First World War : End of 1915

First World War : End of 1915

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First World War: Map of Europe at the end of 1915

Map of Europe at the end of 1915. A large part of western Russia had been captured by the Germans.

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First World War : End of 1915 - History

The American entry into World War I came in April 1917, after two and a half years of efforts by President Woodrow Wilson to keep the United States neutral.

Learning Objectives

Explain why the United States entered WWI

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • After World War I began in 1914, the United States proclaimed a policy of strict neutrality, with President Wilson trying to broker peace.
  • American public opinion was strongly divided, with most Americans until early 1917 supporting the United States staying out of the war.
  • When the German U-boat U-20 sank the British liner Lusitania on May 7, 1915, with 128 U.S. citizens aboard, Wilson demanded an end to attacks on passenger ships as they were in violation of international law and of human rights Germany complied.
  • Wilson came under pressure from war hawks led by former president Theodore Roosevelt, who denounced German acts as “piracy.” Public opinion, angry over the sinking of the Lusitania, began to sway in favor of entering the war.
  • In January 1917, Germany resumed unrestricted submarine warfare against their 19155 agreement with the U.S.
  • The German Foreign minister, Arthur Zimmermann, invited revolution-torn Mexico to join the war as Germany’s ally against the United States in the Zimmermann Telegram. This was intercepted by the British and given to the Americans, who saw it as a cause for war.
  • The United States declared war on the German Empire on April 6, 1917, and immediately began sending troops to France.

Key Terms

  • sinking of the Lusitania: On May 7, 1915, during the First World War, as Germany waged submarine warfare against the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, the Lusitania was identified and torpedoed by the German U-boat U-20 and sank in 18 minutes. The vessel went down 11 miles off the Old Head of Kinsale, Ireland, killing 1,198 and leaving 761 survivors. The sinking turned public opinion in many countries against Germany, contributed to the American entry into World War I, and became an iconic symbol in military recruiting campaigns.
  • Zimmermann Telegram: A secret diplomatic communication issued from the German Foreign Office in January 1917 that proposed a military alliance between Germany and Mexico in the event of the United States entering World War I against Germany. The proposal was intercepted and decoded by British intelligence. Revelation of the contents enraged American public opinion, especially after the German Foreign Secretary Arthur Zimmermann publicly admitted the telegram was genuine on March 3, and helped generate support for the United States declaration of war on Germany in April.
  • casus belli: A Latin expression meaning “an act or event that provokes or is used to justify war” (literally, “a case of war”). It involves direct offenses or threats against the nation declaring the war, whereas a casus foederis involves offenses or threats against its ally—usually one bound by a mutual defense pact. Either may be considered an act of war.

American Neutrality and the Lusitania

At the outbreak of World War I, the United States pursued a policy of non-intervention, avoiding conflict while trying to broker a peace. When the German U-boat U-20 sank the British liner RMS Lusitania on May 7, 1915, with 128 Americans among the dead, President Woodrow Wilson insisted that “America is too proud to fight” but demanded an end to attacks on passenger ships. Germany complied, and Wilson unsuccessfully tried to mediate a settlement. However, he also repeatedly warned that the United States would not tolerate unrestricted submarine warfare, which was in violation of international law. Former president Theodore Roosevelt denounced German acts as “piracy.” Wilson was narrowly reelected in 1916 as his supporters emphasized “he kept us out of war.”

American public opinion was divided, with most before early 1917 strongly of the opinion that the United States should stay out of the war. Opinion changed gradually, partly in response to German actions in Belgium and the sinking of the Lusitania, partly as German Americans lost influence, and partly in response to Wilson’s position that America had to play a role in making the world safe for democracy.

The general public showed little support for entering the war on the side of Germany. The great majority of German Americans and Scandinavian Americans, wanted the United States to remain neutral however, at the outbreak of war, thousands of U.S. citizens tried to enlist in the German army. The Irish Catholic community, based in the large cities and often in control of the Democratic Party apparatus, was strongly hostile to helping Britain in any way, especially after the Easter uprising of 1916 in Ireland. Most Protestant church leaders in the United States, regardless of their theology, favored pacifistic solutions. Most of the leaders of the women’s movement, typified by Jane Addams, likewise sought brokerage of peace. The most prominent opponent of war was industrialist Henry Ford, who personally financed and led a peace ship to Europe to try to negotiate among the belligerents no negotiations resulted.

Sinking of the Lusitania: A 1915 painting of the sinking of the passenger ship Lusitania, an event which shifted American public opinion toward entering WWI and became a symbol for the fight against Germany.

The Zimmermann Telegram and Declaration of War

In January 1917, Germany resumed unrestricted submarine warfare, realizing it would mean American entry. The German Foreign Minister, in the Zimmermann Telegram, invited Mexico to join the war as Germany’s ally against the United States. In return, the Germans would finance Mexico’s war and help it recover the territories of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. The United Kingdom intercepted the message and presented it to the U.S. embassy in the UK. From there it made its way to President Wilson, who released it to the public. Americans considered the Zimmermann Telegram casus belli.

Popular sentiment in the United States at that time was anti-Mexican as well as anti-German, while in Mexico there was considerable anti-American sentiment. General John J. Pershing had long been chasing the revolutionary Pancho Villa and carried out several cross-border raids. News of the telegram further inflamed tensions between the United States and Mexico.

Wilson asked Congress for “a war to end all wars” that would “make the world safe for democracy” and eliminate militarism from the globe. He argued that the war was important and the U.S. thus must have a voice in the peace conference. After the sinking of seven U.S. merchant ships by submarines and the publication of the Zimmermann telegram, Wilson called for war on Germany, which the U.S. Congress declared on April 6, 1917.

The United States was never formally a member of the Allies but became a self-styled “Associated Power.” It initially had a small army, but after the passage of the Selective Service Act drafted 2.8 million men, and by summer 1918 was sending 10,000 fresh soldiers to France every day. In 1917, the U.S. Congress gave citizenship to Puerto Ricans drafted to participate in World War I as part of the Jones Act. If Germany believed it would be many more months before American soldiers would arrive and that their arrival could be stopped by U-boats, it had miscalculated.

The United States Navy sent a battleship group to Scapa Flow to join the British Grand Fleet, destroyers to Queenstown, Ireland, and submarines to help guard convoys. Several regiments of U.S. Marines were also dispatched to France. The British and French wanted American units to reinforce their troops already on the battle lines and not waste scarce shipping on supplies. General John J. Pershing, American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) commander, refused to break up American units to be used as filler material. As an exception, he did allow African-American combat regiments to be used in French divisions. The Harlem Hellfighters fought as part of the French 16th Division and earned a unit Croix de Guerre for their actions at Château-Thierry, Belleau Wood, and Sechault. AEF doctrine called for the use of frontal assaults, which had long since been discarded by British Empire and French commanders due to the large loss of life that resulted.

America Enters WWI: President Wilson before Congress, announcing the break in official relations with the German Empire on February 3, 1917. Two months later, the U.S. declared war on Germany.

Could the First World War have ended in 1915?

Was there a chance, before America came into the First World War in 1917, that the conflict could have been ended by negotiation, before Passchendaele, even before the Somme, saving hundreds of thousands, or possibly millions of lives? That is the question posed by Plotting for Peace, an exceptionally original book by Daniel Larsen, an American intelligence specialist. His view is that a negotiated peace was possible – but was scuppered, partly by a highly political naval officer, Reginald Hall, who ran the Admiralty’s intelligence division from October 1914, and decided that the Americans could not be trusted in their relations with the Germans, and tinkered with decrypted messages between London and Washington before showing them to his political masters.

Those in Britain who felt cautious about America’s role in peace-brokering had some cause. The two countries were natural allies, but the sense of common values that would come to exist by the Cold War had not yet been established. There was a substantial first- and second-generation German population in the United States whose first loyalty remained a matter of debate, even if many had left their native land because of what they considered the near-autocracy of the Hohenzollerns. To complicate matters further, 1916 was an American election year, with the incumbent president, Woodrow Wilson, only re-elected by the narrowest of margins. It helped him to be seen as a man seeking to bring two warring sides together but Hall – and others in Whitehall and Westminster – felt it inevitable that Wilson would not wish to disoblige the masses of German Americans who might otherwise vote for him.

But this book is as much, if not more, a history of the economics of the first two and a half years of the war than about its intelligence, and about the unstatesmanlike qualities of David Lloyd George – for much of the period the minister for munitions – whose eventual accession to the prime ministership in December 1916 put a stop, from the British point of view, to any prospect of a negotiated peace. Larsen tells the story of a coalition, formed in May 1915 under H H Asquith, in which Liberal ministers were keen to end the war as quickly as possible and with honour, and Conservative ones were keen to pursue it until Germany was ground into the mud of Flanders. The rampantly ambitious Lloyd George, theoretically Liberal, knew his political future depended upon his maintaining the favour of the Conservatives.

The views of each coalition partner about how the war should be prosecuted were, as Larsen shows, reliant on their interpretation of economics. So long as Lloyd George was chancellor, until May 1915, he brought with him a spectacular ignorance of the subject – Larsen asserts, with some justification, that despite his seven years at the Treasury (which followed two at the board of trade), Lloyd George had no idea how money worked. Britain was heavily reliant on supplies from America, and could only wage war in the way it wished if those supplies continued. However, what Lloyd George failed to grasp was that Britain needed dollars to buy those supplies, and if it did not sell goods into the American market, it could raise those dollars only by transferring its reserves of gold from British to American ownership. As war industries began to dominate British productivity, there were not the goods to sell.

At that point, the search began for British investments in America that could be liquidated to raise money and for financial institutions who might lend to Britain. Britain was in an exceptional situation, not only having to fund its own part in the war, but being asked to act as guarantor for loans made by America to France, Italy and Russia. As Larsen points out, had it not been for J P Morgan, and much creative accounting, Britain would have been so broke by the second half of 1916 that it would have had to sue for peace on whatever terms it could get. J P Morgan’s credit enabled Lloyd George and his Tory friends to continue to live in their dream world – and allowed him time to manoeuvre the nearest thing the British constitution has seen to a coup d’état since the 17th century.

Larsen’s economic analysis is entirely accurate, and his discovery in Admiralty files of the way in which intelligence was manipulated by those who wanted a fight to the finish is indeed revelatory. However, the German idea of peace was one that, in fact, Britain would never have dreamt of accepting unless completely bankrupt. Whatever the difficulties, British public opinion (as at least half the coalition ministers knew) could not allow Germany to retain the fruits of its conquest, even if those fruits were just a strip of devastated land in north-western France. Opinion among the Allies was hardening about the price Germany would have to pay for its aggression: a price set out at Versailles in 1919.

Even without doctoring the intelligence that the British obtained from German and American messages (easily done, because Britain owned much of the transmitting infrastructure, and had the better cryptographers), it was quite clear that Germany could not be trusted but it was also clear that America was trying to play the honest broker, even if this was matched by moments of naivety about German intentions. In the end, it was the Germans who dug their own grave. The Kaiser had been persuaded that the war would be won by whoever starved last, and was attempting to sink as much of the British merchant fleet as possible. The decision, in winter 1917, to resume submarine warfare – suspended two years earlier after the sinking of the Lusitania – brought America into the war, to protect its shipping and civilians. At that point, America made Britain the War Loan that saved its skin.

It could all have been very different. When, in an ill-judged interview in the autumn of 1916, Lloyd George had promised that the war would go on until the Allies delivered a “knockout blow”, America was at the point of cutting Britain off without another cent. It was already exporting so much food to Britain that domestic prices were rising steeply, and causing growing unrest. As Reginald McKenna, Asquith’s chancellor knew, the game was very nearly up. As Larsen’s invaluable, gripping and entertaining book shows, in the end Britain was only saved from humiliation by German belligerence.

Plotting for Peace is published by CUP at £29.99. To order your copy for £25 call 0844 871 1514 or visit the Telegraph Bookshop


Years later a myth grew up that the crowds and all the belligerent nations cheered and welcomed the war. That was not true – everywhere there was a deep sense of foreboding. In wartime Britain, and in neutral United States, reports of German atrocities and killing thousands of civilians, rounding up hostages, and destroying historic buildings and libraries caused a change of heart to an antiwar population. For example, suffragists took up the cause of the war, as did intellectuals. Very few expected a short happy war – the slogan "over by Christmas" was coined three years after the war began. [4] Historians find that, "The evidence for mass enthusiasm at the time is surprisingly weak." [5]

Allied war goals Edit

In 1914 the war was so unexpected that no one had formulated long-term goals. An ad-hoc meeting of the French and British ambassadors with the Russian Foreign Minister in early September led to a statement of war aims that was not official, but did represent ideas circulating among diplomats in St. Petersburg, Paris, and London, as well as the secondary allies of Belgium, Serbia, and Montenegro. Its provisions included: [6]

  • 1) " The principal object of the three allies should be to break German power and its claim to military and political domination"
  • 2) "Territorial modifications are to be determined according to the principle of nationality"
  • 3) Russia should annex certain parts of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
  • 4) "France should take back Alsace-Lorraine, adding to it if she likes part of Rhenish Prussia and of the Palatine"
  • 5-7, provisions for new territory for Belgium and Denmark, and the restoration of the Kingdom of Hanover.
  • 8) Austria should become a triple monarchy, upgrading the kingdom of Bohemia.
  • 9) "Serbia should annex Bosnia, Herzegovina, Dalmatia, and northern Albania"
  • 10-11. Territory should be added to Bulgaria and Greece.
  • 12) "England, France, and Japan should divide the German colonies"
  • 13) "Germany and Austria should pay a war indemnity."

No official statement of Allied war aims was issued. The secret treaties remained secret until the Bolsheviks came to power in Russia in November 1917 and began publishing them. [7] Socialists had always alleged that capitalists were behind the war in order to line their own pockets, and the evidence of promised new territories invigorated left-wing movements around the world. President Woodrow Wilson regained some of the initiative in January 1918 when he proclaimed his Fourteen Points, the first of which demanded, "Open covenants of peace, openly arrived at, after which there shall be no private international understandings of any kind but diplomacy shall proceed always frankly and in the public view." [8]

Historian Hew Strachan argues that war aims focused on territorial gains were not of central importance anyway. They did not cause the war nor shape its course of action. Rather, he says:

Big ideas, however rhetorical, shaped the war's purpose more immediately and completely than did more definable objectives. [According to best-selling English author H. G. Wells], 'We fight', he declared, 'not to destroy a nation, but to kill a nest of ideas. Our business is to kill ideas. The ultimate purpose of this war is propaganda, the destruction of certain beliefs and the creation of others.' [9]

German war goals Edit

The Germans never finalized a set of war aims. However, in September 1914, Kurt Riezler, a senior staff aide to German Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg sketched out some possible ideas—dubbed by historians the "September Program." It emphasized economic gains, turning all of Central and Western Europe into a common market controlled by and for the benefit of Germany. Belgium would become a vassal state, there would be a series of naval bases threatening England, and Germany would seize much of Eastern Europe from Russia – as in fact it did in early 1918. There would be a crippling financial indemnity on France making it economically dependent on Germany. The Netherlands would become a dependent satellite, and British commerce would be excluded. Germany would rebuild a colonial empire in Africa. The ideas sketched by Riezler were not fully formulated, were not endorsed by Bethmann-Hollweg, and were not presented to or approved by any official body. The ideas were formulated on the run after the war began, and did not mean these ideas had been reflected a prewar plan, as historian Fritz Fischer fallaciously assumed. However they do indicate that if Germany had won it would have taken a very aggressive dominant position in Europe. Indeed, it took a very harsh position on occupied Belgian and France starting in 1914, and in the Treaty of Brest Litovsk imposed on Russia in 1917, which liberated many of the subject peoples of Russia from Finland to Ukraine. [10] [11]

The stalemate by the end of 1914 forced serious consideration of long-term goals. Britain, France, Russia and Germany all separately concluded this was not a traditional war with limited goals. Britain, France and Russia became committed to the destruction of German military power, and Germany to the dominance of German military power in Europe. One month into the war, Britain, France and Russia agreed not to make a separate peace with Germany, and discussions began about enticing other countries to join in return for territorial gains. However, as Barbara Jelavich observes, "Throughout the war Russian actions were carried out without real coordination or joint planning with the Western powers." [12] There was no serious three-way coordination of strategy, nor was there much coordination between Britain and France before 1917.

Approaches to diplomacy Edit

Both sides employed secret treaties to entice neutral nations to join them in return for a promise of spoils when victory was achieved. They were kept secret until the Bolsheviks came to power in Russia in 1917 and began publishing all the details on the Allied side. The Allies especially promised that after defeating the Ottoman Empire they would give large slices in return for immediate help in the war. Some territories were promised to several recipients, on the principle that conflicts could be sorted out after victory was achieved. Some promises, therefore, had to be broken, and that left permanent bitter legacies, especially in Italy. [13] [14]

Important secret treaties of this era include the secretly concluded treaty of Ottoman–German alliance signed on August 2, 1914. It provided that Germany and Turkey would remain neutral in the conflict between Austria-Hungary and Serbia, but if Russia intervened "with active military measures" the two countries would become military allies. [15] Another important secret treaty was the Treaty of London, concluded on April 26, 1915, in which Italy was promised certain territorial concessions in exchange for joining the war on the Triple Entente (Allied) side. [16] The Treaty of Bucharest was concluded between Romania and the Entente powers (Britain, France, Italy, and Russia) on August 17, 1916 under this treaty, Romania pledged to attack Austria-Hungary and not to seek a separate peace in exchange for certain territorial gains. Article 16 of that treaty provided that "the present arrangement shall be held secret." [17] Blaming the war in part on secret treaties, President Wilson called in his Fourteen Points for "open covenants, openly arrived at."

The two sides had strikingly different approaches to diplomacy. The military leadership of Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg and his deputy General Erich Ludendorff increasingly controlled Germany and the other Central Powers. They worked around the Kaiser and largely ignored the politicians and diplomats they focused on military supremacy. [18] The most dramatic example came when military command decided on unrestricted submarine warfare against Britain in early 1917, over the objections of Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg and other civilian leaders. Historian Cathal Nolan says their strategy was, "Germans must win fast and win everything or lose everything in a war of exhaustion: knock out Russia in 1917, defeat France and starve Britain, all before the Americans arrived in sufficient numbers to make a real difference on the Western Front." [19] A military approach meant that victory was to be achieved by winning great campaigns against the main enemy armies. Allies were useful for providing hundreds of thousands of bayonets, and access to critical geographical points.

The Allies had a more complex multi-dimensional approach that included critical roles for diplomacy, finance, propaganda and subversion. [20] The Lansdowne Letter called for Britain to negotiate a peace with Germany, It was published by a London newspaper and written by Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice, 5th Marquess of Lansdowne, a former foreign secretary and war minister. Lansdowne came under withering criticism with few supporters and the government rejected the proposal. Further talk of a compromise solution was suppressed and the British and French war aim was to permanently destroy German militarism. When the United States joined in, Woodrow Wilson likewise in his 14 points emphasized the need to destroy militarism. [21] Austria and Turkey were not the main targets, and a separate peace with either or both of them was always an option. The Allies bargained with neutrals such as Italy by promising them when victory came, the Central Powers would be broken up and critical territories would be given to the winners. In the Treaty of London (1915) Italy was promised several large slices of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. [22] Russia was promised Constantinople in the Constantinople Agreement of 1915. [23] the Jews were promised a homeland in Palestine in the Balfour Declaration of 1917, but the Arabs had already been promised a sovereign state in Turkish-controlled regions. Aspiring nationalities were promised their own homelands. France was promised Alsace-Lorraine, which had been ceded to Germany in 1871.

In terms of finance, the British generously loaned money to Russia, France, Italy and smaller allies. When British money ran out, the United States replaced it in early 1917 with even larger loans. The Allies put a heavy emphasis on "soft power" including economic aid and trade, and propaganda. For example, Britain cut off all shipments of cotton to Germany, but at the same time subsidized the American cotton industry by large purchases, to make sure that the rural South supported the war effort. [24] Historians Richard D. Heffner and Alexander Heffner point to the "outstanding success of British propaganda" in molding American opinion, while "Germany's feeble propaganda effort proved highly ineffective." [25] Allied propaganda emphasised the triumph of liberal ideas, and a war to end all wars—themes with a broad international appeal. The Germans kept quiet about their war aims of dominating all of Europe, for they realized it would not have a wide appeal. However, the German Foreign Ministry realized the value of subversion in a total war. It used money and propaganda to attempt to undermine morale of the allies, including Muslims in the British, Russian and Ottoman empires. They had even more success in subsidizing far left anti-war subversive elements, especially in Russia. [26] Allied propaganda focused on identifying Germany with militarism and illustrating it with what it called the rape of Belgium as well as with the sinking of the Lusitania. The Allies were embarrassed by its large Russian ally—it was a non-democratic autocracy that sponsored pogroms. The overthrow of the Tsarist regime in March 1917 by Russian liberals greatly facilitated American entry into the war as President Wilson could for the first time proclaim a crusade for idealistic goals. [27]

Germany avoided internal discussions of its war aims, because debate threatened political unity at home and with allies. As late as May 1917 the Chancellor warned the Reichstag that a discussion of war aims would be unwise. [28] In January 1917 Germany made a major strategic blunder that historian Hew Strachan speculates may have cost it victory in the war. The German navy launched a full-scale blockade of Britain, using its U-boats to sink all merchant ships of whatever nationality without warning. This was in violation of international law and of its solemn promises to the United States. The military made the decision, rejecting civilian advice, knowing it meant war with the United States but it was Germany's last chance for a decisive victory before the Americans would be able to fully mobilize. By ignoring civilian advice the military failed to appreciate that Britain was financially bankrupt, and could no longer purchase needed raw materials nor provide urgently needed financial aid to its friends. Strachan maintains the new German submarine strategy "saved Britain" because Berlin had lost sight of how close it was to success in ruining the critical financial component of British strategy. [29]

Another avenue of diplomacy was publication. At the outbreak of war, the European powers began to publish selected, and sometimes misleading, compendia of diplomatic correspondence, seeking to establish justification for their own entry into the war, and cast blame on other actors for the outbreak of war. [30] The First of these color books to appear, was the German White Book [31] which appeared on 4 August 1914, the same day as Britain's war declaration. [32]

Toward a League of Nations Edit

In the course of the war both sides had to clarify their long-term war aims. By 1916 in Britain and in neutral United States, long-range thinkers had begun to design a unified international organization to prevent future wars. Historian Peter Yearwood argues that when the new coalition government of David Lloyd George took power in December 1916, there was widespread discussion among intellectuals and diplomats of the desirability of establishing such an organization, when Lloyd George was challenged by Wilson to state his position regarding the postwar, he endorsed such an organization. Wilson himself Included in his Fourteen Points in January 1918 a "league of nations to insure peace and justice." British foreign secretary, Arthur Balfour, argued that, as a condition of durable peace, "behind international law, and behind all treaty arrangements for preventing or limiting hostilities, some form of international sanction should be devised which would give pause to the hardiest aggressor." [33]

The total direct cost of war, for all participants including those not listed here, was about $80 billion (in 1913 US dollars) Since $1 billion in $1913 = about $25 billion in 2017 US dollars the total cost comes to about $2 trillion in 2017 dollars. Direct cost is figured as actual expenditures during war minus normal prewar spending. It excludes postwar costs such as pensions, interest, and veteran hospitals. Loans to/from allies are not included in "direct cost." Repayment of loans after 1918 is not included. [34] The total direct cost of the war as a percent of wartime national income:

  • Allies: Britain, 37% France, 26% Italy, 19% Russia, 24% United States, 16%.
  • Central Powers: Austria-Hungary, 24% Germany, 32% Turkey unknown.

The amounts listed below are presented in terms of 1913 US dollars, where $1 billion then equals about $25 billion in 2017. [35]

  • Britain had a direct war cost about $21.2 billion it made loans to Allies and Dominions of $4.886 billion, and received loans from the United States of $2.909 billion.
  • France had a direct war cost about $10.1 billion it made loans to Allies of $1.104 billion, and received loans from Allies (United States and Britain) of $2.909 billion.
  • Italy had a direct war cost about $4.5 billion it received loans from Allies (United States and Britain) of $1.278 billion.
  • The United States had a direct war cost about $12.3 billion it made loans to Allies of $5.041 billion.
  • Russia had a direct war cost about $7.7 billion it received loans from Allies (United States and Britain) of $2.289 billion. [36]

In 1914 Britain had by far the largest and most efficient financial system in the world. [37] Roger Lloyd-Jones and M. J. Lewis argue:

To prosecute industrial war required the mobilisation of economic resources for the mass production of weapons and munitions, which necessarily entitled fundamental changes in the relationship between the state (the procurer), business (the provider), labour (the key productive input), and the military (the consumer). In this context, the industrial battlefields of France and Flanders intertwined with the home front that produced the materials to sustain a war over four long and bloody years. [38]

The two governments agreed that financially Britain would support the weaker Allies and that France would take care of itself. [39] In August 1914, Henry Pomeroy Davison, a Morgan partner, traveled to London and made a deal with the Bank of England to make J.P. Morgan & Co. the sole underwriter of war bonds for Great Britain and France. The Bank of England became a fiscal agent of J.P. Morgan & Co., and vice versa. Over the course of the war, J.P. Morgan loaned about $1.5 billion (approximately $23 billion in today's dollars) to the Allies to fight against the Germans. [40] : 63 Morgan also invested in the suppliers of war equipment to Britain and France, thus profiting from the financing and purchasing activities of the two European governments. Britain made heavy loans to Tsarist Russia the Lenin government after 1920 refused to honor them, causing long-term issues. [41]

In late 1917 Colonel House, President Wilson's representative, took the lead in organizing Allied non-military actions. [42] Operating under the authority of the Supreme War Council, new committees had specialized tasks. The Inter-Allied Finance Council handled the issues of distributing money among the Allies. The United States had virtually all the available money by 1917, and made all the decisions. It loaned large sums to the main players, including loans to England that were redistributed to smaller allies. [43] There were related councils dealing with purchases food, and shipping, including the Allied Council on War Purchases and Finance, the Inter—Allied Food Council, the Inter-Allied Meat and Fats Executive, the Inter-Allied Scientific Food Commission, the Inter—Allied Maritime Council, and the Inter—Allied Transport Council, among others. [44]

Great Britain Edit

British diplomacy during the war focused on new initiatives in cooperation with the leading allies, promote propaganda efforts with neutrals, and initiatives to undermine the German economy, especially through a naval blockade. In 1915, an Allied conference began operations in Paris to coordinate financial support for allies, munitions productions, and rationing of raw materials to neutrals who might otherwise reship them to Germany. Britain established a blacklist, a shipping control commission and a ministry of blockade. [45] [46]

Entry Edit

On 4 August, the British Government declared war in the King's name, taking Britain (and the Empire) into the Great War. Strategic risk posed by German control of the Belgian and ultimately French coast was considered unacceptable. Britain's relationship with her Entente partners, both France and Russia, were equally significant factors. The Foreign Secretary Edward Grey argued that the secret naval agreements whereby France deployed her fleet to the Mediterranean imposed a moral obligation on Britain to defend the Channel, even though they had not been approved by the Cabinet. What is more, in the event that Britain abandoned its Entente friends, it was feared that if Germany won the war, or the Entente won without British support, then, either way, Britain would be left without any friends. This would have left both Britain and her Empire vulnerable to attack. Domestic politics was a factor too as the antiwar Liberal Party was in power and decided on war to support France as it had long promised and to hold together and keep out the militaristic Conservatives. The issue of Belgium was not the real cause, but it was emphasized after the decision to win over Liberals who disliked warfare. [47] [48]

British Foreign office mandarin Eyre Crowe said:

"Should the war come, and England stand aside, one of two things must happen. (a) Either Germany and Austria win, crush France and humiliate Russia. What will be the position of a friendless England? (b) Or France and Russia win. What would be their attitude towards England? What about India and the Mediterranean?" [49] : 544

Balfour Declaration: Palestine and Jewish home land Edit

The British and French decided that practically the entire Ottoman Empire would be divided up among the winners, leaving only a small slice for the Turks. In Asia, The French would get the northern half, and the British would get the southern half. British Cabinet paid special attention to the status of Palestine, looking at multiple complex factors. The steady advance of British armies moving up from Egypt indicated that Palestine and nearby areas would soon be under Allied control, and it was best to announce plans before that happened. In October 1915, Sir Henry McMahon, the British High Commissioner in Egypt, promised Hussein bin Ali, Sharif of Mecca the Arab leader in Arabia, that Britain would support Arab national ambitions in return for cooperation against the Turks. [50] London thought there so much new land would become available that what Balfour called a "small notch" given to the Jews would not be a problem. The Zionist movement was gaining strength in the Jewish communities across Europe, including Britain and the United States. Promising them a home land would galvanize their support. Different Christian groups, especially Biblically-oriented Protestants, had an intense interest in the Holy Land, and in the Biblical predictions that indicated Christ could not return until the Jews regained their promised land. Finally, British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour himself had a long-standing concern with pogroms against Jews in Eastern Europe, and for years had been looking for ways to resettle them outside Russia. He had many in-depth conversations with the Zionist leader in Britain, Chaim Weitzman, and came up with a plan that Lloyd George and the cabinet approved. In November 1917, Balfour made a very short official announcement regarding Palestine. He promised a "national home" for the Jewish people, And said nothing would be done to prejudice the rights of the Arabs. He made no mention of statehood. His statement read:

His Majesty's Government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of that object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country. [51] [52]

President Wilson had known about the plan since March but had been noncommittal whether to support it. Finally, London asked directly his opinion and he secretly told House to tell them that he approved it. Historian Frank W. Brecher says, Wilson's "deep Christian sentiment" led him to seek "a direct governing role in the Near East in the name of peace, democracy and, especially, Christianity." In 1922, Congress officially endorsed Wilson's support through passage of the Lodge-Fish Resolution. [53] [54] The League of Nations incorporated the Declaration into the mandate over Palestine it awarded to Britain on 24 July 1922. [55]

On the other hand, pro-Palestinian historians have argued that Wilson and Congress ignored democratic values in favour of "biblical romanticism" When they endorsed the Declaration. They point to a pro-Zionist lobby, which was active at a time when the small number of unorganized Arab Americans were not heard. Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department opposed the endorsement fearing it would alienate Arabs. [56] In terms of British diplomacy, Danny Gutwein argues that the Declaration was the victory of the "radical" faction in the British government debating policy regarding the fate of the Ottoman Empire. The radicals proposed to partition that Empire in order to solidify Britain's control of the Middle East. The “reformist” faction lost. [57]

Blockade of Germany Edit

The Blockade of Germany by the Royal Navy was a highly effective technique to prevent Germans from importing food, raw materials, and other supplies. It repeatedly violated neutral rights, and the United States repeatedly objected. British diplomacy had to deal with that crisis. The loophole in the blockade system was shipments to neutral countries, such as the Netherlands and Sweden, which then sold the supplies to Germany. To stop that the British closely monitored shipments to neutral countries, declared that almost all commodities were contraband and would be seized, rationed imports to neutrals, and searched neutral merchant ships in Allied ports. They also blacklisted American firms known to trade with Germany. [58] The United States protested but Wilson decided to tolerate Britain's policy. [59]

France Edit

By 1914 French foreign policy was based on an alliance with Russia, and an informal understanding with Britain both assumed that the main threat was from Germany. [60] [61] [62]

The crisis of 1914 was unexpected, and when Germany mobilized its forces in response to Russian mobilization, France also had to mobilize. Germany then invaded Belgium as part of its Schlieffen Plan to win the war by encircling Paris. The plan failed and the war settled into a very bloody deadlock on the Western Front with practically no movement until 1918. [63]

Britain took the lead in most diplomatic initiatives, but Paris was consulted on all key points. [64] The Sykes–Picot Agreement of 1916 with Britain called for breaking up the Ottoman Empire and dividing it into spheres of French and British influence. France was to get control of southeastern Turkey, northern Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. [65]

French credit collapsed in 1916 and Britain began loaning large sums to Paris. The J.P. Morgan & Co bank in New York assumed control of French loans in the fall of 1916 and relinquished it to the U.S. government when the U.S. entered the war in 1917. [66] [67]

France suffered very heavy losses, in terms of battle casualties, financing, and destruction in the German-occupied areas. At the Paris Peace Conference, 1919, vengeance against defeated Germany was the main French theme, and Prime Minister Clemenceau was largely effective against the moderating influences of the British and Americans. France obtained large (but unspecified) reparations, regained Alsace-Lorraine and obtained mandates to rule parts of former German colonies in Africa. [68]

French and British soldiers and diplomats worked well together during the war, and it became a major goal of French diplomacy to permanently continue the close relationship, and also bring the United States into this democratic triad. However, London and Washington were unwilling to commit to using their military force to uphold the European order established at the Paris conference. Clemenceau had gone too far in making demands that destabilized central Europe, in the views of Lloyd George and Woodrow Wilson. London reverted to pre-war priorities, emphasizing internal Imperial considerations, with the assumption that France would be something of a threat to British interests. The United States rejected any military alliance, and its foreign policy was in total confusion with the physical and mental collapse of president Wilson. [69]

Russia Edit

Leadership Edit

Historians agree on the poor quality of Russia's top leadership. The Tsar made all the final decisions, but he repeatedly was given conflicting advice and typically made the wrong choice. He set up a deeply flawed organizational structure that was inadequate for the high pressures and instant demands of wartime. Stevenson, for example, points to the "disastrous consequences of deficient civil-military liaison" where the civilians and generals were not in contact with each other. The government was entirely unaware of its fatal weaknesses and remained out of touch with public opinion the foreign minister had to warn the tsar that "unless he yielded to the popular demand and unsheathed the sword on Serbia's behalf, he would run the risk of revolution and the loss of his throne." The tsar yielded and lost his throne anyway. Stevenson concludes:

Russian decision-making in July [1914] was more truly a tragedy of miscalculation. a policy of deterrence that failed to deter. Yet [like Germany] it too rested on assumptions that war was possible without domestic breakdown, and that it could be waged with a reasonable prospect of success. Russia was more vulnerable to social upheaval than any other Power. Its socialists were more estranged from the existing order than those elsewhere in Europe, and a strike wave among the industrial workforce reached a crescendo with the general stoppage in St. Petersburg in July 1914. [70]

Tsar Nicholas II took personal command of the Army in 1915 and spent much of his time at Army headquarters near the front lines, where his proclivity to misjudge leadership qualities, and misunderstand strategy, did the most damage. Meanwhile, morale plunged on the home front, the soldiers lacked rifles and adequate food, the economy was stretched to the limits and beyond, and strikes became widespread. The Tsar paid little attention. Tsarina Alexandra, increasingly under the spell of Grigori Rasputin, inadvisedly passed along his suggested names for senior appointments to the tsar. Thus, in January 1916, the Tsar replaced Prime Minister Ivan Goremykin with Boris Stürmer. Foreign Minister Sergey Sazonov was not a powerful player. Historian Thomas Otte finds that, "Sazonov felt too insecure to advance his positions against stronger men. He tended to yield rather than to press home his own views. At the critical stages of the July crisis Sazonov was inconsistent and showed an uncertain grasp of international realities. [71] The tsar fired Sazonov in July 1916 and gave his ministry as an extra portfolio to Prime Minister Stürmer. The French ambassador was aghast, depicting Stürmer as, "worse than a mediocrity – a third rate intellect, mean spirit, low character, doubtful honesty, no experience, and no idea of state business." [72]

Propaganda Edit

One of Russia's greatest challenges was motivating its highly diverse population that often lacked loyalty to the tsar. One solution was to avoid conscripting certain distrusted ethnic minorities. [73] Another was a heavy dose of propaganda—using cartoons and verbal jokes—that ridiculed Kaiser Wilhelm II. The tactic backfired as Russians turned it against their own tsar. [74] The stories of miseries, defeats and incompetence told by recruits on leave home gave a more powerful and negative narrative to every village local anti-draft riots became common. [75] Britain and France tried to meet Russia's problems with money and munitions, but the long supply line was so tenuous that Russian soldiers were very poorly equipped in comparison with their opponents in battle.

Meanwhile, Berlin, aware of the near-revolutionary unrest in Russia in the previous decade, launched its own propaganda war. The Foreign Ministry disseminated fake news reports that had the desired effect of demoralizing Russian soldiers. [76] Berlin's most successful tactic was to support far-left Russian revolutionaries dedicated to attacking and overthrowing the tsar. The German foreign ministry provided over 50 million gold marks to the Bolsheviks, and in 1917 secretly transported Lenin and his top aides from their exile in Switzerland across Germany to Russia. Later that year they overthrew the liberal regime and began their march to control all of Russia. [77] [78] [79] The Bolsheviks concentrated much of their propaganda on POWs from the German and Austrian armies. When Russia left the war in 1917 these prisoners returned home and many carried back support for revolutionary ideas that quickly swayed their comrades. [80]

February Revolution Edit

When the tsarist regime collapsed internally in February 1917, it was succeeded for eight months by the Provisional Government, a liberal regime. Alexander Kerensky played a leading role and eventually became Prime Minister. Pavel Milyukov, leader of the moderate KADET party, became Foreign Minister. [81] Many ambassadors and senior aides were tsarist appointees who resigned, so that the Foreign Ministry could barely function. Kerensky and Milyukov wanted to continue the tsarist foreign policy especially regarding the war. They still hoped to gain control of The Straits around Constantinople. The British wanted to support Russian morale, while distrusting the depth of its popular support and capabilities. After long discussions the British settled on a cautious policy which was, "to give the impression of support for the Provisional Government, while at the same time delaying actual support in the form of munitions until the British needs were met and real evidence of Russian intention to prosecute the war actively was forthcoming." [82]

The Provisional Government, even after giving Kerensky dictatorial powers, failed to meet the challenges of war weariness, growing discontent among peasants and workers, and intrigues by the Bolsheviks. Public opinion, especially in the Army, had turned against the sacrifices for a hopeless war. The Bolsheviks proposed a revolutionary foreign policy that would immediately end the war and promote revolution across Europe. [83]

Bolshevik versus White Edit

After Lenin and his Bolsheviks overthrew the Kerensky regime in the "October Revolution" of 1917 (it was November by the Western calendar) Russia plunged into civil war, pitting the Bolsheviks against a series of "White" opponents led by tsarist generals. [84] [85] Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland successfully broke away and became independent countries. Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan tried to do the same but were later retaken by the Bolsheviks. Lloyd George and French general Ferdinand Foch briefly considered an alliance with the Bolsheviks against Germany. Instead the Allies intervened militarily to guard against a German takeover, and in practice to help the counter-revolutionaries. interventionist forces arrived from Britain, the United States, Japan, as well as France, Estonia, Poland, and Finland. The Bolsheviks proved successful, and after defeating them all by 1920 consolidated its hold on what became the Soviet Union (USSR). Lenin moved the national capital to Moscow. Diplomatically the new country was an unrecognized pariah state only the Danish Red Cross would talk to them officially. Moscow was excluded from the Paris Peace Conference of 1919. It was deeply distrusted because of its support for revolutionary movements across Europe. However, only the communist revolution in Hungary was successful, and then only for a few months. However, after the failure of sponsored uprisings, Lenin took a more peaceful approach and one by one set up trade relations and, after that, diplomatic relations with the powers, starting with Britain and Germany in 1921. The United States was the last to act, with official recognition in 1933. [86]

Belgium Edit

Although the German invasion of Belgium in 1914 was the major factor in causing British entry into the war, the government of Belgium itself played a small role in diplomatic affairs. [87] Its main role came as a recipient of relief from neutral countries, and its use by the Allies is a propaganda weapon against the Germans, and their emphasis on the atrocities involved in the Rape of Belgium. On 2 August 1914, the German government demanded that German armies be given free passage through Belgian territory. This was refused by the Belgian government on 3 August. [88] King Albert I addressed his Parliament on 4 August, saying "Never since 1830 has a graver hour sounded for Belgium. The strength of our right and the need of Europe for our autonomous existence make us still hope that the dreaded events will not occur." [89] The same day German troops invaded at dawn. Almost all of Belgium was occupied for the entire war, with the exception of a sliver in the far west, which was under the control of the Belgian Army. The government itself was relocated to the city of Sainte-Adresse in France it still controlled the Belgian Congo in Africa. Belgium officially continued to fight the Germans, but the amount of combat was nominal. Belgium never joined the Allies. However, its foreign minister Paul Hymans was successful in securing promises from the allies that amounted to co-belligerency. Britain, France and Russia pledged in the "Declaration of Sainte-Adresse" in February 1916 that Belgian would be included in the peace negotiations, its independence would be restored, and that it would receive a monetary compensation from Germany for the damages. At the Paris peace conference in 1919, Belgium officially ended its historic neutral status, and became first in line to receive reparations payments from Germany. However, it received only a small bit of German territory, and was rejected in its demands for all of Luxembourg and part of the Netherlands. It was given colonial mandates over the German colonies of Rwanda and Burundi. Hymans became the leading spokesman for the small countries at Paris, and became president of the first assembly of the new League of Nations. When war began in 1914, Hymans met with President Wilson in Washington and got major promises of relief and food support. Relief was directed primarily by an American Herbert Hoover and involved several agencies: Commission for Relief in Belgium, American Relief Administration, and Comité National de Secours et d'Alimentation. [90]

Italy Edit

The War was an unexpected development that forced the decision whether to honor the alliance with Germany and Austria. For six months Italy remained neutral, as the Triple Alliance was only for defensive purposes. Italy took the initiative in entering the war in spring 1915, despite strong popular and elite sentiment in favor of neutrality. Italy was a large, poor country whose political system was chaotic, its finances were heavily strained, and its army was very poorly prepared. [91] The Triple Alliance meant little either to Italians or Austrians – Vienna had declared war on Serbia without consulting Rome. Two men, Prime Minister Antonio Salandra and Foreign Minister Sidney Sonnino made all the decisions, as was typical in Italian foreign policy. They operated in secret, enlisting the king later on, but keeping military and political leaders entirely in the dark. They negotiated with both sides for the best deal, and got one from the Entente, which was quite willing to promise large slices of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, including the Tyrol and Trieste, as well as making Albania a protectorate. Russia vetoed giving Italy Dalmatia. Britain was willing to pay subsidies and loans to get 36 million Italians as new allies who threatened the southern flank of Austria. [92] [93]

Japan Edit

Japan joined the Allies, seized German holdings in China and in the Pacific islands, cut deals with Russia and put heavy pressure on China in order to expand. [94] In 1915 it secretly made the Twenty-One Demands on the new and fragile Republic of China. The demands included control over former German holdings, Manchuria and Inner Mongolia, as well as joint ownership of a major mining and metallurgical complex in central China, prohibitions on China's ceding or leasing any coastal areas to a third power, and other political, economic and military controls. The result was intended to reduce China to a Japanese protectorate. In the face of slow negotiations with the Chinese government, widespread anti-Japanese sentiment in China and international condemnation, Japan was obliged to withdraw the final group of demands when treaties were signed in May 1915. [95]

Japan's hegemony in northern China was facilitated through other international agreements. One with Russia in 1916 helped to further secure Japan's influence in Manchuria and Inner Mongolia. Agreements with France, Britain, and the United States in 1917 recognized Japan's new territorial gains. Japanese loans to China tied it even closer. After the Bolshevik takeover Russia in late 1917 the Japanese army moved to occupy Russian Siberia as far west as Lake Baikal. After getting China to allow transit rights, more than 70,000 Japanese troops joined the much smaller units of the Allied expeditionary force sent to Siberia in July 1918 as part of the Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War. [96]

China Edit

China was neutral at the start of the war, but that left her in a weak position as Japanese and British military forces in 1914 liquidated Germany's holdings in China. [97] Japan occupied the German military colony in Qingdao, and occupied portions of Shandong Province. China was financially chaotic, highly unstable politically, and militarily very weak. Its best hope was to attend the postwar peace conference, and hope to find friends who would help block the threats of Japanese expansion. China declared war on Germany in August 1917 as a technicality to make it eligible to attend the postwar peace conference. They considered sending a token combat unit to the Western Front, but never did so. [98] [99] British diplomats were afraid that the U.S. and Japan would displace Britain's leadership role in the Chinese economy. Britain sought to play Japan and the United States against each other, while at the same time maintaining cooperation among all three nations against Germany. [100]

In January 1915, Japan secretly issued an ultimatum of Twenty-One Demands to the Chinese government. They included Japanese control of former German rights, 99-year leases in southern Manchuria, an interest in steel mills, and concessions regarding railways. China did have a seat at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. However, it was refused a return of the former German concessions and China had to accept the Twenty-One demands, although they had been softened somewhat because of pressure from the United States on Japan. A major reaction to this humiliation was a surge in Chinese nationalism expressed in the May Fourth Movement. [101]

Romania Edit

Romania, a small rural Orthodox nation of 7,500,000 people in 54,000 square miles of territory, was neutral for the first two years of the war. It had the major oil fields in Europe, and Germany eagerly bought its petroleum, as well as food exports. King Carol favored Germany but after his death in 1914, King Ferdinand and the nation's political elite favored the Entente. For Romania, the highest priority was taking Transylvania from Hungary, thus adding ca. 5,200,000 people, 54% (according to 1910 census) or 57% (according to the 1919 and 1920 censuses) of them Romanians. The Allies wanted Romania to join its side in order to cut the rail communications between Germany and Turkey, and to cut off Germany's oil supplies. Britain made loans, France sent a military training mission, and Russia promised modern munitions. The Allies promised at least 200,000 soldiers to defend Romania against Bulgaria to the south, and help it invade Austria. In August 1916 Romania entered the war on the Allied side. The Romanian army was poorly trained, badly equipped and inadequately officered. Romania did invade Austria-Hungary, but was soon thrown back, and faced a second front when Bulgarian troops, supported by German and Ottoman forces, invaded in Dobruja. By the end of 1916, two-thirds of the country (including the capital Bucharest) were occupied by the Central Powers and only Moldavia remained free. The Allied promises proved illusory, and when Romanian oilfields were threatened, the British destroyed the Ploiești oilfields to keep them out of German hands. On July 22, 1917, the Romanians launched a joint offensive with Russia against the Austro-Hungarian 1st Army, around Mărăști and the lower part of the Siret river, which resulted in the Battle of Mărăști. Although there was some initial success, a counter-offensive by the Central Powers in Galicia stopped the Romanian-Russian offensive. The subsequent German and Austrian-Hungarian push to knock Romania out of the war was stopped at Mărășești and Oituz by the Romanian and Russian forces. When Russia collapsed in late 1917, the Romanian cause was hopeless, and Romania had no choice but to conclude the Armistice of Focșani on 9 December 1917 and in May 1918 the Treaty of Bucharest. It demobilized its surviving soldiers nearly half the 750,000 men (335,706) [102] it had recruited were dead, and the economy was ruined. On 10 November 1918, as the Central Powers were all surrendering, Romania again joined the Allied side. On 28 November 1918, the Romanian representatives of Bukovina voted for union with the Kingdom of Romania, followed by the proclamation of a Union of Transylvania with Romania on 1 December 1918 by the representatives of Transylvanian Romanians gathered at Alba Iulia, while the representatives of the Transylvanian Saxons approved the act on 15 December at an assembly in Mediaș. A similar gathering was held by the minority Hungarians in Cluj, on 22 December, to reaffirm their allegiance to Hungary. The Romanian control of Transylvania, which had also a minority Hungarian-speaking population of 1,662,000 (31.6%, according to the census data of 1910), was widely resented in the new nation state of Hungary. This started the Hungarian-Romanian War of 1919 between Romania and the Hungarian Soviet Republic, which also waged parallel conflicts with Czechoslovakia and the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. The conflict with Romania ended with a partial Romanian occupation of Hungary. [103] [104]

Greece Edit

One of the goals of Allied diplomacy in 1915 was to flip Greece from neutrality to support. Its location was ideal for operations in the Balkans against Austria, and against Turkey. The Allies offered tempting gains, including Greek control of southern Albania, Cyprus, and Smyrna. The Greek government was deeply divided. King Constantine I expected Germany would win, and the government of Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos expected the Allies would win. Both sides agreed that the success and expansion of Greece depended on the winner. Greece remained neutral. In 1915 Venizelos offered an alliance with the Allies with control of Constantinople its reward. Russia vetoed the Greek proposal because its main war goal was to control the Straits, and take control of Constantinople, And it had the support of the British and French. [105] Venizelos was forced to resign but parliamentary elections in June 1915 brought him back to power.1 [106]

Repeatedly, both sides violated Greek neutrality. Venizelos allowed the Allies the use of Salonika as a port to attack Bulgaria, but at this point Greece did not join the Allies. The Allied armies failed to advance beyond Salonika. In summer of 1916, the Athens government under King Constantine handed over Fort Roupel to the Germans, calling it a neutral act it was denounced as a betrayal by the Venizelists. Allied forces fought the war from the Salonika base, engaging Bulgarian forces when they invaded Greece in August 1916 in the Battle of Struma. British and French troops landed in Athens in December 1916, hoping to overthrow the king, but failed and were forced to withdraw. The Allies then blockaded Greek areas supporting the king and finally forced his abdication in June 1917. His son became king and supported Venizelos. At long last Greece declared war on the Central Powers on 30 June 1917. There was little movement on the front until the spring of 1918 and the Greek victory at the Battle of Skra-di-Legen, followed by the Allied offensive in autumn 1918 that broke German, Austro-Hungarian and Bulgarian lines. [107] After the Allies were victorious, Greece expected a large slice of Turkey in the spoils, but was defeated militarily in the Greco-Turkish War (1919–1922). Britain kept Cyprus, and Greece wound up with only Western Thrace. Its most grievous legacy was profound political and social turmoil known as the "National Schism" that polarized Greece into two hostile political camps for generations. [108] [109] [110]

American entry into the war came in April 1917, after 2½ years of efforts by President Woodrow Wilson to keep the United States neutral.

American neutrality Edit

Americans had no inkling of the war's approach in 1914. Over 100,000 American travelers to Europe became stuck there once the war began having traveled to Europe for tourism, business or to visit relatives, they were caught unaware when the war started. Herbert Hoover, an American private citizen then based in London, handled their repatriation. The U.S. government, under the firm control of President Wilson, remained neutral. The president insisted that all government actions be neutral, and that the belligerents must respect that neutrality according to the norms of international law. Wilson told the Senate in August 1914, when the war began, that the United States, "must be impartial in thought as well as in action, must put a curb upon our sentiments as well as upon every transaction that might be construed as a preference of one party to the struggle before another." It remained ambiguous whether he meant the United States as a nation or each American as an individual. [111] Wilson has been accused of violating his own rule of neutrality. Later that month, he explained himself privately to his top foreign policy advisor Colonel House, who recalled the episode later: [112]

I was interested to hear him express as his opinion what I had written him some time ago in one of my letters, to the effect that if Germany won it would change the course of our civilization and make the United States a military nation. He also spoke of his deep regret, as indeed I did to him in that same letter, that it would check his policy for a better international ethical code. He felt deeply the destruction of Louvain [in Belgium], and I found him as unsympathetic with the German attitude as is the balance of America. He goes even further than I in his condemnation of Germany's part in this war, and almost allows his feeling to include the German people as a whole rather than the leaders alone. He said German philosophy was essentially selfish and lacking in spirituality. When I spoke of the Kaiser building up the German machine as a means of maintaining peace, he said, "What a foolish thing it was to create a powder magazine and risk someone's dropping a spark into it!" He thought the war would throw the world back three or four centuries. I did not agree with him. He was particularly scornful of Germany’s disregard of treaty obligations, and was indignant at the German Chancellor’s designation of the Belgian Treaty as being "only a scrap of paper" … But although the personal feeling of the President was with the Allies, he insisted then and for many months after, that this ought not to affect his political attitude, which he intended should be one of strict neutrality. He felt that he owed it to the world to prevent the spreading of the conflagration, that he owed it to the country to save it from the horrors of war.

Apart from an Anglophile element supporting Britain, public opinion in 1914-1916 strongly favored neutrality. Wilson kept the economy on a peacetime basis, and made no preparations or plans for the war. He insisted on keeping the army and navy on its small peacetime bases. Indeed, Washington refused even to study the lessons of military or economic mobilization that had been learned so painfully across the sea. [113]

Submarine issue Edit

The most important indirect strategy used by the belligerents was the blockade: starve the enemy of food and the military machine will be crippled and perhaps the civilians will demand an end to the war. The Royal Navy successfully stopped the shipment of most war supplies and food to Germany. Neutral American ships that tried to trade with Germany (which international law clearly allowed), were seized or turned back. The strangulation came about very slowly, because Germany and its allies controlled extensive farmlands and raw materials, but it eventually worked because Germany and Austria took so many farmers into their armies. By 1918 the German cities were on the verge of starvation the front-line soldiers were on short rations and were running out of essential supplies. The Allied blockade had done its job. Germany responded with its own submarine-based blockade of Britain. When the large passenger liner Lusitania was sunk in 1915 with the loss of over 100 American lives, Wilson made clear the American objection:

lies in the practical impossibility of employing submarines in the destruction of commerce without disregarding those rules of fairness, reason, justice, and humanity, which all modern opinion regards as imperative. [114]

The Lusitania sinking was the event that decisively swung American opinion do it again and would be grounds for a declaration of war by the United States. The British frequently violated America's neutral rights by seizing ships, but they did not drown anyone. [115] Berlin acquiesced, ordering its submarines to avoid passenger ships. But by January 1917 Hindenburg and Ludendorff decided that unrestricted submarine attacks on all American ships headed to Britain blockade was the only way it could win the war. They knew that meant war with the United States, but they gambled that they could win before America's potential strength could be mobilized. They vastly exaggerated how many ships they could sink and how much that would weaken Britain they did not figure out that convoys would defeat their efforts. They were correct in seeing that the United States was so weak militarily that it could not be a factor on the Western Front for more than a year. The civilian government in Berlin objected to the plan, but the Kaiser sided with the military the civilian government in Berlin was not in charge. [116]

Wilson, as he made clear in his Fourteen Points of January 1918, believed that peace would never come to a world that contained aggressive, powerful, non-democratic militaristic states. Peace required a world based on free democracies. There was never a possibility for compromise between these polar situations. America had to fight for democracy, or it would be fighting perpetually against ever-stronger evil enemies (stronger because they would gobble up weak neighbors whenever they could.) [117]

Ethnic groups Edit

Ethnic groups in the United States became involved on both sides, putting pressure on the Wilson administration to either be neutral, or to give greater support to the Allies. Jewish Americans were hostile to Russia, but when the tsarist regime fell in February 1917, their objection to supporting the Allies fell away. When the British issued the Balfour Declaration in late 1917, which Wilson supported, Jewish support for the Allied cause surged. Irish Catholics were very hostile to supporting Great Britain, but Wilson neutralized that problem by seeming to promise the issue of Irish independence would be on his agenda after the war. He did not fulfill that promise, however, leading to furious outrage among Irish Catholics, who played a powerful role in the Democratic Party in most large cities. In 1919 they opposed the League of Nations, and in 1920 they gave lukewarm support to the Democratic presidential ticket. [118] German American ethnics strongly supported neutrality very few spoke out on behalf of Germany itself. When the United States declared war, they went silent and were closely monitored for possible disloyalty. There was no actual disloyalty, but the political voice of the German-American community was greatly diminished. [119] Scandinavians generally favored neutrality, but like the Germans they had few spokesmen in Congress or high office. [120]

National security Edit

By 1916 a new factor was emerging—a sense of national self-interest and nationalism. The unbelievable casualty figures were sobering—two vast battles caused over one million casualties each. Clearly this war would be a decisive episode in the history of the world. Every American effort to find a peaceful solution was frustrated. Henry Ford managed to make pacifism look ridiculous by sponsoring a private peace mission that accomplished nothing. German agents added a comic opera touch. The agent in charge of propaganda left his briefcase on the train, where an alert Secret Service agent snatched it up. Wilson let the newspapers publish the contents, which indicated a systematic effort by Berlin to subsidize friendly newspapers and block British purchases of war materials. Berlin's top espionage agent, debonair Fanz Rintelen von Kleist was spending millions to finance sabotage in Canada, stir up trouble between the US and Mexico and to incite labor strikes. The British were engaged in propaganda too, though not illegal espionage. But they did not get caught Germany took the blame as Americans grew ever more worried about the vulnerability of a free society to subversion. Indeed, one of the main fears Americans of all stations had in 1916-1919 was that spies and saboteurs were everywhere. This sentiment played a major role in arousing fear of Germany, and suspicions regarding everyone of German descent who could not "prove" 100% loyalty. [121] Americans felt an increasing need for a military that could command respect as one editor put it, "The best thing about a large army and a strong navy is that they make it so much easier to say just what we want to say in our diplomatic correspondence." Berlin thus far had backed down and apologized when Washington was angry, thus boosting American self- confidence. America's rights and America's honor increasingly came into focus. The slogan "Peace" gave way to "Peace with Honor." The Army remained unpopular, however. A recruiter in Indianapolis noted that, "The people here do not take the right attitude towards army life as a career, and if a man joins from here he often tries to go out on the quiet." The Preparedness movement used its easy access to the mass media to demonstrate that the War Department had no plans, no equipment, little training, no reserves, a laughable National Guard, and a wholly inadequate organization for war. Motion pictures like "The Birth of a Nation" (1915) and "The Battle Cry of Peace" (1915) depicted invasions of the American homeland that demanded action. [122]

Decision for war Edit

The story of American entry into the war is a study in how public opinion changed radically in three years' time. In 1914 Americans thought the war was a dreadful mistake and were determined to stay out. By 1917 the same public felt just as strongly that going to war was both necessary and morally right. [123] The generals had little to say during this debate, and purely military considerations were seldom raised. The decisive questions dealt with morality and visions of the future. The prevailing attitude was that America possessed a superior moral position as the only great nation devoted to the principles of freedom and democracy. By staying aloof from the squabbles of reactionary empires, it could preserve those ideals—sooner or later the rest of the world would come to appreciate and adopt them. In 1917 this very long-run program faced the severe danger that in the short run powerful forces adverse to democracy and freedom would triumph. Strong support for moralism came from religious leaders, women (led by Jane Addams), and from public figures like long-time Democratic leader William Jennings Bryan, the Secretary of State from 1913 to 1916. The most important moralist of all was President Woodrow Wilson—the man who so dominated the decision for war that the policy has been called Wilsonianism and event has been labelled "Wilson's War." [124]

In 1917 Wilson, a Democrat, proved his political genius by winning the support of most of the moralists by proclaiming "a war to make the world safe for democracy." If they truly believed in their ideals, he explained, now was the time to fight. The question then became whether Americans would fight for what they deeply believed in, and the answer turned out to be a resounding "YES". [125]

In early 1917 Berlin forced the issue. The decision to try to sink every ship on the high seas was the immediate cause of American entry into the war. Five American merchant ships went down in March. If further evidence were needed, the German foreign minister, Arthur Zimmerman, approached Mexico for an alliance Mexico would join Germany in a war and be rewarded with the return of lost territories in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. Outraged public opinion now overwhelmingly supported Wilson when he asked Congress for a declaration of war on April 2, 1917. The United States had a moral responsibility to enter the war, he proclaimed, to make the world safe for democracy. The future of the world was being determined on the battlefield, and American national interest demanded a voice. Wilson's definition of the situation won wide acclaim, and, indeed, has shaped America's role in world and military affairs ever since. Wilson saw that if Germany would win, the consequences would be bad for the United States. Germany would dominate Europe, which in turn controlled much of the world through colonies. The solution was "peace without victory" Wilson said. He meant a peace shaped by the United States along the lines of what in 1918 became Wilson's Fourteen Points. [126]

Wartime diplomacy Edit

The United States was an affiliated partner—an "ally" in practice but not in name. The U.S. had no treaty with the Allies, but did have high level contacts. Wilson assigned Colonel House the central role in working with British officials. As soon as the US declared war Britain sent the high-level Balfour Mission, April–May, 1917. France sent a separate mission at the same time. Both missions were eager was to publicize the Allied cause and work on plans for wartime cooperation. Balfour met with Wilson and Colonel House to review the secret treaties which bound Britain and France to Italy and others. Members of the delegations met with many senior leaders in the national government, finance, industry and politics, to explain the British positions. Other meetings dealt with the supply of munitions and other exports, and the proposed Balfour Declaration. Britain asked for naval help against the submarine menace, but realizing the small size of the American army, did not ask for soldiers. [127]

Both United States and Britain had issued idealistic visions of the postwar world in January 1918. Prime Minister David Lloyd George announced the British vision on January 5, while Wilson spelled out his Fourteen Points on January 8. The Wilsonian manifesto had a major impact around the world, and especially on Germany, which by October 1918 had decided to make peace on its terms. The other Allies did not issue postwar plans, for they were focused primarily on cash reparations from Germany and specific territorial gains from Austria and Turkey. The British and American manifestoes overlapped heavily. They both specified the right of self-determination for nationalities, and the creation of a new international organization to keep the peace. However, they disagreed regarding reparations to be paid by the loser, which Wilson opposed at first. Wilson also wanted lowering of trade barriers and especially freedom of the seas, which the British could not endorse. [128]

Map of Gallipoli peninsula

This textile map highlights some of the landing sites on the Gallipoli peninsula, including Cape Helles and Gaba Tepe.

Many in Britain, notably the First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, believed that knocking the Ottomans out of the war would undermine Germany. They theorised that as a result of this attack, Britain and France would be able to help their weakest partner, Russia that the Suez Canal and Britain’s Middle Eastern oil interests would be secured and that undecided Balkan states, including Bulgaria and Greece, would join the Allied side. It was an exciting and alluring proposition. But it was based on the mistaken belief that the Ottomans were weak and could easily be overcome.

On 19 February 1915, British and French ships began a naval assault on the Dardanelles. The fighting culminated in a heavy setback for the Allies on 18 March due to large losses from Turkish mines. Military landings on the Gallipoli peninsula followed on 25 April. Contained by the Ottoman defenders, a new assault began on 6 August. Each fresh attempt was defeated, and by mid-January 1916, all Allied troops had been evacuated and the attack on the Dardanelles abandoned.

For the Ottomans, it was a major achievement. The Allies succeeded only in attrition, killing thousands of Ottoman soldiers. Even this exacted a high price total casualties for the campaign were more than half a million. The Dardanelles campaign remains one of the First World War’s most controversial episodes.

Rival strategies and the Dardanelles campaign, 1915–16

By late 1914 the state of deadlock on the Western Front had become clear to the governments of the warring countries and even to many members of their general staffs. Each side sought a solution to this deadlock, and the solutions varied in form and manner.

Erich von Falkenhayn had succeeded the dispirited Moltke as chief of the German general staff in September 1914. By the end of 1914 Falkenhayn seems to have concluded that although the final decision would be reached in the West, Germany had no immediate prospect of success there, and that the only practicable theatre of operations in the near future was the Eastern Front, however inconclusive those operations might be. Falkenhayn was convinced of the strength of the Allied trench barrier in France, so he took the momentous decision to stand on the defensive in the West.

Falkenhayn saw that a long war was now inevitable and set to work to develop Germany’s resources for such a warfare of attrition. Thus, the technique of field entrenchment was carried to a higher pitch by the Germans than by any other country Germany’s military railways were expanded for the lateral movement of reserves and the problem of the supply of munitions and of the raw materials for their manufacture was tackled so energetically and comprehensively that an ample flow was ensured from the spring of 1915 onward—a time when the British were only awakening to the problem. Here were laid the foundations of that economic organization and utilization of resources that was to be the secret of Germany’s power to resist the pressure of the British blockade.

The western Allies were divided into two camps about strategy. Joffre and most of the French general staff, backed by the British field marshal Sir John French, argued for continuing assaults on the Germans’ entrenched line in France, despite the continued attrition of French forces that this strategy entailed. Apart from this, the French high command was singularly lacking in ideas to break the deadlock of trench warfare. While desire to hold on to territorial gains governed the German strategy, the desire to recover lost territory dominated the French.

British-inspired solutions to the deadlock crystallized into two main groups, one tactical, the other strategical. The first was to unlock the trench barrier by inventing a machine that would be invulnerable to machine guns and capable of crossing trenches and would thus restore the tactical balance upset by the new preponderance of defensive over offensive power. Such a machine had long been contemplated, and the early years of the 20th century saw the first attempts at a practical armoured fighting vehicle. British efforts were nourished and tended in infancy by Winston Churchill, then first lord of the Admiralty, and ultimately, after months of experiment hampered by official opposition, came to maturity in 1916 in the weapon known as the tank. Some of the British strategists, on the other hand, argued that instead of seeking a breakthrough on the Germans’ impregnable Western Front, the Allies should turn the whole position of the Central Powers either by an offensive through the Balkans or even by a landing on Germany’s Baltic coast. Joffre and his supporters won the argument, and the Balkan projects were relinquished in favour of a concentration of effort on the Western Front. But misgivings were not silenced, and a situation arose that revived the Middle Eastern scheme in a new if attenuated form.

First World War (WWI)

22 April to 25 May, 1915. At the Second Battle of Ypres the Germans attacked, using chlorine gas for the first time. The French Algerian Division fled but the Canadians repulsed numerous assaults. Four Canadians won the Victoria Cross (painting by Richard Jack, courtesy Canadian War Museum/8179). Canadian soldiers returning from Vimy Ridge in France, May 1917. Image courtesy of W.I. Castle/ Canadian Department of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/ PA-001332.

The names of the 11,285 Canadians who died in France in the First World War with no known grave are inscribed on the Vimy Monument. u00a9 Richard Foot Sir Robert Borden reviewing Canadians at Bramshott, [England] April, 1917. Dressing wounded in trench during the battle of Courcelette. Sept. 15, 1916. Canadian writing home from the line. May, 1917. Unable to ride his cycle through the mud caused by the recent storm. A Canadian messenger carries his "horse". August, 1917. Canadians mudlarking on Salisbury Plain, 1914. Pack horses transporting ammunition to the 20th Battery, Canadian Field Artillery. April 1917. div> German prisoners carrying Canadian wounded. Advance east of Arras. Aug 1918.

The First World War of 1914–1918 was the bloodiest conflict in Canadian history, taking the lives of nearly 61,000 Canadians. It erased romantic notions of war, introducing slaughter on a massive scale, and instilled a fear of foreign military involvement that would last until the Second World War. The great achievements of Canadian soldiers on battlefields such as Ypres, Vimy and Passchendaele, however, ignited a sense of national pride and a confidence that Canada could stand on its own, apart from the British Empire, on the world stage. The war also deepened the divide between French and English Canada and marked the beginning of widespread state intervention in society and the economy.

Going to War

The Canadian Parliament didn't choose to go to war in 1914. The country's foreign affairs were guided in London. So when Britain's ultimatum to Germany to withdraw its army from Belgium expired on 4 August 1914, the British Empire, including Canada, was at war, allied with Serbia, Russia, and France against the German and Austro-Hungarian empires.

With a young Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty (courtesy National Archives of Canada/C-2082). General Sir Sam Hughes, Canadian Minister of Militia and Defence, 1911-1916. u00a0Image: Canadian Department of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/C-020240. Canadian Patriotic Fund Poster, 1917. Image: Library and Archives Canada/1983-28-581. WWI recruitment poster for women, 1914-1918. Image: Library and Archives Canada/1983-28-1504.

The war united Canadians at first. The Liberal opposition urged Prime MinisterSir Robert Borden’s Conservative government to take sweeping powers under the new War Measures Act. Minister of Militia Sam Hughes summoned 25,000 volunteers to train at a new camp at Valcartier near Québec some 33,000 appeared. On 3 October, the First Contingent of 30,617 men sailed for England. Much of Canada's war effort was launched by volunteers. The Canadian Patriotic Fund collected money to support soldiers' families. A Military Hospitals Commission cared for the sick and wounded. Churches, charities, women's organizations, and the Red Cross found ways to "do their bit" for the war effort. (See Wartime Home Front and Canadian Children and the Great War.) In patriotic fervour, Canadians demanded that Germans and Austrians be dismissed from their jobs and interned (see Internment), and pressured Berlin, Ontario, to rename itself Kitchener.

A Canadian perspective, from the Legion's Legacies.

War and the Economy

At first the war hurt a troubled economy, increasing unemployment and making it hard for Canada's new, debt-ridden transcontinental railways, the Canadian Northern and the Grand Trunk Pacific, to find credit. By 1915, however, military spending equaled the entire government expenditure of 1913. Minister of Finance Thomas White opposed raising taxes. Since Britain could not afford to lend to Canada, White turned to the US.

Also, despite the belief that Canadians would never lend to their own government, White had to take the risk. In 1915 he asked for $50 million he got $100 million. In 1917 the government's Victory Loan campaign began raising huge sums from ordinary citizens for the first time. Canada's war effort was financed mainly by borrowing. Between 1913 and 1918, the national debt rose from $463 million to $2.46 billion, an enormous sum at that time.

Canada's economic burden would have been unbearable without huge exports of wheat, timber and munitions. A prewar crop failure had been a warning to prairie farmers of future droughts, but a bumper crop in 1915 and soaring prices banished caution. Since many farm labourers had joined the Army, farmers began to complain of a labour shortage. It was hoped that factories shut down by the recession would profit from the war. Manufacturers formed a Shell Committee, got contracts to make British artillery ammunition, and created a new industry. It was not easy. By summer 1915, the committee had orders worth $170 million but had delivered only $5.5 million in shells. The British government insisted on reorganization. The resulting Imperial Munitions Board was a British agency in Canada, though headed by a talented, hard-driving Canadian, Joseph Flavelle. By 1917, Flavelle had made the IMB Canada's biggest business, with 250,000 workers. When the British stopped buying in Canada in 1917, Flavelle negotiated huge new contracts with the Americans.

Recruitment at Home

Unemployed workers flocked to enlist in 1914–15. Recruiting, handled by prewar militia regiments and by civic organizations, cost the government nothing. By the end of 1914 the target for the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) was 50,000 by summer 1915 it was 150,000. During a visit to England that summer, Prime Minister Borden was shocked with the magnitude of the struggle. To demonstrate Canadian commitment to the war effort, Borden used his 1916 New Year's message to pledge 500,000 soldiers from a Canadian population of barely 8 million. By then, volunteering had virtually run dry. Early contingents had been filled by recent British immigrants enlistments in 1915 had taken most of the Canadian-born who were willing to go. The total, 330,000, was impressive but insufficient.

Canadian Patriotic Fund Poster, 1917. Image: Library and Archives Canada/1983-28-581. WWI recruitment poster for French Canadians, 1914-1918. Image: Library and Archives Canada/1983-28-794. Victory Bond poster on College Street in Toronto, Ontario, 1917. Image: John Boyd/Library and Archives Canada/PA-071302.

Recruiting methods became fervid and divisive. Clergy preached Christian duty women wore badges proclaiming "Knit or Fight" more and more English Canadians complained that French Canada was not doing its share. This was not surprising: few French Canadians felt deep loyalty to France or Britain. Those few in Borden's government had won election in 1911 by opposing imperialism. Henri Bourassa, leader and spokesman of Québec's nationalists, initially approved of the war but soon insisted that French Canada's real enemies were not Germans but "English-Canadian anglicisers, the Ontario intriguers, or Irish priests" who were busy ending French-language education in English-speaking provinces like Ontario (seeThe Battle of the Hatpins). In Québec and across Canada, unemployment gave way to high wages and a manpower shortage. There were good economic reasons to stay home.

The Canadian Expeditionary Force

Canadians in the CEF became part of the British army. As minister of militia, Sam Hughesinsisted on choosing the officers and on retaining the Canadian-made Ross rifle. Since the rifle jammed easily and since some of Hughes' choices were incompetent cronies, the Canadian military had serious deficiencies. A recruiting system based on forming hundreds of new battalions meant that most of them arrived in England only to be broken up, leaving a large residue of unhappy senior officers. Hughes believed that Canadian civilians (rather than professional soldiers) would make natural soldiers in practice they had many costly lessons to learn. They did so with courage and self-sacrifice.

A Canadian solider looking through a shell hole in the Cathedral in Ypres, Belgium. November, 1917.u00a0Image: Canadian Department of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-002136. Image: u00a9 Canadian War Museum/Beaverbrook Collection of War Art/19710261-0179. Canadian soldiers returning from the Battle of the Somme in France. November, 1916. Image: W.I. Castle/Library and Archives Canada/PA-000832. A Canadian heavy howitzer during the Battle of Somme, France. November, 1916. Image courtesy of Canadian Department of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-000917.u00a0

At the second Battle of Ypres, April 1915, a raw 1st Canadian Division suffered 6,036 casualties, and the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry a further 678. The troops also shed their defective Ross rifles. At the St. Eloi craters in 1916, the 2nd Division suffered a painful setback because its senior commanders failed to locate their men. In June, the 3rd Division was shattered at Mount Sorrel though the position was recovered by the now battle-hardened 1st Division. The test of battle eliminated inept officers and showed survivors that careful staff work, preparation, and discipline were vital.

Canadians were spared the early battles of the Somme in the summer of 1916, though a separate Newfoundland force, 1st Newfoundland Regiment, was annihilated at Beaumont Hamel on the disastrous first day, 1 July. When Canadians entered the battle on 30 August, their experience helped toward limited gains, though at high cost. By the end of the battle the Canadian Corps had reached its full strength of four divisions. (See Battle of Courcelette.)

The embarrassing confusion of Canadian administration in England, and Hughes's reluctance to displace his cronies, forced Borden's government to establish a separate Ministry of Overseas Military Forces based in London to control the CEF overseas. Bereft of much power, Hughes resigned in November 1916. The Act creating the new ministry established that the CEF was now a Canadian military organization, though its day-to-day relations with the British Army did not change immediately. Two ministers, Sir George Perley and then Sir Edward Kemp, gradually reformed overseas administration and expanded effective Canadian control over the CEF.

Other Canadian Efforts

While most Canadians served with the Canadian Corps or with a separate Canadian cavalry brigade on the Western Front, Canadians could be found almost everywhere in the Allied war effort. Young Canadians had trained (initially at their own expense) to become pilots in the British flying services. In 1917 the Royal Flying Corps opened schools in Canada, and by war's end almost a quarter of the pilots in the Royal Air Force were Canadians. Three of them, Major William A. Bishop, Major Raymond Collishaw, and Colonel William Barker, ranked among the top air aces of the war. An independent Canadian air force was authorized in the last months of the war (see The Great War in the Air.)

WWI Captain W.A. Bishop, V.C., Royal Flying Corps in France, August, 1917. Image courtesy of William Rider-Rider/Library and Archives Canada/PA-001654. School of Aviation, Royal Flying Corps Canada, University of Toronto, 1917. Image: Canadian Department of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada.C-020396. Colonel Barker, VC, in one of the captured German airplanes against which he fought his last battle (courtesy British Library). Recruitment poster for the Royal Naval Canadian Volunteer Reserve, 1914-1918. Image: Library and Archives Canada/1983-28-839.

Canadians also served with the Royal Navy, and Canada's own tiny naval service organized a coastal submarine patrol.

Thousands of Canadians cut down forests in Scotland and France and built and operated most of the railways behind the British front. Others ran steamers on the Tigris River, cared for the wounded at Salonika (Thessaloniki), Greece, and fought Bolsheviks at Archangel and Baku (see Canadian Intervention in Russian Civil War).

Vimy and Passchendaele

British and French strategists deplored diversions from the main effort against the bulk of the German forces on the European Western Front. It was there, they said, that war must be waged. A battle-hardened Canadian Corps was a major instrument in this war of attrition (seeCanadian Command during the Great War). Its skill and training were tested on Easter weekend, 1917, when all four divisions were sent forward to capture a seemingly impregnable Vimy Ridge. Weeks of rehearsals, stockpiling, and bombardment paid off. In five days, the ridge was taken.

Canadian machine gunners dig themselves into shell holes on Vimy Ridge, France, April 1917 (courtesy Library and Archives Canada/PA-1017). Canadian soldiers bringing back the wounded at Vimy Ridge in France. April, 1917. Image: the Canadian Department of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-001042. Canadian soldiers returning from Vimy Ridge in France, May, 1917. Image courtesy of W.I. Castle/ Canadian Department of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/ PA-001332. The preserved WWI trenches at Vimy Ridge, France (photo by Jacqueline Hucker). Julian Hedworth George Byng, May 1917. Byng had acted honestly as Governor General with Prime Minister King in the 1920s (see King-Byng Affair), but he departed from Canada under a shadow (courtesy Library and Archives Canada/PA-1356). Image: Department of National Defense/Library and Archives Canada/PA-001370. Wounded Canadians on their way to an aid-post, Battle of Passchendaele, November 1917 (courtesy Library and Archives Canada/PA-2107). Laying trench mats over the mud during the Battle of Passchendaele, November, 1917. Image courtesy of William Rider-Rider/Canadian Department of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-002156.

The able British commander of the corps, Lt-Gen Sir Julian Byng, was promoted his successor was a Canadian, Lt-Gen Sir Arthur Currie, who followed Byng's methods and improved on them. Instead of attacking Lens in the summer of 1917, Currie captured the nearby Hill 70 and used artillery to destroy wave after wave of German counterattacks. As an increasingly independent subordinate, Currie questioned orders, but he could not refuse them. When ordered to finish the disastrous British offensive at Passchendaele in October 1917, Currie warned that it would cost 16,000 of his 120,000 men. Though he insisted on time to prepare, the Canadian victory on the dismal and water-logged battlefield left a toll of 15,654 dead and wounded.

Borden and Conscription

By 1916, even the patriotic leagues had confessed the failure of voluntary recruiting. Business leaders, Protestants, and English-speaking Catholics such as Bishop Michael Fallon grew critical of French Canada. Faced with a growing demand for conscription, the Borden government compromised in August 1916 with a program of national registration. A prominent Montréal manufacturer, Arthur Mignault, was put in charge of Québec recruiting and, for the first time, public funds were provided. A final attempt to raise a French Canadian battalion — the 14th for Quebec and the 258th overall for Canada — utterly failed in 1917.

Union Government campaign poster, 1914-1918. Image courtesy of Library and Archives Canada, 1983-28-726. Anti-conscription rally in Victoria Square, Montréal, Quebec on May 24th, 1917. Image: Library and Archives Canada/C-006859. WWI recruitment poster for women, 1914-1918. Image: Library and Archives Canada/1983-28-1504. Henri Bourassa, 1917. Image: Library and Archives Canada/C-009092.

Until 1917, Borden had no more news of the war or Allied strategy than he read in newspapers. He was concerned about British war leadership but he devoted 1916 to improving Canadian military administration and munitions production. In December 1916, David Lloyd George became head of a new British coalition government pledged wholeheartedly to winning the war. An expatriate Canadian, Max Aitken, Lord Beaverbrook, helped engineer the change. Faced by suspicious officials and a failing war effort, Lloyd George summoned leaders of the Dominions to London. They would see for themselves that the Allies needed more men. On 2 March, when Borden and his fellow premiers met, Russia was collapsing, the French army was close to mutiny, and German submarines had almost cut off supplies to Britain.

Borden was a leader in establishing a voice for the Dominions in policy making and in gaining a more independent status for them in the postwar world. Visits to Canadian camps and hospitals also persuaded him that the CEF needed more men. The triumph of Vimy Ridge during his visit gave all Canadians pride but it cost 10,602 casualties, 3,598 of them fatal. Borden returned to Canada committed to conscription. On 18 May 1917 he told Canadians of his government's new policy. The 1914 promise of an all-volunteer contingent had been superseded by events.

Many in English-speaking Canada­ — ­farmers, trade union leaders, pacifists, and Indigenous leaders —­ opposed conscription, but they had few outlets for their views. French Canada's opposition was almost unanimous under Henri Bourassa, who argued that Canada had done enough, that Canada's interests were not served by the European conflict, and that men were more needed to grow food and make munitions.

Borden felt such arguments were cold and materialistic. Canada owed its support to its young soldiers. The Allied struggle against Prussian militarism was a crusade for freedom. There was no bridging the rival points of view. To win conscription, Borden offered Sir Wilfrid Laurier a coalition. The Liberal leader refused, sure that his party could now defeat the Conservatives. He also feared that if he joined Borden, Bourassa's nationalism would sweep Québec. Laurier misjudged his support.

Many English-speaking Liberals agreed that the war was a crusade. A mood of reform and sacrifice had led many provinces to grant votes to women and to prohibit the sale or use of liquor (seeTemperance Movement in Canada). Although they disliked the Conservatives, many reform Liberals like Ontario's Newton Rowell believed that Borden was in earnest about the war and Laurier was not. Borden also gave himself two political weapons: on 20 September 1917 Parliament gave the franchise to all soldiers, including those overseas it also gave votes to soldiers' wives, mothers and sisters, as well as to women serving in the armed forces, and took it away from Canadians of enemy origin who had become citizens since 1902 (seeWartime Elections Act). This added many votes for conscription and removed certain Liberal voters from the lists. On 6 October, Parliament was dissolved. Five days later, Borden announced a coalition Union government pledged to conscription, an end to political patronage, and full Women's Suffrage.

Eight of Canada's nine provinces endorsed the new government, but Laurier could dominate Québec, and many Liberals across Canada would not forget their allegiance. Borden and his ministers had to promise many exemptions to make conscription acceptable. On 17 December, Unionists won 153 seats to Laurier's 82, but without the soldiers' vote, only 100,000 votes separated the parties (see Election of 1917). Conscription was not applied until 1 January 1918. The Military Service Act had so many opportunities for exemption and appeal, that of more than 400,000 called, 380,510 appealed. The manpower problem continued.

Although conscription was controversial, dividing English and French Canada, 24,132 conscripted soldiers (“MSA men”) reached the Western Front in time to join the Canadian Expeditionary Force for the huge battles of 1918. This was vital during the final hundred days of war between August and November 1918 (see Canada’s Hundred Days). With 48 infantry battalions of roughly 1000 men each, the Canadian Corps was greatly boosted by the 24,000-plus conscripts in the last months of the war—the “MSA men” represented a boost of about 500 men per battalion for the CEF in the final stage of the war.

The Final Phase

In March 1918, disaster fell upon the Allies. German armies, moved from the Eastern to the Western Front after Russia's collapse in 1917, smashed through British lines. The Fifth British Army was destroyed. In Canada, anti-conscription riots in Québec on Easter weekend left four dead. Borden's new government cancelled all exemptions. Many who had voted Unionist in the belief that their sons would be exempted felt betrayed.

Canadian advance east of Arras, France: Cambrai on fire, October 1918 (courtesy Library and Archives Canada/PA-3420). The aftermath of the Halifax Explosion, December 6th, 1917. Image courtesy of Canadian Patent and Copyright Office/Library and Archives Canada/C-001832.

The war had entered a bitter final phase. On 6 December 1917 the Halifax Explosion killed over 1,600, and it was followed by the worst snowstorm in years. Across Canada, the heavy borrowing of Sir Thomas White (federal minister of finance) finally led to runaway inflation. Workers joined unions and struck for higher wages. Food and fuel controllers now preached conservation, sought increased production and sent agents to prosecute hoarders. Public pressure to "conscript wealth" forced a reluctant White in April 1917 to impose a Business Profits Tax and a War Income Tax (see Taxation in Canada). An "anti-loafing" law threatened jail for any man not gainfully employed. Federal police forces were ordered to hunt for sedition. Socialist parties and radical unions were banned. So were newspapers published in the "enemy" languages. Canadians learned to live with unprecedented government controls and involvement in their daily lives. Food and fuel shortages led to "Meatless Fridays" and "Fuelless Sundays."

In other warring countries, exhaustion and despair went far deeper. Defeat now faced the western Allies, but the Canadian Corps escaped the succession of German offensives.Sir Arthur Currie insisted that it be kept together. A 5th Canadian division, held in England since 1916, was finally broken up to provide reinforcements.

The United States entered the war in the spring of 1917, sending reinforcements and supplies that would eventually turn the tide against Germany. To help restore the Allied line, Canadians and Australians attacked near Amiens on 8 August 1918 (see Battle of Amiens). Shock tactics — using airplanes, tanks, and infantry — shattered the German line. In September and early October the Canadians attacked again and again, suffering heavy casualties but making advances thought unimaginable (see Battle of Cambrai). The Germans fought with skill and courage all the way to Mons, the little Belgian town where fighting ended for the Canadians at 11 a.m. (Greenwich time), 11 November 1918. More officially, the war ended with the Treaty of Versailles, signed 28 June 1919.

Canada alone lost 61,000 war dead. Many more returned from the conflict mutilated in mind or body. More than 170,000 were seriously wounded in battle, and thousands more suffered from “shell-shock” (see Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in Canada). The survivors found that almost every facet of Canadian life, from the length of skirts to the value of money, had been transformed by the war years. Governments had assumed responsibilities they would never abandon. Theincome taxwould survive the war. So would government departments later to become the Department ofVeterans Affairsand the Department of Pensions and National Health.

Overseas, Canada's soldiers had struggled to achieve, and had won, a considerable degree of autonomy from British control. Canada's direct reward for her sacrifices was a modest presence at the Paris Peace Conference at Versailles (see Treaty of Versailles) and a seat in the new League of Nations. However, the deep national divisions between French and English created by the war, and especially by the conscription crisis of 1917, made postwar Canada fearful of international responsibilities. Canadians had done great things in the war but they had not done them together.

Credit: © Richard Foot. The Vimy Monument atop Hill 145 on Vimy Ridge u00a9 Richard Foot National War Memorial, Ottawa - Confederation Square (courtesy Parks Canada, photo by B. Morin). First World War Canadian memorial at St Julien known as the Brooding Soldier. It is located at a road junction called Vancouver Corner by the hamlet of Keerslare, close to the village of St Julien (or St Juliaan in Flemish), in the Ypres Salient of the First World War Western Front. It marks where Canadian troops stood firm against German poison gas and infantry attacks in the opening phases of the Second Battle of Ypres, 22 to 24 April 1915. Photo taken on: June 30, 2011 Newfoundland Monument at Beaumont Hamel, France (photo by Jacqueline Hucker).

World War I Era and Sportswear

The more relaxed attitude towards gender-specific clothing combined with women&aposs more active lifestyles inspired what we now call sportswear.

Skiing, for instance, went from a practical activity to a popular sport. As long skirts were unsuitable for skiing as well as many other activities, women began to wear a short knee-length skirt over knickerbockers.

Burberry produced jackets and pants an all-weather gabardine that protected the wearer from wind and snow.

Bathing costumes became less about modesty and more about the ability to actually swim. The one-piece bathing suit was born, offering women greater freedom of movement in the water. Smaller suits were generally worn by competitive swimmers, however many swim costumes remained long and dress-like.

First World War : End of 1915 - History

The interactive parts of this resource no longer work, but it has been archived so you can continue using the rest of it.

The blockade of Germany

Since the early 18th century, trade blockades had been a vital coercive element in the maintenance of British naval supremacy. This supremacy was still very much intact when war broke out in August 1914. The British government moved immediately to strangle the supply of raw materials and foodstuffs to Germany and its allies. This marked the beginning of the 'hunger blockade', a war of attrition that lasted until Germany signed the Treaty of Versailles in June 1919.

Armed with contraband lists, British naval ships spent the war patrolling the North Sea, intercepting and detaining thousands of merchant ships thought to be harbouring cargo bound for enemy shores. This aggressive display of maritime power aroused considerable anger in neutral countries, many of whom enjoyed strong trading links with Germany.

Tension was heightened after the North Sea was declared a British 'military area' on 3 November 1914. Despite complaints about breaches of international law, however, most neutral merchant ships agreed to put into British ports for inspection and were subsequently escorted - minus any 'illegal' cargo bound for Germany - through the British-laid minefields to their final destinations.

The blockade strategy worked effectively. As a memorandum to the War Cabinet on 1 January 1917 stated, very few supplies were reaching Germany or its allies - either through the North Sea or through other areas such as Austria's Adriatic ports, subject to a French blockade since the first month of the war.

Submarine warfare

Germany attempted to counter the crippling effects of the blockade with a new weapon that seemed capable of subverting British naval superiority: the submarine. For much of the war, German submarines (or 'U-boats') were deployed only intermittently against neutral and Allied shipping. Their devastating impact - as witnessed, for example, in the sinking of the Lusitania in May 1915 - was offset by the international opprobrium that such attacks aroused.

From 1 February 1917, however, the German naval command adopted a policy of 'unrestricted submarine warfare'. Despite initial successes, this high-risk strategy did not work. It finally provoked the USA into entering the war against the Central Powers (in April 1917) and its worst effects were successfully countered by the introduction of a convoy system. The blockade continued unabated.

The 'hunger blockade'

The German government made strenuous attempts to alleviate the worst effects of the blockade. The Hindenburg programme, introduced in December 1916, was designed to raise productivity by ordering the compulsory employment of all men between the ages of 17 and 60. A complicated system of rationing, first introduced in January 1915, aimed to ensure that at least minimum nutritional needs were met. In larger cities, 'war kitchens' provided cheap meals en masse to impoverished local citizens.

Starvation and disease

Such schemes, however, enjoyed only limited success. The average daily diet of 1,000 calories was insufficient even for small children. Disorders related to malnutrition - scurvy, tuberculosis and dysentery - were common by 1917.

Official statistics attributed nearly 763,000 wartime deaths in Germany to starvation caused by the Allied blockade. This figure excluded the further 150,000 German victims of the 1918 influenza pandemic, which inevitably caused disproportionate suffering among those already weakened by malnutrition and related diseases.

Although the blockade made an important contribution to the Allied victory, many of its devastating side effects cast a long shadow over post-war German society.

Further research

The following references give an idea of the sources held by The National Archives on the subject of this chapter. These documents can be seen on site at The National Archives.

First World War : End of 1915 - History

T he final Allied push towards the German border began on October 17, 1918. As the British, French and American armies advanced, the alliance between the Central Powers began to collapse. Turkey signed an armistice at the end of October, Austria-Hungary followed on November 3.

Germany began to crumble from within. Faced with the prospect of returning to sea, the sailors of

America troops at the front celebrate
the end of the fighting, Nov 11, 1918
the High Seas Fleet stationed at Kiel mutinied on October 29. Within a few days, the entire city was in their control and the revolution spread throughout the country. On November 9 the Kaiser abdicated slipping across the border into the Netherlands and exile. A German Republic was declared and peace feelers extended to the Allies. At 5 AM on the morning of November 11 an armistice was signed in a railroad car parked in a French forest near the front lines.

The terms of the agreement called for the cessation of fighting along the entire Western Front to begin at precisely 11 AM that morning. After over four years of bloody conflict, the Great War was at an end.

". at the front there was no celebration."

Colonel Thomas Gowenlock served as an intelligence officer in the American 1st Division. He was on the front line that November morning and wrote of his experience a few years later:

"On the morning of November 11 I sat in my dugout in Le Gros Faux, which was again our division headquarters, talking to our Chief of Staff, Colonel John Greely, and Lieutenant Colonel Paul Peabody, our G-1. A signal corps officer entered and handed us the following message:

'Well - fini la guerre!' said Colonel Greely.

'It sure looks like it,' I agreed.

'Do you know what I want to do now?' he said. 'I'd like to get on one of those little horse-drawn canal boats in southern France and lie in the sun the rest of my life.'

My watch said nine o'clock. With only two hours to go, I drove over to the bank of the Meuse River to see the finish. The shelling was heavy and, as I walked down the road, it grew steadily worse. It seemed to me that every battery in the world was trying to burn up its guns. At last eleven o'clock came - but the firing continued. The men on both sides had decided to give each other all they had-their farewell to arms. It was a very natural impulse after their years of war, but unfortunately many fell after eleven o'clock that day.

All over the world on November 11, 1918, people were celebrating, dancing in the streets, drinking champagne, hailing the

Celebration in Paris
Nov 11, 1918
armistice that meant the end of the war. But at the front there was no celebration. Many soldiers believed the Armistice only a temporary measure and that the war would soon go on. As night came, the quietness, unearthly in its penetration, began to eat into their souls. The men sat around log fires, the first they had ever had at the front. They were trying to reassure themselves that there were no enemy batteries spying on them from the next hill and no German bombing planes approaching to blast them out of existence. They talked in low tones. They were nervous.

After the long months of intense strain, of keying themselves up to the daily mortal danger, of thinking always in terms of war and the enemy, the abrupt release from it all was physical and psychological agony. Some suffered a total nervous collapse. Some, of a steadier temperament, began to hope they would someday return to home and the embrace of loved ones. Some could think only of the crude little crosses that marked the graves of their comrades. Some fell into an exhausted sleep. All were bewildered by the sudden meaninglessness of their existence as soldiers - and through their teeming memories paraded that swiftly moving cavalcade of Cantigny, Soissons, St. Mihiel, the Meuse-Argonne and Sedan.

What was to come next? They did not know - and hardly cared. Their minds were numbed by the shock of peace. The past consumed their whole consciousness. The present did not exist-and the future was inconceivable."

Colonel Gowenlock's account appears in Gowenlock, Thomas R., Soldiers of Darkness (1936), reprinted in Angle, Paul, M., The American Reader (1958) Simkins, Peter, World War I, the Western Front (1991).

Artillery Combat in the First World War

World War 1 is often seen as a mindless slaughter fest that saw little tactical innovation nor major methodical advancements. There are many reasons for this ranging from anti-war literature to military writers that were directly affected by the war. And of course the so called “Great War” was overshadowed by its bigger brother the Second World War, which saw the widespread and revolutionary use of tanks, the rise of air power and the end of the battleship. Yet, many of these revolutionary tactics, doctrines and vehicles can be traced back to World War 1. Although in 1914 many tactics and approaches were quite blunt and obsolete, by 1918 a lot of innovations took hold or were fully implemented already. (Steel Wind: p. 1-2 (amazon affiliate link))

Artillery tactics 1914-1918

This video will focus on how the use of Artillery changed throughout the war and cover some of the many major innovations. Artillery tactics changed to a large degree from 1914 to 1918, whereas in 1914 the use of artillery in tactics and techniques had still a strong resemblance to the Napoleonic era, in 1918 the foundations of a modern artillery is clearly recognizable. Although the basic principles of indirect fire, massed fire, counter-battery fire, calibration and meteorological corrections and combined arms were known, they were usually not applied on the field in 1914, yet in 1918 these principles were used consistently and to a large degree by all sides. (Steel Wind: p. 2-3)

The situation prior to the War

Let’s begin, prior to 1914 all sides envisioned a highly mobile war with a strong focus on offensive operations. Furthermore, artillery was mostly seen as a direct fire weapon that would be brought forward with galloping horses at crucial moments and support the attack of the infantry.
Yet, this wasn’t possible at all, because the increase in firepower was enormous, not only from machine guns, but also from regular rifles, because their ranges usually could reach artillery that was using direct fire. Furthermore, the combined fire power of artillery, rifles and machine guns forced the infantry into trenches, but direct fire artillery against trenches doesn’t work. Hence, the traditional artillery used in a direct fire role was suddenly both vulnerable and quite ineffective in the early stages of the war. (Steel Wind: p. 5-6)

The four phases of artillery employment according to J.B.A. Bailey

So let’s take a look at the different phases and challenges the artillery faced during the First World War. The four major phases as described by the British Colonel J.B.A. Bailey are as follows:
Inadequacy (1914), Experimentation and Build-up (1915), Destruction (1916-1917) and finally Neutralization (1917-1918)

Inadequacy (1914)

In the beginning of the war the artillery was mostly an auxiliary arm, it should support the infantry, but there was little training or doctrine available in order to coordinate such efforts. This often led to friendly fire incidents. In terms of coordination of artillery itself, there were major limits too. The highest level for coordination was the division and in some cases it was only at battalion level. (Steel Wind: p. 5-7)

The massing of artillery was still performed like in Napoleons time, a large number of guns was placed next to each other in an area as close to the front as possible. The use of the artillery as a direct fire weapon was still the common approach, although the Russo- Japanese War (1904-1905) already showed that indirect fire was necessary due to the increased firepower of small arms that forced the artillery further behind the front line. Additionally in 1914, there was no real concept nor focus on counter-battery fire, some doctrines even forbade using artillery against enemy artillery. (Steel Wind: p. 5-7)

Due to the focus on mobility and offensive operations prior to the war, field artillery was first and foremost light. As a result these guns were too light to do real damage against field fortifications and trenches. Additionally, they were setup for a low trajectory line of fire and limited range. As Zabecki notes exemplary about the French:

“Prewar French doctrine envisioned using the 75-mm gun to maximum ranges of only 4,500 meters. The gun itself could fire out to 9,000 meters but to conform to doctrine, the carriage and fire control instruments were constructed for a maximum range of only 6,000 meters.” (Steel Wind: p. 7)

Ammo Problems

The Inadequacy was also a problem in terms of supplies, especially when it came to ammo. All armies had far too less ammo stockpiled. Let’s take a look at the ammo consumption rates of artillery rounds per month from 1866 onward:(Steel Wind: p. 6-8, Table 2.1)

Year War Army Rounds
1866 Austro-Prussian German 20 000
1870 Franco-Prussian German 81 000
1904 Russo-Japanese Russian 87 000
1912 First Balkan Bulgarian 254 000
1914 World War I French 900 000
1916 World War I French 4 500 000
1918 World War I German 8 000 000

As you can clearly see there was a constant increase. Now let’s take a look at the consumption rate in the Great War.
Yet, the national stockpiles and industries weren’t sufficient for this amount of ammo consumption.
The French assumed a consumption of 100 000 rounds per month, but used 900 000 rounds, considering that in the First Balkan war 254 000 rounds were used per month, this number was either dated or didn’t take into account the latest developments. Thus, at beginning of the war in 1914 the French Army had less than 5 million rounds in stock. The Russians had 12 million. The Germans more than 20 million, but they also had more artillery than the French.

Besides the shortage of ammo, there was another problem, the main type of ammo in 1914 was the shrapnel round. A shrapnel round was filled with iron balls that extended in a cone-shaped pattern when it exploded (The Field Artillery – History & Sourcebook p. 48), so in a way it acted like a flying shotgun. It could cover an area of about 25 meters (82 ft) wide and 150 meters (492 ft) long (values for a 75mm gun). Shrapnel was only useful against troops on open ground, because it was quite ineffective against dug in troops and basically useless against fortifications.
The alternative were high explosive shells which killed by tiny steel fragments and air burst. (The Field Artillery – History & Sourcebook p. 48) Furthermore, it allowed to destroy and damage field fortifications and entrenchments, something the shrapnel round was unable to do. Thus, the high explosive (HE) round became the most important round, which at the end of the war was almost as deadly against troops in the open as shrapnel. (Steel Wind: p. 7-9)

Lack of Large Guns and/or Lack of Doctrine for them

Although ammo was a major problem for all nations, when it came to heavier guns like howitzers, there was a clear difference between France, the German and the British Empire. The French fielded an excellent 75mm field gun the M1897, but they assumed it would be able to deal with all targets, thus there was only a very small amount of heavy long-range artillery available. In contrast the Germans took lessons from the Russo-Japanese (1904-1905) war and had a larger number of heavy guns, but their doctrine was lacking and thus couldn’t really exploit the numerical superiority in heavy artillery. The British had taken lessons from the Second Boer War (1899-1902) and had a large number of heavier guns, yet the British Expeditionary Force that landed in France 1914 had only a small amount of these heavy guns with them. (Steel Wind: p. 10 -11) Hence, every side had its own far share of limitations, but let’s take a closer look at the numbers.

In 1914 the French had 3840 75 mm guns, but they only had 308 guns with a larger caliber than 75mm. In comparison the Germans in 1914 had 5086 77mm field guns and 2280 larger artillery guns, whereas the British in 1914 had 1608 light guns and 1248 heavy guns in total, but only a small portion in the British Expeditionary Force in France.
By 1918 these numbers changed quite considerably, the French in November 1918 had 4968 field guns and 5128 artillery pieces above 75 mm. Thus, they had more than 10 times the heavy artillery than in 1914. But let’s look at the Germans, in 1918 they fielded 6764 field and guns and 12 286 artillery pieces above 77 mm. Thus still outgunning the French in heavy artillery. Although, if we add the British guns of 1918, with 3242 light guns and 3195 heavy guns in France, the gap in heavy artillery gets smaller but is still significant. (Steel Wind: p. 10 -11)

Experimentation and Build-up (1915)

Now, back to 1915, after the war reached a static stalemate on the Western Front the Armies began to adapt their techniques. The artillery units also faced a major leadership problem, due to the rapid expansion in 1914 and 1915. This was especially true for the French artillery, because many artillery NCOs were transferred to the machine-gun units. (Steel Wind: p. 12-13) Thus, many of the techniques needed to kept simple.

Methods of indirect fire

One of the major changes was to shift to effective indirect fire. Since Napoleon the basic technique was to mass fire, but due the increase in firepower from small arms and machine guns, the artillery needed to be deployed behind the front lines. Hence, the only possibility to mass fire was by using indirect fire. Basically, two approaches for indirect fire were developed and used in the Great War: Observed fire and unobserved fire.

Observed fire

Observed fire as the name suggest needs an artillery observer, he locates the target and communicates the coordinates accordingly, furthermore if necessary information to adjust range or direction is passed on.

There were several disadvantages with this approach:
1) The Observer needs a line of sight to the target.
2) Any adjustment of the firing solution would result in sacrificing any surprise, which allowed troops to either move out of the area or take cover. It should be noted that taking cover considerable lowered the effectiveness of an artillery strike, something that is usually not well portrayed in movies nor computer games. (Steel Wind: p. 13-14)
3) The observer needs a reliable line of communication, which was usually not possibly due to technical limitations and/or battle damage. (The Field Artillery – History & Sourcebook p. 46-47)

Unobserved fire

The alternative to observed fire was unobserved fire, yet it relied on maps and was done without adjustments. This is one of the reasons why modern military maps are usually way more accurate and full of elevation information, but at the beginning of the war that information was usually not available. Another problem was, that since no adjustments were performed the fire would also be incorrect, due to the fact that firing tables were based on standard data, which relied on standard conditions and well, you don’t have standard conditions in real life. Factors like weather, the conditions of the gun tubes and the different quality of ammo lead to inaccurate unobserved fire even if the maps were precise enough. (Steel Wind: p. 12-13) To address these challenges various methods like registration and other techniques were developed during the war to allow for more precise unobserved fire.

Standing & Creeping Barrage

Another area of improvement was the change from Standing Barrages to Creeping Barrages. In the beginning the basic attack pattern was a standing barrage. This meant that the enemy line was shelled for a certain period of time, during that time the defending units often moved away from their defensive position or into secured underground shelters. After the artillery attack ended, the units moved back into position, thus when the infantry began its attack it would usually still face strong opposition from the defending infantry. (Steel Wind: p. 14)

To counter these, the so called creeping barrage was developed, which slowly moved ahead of an infantry attack, first shelling the target area and then moving to the next area. The problem with the creeping barrage is that the attacking infantry had to move through heavily shelled terrain during their advance. (Steel Wind: p. 14) To put it simply, in 1915 the armies developed or consolidated their abilities in indirect fire and basic artillery coordination.

Focus on Destruction (1916-1917)

Now, the time period of 1916 to 1917 saw the artillery becoming “a blunt instrument of the indiscriminate hammering of entire patches of real estate.” (Steel Wind: p. 14)
The main goal during this period was to destroy enemy infantry and enemy fortifications. Additionally, artillery should serve as wire cutter by destroying enemy barb wire through extensive shelling. If you think this might be a quite a loud and expensive way to cut wire, well you might be right:
4 75mm field guns at a range of 2500 meters needed about 600 rounds to sufficiently destroy an area of 25 by 30 meters of barbed wire. Of course the number of shells increased at a range of 7000 meters the amount of rounds doubled to 1200. (Steel Wind: p. 14) Now, destroying barb wire was not some rare objective.
The artillery basically became a tool for almost anything, no matter how suited or unsuited it was. This lead to extensive shelling of enemy positions prior to attacks.

April-June 1917 Field Artillery Journal of the United States Field Artillery Association
Zabecki points out that the April-June 1917 issue of Field Artillery Journal of the United States Field Artillery Association, gives a very good picture of the prevailing doctrine at the time. It summarizes the steps for an attack the following way:

No attack is possible until after an intense and effective artillery preparation, which has for its objects:
(a) To destroy the enemy’s barbed wire
(b) To disintegrate and destroy enemy’s trenches and dugouts, and to destroy or annihilate their defenders
(c) To prevent, or at least to interfere with, hostile artillery action
(d) To prevent the passage of the enemy’s reserves by curtain (barrage) fire and
(e) To destroy the machine guns wherever they can be located.

In short, the artillery should basically do almost everything besides moving into the enemy trenches. Notice that the first objective was destroying the barbed wire, only on the third and fifth objective were the enemy artillery and machine guns. The problem was the success of these artillery attacks was limited, any surprise was lost during the long shelling of the enemy position, during that time the enemy could prepare counter-measures and move troops into positions. Additionally, many troops moved into secured concrete bunkers or left the attacked positions. Even if the barb wire was destroyed, the terrain was usually also hard to traverse for infantry and especially for any artillery or guns that would be needed to support any deeper advancement into the enemy lines. (Steel Wind: p. 15-16)

The limited effectiveness of a long preparation attack can probably best illustrated by taking a look at the British attack at the Somme in June/July 1916. They performed a 7 day preparation attack in which about 1500 (1537) guns fired about 1,6 million shells ( 1 627 824) at the German positions, as reminder the French started the war with about 5 million shells.
After these prolonged and extensive shelling some generals believed that nothing could have survived the bombardment, but after the artillery stopped the Germans moved into positions and the British Army took the largest single-day loss in British History with more than 57 000 (57 470) men wounded, dead or missing. (Steel Wind: p. 16)

I see by your gravestone you were only nineteen
When you joined the great fall-in in Nineteen-Sixteen.
I hoped you died well, and I hoped you died clean,
Or young Willie McBride, was it slow and obscene?

-Green Fields of France / No Man’s Land – Eric Bogle

Neutralization – Suppression (1917-18)

In the final phase of the artillery warfare that started around the winter of 1917 there was a shift towards how artillery was used to support an attack, instead of trying to destroy the enemy troops and fortification it shifted towards neutralizing the enemy, whereas neutralizing in this case means basically suppressing the enemy. The suppression should prevent the enemy from using his weapons effectively, thus the destruction of the enemies troops and equipment was not the primary objective of the artillery attack anymore. (The European Powers in the first World War: p. 74-76 BRITISH ARTILLERY IN WORLD WAR 2 )

The aim was to stun the enemy by a short preparation attack that lasted “only” hours instead of days. To achieve this the Germans used a three phase attacks the first attack was against the communication, command and control, the second phase aimed at the enemy artillery and the third phase was directed against the enemy infantry defending the front. The use of different types of gas shells and different types of artillery for specific targets increased the effectiveness of these attacks. After the successful applications of these techniques on the Eastern Front, they were used also in the German offensives in 1918. Soon all Western Allies adopted the German artillery techniques. (The European Powers in the first World War: p. 74-76)

Generally, the French usually were several step behind the German innovations, quite in contrast to the British, which in certain areas were actually were more advanced than the Germans. (The European Powers in the first World War: p. 75-76) The British seemed to have developed independently to the Germans similar ideas on neutralizing the enemy with the use of gas and other means, although some these principles were not used or delayed due to prejudices of the Commander-in-Chief. Probably most notable is the battle of Cambrai in November 1917, where the British used their artillery in a new way. They use gas and smoke to neutralize the enemy and at the same time achieved surprise by moving the guns at night and proper camouflage. Unlike the Germans the British used large-scale tank attacks and adapted their tactics for supporting tanks accordingly. (Steel Wind: p. 114-116)

Summary / Conclusion

To summarize, the First World War saw an extensive change in the use of artillery, first it was deployed and used almost like in Napoleonic times, yet soon it was forced off the front lines due to overwhelming fire power. This resulted in a switch to indirect fire, which the armies were mostly not adequately equipped nor trained for. After adapting indirect fire, the artillery was seen as a tool for everything from destroying enemy obstacles to annihilating enemy troops, a task that it was not suited for.In the final phase it was deployed and used with a clear focus on its abilities and usefulness against specific targets, which resulted in major success and the establishment of effective principles. These principles to a large degree are still the core of modern day artillery to this day.



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Online Resources

My favorite Version of Green Fields of France by Dropkick Murphys:

Watch the video: #4 Α Παγκόσμιος Πόλεμος: Η Μεγάλη Εξόρμησις ιστορία