Part 3 of 8
The war begins and Belgium is invaded.
Germany’s plan to win the war in 42 days almost immediately begins to fall apart as Belgium mounts a very stiff defense. Gaps in the advance are exposed and the French take advantage of them. A French counteroffensive is launched at the Marne, which halts the advance, leading to the start of trench warfare.
In Eastern Europe, Russia mobilizes much faster than anticipated. On Aug. 26 there is a battle at Tannenberg between the Russians and Germans. Though Germany won the battle the necessary commitment of men and supplies to the battle further puts their plans in disarray.
After a static autumn on the Western front, a Christmas truce was established along sections of the Western front, mainly between German and British troops. Fraternizing soldiers sang carols and met in “No Man’s Land” and exchanged food, cigarettes and drinks, before senior officers stopped the truce.
The first Zeppelin raid is carried out by the Germans against England, and further raids target both London and Paris.
Germany uses poison gas on enemy soldiers for the first time. Italy, because of promises made by the Allies (which were never fulfilled) joins the Allied war effort.
In London, a decision was made to use Winston Churchill’s plan to relieve Russia by attacking Turkey, a German ally, at Gallipoli. The assault on Gallipoli fails with huge losses of Australian and New Zealand troops; Churchill resigns as First Lord of the Admiralty.
On the Western front at the second Battle of Ypres poison gas was used. The initial shock was huge but the troops quickly learned how to deal with it. Allied troops discovered that a pad initially soaked in urine placed over the mouth dealt with the worst effects of the cholerine gas. Some 5,700 cylinders each weighing about 88 pounds were deployed and when the right wind conditions occurred were released on the Allied troops. The other side quickly learned how to respond with their own gas weapons and another particularly heinous war weapon was introduced into the war.
The first genocide of the 20th Century took place against the Armenians by Turkey. Turkey suffered defeats in the Middle East, which they controlled, and blame for the defeats was put on the Armenians. In the Turkish city of Van Armenians revolted against the Turks. Armenians were sure that the Armenian male population would be slaughtered thus the move was one of self-defense. The Turks took the move as one of disloyalty and that it negatively affected their war effort. Turkey forced the Armenians out of their country by killing the Armenian males leaving women and children for a forced deportation. Somewhere between 600,000 and 1.3 million Armenians were killed.
On May 7, the British passenger ship Lusitania was sunk by a German U-boat off the coast of Ireland, killing almost 1,200 people, 128 of whom were Americans.
The battle of Verdun begins Feb. 21. When the battle ended on Dec. 18, nearly 650,000 French and German soldiers were killed. Other major battles in this year were the Somme, a primarily British action, in which combined casualties totaled more than 1 million combatants; the Brusilov Offensive, in which Russia scored victories over the Austrians, but were pushed back to their own territory by the Germans; and the only major sea battle during the war, the Battle of Jutland, in which neither Great Britain or Germany scored a decisive victory.
In Ireland, the Easter Rising took place, in which some 1,600 armed rebels seized some key buildings in Dublin. The rebels conspired with Germany seeking a shipment of arms. English retribution was severe and quick. In early May, the 15 leaders of the uprising were put in front of a firing squad. Irish Catholics were outraged and pushed for wider public support for independence. A century later the prejudice over this uprising still exists.
In Russia Czar Nicholas II is overthrown during its revolution. The communists sign an armistice with Germany in December, pulling out of the war. The Czar and his family are executed in July 1918.
April 6, 1917, the U.S. enters the war on the side of the Allies. Reasons given were Germany’s declaration of unrestricted submarine warfare and its plotting with Mexico to invade the U.S.
German U-boats almost won the war. They were used indiscriminately and fired on any ships that came across their paths. Britain developed the convoy system and the tonnage sank by U-Boats dropped significantly. Overall though 5,000 Allied merchant ships were destroyed against 178 U-Boats.
In this year of action, German U-boats come close to severely crippling the Allied war effort. French soldiers mutiny after horrific casualty totals take their toll. France would remain on the defensive against the Germans, but would not launch any more costly offensive actions. Despite the many battles and key offensives, Germany held its ground in France for yet another year.
The home front of the warring factions began to crumble as food becomes scare in all European countries. There wasn’t a family on either side of the war that hadn’t been tragically affected.
In the spring, Germany launched the Michael offensive, as they are able to transfer 50 divisions from the Eastern Front to the Western Front. However, a strategic withdrawal allowed the Allies to stop the Germans 10 miles short of its objective. By the summer, U.S troops enter France in large numbers, more than 2 million of them by the end of the war.