Reasons for stalemate on the Western Front:
* Failure of the Schlieffen plan – Whilst the Schlieffen plan dealt with war on two fronts, its failure was instrumental to the stalemate on the Western Front. Germany fell short of achieving a quick and decisive victory over France and Britain in which they had hoped for. The German Army’s initial advance was halted by Belgium, who allowed Britain and Russia to mobilise their troops.
* The Battle of the Marne – German attacks on Paris was resisted by France and Britain in the Battle of the Marne. This has resulted in the temporary phase of trench warfare where the German Army “dug in” to defend themselves from the advancing Allies.
* Race to the Sea – French Commander Joffre and German Commander Falkenhayn realised the advantage was positioned in the North between the Aisne and the Sea. This has led to the Race to the Sea, where the Allies and Germany tried to outflank each other in their attempt to reach this crucial position. By the end of 1914, the initial offensive approach to war had become more defensive. The war of mobility soon changed to the war of attrition, where both sides tried to wear down the enemy.
* War expectations and the nature of modern warfare - Many assumptions were outlined leading up to the war. Propaganda posters suggested that the war would be of aggression, which was not true. Germany assumed that war timetabling would be successful in which they predicted the time for every other nation to mobilise their troops.
The nature of trench warfare and life in the trenches:
* Structure – Sandbags were aligned for protection and strength. Barbed wire was used to slow the enemy down. Holes were dug on the sides for soldiers to lie down. Trenches were designed in a ‘zigzag’ pattern for soldiers to avoid the severity of attacks and explosions. Duckboards were placed to keep soldiers out of the mud. * Systems – varied in size, comfort and quality. Consisted of front line trench, support trench and reserve trench. They were subject to severe flooding. * Life in the trenches – noisy, uncomfortable, dangerous, dirty, boring. They were infested with lice and rats. Sicknesses include trench fever, trench feet, pneumonia, tuberculosis and frostbite.
Strategies and tactics to break the stalemate:
The Allies adopted an offensive strategy to break the stalemate on the Western Front. This included large frontal attacks on German trenches, artillery bombardment, infantry advances and cavalry charges. However, such offensives failed to achieve a breakthrough.
The development of new weapons such as mustard gas, machine guns, stokes mortar, trench mortar, and flamethrowers marked an important phase of the war.
The war of attrition has led to total war, economic blockades and propaganda. The nation’s resources have been consumed to maintain the war effort.
Opening new fronts against Central Powers were also effective.
Tactics employed by Britain include a creeping barrage of tanks and aeroplanes. Germany had used storm troopers to help break the stalemate in 1918.
Verdun: Took place in 21 February 1916 – November 1916
Falkenhayn wanted to “bleed France white” of manpower by launching massive attacks on the narrow stretch of land known as Verdun. This was Germany’s tactic to win the war of “attrition”. However, Verdun became a symbol of French pride and the will to resist. France counter-attacked Germany and thus became victorious. Despite their win, the French morale decreased and fighting spirit was destroyed. The French government was badly shaken and close to collapse. 400000 French soldiers and 500000 German soldiers died as a result of this battle.
Somme: Took place in 1 July 1916 – November 13 1916
The British agreed to an offensive near the Albert area in the Somme, and attempted to draw German troops away from the “mincing machine” of Verdun. British and French forces joined together to relieve the pressure on the French home front of Verdun. British troops were forced to be sent to extinguish Germany. Politicians committed more troops. Overall there were over one million deaths and the morale of soldiers decreased significantly. Bad weather intervened.
Passchendale: Took place in 31 July – 6 November 1917 in Belgium This battle was said to be Douglas Haig’s attempt to break through Flanders Fields. It would be a second try after failing to do so a year earlier, at the Battle of the Somme. Haig believed that the German forces were close to collapsing, and thus prepared his soldiers to break through the German defences in order to regain allied control. A death toll of 325000 allied troops and 260000 German troops. The morale of soldiers decreased, especially the German forces.
Effect of total war on civilians in Britain and Germany:
The role and status of women increased as WW1 unfolded. Hours of labour increased whereas wages and working conditions decreased. Both Britain and Germany fell into debt as a result of financing a huge war effort.
Britain – The Defence of the Realm Act in 1914 had allowed for total war over a longer period of time. The government had control over its civilians. Union disputes were common as working hours increased and wages fell. The Ministry of Munitions distributed national resources effectively. Imports and exports rose while debt rose. The threat of women-only unions jeopardised male unions. Anti-German feelings rose.
Germany – Has already implemented a total war economy in 1914 and had control over German and military civilians. Imports rose as raw materials were in shortage. The war was supported by the Reichstag, which demanded political reform. Discontent rose from poor standard of living.
Recruitment, conscription, censorship and propaganda in Britain and Germany during WW1:
Both countries targeted the enemy to be loathed and hated (propaganda). Huge amount of emotional pressure placed for conscription. There was a boosted morale of civilians and troops.
Britain – It was voluntary for men to enter war of 18 years of age (recruitment). Conscription was introduced in 1917. There was over three million volunteering in first two years for the Battle of the Somme and Verdun. Letters from British sailors were censored as it may have helped the enemy.
Germany – Recruitment increased due to abolishment of conscription and an influx of men wanted excitement and adventure. Germany had conscription from unification (1871) and was therefore composed largely of conscripts. The Office of Censorship was taken over by the German military. Restrictions on media became harsher.
The Russian withdrawal:
The treaty of Brest-Litousk was signed on 3 March 1918. Russia’s contribution to the war was in decline due to the desertion, mutiny, a collapsed economy and political instability. During the onset of war, internal problems in Russia such as the shortage of food supplies made war unfavourable, leading to a revolution. The combination of low morale and an autocratic header was unfavourable. The Germans could concentrate their forces on a massive new attack.
Ludendorff Spring Offensive:
This event occurred during 21 March – 18 July 1918 in Belgium. The Offensive was a series of German attacks on the Western Front. They lacked objectives and strategy and thus failed, being counter-acted by British forces. The offensive failed due to a lack of speed in the Germans resupplying, which left soldiers unable to sustain the attack. This led to a decrease in allied morale. Politically, this led to the Allies to scheme for an offensive plan, with the aid of American tanks.
US entry into WW1:
The neutrality of the US was affected. They entered the war as Germany announced unrestricted submarine warfare. The continued violations of US neutral shipping from German submarine campaign forced the attack on April 1917.
It was a series of widespread, unofficial ceasefires that took place along the Western Front during 1914, during World War I. Parties of German and British soldiers began to exchange seasonal greetings and songs between their trenches; on occasion, the tension was reduced to the point that individuals would walk across to talk to their opposite numbers bearing gifts. Many soldiers from both sides ventured into "no man's land”, where they mingled, and exchanged food and souvenirs. As well as joint burial ceremonies, several meetings ended in carol-singing. The truce is seen as a symbolic moment of peace and humanity amidst one of the most violent events of modern history. It was not ubiquitous; in some regions of the front, fighting continued throughout the day, while in others, little more than an arrangement to recover bodies was made. The following year, a few units again arranged ceasefires with their opponents over Christmas, but the truces were not nearly as widespread as in 1914. The impact of war on women’s lives and experiences in Britain:
Munitions, outside munitions, trade unions, female suffrage, and women in the armed forces had affected the lives of women. Women retained some of the social independence they had acquired during the way. Employment: little permanent change – in most cases, women had to give up the “male jobs” they had taken on. 1918 – Women were given the vote as a reward for their war effort.
Fountain (ed.) (2002)
History Channel (2008)
Joyeux Noël (2005)
McCallum (2000) Ringer (1989)