Chapter 2 notes: World War I WWI Combatant Countries: Central Powers
Austria-Hungary (July 28,1914)
Turkey (October 29,1914)
Bulgaria (October 12,1915)
United Kingdom (Aug.4,1914)
United States (April 6,1917)
Italy, Romania, Greece, Montenegro, Portugal, Japan
What was the Schlieffen Plan
Count Alfred von Schlieffen drew up the Schlieffen Plan in 1905 when he was German Chief of Staff.
In a general European war, Germany would face France in the west and Russia in the east, and would need to defeat France within six weeks before Russia mobilised her troops.
As most of the French army was stationed on the border with Germany, the Schlieffen Plan aimed for the quick defeat of France by invading it through neutral Belgium and moving rapidly on to capture Paris.
The Germans did not believe that Britain would go to war over their 1839 treaty with Belgium, which they described as a 'scrap of paper'.
Even if Britain did defend Belgium, the Kaiser believed that there was no need to fear the British Expeditionary Force, which he called a 'contemptible little army'.
Having defeated France, Germany would then be able to concentrate her efforts on defeating the Russians in the east rather then having to fight on two fronts at once.
Why did the Schlieffen Plan fail?:
The plan relied upon rapid movement. The resistance of the Belgians and the BEF prevented this.
Russia mobilized 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.
Major Battles of World War I: The First Battle of the Marne, September 6, 1914:
Was conducted between 6-12 September 1914, with the outcome bringing to an end the war of movement that had dominated the First World War since the beginning of August.
The battle ended any hopes the Germans had of effectively bringing the war on the Western Front to an early close.
1st Battle of the Marne
The German advance brought them within 30 miles of the capital, Paris.
A gap opened up in the German lines between the 1st and 2nd armies as the 1st army turned to meet a French attack upon its right flank.
The allies took advantage of this gap and attacked the flanks of the 1st and 2nd German armies.
The Germans were forced to pull back to regroup. As a result their forward movement was halted. The Germans were never able to restart this rapid advancement throughout the remainder of the war.
With the German advance brought to a halt, stalemate and trench warfare ensued. BBC - History - Animations - Animated Map: The Western Front, 1914 - 1918
The Battle of the Somme:
This was an offensive battle started by the British on July 1st ,1916 and ran until November 18, at which point it was called off.
It was an attempt by the British to relieve some of the pressure the French were under at the Battle of Verdun.
It began with 8 days of continuous bombardment by British artillery. It was hoped that this would greatly destroy the German defences which would enable the British troops to simply walk across “no man’s land” and take over German front lines.
The Battle of the Somme (cont’d)
27 divisions of men went into the attack - 750,000 men - of which over 80% were comprised from the British Expeditionary Force (BEF).
The advance artillery bombardment failed to destroy either the German front line barbed wire or the heavily-built concrete bunkers.
During the attack the British and French had gained 12 kilometres of ground, the taking of which resulted in 420,000 estimated British casualties, plus a further 200,000 French casualties. German casualties were estimated to run at around 500,000.
The Battle of Beaumont-Hamel:
This battle occurred on the first day of the larger operation of the Battle of the Somme.
The 1st Newfoundland regiment suffered heavy casualties after the first 30 minutes of fighting.
A devastating 733 of 801 men in the 1st Newfoundland Regiment were killed or wounded.
Total Allied casualties on the opening day of the Battle of the Somme were 57,470, of which 19,240 were fatal.
The Battle of Tannenberg:
Perhaps the most spectacular and complete German victory of the First World War, the encirclement and destruction of the Russian Second Army in late August 1914 virtually ended Russia's invasion of East Prussia before it had really started.
95,000 Russians troops were captured in the action; an estimated 30,000 were killed or wounded, and of the original 150,000 total, only around 10,000 men of the Russian 2nd army escaped.
This, combined with the defeat of the Russian First Army at the First Battle of the Masurian Lakes (9-14 September), ended any immediate threat from the Russians and provided a great boost to morale in Germany.
Although a major defeat, the Russian action had diverted the Germans from their attack on France and allowed the French to counter-attack at the Marne.
Eastern Front Warfare vs. Western Front Warfare War on the Eastern Front:
The Eastern Front separated the Russian army from the armies of Germany and Austria-Hungary.
The Eastern Front was not at all like the Western Front. Where the Western Front was a static line of trenches and barbed wire, the Eastern Front was quite dynamic throughout the war.
On the northern part of the Eastern Front, the German army had pushed the Russian army well back into Russia, while on the southern part the Russian army had forced itself into Austria-Hungary.
War on the Western Front
The Western Front was the front that spread from Switzerland to the coast of Belgium between France and Germany.
With the failure of the Schlieffen Plan, a defensive position by both the Allied and the Central Powers was established, with an extensive line of trenches and barbed wire, with a stretch of destroyed and dead land between the two lines known as "No Man's Land." These would be the positions of both armies for most of the war, with the exception of couple of miles here and there.
The trench warfare of World War I was used as a defence against oncoming enemies and to protect ground that was already under control rather than having to retreat.
The system of trenches in the Western Front was over 750 kilometers long, in an "S" shape across Europe, from the North Sea to Switzerland.
Living in the trenches was harsh, stagnant and extremely dangerous for the men.
Not only were they constantly under threat of attack from artillery, gas, or other weapons, but there were also many health risks.
Apart from the very cold winters experienced in France, trenches were often filled with water, quite muddy, and crawling with lice and rats.
Diseases such as trench fever and trench foot were also common problems, and also meant the significant loss of soldiers due to disease. BBC - History - Interactive Content
Trench Warfare Led to Stalemate:
Once both sides dug to prevent enemy advancement the hope for a “war of movement” ended. Trench System
It became extremely difficult for either side to make significant advances due to the strong defences provided by the trench system. As a result the Wester Front Lines changed very little throughout the course of the war.
All of the pre-WWI treaties were attempts by Germany to isolate France and position itself as the dominant European nation.
These treaties were:
The dual alliance of 1879
The Triple alliance of 1882
The Reinsurance Treaty of 1892
The dual alliance of 1879
The Dual Alliance was a defensive alliance between Germany and Austria-Hungary was created by treaty on October 7, 1879 as part of Bismarck's system of alliances to prevent/limit war.
In it, Germany and Austria-Hungary pledged to aid one another in case of an attack by Russia. Also, each state promised benevolent neutrality to the other if one of them was attacked by another European power (generally taken to be France, especially after the Franco-Russian Alliance of 1893.
The Triple alliance of 1882 The Triple Alliance was the military alliance among Germany, Austria–Hungary, and Italy that lasted from 1882 until the start of World War I in 1914.
Each member promised mutual support in the event of an attack by any two other great powers, or for Germany and Italy, an attack by France alone. In a supplementary declaration, Italy specified that its undertakings could not be regarded as being directed against the United Kingdom. Shortly after renewing the Alliance in June 1902, Italy secretly extended a similar guarantee to France.
When Germany and Austria–Hungary found themselves at war in August 1914 with the rival Triple Entente (Britain, France, Russia) Italy pledged its support to the Central Powers, but subsequently entered the conflict on the side of the Entente against Austria–Hungary in May 1915 and Germany in August 1916.
The Reinsurance Treaty of 1887
The Reinsurance Treaty (June 18, 1887) was an attempt by Bismarck to maintain “friendship” with Russia.
Bismarck felt that this was essential to continue the diplomatic isolation of France.
The secret treaty was split in two parts:
1.) Germany and Russia both agreed to observe neutrality should the other be involved in a war with a third country. Neutrality would not apply should Germany attack France or Russia attack Austria-Hungary.
2.) In the most secret completion protocol Germany declared herself neutral in the event of a Russian intervention in the Bosporus and the Dardanelles.
After the dismissal of Bismarck, the German office of foreign affairs felt unable to obtain success in keeping this policy, and therefore let the treaty lapse.
In 1890 Russia wanted a renewal but Germany refused persistently. Kaiser Wilhelm II believed his own personal relationship with the Russian Tsar would be sufficient to ensure further genial diplomatic ties and felt that maintaining a close bond with Russia would act to the detriment of his aims to attract Britain into the German sphere
However, having become alarmed at its growing isolation, Russia entered into an alliance with France in 1892 thus bringing to an end the isolation of France.
The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk
By the end of 1917, the Bolsheviks had taken control of Russia, and they entered into negotiated with Germany to end Russian involvement in the war.
Beginning in December 3, 1917, and for the next three months, a Russian delegation met with German and Austrian delegations to bring about the end of the war for Russia.
The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk resulted in the Russians surrendering the Ukraine, Finland, the Baltic provinces, the Caucasus and Poland to the Alliance forces.
With the end of the campaign on the Eastern Front, Germany could focus all of their troops upon the Western Front.
Contributing Factors that Brought the United States into the war:
The sinking of the Lusitania:
RMS Lusitania was an ocean liner torpedoed by a German U-boat on May 7, 1915. The ship sank in 18 minutes, eight miles (15 km) off the coast of Ireland, killing 1,198 of the 1,959 people aboard.
The sinking turned public opinion in many countries against Germany, and was instrumental in bringing the United States into World War I
German Resumption of Unrestricted Submarine Warfare:
President Woodrow Wilson repeatedly warned that the U.S. would not tolerate unrestricted submarine warfare, in violation of international law and U.S. ideas of human rights.
In February of 1917 the Germans resumed its policy of unrestricted submarine warfare.
After submarines sank several U.S. ships the U.S prepared for war.
The publication of the Zimmerman telegram, became the final provocation.
The Zimmerman Telegram :
The Zimmermann Telegram was a coded telegram dispatched by the Foreign Secretary of the German Empire, Arthur Zimmermann, on January 16, 1917, to the German ambassador in Washington, Johann von Bernstorff, at the height of World War I.
On January 19, Bernstorff, per Zimmermann's request, forwarded the Telegram to the German ambassador in Mexico, Heinrich von Eckardt.
The Zimmerman Telegram (Continued)
Zimmermann sent the Telegram in anticipation of the resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare by the German Empire on February 1, an act which German chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg feared would draw the neutral United States into war on the side of the Allies.
The Telegram instructed Ambassador Eckardt that if the United States appeared likely to enter the war he was to approach the Mexican government with a proposal for military alliance.
He was to offer Mexico material aid in the reclamation of territory lost during the Mexican-American War, specifically the American states of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona.
Eckardt was also instructed to urge Mexico to help broker an alliance between Germany and Japan.
Copy of Coded Telegram: The Decoded Message:
On the first of February, we intend to begin unrestricted submarine warfare. In spite of this, it is our intention to endeavour to keep the United States of America neutral. In the event of this not succeeding, we propose an alliance on the following basis with Mexico: That we shall make war together and make peace together. We shall give generous financial support, and an understanding on our part that Mexico is to reconquer the lost territory in New Mexico, Texas, and Arizona. The details of settlement are left to you. You are instructed to inform the President [of Mexico] of the above in the greatest confidence as soon as it is certain that there will be an outbreak of war with the United States and suggest that the President, on his own initiative, invite Japan to immediate adherence with this plan; at the same time, offer to mediate between Japan and ourselves. Please call to the attention of the President that the ruthless employment of our submarines now offers the prospect of compelling England to make peace in a few months.
News of the Telegram further inflamed tensions between the U.S. and Mexico.
The German plans to have Mexico go to war with the United States caused public outrage that contributed to the United States' declaration of war against Germany and its allies on April 6, 1917. Revision diagrams - WWI Revision - www.SchoolHistory.co.uk
At first this declaration changed little as America had already been supplying the Allies with war materials. However, it did mean that all of America's vast supplies of manpower and materials were now available for the Allies to draw upon.
Although American troops did not go into action until 1 June 1918, they were fresh and not weary of fighting like the other nations involved.
Failure of the Ludendorff offensive
The German commander Ludendorff knew that if Germany was to win the war he had to deliver a knock-out blow to the Allies before American troops arrived.
On 21 March 1918 he therefore launched 'Operation Michael'. Initially this offensive was successful and the Germans advanced to the river Marne.
However, the Allies just managed to hold their line. The Allies learnt an important lesson from the Germans' success and now appointed a single commander for their armies, the French Marshall Foch.
Although tanks had first been used during the battle of the Somme they were unreliable and often broke down.
In August 1918, however, they were to provide the Allies with an important advantage when 400 tanks were used to break through the German lines at Amiens.
During this battle 800 airplanes supported the tanks. Through the course of the war the use of airplanes changed from their initial role in reconnaissance to an active role in battles through the dropping of bombs and firing of machine guns.
After the Allies had halted the German advance in August 1918 Ludendorff informed the Kaiser 'We have nearly reached the limit of our powers of resistance. The war must be ended.'
At the end of September 1918 Bulgaria made peace and one month later Turkey was defeated.
On 4 November, having been defeated by the Italians at Vittorio Veneto, Austria signed an armistice with the Allies.
Germany was now fighting the Allies alone.
On 9 November the Kaiser abdicated and on 11 November an armistice was agreed.
Problems in Germany
The population of Germany was suffering from the effects of acute food shortages.
Although the German U-Boat campaign had led to food shortages in Britain the British naval blockade that prevented supplies from getting into German ports hit Germany harder.
An influenza epidemic hit the German cities causing large numbers of deaths amongst a people already weakened by food shortages.
Strikes and demonstrations paralysed Berlin and in November the socialists tried to seize control. After the failure of his offensive Ludendorff resigned and the German fleet then mutinied.