Causes and events of the First World War. Revision Booklet Theme 3 What Happened on the Western Front?

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1 Causes and events of the First World War Revision Booklet Theme 3 What Happened on the Western Front? 1

2 Why did war get bogged down in the trenches? Reason 1 The failure of the Schlieffen plan Germany invaded Belgium on 4 th August but soon faced problems. a) Heroic Belgium Resistance- The Germans were slowed down by the Belgium army and did not reach Paris in the expected 6 weeks. b) The Impact of the British Expeditionary Force- Led by Sir John French, he landed in France and met the advancing Germans at Mons on 23 rd August. This slowed the German advance. The troops at Mons were led by Lieutenant General Douglas Haig and were using Lee Enfield.303 action rifles that could fire quickly- This made the Germans think they were against machine guns. c) Russian Mobilisation- The Russians moved more quickly than expected. The German General staff, Von Moltke had to pull 100,000 troops out of advancing to Paris to deal with the Russians. d) French Resistance- Although the French were defeated at Alsace-Lorraine, they adapted an offensive strategy and defended Paris at the Battle of the Marne. e) Supply Problems- Due to rapid advance of some of the German troops, their supplies of food and ammunition could not keep up with them, leaving soldiers underfed and exhausted. Reason 2 The battle of the Marne September 1914 This was a turning point. Von Kluck the German commander decided he did not have enough troops to swing around Paris, surround it and take it over. So he advanced straight towards it. Combined British and French forces were able to stop the German advance along the line of the River Marne. They then counter attacked and pushed the Germans back to the River Aisne, although they were unable to drive them out of France altogether. NIETHER SIDE COULD MAKE ANY PROGRESS, LEADING THEM TO DIG TRENCHES TO PROTECT THEMSELVES FROM SNIPERS AND SHELLFIRE. THIS WAS THE FIRST SIGN OF STALEMATE. Reason 3 First Battle of Ypres October- November 1914 Under a new commander FALKENHAYN decided to make a race to the see to take channel ports- this meant GB would not be able to bring over men and supplies! The key battle was at Ypres. The British expeditionary Force lost around 50,000 men and the Germans lost around 100,000 men. The British again led by Haig held this important ground and control of the channel ports. By November 1914 it was deadlock. A stalemate was reached, millions of troops dug into a line of trenches that stretched from the sea in the west to the Alps in the East. It became known as the Western Front. War would not be over my Christmas. 2

3 Battle of the Marne WHY DID WAR GET BOGGED DOWN IN THE TRENCHES? First battle of Ypres Failure of the Schlieffen plan and it consequences 3

4 4

5 What was living and fighting in the trenches like? Soldiers went through an enormous range of experiences from extreme boredom to appalling stress of an attack. Most time was spent on guard, repairing trenches or trying to rest, rather than going over the top. Conditions were horrendous- Millions of men and thousands of horses lived closely together. Sanitation arrangements were makeshift. In the summer the smell of the trenches were appalling due to a combination of Rotting corpses, Sewage and Unwashed soldiers. The soldiers were infected with Lice. The weather affected soldiers lives. In the summer, they were hot, dusty and smelly. In the winter or wet weather soldiers spent much of their time up to their ankles or knees in water, many thousands suffered from trench foot which left untreated could lead to amputation. British soldiers had the worst conditions as Germans built their trenches first any many were on high ground. This left the British on low, flooded ground. Duckboards were placed at the bottom of trenches. Rats that thrived on dead bodies in no man s land, they spread disease and contaminated food. Dysentery- was a particularly bad illness at the beginning of the war, caused by infected water. Shellshock- was a new illness suffered by soldiers who may have witnessed of war and the horrific sound. It affected soldiers both physically and mentally. 5

6 Soldiers put up with these conditions as it was; For some a sense of adventure Discipline- if they disobeyed orders they could be court- marshalled, 346 soldiers were shot! Humour kept up morale. Bairns fathers cartoons were a good example and the soldiers produced many humourous news sheets and other publications, often poking fun at the commanders. Respect- for many of the officers who led from the front Comradeship- join up with pals and make friends from other countries Patriotism- Fight for your country Comforts- rations for British soldiers were generally good Leisure Time Troops would spend about 3 days in the most dangerous parts of the trenches, soldiers spent about 60% of their time out of the trenches therefore more leisure time. What was fighting like in the trenches? TERM: NO MAN S LAND - the land unoccupied between enemy trenches. It was often filled with shell holes and thousands could die in this area of land trying to capture enemy trenches. At night snipers crept through no-man s land to shoot enemy forces. Tactics 1. Artillery bombarded the enemy frontline 2. Attacking troops would GO OVER THE TOP after the bombardment had stopped. A race between sides soon developed, attackers got over barbed wire into no man s land whilst the defenders set up machineguns. 3. Defenders usually had the advantage 4. If attackers captured forward positions it was often hard to hold them New tactics developed as the war progressed artillery 6 and infantry attacks became synchronised. Troops were given gas masks and in 1916 steel helmets. (See section on technology and war)

7 How far did General Haig mismanage the Battle of the Somme 1916? Background and aims In February 1916 German troops attempted to attack and take strategic French forts around Verdun and then push on towards Paris. By July about 700,000 men have been killed and the French were close to breaking point. Aims of the Somme To gain territory Draw German troops away from Verdun Kill as many German soldiers as possible in the war of Attrition Having had favoured an attack further north in Flanders and warned the nation of the likelihood of many casualties when the Somme attack occurred because of the events in Verdun. Tactics Huge artillery bombardment on the 24th June until 1 st July to devastate German positions Enemy s barbed wire would be cut and trenches destroyed British troops would walk across no-man s land with heavy packs and trench repair equipment Cavalry would be kept in reserve Problems!! Defenders were on high ground with a good view of the British and the French Some of the German dug-outs were made of concrete! German barbed wire spread more than 307 meters wide which made it hard to penetrate Many of the allied shells were of poor quality and did not destroy the defences.

8 Events Infantry attacks began 7-30am 1 st July This type of attack usually occurred at dawn but commanders felt there would be no resistance. French forces made early gains but were isolated because of the slow pace of the British Germen soldiers moved from their reserve trenches and set up machine guns. The barbed wire had not been destroyed! British troops funnelled through gaps in the wire but were sitting targets for the machine guns There were around 57,000 British casualties on the first day alone, about one third of these were killed (20,000) At the time it was chaos. Haig was 2 to 3 days behind in communication Rawlinson, Haig s deputy wanted to stop the attack. Haig pressed on! There was some gains like the village of Pozieres captured 23 rd July Haig used tanks in September, but weather conditions did not help them. Battle was called off 18 th November. A strip of land about 25KM long and 6KM wide had been taken. These small gains cost British 420,000 casualties, French 200-,000 and German 500,000 Did Haig mismanage the Battle of the Somme? Yes Haig overestimated the impact of the artillery bombardment as the Germans had moved to reserve trenches encased with concrete and the barbed wire had not been destroyed. The infantry troops had no chance on 1 st July as the artillery stopping signalled to the Germans an attack so there was no element of surprise. Haig did not adjust his tactics soon enough (July/August) The use of tanks came to late (Sept 1916) when the ground had been churned up and therefore less effective Amount of land gained for huge amount of lives lost was horrendous Haig made no allowance for the weather. 7 th July 1916 the battlefield was a swamp, tactics were not changed Many in Britain though the Somme would lead to victory. They know knew it was a war of attrition. 8 No Haig had warned politicians in 1916 that the nation needed to be prepared for heavy losses to win the war The key objective of saving the French at Verdun was achieved Some of the best German troops were killed in the battle. This would affect Germany in 1918 and their last attacks Tactic of creeping barrage came in later at the Somme synchronising the artillery and the infantry Politicians needed to take some of the blame. Haig fell out with the minister of war David Lloyd-George who had given the go-ahead for the Somme

9 Views of the Somme A brutal campaign that achieved its main objective A crucial battle that saved the French army A disaster A great victory at a terrible cost A shocking case of incompetent leadership on the part of Haig One major step towards the defeat of Germany A tribute to the heroism of ordinary soldiers An example of politicians laying the blame on military leaders A shocked society looking for someone to blame Remember: Comment on HOW FAR Haig to blame! A film was made of the battle of the Somme in August 1916 (before the result of the battle). The battle showed both true and fictional events of the battle. It horrified people by showing death of soldiers and was a turning point in the war. The Somme brought home to people that the war would be a long war of Attrition! How important were the developments such as tanks, machine guns, aircraft and gas? 9

10 Tanks- a British invention, the development was funded by Winston Churchill who saw their potential. They were first used at the Battle of the Somme 1916 and did some useful tasks such as crushing barbed wire, spraying enemy lines with machine gun fire and advancing ahead of the infantry. BUT tanks in 1916 were very unreliable. 29 of the 50 broke down at the Somme, they could only travel at 2MPH and German guns could pierce the tanks armour November 1917 at Cambrai on firm ground the tanks blasted their way through enemy lines. In fact they were too successful; the infantry could not keep up with them! Tanks used with other technology such as aircraft and creeping barrage offered a boost to British morale in the pushing back of German forces. Machine guns were one of the main killers in the war. Early machine guns had problems as they were very heavy and could overheat rapidly. They were devastating as a defensive weapon and were a main reason for continued stalemate from During an infantry attack it could cut down a brigade in minutes, this meant that going over the top would cost many lives. By 1918 most platoons had their own machine guns and some troops had light weight sub-machine guns. These guns were effective in capturing St Quentin Canal in Aircraft in 1914 they were extremely primitive, unreliable and dangerous. He pilots were called the twenty minute men. They did reconnaissance work over enemy trenches. Photographs taken were very valuable e.g. they spotted a potential break in the allied lines in august 1914 ate the Marne. April 1915 planes were successfully fitted with machine guns and were synchronised not to shoot their own propeller! By 1918 spectacular aerial battles were common over the western front. Sleek panes Sopwith Camel and Fokker Triplane were used. Planes helped slow down German advance in 1918 and helped the allied advance Planes were made more valuable at sea where they could observe and attack shipping 1914 we had 37 aeroplanes, by ,000 Gas- the first poison gas attack was April 1915 by Germans during the second battle of Ypres. It brought panic as soldiers struggled to breathe. It was first used to disable enemy troops so that your own infantry charge would be successful. As the war developed scientists on both sides began 10 to develop more lethal gasses such as mustard gas which burned/blinded or slowly killed victims over 4-5 weeks BUT Scientists also developed very effective gas masks. As a result only 3,000 troops died from gas

11 What was the importance of America s entry into the war? Why did the USA join? In 1914 USA was neutral in the war. Although, the relationship with Germany deteriorated when passenger ship Lusitania was sunk in With 128 Americans on board. Germany had announced that merchant ships heading towards Britain would be legitimate targets in January 1917 Germany announced a policy of unrestricted submarine warfare which is the Sink On Sight Campaign because of Great Britain was blockading Germany effectively. 6 th April 1917 America declared war on Germany! USA important? Not to begin with, even though Great Britain and France were suffering after Verdun and the Somme. There were mutinies by French soldiers and Russians dropping out of the war in The main problem was that by the end of 1917 US troops had not arrived in force, there were only 85,000 men, also they had a lack of equipment and uniforms as the US economy was not geared for war. BUT THEN VERY IMPORTANT!! June and July 1918, America sent over 580,000 men and new equipment to the Western Front. By August nearly 1.5 million Americans were in France. At this time US troops helped push back German troops and by September had reached the Hindenburg line. By October the Germans were in full retreat. 11

12 Why did Germany agree to an armistice in 1918? a) Situation in Germany early 1918 allied blockade of German ports had starved economy of raw materials and the population of food. The USA was sending over troops. b) VERY IMPORTANT- failure of the Ludendorff offensive spring offensive 1918 Ludendorff launched a last gamble on a quick victory in March Specially trained and lightly equipped small bands of soldiers smashed the allied trenches broke the stalemate and advanced 64 kilometres with Paris in sight. But Germans had lost 400,000 men in the process and the soldiers of 1918 were not as disciplined as the 1914 soldiers (many dead at the Somme 1916). They now came up against the better allied technology, tanks, aircraft, and artillery and were pushed back. They needed an armistice. c) To avoid revolution- Kaiser Wilhelm abdicated on 9 th November 1918 and a new government under Ebert feared a communist revolution as happened in Russia d) Terrible conditions in Germany- By Autumn 1918 malnutrition was common in Germany, due mainly to the blockade of German ports e) Germany wanted to take advantage of Wilson s fourteen points-produced by Wilson February 1918 and at first rejected by Germany, he offered a league of Nations and international disarmament f) To avoid an invasion- After the allies had crossed the Hindenburg line October 1918, Ludendorff had almost run out of troops which meant they could be invaded g) Defeats of Germany s Allies-Bulgaria surrendered September, Turkey in October, Austria/Hungary 3 rd November. This left Germany friendless. Armistice signed 11 th November 1918 Immediately German troops had to leave Belgium and Alsace-Lorraine. Gave land and resources back to Russia 12

13 Failure of the Ludendorff offensive Effects of Blockade Conditions in Germany Avoid invasion Why did Germany ask for an Armistice? Avoid Revolution USA's entry to to the war Take advantage of 14 points 13

14 Defeat of Germany's allies Revolution in Germany British blockade in Germany New technology 1917/18 Why was Germany defeated? USA's entry. Long term failure of the Schlieffen plan Failure of 'U' boat campaign Failure of Ludendorff offensive

15 Other important battles on the Western Front Verdun February A French fortress city was attacked by the Germans as a way to reach Paris. Initially Germans were successful, though General Petain held the main fortress by keeping supplies going along the sacred road The British helped by diverting the German troops from Verdun when attacking at the Somme. Deadlock remained 23 million shells had been fired by both sides! 1917 Nivelle offensive around the River Aisne, around 200,000 French lives were lost. Soldiers were mown down by Germans whose barbed wire had not been destroyed. This led to French mutinies and 55 ringleaders were executed. Vimy Ridge- April A German held hill near Arras was attacked by Canadian and British soldiers, successfully using creeping barrage Messines Ridge 1917 Another success, 22 miners dug under Messines Ridge near Ypres. 7 th June one million pounds of high explosives blew up under the feat of the Germans. The noise could be heard in London! 10,000 Germans were killed instantly and the Ridge was captured. Passchendaele 3rd Battle of Ypres 1917 This was Haig again. Haig aims to relieve pressure from the suffering French. The Germans attrition was about to make them collapse. They felt that a breakthrough at Ypres would help capture Belgian ports of Zeebrugge and Ostend where there was German submarine bases. 31 st July Great Britain attack but there was no breakthrough. There were 30,000 British casualties in the first week. By October only 11 kilometres of land and the village of Passchendaele gained No breakthrough because of the delayed attack (6 weeks after Messines) meant Germans were expecting the attack. Also because of the Terrible Weather, as there was rain for most of the summer which turned the area into swampland. This was horrific for soldiers, guns, horses and tanks. Cambrai This was part of the German Hindenburg line. November 20th 378 tanks and 289 aircraft smashed through German trenches and by the afternoon had punched a hole 10 kilometres wide and 6 kilometres deep. The attack was on firm ground so this was good for the tanks. BUT many of the tanks broke down due to lack of petrol or engine failure. In addition many of the infantry could still not keep up with the tanks. It was still deadlock BUT showed how useful tanks 15 could be. Ludendorff offensive In March there was one last gamble for Germany to win the war- Why? Naval blockade by Great Britain was starving Germany

16 16

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