How the Great War Raged over Three Continents by 1915

How the Great War Raged over Three Continents by 1915

When visualising World War One, images of the trenches along the Western Front, or perhaps the exploits of ace fighter pilots come to mind. But while the main antagonists were indeed European, this was truly a global war.

Developments in January 1915 show this, with fighting taking place over three continents as rival nations clashed in a bid for worldwide influence.

1. Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck victorious at Jassin

On 19 January General von Lettow-Vorbeck took Jassin which was held by the British on the frontier between British and German East African colonies.

Great War poster of Lettow-Vorbeck leading African soldiers. Above: “Colonial Warriors’ Donation”; below a facsimile of Lettow-Vorbeck’s signature.

Although Jassin was weakly defended von Lettow-Vorbeck was prompted by the battle to conserve his men and equipment as he was outnumbered by a long way and not easily able to acquire more ammunition.

Thereafter, he did’t confront the British colonial forces directly and with only around 10,000 men he waged a guerrilla campaign, which kept hundreds of thousands of enemy troops occupied in East Africa and away from the European theatre.

This has since been described as potentially one of the most successful guerrilla campaigns of all time.

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2. Continental frustrations

French offensive action on the Western Front continued into 1915 and on 13 January the Battle of Artois ended. The French had advanced by less than a mile since the beginning of the offensive. However, this came at a significant cost, with French soldiers dying in their thousands.

On the other side of the continent, the Russians found themselves fighting on three separate fronts.

Whilst re-taking some land from the Germans in the northern tip of the Eastern Front, they also frustrated the Austrio-Hungarian offensive through the Carpathian mountains, and also claimed a decisive victory over the Ottomans in the Caucusus.

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3. Conflict in Oman

British and Indian soldiers were defending Muscat where the British supported the Sultan Taimur bin Feisal. Taimur did not however command the loyalty of all groups within his country.

When the British began interfering in the highly profitable arms trade in the region many people became resentful and rallied behind the Imam of Oman who resented the extent to which the British influence the sultan.

Backed by the Germans and Ottomans the discontented groups in Oman attacked, Muscat where the sultan was based.

The British Empire soldiers were able to resist the attack but it was indicative of a growing struggle for influence in the region: between local leaders and the empires of Britain, France, Germany and Turkey.

Even in 1917, the Germans would lay claim to much of Africa. This map was according to ‘Germany’s Future’, (Berlin, 1917).

4. German air attacks against Britain

January would also mark the first ever bombing raid on the British mainland, with the start of the German strategic bombing campaign. Here, the use of Zeppelins terrified the British people.

On 19 January Germany launched its first Zeppelin airship raid on Britain. A main target for these terrors of the sky was Great Yarmouth, where they dropped several bombs and inflicted great damage.

In practical terms this impact was small but in terms of German strategy it was believed that attacking civilian targets would break the British morale and bring the war to an early end. January 1915 marks the start of ‘the First Blitz’.


World War 1 Allies 1914-1918

Some wars make strange bedfellows. Countries that had been traditional enemies Russia and Japan, Germany and the Ottoman Empire, and even France and Great Britain were scrapping old enmities. Although long before victory against the Central Powers was assured, Britain and France were diplomatically at odds over the division of the spoils.  For some countries joining forces in past wars,  it was similar ideology, for others, common interests or culture, or simply "that an enemy of my enemy is my friend". World War 1 broke the mold. In this war, partners simply chose "all of the above". Commenting on the vagaries of alliances the famous,  T.E, Lawrence, who was intricate in  the history of the Middle East said, "All is fair in love, war, and alliances".


The struggle for neutrality

The outbreak of general war in Europe in August 1914 raised grave challenges to Wilson’s skill and leadership in foreign affairs. In spite of the appeals of propagandists for the rival Allies and Central Powers, the great majority of Americans were doggedly neutral and determined to avoid involvement unless American rights and interests were grossly violated. This, too, was Wilson’s own feeling, and in August he issued an official proclamation of neutrality and two weeks later appealed to Americans to be “impartial in thought as well as in action.”


How the Great War Raged over Three Continents by 1915 - History

World War I was a truly global conflict. Although the western front dominates the popular imagination with its frustrating, static trench warfare, the conflict raged from Finland to Greece, from the Caucasus to Arabia and from Turkey to the coast of China. It is not often given much attention but the Great War also raged across the entire continent of Africa as well, north to south and east to west. The Turks launched attacks on Egypt and Turkish forces supported guerilla attacks against the Allies there and in Libya as well as in Somalia where local rebels and Ethiopians joined with Turkish support against the Italian presence on the Horn of Africa (previously covered here). The French also did battle with rebel forces in Morocco and Algeria that were supported by the Central Powers. South of the Sahara, however, it was the Germans who were on the defensive and the Allies who were on the attack as the German colonies of Togoland (Togo), Kamerun (Cameroon), German Southwest Africa (Namibia) and German East Africa (Tanzania) were early targets for the Allies, Great Britain in particular. In fact, unknown to most, the first British shot of the war was fired, not by a Tommy of the BEF in Belgium but by an unknown African soldier in the British colonial army in Togoland.

Whereas the fighting on the western front in Europe involved hundreds of thousands of men struggling over mere yards of devastated terrain, in Africa relatively small armies fought for control of vast territories. It was also fought with all of the latest technological advancements seen elsewhere. Alongside native African scouts armed with spears and shields of animal hide were employed modern rifles, machine guns, airplanes and artillery. The conflict in Africa was also just as deadly. When considering the much smaller size of the armies involved and taking into account the immense number of deaths due to disease, the African front was just as deadly as that in Europe. Also, like the fighting in Europe and the Middle East, the war in Africa would have very far-reaching consequences. Territory would change hands, new governments and new policies, the rekindling of old hatreds and the emergence of a new African nationalism and confidence all had their roots in the Great War. A number of important figures emerged from the war or gained a new type of notoriety from it. For the British, Jan Smuts, once a Boer enemy of the British Empire, would be cast in a new light as one of its greatest heroes. On the German side, none would match the rise to fame of Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, a relatively unknown Prussian colonial officer who would make his name as arguably the greatest master of irregular warfare in history, sometimes referred to (a few decades later) as the “Rommel of World War One”. The clash of Rommel and Montgomery in the deserts of Libya and Egypt in the Second World War may be more famous but it was certainly not the first time that German and British armies did battle on the continent of Africa.

For the German Empire, Africa was not to be a priority. Any war would be fought and won in Europe and regardless of what happened in Africa, the map could be redrawn afterwards accordingly, and the Germans did hope to make extensive gains in Africa. They would leave North Africa to their Turkish allies while Germany would dominate most of the rest, linking their 1914 colonies together to create a massive “German Central Africa” sprawling across the continent. This was to be done after Germany won the war in Europe at the negotiating table. As such, the German colonies in Africa were not heavily defended at all. Togoland possessed only a military-police force and Kamerun had only a small garrison. German Southwest Africa had earlier seen a native rebellion and was the one colony where native Africans were not trusted to bear arms so that the garrison was entirely German, very professional but quite small. The most important colony, German East Africa, had a colonial military force made up mostly of Africans under German command and was the most substantial but still far from being considered a significant force. The German colonies were all separated from each other by vast distances and surrounded by enemy territory. Once war began no help was to be expected to reach Africa from Germany due to the dominance of the British Royal Navy and both sides expected the German colonies to be picked off one by one with relative ease.

Togoland police troops
Of course, this was not to be the case. As soon as war was declared the Allies began moving in on German Africa, starting with the colony of Togoland. British colonial troops invaded from the Gold Coast and a French colonial force invaded from Dahomey (Benin). Togoland was the only west African colony with no army to defend it. The only force on hand was the military-police force which consisted of two German army officers, six German policemen and 560 African personnel. The German governor, Duke Adolf Friedrich zu Mecklenberg, tried to make peace with the Allies, saying that not to do so would only cause needless deaths among the Africans and be an unseemly spectacle of Europeans fighting against each other in a continent where they were vastly outnumbered. This was not an uncommon sentiment. The Belgians had hoped to keep the war away from their massive colony but German attacks on Belgian shipping on Lake Tanganyika put a stop to that. Also in German East Africa the governor, Heinrich Schnee, also hoped to avoid fighting but his own local military commander, Lt. Colonel Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck was having none of that and determined to fight (the two never got on well). But, even before the war, the British decided that keeping Africa out of it would not be in their best interests. There was too much to gain by going in and there was, throughout the conflict, quite a competition among the Allies to see who could gain the most territory since, correctly as it turned out, what an army held they were most likely to keep when it was over.

In Togoland, despite being vastly outmatched, the small German police force put up a spirited resistance. They carried out what was basically a slow, fighting-retreat until finally surrendering to the Allies on August 26, 1914. Togoland was subsequently divided up between Britain and France. The only non-territorial goal that could be pointed to in these opening campaigns were the wireless stations in Togoland and Kamerun. In Kamerun there was a small German colonial army expanded to about 6,000 men but which was totally outmatched by the tens of thousands of Allied troops surrounding them and they were soon beset by a joint Anglo-French-Belgian invasion force. After an initial victory the Allied attack stalled at German forts in Mora and Garua. At one point the Germans even went on the offensive and launched a raid into Nigeria but this was unsuccessful. Many fled into the unexplored interior and continued to be a distraction for the Allies for more than a year before the last German forces surrendered in 1916. Again, the territory was divided between the French and the British in the aftermath.


Lebanon’s dark days of hunger: The Great Famine of 1915-18

Almost 100 years ago this month, as the First World War raged across Europe and beyond, a dark chapter unfolded in what was then known as Greater Syria.

The first culprit: the relentless locust. Following a bad harvest caused by a drought, in April 1915 dark clouds heralded the arrival of swarms of locusts, descending to feed on plants, whether green or dry.

For over three months, the tiny but insatiable creatures devoured whatever had been left behind by the Ottoman authorities, who had prioritised food and grain reserves to feed their soldiers as part of the imperial war effort.

This marked the beginning of a period that is now often just a footnote in the history books: the Great Famine of 1915-18, which left an estimated 500,000 people dead. With a lack of accurate data, estimates range from 100,000 to 200,000 deaths in Mount Lebanon alone.

At this time, the population of Lebanon was estimated at about 400,000, meaning that half its people died. At 250,000, the American Red Cross estimated an even higher death toll.

It was the highest death toll by population of the First World War.

“The nights in Beirut were atrocious: You heard the whining and screaming of starved people: ‘Ju3an, Ju3an’ (hungry, hungry),” wrote the Turkish feminist author Halide Edib (1882-1964) in her memoirs.

In his book Al Raghif (The Bread), the Lebanese writer and diplomat Toufic Youssef Aouad – a child during the famine – wrote: “There was a woman lying on her back, covered with lice. A newborn with enormous eyes was at her breast. The child kept pressing the breast with his hands and lips and would then give up and cry and cry.”

There were reports of people eating cats, dogs and rats, even cannibalism. One account is by a priest who tells of a father who came to confess that he had eaten his own children.

Edward Nickoley, 1917, an employee with the Syrian Protestant College, later to become the American University of Beirut, wrote in his diary: “Starving people lying about everywhere at any time children moaning and weeping, women and children clawing over rubbish piles and ravenous­ly eating anything that they can find. When the agonised cry of famishing people in the street becomes too bitter to bear, people get up and close the windows tight in the hope of shutting out the sound. Mere babies amuse themselves by imitating the cries that they hear in the streets or at the doors.”

The Great Famine was the devastating result of both political and environmental factors, the combination of a severe drought and locusts and a suffocating blockade. After the Ottoman forces joined Germany, the Allies enforced a blockade of the entire Eastern Mediterranean in an effort to cut the supplies to the Ottomans.

In return, a blockade was introduced by General Jamal Pasha, commander in chief of the Turkish forces in Greater Syria, where cereals and wheat were prevented from entering Mount Lebanon.

In a letter to Mary Haskell, dated May 26, 1916, Gibran Khalil Gibran wrote: “The famine in Mount Lebanon has been planned and instigated by the Turkish government. Already 80,000 have succumbed to starvation and thousands are dying every single day. The same process happened with the Christian Armenians and applied to the Christians in Mount Lebanon.”

But the full story is a far more complicated, according to history professor Aaron Tylor Brand, at the American University of Beirut, whose dissertation on the famine is entitled: Lives Darkened by Calamity: Enduring the Famine of WWI in Lebanon and Western Syria.

“Previous interpretations of the famine as a deliberate product of Ottoman or Allied actions are too simplistic. Analysing monthly price lists and climatic statistics of the famine period and contextualising these within the history of famine in the region suggests that the high prices that drove the region towards famine in late 1915 were the product of environmental factors (poor rainfall, a climatic oscillation, and locust attack) and wartime mismanagement that conscripted too heavily in the countryside at a time when agricultural goods were needed for both the war and the population,” he says.

“The result was a crisis in the countryside that led to underproduction of agricultural goods, prompting speculation that increased the cost of living. This, combined with the loss of jobs due to the Allied blockade in Mount Lebanon and the coastal regions, created a situation where people, who were already growing poor due to the work stoppage, were then forced to buy expensive food to feed their families and keep themselves alive.

“State policies like price fixing, the introduction of paper money, the implementation of production and transportation controls of grain and taxation did little to help the situation,” he says. “In the end, it wasn’t that there was no food [in most towns], it was that it was too expensive to purchase, so people and families began to slowly starve.”

The Ottoman authorities issued paper money, depreciating the purchasing power of the Greater Syria inhabitants. Diseases and illnesses soon followed, with rises in epidemics like malaria, dysentery, typhoid and typhus.

“The conditions of the refugees from the Armenian Genocide and those fleeing to the cities in search of work or food increased the incidence of epidemic disease during the period. The increase in susceptible individuals and the wet springs of 1916-1918 meant there were more mosquitoes feeding on more people, allowing the spread of malaria to reach crisis levels by 1917. The anaemia and diarrhoea of malaria, combined with malnourishment, was a bad combination, probably subtly contributing to the death tolls,” says Prof Brand.

All areas across Greater Syria suffered on some level or other, with the highest death tolls in Mount Lebanon, he says, due “to Ottoman mismanagement, predations by certain officials and soldiers, and poor supply systems, and poverty caused by the cessation of the silk trade.” Back then, the production of raw silk was woven by women in mills and then exported to Europe. Also tied to this period is Martyrs’ Day, marked on May 6 in Lebanon and Syria.

Earning him the title Al Jazzar (the butcher), Gen Jamal Pasha, who saw tens of thousands die from starvation, also ordered the public execution of 21 Syrians and Lebanese in Damascus and Beirut in 1916, for alleged “anti-Turkish activities”. Marjeh Square in Damascus and Burj square in Beirut were both renamed Martyrs’ Square.

“Our parents did not like to talk too much about that period. It was a dark ugly part of our history,” says Teresa Michel, now in her late 80s, from the coastal city of Betroun, northern Lebanon, which – along with Byblos and Tripoli – was also hit hard by the famine.

“They lost so many loved ones during that time. My father once said that the rich families survived as they were able to bribe and get supplies on the black market. It was the unemployed, the middle class and the poor that were dying in the streets.”

Today the only survivor of the famine still living is believed to be a 105-year-old man in Batloun, Lebanon. But the story of the Great Famine remains alive through those who remember the horrific stories of death and survival.


Man-Made Hell: The History of the Great War and Beyond


When one focuses on the history of the early 20th Century, nearly all attention is ceded to the Great War. After all, the Great War was by far the bloodiest conflict ever fought in human history. With that being said, however, the history of the powers that maintained neutrality throughout the duration of the Great War is also incredibly important, especially when seeking out the origins of the post-war geopolitical climate. Therefore, it is necessary to delve into the history of the “sleeping giants” of the Great War the United States, Italy, China, and Japan in order to completely understand what the politics of the world were like during the Great War.


After the Empire of Japan negotiated its removal from the wrath of the Great War with Germany, the Japanese government immediately shifted its attention to its western neighbor, China. As of recently, China had been the victim of plenty of violence despite not being involved in the Great War. In the December of 1915, President Yuan Shikai of the Republic of China was declared the emperor of the Empire of China in an attempt to bring stability to the rapidly deteriorating Chinese government. Yuan’s coronation, however, was met with retaliation from those who still supported democracy and put up resistance to the Hongxian Emperor (the new title for Yuan Shikai) as southern Chinese provinces seceded and forged the National Protection Army to fight against the Empire of China and restore the destroyed republic.

Yuan Shikai, the Hongxian Emperor of the Empire of China.


While the Empire of China initially appeared to have an advantage over the secessionist republican provinces in the south, the unpopularity of the Hongxian Emperor would severely harm the war effort. The independent provinces loyal to the National Protection Army somehow overcame their shortcomings due to the vast array of discontent within the high command of the Beiyang Army. As pressure to abandon the Empire of China grew, Yuan Shikai abdicated from his position as the monarch of China in the March of 1916, and on July 14th, 1916 the National Protection War ended with a victory for the southern republicans following Yuan Shikai’s death in the prior June. In the aftermath of the collapse of the Empire of China, numerous members of the Hongxian Emperor’s Beiyang Army became warlords, and China fell apart.


The National Protection War was merely background noise as the Great War raged on, however, the Japanese were especially concerned with the crisis to their west. The fates of Japan and China were intertwined, and cooperation between the two became increasingly precious once Japanese imperialism entered the Asian mainland. By the time the Empire of Japan left the increasingly destructive and chaotic Great War, National Protection War had concluded and China’s stability was rapidly deteriorating. While the Republic of China was restored, warlordism was increasingly rampant and the internal politics of the Chinese democracy were becoming more and more polarized. Under the leadership of Sun Yat-Sen, the nationalist Kuomintang rose to become the opponent of President Li Yuanhong and Premier Duan Qirui. It was apparent to all in China that the government of the re-established republic was on the brink of internal collapse, and all it would take was one spark.


Unfortunately for the Republic of China, that spark did come. General Zhang Xun, a staunch monarchist who was previously loyal to the Hongxian Emperor, would invade Beijing in the June of 1917 and forced President Li to dissolve the Chinese parliament, and restored the young Puyi of the fallen Qing Dynasty as the emperor of China on July 1st, 1917. Li Yuanhong and his supporters would evacuate north to Manchuria, where Duan Qirui was tasked with protecting the rapidly deteriorating Republic of China after defeating an attempt to restore the Chinese Qing monarchy in Manchuria. Due to bad experiences with the institution in the past, Duan Qirui would dissolve the Chinese parliament, which caused Sun Yat-Sen and his allies in southern China to establish a rival republican government in the hands of the Kuomintang.


And thus, the Chinese Civil War had begun.


Less than a year after Yuan Shikai’s Empire of China was defeated, China was engulfed in an internal war yet again as the Republic of China shattered apart into factions of warlords. The Kuomintang-led Guangzhou Government of the southern provinces and the so-called Tianjin Government (named after the city of Tianjin, where Li Yuanhong’s government consolidated power following the chaos in Beijing) found themselves opposed in a war for control of one of the largest and most ancient nations to ever exist. The two governments immediately set out to consolidate their power, with Duan Qirui installing relatives into positions of power within the Tianjin Government, while the Guangzhou Government consolidated power by becoming a one-party military junta led by Sun Yat-Sen.


Premier Duan’s tendency to put his relatives in powerful positions would only harm the stability of the government he was supposed to keep together. In the shadows of the Tianjin Government, enemies of Duan Qirui rose up and would push for taking power away from the ambitious man. Li Yuanhong would retire from the presidency early in the August of 1917 and was succeeded by his vice president, Feng Guozhang, who intervened in the crisis involving his premier by pressuring Duan Qirui to resign, although there was much discontent produced by Duan’s underlings in retaliation that could have very well led to the return of Duan Qirui had not he personally insulted President Feng following his forced resignation.


When the Chinese Civil War broke out in the summer of 1917, the world ignored the crisis in the east. After all, the conflict was nothing compared to the international catastrophe that was the Great War and therefore was of little concern to European, or for that matter, western affairs. The Japanese, however, continued to keep an eye on China as Tianjin and Guangzhou clashed, and many Japanese political officials were fearful that the civil war could potentially risk their dreams of Pan-Asian collaboration. In fact, the Chinese Civil War was one of the many factors that contributed to the Japanese and Germans sitting down for peace talks in Fukuoka, due to many in Japan desiring to intervene in the Chinese Civil War rather than waste lives and resources on the seemingly pointless and increasingly deadly Great War.


Upon leaving the Great War, Prime Minister Inukai Tsuyoshi shifted attention to China, and as the Russian Democratic Federative Republic stabilized Japanese soldiers were called south in preparation for any potential intervention in China. If Japan were to enter the Chinese Civil War, it was obvious which faction they would support. The hostile and nationalist Guangzhou Government would never become an ally of the Empire of Japan, and was anticipated to become a rival of the Japanese should Sun Yat-Sen and his Kuomintang emerge victorious over all of China. Furthermore, there were many pro-Japanese elements within the Tianjin Government, which would guarantee that diplomacy between the two regimes was not only possible, but would most likely go over well for the increasingly desperate Feng Administration.


In the November of 1919, the new premier of the Tianjin Government, Wang Daxie, briefly visited Japan and would speak in front of the Imperial Diet, imploring its members to support the Tianjin in its war against the Kuomintang. Wang’s diplomatic mission proved to be a success, and on December 2nd, 1919 the Japanese government, which had already been loaning resources to the Tianjin Government for awhile, agreed to deploy soldiers in China in order to fight the Guangzhou Government to the south. Within the next few days, history would accelerate as the RDFR would join its ally, Japan, in the Chinese Civil War and, soon enough, experienced Russian officers who had fought on behalf of the Green Army were fighting in China alongside the Japanese and Chinese. In order to consolidate an alliance, the three nations would meet in Tonghua to officially establish an official alliance. The Tonghua Pact, a mutual defense and free trade coalition, was formed on December 22nd, 1919, and ensured the cooperation of all three regimes (as well as the Japanese military occupation of the RDFR and Tianjin Government for the foreseeable future), while also becoming the first step towards the upcoming East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere.


Step by step, Asia was moving closer and closer to a unified government.

Bloodshed in the Yangtze


“I remember the Yangtze River well. When I was a young man, fighting on behalf of Chinese democracy in the Tianjin Army, it was at the banks of the Yangtze where I saw the worst horrors of war firsthand and gazed into the eyes of death itself.”


-Premier Mao Zedong addressing the East Asian Diet, circa 1941.

Emblem of the Kuomintang, the supreme political party in the Guangzhou Government and its successor, the National Republic of China.


Once the Tianjin Government assembled a coalition of regional powers, the preparation for the long push south commenced. Of course, in order for the Tianjin Government to win the Chinese Civil War, internal stability would need to be accomplished first. Feng Guozhong would exit the presidency of China in the October of 1918, and was succeeded by Cao Kun following an election, while the Communication while the bureaucratic and labor unionist Communications Clique secured a majority of seats in the Tianjin Government’s parliament. It was uncovered that Duan Qirui had attempted to rig the 1918 Chinese elections in favor of his Anfu Club, however, such attempts were uncovered and Duan’s already collapsing political career shattered. With public support of Duan nearly annihilated, the disgruntled military officer would consolidate his remaining power in the provinces of Anhui, Shaanxi, Suiyuan, and Chahar and declare war on the Tianjin Government on January 8th, 1919.

Duan Qirui, the leader of the Anhui Clique.


Duan Qirui’s new Anhui Clique would not choose to realign with Sun Yat-Sen’s Guangzhou Government, therefore meaning that it would have to simultaneously defend against both Tianjin and Guangzhou. Japanese intervention in the Chinese Civil War was still nearly a year away, however, the severely weakened Anhui Clique could not take on both sides at once and is two rival factions were far more populated and better equipped. The province of Anhui was partitioned in half by the dawn of the April of 1919, while Tianjin Government turned its attention to what remained of Duan’s regime. The Anhui Clique was definitely a threat to President Kun (especially once a handful of pro-Duan military commanders defected), however, the Clique was no match to the Tianjin Government and would rapidly lose territory within months. Thus, on June 29th, 1919 the Anhui Clique would completely collapse and was reintegrated into the Tianjin Government, while Duan Qirui and a few of his most loyal officers would evacuate west, living out the rest of their lives in retirement in Xinjiang.


Therefore, when the Empire of Japan arrived in northern China, the Tianjin Government was a stable and moderately powerful member of the Tonghua Pact and was ready to progress south against the Guangzhou Government. Sun Yat-Sen had taken advantage of the distraction that was the Anhui Clique, and progressed both west and north. By the time the Japanese had declared war on the Guangzhou Government, the Kuomintang’s National Revolutionary Army (NRA) had nearly pushed the Tianjin Government completely out of the Anhui province, and if it wasn’t for General Sun Chuanfang, Jiangsu would have fallen into the hands of Sun Yat-Sen months ago and the Kuomintang would be invading Sandong.


Even though it had the strongest nation in Asia on its side, the Tianjin Government would be in a fight for its very existence throughout 1920.


Under the command of Hideki Tojo, the Imperial Japanese Army pushed for the Yangtze, hoping to contain the Guangzhou Government in the southern provinces. Thousands of veterans of the Great War, both Japanese and Russian alike, would progress deep into the Guangzhou Government, and by the start of the March of 1920, China was divided along the Yangtze River, where the two factions of the Chinese Civil War exchanged gunfire over Asia’s largest river. Not even Lu Rongting, the individual who had presided over the NRA’s invasion of Jiangsu, could cross over into the north and the same situation applied to his counterparts, who returned gunfire to him every single passing day.


As the Chinese Civil War shifted into a war of attrition, the two factions began to endorse a peaceful end to the bloody conflict. The leaders of the Tianjin Government had actually supported negotiations for awhile, and Sun Yat-Sen’s aggression had been the only thing preventing a ceasefire being applied. However, as the situation for a breakthrough by the NRA became increasingly more implausible (not only that, but the Tonghua Pact was investing more and more resources and if things stayed the same, Cao Kun would eventually be able to call himself the unifier of China) Sun Yat-Sen entertained the idea of a diplomatic end to hostilities. Increasing pressure from Lu Rongting and likeminded officers commanding along the southern banks of the Yangtze would be the straw that broke the camel’s back and on October 11th, 1920 representatives from both Tianjin and Guangzhou, as well as their respective allies, would arrive in Hangzhou to come to a peaceful agreement.


After half a decade of bloodshed, China was at peace yet again.


After days of negotiations, the two factions finally managed to come to an agreement. China would be partitioned roughly down the Yangtze River between two governments. In the south, the Kuomintang would be free to assert its authority and centralize whatever provinces it occupied, while the Tianjin Government would control the northern provinces, with the exception of Xinjiang, which had asserted its independence under the monarchist Yeng Zengxin, the very last remnant of the Empire of China. The two Chinas did, however, have to agree to give up the official name “Republic of China,” in order to avert disputes over which state was the true successor to the unified Chinese democracy.


In the south, President Sun Yat-Sen declared the National Republic of China (NRC), a one-party military junta clenched within the iron fist of the Kuomintang. The NRC was immediately quickly centralized, and Sun Yat-Sen was declared the South Chinese president for life. Once all political parties, excluding the Kuomintang, were banned in South China, political dissidents and rivals of Sun who refused to conform to his dictatorship, were forced into exile or would face imprisonment or even execution. The nationalist junta of President Sun would quickly begin its industrialization in the upcoming years, and upon the death of Sun Yat-Sen in 1925, his cronies would begin to clash over who would become the next president of the National Republic of China.

Flag of the National Republic of China.


In the north, the Tianjin Government would rename to the Provisional Government of China in accordance to the Treaty of Hangzhou, however, this term was short-lived. By the end of the October of 1920, a new constitution for the Provisional Government was approved and on October 29th, 1920 the Chinese Federation was declared, with its capital in Beijing. Just like the name implies, North China was a federal democracy, a move conducted in part to satisfy the numerous autonomous warlords and governors who had presided over their respective provinces throughout the duration of the Chinese Civil War. Cao Kun would lead the Chinese Federation as its first president until 1927, when he lost an election to the dominant Youchuanbu Party, which had governed the legislative assembly of North China since the election of 1918 back in the Tianjin Government. The Chinese Federation would adopt the flag of the Republic of China as its banner, which had been adorned by the Tianjin Government beforehand.

Flag of the Chinese Federation.


After the Chinese Civil War concluded and the ink dried on the Treaty of Hangzhou, the Chinese Federation and its allies would preserve the Tonghua Pact, which became the dominant peacekeeping force on the Asian government, especially whilst the great powers of Europe were distracted by their nightmarish inferno of a war. In the November of 1920, the Bogd Khanate of Mongolia became the fourth member state of the Tonghua Pact due to fears of a potential Soviet incursion, especially after Tannu Tuva fell to communism, becoming the Tuvan People’s Republic, a Soviet puppet state, near the conclusion of the Russian Civil War. Throughout the 1920s, the Empire of Japan would reduce its military presence in both North China and RDFR, therefore securing the autonomy of the two nations, however, Japanese military bases would always exist within the two states, especially along the increasingly militarized Yangtze River.


The history of Asia and Europe in the 20th Century were, in many ways, parallel to each other. One continent would enter the new century as the masters of the world, while the other entered as the servants of the other. One was plunged into an era of unimaginable horror and bloodshed, while the other moved towards a greater peace that would end previous chaos. And of course, one continent’s global domination would be absorbed by the other. As one sun set, another would rise.


“Stronger than a Bull Moose”


-Popular 1920 presidential campaign slogan for Hiram Johnson

United States Capitol building, circa 1910.


The United States of America is notorious for staying completely neutral throughout all of the Great War. Aside from condemnation of controversial wartime activities, such as the sinking of the Lusitania or the Wehrstaat Declaration, and the selling of supplies primarily to the Entente, the United States would stay completely out of the mess that war the Great War. Of course, this was by no means unprecedented. Despite being considered a great power that rivaled even the greatest empires across the Atlantic Ocean, the United States had a history of not only staying out of foreign affairs, but also keeping other powers out of their own affairs in accordance with the Monroe Doctrine, which had been put in place for nearly a century when Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated one day in the June of 1914.


President Woodrow Wilson, the first Democrat to reside within the White House since the presidency of Grover Cleveland, had actually campaigned (and won) in 1916 with the slogan “he kept us out of war” and intended to continue to preserve American neutrality. Instead, President Wilson focused on domestic concerns throughout the duration of his second term, and his actions would often infuriate northern progressives, Republican and Democrat alike. Despite serving as a the governor of New Jersey prior to being elected president in 1912, Woodrow Wilson was actually born in Virginia and was absolutely a southern Democrat. It was Wilson who would institute segregation upon federal offices, and discriminatory hiring practices were only increased by the Wilson administration.

President Woodrow Wilson of the United States of America.


Economically, Woodrow Wilson was rather populist, however, it was his socially conservative ideology that would get him more attention. The racism of the Wilson administration would continue throughout his entire second term, however, his suppression of labor strikes, many of which were put down violently, became especially prominent as the 1920 presidential election neared. Feminism would also grow throughout his second term, however, Wilson and like-minded Democrats were keen on ensuring that the rights of women would be not determined by the federal government, but rather by local governments within the forty-eight states of the United States. This, coupled with the outbreak of a vicious disease, named the Kansas Flu, in 1918 would diminish the support of the Wilson administration.


By the time Woodrow Wilson’s second was nearing completion, the president was increasingly unpopular and there was no way the Democratic Party would nominate President Wilson for a second term. Not that Woodrow Wilson would run in 1920 anyway, his physical health was declining every day, especially after President Wilson fell ill with the Kansas Flu himself. Therefore, the Democratic Party would have to find a new candidate for the presidency, and plenty of men took up the challenge to win the support of one of the largest political organizations within the United States. While William Gibbs McAdoo, Wilson’s son-in-law, appeared to become the Democratic candidate, Woodrow Wilson suddenly took a gamble at being nominated for a third term by preventing McAdoo from winning the nomination. All this did, however, was doom McAdoo’s chance to become the next president and the Democratic National Convention selected Governor Carter Glass of Virginia instead, and Alexander Mitchell Palmer was chosen to be his running mate.


The Republican Party, the opponents of the Democrats, would retaliate to the socially conservative Glass by pushing for a progressive from former President Theodore Roosevelt’s sect of the party in order to win the support of progressives across the United States and paint the Democrats as a reactionary party that had stubbornly held back social progress for nearly a decade (which was not completely false, if it weren’t for the faction of progressive Democrats within the party’s ranks). Of course, more conservative members of the Republican Party were still present within the 1920 presidential primaries, most notably Governor Frank Orren Lowden of Illinois, however, the conservative policies of the Wilson administration pushed the progressives to the top and, following the death of Theodore Roosevelt in 1919, the former president’s personal choice, Senator Hiram Johnson won the support of the Republican National Convention, and Senator Irvine Lenroot of Wisconsin became his running mate.


The race for the White House had begun.


As the clock ticked down to the day Americans would select their next president, the complete contrast between Johnson and Glass became extremely obvious. While both men were opposed to American entry into the Great War, their similarities ended there. Economically, Hiram Johnson endorsed the anti-trust policies of the late Theodore Roosevelt and supported collective bargaining between labor unions and corporate leaders in accordance to his advocacy for direct democracy. Carter Glass used such policies as an excuse to label Senator Johnson as a socialist, a claim that was popular amongst the conservative sect of the Democratic Party, but seemed a bit more ridiculous amongst Republicans and moderate Democrats.


Socially, the two men were also opposites. Glass’ support of states’ rights would cause him to declare that he would leave the issue of female suffrage to local governments (like his predecessor), while Hiram Johnson eagerly endorsed gender equality as a way to win over plenty of American progressives with ease. Another major issue that the two candidates battled over was segregation. In order to not destroy all support he had in the southern states, Johnson never straight out endorsed pushing towards racial equality, however, he did announce his support of ending Woodrow Wilson’s policies of segregation in federal offices. Glass, on the other hand, was one of the strongest proponents of Jim Crow laws within the United States, perhaps even stronger than Woodrow Wilson himself. This support of segregation would lead Carter Glass to propose the implementation of nationwide poll taxes as a way to keep poor African-Americans from voting, although he painted such a proposal as a way to keep communists from potentially winning any elections, at a debate with Senator Johnson. To this, Carter’s rival would say, “I see, you seek to forcefully suppress the communists? Why don’t you ask Mr Brusilov how that worked out for him?”


Carter Glass’ controversial support of nationwide poll taxes to keep poorer Americans away from ballots was arguably one of the most harmful blows to his bid for the White House. Many moderate and liberal Democrats were deeply disturbed by such a proposal, which would cause a divide within the party. One prominent Democrat who condemned Carter Glass was Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the Assistant Secretary of the Navy in Woodrow Wilson’s cabinet, and prominent progressive Democrat. After Glass’ announcement of supporting nationwide poll taxes was in the headlines of national newspapers, Franklin D Roosevelt announced that he would not vote for Carter Glass, deeming him a man who “would rather see democracy die than lose power.”


Roosevelt’s bold statement would turn him into a new symbol for progressive Democrats and an enemy of the conservative faction of the Democratic Party. In order to guarantee that his administration was still supportive of Carter Glass, Woodrow Wilson would fire Franklin Delano Roosevelt late in the September of 1920, which only further infuriated Roosevelt and his sympathizers. After losing his job, Roosevelt concluded that the Democratic Party was little more than a corrupt cabal of southern conservatives, and would invite several moderate and progressive Democrats to New York City. It was here that these like-minded politicians left the Democratic Party to forge their own new organization, named the Liberal Party, on October 10th, 1920. The founder of the Liberals, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, easily managed to become his new party’s first chairman, which automatically won him national fame.

Chairman Franklin Delano Roosevelt of the Liberal Party.


Due to having numerous policies that resembled the larger Republican Party, as well as choosing to endorse Senator Hiram Johnson rather than run their own presidential candidate in 1920, the Liberal Party quickly earned the nickname “Little Republicans.” That is not to say, however, that the Liberal Party did not have its own unique platform. The Liberals endorsed national female suffrage and Chairman Roosevelt in particular pushed for social welfare programs to help benefit the less fortunate of the United States, and the Liberals were especially opposed to poll taxes, one of the primary reasons why the Liberal Party had left the Democrats to begin with. While the Liberal Party did not openly consider itself an opponent of segregation, arguing that dividing black and white Americans in society was an affair of the states, opposition to poll taxes would turn the Liberals into opponents of restricting the African-American vote. Overall, the Liberal Party could be considered an adherent to the ideology of social liberalism, which more or less accurately describes the views of nearly all members of prominence.

The 1920 presidential election was held across the United States on November 2nd. Voter turnout was substantially large, especially due to fears that a national poll tax under a Glass administration would potentially prohibit plenty of Americans from ever voting again. If one were to look at an electoral college map, it would resemble numerous elections dating back to 1880. The northern states were solid Republican territory, while the southern states belonged to the Democratic Party. The west coast, the region Hiram Johnson originated from, easily went to the Republican Party, although anything within the Mississippi River and the Pacific Coast was a bit more contentious. In the end, however, this region was primarily won over by the ticket of Johnson and Lenroot, and by the midnight of November 2nd, 1920, it was obvious to the United States who would succeed President Woodrow Wilson.


After eight years, a Republican would be back in the White House.

Electoral college map of the 1920 United States presidential election.


While a victory for Hiram Johnson had been typically anticipated, especially when Franklin D Roosevelt formed the Liberal Party, the most devastating losses for the Democratic Party was in Congress. It was here where the Republicans not only secured a majority in both the House of Representatives and Senate, but the Liberal Party won numerous previously Democratic seats, especially in the northeastern states. As the days until Johnson’s inauguration in March began to pass by, the president-elect would start to endorse cabinet positions. Democrats were almost completely excluded from the upcoming cabinet of the Johnson administration, however, Liberals and a diverse array of Republicans would find positions in the executive branch.


Leonard Wood, a military officer from New Hampshire and progressive Republican, was almost immediately chosen to be the next secretary of war while Elihu Root returned to the position of secretary of state, which he had held during Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency. Rumors of the nomination of Franklin Delano Roosevelt as the Johnson administration’s secretary of the navy would circulate, however, in the end Roosevelt chose to remain the chairman of the Liberal Party and the Liberal Admiral Joseph Strauss was chosen for the position instead. The moderate Republican Calvin Coolidge was chosen to be the attorney general under Hiram Johnson, however, the other cabinet positions were filled with mostly progressive Republicans, such as Senator Robert Marion La Follette of Wisconsin.


When Hiram Johnson was inaugurated to become the twenty-eighth president of the United States of America on March 4th, 1921, the United States Capitol building was surrounded by a vast crowd eager to witness the inauguration of Johnson firsthand. For it was obvious to the whole nation that a new era had come upon the United States, one of progressivism, welfare, and social progress. Women were almost guaranteed that they would have the right to vote by the end of the year, and surely enough the Nineteenth Amendment was approved less than a month into the Johnson administration, only to be succeeded by the more radical Equal Rights Act and Twentieth Amendment a year later. The masses of the American workplace celebrated as the advancement of their rights from the days of the Roosevelt administration had been promised to return. President Hiram Johnson would bring upon a new age of American progressivism, one that had not been seen for well over a decade.


The Democratic Party, on the other hand, was doomed to things far worse than anyone could have ever imagined.

President Hiram Johnson of the United States of America.


The Eye of the Hurricane


“Our nation finds itself within the center of a storm. I implore my successor to not succumb to this storm’s brutality, for I fear that this storm could blow down our nation with ease.”


-Italian Vittorio Emanuele Orlando’s farewell address, circa 1920

Flag of the Kingdom of Italy.


When the Great War began, the Kingdom of Italy had just barely managed to stay out of the bloodbath that had overrun the rest of Europe within just a handful of days. Prime Minister Giovanni Giolitti and his successor, Vittorio Emanuele Orlando, were keen on preserving Italian neutrality throughout the Great War, choosing to focus on the improvement of the Italian military in navy in case the Great War came knocking on the Kingdom of Italy’s door. As a consequence of the military buildup, by 1920 the Italian armed forces rivaled that of the belligerents of the Great War, and the Red Army was the only neutral military force in Europe larger than that of Italy.


Throughout all of Phase I, a desire for Italian irredentism, and therefore entry into the Great War, would only grow. Multiple Italian politicians, including members of Orlando’s Liberal Union, would encourage joining one side or the other of the Great War, however, as it became increasingly unclear which side would emerge victorious, the Italian people shifted away from purely endorsing the Entente, especially after the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was signed. Besides, as the date for the negotiations guaranteed by the Treaty of Vienna. As the Germans became especially concerned with ending the war on the western front as quickly as possible, perhaps Italy’s opportunity to force whatever Rome wanted out of the Central Powers had arrived.


Surely enough, Austro-Hungarian and German diplomats would sit down with their Italian counterparts in Budapest on June 17th, 1920 to decide the fate of South Tyrol, Dalmatia, and Albania. The easiest territory for Austria-Hungary to cede to the Kingdom of Italy was Albania, which was technically not Austro-Hungarian territory to begin with. Instead, Albania was a nation that had fallen under total Austro-Hungarian military occupation after choosing the wrong allies in the Great War, and only a few Austro-Hungarian military commanders grumbled about the cession of Albania to the Kingdom of Italy. In accordance to the Treaty of Budapest, the Kingdom of Albania was transferred into the hands of the Italians as a protectorate with a local prime minister who would be overseen by an Italian governor-general, and King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy was crowned the king of Albania.

Flag of the Kingdom of Albania.


Other territory subject to debate via the Treaty of Vienna was more contested. Dalmatia was Austro-Hungarian land and had been in the hands of Vienna for quite some time, and it was therefore very embarrassing for Emperor Karl I to give up to the Kingdom of Italy. Still, ceding Dalmatia was nothing compared to the debate over South Tyrol and Trentino, the former of which was dominated by Germans while the latter was a valuable port to the Adriatic Sea for the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Neither would be easy to pry from Austria-Hungary, even if the German Empire would in many ways be on the side of the Italians in order to keep the western front as small as possible.


In the end, the Kingdom of Italy would get to control Trentino, but not the German-majority South Tyrol. The cession of Trieste, Austria-Hungary's most valuable port, was even more unlikely than South Tyrol, however, some territory to the west of Trieste was given to Italy as a compromise. The Kingdom of Italy was also promised Tunisia, Corsica, and a vague chunk of territory in southwestern France if the Central Powers managed to capitulate the French. A five-year-long non-aggression pact between all involved parties was also signed in order to ensure that Italian soldiers would not be pushing for Vienna anytime soon.


The Treaty of Budapest was by no means ideal for either party involved, however, the Italians mostly viewed it as a victory and backed down on further aggression towards Austria-Hungary. The public opinion of the Central Powers became much more positive in Italy, and Germany and Austria-Hungary began to be depicted as nations that honored their treaties, as well as Italian allies. The Entente, on the other hand, became a target for future Italian irredentism, and France in particular was depicted as a nation occupying rightful Italian territory and a natural opponent of Italy, with the Napoleonic Wars often being cited by Italian nationalists as a justification for revenge on the French. With that being said, it was not like Italy really had a choice over its opinion on France. While the Entente had cared little for the Treaty of Vienna back in 1915, the Treaty of Budapest immediately destroyed any chances the Entente ever had at attempting to align with the Italian government. Instead, Britain and France became critics of Italy, and labeled it as a hostile state that threatened any potential Entente victory in the Great War.


One particular Italian man would take the nationalism born out of the Treaty of Budapest and take it to a horrific extreme that would permanently scar the entire world. Benito Mussolini had once been a socialist, and had even worked for the newspaper of the Italian Socialist Party, however, his nationalist views and desire to promote nationalist desires over actually benefiting any people would lead him to leave behind socialism and form his own new reactionary ideology. After the Treaty of Vienna, Mussolini became a strong supporter of a declaration of war on the Entente, and his new organization, the Italian Fasci of Combat (FIC), would reflect these views. Mussolini would blame the French Revolution and Marxism for the “mob rule” and shift away from a value on nationalism in Europe, and Mussolini believed that these views were only validated by the egalitarian views of the Russian Soviet Republic.


Therefore, the FIC quickly completely differentiated from socialism and became a different ideology altogether. Ultranationalism, reactionism, ultra-totalitarianism, militarism, and corporatism were all features of this new so-called “counter-revolutionary” ideology, and liberalism and democracy were quickly completely rejected as a threat to the preservation of a nation. Racial hierarchy was also promoted by Benito Mussolini early on, who believed that the French, and for that matter most Latin nations excluding Italy, had become inferior after succumbing to liberalism, and Mussolini despised the Slavs.


And thus, a new and sinister ideology was born, one that would plague the minds of millions and would slaughter even more. Our planet was ruined for decades by this one terrible idea, one that was arguably the biggest factor in the extension of the Great War by two decades. In the Italian parliamentary election of 1921, the FIC gained a handful of seats and would begin its climb through the ranks of Italian politics as the countdown to the conclusion of Italian neutrality and democracy started.


World War 1 Timeline

Causes of World War 1The 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.

AlliancesAn 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)ImperialismImperialism 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.MilitarismMilitarism 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.NationalismNationalism 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.CrisesMoroccan CrisisIn 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 CrisisIn 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 1At 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 TOGETHERAustria-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 BLUNDERBUSSThe 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 ONEOn 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 FerdinandFranz 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 1The 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.htmEastern 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.htmItalian 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.htmGallipoli 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.htmThe War at SeaEven 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 HostilitiesWhen 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.STALEMATEWhen 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 BattleTrench 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.Front Line Trench Cross Section Artillery LineThe 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 TrenchThe 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 TrenchesThe 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.BunkerThe 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.TraverseTrenches 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 NestThe 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 TrenchThe 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 WireBarbed 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 PostListening 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 LandNo 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.SandbagsSandbags 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.ParapetThe 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 OutThe 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/SumpTo 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.ParadosThe 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 GunThe 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 WeaponsDuring 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.RifleThe 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 GunMachine 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.GasThe 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. ZeppelinThe 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. TankTanks 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.PlanesPlanes 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’TorpedoesTorpedoes 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 RaidsOn 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 1Although 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 1Supplying 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 CantignyIt 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 CANTIGNYGiven 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 OFFENSIVEWhen 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-ThierryWith 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-ThierryLudendorff 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-TheirryGeneral 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 WoodIn 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 WOODThe 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 1The 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 OFFENSIVEPershing 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 OffensiveIn 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 WARThe 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 VersaillesThe 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.

  • Open Diplomacy – There should be no secret treaties between powers
  • Freedom of Navigation – Seas should be free in both peace and war
  • Free Trade – The barriers to trade between countries such as custom duties should be removed
  • Multilateral Disarmament – All countries should reduce their armed forces to the lowest possible levels
  • Colonies – People in European colonies should have a say in their future
  • Russia – Russia should be allowed to operate whatever government it wanted and that government should be accepted, supported and welcomed.
  • Belgium – Belgium should be evacuated and restored to the situation before the war.
  • France – should have Alsace-Lorraine and any lands taken away during the war restored.
  • Italy – The Italian border should be readjusted according to nationality
  • National Self -Determination – The national groups in Europe should, wherever possible, be given their independence.
  • Romania, Montenegro and Serbia – Should be evacuated and Serbia should have an outlet to the sea
  • Turkey – The people of Turkey should have a say in their future
  • Poland – Poland should become an independent state with an outlet to the sea.
  • 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 VersaillesThere 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 ClausesThe establishment of the League of Nations
War Guilt clause – Germany to accept blame for starting the war.Financial ClausesReparations – 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 ClausesArmy – 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 weaponsTerritorial ClausesAnschluss – 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 coloniesThis map shows the areas that Germany lost following the Treaty of VersaillesThe Other Defeated NationsThe 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 treatiesAustria – The Treaty of St Germain 10th September 1919Land – 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 1920Land – 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 setBulgaria – The Treaty of Neuilly 27th November 1919Land – 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 armyTurkey – The Treaty of Sevres 20th August 1920Land – 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.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 1The 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:


How the Great War Raged over Three Continents by 1915 - History

1917 : The Rage of Men

January 19, 1917 - The British intercept a telegram sent by Alfred Zimmermann in the German Foreign Office to the German embassies in Washington, D.C., and Mexico City. Its message outlines plans for an alliance between Germany and Mexico against the United States. According to the scheme, Germany would provide tactical support while Mexico would benefit by expanding into the American Southwest, retrieving territories that had once been part of Mexico. The Zimmermann telegram is passed along by the British to the Americans and is then made public, causing an outcry from interventionists in the U.S., such as former president Teddy Roosevelt, who favor American military involvement in the war.

February 1, 1917 - The Germans resume unrestricted submarine warfare around the British Isles with the goal of knocking Britain out of the war by cutting off all imports to starve the British people into submission.

February 3, 1917 - The United States severs diplomatic ties with Germany after a U-Boat sinks the American grain ship Housatonic. Seven more American ships are sunk in February and March as the Germans sink 500 ships in just sixty days.

February 25, 1917 - In the Middle East, newly reinforced and replenished British troops retake Kut al-Amara in Mesopotamia from outnumbered Turks. The British then continue their advance and capture Baghdad, followed by Ramadi and Tikrit.

Russian Revolution

March 8, 1917 - A mass protest by Russian civilians in Petrograd (St. Petersburg) erupts into a revolution against Czar Nicholas II and the war. Within days, Russian soldiers mutiny and join the revolution.

March 15, 1917 - The 300-year-old Romanov dynasty in Russia ends upon the abdication of Czar Nicholas II. In his place, a new democratically minded Provisional Government is established. Great Britain, France, the United States, and Italy rush to recognize the new government in the hope Russia will stay in the war and maintain its huge presence on the Eastern Front.

March 15, 1917 - Germans along the central portion of the Western Front in France begin a strategic withdrawal to the new Siegfried Line (called the Hindenburg Line by the Allies) which shortens the overall Front by 25 miles by eliminating an unneeded bulge. During the three-week long withdrawal, the Germans conduct a scorched earth policy, destroying everything of value.

April 1917 - British combat pilots on the Western Front suffer a 50 percent casualty rate during Bloody April as the Germans shoot down 150 fighter planes. The average life expectancy of an Allied fighter pilot is now three weeks, resulting from aerial dogfights and accidents.

America Enters

April 2, 1917 - President Woodrow Wilson appears before the U.S. Congress and gives a speech saying "the world must be made safe for democracy" then asks the Congress for a declaration of war against Germany.

April 6, 1917 - The United States of America declares war on Germany.

April 9, 1917 - The British Army has one of its most productive days of the war as 3rd Army, supported by Canadian and Australian troops, makes rapid advances north of the Hindenburg Line at Arras and Vimy on the Western Front. The expansive first-day achievement in snowy weather includes a 3.5 mile territorial gain and the capture of Vimy Ridge by Canadians. However, similar to past offensives, the inability to capitalize on initial successes and maintain momentum gives the Germans an opportunity to regroup and further gains are thwarted. The British suffer 150,000 casualties during the offensive, while the Germans suffer 100,000.

Nivelle Offensive

April 16, 1917 - The French 5th and 6th Armies attack along a 25-mile front south of the Hindenburg Line. The new offensive comes amid promises of a major breakthrough within 24-hours by the new French Commander-in-Chief, Robert Nivelle, who planned the operation. Nivelle once again utilizes his creeping barrage tactic in which his armies advance in stages closely behind successive waves of artillery fire. However, this time it is poorly coordinated and the troops fall far behind. The Germans also benefit from good intelligence and aerial reconnaissance and are mostly aware of the French plan. Nivelle's offensive collapses within days with over 100,000 casualties. French President Poincaré personally intervenes and Nivelle is relieved of his command. He is replaced as Commander-in-Chief by General Henri Petain, who must deal with a French Army that is now showing signs of mutiny.

April 16, 1917 - Political agitator Vladimir Lenin arrives back in Russia, following 12 years of exile in Switzerland. Special train transportation for his return was provided by the Germans in the hope that anti-war Lenin and his radical Bolshevik Party will disrupt Russia's new Provisional Government. Lenin joins other Bolsheviks in Petrograd who have already returned from exile including Joseph Stalin.

May 18, 1917 - The Selective Service Act is passed by the U.S. Congress, authorizing a draft. The small U.S. Army, presently consisting of 145,000 men, will be enlarged to 4,000,000 via the draft.

May 19, 1917 - The Provisional Government of Russia announces it will stay in the war. A large offensive for the Eastern Front is then planned by Alexander Kerensky, the new Minister of War. However, Russian soldiers and peasants are now flocking to Lenin's Bolshevik Party which opposes the war and the Provisional Government.

French Mutiny

May 27-June 1, 1917 - The mutinous atmosphere in the French Army erupts into open insubordination as soldiers refuse orders to advance. More than half of the French divisions on the Western Front experience some degree of disruption by disgruntled soldiers, angry over the unending battles of attrition and appalling living conditions in the muddy, rat and lice-infested trenches. The new Commander-in-Chief, Henri Petain, cracks down on the mutiny by ordering mass arrests, followed by several firing squad executions that serve as a warning. Petain then suspends all French offensives and visits the troops to personally promise an improvement of the whole situation. With the French Army in disarray the main burden on the Western Front falls squarely upon the British.

June 7, 1917 - A tremendous underground explosion collapses the German-held Messines Ridge south of Ypres in Belgium. Upon detonation, 10,000 Germans stationed on the ridge vanish instantly. The British then storm the ridge forcing the surviving Germans to withdraw to a new defensive position further eastward. The 250-foot-high ridge had given the Germans a commanding defensive position. British, Australian and Canadian tunnelers had worked for a year to dig mines and place 600 tons of explosives.

June 13, 1917 - London suffers its highest civilian casualties of the war as German airplanes bomb the city, killing 158 persons and wounding 425. The British react to the new bombing campaign by forming home defense fighter squadrons and later conduct retaliatory bombing raids against Germany by British planes based in France.

June 25, 1917 - The first American troops land in France.

July 1, 1917 - Russian troops begin the Kerensky Offensive attempting to recapture the city of Lemberg (Lvov) on the Eastern Front. The Germans are lying in wait, fully aware of the battle plans which have been leaked to them. The Russians attack along a 40-mile front but suffer from a jumble of tactical problems including a lack of artillery coordination, poor troop placement, and serious disunity within the ranks reflecting the divisive political situation back home. The whole offensive disintegrates within five days. Sensing they might break the Russian Army, the Germans launch a furious counter-offensive and watch as Russian soldiers run away.

July 2, 1917 - Greece declares war on the Central Powers, following the abdication of pro-German King Constantine who is replaced by a pro-Allied administration led by Prime Minister Venizelos. Greek soldiers are now added to the Allied ranks.

Third Battle of Ypres
July 31-November 6, 1917

July 31, 1917 - The British attempt once more to break through the German lines, this time by attacking positions east of Ypres, Belgium. However, by now the Germans have vastly improved their trench defenses including well-positioned artillery. Although the British 5th Army succeeds in securing forward trench positions, further progress is halted by heavy artillery barrages from the German 4th Army and rainy weather.

August 10, 1917 - The British resume their attack at Ypres, focusing on German artillery positions around Gheluvelt. The attack produces few gains as the Germans effectively bombard and then counter-attack. Six days later, the British try again, with similar results. The entire Ypres offensive then grinds to a halt as British Army Commander Douglas Haig ponders his strategy.

September 1, 1917 - On the Eastern Front, the final Russian battle in the war begins as the Germans attack toward Riga. The German 8th Army utilizes new storm troop tactics devised by General Oskar von Hutier. Bypassing any strong points as they move forward, storm troop battalions armed with light machine-guns, grenades and flame throwers focus on quickly infiltrating the rear areas to disrupt communications and take out artillery. The Russian 12th Army, under General Kornilov, is unable to hold itself together amid the storm troop attacks and abandons Riga, then begins a rapid retreat along the Dvina River, pursued by the Germans.

September 20, 1917 - A revised British strategy begins at Ypres designed to wear down the Germans. It features a series of intensive, narrowly focused artillery and troop attacks with limited objectives, to be launched every six days. The first such attack, along the Menin Road toward Gheluvelt, produces a gain of about 1,000 yards with 22,000 British and Australian casualties. Subsequent attacks yield similar results.

October 12, 1917 - The Ypres offensive culminates around the village of Passchendaele as Australian and New Zealand troops die by the thousands while attempting to press forward across a battlefield of liquid mud, advancing just 100 yards. Steady October rains create a slippery quagmire in which wounded soldiers routinely drown in mud-filled shell craters.

Attack at Caporetto

October 24, 1917 - In northern Italy, a rout of the Italian Army begins as 35 German and Austrian divisions cross the Isonzo River into Italy at Caporetto and then rapidly push 41 Italian divisions 60 miles southward. By now, the Italians have been worn down from years of costly but inconclusive battles along the Isonzo and in the Trentino, amid a perceived lack of Allied support. Nearly 300,000 Italians surrender as the Austro-Germans advance, while some 400,000 desert. The Austro-Germans halt at the Piave River north of Venice only due to supply lines which have become stretched to the limit.

October 26, 1917 - At Ypres, a second attempt is made but fails to capture the village of Passchendaele, with Canadian troops participating this time. Four days later, the Allies attack again and edge closer as the Germans slowly begin pulling out.

October 31, 1917 - In the Middle East, the British led by General Edmund Allenby begin an attack against Turkish defensive lines stretching between Gaza and Beersheba in southern Palestine. The initial attack on Beersheba surprises the Turks and they pull troops away from Gaza which the British attack secondly. The Turks then retreat northward toward Jerusalem with the Allies in pursuit. Aiding the Allies, are a group of Arab fighters led by T. E. Lawrence, an Arab speaking English archeologist, later known as Lawrence of Arabia. He is instrumental in encouraging Arab opposition to the Turks and in disrupting their railroad and communication system.

November 6, 1917 - The village of Passchendaele is captured by Canadian troops. The Allied offensive then ceases, bringing the Third Battle of Ypres to an end with no significant gains amid 500,000 casualties experienced by all sides.

October Revolution

November 6-7, 1917 - In Russia, Bolsheviks led by Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky overthrow the Provisional Government in what comes to be known as the October Revolution (Oct. 24-25 according to the Russian calendar). They establish a non-democratic Soviet Government based on Marxism which prohibits private enterprise and private land ownership. Lenin announces that Soviet Russia will immediately end its involvement in the war and renounces all existing treaties with the Allies.

November 11, 1917 - The German High Command, led by Erich Ludendorff, gathers at Mons, Belgium, to map out a strategy for 1918. Ludendorff bluntly states he is willing to accept a million German casualties in a daring plan to achieve victory in early 1918, before the American Army arrives in force. The goal is to drive a wedge between the British and French armies on the Western Front via a series of all-out offensives using Germany's finest divisions and intensive storm troop tactics. Once this succeeds, the plan is to first decimate the British Army to knock Britain out of the war, and then decimate the French Army, and thus secure final victory.

November 15, 1917 - Georges Clemenceau becomes France's new Prime Minister at age 76. Nicknamed "The Tiger," when asked about his agenda, he will simply answer, "I wage war."

British Tank Attack

November 20, 1917 - The first-ever mass attack by tanks occurs as the British 3rd Army rolls 381 tanks accompanied by six infantry divisions in a coordinated tank-infantry-artillery attack of German trenches near Cambrai, France, an important rail center. The attack targets a 6-mile-wide portion of the Front and by the end of the first day appears to be a spectacular success with five miles gained and two Germans divisions wrecked. The news is celebrated by the ringing of church bells in England, for the first time since 1914. However, similar to past offensives, the opportunity to exploit first-day gains is missed, followed by the arrival of heavy German reinforcements and an effective counter-attack in which the Germans take back most of the ground they lost.

December, 7, 1917 - Romania concludes an armistice with the Central Powers due to the demise of Imperial Russia, its former military ally.

December 9, 1917 - Jerusalem is captured by the British. This ends four centuries of its control by the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire.

December 15, 1917 - Soviet Russia signs an armistice with Germany. With Russia's departure from the Eastern Front, forty-four German divisions become available to be redeployed to the Western Front in time for Ludendorff's Spring Offensive.


Russian Czar in Captivity

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The Shock of War

In September 1914, at the very outset of the great war, a dreadful rumor arose. It was said that at the Battle of the Marne, east of Paris, soldiers on the front line had been discovered standing at their posts in all the dutiful military postures—but not alive. “Every normal attitude of life was imitated by these dead men,” according to the patriotic serial The Times History of the War, published in 1916. “The illusion was so complete that often the living would speak to the dead before they realized the true state of affairs.” “Asphyxia,” caused by the powerful new high-explosive shells, was the cause for the phenomenon—or so it was claimed. That such an outlandish story could gain credence was not surprising: notwithstanding the massive cannon fire of previous ages, and even automatic weaponry unveiled in the American Civil War, nothing like this thunderous new artillery firepower had been seen before. A battery of mobile 75mm field guns, the pride of the French Army, could, for example, sweep ten acres of terrain, 435 yards deep, in less than 50 seconds 432,000 shells had been fired in a five-day period of the September engagement on the Marne. The rumor emanating from there reflected the instinctive dread aroused by such monstrous innovation. Surely—it only made sense—such a machine must cause dark, invisible forces to pass through the air and destroy men’s brains.

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Shrapnel from mortars, grenades and, above all, artillery projectile bombs, or shells, would account for an estimated 60 percent of the 9.7 million military fatalities of World War I. And, eerily mirroring the mythic premonition of the Marne, it was soon observed that many soldiers arriving at the casualty clearing stations who had been exposed to exploding shells, although clearly damaged, bore no visible wounds. Rather, they appeared to be suffering from a remarkable state of shock caused by blast force. This new type of injury, a British medical report concluded, appeared to be “the result of the actual explosion itself, and not merely of the missiles set in motion by it.” In other words, it appeared that some dark, invisible force had in fact passed through the air and was inflicting novel and peculiar damage to men’s brains.

“Shell shock,” the term that would come to define the phenomenon, first appeared in the British medical journal The Lancet in February 1915, only six months after the commencement of the war. In a landmark article, Capt. Charles Myers of the Royal Army Medical Corps noted “the remarkably close similarity” of symptoms in three soldiers who had each been exposed to exploding shells: Case 1 had endured six or seven shells exploding around him Case 2 had been buried under earth for 18 hours after a shell collapsed his trench Case 3 had been blown off a pile of bricks 15 feet high. All three men exhibited symptoms of “reduced visual fields,” loss of smell and taste, and some loss of memory. “Comment on these cases seems superfluous,” Myers concluded, after documenting in detail the symptoms of each. “They appear to constitute a definite class among others arising from the effects of shell-shock.”

Early medical opinion took the common-sense view that the damage was “commotional,” or related to the severe concussive motion of the shaken brain in the soldier’s skull. Shell shock, then, was initially deemed to be a physical injury, and the shellshocked soldier was thus entitled to a distinguishing “wound stripe” for his uniform, and to possible discharge and a war pension. But by 1916, military and medical authorities were convinced that many soldiers exhibiting the characteristic symptoms—trembling “rather like a jelly shaking” headache tinnitus, or ringing in the ear dizziness poor concentration confusion loss of memory and disorders of sleep—had been nowhere near exploding shells. Rather, their condition was one of “neurasthenia,” or weakness of the nerves—in laymen’s terms, a nervous breakdown precipitated by the dreadful stress of war.

Organic injury from blast force? Or neurasthenia, a psychiatric disorder inflicted by the terrors of modern warfare? Unhappily, the single term “shell shock” encompassed both conditions. Yet it was a nervous age, the early 20th century, for the still-recent assault of industrial technology upon age-old sensibilities had given rise to a variety of nervous afflictions. As the war dragged on, medical opinion increasingly came to reflect recent advances in psychiatry, and the majority of shell shock cases were perceived as emotional collapse in the face of the unprecedented and hardly imaginable horrors of trench warfare. There was a convenient practical outcome to this assessment if the disorder was nervous and not physical, the shellshocked soldier did not warrant a wound stripe, and if unwounded, could be returned to the front.

The experience of being exposed to blast force, or being “blown-up,” in the phrase of the time, is evoked powerfully and often in the medical case notes, memoirs and letters of this era. “There was a sound like the roar of an express train, coming nearer at tremendous speed with a loud singing, wailing noise,” recalled a young American Red Cross volunteer in 1916, describing an incoming artillery round. “It kept coming and coming and I wondered when it would ever burst. Then when it seemed right on top of us, it did, with a shattering crash that made the earth tremble. It was terrible. The concussion felt like a blow in the face, the stomach and all over it was like being struck unexpectedly by a huge wave in the ocean.” Exploding at a distant 200 yards, the shell had gouged a hole in the earth “as big as a small room.”

By 1917, medical officers were instructed to avoid the term “shell shock,” and to designate probable cases as “Not Yet Diagnosed (Nervous).” Processed to a psychiatric unit, the soldier was assessed by a specialist as either “shell shock (wound)” or “shell shock (sick),” the latter diagnosis being given if the soldier had not been close to an explosion. Transferred to a treatment center in Britain or France, the invalided soldier was placed under the care of neurology specialists and recuperated until discharged or returned to the front. Officers might enjoy a final period of convalescence before being disgorged back into the maw of the war or the working world, gaining strength at some smaller, often privately funded treatment center—some quiet, remote place such as Lennel House, in Coldstream, in the Scottish Borders country.

The Lennel Auxiliary Hospital, a private convalescent home for officers, was a country estate owned by Maj. Walter and Lady Clementine Waring that had been transformed, as had many private homes throughout Britain, into a treatment center. The estate included the country house, several farms, and woodlands before the war, Lennel was celebrated for having the finest Italianate gardens in Britain. Lennel House is of interest today, however, not for its gardens, but because it preserved a small cache of medical case notes pertaining to shell shock from the First World War. By a savage twist of fate, an estimated 60 percent of British military records from World War I were destroyed in the Blitz of World War II. Similarly, 80 percent of U.S. Army service records from 1912 to 1960 were lost in a fire at the National Personnel Records Office in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1973. Thus, although shell shock was to be the signature injury of the opening war of the modern age, and although its vexed diagnostic status has ramifications for casualties of Iraq and Afghanistan today, relatively little personal medical data from the time of the Great War survives. The files of the Lennel Auxiliary Hospital, however, now housed in the National Archives of Scotland, had been safeguarded amid other household clutter in the decades after the two world wars in a metal box in the Lennel House basement.

In 1901, Maj. Walter Waring, a distinguished officer and veteran of the Boer War and a Liberal MP, had married Lady Susan Elizabeth Clementine Hay and brought her to Lennel House. The major was in uniform for most of the war, on duty in France, Salonika and Morocco, and it was therefore Lady Clementine who had overseen the transformation of Lennel House into a convalescent home for neurasthenic soldiers. The daughter of the 10th Marquess of Tweeddale, “Clemmie,” as she was known to her friends, was 35 years old in 1914. She is fondly recalled by her grandson Sir Ilay Campbell of Succoth and his wife, Lady Campbell, who live in Argyll, as “a presence” and great fun to be with—jolly and amusing and charming. A catalog of Lady Clementine’s correspondence, in Scotland’s National Archives, gives eloquent evidence of her charm, referencing an impressive number of letters from hopeful suitors, usually young captains, “concerning their relationship and possible engagement.”

Generally arriving at Lennel from treatment centers in London and Edinburgh, convalescing officers were received as country house guests. A handsome oak staircase dominated Lennel’s entry hall and led under an ornate glass dome to the upper floor, where each officer found his own pleasant bedroom, with windows opening onto the garden or with views of the woodlands and the Cheviot Hills beyond there appear to have been only about a dozen residents at any one time. Downstairs, the private study of Major Waring had been appropriated during his absence to the war as an officers’ mess, while his paneled library was available to the bookish: Siegfried Sassoon, who was to emerge as one of the outstanding poet chroniclers of the war, found here “a handsome octavo edition” of a Thomas Hardy novel, and spent a rainy day carefully trimming its badly cut pages. Meals were presided over by the officers’ hostess, the beautiful, diminutive Lady Clementine.

Their common status as officers notwithstanding, the men came from many backgrounds. Lt. R. C. Gull had been educated at Eton, Oxford and Sandhurst before receiving his commission in November 1914, for example, while Lieutenant Hayes, of the Third Royal Sussex Regiment, had been born in London, educated in England and Switzerland, and had emigrated to Canada, where he had been engaged in “Business & Farming” before the war. The officers had been Australian station managers, chartered accountants, partners in banking firms and, intriguingly, “a trader and explorer in Central Africa.” The men had seen action in many campaigns, on many fronts, including the Boer War. A number had served at Gallipoli, and all too many had been injured on the Western Front.

Life at Lennel was conducted in the familiar and subtly strict routine of the well-run country house, with meals at set times, leisurely pursuits and tea on the terrace. Lady Clementine’s family mixed freely with the officer guests, her youngest daughter, “Kitty,” who was only 1 year old when the war broke out, being a special favorite. Kept busy throughout the day with country walks, chummy conversation, piano playing, table tennis, fishing, golfing and bicycling, and semiformal meals, each officer nonetheless retired at night to his private room and here confronted, starkly and alone, the condition that had brought him this peaceful interlude in the first place.

“Has vivid dreams of war episodes—feels as if sinking down in bed” “Sleeping well but walks in sleep: has never done this before: dreams of France” “Insomnia with vivid dreams of fighting” and “Dreams mainly of dead Germans. Got terribly guilty conscience over having killed Huns.”

The terse medical case notes, averaging some three pages per patient, introduce each officer by name and age, cite his civilian address as well as regiment and service details, and include a brief section for “Family History,” which typically noted whether his parents were still alive, any familial history of nervous disorders and if a brother had been killed in the war. Education, professional life and an assessment of the officer’s temperament before his breakdown were also duly chronicled. Captain Kyle, for example, age 23 and in service for three years and three months at the time of admittance to Lennel had previously been a “Keen athlete, enjoyed life thoroughly, no nerves.” Brigadier General McLaren had also been “Keen on outdoor sports”—always the benchmark of British mental health—but had “Not very many friends.”

Many treatments abounded for the neurasthenic soldier. The most notorious were undoubtedly Dr. Lewis Yealland’s electric shock therapies, conducted at the National Hospital for Paralysed and Epileptic, at Queen Square, London, where he claimed his cure “had been applied to upwards of 250 cases” (an unknown number of which were civilian). Yealland asserted that his treatment cured all the most common “hysterical disorders of warfare”—the shaking and trembling and stammering, the paralysis and disorders of speech—sometimes in a single suspect half-hour session. Electric heat baths, milk diets, hypnotism, clamps and machines that mechanically forced stubborn limbs out of their frozen position were other strategies. As the war settled in, and shell shock—both commotional and emotional—became recognized as one of its primary afflictions, treatment became more sympathetic. Rest, peace and quiet, and modest rehabilitative activities became the established regimen of care, sometimes accompanied by psychotherapy sessions, the skillful administration of which varied from institution to institution and practitioner to practitioner.

While the officers at Lennel were clearly under medical supervision, it is not evident what specific treatments they received. Lady Clementine’s approach was practical and common-sensical. She was, according to her grandson Sir Ilay, an early advocate of occupational therapy—keeping busy. Painting, in particular, seems to have been encouraged, and a surviving photograph in a family album shows Lennel’s mess hall ringed with heraldic shields, each officer having been instructed by Lady Clementine to paint his family coat of arms. (And if they didn’t have one? “I expect they made one up,” Sir Ilay recalled, amused.) But beyond the nature of the men’s treatment, of course, was the larger, central, burning question of what, really, was the matter.

The symptoms recorded in the case notes, familiar from literature of the time, are clear enough: “palpitations—Fear of fainting. feeling of suffocation, of constriction in throat” “Now feels worn out & has pain in region of heart” “Depression—Over-reaction—Insomnia—Headaches” ner­­vousness, lassitude, being upset by sudden noise” “Patient fears gunfire, death and the dark. In periods of wakefulness he visualizes mutilations he has seen, and feels the terror of heavy fire” “Depressed from incapacity to deal with easy subjects & suffered much from eye pain.” And there is the case of Second Lieutenant Bertwistle, with two years of service in the 27th Australian Infantry, although only 20 years of age, whose face wears a “puzzled expression” and who exhibits a “marked defect of recent and remote memory.” “His mental content appears to be puerile. He is docile,” according to the records that accompanied him from the Royal Victoria Military Hospital in Netley, on England’s south coast.

The official Report of the War Office Committee of Enquiry Into “Shell-Shock” made at war’s end gravely concluded that “shell-shock resolves itself into two categories: (1) Concussion or commotional shock and (2) Emotional shock” and of these “It was given in evidence that the victims of concussion shock, following a shell burst, formed a relatively small proportion (5 to 10 per cent).” The evidence about damage from “concussion shock” was largely anecdotal, based heavily upon the observations of senior officers in the field, many of whom, veterans of earlier wars, were clearly skeptical of any newfangled attempt to explain what, to their mind, was simple loss of nerve: “New divisions often got ‘shell shock’ because they imagined it was the proper thing in European warfare,” Maj. Pritchard Taylor, a much-decorated officer, observed. On the other hand, a consultant in neuropsychiatry to the American Expeditionary Force reported a much higher percentage of concussion shock: 50 percent to 60 percent of shell shock cases at his base hospital stated they had “lost consciousness or memory after having been blown over by a shell.” Unfortunately, information about the circumstances of such injuries was highly haphazard. In theory, medical officers were instructed to state on a patient’s casualty form whether he had been close to an exploding shell, but in the messy, frantic practice of processing multiple casualties at hard-pressed field stations, this all-important detail was usually omitted.

Case notes from Lennel, however, record that a remarkable number of the “neurasthenic” officers were casualties of direct, savage blast force: “Perfectly well till knocked over at Varennes. after this he couldn’t sleep for weeks on end” “He has been blown up several times—and has lately found his nerve was getting shaken.” In case after case, the officer is buried, thrown, stunned, concussed by exploding shells. Lieutenant Graves had gone straight from Gallipoli “into line & through Somme.” In fighting around Beaumont Hamel in France, a shell had landed “quite close & blew him up.” Dazed, he was helped to the company dugout, after which he “Managed to carry on for some days,” although an ominous “Weakness of R[ight] side was developing steadily.” Ironically, it was precisely the soldier’s ability “to carry on” that had aroused skepticism over the real nature of his malady.

The extent to which blast force was responsible for shell shock is of more than historic interest. According to a Rand Corporation study, 19 percent of U.S. troops sent to Iraq and Afghanistan, about 380,000, may have sustained brain injuries from explosive devices—a fact that has prompted comparisons with the British experience at the Somme in 1916. In 2009, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) made public the results of a two-year, $10 million study of the effects of blast force on the human brain—and in doing so, not only advanced the prospect of modern treatment but cast new light on the old shell shock conundrum.

The study revealed that limited traumatic brain injury (TBI) may manifest no overt evidence of trauma—the patient may not even be aware an injury has been sustained. Diagnosis of TBI is additionally vexed by the clinical features—difficulty concentrating, sleep disturbances, altered moods—that it shares with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a psychiatric syndrome caused by exposure to traumatic events. “Someone could have a brain injury and be looking like it was PTSD,” says Col. Geoffrey Ling, the director of the DARPA study.

Differentiation between the two conditions—PTSD and TBI, or the “emotional” versus “commotional” puzzle of World War I—will be enhanced by the study’s most important find: that at low levels the blast-exposed brain remains structurally intact, but is injured by inflammation. This exciting prospect of a clinical diagnosis was presaged by the observation in World War I that spinal fluid drawn from men who had been “blown up” revealed changes in protein cells. “They were actually pretty insightful,” Ling says of the early medics. “Your proteins, by and large, are immunoglobulins, which basically are inflammatory. So they were ahead of their time.”

“You can never tell how a man is going to do in action,” a senior officer had observed in the War Office Committee report of 1922, and it was this searing truth of self-discovery that the patients at Lennel feared. They were betrayed by the stammering and trembling they could not control, the distressing lack of focus, their unmanly depression and lassitude. No list of clinical symptoms, such as the written records preserve, can do justice to the affliction of the shellshocked patient. This is more effectively evoked in the dreadful medical training films of the war, which capture the discordant twitching, uncontrollable shaking and haunting vacant stares. “Certainly one met people who were—different,” Sir Ilay recalled gently, speaking of damaged veterans he had seen as a boy, “and it was explained of their being in the war. But we were all brought up to show good manners, not to upset.”

Possibly, it was social training, not medical, that enabled Lady Clementine to assist and solace the damaged men who made their way to Lennel. If she was unsettled by the sights and sounds that filled her home, she does not seem to have let on. That she and her instinctive treatment were beneficial is evident from what is perhaps the most remarkable feature of the Lennel archive—the letters the officers wrote to their hostess upon leaving.

“I am quite unable adequately to express my gratitude to you for your kindness and hospitality to me,” wrote Lieutenant Craven, as if giving thanks for a pleasant weekend in the country. Most letters, however, run to several pages, their eager anecdotes and their expressions of anxieties and doubt give evidence of the sincerity of the writer’s feeling. “I got such a deep breath of ‘Lennel,’ while I was reading your letter,” wrote one officer from the Somme in December 1916, “& I’ll bet you had your tennis shoes on, & no hat, & a short skirt, & had probably just come in from a walk across the wet fields” “Did you really and truly mean that I would be welcome at Lennel if I ever get the opportunity for another visit?” one officer asked yearningly.

A number of the letters are written from hotels while awaiting the results of medical boards. Most hoped for light duty—the dignity of continued service but without the dreaded liabilities. “The Medical Board sent me down here for two months light duty after which I must return to the fray!” writes Lieutenant Jacob, and, as a wistful postscript “Did you ever finish that jolly Japanese puzzle picture?!” For some, the rush of the outside world came at them too fast: “I have been annoyed quite a lot at little things & my stammer has returned,” one officer confided. Several write from other hospitals “I had not the remotest idea of how & when I came here,” Lieutenant Spencer wrote to Lady Clementine. “I do not know what really happened when I took ill but I do sincerely hope that you will forgive me if I was the cause of any unpleasant situation or inconvenience.”

At war’s end, the legions of shellshocked veterans dispersed into the mists of history. One catches glimpses of them, however, through a variety of oblique lenses. They crop up in a range of fiction of the era, hallucinating in the streets of London, or selling stockings door to door in provincial towns, their casual evocation indicating their familiarity to the contemporary reader.

Officially they are best viewed in the files of the Ministry of Pensions, which had been left with the care of 63,296 neurological cases ominously, this number would rise, not fall, as the years passed, and by 1929—more than a decade after the conclusion of the war—there were 74,867 such cases, and the ministry was still paying for such rehabilitative pursuits as basket making and boot repairing. An estimated 10 percent of the 1,663,435 military wounded of the war would be attributed to shell shock and yet study of this signature condition—emotional, or commotional, or both—was not followed through in the postwar years.

Following the Great War, Major Waring served as Parliamentary private secretary to Winston Churchill. For her work at Lennel House, Lady Clementine was made a Commander of the British Empire. She died in 1962, by which time the letters and papers of her war service were stored in the Lennel House basement there may be other country houses throughout Britain with similar repositories. Lennel House itself, which the family sold in the 1990s, is now a nursing home.

The fate of some officers is made evident by Lady Clementine’s correspondence: “Dear Lady Waring. my poor boys death is a dreadful blow and I cant realize that he has gone forever. Oh it is too cruel after waiting three long weary years for him to come home.” Very occasionally, too, it is possible to track an officer through an unrelated source. A photograph that had been in the possession of Capt. William McDonald before he was killed in action in France, in 1916, and which is now archived in the Australian War Memorial, shows him gathered with other officers on the Lennel House steps, with Lady Clementine. Some later hand has identified among the other men “Captain Frederick Harold Tubb VC, 7th Battalion of Longwood,” and noted that he died in action on 20 September 1917 this is the same “Tubby” who had written to Lady Clementine a month earlier, at the completion of an 11-hour march, heading his letter simply “In the Field”: “An aeroplane tried to shoot us last night with a m[achine] gun besides dropping sundry bombs around. It rained a heavy storm last night. It is raining off an[d] on today. The weather is warm though. My word the country round here is magnificent, the splendid wheat crops are being harvested. ”

Caroline Alexander’s latest book is The War That Killed Achilles: The True Story of Homer’s Iliad and the Trojan War.


How the Great War Raged over Three Continents by 1915 - History

South Africa entered World War I as a divided society which results in the commemoration becoming more complex than in a unified society. During the Apartheid era, the battle of Delville Wood was celebrated as South Africa’s ‘finest hour’ in World War I. However, in the minds of black South Africans commemorating South African participation in World War I the sinking of the SS Mendi stands out. In post-Apartheid South Africa, the SS Mendi seems to have surpassed the battle of Delville Wood as South Africa’s most celebrated sacrifice in World War I. The aim of this paper is to determine how South Africans commemorate their participation in World War I, with specific reference to the battle of Delville Wood and the sinking of SS Mendi. A brief overview of the battle of Delville Wood and the sinking of the SS Mendi will be given. Thereafter, it will be determined how the battle of Delville Wood and the sinking of the SS Mendi were commemorated historically. Lastly, the paper will explore how both these events are presently commemorated in South Africa.

Tragedy on the Somme

The River Somme meanders through the picturesque French region of Picardy. Flowing past gently rolling hills and green country meadows, the river’s natural beauty belies a tragedy and horror that unfolded along its banks in the summer of 1916 when two great armies fought to the brink of annihilation over a landscape that neither considered strategically significant. Indeed, few places on earth have come to symbolize useless bloodshed and the futility of war more than the Somme. The story of the Somme really begins in August of 1914 during the opening days of the First World War. Great Britain entered the war with an extremely small but highly efficient professional army of 250,000 troops.[1]

The U.S. Army Model 1913 Cavalry Saber

For some 159 years, United States Army used an edged sword, the saber, as the primary weapon for mounted troops. Whether called light horse, dragoon, or cavalry, the Army cavalry trooper on horseback carried a saber, with which to engage the various foes of our republic. The last issued Army saber in a long line, the model 1913 saber, became popularly known as "The Patton Saber," after then Second Lieutenant George S. Patton, Jr., who it is commonly believed was somehow responsible for the design and adoption of the new saber, during that very same year. Over the years, some authors, and historians, have questioned the veracity of conventional historical wisdom in naming the model 1913 saber "The Patton Saber," since, after all, how much influence could a lowly Second Lieutenant have had in the U.S. Army's procurement of a new weapon?[2]

Origins of World War One

On June 28, 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Duchess Sophie were assassinated by Gavrilo Princip in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina. Archduke Ferdinand was heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary. Gavrilo Princip was a member of the Serbian terrorist organization known as the Black Hand, a group who sought to separate Bosnia-Herzegovina from the Austrian-Hungary Empire and join it with Serbia (Servia).

The Second Battle of Ypres

By the morning of April 22, 1915, Private Percy Kingsley, assigned to the Canadian Expeditionary Forces 5th Battalion, 2nd Brigade had been living in the trenches along the salient at Ypres for seven days. A young man from Humboldt, Saskatchewan, Canada, he was part of the first nineteen men from his town to volunteer for service in Europe. He had not slept in days given the horrendous conditions in the trenches, often sleeping on “a grave containing a number of dead Germans”.[1] The horror was only beginning and in a matter of hours, he would bear witness to a new type of warfare unlike any seen to date.

Remembering South Africa’s participation in World War I

South Africa entered World War I as a divided society which results in the commemoration becoming more complex than in a unified society. During the Apartheid era, the battle of Delville Wood was celebrated as South Africa’s ‘finest hour’ in World War I. However, in the minds of black South Africans commemorating South African participation in World War I the sinking of the SS Mendi stands out. In post-Apartheid South Africa, the SS Mendi seems to have surpassed the battle of Delville Wood as South Africa’s most celebrated sacrifice in World War I. The aim of this paper is to determine how South Africans commemorate their participation in World War I, with specific reference to the battle of Delville Wood and the sinking of SS Mendi. A brief overview of the battle of Delville Wood and the sinking of the SS Mendi will be given.

The Evolution of British Infantry tactics in World War One

World War One on the Western Front is often times depicted as a series of senseless battles where infantry ran across open fields only to be slaughtered by machinegun and artillery fire. The popular conception is that there were little innovations in tactics. Wilhelm Balck, a German division commander, had written many articles and manuals on tactics before the Great War.[1] He said, “Bullets quickly write new tactics.” After the Battle of the Marne in 1914 and the subsequent German retreat, the war on the western front became more of a positional war rather than a war of maneuver. The goal of the Allies and the Germans was to penetrate the enemy’s main defense lines and exploit any breakthrough. The goal would be hard to attain because of the unique nature of warfare in World War One.

Was Britain's Participation in WWI Justified?

In the summer of 1914 Europe plunged into war. Isolated by the English Channel and protected by the much vaunted Royal Navy, Britain, as always, had the chance to decide whether or not to participate in the struggle. After the German invasion of Belgium, Britain decided to come to the aid of Belgium and France and subsequently declared war on Germany. During the next four years Britain would suffer horrendous casualties, lose much of her vast wealth, and surrender her paramount position as the leading power of the world. But does this mean it was a mistake for Britain to participate in the First World War? It is likely that without British intervention the Germans would have won the war and dominated the continent of Europe. England also had legal and moral obligations to her allies.

Plague of the Spanish Lady

In August 1918 while World War I raged from Finland to Mesopotamia an epidemic began. In two months it covered the globe, sparing only Tristan da Cunha in the extreme South Atlantic. No one has ever figured out how it traveled such great distances in so short a time. Coast Guard search parties, for example, discovered Eskimo villages in remote, seemingly inaccessible locations wiped out to the last adult and child. Most of its victims were young men aged 18 to 45. Many of them went from perfect health to the coldness of the grave in less than a day. It crippled troop movements, slowed the reinforcement of Pershing, broke the already fragile German morale and shattered the Kaiser's war effort.


Watch the video: Hearts of Iron 4 - Krieg der Kontinente - Die Südstaaten