Beginning in 1871, with the unification of Kaiser Wilhelm (William) I’s (1797-1888) German Reich through the diplomacy of Chancellor Otto von Bismarck (1815-1898) and the efficiency of the Prussian Army, the balance of power in Europe began to change.
Beginning in 1871, with the unification of Kaiser Wilhelm (William)
The Bismarck system was weakened by the 1887 refusal of German banks to extend new loans to Russia, causing the czar to turn to French bankers. After Bismarck’s 1890 dismissal by Kaiser Wilhelm (William)
Whereas Russia had the manpower and Britain the sea power for a long war, Germany’s chances seemed better in a short conflict. General Alfred von
The invasion of Belgium became a serious moral handicap for Germany. Allied propaganda built on this violation of neutrality and treaties with stories of atrocities in occupied Belgium that depicted the Germans as bestial criminals. Further, the German advance on Paris bogged down in stalemated trench
In 1915 French marshal Joseph-Jacques Césaire
World War I: Western Front, 1915-1917
It was widely expected that 1916 would be a year of decisive battles. The Allied plan for simultaneous convergence on Germany was anticipated when Falkenhayn launched a major assault on French fortifications at Verdun in February. Russia’s June attack on Austria, the Brusilov
By March of 1917, street demonstrations in the Russian cities of St. Petersburg and Moscow had become uncontrollable. Czar Nicholas
The German General
After the failure of a French offensive in April, 1917, was followed by a mutinous “sit-down” in several French army divisions, General Henri-Philippe
Hunched British soldiers advance during the trench warfare of the Battle of the Somme (1916).
The Russian (Bolshevik) Revolution, which had also begun in
A midget submarine pulls up beside a German U-boat in 1917.
Germany’s goal in the major theater of World War I was to defeat France by taking Paris within six weeks and then shifting troops eastward to stop the invading Russians. The drive for Paris failed. The Germans were stymied by problems with supplies and reinforcements that were multiplied with the distance from the German railheads, whereas the French used their own transport network, centered on Paris, for rapid countermoves.
Falkenhayn’s 1916 attrition strategy in the attack of Verdun killed almost as many Germans as Allies and was basically unsound, given the Allied predominance in manpower. Colonel Max
The French offensive aims never achieved their ostensible goals until the Ludendorff
The Russian goals of taking Berlin, threatening Vienna, and dominating Constantinople at least had the advantage of a numerous, courageous, and usually uncomplaining infantry. Against Austrian and Turkish forces, the Russians had many successes, limited only by inadequate transportation. Against the Germans, however, the Russian army officers seemed to be too preoccupied by the probability of defeat to act on the possibility of success. With a shortage of both experienced noncommissioned ranks and competent officers, the quality of Russian army leadership was so bad that the troops were losing faith in the army leaders, even as the home front was losing faith in the government and the czar.
Britain achieved some limited and peripheral goals: It prevailed narrowly in the Battle of Jutland; it maintained a blockade of the Central Powers; it brought world, and especially U.S., resources to the western front despite German submarines; it helped to finance the Allies; it did most of the fighting in Germany’s African colonies, in the Middle East, and at the Dardanelles and Gallipoli; and it committed a sizable army to the western front. These were significant goals and achievements. Without victory over the submarines, there might well have been no Allied victory in the European theater. On the other hand, Germany’s chief threat to Britain was economic, and on that score, the liquidation of Britain’s overseas investments to finance the war benefited the United States more than it hurt Germany and was certainly an important step in Britain’s later decline as a world power.
Austria did occupy
The Allied Powers had made generous territorial promises to Italy for joining them in 1915, and the Italian Army’s military goal from 1915 to 1918 was to take the Austrian capital of Vienna. Adverse geography and an army that was both poorly equipped and poorly trained stalled the Italians on the Isonzo River, until their defeat at Caporetto forced them to develop assault squads that finally won the Battle of Vittorio
The United States entered the war on April 6, 1917, participating in the battles of 1918 as an “Associated Power” on the Allied side. The American political goals were to defeat Germany, “making the world safe for democracy” and ending war by means of a League of
Another defensive form, the
U.S. infantry soldiers fire a 37MM machine gun at Germans during a battle in the Argonne Forest in 1918.
The first aerial reconnaissance and bombing began in 1914, when machine guns were mounted on airplanes. American aircraft designer Anthony H. G.
Several elements of civilian life came to have military significance.
By 1914 armor at
Armor on land principally concerned tanks. Although World War I tanks had enough armor to stop ordinary rifle or machine-gun bullets, .50-caliber or larger high-velocity bullets would penetrate them. The size of tank needed to cross trenches meant a large vehicle that was only thinly covered. Basically, tanks needed more horsepower, which ideally came from diesel engines.
European uniforms became discreetly drab after the Russo-Japanese War
The belligerents of World War I originally organized their military forces along the same general lines developed during the French Revolution (1789-1799). The head of the government or the war cabinet determined war policies for the army and navy. The service chiefs developed and executed the military war plans. This latter group was described as General Headquarters (GHQ) in Britain and the United States, as Grand Quartier Géneral (GQG) in France, as Stavka in Russia, and Oberste Heeresleitung (OHL) in Germany.
The land forces were divided into army groups of field
This multiplicity of functions meant that while battlefield firepower increased, the number of riflemen decreased in favor of the new special services. In military jargon, there was “less teeth and more tail,” especially in the United States’ overseas divisions. Indeed, some servicemen might find that apart from boredom, mud, and the danger of being killed or wounded, they were better fed and cared for than they had been in civilian life.
The development during World War I of infiltration
The new weapons of World War I were sometimes seen as a threat to senior army ranks. Young officers ambitious for promotion might be drawn to a new technical field, to which older officers found it difficult to adjust, and claim the need for an independent organization with its own system of funding, control, and promotion. Submarines were safely under navy control, and aircraft carriers could be limited, but a separate Royal Air
Nineteenth century military theory, attempting to borrow its principles of war from the French Revolutionary Wars (1792-1802), concluded that mass citizen armies had outmoded the older
In France the doctrine of the offensive became even more imperative as military leaders appreciated that the predictable speed of a German offensive aimed at Paris would need to be matched by a fast-moving Franco-Russian offensive converging on Berlin. According to the French high command, the French infantry would need to have the spirit, discipline, and courage to attack and win by the bayonet against ever-increasing odds. The Germans held a similar philosophy.
The western front battles of 1914 began as open-field encounters of deadly firepower that drove the troops into hasty trenches. The short lesson was “bullets kill men, and earth stops bullets.” The dominant tactic from 1915 to 1917 was bombardment by more and bigger
World War I: Offensives on the Western Front, 1918
“Vertical infiltration” was more successfully developed by the Germans for their breakthrough against the Russians at
Clearly, these were ideal principles. In practice, the logistical problems of moving equipment from the railhead to the forward storm troopers could not keep an advance going indefinitely. Also, many generals rejected the idea of elite storm troopers as bad for general army morale. However, the resemblance of these early troops to World War II German Panzer divisions and to later U.S. assault team formations is clear enough to show the eventual significance of these tactics for future offensives.
In Britain and France the lessons that generals learned in 1918 mattered less to the public, press, and political leaders than did the preceding four-year western front stalemate and slaughter. The doctrine of the offensive and the strategy of attrition were discredited among the postwar disillusioned, or “lost,”
The best prewar analysis of World War I fighting was that of Ivan Bloch (1836-1902), a Russo-Polish financier. His The Future of War in Its Technical, Economic, and Political Relations: Is War Now Impossible? (1899), a one-volume English-language summary of his work, displays outstanding military and logistical insight as well as a curiously poor grasp of wartime government finance. General Friedrich von Bernhardi’s (1849-1930) The War of the Future in the Light of the Lessons of the World War (1920) was notable for its author’s distrust of the Schlieffen Plan.
Once the shooting started, morale-boosting
Letters from soldiers at the front were a better source of information, and in 1914 some British provincial weeklies published these generally optimistic reports from local soldiers. Government censorship halted this practice by 1915, only allowing publication of handouts by government agencies.
U.S. publications from 1914 to 1917 generally followed the lead of British and French accounts but also included reports from the Central Powers. The Germans conducted journalists such as Irvin S. Cobb (1876-1944) on guided tours to verify their claims of success, reflected in Cobb’s Paths of Glory: Impression of War Written at or Near the Front (1915). The British and French followed the Germans’ example in 1915. U.S. newspapers and magazines were at least more balanced than those of the belligerents and somewhat more realistic in estimating the hardships of the war.
Many of the war’s major participants, including Joffre, Foch, Pétain, Pershing, Ludendorff, Falkenhayn, Hindenburg, and Liman von Sanders, released postwar memoirs. Viscount Edward Grey’s (1862-1933) Twenty-five Years, 1892-1916 (1925) discounted his own influence on events. Georges
Diplomatic histories used government documents and memoirs, and American “revisionists” blamed either Russia and France or civilization at large for the war. Luigi Albertini (1871-1941) published an extensively researched three-volume history entitled The Origins of the War of 1914 (1952-1957), which seems definitive. German historian Fritz Fischer has taken a highly critical and controversial view of his own country’s responsibility for World War I.
Disillusionment with war’s ideals and conduct was prevalent throughout the 1920’s and 1930’s. Gibbs’s Now It Can Be Told (1920) revised the tone of his earlier reporting to accommodate the prevailing public sentiment. Arthur Ponsonby’s (1871-1946) Falsehood in Wartime: Propaganda Lies of the First World War (1991) exposed Allied
Most novelists took a jaundiced view of the war. Tell England: A Study in a Generation (1922), by Ernest Raymond (born 1888); Education Before Verdun (1936), by Arnold Zweig (1887-1968); A Farewell to Arms (1929), by Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961); The General (1936), by C. S. Forester (1899-1966); and the highly readable Im Westen nichts Neues (1929, 1968; All Quiet on the Western Front, 1929, 1969) by Erich Maria Remarque (1898-1970) all depicted the war in somber tones. Perhaps significantly, Fritz von Unruh’s (born 1885) The Way of Sacrifice (1928) implied that the killing was justifiable, and Ernst Junger’s (born 1895) Storm of Steel: From the Diary of a German Storm-troop Officer on the Western Front (1929) presented the war as at once terrible and glorious.
Letters and diaries from the trenches have remained as the best source on what the war was like for the average soldier. Among the many examples, J. C. Dunn’s (1871-1955) The War the Infantry Knew, 1914-1918 (1938), James Lockhead Jack’s (1880-1962) General Jack’s Diary (1964), and Voices from the Great War (1981), compiled by Peter Vansittart, are useful examples, although predominantly from the officer’s viewpoint. Denis Winter’s Death’s Men: Soldiers of the Great War (1978) and Lyn Macdonald’s Somme (1983) are perhaps the most successful articulations of the voice of enlisted men in World War I.
Asprey, Robert B. The German High Command at War. New York: William Morrow, 1991. Barton, Peter, Peter Doyle, and Johan Vandewalle. Beneath Flanders Fields: The Tunnellers’ War, 1914-1918. Staplehurst, England: Spellmount, 2005. De Groot, Gerard J. The First World War. New York: Palgrave, 2001. Downes, Alexander B. “The Starvation Blockades of World War I: Britain and Germany.” In Targeting Civilians in War. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2008. Goldstein, Donald M., and Harry J. Maihafer. America in World War I: The Story and Photographs. Washington, D.C.: Brassey’s, 2004. Griffith, Paddy. Battle Tactics of the Western Front. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1994. Halpern, Paul G. A Naval History of World War I. Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 1994. Jukes, Geoffrey, Peter Simkins, and Michael Hickey. The First World War. 4 vols. Botley, Oxford, England: Osprey, 2002. Kitchen, Martin. The German Offensives of 1918. Stroud, Gloucestershire, England: Tempus, 2005. Morrow, John H., Jr. The Great War in the Air: Military Aviation from 1909 to 1921. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1993. Reprint. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2009. Neiberg, Michael S., ed. The World War I Reader: Primary and Secondary Sources. New York: New York University Press, 2007. Palazzo, Albert. Seeking Victory on the Western Front: The British Army and Chemical Warfare in World War I. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2000. Robbins, Simon. British Generalship on the Western Front, 1914-18: Defeat into Victory. New York: F. Cass, 2005. Samuels, Martin. Doctrine and Dogma: German and British Infantry Tactics in the First World War. New York: Greenwood Press, 1992. Saunders, Anthony. Dominating the Enemy: War in the Trenches, 1914-1918. Stroud, Gloucestershire, England: Sutton, 2000. Sheffield, Gary, ed. War on the Western Front. Botley, Oxford, England: Osprey, 2007. Smith, Leonard V. Between Mutiny and Obedience: The Case of the French Fifth Infantry Division During World War I. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1994. Tucker, Jonathan B. War of Nerves: Chemical Warfare from World War I to Al-Qaeda. New York: Pantheon Books, 2006. All Quiet on the Western Front. Feature film. Universal Pictures, 1930. The Dawn Patrol. Feature film. Warner Bros., 1938. Deathwatch. Feature film. Lions Gate Entertainment, 2002. A Farewell to Arms. Feature film. The Selznick Studio, 1957. The First World War. Documentary series. Wark Clements, 2003. Flyboys. Feature film. MGM, 2006. Fräulein Doktor. Dino De Laurentiis, 1969. Gallipoli. Documentary. Cinema Epoch, 2005. Gallipoli. Feature film. Australian Film Commission, 1981. Grand Illusion. Feature film. R.A.C., 1937. The Guns of August. Documentary. MCA Universal, 1964. In Love and War. Feature film. Warner Bros., 1996. Lawrence of Arabia. Feature film. Horizon, 1962. The Lighthorsemen. Feature film. Columbia TriStar, 1987. The Lost Battalion. Television film. A&E, 2001. Passchendaele. Feature film. Alliance Films, 2008. Paths of Glory. Feature film. Bryna, 1957. Regeneration. Feature film. Artificial Eye, 1997. The Trench. Feature film. Arts Council of England, 1999. A Very Long Engagement. Warner Independent, 2004. World War I. Documentary. Encyclopedia Britannica Educational Corporation, 1957. World War I: The Great War. Documentary. History Channel, 2009.
Small Arms and Machine Guns
Tanks and Armored Vehicles
Aircraft, Bombs, and Guidance Systems
Rockets, Missiles, and Nuclear Weapons
Chemical and Biological Weapons
Sieges and Siege Techniques: Modern
Armies and Infantry: Modern
Naval Development: The Age of Propulsion
The Age of Bismarck
The Spanish Civil War
World War II: United States, Britain, and France
World War II: The Soviet Union
World War II: Germany and Italy
World War II: Japan