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Modern World History, World War 1

PostPosted: Mon Jun 28, 2004 3:28 pm
by Colin
The First World War 1914-1918.

European tension suddenly exploded into World War 1 in 1914 - and it began in the Balkans where the Black Hand Serbian nationalist group was aiming to unite all the Serbian people. Austria had many Serbian citizens and feared a rebellion in its lands, especially in Bosnia.

In June 1914 the Austrian heir Archduke Franz Ferdinand visited Bosnia to help strengthen the loyalty of the Bosnia people to Austria-Hungary. The Black Hand planned his assassination and the Archduke was killed by a Serb student called Princip while he visited Sarajevo. Princip was a Black Hand member so you can imagine how angrily Austria reacted.

Events moved quickly towards war, and the Triple Alliance of Germany/Italy/Austria-Hungary and the Triple Entente of Britain/France/Russia largely determined how the two sides shaped up for World War 1.

On the 23rd July Austria-Hungary blamed the Serbian government for the assassination, demanding compensation and the right to send troops into Serbia. On the 28th July Serbia refused to let these troops in and Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia.

The following day Russia begins mobilising troops ready to help Serbia and the day after Germany demanded that Russia stop mobilising. On 1st August Russia refused and Germany declared war on Russia. France then began mobilising to help Russia and on 3rd August Germany declared war on France and attacked through Belgium following their Schlieffen plan.

On 4th August Britain demanded that Germany withdraw from Belgium and when Germany refused Britain declared war on Germany. Then on 6th August Austria-Hungary declared war on Russia.

France had been defeated by Germany in 1870-71 and sought revenge. with a secret Plan 17 to take back lands they had lost then - Alsace and Lorraine. France had made a treaty with Russia in 1894, and Germany expected a Russian attack from the East to help France so Germany would have to fight on two fronts at once. The German answer was their Schlieffen plan, thought up in 1905, which aimed to attack and defeat France through Belgium before the Russians were ready, then turn back to fight the Russian Army.

The German plan didn't work for three reasons. (1) Belgium refused to let the German army through to attack France, so Germany had to enter Belgium by force. (2) Britain had a treaty with Belgium to protect it as a neutral country, and when Germany refused to withdraw from Belgium, Britian also entered the war. (3) Russia was ready for war quicker than Germany had expected, so many German troops had to march East to face them instead of pushing on into France.

The early battles of the war in the West saw the two sides struggle for an advantage. At Mons in August 1914 the British Expeditionary Force, the first troops Britain sent, managed to slow the German advance but didn't stop it. The German Kaiser called them 'a contemptible little army'.

Then in a five day battle, at Marne, allied troops managed to save Paris, and forced the Germans to pull back to the river Aisne. And at Ypres both sides sought to stop the other side controlling the coasline, and the allied troops won but with a terrible loss of life.

Neither side could push the other back, so they dug-in for long trenche warfare. By the end of 1914, the trench-lines stretched all the way from the Belgian coast down to Switzerland and the two armies had reached a stalemate.

Changes in warfare meant stalemate in the trenches. Nobody was used to trench warfare and the new weapons the armies had were better for defence than attack. Both sides were well supplied, and could always call up more arms and men. Conditions were often appalling - muddy and wet - not suited for quick attacks. Artillery bombardment were supposed to weaken enemy lines, but only warned that an attack was coming.

The generals kept sending troops 'over the top'. Both sides often tried to break the deadlock by sending thousands of men across No Man's Land. The result was huge slaughter of infantry.

But some battles did afect the whole war as at the 2nd battle of Ypres in 1915, when the Germans first used poison gas against Allied troops. And at Verdun in 1916, the French under Marshal Petain held the Germans back from the city. This victory for France boosted French morale and demoralised the Germans, who were sure it would fall. To help relieve the pressure on Verdun, the British launched a major attack at the Somme and used a new weapon - the tank.

The Somme was a key battle and a major disaster, led by the British commander Sir Douglas Haig in July 1916. After a massive artillery bombardment, British troops were sent 'over the top' to advance on the Germans slowly. This gave the Germans time to counter the attack and the slow-moving British troops were an easy target. About 57,000 British soldiers were killed or wounded on the first day alone! The battle dragged on till November, but mostly only gained about 15km of land, and The Somme made it clear that neither side would win a quick breakthrough in this new kind of war.

The Germans had found out about the Somme offensive before it happened, so there was a problem with keeping military secrets! British artillery had failed to break the enemy lines or even destroy their barbed wire, despite heavy bombarding for several days.

Unlike much of the war, the battle was filmed and shown in Britain, giving people an idea of what trenche warfare was like, even though the more horiffic footage was cut. People started to think that the generals didn't know how to fight this new kind of warfare. Life in the trenches was hard and dangerous. Each man got paid one shilling (5p) a day, and their main rations were bully beef, jam, and tea. Three million British and Empire troops died or were injured during World War 1.

Anti-war protest in Britain was limited because ;

1) Letters from serving soldiers were censored.
2) Reporters weren't allowed to see battles very often.
3) Newspapers were censored from 1915.
4) Taking photographs of dead soldiers was banned.
5) Casualty figures weren't realeased by the Government.
6) Often even Parliament wasn't told how the war was really going.
7) Newsapers not wanting to depress their readers, mostly wrote about army successes.

Many allied soldiers became disillusioned with the war, and at how many lives were lost. They felt that the generals were using the wrong tactics - and started to lose confidence in their officers. Many of the officers were public school educated - but they were no more competent than the working class soldiers.

During and after the war, many soldiers wrote about their experiences in books and poems. Some poets, like Rupert Brooke, wrote patriotic verses celebrating the war but others, like Siegfried Sassoon, wrote about the suffering and horror og life in the trenches. Sassoon had been a British officer on the Western Front since 1914 - and wrote many poems criticising the generals for being incompetent. In July 1917 he wrote ''A soldier's Declaration'' which was read to the House of Commons and published in several newspapers. It criticised the whole war.

"I have seen and endured the suffering of the troops and I can no longer be a party to prolonging these sufferings for ends which I believe to be evil and unjust". (From 'A Soldier's Declaration') But the government sent Sassoon to a psychiatric hospital, blaming shell shock for his criticisms. He withdraw his comments and was sent back to fight in 1918.

People still can't agree if the tactics were right. Many people now still feel that the tactics used at the Somme and in other battles were wrong. Their picture of the First World War comes from tv, books and films - which often lay a lot of blame on Sir Douglas Haig, the ''Butcher of the Somme''. But in fact, it's much more compilcated than that. Here are some of the main opinions on both sides.

Against Haig's strategy :
1) Hundreds of thousands of men were killed under Haig's command, perhaps unncessarily. Haig is quoted as saying, ''The attacks are to be pressed, regardless of loss''.
2) Haig could have waited for more tanks at the Somme, which might have saved many lives.
3) Once he saw the first day's slaughter at the Somme, he could have changed tactics.
4) If Haig had learnt from his mistakes sonner, than the war might not have dragged on. Instead he stuck to old-fashioned ideas about war that had already been proved to be disastrous - costing many young lives.
5) Some junior officers claimed that Haig didn't take account of bad weather conditions.

For Haig's strategy :
1) Haig's overall strategy was to wear the Germans down, whatever the cost. It's every general's job to win wars, not to save lives.
2) If the British government at the time had thought there was a better way to fight the war, then they could have replaced Haig - but didn't.
3) Many of Germany's best troops were killed at the Somme - and couldn't be replaced.
4) Haig couldn't wait for more tanks before the Somme - he had to relieve the pressure on Verdun, or the whole war might have been lost.
5) By 1918, Haig had learnt to adapt these attacking tactics so that they became highly successful allowing the British to punish Germans at the battle of Amiens.

The main Allied war plan was for Britain and France to hold the German army in the west, while the Russian army advanced from the East to trap the Germans. At the start of the war, British newpapers talked confidently about the Russian steamroller crushing opposition as it advanced into Germany but it didn't happen. The Russians did catch the Germans out - they were ready in just 10 days with 6 million men so the German had to send troops East before defeating France and their Schlieffen plan had failed.

But the Russian advance was largely a failure as they advanced into Germany badly equipped. Many Russian soldiers had to wait for someone to be killed so that they could get hold of a rifle. The Russian plans had been rushed because of the need to advance quickly, and they weren't prepared for a long campaign. The Russian army was poorly organised, with many officers inexperienced and discipline was poor.

200,000 Russians were slaughtered in 1914 at the battle of Tannenberg and the Masurian Lakes by German troops under Hindenberg and Ludendorff. The Russians were driven back, and the Germans and Austro-Hungarians advanced, until a stalemate soon developed also on the Eastern front. The war effort put a great stain on Russia, as civilians went hungry so the troops could be supplied.

Turkey had joined the war on the German side in October 1914 and in December 1914 Turkey attacked Russia in the hope of regaining a hold in the Balkans. Some leaders in Britain like Winston Churchill, the first lord of the Admiralty, thought that Germany and Austria-Hungary could be weakened by attacking Turkey in the East and came up with the Gallipoli plan;

1) Turkey controlled the Dardanelles - the narrow entrance to the Black Sea - and this was stopping Britian getting supplies and possibly troops through to Russia.
2) If Britain could land troops on thr Gallipoli Peninsula they could take the Dardanelles, and then go on to take Constaninople, the capital of Turkey.
3) Then other nearby countries like Greece, Romania, and Bulgaria might join in on Britain's side, and help the Allies to win the war, by attacking Germany from the East.

The Gallipoli campaign began in February 1915 when the British navy tried to advance up the Dardanelles but couldn't pass the Turkish forts and mines. The navy pulled out and the army was sent in, made up of one British division and ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) and French troops. The idea was to cross the Gallipoli peninsula and capture the Turkish capital Constantinople.

This land assault began in April 1915 and the Turks were ready. By firing down from hills above the beaches the Turks stopped the Allies from advancing, and the allied troops dug trenches. They spent the summer and autumn under fire, suffering from heat and disease, with poor supplies of food and ammunition suffering 40,000 casualties by August. In December a withdrawal began.

The Turks lost 65,000 men, which seriously weekened their army though that wasn't obvious at the time. But the Gallipoli campaign was an allied disaster and was caused by bad planning;

1) The soldiers hadn't been trained to fight on beaches.
2) Commanders didn't know the area, and didn't have proper maps.
3) The troops had not pushed forward quickly enough after landing.

Over a third of the ANZACs sent to Gallipoli died. Churchill was removed from his post as First Lord of the Admiralty, and the Dadanelles remained under Turkish control.

As countries like Turkey and Bulgaria joined in, the war spread to new fronts. The main fighting was on the Western front, but all fronts were important since successes on one front could boost the morale of a nation whereas defeats could create discountent and anger.

This was a Real World War ;

1) In the Far East, Japan had made a treaty with Britain in 1902, and now attacked some of Germany colonies in the East.
2) In Africa and the Pacific, there was fighting in colonies of the major powers.
3) From the British Empire soldiers came from all over, including Canada, India, and Australia.
4) In Greece (Salonika) a new front opened because Serbia was under attack.
5) Italy joining the Allies in 1915, could attacks Austria and Germany from the South but didn't make much progress. Italian forces were defeated at the battle of Caporetto in 1917, and forced to retreat.

Mesopotamia was part of the Turkish Emipire and it was important to stop the Turks invading British-controlled Egypt and attacking British oil supplies in Persia (modern Iran). A British force was forced to surrender at Kut-El-Amara in April 1916, but more British troops were sent and pushed the Turks out in 1917. When the British captured Baghdad in March 1917, many Arabs revolted against the Turks. Britain armed them and one officer, T.E. Lawrence - Lawrence of Arabia - became a hero helping the Arabs to attack the important Hejaz Railway in 1917.

In Palestine allied forces beat the Turks at the battle of Beersheba, and took Jerusalem in December 1917. and in 1918 took Damascus. They were led by Sir Edmund Allenby, a much more popular figure than Haig. By October 1918, British forces controlled the area.

In the war at sea the British navy had 4 important jobs ;

1) To protect trade-ships and so allied supplies.
2) To blockade ports, preventing the enemy being supplied.
3) To carry troops to wherever they were needed.
4) To protect British colonies overseas.

Blockades were more important than battles - the British Royal Navy aimed to stop food and supplies being delivered to German ports, and to stop the German fleet getting to the open sea.

But the German U-boat submarine changed the war at sea, attacking ships without being detected. In 1914, the British Grand Fleet left the North sea unprotected because of the U-boat threat, and from 1915, thousands of tons of merchant shipping were attacked and sunk though Germany only had 21 U-boats. At first the Germans were careful not to attack ships from neutral countries or passenger liners, but the British realising this bagan sending supplies on passenger liners too. In May 1915 U-boats sank the liner Lusitania and over 1,000 passengers died, including 100 American citizens. This was one factor in the USA joining the war in 1917.

Major sea battles were too risky. Both sides had raced to build Dreadnoughts, but neither wanted to risk these expensive ships in too many big battles. The only large-scale battle between the Dreadnought fleets was the battle of Jutland in May 1916 where over 250 ships clashed.

Both sides said they won the battle of Jutland;

1) The British lost 14 ships, and the Germans 11.
2) They fought in the evening, when it was misty, so neither side could fire accurately.
3) The British ships generally suffered more damaged than the Germans.
4) The Germans ships and firepower seemed stronger.
5) But the German fleet left the battle first, and never put to sea in any strength after that.

Meanwhile the U-boat seemed to be an unstoppable force;

1) U-boat attacks from 1917 were unrestricted.
2) Over haf a million tons of shipping was sunk in April 1917 alone in an attempt to starve Britain.
3) To tackle this problem, Lloyd George introduced the Convoy System - where merchant ships travelled together in groups protected by warships - to keep Britain's supplies coming in.

Aircraft made a massive difference in the First World War once both sides worked out how to use them effectively, but at first were used only for surveillance and bombing. On the Western front both sides used planes and balloons to look for weak spots in enemy defences and to watch enemy troops movements. From 1915 planes started to carry fixed machine guns using synchronised firing which stopped the gun shooting off the propeller blades.

The Germans used hydrogen-filled airships called Zeppelins for bombing, and in May 1915 there was a major raid on London. But Zeppelins were so huge they were very vulnerable to improving anti-aircraft guns. The first serious long-distance bombing raid on Britain was in June 1917, where 95 people were killed at Folkestone. Now civilians were in real danger too.

The British army's Royal Flying Corps, and the navy's flying units merged in 1918 to from the Royal Air Force which by the end of the war had over 20,000 planes. By then planes could travel hundreds of kilometres without refulling, and this techology was later used to set up passenger airlines.

Fighter pilots became heroes, and the exploits of the first pilots made for exciting reading. Some of most famous ''air aces'' were;

1) Celestin-Adolphe Pegoud 'taught the world to fly' by showing that planes could loop and roll in the air.
2) Manfred Von Richthofen (the Red Baron) shot down 80 allied planes.
3) Rene Fonck shoot down 75 planes.
4) Albert Ball shot down 43 planes.

For Russia, Tsar Nicholas ll was a poor military commander and the results were disastrous. To the south, the Brusliov Offensive advanced successfully into Austria-Hungary in June 1916, but were soon pushed back. Widespread starvation in the winter of 1916 forced Nicholas ll out of power in 1917 and a new provisional government continued the war for a time, but was no more successful. Then the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 brought new leaders who decided to end the fighting. Russia signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with Germany in 1918, giving Germany control of a large amount of Eastern territory.

Two important results of Russia leaving the war were:

1) The Allies were left to fight on without Russian help on an Eastern front.
2) Germany was now able to pull back 1 million men to the Western front.

However, in April 1917 the USA joined the war for two main reasons - the effects of the German U-boat campagin, and a German attempt to encourage Mexico to attack the USA. By then the fighting in Europe was fierce and the French under General Nivelle had failed to push the Germans back. The Allies fought the battles of Passchendaele and Cambrai in 1917 - Passchendaele was also know as the third battle of Ypres and 400,000 allied troops were killed or wounded to win a few hundred metres of mud.

Germany had to mount a decisive attack before American forces arrived in strength. Their Ludendrorff Offensive to capture Paris in March 1918 looked like it was working at first, but the Germans advanced too far too fast and their supplies had not kept up with them. They were beyond their main lines in a kind of bulge, so the Allies attacked them from the flanks (the sides). Then many American troops joined the Allied forces, and the Germans were beaten. Kaiser Wilhelm ll abdicated and the new German government agreed a cease-fire on Novermber 11th 1918.

To help win the war, governments needed to control more aspects of daily life than ever before, and for this Britain passed a Defence Of the Realm Act (DORA).

The first British troops were volunteers, many seeking adventure, but the number of volunteers slowed down by 1915 as the war dragged on with severe losses. Many felt it was unfair that certain men were escaping military duty, while men in important jobs like coal-mining were volunteering and creating shortages. So conscription was introduced in May 1916 for all single men between the ages of 18 and 41. Then it was extended to married men also. This meant that conscientious objectors who didn't believe in fighting were branded criminals and jailed. Some were even shot as traitors for refusing to fight.

Conscription led to a huge shortage of workers in vital industries, so many jobs were taken-up by women for the first time. This was vital to the munitions industry producing weapons for the front. And from the start of the war the Suffragettes womens movement, that had been fighting government for the right to vote, had called a 'truce'.

After the war there was still a massive shortage of men, and the efforts of women were recognised by the government who gave them the vote in 1918. Women over 30 who owned a house, or were married to a houseowner, were given the right to vote, and the role of women in society had changed. Some believe this was more due more to changes in women's roles during the war than to the Suffragettes' protest movement.

By 1917 Britain had a food supply crisis as the war made it impossible for Britain to import all the food that it neeed to survive. This was made worse by the U-boat threat to all shipping around Britain. David Lloyd George became Prime Minister in 1916 and took several steps ;

A) The convoy system;

The British navy adopted a convoy system of merchant ships travelled in groups with an escort of Royal Navy ships to protect them. This meant that the U-boats couldn't attack without the risk of being sunk. From than on only about 1% of ships coming to Britain were sunk.

B) Food rationing 1918;

Food rationing was voluntary as first, but was soon made compulsory. People were issued with coupons to hand over when they bought certain basic foods and weren't allowed to have more than their official quota for any week. While some people began hoarding food partly because of high prices, and there was a black market in food, but no-one starved.

C) Increased food production;

British farmers were encouraged to use more land to grow food, and the Women's Land Army was set up as a labour force to help farmers to increase food production.

Things would never be the same;

1) 1500 civilians had been killed by enemy attacks, usually from the air. People in Britain now knew they were no longer safe because they lived on an island protected by a strong navy.
2) Britain's standing army was clearly too small. During the war conscription had been introduced for the first time in Britain because of the extent of troops losses.
3) The 1917 U-boat campaign meant that food supplies had run low. Lloyd-George had to reorganise the food supply system. Rationing drove the point home to people.
4) Newspapers and films had been censored and gave out propaganda information. But people gradually found out some of the truth about the war, and questioned their leaders' decisions.
5) Women had been asked to do jobs which men had traditionally done-this changed the role of women forever in Britain and brought many of them the vote.
6) The war effort had meant the developmeant of advanced new technology. This would change life in the future - e.g. the air travel and many new chemicals.
7) No war in history had ever produced so many casualties-the loss of huge number of young men had changed the balance of society. Much of a whole generation was wiped out.

When the war ended, most Britons hoped there would never be another war like it again - and no longer saw war as a big adventure.

Reasons for the change in public opinion;

1) German bombing of civilians in Britain, made the horrors of war more real.
2) Casualties were very high and success limited.
3) People felt that many army and navy chiefs were incompetent.
4) Shortages of food and supplies in Britain led to hardship for the people.
5) War-poets were writing about the reality of conditions in the trenches.
6) A film of the Somme in 1916 showed people some of the shocking truth about the real war.
7) The war was very expensive, costing about £7 million per day - needing high taxes.
8) Large numbers of soldiers coming home had lost limbs or eyes.

PostPosted: Fri Jul 02, 2004 12:14 pm
by Clare
I do like your history posts Colin.

Have noticed that each of these you build-up each day over maybe a week, tho only your first date of posting ever shows !

Keep up the good work.

PostPosted: Sun Jul 25, 2004 11:41 am
by GrimDad
Hi Col. Your educational posts are great, and this WW1 one I really like - reminds me of my Grandads stories and why not to join an army !!