they reduced the Côte de Châtillon, with its newly rewired trenches and perhaps two hundred machine guns. It had to be taken, and in the undaunted assault, as General Douglas MacArthur remembered, “Officers fell and sergeants leaped to the command. Companies dwindled to platoons and corporals took over. At the end Major [Lloyd] Ross [leading one of the attacking battalions] had only 300 men and six officers left out of 1,450 men and 25 officers. That is the way the Côte-de-Châtillon fell. . . .”

The United States was now fielding two armies. The Second Army, with more than 175,000 men under General Robert Lee Bullard, was east of the Meuse River, covering the American right flank. The First Army, more than a million strong, under the capable General Hunter Liggett, held the center. Having cracked the Hindenburg Line, Liggett paused to reorganize his exhausted troops, and then paused again waiting for the French to catch up to him. Allied war planners had assumed that they could drive to victory in 1919. But now it seemed possible that if they were aggressive enough, they could pummel Germany into a far more rapid defeat. Pershing was bullish, and Colonel George C. Marshall reckoned that in ten days, if the American advance could be maintained, “about a million German soldiers in front and to the west of us would either have to surrender or disperse as individuals.”

The attack timetable Pershing had originally drawn up for his army of supermen at the beginning of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive took on a new realism in this great charge of the First Army. Again, the Americans lined up three corps, left to right, I Corps, V Corps, and III Corps, with V Corps taking the lead. The goal was to press ever harder, expanding each day’s gains as the Germans lost their artillery and were forced into an ever more debilitating retreat—and that was what happened. The attack commenced on 1 November. By 5 November, the Americans had cleared a broad swath of territory to the River Meuse; the Meuse-Argonne sector was theirs. But Pershing pressed on—first making a move to capture Sedan in the French sector to the North (until French protests had him rescind the order) and then crossing the Meuse against German artillery bombardments. An armistice was arranged to take place at 11:00 a.m., 11 November, but Pershing kept his men fighting to the end—and regretted that he had not been given a few more days to drive the American Expeditionary Force into Germany, not for glory, but to put a formal mark on Germany’s defeat.

As it was, the forty-seven day battle of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive marked the end of the First World War.

How Many Americans Died in World War 1?

America only joined World War 1 late in the conflict (1917) and most of its early support involved providing supplies, arms and other products to Allies.  In the end, around 4,000,000 soldiers were mobilized and 116,708 American military personnel died during World War 1 from all causes (influenza, combat and wounds). Over 204,000 were wounded and 757 U.S. civilians died due to military action.

 

The Treaty of Versailles

The military hostilities of World War One ended at 11am on 11th November 1918 but a final diplomatic end of the war was not reached until the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. In 1919, Lloyd George of England, Orlando of Italy, Clemenceau of France and Woodrow Wilson from the US met to discuss how Germany was to be made to pay for the damage world war one had caused.

Wilson had devised a 14 point plan that he believed would bring stability to Europe.

  1. Open Diplomacy – There should be no secret treaties between powers
  2. Freedom of Navigation – Seas should be free in both peace and war
  3. Free Trade – The barriers to trade between countries such as custom duties should be removed
  4. Multilateral Disarmament – All countries should reduce their armed forces to the lowest possible levels
  5. Colonies – People in European colonies should have a say in their future
  6. Russia – Russia should be allowed to operate whatever government it wanted and that government should be accepted, supported and welcomed.
  7. Belgium – Belgium should be evacuated and restored to the situation before the war.
  8. France – should have Alsace-Lorraine and any lands taken away during the war restored.
  9. Italy – The Italian border should be readjusted according to nationality
  10. National Self -Determination – The national groups in Europe should, wherever possible, be given their independence.
  11. Romania, Montenegro and Serbia – Should be evacuated and Serbia should have an outlet to the sea
  12. Turkey – The people of Turkey should have a say in their future
  13. Poland – Poland should become an independent state with an outlet to the sea.
  14. League of Nations – An assembly of all nations should be formed to protect world peace in the future.

Germany expected a treaty based on these fourteen points. However, negotiations between the ‘big four’ Lloyd George of England, Orlando of Italy, Clemenceau of France and Woodrow Wilson of America did not go smoothly. Wilson believed that his fourteen points was the only way to secure everlasting peace. The French however, wanted the defeated nations to be punished severely and believed Wilson’s plan too lenient. Privately Lloyd George sided with Wilson although he was concerned about the threat from Communism, however, the British public, like Clemenceau, wanted Germany punished severely. Lloyd George knew that if he sided with Wilson he would lose the next election.

After prolonged discussion agreement was eventually reached. The Germans were summoned to Versailles to sign the treaty on 28th June 1919.

The final treaty bore little resemblance to Wilson’s fourteen points:

Although Germany was not happy with the Treaty they had little choice but to sign. This cartoon clearly shows the situation Germany was in.

Terms of the Treaty of Versailles

There were a total of 440 clauses in the final treaty. The first 26 clauses dealt with the establishment of the League of Nations. The remaining 414 clauses spelled out Germany’s punishment.

General Clauses

The establishment of the League of Nations
War Guilt clause – Germany to accept blame for starting the war.

Financial Clauses

Reparations – Germany was to pay for the damage caused by the war. The figure of £6,600 million was set some time after the signing of the treaty.

Military Clauses

Army – was to be reduced to 100,000 men and no tanks were allowed
Navy – Germany was only allowed 6 ships and no submarines
Airforce – Germany was not allowed an airforce
Rhineland – The Rhineland area was to be kept free of German military personnel and weapons

Territorial Clauses

Anschluss – Germany was not allowed to unite with Austria.
Land – Germany lost land to a number of other countries. Alsace-Lorraine was returned to France, Eupen and Malmedy were given to Belgium, North Schleswig was given to Denmark. Land was also taken from Germany and given to Czechoslovakia and Poland. The League of Nations took control of Germany’s colonies

This map shows the areas that Germany lost following the Treaty of Versailles

The Other Defeated Nations

The Treaty of Versailles determined the punishment that Germany should face. Other treaties determined the fate of those countries that had fought with Germany – Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and Turkey. Austria and Hungary were divided and therefore signed separate treaties

Austria – The Treaty of St Germain 10th September 1919

Land – Austria lost land to Italy, Czechoslovakia and Serbia (Yugoslavia).
Army – To be reduced to 30,000 men.
Anschluss – Union with Germany was forbidden
Reparations – Austria was to pay reparations but went bankrupt before the rate could be set.

Hungary – The Treaty of Trianon 4th June 1920

Land – Hungary lost land to Austria, Czechoslovakia, Romania and Serbia (Yugoslavia) reducing its size from 283,000 sq km to less than 93,000 sq km. Population was reduced from 18.2 million to 7.6 million.
Army – To be reduced to 35,000 men
Reparations – Hungary was to pay reparations but the amount was never set

Bulgaria – The Treaty of Neuilly 27th November 1919

Land – Bulgaria lost land to Greece, Romania and Serbia (Yugoslavia).
Reparations – Bulgaria had to pay 90 million pounds in reparations
Army – restrictions were made on the size of Bulgaria’s army

Turkey – The Treaty of Sevres 20th August 1920

Land – Turkey lost land to Greece. The League of Nations took control of Turkey’s colonies.

 

How Many People Died in World War 1?

World War One was one of the deadliest conflicts in the history of the human race, in which over 16 million people died. The total number of both civilian and military casualties is estimated at around 37 million people. The war killed almost 7 million civilians and 10 million military personnel.

how many people died in ww1

Military and Cilvilian Deaths on Both Sides

The Allies, or Entente Powers, counted around 6 million deaths, the Central Powers 4 million.

Many people died, not from combat, but from diseases caused by the war, a figure estimated at around 2 million deaths. 6 million people went missing during the war and were presumed dead.

Two out of three soldiers died in battle, the rest died due to infections or disease. The Spanish flu also killed a lot of people in prisoner camps.

The total number of civilian deaths is very hard to determine, unlike military deaths, which were better documented. Because of the war, many people suffered from disease and malnutrition because of food shortages brought about by a disruption in trade. Millions of men were also mobilized for the war, taking their labor away from farms, which cut down food production. In the Ottoman Empire there were also the genocides that killed thousands of people. The Spanish flu also killed a lot of people, but historians often left these figures out of accounts accounts.

Finally, there are even more indirect deaths caused by the wars that are not accounted in such reports. The Armenian Genocide, which left 1.5 million dead in the final years of the Ottoman Empire, was precipitated by the Ottoman political leadership believing that the Armenian people would side with Russia in World War One, leading to the empire’s ruin. To secure their borders, they put Armenian men in work camps, which became extermination centers, and forced marched the elderly, women, and children to Northern Syria, which became a death march.

 

Effects of World War 1

The effects of the war are still being felt a century after its conclusion. It was the deadliest war which involved more countries and was more expensive than any other war before it. The weapons used during WW1 were also more advanced than any previous war, using tanks, submarines, poison gas, airplanes and long range artillery. Over 9 million military personnel died during this war, and over 7 million men were left permanently disabled. It is not surprising that the effects of WW1 were still evident decades later.

Specific Effects of World War 1:

  • World War 1 caused the downfall of four monarchies: Germany, Turkey, Austria-Hungary and Russia.
  • The war made people more open to other ideologies, such as the Bolsheviks that came to power in Russia and fascism that triumphed in Italy and even later in Germany.
  • World War 1 largely marked the end of colonialism, as the people became more nationalistic and the one country after the other started colonial revolts in Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Africa.
  • The war changed the economical balance of the world, leaving European countries deep in debt and making the U.S. the leading industrial power and creditor in the world.
  • Inflation shot up in most countries and the German economy was highly affected by having to pay for reparations.
  • With troops travelling all over the world, influenza was spread easily and an epidemic started which killed more than 25 million people across the world.
  • With all the new weapons that were used, World War 1 changed the face of modern warfare forever.
  • Due to the cruel methods used during the war and the losses suffered, World War 1 caused a lot of bitterness among nations, which also greatly contributed to World War 1 decades later.
  • Social life also changed: women had to run businesses while the men were at war and labor laws started to be enforced due to mass production and mechanization. People all wanted better living standards.
  • After World War 1, the need for an international body of nations that promotes security and peace worldwide became evident. This caused the founding of the League of Nations.
  • World War 1 boosted research in technology, because better transport and means of communication gave countries an advantage over their enemies.
  • The harsh conditions of the Treaty of Versailles caused a lot of dissent in Europe, especially on the side of the Central Powers who had to pay a lot for financial reparations.

There are many other effects one can attribute to World War 1, but the fact of the matter is that after this devastating war, the world would never be the same again. Many historians agree that World War 1 created an atmosphere that allowed the rise of the Nazi Party and the start of World War 2.

 

Remembrance Day

Remembrance Day, often referred to as Poppy Day commemorates the sacrifice made by servicemen in times of war.

In the United Kingdom the day was first commemorated in 1919, when it was known as Armistice Day, with two minutes silence at 11am on 11th November. The day marked the anniversary of the signing of the Armistice that brought World War One to an end in 1918. Its name was changed to Remembrance Day after World War Two. The day is also observed by other commonwealth countries.

In the United Kingdom two minutes silence is observed each year on the 11th November. On the second Sunday in November, Remembrance Sunday, special services are held and poppy wreaths laid at the Cenotaph in London and at war memorials in towns all over the country.

The poppy is used to symbolise to symbolise remembrance and in the United Kingdom the Royal British Legion sell poppies in the weeks prior to 11th November to raise money for servicemen and their families.

During World War One some of the most intense fighting took place in Flanders (west Belgium). Buildings, roads, fields, bushes and trees were destroyed. However, despite the devastation, poppies flowered each spring. Poppy seeds that had been buried for years were brought to the surface by the churned up mud and germinated.

John McCrae a Canadian fighting in the trenches in Flanders wrote a poem called ‘In Flanders Fields’. The poem was published and the poppy was adopted as a symbol for those who had lost their lives in battle.

In Flanders Fields by John McCrae May 1915

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep,
though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

 

World War 1 Bibliography

Assassination of Franz Ferdinand – Eyewitness

The Black Hand – Michael Shackelford

Causes of World War One – Worldwarone.com

World War One Battles – Firstworldwar.com

 


This article is from the book The Yanks Are Coming! A Military HIstory of the United States in World War I © 2014 by H.W Crocker III. Please use this data for any reference citations. To order this book, please visit its online sales page at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

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