WORLD WAR ONE
The great powers were suspicious and fearful of each other's designs. The Prussian military and its Emperor, or Kaiser, William II. were prominent, her weaker partner Austria, and Russia were rivals for control in the Balkans. Germany were also rivals with Russia in the Near East, where the former had gained a dominant influence over Turkey. France was still suffering from her crushing defeat in 1870-71, as well as from later humiliations.
As for Britain, while Germany's designs in the Near East challenged her interests there, Germany's ambitious naval plans threatened her very existence. By 1907 the uneasy powers had formed themselves into two opposing groups.
Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy making up the Triple Alliance.
Britain, France and Russia came together in the Triple Entente to counter balance it. (This had developed from the historic Entente Cordiale, or cordial understanding, established between Britain and France, and cemented by Edward VII.'s personal tact and charm.)
It was evident that Austria did not intend to keep the peace. But for two facts the attack on Serbia would have come in 1913. Italy was unwilling to join in a war of aggression, and the preparations of Germany were incomplete. The new Army Bill of the spring of that year provided for a great increase in numbers and equipment. The work of deepening the Kiel Canal was not finished.
PRELUDE TO WAR
The German army and navy were now in a strong position. Russia, it was thought, could not long support the strain of a great war. France was riveted to scandalous party strife. The army was weak and its equipment defective. The Act ordaining three years service provided for future but not for present security. British intervention in a great European War was not expected; in any case, Britain appeared to be sufficiently absorbed in her own problems. Civil war seemed imminent in Ireland. British assistance in land operations was negligible. There was a strong belief on the Continent that her Empire was a danger rather than a support. Moslem risings in India and Egypt, rebellion in South Africa, defensive weakness in Australia and Canada would quickly prove that the British Colossus had feet of clay. Britain's great naval strength was disputed, but its power to deflect the rapid sweep of German arms in Europe was not so evident. If Germany wanted war, conditions could never again be so favourable to her.
By 1914 Europe was heading for war, and all Britain's desperate efforts were powerless. What precisely Germany's ambitions were, and whether or not she was spoiling for a fight, are even now disputed questions. She was the strongest military power in Europe. Her neighbours feared that she aimed at dominating them, Germany feared that the Triple Entente, having encircled her, sought her destruction.
Behind all this was the growing conviction of the German military aristocracy that the health and wealth of the nation could only be preserved and promoted by war. A democracy founded on wealth and the ever-increasing ranks of Socialism would challenge the Junker and military caste, and tarnish by disuse the brightness of warlike traditions.
THE OUTBREAK OF EUROPEAN WAR
The war clouds that had been gathering over Europe during the early years of the twentieth century finally burst, the cause of conflict was the murder on the 28th June, 1914, of the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Dual Monarchy, and his consort by two Serbs at Serajevo. All Europe sympathized with the aged Emperor upon whose dynasty one more tragic blow had fallen. But for three weeks Austria withheld her hand and made no sign. Then, on 23rd July, she presented an ultimatum to Serbia. The reply of the latter was respectful and submissive, but the Austrians were dissatisfied, and on the 28th declared war.
Austria declared that the Serbian Government was an accomplice in the crime and sent to Belgrade an ultimatum to be accepted within forty-eight hours. This led to war by rapid steps. Austria began to mobilise against the Serbians;
Russia began to mobilise against Austria, Germany intervened on the side of Austria, and demanded the immediate demobilisation of the Russian forces, and, when this was refused, declared war on Russia. France was now forced into the struggle but Italy, the third member of the Triple Alliance, remained neutral.
Russia appealed to France and Great Britain and the French replied that they would stand by her to the last. The British, however, declared that they felt they ought not to go to war over a Serbian question. Britain still strove for peace, or at any rate for a limitation of the area of conflict, but in vain; The diplomatic intercourse proved the true intention of Germany beyond all doubt. She refused every suggestion that might lead to peace. Her lot was cast for war.
On August 1st Germany declared war on Russia. The German Government then proposed to pass through Belgium in order to attack the French army over a very wide front. The violation of Belgian neutrality ensured the entry of Britain into the war. On the 4th August 1914 Britain entered the war, for this act was a direct threat to Britain's maritime security.
Britain's fleet was already mobilised, and now her Expeditionary Force of well trained and well equipped regular soldiers moved across the Channel, and were soon in conflict with the enemy in the neighbourhood of Mons. The German troops had met with a strenuous resistance during their passage through Belgium, but had succeeded in forcing their way through by their superior numbers and equipment, especially in artillery. The British force of about 75,000 men were on the left of the French line, and more than holding its own when a French defeat at Charleroi made a general retirement necessary, and the Allied forces were pushed back in the direction of Paris, until they were at last able to take the offensive once more, and force back the Germans at the battle of the Marne. The Germans retired in orderly fashion and entrenched themselves on French soil upon the Aisne plateau. While these events were taking place, another German army under General von Hindenburg had gained a great victory over the Russian forces near Tannenburg though the Russian army in the south was driving back the Austrians.
Germany had war on two fronts she counted on sweeping over the plains of Belgium and France, squeeze the French armies together and destroy them and so bring France to her knees before the slow-moving Russian legions were ready to engage. The plan might have succeeded had it been followed out closely. The Belgian frontier fortresses tumbled down. The French in the north, and the British Expeditionary Force under Sir John French on their left flank, were in grave danger of being enveloped. The dogged British stands at Mons and Le Cateau enabled them to extricate themselves; but by the end of August the Germans reached the very gates of Paris. It was the heart and centre of their plan to carry everything before them at the very first and end the war on the Western front in a few weeks. Then the exultant Germans, overrating their successes, made a false move and Joffre, the French commander, saw that they paid for it. On 5th September he turned and counter-attacked and drove the startled enemy back from the River Marne and across the Aisne. This was the famous "miracle of the Maine" that saved Paris and perhaps France.
In Belgium, the fall of Antwerp on 9th October was followed by a German drive for the Channel ports, the possession of which would have cut Britain's communications. But the British blocked the way at Ypres and, in a series of battles that raged with unsurpassable fury from 19th October to 22nd November, they fought the enemy to a standstill. The German hopes of a swift victory were shattered. The heroic resistance of the Allies turned the tide and for four years the combatants settled down to a form of trench warfare, the struggle became static along a 350 mile line of trenches stretching from the North Sea to Switzerland. The Allies had suffered over a million casualties.
Can one believe that the feeling of respect and
loyalty was genuine to him and to the Crown? Were not rather these people there, for the most part, because the
authorities had forced them to testify their loyalty to the Crown.
In the East the Russians were tasting a mixed diet of defeat and victory. In East Prussia they were knocked spinning in the battle of Tannenberg. In the south they routed the Austrians in Galicia, from the frontier outside Europe matters went badly for Germany .The whole of her colonial possessions were at once occupied by Allied forces; and only in East and South West Africa was there any resistance.
The British navy had gained control of the sea almost as soon as the war started; and though the German naval leaders hoped to do much damage to British warships by mines and submarines, and to British commerce by their cruisers, neither of these hopes proved true. A British force off Chile, near Coronel, was defeated and destroyed by a superior German force in 1914; but before the year was over all but one of these German ships were sunk in an engagement off the Falkland Islands, and a like fate met the vessel that escaped, the Dresden, a short time afterwards. A more serious matter by far was that two German vessels in the Mediterranean, the Goeben and Breslau, managed to escape to Constantinople for this brought Turkey into the war on the side of Germany.
Before winter closed in, the line of forces on both sides reached from Switzerland to the North Sea; and. the Allies were fighting desperately with inferior forces and equipment to prevent the Germans from seizing the Channel ports, and so menacing England. It was absolutely essential to keep the Channel open for the conveyance of men. and supplies to the Continent. The Germans made desperate efforts to break through the line at Arras, La Bassee, and Ypres, but in vain, and soon both sides settled down to wait for the spring; while all parts of the Empire collected forces to come to the help of the mother-country, Indians and Canadians fought during the winter upon the western front.
With the spring of 1915 the struggle was renewed. In the west there were battles at Neuve Chapelle and Ypres, where the Germans first made use of poison-gas; in the east the Russians were driven bank from Galicia by General Mackensen, though their line was unbroken.
In 1915 the deadlock on the Western Front led the Allies to look eastwards. Turkey had joined the enemy powers in the previous October; whereupon Britain had annexed the island of Cyprus and declared Egypt a British protectorate. Russia was being hard pressed. Accordingly, a plan was formed for forcing the Dardanelles and taking Constantinople , this would give a knock-out blow to Turkey in Europe and enable aid to be sent to Russia. When a naval bombardment failed to silence the forts, troops were landed on the Gallipoli peninsula. It was an operation of immense difficulty and only the dare-all spirit and superb dash of the attackers, especially the Anzacs from Australia and New Zealand, made it possible. The wonderful story of the landing of the British and Anzac forces on this peninsula will never be forgotten in the story of the British Empire. But not even the heroism of these soldiers could wrest the peninsula from the Turks, and at the end of the year the troops had to be withdrawn.
The failure in Gallipoli, combined with the sinking of the Lusitania by a German submarine with the loss of about 1,600 lives, Zeppelin raids, and the shelling of Scarborough and other east coast towns by German ships, made 1915 a year of gloom and depression, which was relieved only by the good news that Italy had declared war on Austria; though Bulgaria, on the other hand, had joined the enemy and was attacking Serbia.
The combats on the Western Front during 1915 produced little change. Sir John French was then superseded by Sir Douglas Haig as commander of the British forces. At home, Asquith's unsatisfactory ministry was replaced by a coalition government of all parties. Italy, renouncing the Triple Alliance, joined the Allies and kept the Austrian armies occupied. On the eastern front the Russians were driven back and badly shaken. Serbia was crushed and Bulgaria joined the Austro - Germans in the crushing.
Early in 1916 Vice-Admiral Beatty caught some German cruisers near Heligoland, sank one of them, the Blucher, and severely damaged some of the others. The navy was playing its part nobly by keeping open the seaways for the Allies and blockading Germany and a shortage of food supplies and of materials necessary for munitions was beginning to be felt though neutral countries were still supplying Germany with what they required. At the end of May, the German navy was defeated and forced back to its harbours by Jellicoe's victory at Jutland, a battle in which the skill and daring of British sailors was as great as at any time in British naval history. Meantime Turkey in Asia was receiving attention. Indian divisions advanced up the River Tigris in Mesopotamia (Iraq) and in September captured Kut. There, however, General Townshend was later besieged by a superior Turkish force. All attempts to relieve him were repulsed and in April, 1916, after a fighting siege of nearly five months, the garrison was forced to surrender.
In 1916 Britain realised that she must throw her full weight into the scale to help make good the Allies' appalling casualties: she adopted conscription. This year Falkenhayn, the German commander, worked on the idea of bleeding France to death by continuous attack on a vital point. From February to September he battered away at the great fortress system of Verdun. France bled indeed, but not to death. Haig, at the cost of 750,000 casualties, relieved the pressure on the fortress by a sustained offensive in the Somme valley, and Verdun remained untaken. Russian successes led Rumania to join hands with the Allies in the wild war dance; three months later she lay prostrate beneath the enemy's jack-boot. In Britain, the end of a year of exhaustion and failure brought a new vigour to the conduct of the war when the human dynamo, Lloyd George, became Prime Minister.
The British Navy was beating the brunt of the operations at sea and strangling Germany with its ever-tightening blockade, Only once in the Battle of Jutland on 31st May, 1916 did the main fleets engage. The immediate result was disappointing and inconclusive. But the German Navy, having prudently retired to harbour, never afterwards ventured far out except to surrender at the end of the war.
On the land the French resisted desperate efforts on the part of the Germans to break through their lines at Verdun, although the attack lasted for more than two months, and the Germans used huge supplies of munitions in their attempt. A similar attack on the Italian front was likewise unsuccessful; and then the British and French forces attacked in turn with the aid of tanks, in the battle of the Somme, though they gained very little ground. It seemed as if the Allies were now on the point of victory, and Rumania entered the war on their side; but the Rumanians were at once completely defeated, and their country was occupied by the invaders
From January, 1917 German naval leaders decided to pursue a policy contrary to international law "unrestricted submarine warfare," which meant that they would sink all kinds of ships, allied and neutral, on sight. In this way they hoped to force Britain to sue for peace, as ships were absolutely necessary for the carriage of food and supplies, and already the Allies were beginning to suffer from a shortage of ships.
In August 1914 President Woodrow Wilson had implored the American people to be "neutral in thought as well as deed" with respect to the European war, U.S. firms gained many overseas markets, especially Latin America, there were also large Anglo-French orders for U.S. munitions, raw materials, and food, creating an economic boom in America. By 1917 the United States was no longer a debtor nation but the world's greatest creditor.
The interests of Britain as the great blockading Power necessarily clashed with those of the merchant Power desirous of sending her goods as usual to the European market. Careful British diplomacy by Sir Edward Grey, the British Foreign, Secretary, permitted the passage of cotton and articles to the enemy in order to prevent, American opinion against his country.
However the German piratical submarine campaign drew the United Staes into the contest. On April 6, 1917, Congress declared war on Germany, and the United States became an Associated (not an Allied) Power.
The Germans therefore strained every nerve to reach a favourable decision before the American troops could be trained and share in the fight. There were aeroplane raids on London and Paris, and constant attacks along the western front. In October an attack on the Italian army at Caporetto nearly broke the Italian line, but her soldiers saved the situation. It was helpful, too, in another way, for about the same time there was a revolution in Russia, the Tsar was dethroned and a republic proclaimed, and Russia was no longer able to fight on the side of the Allies.
There was no lack of fighting in the West during 1917. The Allies had mustered nearly four million men, a third of them British, with more coming. The Aisne, Vimy Ridge, Messines, Paschendaele and Cambrai (where the British tanks first definitely showed their possibilities) are names associated with local or incomplete successes and failures, with dauntless valour and limitless endurance, but also, alas! with hideous and colossal slaughter. To add to the tale of disappointment, the Italians suffered a heavy defeat at Caporetto.
In the previous year matters had gone badly with the British forces in Mesopotamia, and attacks had been made also on the Suez Canal; now at the close of 1917 a brilliant advance by General Allenby conquered Palestine for the Allies, and Jerusalem was occupied before the end of the year. In Palestine a British force under the brilliant cavalry commander Sir Edmund Allenby thoroughly trounced the Turks at Beersheba and went on to capture Jerusalem. Next year the army gave the enemy another good licking and reached Aleppo, right up in northern Syria. In these campaigns Allenby received valuable aid from that romantic and almost legendary hero Lawrence of Arabia and the wild Arab tribesmen who fought under his magnetic leadership. In Mesopotamia the shame of Kut was wiped out in 1917 by the recapture of the town and the taking of Baghdad
Finally, in March 1918, the German forces under Hindenburg and Ludendorff made their last desperate effort to break through the British line. For ten days they advanced, From March to July Ludendorff delivered a series of terrific attacks that were savagely driven home. The Allied armies reeled before the staggering blows. The British front was pierced ,the onrushing Germans once more reached the Maine. While the soldiers were thus bravely resisting the last desperate efforts on land, our navy performed one of the most daring exploits that have been recorded, even in its history.
In April a small fleet of ships entered Zeebrugge Harbour, the headquarters of German submarine enterprise in the North Sea, and effectually check it that enterprise by blocking up the harbour. It was a daring expedition, successfully carried out by men who knew full well the risks they were taking .
General Foch, was now in command of the allied forces, the Germans at last exhausted, their strong lines of defence built by the German troops, and deemed impregnable, were being pierced.
|On the 8th August, in the Somme area, Haig, with 450
tanks rumbling ahead of his troops, launched an offensive that
broke the German front and scored a spectacular triumph.
The victory was followed up by repeated attacks up and down the enemy line. The Germans were forced back in a general retreat. Haig's mighty blows smashed through their final defences. Before the end of August the Germans were retiring in the west.
But meantime the Allies had achieved decisive success elsewhere. Bulgaria surrendered unconditionally which resulted in the recovery of Serbia and the lines of communication between Turkey and Germany were completely finally broken; Allenby was victorious in Syria, and in October Turkey gave in, The third success came in Italy. The Austrian army was soon in flight, revolutions broke out in various parts of the Empire. By the beginning of November Austria-Hungary had ceased to be a factor in the war, the German navy at Kiel rose in rebellion; there was a revolution in Germany, and the Kaiser was forced to abdicate, to Holland, on 11th November Germany surrendered and signed armistice terms dictated by the victors. The Hundred Days offensive was over and Germany had fallen.
To help many people in England endure the horrific casualties of the war, it was often said by many of those of importance that it was "a war to end war" and that something would be done to make wars impossible in the future.
A solemn Covenant, signed eventually by member states all over the world, was made to submit future disputes to arbitration and to combine against any aggressor. - The League of Nations.
In 1919 the Peace Conference met at Versailles, the peace treaties redrew the map of Central Europe with the aim of securing the liberation of the smaller peoples regrouping them in new democratic States from its parts were formed the republics of Austria itself, Czechoslovakia and Hungary. Republics were also set up in Germany, Poland, Yugoslavia (the former Serbia much enlarged) and the Baltic countries.Germany was disarmed and forbidden to rearm, she was presented with a colossal, and quite impossible, war bill.
The German retreat to the Marne in September 1914
|Alsace-Lorraine was restored to France.|