The course of the First World War
The Battle of Marne River
- For close to a month the German forces moved across Belgium down into France.
- It was a difficult march in hot wealth travelling distances of about 64 km/day.
- The Germans were stopped by the French at the battle of Marne River by General Geoffrey and General Gallieni.
- At the battle of Marne the French called everyone to the front including ordinary women and men to try and force the Germans back to the River Aisne.
- Soldiers and other fighters were rushed to the battle front by all means of transport available.
- The French used the famous battle cry “Ils ne passeront pas!“ ( They shall not pass!) as they impeded German progress.
- Two battles were fought in Belgium i.e. the First and Second battle of Ypres.
- In 1915 the second battle of Ypres the Germans used poisonous gas.
- At the battle of Somme the British used the Tank successfully for the first time.
- Both Britain and Germany used airplanes in the war for the first time.
- Flame throwers were also used extensively in the First World War.
- When the Germans were defeated at the battle of Marne River they retreated to the River Aisne about 48 km from Paris and dug trenches as a defensive mechanism against further advances by the French.
- The French and the British also dug their own trenches to protect themselves from machine gun fire and explosions from artillery shells.
- Battles were fought from trenches resulting in what has been known ever since as trench warfare.
- Trench warfare prolonged the war: it was fought on the western front from December 1914 to November of 1918.
- The trenches were surrounded by barbed wire and snipers shot at the enemy if they ventured out.
- Soldiers died in the trenches and it was difficult to bury them.
- It was also difficult to supply food and medicines to the soldiers.
- Disease and hunger afflicted soldiers on both sides.
- No side made any gains as any attack was quickly followed by a counter attack.
- As a result the war on the western front became a stalemate and took longer than expected.
The battle of Verdun and Somme
- This was planned battle in which the Germans led by Von Moltke tried to break through Verdun, a French pivot since the beginning of the war.
- A bout 4 million men faced each other in the trenches.
- 19 divisions of heavily armed Germans bombed Verdun with artillery.
- The French forces led by General Petain resisted.
- The British rushed to assist the French.
- In that battle the French lost 350 000 men while the Germans lost 330 000 men but the Germans failed to capture Verdun.
- In July 1916 the British attacked Somme a German fortress in order to reduce pressure on Verdun.
- The British had invented the tank and used it for the first time against the Germans.
- At this battle the Germans had heavier casualties losing 500 000 men while the British had lesser casualties losing about 200 000.
- The British however failed to make a breakthrough and the war remained a stalemate while trench warfare continued.
The Gallipoli campaign
- In November 1914 Turkey joined the war on the side of the Central Powers.
- Turkey subsequently closed the straits to the Russian ships such that the supplies from western allies could not reach Russia.
- Russia as a result faced a shortage of weapons and food thus edging closer to defeat.
- The western allies therefore decided to capture the Straits to open up supply lines and ease pressure on Russia.
- In March 1915 Britain and France sent a powerful naval expedition to the Dardanelles but it was heavily defeated.
- In April the allies tried to land on the Gallipoli peninsula to capture the Straits through the Black Sea but Turkey already knew of the plans and destroyed the allied forces as they landed.
- The allies lost 250 000 men but the Straits remained closed.
- Russian remained without food supplies and weapons.
The war at sea ( The battle of Jutland)
- The greatest tension before the war had been caused by Germany’s ambition to build a navy that was stronger than that of Britain.
- As such when war broke out there was great expectations of great seas battles between Germany and Britain.
- This did not happen as the two navies just watched and threatened each other without much warfare between them.
- Germany feared to move into the high seas.
- The first major sea battle was fought at Jutland in May 1917.
- The British fleet stationed at Scupa Flow and Rosyth was to be tested by the German high sea fleet stationed in the north seas of Germany.
- The British and French navies had up to now maintained their supremacy on the high seas and kept their routes open.
- At the same time they had successfully blockaded the Central powers and stopped their trade with the outside world.
- To break this cycle Admiral Sheer of Germany tried to destroy the Grand fleet in May 1916.
- A small force under Admiral Hipper went out to sea and made contact with Admiral Beatty’s force of the same size and went into battle.
- The main forces under Jellico (British) and Sheer (Germany) rushed to the battle field.
- The British suffered heavier losses than the Germans.
- The Germans withdrew back to their bases under cover of the darkness on the night of May 31 and remained inactive until 1918.
- The main contribution of the navies was the blockade of the Central Powes by the British and French navies.
- The French protected their interest in the Mediterranean Sea whilst the British protected theirs and French interests in the English Channel and North sea.
- The British also blockaded the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans to protect their trade routes.
- The Central powers lost their markets, trade and important sources of raw materials as they were prevented form reaching German ports.
- This caused serious shortages, high food prices and unrest among citizens.
- In response to the Anglo-French supremacy Germany embarked on submarine warfare against her enemies.
- Since Britain depended on foreign trade Germany decided to destroy this on the high seas to collapse her economy and force her to surrender.
- The submarines operated in the Red Sea, the English Channel and the North Sea and especially in the Atlantic to cut off British and French trade with America.
- In April 1915 the submarines sank a British ship Lusitania with 200 people.
- 118 of them were American citizens.
- America protested and this strained relations with Germany.
- In 1916 and 1917 the goods sank by the German submarines increasingly threatened the British economy and security.
- Britain developed minesweepers and the convoy system to combat the submarine menace.
- In response Germany declared unrestricted submarine warfare to destroy both combatant and neutral shipping indiscriminately.
- For this reason America entered the war on the side of Britain.
Collapse of the Central Powers.
- Russia had collapsed and left the war in 1917.
- The Germans therefore diverted their attention to the western front to deliver a knock out blow on France and Britain.
- Germany calculated that with the use of U-boats and the bringing of all the soldiers to the western front Britain and France would be knocked out before Americans arrived.
- The Americans were also brought into the war by the Zimmerman telegraph intercepted and decoded by the British.
- The Telegraph had been sent to Mexico by the German foreign minister intending to assist Mexico to recover Texas, Arizona and New Mexico conquered by the USA in 1848.
- Germany stepped up its submarine warfare destroying 870 000 tonnes of shipping in April alone.
- Britain was left with food that would last only for six months.
- Britain used the new anti-submarine devices such as hydrophones, depth charges and airplanes to spot submarines as well as armed escorts to protect merchant ships to reduce the U-boat menace.
- America was assisted by the British and French navies to carry American troops to Europe.
The effect of American entrance into the war.
- The start of 1918 provided a turning point in the war as American power was being felt in Europe.
- Her industries manufactured weapons, ammunition and food for the allies.
- Fresh American troops assisted the exhausted French and British troops.
- The allies reorganized their forces under one high command.
- The Americans in Europe were placed under General Pershing.
- The British forces were under General Haig but all the forces were under General Foch (of France).
- By September 1918 the Germans were retreating and they were never given a chance to reorganize.
- The Austro-Hungarian empire collapsed in October and Germany was left to fight the war alone as Italy had been revived and defeated Austria-Hungary in the south.
- The Germans fought hard but lacked manpower as compared to the allies with increasing American forces.
- The Germans had no reply to the effective tanks that were operating against them.
- The attacks on Germany went according to plan and on November 9 the Kaiser abdicated and went to Holland, a neutral country.
- Germany surrendered on November 11 1918 and the First World War came to an end.
Reasons for Germany’s defeat.
- Germany fought the war on two main fronts. With the Russians on the Eastern Front and the French and British on the western front which meant dividing her army into two. She also had to assist Austria-Hungary to defeat Serbia and fight Italy on the southern front which drastically increased the number of fronts. Had Germany’s army been concentrated in one place, she might have won the war well before the Americans joined it.
- The two Sick Man of Europe: Turkey and Austria-Hungary became liabilities rather than allies to Germany. The people in Austria showed little enthusiasm to fight for their masters being more concerned with their own independence rather than the war against the allies with whom they had no problem. Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia caused the disintegration of Austria-Hungary leading to Germany’s defeat. By 1914 Turkey had lost most of its European territory. The Arabian countries of The Persian Gulf, Arabia, Palestine, Lebanon and Syria were assisted to gain their independence by the British. Instead of fighting the allies Turkey spend most of its time fighting with its own people.
- The control of the High Seas by the allies led to Germany’s eventual defeat. The allies blocked Germany trade and deprived her of essential raw materials while they retained their own access. The allies managed to get reinforcements from the colonies while they blocked Germany from doing the same. Shortages of food began in Germany, prices increased, and the Germans starved. On the other hand arms and ammunition flowed from America giving the allies an advantage.
- Allied High command allowed the allies to place their troops under unified control in order to provide them with a concentrated strategy under General Foch. Coordination increased effectiveness and offense and defense were synchronized to ensure the Germans never got time to recover.
- The major reason for Germany’s defeat was the entry of America into the war on the side of the allies. Russia’s defeat and subsequent withdrawal had weakened the allies but the US more than filled in the gap with her vast industrial power, an increasingly powerful navy and fresh soldiers. By the time the war ended the U.S. had over 2 million men deployed in Europe. America also lend her allies money to buy essential materials for the war time needs. Weapons and money were sent on credit. The merchant navies delivered essential supplies and grains were also sent to her European allies. Her warships helped to escort merchant fleets across the Atlantic.