The Western Front Essay

It was a battle zone in World War I between Germany and its enemies, France and Britain, extending as lines of trenches from Nieuport on the Belgian coast through Ypres, Arras, Albert, Soissons, and Rheims to Verdun, constructed by both Germany and the Allies.

For over three years neither side advanced far from their defensive positions. During the period of trench warfare there were a number of significant changes. Poison gas was used by Germany at Ypres, Belgium April 1915 and tanks were used by Britain on the River Somme in Sept 1916. A German offensive in the spring of 1918 enabled the troops to reach the Marne River. By summer the Allies were advancing all along the front and the Germans were driven back into Belgium.

Western Front 1914: The initial German operations were conducted according to the carefully prepared Schlieffen Plan. This involved massing their greatest strength on the right wing, which would swing down through Belgium, pivoting on the Ardennes while the left flank would fight defensively, falling back if necessary. This would bring the French armies out of their prepared positions and extend their lines of communication, making a smashing blow through Belgium and northern France. The German aim was to capture Paris and cut the lines of supply to the French armies in the east who by this time would be heavily committed and would find themselves trapped between the German defences to their front and the successful German armies in their rear. The French would then be quickly forced to surrender and Germany could turn its attention to dealing with a now isolated Russia, the real object of the German war effort.

Western Front 1916: At the start of 1916, the Germans decided to attack the vital French fortress at Verdun in an attempt to provoke a final reckoning with the still undefeated French armies. The German plan was to attack at beneficial points all along the front so that the Allies wouldn’t know whether the attacks were a trick or the beginning of a general offensive, allowing the Germans to concentrate troops and guns behind Verdun. Once the line was pierced there, fresh troops would be available for a final advance on Paris, which the Germans believed would end the war. A short, intense bombardment began 21 Feb, by far the fiercest bombardment yet experienced, it demolish the first French lines, broke up the communications trenches, and even altered the shape of the hills. By 25 Feb the Germans had broken the French front at Douaumont but were driven back by General Petain who managed to stabilise the line once more.

USA Enters The War April 1917

In the early months of 1915, Germany introduced a new submarine policy and warned the USA that neutral ships might be sunk during the submarine campaign. The full impact of what this meant was brought home to the US public with the sinking of the Lusitania, 7 May 1915, with the loss of 1,200 lives. The American president, Woodrow Wilson, tried to negotiate between the two sides and received a fairly positive response from the Allies. On 13 Jan 1917 the German government announced that all sea traffic within certain areas close to Britain, France, and Italy, and in the eastern Mediterranean, would without further notice be prevented by all weapons, clearly a return to unrestricted submarine warfare on any and all vessels within the designated zones. This was finally too much even for Wilson and diplomatic relations with Germany were severed 3 Feb. On the 1st of March the German submarines sank 6 US vessels and after that there was no chance of the US remaining neutral. Wilson called a special session of Congress on 2nd April and war was formally declared 6 April.

Meheriar Hossain

Battle Of The Marne (1914)

There were two unsuccessful German offensives in northern France. In the First Battle, 6-9 Sept 1914, the German advance was halted by French and British troops under the overall command of the French general Jospeh Joffre; in the Second Battle, 15 July-4 Aug 1918, the German advance was defeated by British, French, and US troops under the French general Henri Petain, and German morale crumbled.

The Marne was crucial as it frustrated the German plan to destroy the French armies quickly, making a long war almost inevitable. The lines now began to stabilise between Reims and the Alps, and both sides settled down to trench warfare, a virtually new tactic in which all old theories of war were discarded. The struggle, which had begun as attempts at outflanking movement on both sides, now developed into the `race to the sea’, as each side tried to reach the coast to establish the most favourable final position.

First Battle of the Marne (6-9 Sept 1914): Three German armies were swinging round from Belgium to sweep through France and encircle Paris, in accordance with the Schlieffen Plan. After some initial uncertainty, Marshal Joffre realised what the German strategy was and ordered the French 1st and 2nd Armies to hold the Germans around Verdun and Nancy. Meanwhile, he formed two new armies, the 6th and 9th, in preparation for a counterattack and drew back his left flank to entice the Germans further south.

The French 6th Army under General Joseph Gallieni moved against the exposed flank of General Alexander von Kluck’s 1st German Army, which halted its south drive and turned aside to deal with Gallieni. This opened a 48-km gap between the 1st German Army and the 2nd Army under Field Marshal Karl von Buelow. Joffre now threw his counterattack force against von Buelow who retired, forcing von Kluck to retire in order to avoid being totally surrounded, and the German advance was halted and turned back. Although tactically, the first battle of the Marne was a strategic victory for the Allies.

Second Battle of the Marne 15 July-4 Aug 1918: This battle formed the final thrust of the German Spring Offensive of 1918. General Erich von Ludendorff threw 35 divisions across the Marne, planning to encircle Reims. The French were prepared for the attack, with four armies under good generals, together with a strong US force, and although the Germans initially gained ground they were eventually halted and turned back. The Allied counterattack, beginning 18 July, is sometimes referred to as the Third Battle of the Marne and it forced the Germans back to a line running from Reims to Soissons.

World War I: Marne Campaign 1914

Aug 16: Germans capture of Liege

Aug 20: Germans capture of Brussels

Aug 22-23: Battle of the Sambre

Aug 23-24: Battle of Mons

Aug 26-27: Battle of Le Cateau

Aug 29: French counter-attack at Guise

Sept 5-9: Battle of the Marne

Sept 10: Beginning of German retreat to the Aisne

Meheriar Hossain

Gallipoli

At the instigation of Winston Churchill, an unsuccessful attempt was made Feb 1915-Jan 1916 by Allied troops to force their way through the Dardanelles and link up with Russia. The campaign was fought mainly by Australian and New Zealand (ANZAC) forces. The struggle for Gallipoli settled into a hard-fought campaign. A costly attack by inferior Allied land forces against an almost invincible Turkish opposition. In a second attack 6-8 May the naval guns failed to destroy Turkish trenches, and the Allies managed to advance only a few hundred metres at a heavy cost in casualties. By the end of May the Allies had lost more troops at Gallipoli than the total British losses in battle during the entire South African War. A third attack (4 June) confirmed the impression that nothing short of a large army could master the position and after further losses the naval attempt on the Dardanelles was abandoned in favour of a land siege of the peninsula. There was fierce fighting throughout the month but at a heavy cost and the Allies failed to make a significant breach in Turkish lines.

By Nov, it was obvious the campaign had been an expensive failure and the Allies began the difficult task of evacuating Gallipoli; the final embarkation’s from Suvla and Anzac took place 18-19 Dec. The evacuation of Cape Helles was completed by 8 Jan 1916.

An estimated 36,000 Commonwealth troops died during the nine-month campaign.

World War 1:Gallipoli campaign

Feb 19, 1915: First Allied naval bombardment.

Feb 25: Second Allied naval bombardment.

March 18: Allied naval attempt to force The Narrows.

Apr 25: Allied landings at Helles and Anzac.

Apr 28-June 4: First, Second and Third Battles of Krithia.

Aug 6: Allied landings at Suvla Bay.

Dec 19-20: Allied evacuation of Anzac and Suvla.

Jan 8, 1916: Allied evacuation of Helles.

War at sea

1914: Allied control of the seas did not ensure complete protection of all coasts from German raids, but it did ensure freedom of movement for the Allies at sea, and more importantly allowed the Allies to receive supplies from anywhere in the world, while denying the Central Powers access to the world markets. The German High Sea Fleet had withdrawn to its bases on the outbreak of war, and the German plan was to wear down the British navy by a war of attrition with submarines and mines. The first serious British naval action during the war was the battle of Heligoland Bight 28 Aug, in which three German light cruisers and a destroyer were sunk, including the cruisers Mainz and Koeln.

1916: The major sea action of the year was the Battle of Jutland, 31 May, in which the British Grand Fleet clashed with the German High Sea Fleet. Although the battle was in itself indecisive, both sides claimed victory: the Germans because they sank more ships than they lost, and the British because the German High Seas Fleet never ventured outside harbour for the rest of the war. In the long term, the latter effect had far more impact on the conduct of the war as a whole and so Jutland may be considered a turning point in the war at sea.

How the Navy Helped

Admiral William S. Sims was sent to London in the spring of 1917. A fleet of destroyers followed him shortly thereafter. The destroyers helped to blockade Germany, pursued submarines, and convoyed merchant ships.

The battleship played an important role in World War 1. Without it the Allies could have lost control of the seas and, therefore, the war. This was prevented by the battle of Jutland in May 1916, the single large-scale clash of battleships of the war. The British kept the German navy bottled up in the Baltic and North seas, forcing Germany to rely on unrestricted submarine warfare. By the end of the war the Allies had developed sufficient countermeasure, but German U-boats sent to the bottom of the sea 5,234 merchant ships, 10 battleships, 18 cruisers, 20 destroyers, and 9 submarines from the Allies’ arsenal. Meheriar Hossain

Battle of The Somme

The next major offensive on the Western Front on the river Somme in N France was the Battle of the Somme 1 July-18 Nov 1916. The object of this joint French and British advance, planned by the Marshal of France, Joseph Joffre, and UK commander in chief Douglas Haig, was to drive the Germans north toward the coast, and so make it impossible for them to continue to hold the southern part of the salient. In the course of over four months of some of the bloodiest fighting of the war, the Allies gained barely 13 km at a cost of over a million casualties in total.

The battle is also notable as the first in which tanks were used. Toward the end of the Somme offensive, 24 October, the French launched another attack on German positions at Verdun. The Germans were taken by surprise, and from Fleury to Fort Douaumont positions that had taken the Germans months to win were recovered in a few hours. Further gains were made during November and by mid-December the Germans had been driven back almost to the positions from which they had started, although they still retained some of their gains to the north.

The second Battle of the Somme, 21 March 1918, was the first act of the German Spring Offensive. It was intended to capture Amiens and split the French and British armies. The attack was initially successful, forcing the Allies to fall back and the Germans were within a few miles of Arras before they were finally held.

Battle Of Jutland

It was naval battle between British and German forces on 31 May 1916, off the West Coast of Jutland. Its outcome was indecisive, but the German fleet remained in port for the rest of the war.

Early on 31 May the German fleet under Admiral Scheer entered the North Sea from the Baltic, intending to entice British battle cruisers in the area to the Norwegian coast and destroy them. The two sides’ scouts saw each other in the afternoon of 31 May and the German force promptly turned away to entice the British onto waiting the German fleet. The British took the bait and a long-range gunnery duel then took place in which the British lost battle cruisers and sustained damage to their flagship.

The British then themselves turned away to draw the Germans north and bring them against Admiral Jellicoe’s larger force. The fleets met, and a general melee ensued during which another British battle cruiser was sunk. However, the Germans realised they were outgunned and fled. Jellicoe, fearful of torpedoes in the failing light of evening, decided not to follow and the battle then came to a somewhat inconclusive end.

How The War Ended

Toward the end of Sept 1918 it was obvious that the German offensive in the west had failed, while Bulgaria and Turkey were on the verge of defeat and Austria was pleading for peace at any price. The British blockade of naval supply routes had made starvation rampant throughout Central Europe. All of Germany’s allies had collapsed by early November, and it was left alone to meet the decisive final battles of the war. The German line on the Meuse was broken 1 Nov, and during the next few days the Americans followed up their advantage, until they reached Sedan 7 Nov. The German centre was broken in the Battle of the Sambre from 1 Nov. By 9 Nov Maubeuge had fallen, Tournai was occupied the same day and early on 11 Nov the Canadians captured Mons.

A new German government was installed lead by a new chancellor, Prince Maximilian, to negotiate with the Allies. Maximilian sent a note to president Wilson on 4 Oct, asking for an armistice and declaring Germany’s acceptance of the his Fourteen Points as a basis for peace discussions. An armistice was signed between Germany and the Allies at 5 a.m. 11 Nov 1918, and at 11.00 a.m. that day fighting ceased all along the Western Front as the armistice came into effect. Meheriar Hossain

The Terms of Peace (Treaties)

1. Treaty of Versailles between the Allies and Germany, signed 29 June 1919

2. Treaty of St Germain-en-Laye between the Allies and Austria, signed 10 Sept 1919

3. Treaty of Trianon between the Allies and Hungary, signed 4 June 1920

4. Treaty of Sevres , between the Allies and Turkey, signed 10 Aug, 1920

5. Treaty of Lausanne between the Allies and Turkey, signed 24 July 1923

World War I: chronology

1914

28 June: Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria 28 June.

28 July: German government issued cheque to Austria, offering support in war against Serbia.

1 Aug: Germany declared war on Russia. France mobilised to assist Russian ally.

3 Aug: Germany declared war on France and invaded Belgium.

4 Aug: Britain declared war on Germany, then on Austria.

6 Aug: Austria-Hungary declares war on Russia.

19 Aug: Russia invades Germany.

Sept: British and French troops halted German advance just short of Paris, and drove them back. First Battle of the Marne, and of the Aisne. Beginning of trench warfare.

Oct-Nov: First Battle of Ypres. Britain declared war on Turkey.

1915

April-May: Gallipoli offensive launched by British and dominion troops against Turkish forces. Second Battle of Ypres. First use of poison gas by Germans. Italy joined war against Austria. German submarine sank ocean liner Lusitania on 7 May, later helping to bring USA into the war.

Aug-Sept: Warsaw evacuated by the Russians. Battle of Tarnopol. Tsar Nicholas II took supreme control of Russian forces.

1916

Jan: Final evacuation of British and dominion troops from Gallipoli.

Feb: German offensive against Verdun began, with huge losses for little territorial gain.

May: Naval battle of Jutland between British and German imperial fleets ended inconclusively, but put a stop to further German naval participation in the war.

July-Nov: First Battle of the Somme, a sustained Anglo-French offensive which won little territory and lost a huge number of lives.

Aug: Hindenburg and Ludendorff took command of the German armed forces. Romania entered the war against Austria.

Sept: Early tanks used by British on Western Front.

Nov: Nivelle replaced Joffre as commander of French forces.

Dec: French recapture Verdun. Austrians occupied Bucharest.

1917

Feb: Germany declared unrestricted submarine warfare.

March-April: Germans retreated to Siegfried Line on Western Front.

April-May: USA entered the war against Germany. Nivelle replaced by Petain.

July-Nov: Third Ypres offensive including Battle of Passchendaele.

Oct-Nov: Battle of Caporetto, Italian troops defeated by Austrians.

1918

Jan: US President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed `Fourteen Points’ as a basis for peace settlement.

March: Treaty of Brest-Litovsk

Sept: Hindenburg and Ludendorff called for an armistice.

Oct: Armistice offered on the basis of the `Fourteen Points’.

Nov: Austria-Hungary signed armistice with Allies. Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany went into exile. Germany agreed armistice. Fighting on Western Front stopped.

1919

Jan: Peace conference opened at Versailles.

May: Demands presented to Germany.

June: Germany signed peace treaty at Versailles.