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World War One: 1914 - 1919 A Sourced Based Study
Transcript of World War One: 1914 - 1919 A Sourced Based Study
1914 - 1919
A Source Based Study
Why did World War One Begin?
The war happened primarily for two reasons:
The first was nationalism: Serbian nationalism was the motive for an assassination in the Austrian royal family, and German nationalism was the motive for the major buildup of the German military in the years before the war.
The second reason for going to war was maintaining the balance of power. The unification of Germany had changed things by creating a large, strong, powerful entity in central Europe, whose ambitions caused grave concern to Britain, Russia, and especially France.
Overview of strategies and tactics to break the stalemate including key battles:
Verdun, the Somme and Passchendaele
Overview of Strategies and Tactics
used to break the stalemate
The murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian empire on 28 June 1914 by a Serbian nationalist was the trigger that began the Great War
Nationalism: Patriotic feelings towards one's country. In its form - excessive and uncritical pride on one's country - "jingosim"
Imperialism: Build-up of overseas empires, often under the guise of 'protection' of weaker nations. It enhanced the imperial nation's access to raw materials such as oil, gold or diamonds
Militarism: the only way to defend one's country or its ideals is to act militarily, aggressively and through the use of weapons.
After the assassination of Franz Ferdinand:
Austria declared war on Serbia
Austria asked Germany for support
Russia came to the aid of Serbia against Austria
Germany saw this as a direct threat and declared war on Russia
Germany also declared war on France, Russia's ally - in accordance with the Schlieffen Plan
War was declared on Russia on 1 August and on France on 3 August.
The Germans count on a one month window to avoid encirclement by Russia and France
Using the rail network and newer weaponry the German armies would mass against France with smaller forces moving east to stop the Russians
The aim was to break through Belgium, smash the French forces and circle around Paris trapping the French forces against the left flank
France would be forced to sue for peace and the German army would head to the Eastern front to hold off the main Russian offensive
The British decide that they will only send four of the six divisions of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) if war was declared, seeking diplomatic solutions to possible war
The French are aware of the Schlieffen plan and develop Plan XVII - which moves troops quickly to the German left and centre and seek to cut off German supply lines to 'starve' the enemy offensive
THE REASONS FOR THE STALEMATE ON THE WESTERN FRONT
Three battles followed leading to the stalemate on the Western Front:
1. The battle of Mons
2. The battle of the Marne
3. The first battle of Ypres
Read Page 4 & 5 of your source-based study and answer the following questions:
List the countries that German troops passed through in their attack on France
Compare the original Schlieffen Plan to the actual one used in 1914. What two differences are noticeable?
Using source 1.1a and your knowledge, explain how the Battle of the Marne turned the war into a stalemate
Clickview: slaughter in the trenches:
As you watch this program take notes on:
why were trenches used?
what were the main features of the trenches?
what were the weapons of warfare in the trenches?
what conditions did the soldiers face in the trenches? What was the impact of trench life upon soldiers?
The Nature of Trench Warfare, life in the trenches, the experiences of Allied and German Soldiers
Compare and Contrast the experiences of the British and German soldiers in trenches
Why did the Schlieffen Plan fail?
The plan relied upon rapid movement. The resistance of the Belgians and the BEF prevented this.
German supply lines to France were disrupted.
Russia mobilised its troops quicker than expected. Within 10 days the Russians had invaded Germany, which meant that the Germans had to switch troops away from western Europe to hold up the Russian invasion.
Both sides now had to secure the land that they held. Trenches were dug and machine-gun posts erected. The first exchanges of the war were over; from now until 1918, neither side would advance more than 10 miles forward or backwards from the positions they now held
The weapons of trench warfare
Rifles: German: Mauser (1898). British: Lee Enfield.
Machine Guns: Defensive, huge casualty rate, one machine gun could defend against hundreds of advancing troops. Machine gun nests were set up at strategic points along the front-line trenches.
German: Maxim. British: Vickers.
Artillery: Large guns with the aim to destroy fortified positions, and destroy enemy troops and trenches. German: “Big Bertha” (after the –daughter of Alfred Krupp (its inventor)
Periscope: more an observation tool
Gas: First used by the Germans in 1915 at Ypres. The aim was to clear the trench. Unreliable because of shifting winds. Types of gas: chlorine, mustard, phosgene, chloropicrin, prussic acid.
Tanks: Developed by the British and first used on the Somme in 1916
1. Mud: in Autumn
2. Cold and freezing conditions: in winter
3. Hot and dusty: in Summer
"Heavier comes the barrage, by the greatest of good fortune falling just short of our line. The shells are missing us by a matter of yards. Noise is everywhere. We lie on the shuddering ground, rocking to the vibrations, under a shower of solid noise we feel we could reach out and touch. The shells come, burst and are gone, but that invisible noise keeps on – now near, now far, now near, now far again. Flat, unceasing noise.” E.P.F. Lynch, Somme Mud
“Jack, like most of the men, scratched almost all the time, and gradually less aware that he did so. Not all of them were resigned. Tyson had once been driven so frantic that the medical officer ordered him to have fifteen days rest. The constant irritation had proved more wearing to him even than the sound of heavy guns or the fear of dying... By the time they had reached their billets jack felt the first irritation on his skin. Within three hours the heat on his body as he marched had hatched the eggs of hundreds of lice that had lain dormant in the seams of the shirt. By the time he reached the front his skin was alive with them.” Faulks, S. Birdsong, 1994
5. Rats“Rats came up from the canal, fed on the plentiful corpses, and multiplied exceedingly. While I stayed here with the Welch, a new officer joined the company and, in token of welcome, was given a dug-out containing a spring-bed. When he turned in that night he heard a scuffling, shone his torch on the bed, and found two rats on his blanket tussling for the possession of a severed hand.” Robert Graves, Goodbye to All That, 1929
The trenches were very unhygienic. The same lice-infested clothes for days on end. Huge rats. Acombination of vomit, blood, urine, excrement, mud, rotting corpses and vermin caused serious illness among the troops, e.g. dysentery.
Trench foot was caused by constant exposure to cold, wet conditions. Where there was constant damp and poor drainage, a soldier’s feet could begin to rot leading to gangrene and other infection and often resulting in amputation.
“Your feet swell to two or three times their normal size and go completely dead. You could stick a bayonet into them and not feel a thing. If you are fortunate enough not to lose your feet and the swelling begins to go down, it is then that the intolerable, indescribable agony begins. I have heard men cry and even scream with the pain and many had to have their feet and legs amputated. I was one of the lucky ones, but one more day in that trench and it may have been too late.(Sergeant Harry Roberts, RAMC, after holding a flooded ‘strategic’ front line trench for six days and nights, just before the beginning of the Battle of the Somme, 1916)” Quoted in Brown, Tommy Goes to War, p.88 (in McCallum p.65)
7. Gas Gangrene
“Caused by bacteria in the soil which came from the manure in the farm fields through which the trenches ran. The particular germ entered the body through a wound. It caused a particularly serious form of gangrene with large gassy pustules. The disease ate away at the flesh and often led to amputation.”
8. Battle fatigue / Shell shock
During World War 1 severe psychological problems were not acknowledged by military authorities - sufferers were considered cowards, malingerers, shirkers. Symptoms could include: anger, violence, , morbid thoughts, nightmares, shaking, indecision, disorientation.
“The ‘shell-shocks’ sat about, dumb, or making queer foolish noises, or staring with a look of animal fear in their eyes. From a padded room came a sound of singing. Some idiot of war was singing between bursts of laughter. It all seemed so funny to him, that war, so mad!... The nervous cases were the worst and in greatest number. Many were raving mad. The shell-shock victims clawed at their mouths unceasingly, or lay motionless like corpses with staring eyes, or trembled in every limb, moaning miserably and afflicted with great terror.”Gibbs, P., Now It Can Be Told, London, 1920 (in Ken Webb p.49)
Food was a constant source of complaint for soldiers in the trenches:
bully beef (tinned corned beef), the rations of bread and biscuits were often stale, fresh water was difficult to get, tea and jam.
"soldiers at the front received a daily rum ration (in a jar stamped S.R.D. ‘Supply Reserve Depot’ which the soldiers soon dubbed ‘Seldom Reaches Destination’ or ‘Soon Runs Dry’"
“The men are having their tea of bully beef and biscuits, stale bread and jam out of the inevitable cigarette tin. Here and there we spot a lump of cheese. Hard dry tucker, washed down with water. We come to one crowd eating some buttery-looking stuff out of little blue cardboard boxes, which they found in a Fritz dugout and say it’s butter though it might be boot grease for all they know.” E.P.F. Lynch, Somme Mud, p.87
Battles of Mons, Marne and Ypres: August - November 1914
Multiplication of fronts: 1915
The War of Attrition: 1916
Battle of Verdun (21 February – 16 December 1916). The most sustained battle of the First World War, in which the French suffered more than 400,000 casualties and the Germans nearly 350,000. The battle arose from a plan of General von Falkenhayn (1861-1922), chief of the German General Staff, who claimed that it would be possible ‘to bleed France white’ by launching a massive attack on a narrow sector where national sentiment would force the French to ‘throw in every man they had’. He chose Verdun, a fortified city on the Meuse, whose fall in 1792 had precipitated panic in Paris. The 300-day battle destroyed French reserves and left the French too weak and shell-shocked for a resolute offensive without help from other allies. But the Germans, too, suffered considerable loss of morale for, although two key forts (Douaumont and Vaux) were captured by the Germans and although in June the French were dependent on a single second-class road for supplies, Verdun itself never fell. French counter-attacks from 23 October onwards recovered the forts and most of the shell-cratered wasteland overrun by the Germans. Verdun was a triumph for French fortitude and the Generalship of Charles Mangin, Robert Nivelle and Pétain.
Alan Palmer, Dictionary of Twentieth Century History, Penguin, 1979, p.386
The Battle of the Somme
Battle of the Somme (1 July to 18 November 1816). After a week’s intensive bombardment, the British Fourth Army, with the French Sixth Army on its right, launched the first of a series of attacks on German positions along a twenty-mile front north of the river Somme between the towns of Albert and Péronne. Twenty thousand British soldiers perished on the first day of the battle (1 July)... The offensive was intended to relieve pressure on the French at Verdun. During twenty weeks of successive offensives the allies advanced some ten miles and lost 600,000 men, two-thirds of them British. use of tanks for the first time (by the British on 15 September) was not entirely successful because of the muddy and marshy terrain. Although the Germans were forced back to new positions, they held the vital railway junction at Bapaume, threatened by the British attacks. Subsequently German military historians claimed that the Somme, together with Verdun, so weakened their army that it was never again possible to find a trained nucleus upon which to build an efficient fighting force: hence it has been argued that the Somme, despite its futile costliness, was the turning point of the war in France
Alan Palmer, Dictionary of Twentieth Century History, Penguin, 1979, p.350
The Battle of Passchendaele
Third Battle of Ypres. 7 June – 10 November 1917, a British, Canadian and Australian offensive, opening with the explosion of nineteen mines tunneled under the German positions around Messines and ending in the mud of Passchendaele.
Passchendaele: A village on a ridge eight miles east of Ypres, being the furthest point reached by British and Empire troops in the Third Battle of Ypres, 31 July – 10 November 1917. The Passchendaele Ridge was among the first objectives in the plan of Haig for a breakthrough in Belgium, but it was not possible to launch an attack on Passchendaele itself until 12 October, a second attack failing on 26 October and the ruins of the mud-caked village falling to the Canadians only on 9 November, when it was too late to sustain an offensive in appalling weather with weary and demoralised troops.
A wet August, with twice the normal rainfall, combined with the low-lying Flanders plain to make Passchendaele a battlefield of mud. Allied troops suffered 300,000 casualties in creating a dangerously exposed salient of five miles, speedily evacuated five months later when the Germans launched their spring offensive. Passchendaele, in which the German defenders used mustard gas for the first time, remained the supreme hell-hole of horror among the British and the Canadians much as Verdun did so for the French. Alan Palmer, Dictionary of Twentieth Century History, Penguin, 1979, pp.406 and 305
A German offensive against French lines.
Date: Feb – Dec 1916
Place: Verdun, a fortress of symbolic importance for the French. The Germans chose this site with the knowledge that the French would defend it .
Aim: To “bleed the French white” (Falkenhayn) - To annihilate France
French soldiers of the 87th Regiment, 6th Division, at Côte 304, (Hill 304), northwest of Verdun, 1916
25 February Fort Douaumont taken by the Germans. 9 June Fort Vaux taken by the Germans. General Pétain: “Ils ne passeront pas!”. The French defended Verdun, sacrificing hundreds of thousands of soldiers.
"If you surrender Verdun, you will be cowards, cowards! And you needn’t wait till then to hand in your resignation. If you abandon Verdun, I will sack you all on the spot." French Prime Minister Aristide Briand to General Joffre.
The Germans used phosgene gas and flamethrowers for the first time. By the end of June, the Germans were almost successful in breaking through. They then had to divert men and arms to defend the Somme and the French were able to push them back. 24 October Fort Douaumont retaken by the French. 2 November Fort Vaux retaken by the French. August 1916 – Falkenhayn was replaced by Hindenberg and Ludendorff.
The French were seriously weakened by the losses in the battle, but the battle came to symbolise their fortitude. The Germans also suffered great losses. There was no gain for either side.
A British offensive against German lines.
Date: 1 July – 18 November 1916
Place: along an 18 mile front north of the river Somme in Picardy.
Aim: to break the German lines and end the stalemate.
to relive pressure on the French at Verdun.
Bombardment: For a week before the battle, the German lines were bombarded by British artillery. 1.6 million shells were fired. The aim was eliminate all German life in the trenches so that on the 1st July, the British troops would be able to walk across no man’s land to the German trenches without facing enemy fire.
The German trenches were deep and well-established and they were able to survive the barrage. When the bombardment ended and the battle began, the Germans left their deep bunkers, bringing their machine guns with them to the surface. 1st July was the worst day in British military history with 60,000 casualties including 20,000 dead. Tanks were first used (unsuccessfully) by the British in September.
"We were surprised to see them walking, we had never seen that before. The officers went in front. I noticed one of them walking calmly, carrying a walking stick. When we started to fire we just had to load and reload. They went down in their hundreds. We didn’t have to aim, we just fired into them." Laffin, J., British Butchers and Bunglers of World War I, 1988, p.68 (in Webb p.59)
The battle continued until November with huge losses on both sides.
Result: The British gained 8 km at enormous cost.
A British offensive against German lines.
Date: June – November 1917
Place: Ypres, Flanders in Belgium. This was the Third Battle of Ypres.
to relieve the French after losses and mutinies during the year. To take the Belgian ports of Ostende and Zeebrugge. To further wear down the German through attrition.
It is suggested by J. Laffin in British Butchers
and Bunglers of World War I that Haig pushed
on with the offensive, even after it was bogged
down in the Flanders mud, to avoid sharing
glory for the defeat of the Germans with the
Americans who would be arriving in battle in 1918.
Before the battle began, 19 mines were exploded on the Messines Ridge. Two failed to explode. (One of them exploded during a thunder storm in 1955. The other remains buried somewhere near Ypres.) The pre-battle bombardment tore up the land beyond the allied trenches and the August rains turned the battlefield into a quagmire.
"He [Haig] was proposing to push his men through a slimy, corpse-filled swamp which took five hours to cover one mile. Supplies and ammunition could only be taken forward by donkeys or men, who collapsed under the effort. Up to a dozen bearers were needed to get one stretcher case to the rear."
Laffin, J., British Butchers and Bunglers of World War I, 1988, p.115
•The British took Passchendaele on 9 November 1917.
Result: little gain at great cost. The Germans, in their Spring Offensive in 1918, retook all the territory taken by the British during the Battle of Passchendaele.
Verdun, the Somme and Passchendaele: 1917