Complete History of World War 1 in English
1914: the Great Powers of Europe are divided into two rival alliances:
The Triple Entente: France, Britain, and Russia, united by fear and suspicion of Germany, Europe’s new strongest power.
And the Triple Alliance: Germany, which fears encirclement by its rivals; Austro-Hungary, clinging onto a fragile empire; and Italy, seeking gains at French expense.
The spark comes on 28th June, in the city of Sarajevo.
Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, is assassinated by a 19-year-old Slav nationalist named Gavrilo Princip.
Austro-Hungary accuses its Balkan rival Serbia of having aided the assassin, and sends an ultimatum, demanding humiliating concessions.
Serbia rejects the ultimatum, and Austro-Hungary declares war.
Within hours Austrian forces are shelling Belgrade.
The Russian Tsar, Nicholas II, feels honor-bound to defend Serbia, a fellow Slav nation, and orders the Russian army to mobilize.
German Emperor Wilhelm II has promised his support to Austro-Hungary.
He and his generals see a conflict with Russia as inevitable – and the sooner the better, as Russian strength grows year on year.
Russian mobilization is used to justify German mobilization, followed by a declaration of war on Russia.
Germany knows war with Russia means war with Russia’s ally, France.
It has developed the Schlieffen Plan to meet this threat of a war on two fronts –
first, its armies will advance rapidly through neutral Belgium to encircle and destroy French armies near Paris and win a quick victory.
Then its forces can move east to deal with Russia, whose huge army will take much longer to mobilise.
And so Germany declares war on France. Six million men are now marching to war across Europe.
Italy, however, remains neutral. The terms of the Triple Alliance don’t bind it to join an offensive war.
The United States also declares its neutrality. President Wilson and the American public have no desire to get entangled in Europe’s war.
Britain is France’s ally, but at first, it’s not clear if it will join the war against Germany.
But when German troops invade Belgium, whose neutrality Britain has guaranteed, an ultimatum is sent from London to Berlin demanding they withdraw.
It’s ignored, and Britain declares war.
A British Expeditionary Force lands in France, while the German invasion is held up for crucial days by Belgian resistance at the fortress-city of Liège.
German troops commit several massacres against Belgian civilians.
The atrocities are inflated by Allied propaganda and help turn public opinion in neutral countries against Germany.
France, unaware of Germany’s great encircling attack, launches Plan XVII, an offensive into German territory.
But in the Battle of the Frontiers, they’re driven back, with enormous losses on both sides.
The British Expeditionary Force clashes with the German army at Mons. But the British are heavily outnumbered, and soon join the French in retreat.
The Allies make their stand at the River Marne, 40 miles outside Paris. Their desperate counterattack saves the city and drives the Germans back.
Both sides suffer a quarter of a million casualties.
‘The Race to the Sea’ begins, as both sides try to outflank each other to the north.
A series of clashes lead to the First Battle of Ypres, where the Allies desperately cling on and prevent a German breakthrough.
There are more heavy losses on both sides.
The two armies then dig-in along the entire 350-mile front, seeking shelter from deadly machine-gun fire and artillery shells.
Trench warfare has begun.
British warships win the first naval battle of the war at Heligoland Bight, sinking three German cruisers.
Britain has the most powerful navy in the world: 29 modern battleships to Germany’s 19.
They now impose a naval blockade on Germany, preventing contraband goods, including food, from reaching it by sea.
The aim is to bring Germany’s economy to its knees and force it to surrender.
But a week later, the British cruiser HMS Pathfinder becomes the first victim in the history of a lethal new weapon – the submarine-launched torpedo.
German submarines, or U-boats, have a surface range of 9000 miles and can attack undetected from beneath the waves.
They herald a deadly new challenge to Britain’s command of the seas.
On the Eastern Front, Russian armies invaded East Prussia.
But they blunder into disaster at the Battle of Tannenberg, where General von Hindenburg and his Chief of Staff Erich Ludendorff mastermind a brilliant German victory, taking 90,000 prisoners and destroying an entire Russian army.
The Russians contribute to their own defeat by transmitting uncoded wireless messages.
A second massive German victory at Masurian Lakes forces the Russians into retreat.
In just six weeks, the Russian army suffers nearly a third of a million casualties.
Meanwhile, Austro-Hungary’s invasion of Serbia suffers a humiliating reverse at the Battle of Cedar.
Austro-Hungary’s offensive against Russia also ends in disaster and retreat, with the loss of more than 300,000 men.
Complete History of World War 1 in English
The fortress-town of Przemyśl is cut-off and besieged by the Russians.
The Germans are forced to come to the rescue, launching a diversionary attack towards Warsaw.
It leads to weeks of brutal, winter fighting around the Polish city of Łódź, but there is no clear winner.
Meanwhile, the Turkish Ottoman Empire has joined the Central Powers, declaring war on its old enemy, Russia.
Turkish warships bombard the Russian ports of Odesa and Sevastopol, while in the Caucasus, Russian troops cross the Turkish frontier.
Beyond Europe, the war rages on the world’s oceans and in far-flung European colonies.
German troops cross into British East Africa (modern Kenya) and occupy Taveta; while Allied forces seize the German colony of Togoland (modern Togo).
But British forces invading German Cameroon are defeated at Garuda and Nsanakong, while a 3,000 strong force attacking German South-West Africa, modern Namibia, is captured at Randfontein.
A month later, British landings at Tanga end in chaos and defeat at the hands of a much smaller German force led by Colonel von Lettow-Vorbeck.
Cut-off from Germany, Lettow-Vorbeck goes on to wage a highly successful guerilla war against the Allies, tying down huge numbers of troops.
In Asia, Japan honours its treaty with Britain and declares war on Germany. Japanese forces go on to seize the German naval base at Tsingtao.
The German colonies of Samoa and New Guinea surrender to troops from New Zealand and Australia.
But in the Pacific, off the coast of Chile, German Admiral von Spee’s powerful East Asia squadron sinks two British cruisers at the Battle of Coronel.
Both ships are lost with all hands.
Five weeks later, he runs into a British naval task force at the Falkland Islands.
Four of the five German cruisers are sunk. Von Spee goes down with his flagship.
While in the Middle East, British troops seize control of the Ottoman port of Basra, securing access to the vital Persian oil that fuels the British fleet.
That winter, Austrian troops finally capture Belgrade, but the Serbs then counterattack and drive them back once more.
The fighting in Serbia has already cost around 200,000 casualties on each side.
In the North Sea, German warships mount a hit-and-run raid against English coastal towns, shelling Hartlepool, Whitby, and Scarborough, and killing more than a hundred civilians.
On the Western Front, the French launch their first major offensive against the German lines:
but the First Battle of Champagne leads to small gains at a cost of 90,000 casualties.
While in the Caucasus, an Ottoman offensive through the mountains in midwinter ends in disaster at Sarikamish.
Turkish casualties total 60,000, many frozen to death.
On the Western Front, that first Christmas is marked in some sectors by a short truce, and games of football in No Man’s Land, the killing zone between the trenches.
World War One is just five months old, and already around one million soldiers have fallen.
A war that began in the Balkans has engulfed much of the world.
The Central Powers: Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire fight the Allies:
Britain, France, Russia, Serbia and Montenegro, Belgium, and Japan.
In Poland and the Baltic, the Russian army has suffered a string of massive defeats, but continues to battle German and Austro-Hungarian forces.
Austro-Hungarian troops have also suffered huge losses, and are humiliated by their failure to defeat Serbia.
In the Caucasus Mountains, Russian and Ottoman forces fight each other in freezing winter conditions.
While on the Western Front, French, British and Belgian troops are dug in facing the Germans, in trenches stretching from the English Channel to Switzerland.
As part of the world’s first strategic bombing campaign, Germany sends two giant airships, known as Zeppelins, to bomb Britain.
They hit the ports of King’s Lynn and Great Yarmouth, damaging houses and killing 4 civilians.
At sea, at the Battle of Dogger Bank, the British navy sinks one German cruiser, but the rest of the German squadron escapes.
Command of the seas has allowed Britain to impose a naval blockade of Germany, preventing vital supplies, including food, from reaching the country by sea.
Germany now retaliates with its own blockade: it declares the waters around the British Isles to be a war zone, where its U-boats will attack Allied merchant ships without warning.
Britain relies on imported food to feed its population. Germany plans to starve her into surrender.
On the Eastern Front, German Field Marshal von Hindenburg launches a Winter Offensive and inflicts another massive defeat on the Russian army at the Second Battle of Masurian Lakes.
The Russians lose up to 200,000 men, half of them surrendering amid freezing winter conditions.
The Russians have more success against Austria-Hungary: the city of Przemyśl falls after a four-month siege, netting the Russians 100,000 prisoners.
Austria-Hungary’s total losses now reach two million.
Meanwhile, the British and French send warships to the Dardanelles, to threaten Constantinople, the capital of the Turkish Ottoman Empire.
They believe a show of force will quickly cause Turkey to surrender.
They bombard Turkish shore-forts in the narrow straits, but three battleships are sunk by mines, and three more damaged. The attack is called off.
On the Western Front, the British attack Neuve Chapelle, but the advance is soon halted by German barbed wire and machineguns.
British and Indian units suffer 11,000 casualties – about a quarter of the attacking force.
Six weeks later, at the Second Battle of Ypres, the Germans attack with poison gas for the first time on the Western Front.
A cloud of lethal chlorine gas forces Allied troops to abandon their trenches, but the Germans don’t have enough reserves ready to exploit the advantage.
Soldiers on both sides are quickly supplied with crude gas-masks, as a chemical weapon arms-race begins.
The Allies land ground troops at Gallipoli, including men of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, the ANZACs.
Their goal is to take out the shore forts that are preventing Allied warships from reaching Constantinople.
But they immediately meet fierce Turkish resistance and are pinned down close to the shore.
The day before the landings, the Ottoman Empire begins the systematic deportation and murder of ethnic Armenians living within its borders.
The Armenians are a long-persecuted ethnic and religious minority, suspected of supporting Turkey’s enemies.
Tens of thousands of men, women, and children are transported to the Syrian desert and left to die. In all, more than a million Armenians perished.
The Allies condemn the events as a crime against humanity and civilisation’, and promise to hold the perpetrators criminally responsible.
To this day, the Turkish government disputes the death toll, and that these events constituted a ‘genocide’.
On the Eastern Front, a joint German / Austro-Hungarian offensive in Galicia breaks through Russian defences, recapturing Przemyśl and taking 100,000 prisoners.
It is the beginning of a steady advance against Russian forces.
At sea, the British passenger liner Lusitania, sailing from New York to Liverpool, is torpedoed by a German U-boat off the coast of Ireland without warning. 1,198 passengers and crew perish, including 128 Americans.
US President Woodrow Wilson and the American public are outraged.
But Germany insists the liner was a fair target, as the British used her to carry military supplies.
In May, the Allies launch the Second Battle of Artois, in another effort to break through the German lines.
The French make the main attack at Vimy Ridge, while the British launch supporting attacks at Aubers Ridge and Festubert.
The Allies sustain 130,000 casualties and advance just a few thousand yards.
That summer, above the Western Front, the Fokker Eindecker helps Germany win control of the air.
It’s one of the first aircraft with a machinegun able to fire forward through its propeller, thanks to a new invention known as interrupter gear.
Allied aircraft losses mount rapidly, in what becomes known as the ‘Fokker Scourge’.
Italy, swayed by British and French promises of territorial gains at Austro-Hungarian expense, joins the Allies, declaring war on Austria-Hungary, and later the Ottoman Empire and Germany.
The Italian army makes its first assault against Austro-Hungarian positions along the Isonzo river but is repulsed with heavy losses.
Meanwhile, the Allies face a crisis on the Eastern Front. The Russians have begun a general retreat, abandoning Poland.
German troops entered Warsaw on 5th August.
Tsar Nicholas II dismisses the army’s commander-in-chief, Grand Duke Nicholas, and takes personal command.
It will prove disastrous for the Tsar, as he becomes more and more closely tied to Russian military defeat.
At Gallipoli, the Allies land reinforcements at Suvla Bay, but neither they nor a series of fresh attacks by the ANZACs can break the deadlock. Conditions for both sides are terrible; troops are tormented not only by the enemy, but by heat, flies, and sickness.
In the Atlantic, a German U-boat sinks the liner SS Arabic: 44 are lost, including three Americans.
In response to further US warnings, Germany ends all attacks on passenger ships.
On the Western Front, the Allies mount their biggest offensive of the war so far, designed to smash through the front, and take the pressure off their beleaguered Russian ally.
The French attack in the Third Battle of Artois and Second Battle of Champagne;
The British, with the help of poison gas, attack Loos.
Despite initial gains, the attacks soon get bogged down, with enormous losses on all sides.
Allied troops land at Salonika in Greece, to open a new front against the Central Powers, and bring aid to Serbia.
But the Allies are too late. Bulgaria joins the Central Powers, and their joint offensive overruns Serbia in two months.
That winter the remnants of the Serbian Army escape through the Albanian mountains.
Their losses are horrific – by the end of the war a third of Serbia’s army has been killed
– the highest proportion of any nation.
Fierce fighting continues on the Italian front, as Italian troops launch the Third and Fourth Battles of the Isonzo.
Austro-Hungarian forces, though outnumbered, are dug in on the high ground, and impossible to dislodge.
In the Middle East, a British advance on Baghdad is blocked by Turkish forces at the Battle of Ctesiphon, 25 miles south of the city.
The British withdraw to Kut, where they are besieged.
The Allies abandon the Gallipoli campaign. 83,000 troops are secretly evacuated without alerting Turkish forces.
Not a man is lost. It’s one of the best-executed plans of the war.
The campaign has cost both sides a quarter of a million casualties.
1915 is a bad year for the Allies – enormous losses, for no tangible gains. But there is no talk of peace –
instead, all sides prepare for even bigger offensives in 1916, with new tactics developed from earlier failures.
All sides still believe a decisive battlefield victory is within grasp.
World War One was supposed to have been a short and glorious war.
But by 1916, a new kind of industrialised warfare had seen the death toll soar into the millions, with no end in sight.
Naval blockades were beginning to cause shortages of food and fuel across Europe…
While thousands of women had entered the workforce, replacing the men sent to fight in their millions.
All sides were preparing for a long war.
The war has raged for a year and a half, as the Allies continue to battle the Central Powers, recently joined by Bulgaria.
Complete History of World War 1 in English
At sea, the British maintain their naval blockade of Germany, preventing the import of food and other vital raw materials.
Germany has retaliated with a U-boat blockade of Britain but has to limit its attacks to avoid provoking the neutral USA, whose citizens have already been caught in the crossfire.
On the Western Front, French, British and Belgian troops are dug in opposite the Germans, both sides trapped in the bloody stalemate of trench warfare.
On the Eastern Front, the Russians have ended their long retreat and stabilised the line, but their army has suffered huge losses.
On the Italian Front, Italian troops have launched a series of costly, unsuccessful attacks against strong Austro-Hungarian defences.
While on the Balkan Front, the Central Powers have overrun Serbia, whose army is forced to make a bitter retreat through the Albanian mountains.
Now, on 5th January, Austro-Hungarian troops attack Montenegro.
They are delayed at the Battle of Mojkovac, but three weeks later Montenegro is forced to surrender.
On the Caucasus Front, the Russians launch a surprise winter offensive against Ottoman Turkish forces.
Six weeks later, Russian troops occupy the city of Erzurum. In April, they capture the Black Sea port of Trebizond.
Meanwhile the British transport two motorboats to Lake Tanganyika in Africa.
They finally arrive after a 10,000 mile trip by sea and land and help the British seize control of the strategic lake from local German forces.
The same month, in German Cameroon, German troops, besieged on Mora mountain for 18 months, finally surrender to the Allies.
It marks the end of the Cameroon campaign.
On the Western Front, the Germans unleash a devastating assault on the French fortress-town of Verdun.
German General Erich von Falkenhayn knows France will defend this symbolic town to the last man.
His plan, in his own words, is to ‘bleed France white’ in its defence. It is the strategy of attrition. Verdun becomes one of the most terrifying battles of the war: a mincing machine, where infantry divisions are destroyed almost as fast as they can be fed into the line.
In Britain, one million men have already volunteered for military service.
But the government realises it won’t be enough: so in March 1916, Britain becomes the last major power to introduce conscription.
That spring on the Western Front, British troops are the last to be issued with steel helmets.
The nature of trench warfare produces a high proportion of head wounds:
the German Stahlhelm, the French Adrian helmet, and the British Mark 1 steel helmet offer limited protection from shell splinters and shrapnel.
Neutral Portugal has been co-operating with the British, which seems to offer the best chance of holding onto her African colony, Portuguese Angola.
On 9th March, Germany retaliates by declaring war on Portugal.
On the Eastern Front, Russia launches an attack near Lake Naroch, to relieve pressure on the French at Verdun.
But it’s a disaster. There are 100,000 Russian casualties, and the attack fails to divert any German troops from the fighting at Verdun.
In Dublin, Irish republicans launch an armed revolt against British rule.
It becomes known as the Easter Rising and is put down after six days of street fighting.
In the Middle East, after a five-month siege, British forces at Kut surrender.
General Townshend leads 9,000 British and Indian soldiers into captivity. About half later die from starvation or disease.
Britain wants Arab support in its fight against the Ottoman Empire, so it’s promised Arab leaders an independent Arab state after the war.
But now Britain and France secretly sign the Sykes-Picot Agreement, planning, after the war, to divide the Middle East into British and French zones of control.
Unaware of this deal, Hussein bin Ali, Sherif of Mecca, leads the Arabs in revolt against Turkish Ottoman rule:
in the Battle of Mecca, his forces seize control of the holy city.
On the Italian front, Austro-Hungarian forces launch a surprise attack at Asiago.
Italian defences give way; Austro-Hungarian troops are poised to break through into northern Italy.
That month, in the North Sea, the German High Seas Fleet clashes with the British Grand Fleet at the Battle of Jutland.
In the only major naval battle of the war, the British suffer heavier losses, but claim victory, as the German fleet withdraws, and does not re-emerge from its base for the rest of the war.
For the summer of 1916, the Allies have planned major, simultaneous offensives against the Central Powers from east and west.
Now they are needed more than ever, to relieve pressure on the French at Verdun, and the Italians at Asiago.
The Russians launch their attack first: on the Eastern Front, General Alexei Brusilov has carefully maintained the element of surprise.
His troops break through the enemy lines, in some places advancing 60 miles, and taking 200,000 prisoners.
This brilliant though costly Russian attack achieves its aim, as the Central Powers are forced to redeploy troops from other fronts to shore up the line.
At sea, British cruiser HMS Hampshire, en route to Russia, hits a mine and sinks off Orkney.
Among the 650 dead is Britain’s iconic Secretary of State for War, Lord Kitchener.
Three days later in the Adriatic, Italian troopship, Principe Umberto is sunk by a German submarine:
it’s the deadliest sinking of the war, with 1,900 lives lost.
On the Western Front, Britain and France launch their major summer offensive: the Battle of the Somme.
Hopes are high for a breakthrough, but the first day is a disaster: a long Allied artillery bombardment fails to knock out German defences, and waves of British infantry are cut down by machinegun fire as they advance into No Man’s Land.
In the space of a few hours, the British suffered 57,000 casualties, a third of them killed.
It’s the worst day in the history of the British army.
But more attacks are ordered, and the battle will rage for another five months.
Encouraged by the Russian advance, Romania joins the Allies.
But despite an initially successful advance into Transylvania, Romania quickly faces a counter-offensive from German, Bulgarian and Austro-Hungarian forces.
The Allied force at Salonika tries to support Romania, by launching their own offensive towards Monastir.
With Serbian troops in the lead, there are small gains, but dogged Bulgarian resistance prevents a breakthrough.
On the Western Front, General von Falkenhayn finally calls off the attack at Verdun.
The French army has honoured their commander, General Nivelle’s, promise – ‘Ils ne passeront pas’ – they shall not pass.
But victory comes at a terrible price: 365,000 casualties. The Germans lose almost as many.
Verdun remains one of the bloodiest battles in human history.
For his defeat at Verdun, Falkenhayn is sacked, and Germany’s heroes of the Eastern Front, von Hindenburg, and Ludendorff take command in the west.
Meanwhile, the Battle of the Somme continues. Near the village of Flers, the British introduce a new weapon they hope can break the deadlock of the trenches: it is called the tank.
But despite some small successes, the first tanks are too few in number, and too prone to mechanical failure, to make any real impact.
On the Eastern Front, Russia’s Brusilov Offensive comes to an end.
Casualty estimates vary wildly, but it’s clear both sides have suffered catastrophic losses.
Neither the Russian nor the Austro-Hungarian army ever fully recovers.
On the Italian front, heavy fighting rages throughout the autumn, as Italian forces make repeated, costly assaults against Austro-Hungarian positions along the Isonzo River.
The Battle of the Somme comes to an end amid autumn rain and mud. The Allies have advanced ten miles at the cost of 600,000 casualties.
German losses are about 450,000.
The Allies reassure themselves that this is a winning strategy because, at this rate, Germany will run out of men first.
Meanwhile, disaster engulfs Romania, as the country is overrun by the Central Powers.
Romanian forces suffer a quarter of a million casualties. The remnants of its army take position alongside the Russians on the Eastern Front.
That winter, Franz Josef, Emperor of Austria since 1848, dies. He is succeeded by his great-nephew, Karl.
In Britain, Prime Minister Herbert Asquith is forced from office and succeeded by David Lloyd George.
While General Joffre is replaced as French commander-in-chief by General Nivelle, who promises victory through bold, aggressive action.
Amid the comings and goings, US President Woodrow Wilson’s attempts to mediate a peace settlement come to nothing:
neither side is willing to make concessions.
In 1916, World War One became a war of attrition.
Both sides began to focus less on winning victory on the battlefield, than grinding down the enemy, and inflicting such enormous losses they would be forced to surrender.
In 1917, the strategy will push Europe’s major powers to the brink of collapse.
Germany knows it will lose a long war of attrition against the Allies, who have greater resources.
So its leaders gamble: they resume unrestricted submarine warfare, believing their U-boats can cut off Britain’s food imports by sea, and starve the country into surrender within six months.
But the new shoot-on-sight tactics mean neutral American ships will inevitably be caught in the crossfire, risking America joining the war on the Allied side.
Just two days into the campaign, the SS Housatonic, an American steamer carrying wheat from Galveston, Texas to England, is sunk by a U-boat.
The British then pass to the US government a telegram they’ve intercepted, from German foreign secretary Arthur Zimmermann to the German ambassador in Mexico.
Germany is encouraging Mexico to attack America if America and Germany end up at war.
The so-called Zimmermann Telegram puts yet more pressure on US President Wilson to declare war on Germany.
In Russia, enormous casualties and bread shortages lead to riots… and revolution. The Tsar abdicates.
A Provisional Government takes charge, pledging to continue the war. But at the front, Russian troops begin to desert en masse.
After a string of German provocations, the US finally declares war on Germany.
It brings immense resources to the Allied cause, but they will take many months to mobilise.
And the German gamble of unrestricted submarine warfare may still pay off.
April is the U-boat’s most successful month of the war: they sink 886,000 tons of Allied shipping, an average of 17 ships a day, all packed with urgently-needed food and supplies.
Britain will face starvation if the U-boats are not defeated soon.
On the Western Front, the British launch the Battle of Arras – a diversion, to support a major, upcoming French offensive.
After heavy fighting, Canadian troops seize the high ground of Vimy Ridge.
Its a limited Allied victory, but costs 150,000 Allied casualties, to 130,000 German.
Complete History of World War 1 in English
Above the trenches, the first air war has reached new levels of sophistication and deadliness.
Reconnaissance aircraft are crucial for spotting enemy positions and directing artillery fire onto them.
Scout aircraft, or fighters, try to shoot them down before they can execute their mission.
New models of aircraft are developed every few months.
But that spring, the superiority of German aircraft leads to heavy Allied losses, in what becomes known as ‘Bloody April’.
Three days after the fall of Vimy Ridge, French General Robert Nivelle launches his main offensive.
Expectations are high, but after initial success, the advance bogs down and casualties quickly mount on both sides.
The apparently senseless losses cause morale in the French army to collapse. Whole units mutiny, refusing to attack.
General Nivelle is sacked as French commander-in-chief and replaced by General Pétain, the hero of Verdun, who promises no more suicidal attacks.
That summer, at Messines Ridge, the British tunnel under the German lines, and detonate 19 enormous mines under the enemy position.
It’s the largest man-made explosion in history to date and paves the way to a brilliant but highly local British victory.
In Greece, King Constantine, who has favoured neutrality, is forced to abdicate, and Greece joins the Allies.
Russia’s Provisional Government orders a new attack, but the July Offensive is a disaster:
the morale and discipline of the Russian army have collapsed. It can no longer be relied on to fight, and the Central Powers’ counterattack is almost unopposed.
At sea, the Allies begin to group their merchant ships into convoys, which sail under naval escort. The new system leads to a steady fall in losses.
The tide is turning in the U-boat war.
As discontent with the war grows in Germany, the German parliament, the Reichstag, passes a ‘Peace Resolution’, calling for a peace of understanding and reconciliation’.
It’s ignored by the German High Command, which now effectively rules the country as a military dictatorship.
In Belgium, the British launch their major offensive of 1917, the Third Battle of Ypres.
It will be remembered as Passchendaele.
Heavy shelling, rain, and broken irrigation channels turn the battlefield into a sea of mud. In these impossible conditions, all hopes of a breakthrough soon fade.
The attack is called off after 3 months, by which point the British have suffered 240,000 casualties, the Germans 200,000.
On the Italian Front, at the 11th Battle of the Isonzo, Italian and Austro-Hungarian forces batter each other into exhaustion.
There are 150,000 Italian casualties, 100,000 Austro-Hungarian.
That year, 1917, the list of Allied nations grows. Brazil… Liberia… China… and Siam…
all declare war on Germany, as a result of German U-boat attacks, or to curry favour with the Allies.
China will contribute many thousands of labourers, working for the Allies in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia.
That year in the Middle East, British forces avenge their 1916 humiliation at Kut, by defeating the Ottoman Turks and marching on to occupy Baghdad.
British forces in Egypt advance across the Sinai Desert but are thrown back by Ottoman forces at the First and Second Battles of Gaza.
In July, Arab rebels capture the strategic Ottoman port of Aqaba.
They are accompanied by a British military advisor, Captain T.E. Lawrence, better known as ‘Lawrence of Arabia’.
That autumn, British foreign secretary Arthur Balfour issues the ‘Balfour Declaration’, expressing support for the creation of a national home for the Jews in Palestine.
The aim is to rally Jewish support for the Allies, but the declaration contradicts existing pledges to Arab leaders.
In October, the British finally win at Gaza, clearing the way for an advance into Palestine.
Six weeks later, General Allenby leads British troops into Jerusalem, ending 400 years of Ottoman rule.
With Russian forces in disarray, Germany is able to move troops from the East to the Italian Front.
At the Battle of Caporetto, they help to smash through the Italian army, advancing 70 miles and taking a quarter of a million prisoners.
British and French divisions, desperately needed on the Western Front, have to be redeployed to shore-up the line.
In Russia, a second revolution brings Lenin’s Bolshevik Party to power. He is determined to end Russia’s involvement in the war.
In France, Georges Clemenceau becomes Prime Minister. Nicknamed ‘the Tiger’, he promises total war and total victory.
But for the Allies in late 1917, final victory looks uncertain: Russia has stopped fighting;
French armies are recovering from mutiny; the Italian front has almost collapsed. And American reinforcements still seem a long way off.
For the time being, the British are the only effective Allied force in the field…
So the British attack at Cambrai, with the first major tank assault in history.
On the first day, nearly 400 tanks spearhead an advance of several miles through German defences.
But then the tanks break down or are knocked out; the Germans rush in reinforcements, and the gains are lost.
Finland declares independence from Russia.
Rumania, isolated by the Russian collapse, signs an armistice with the Central Powers.
Six days later, Russia also signs an armistice. The Allied Eastern Front is no more.
1917 has seen one major Allied power, Russia, knocked out of the war – but the arrival of a fresh, new ally, America.
Germany knows only military victory can now save it from being overwhelmed by Allied resources and begins planning one last, massive onslaught, for the spring of 1918.
- After three and a half years of war, the Allies are in crisis.
Russia has been rocked by Revolution, and its new Bolshevik government has signed an armistice with the Central Powers.
Thousands of German troops will be freed up to fight on the Western Front, where the carnage of trench warfare has already claimed more than a million lives.
But Germany is also desperate. Britain’s long naval blockade has led to shortages and social unrest at home…
While America’s entry into the war brings fresh manpower and vast resources to the Allied cause.
Germany faces inevitable defeat unless it can win a quick victory on the Western Front.
US President Wilson announces his ‘Fourteen Points’.
Complete History of World War 1 in English
They outline his vision for a post-war world, including an end to secret treaties, a reduction in the size of armed forces, self-determination for the people of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and an international organisation to settle future disputes.
But most European leaders dismiss his ideas as wishful thinking.
At Brest-Litovsk, Bolshevik Russia signs a peace treaty with the Central Powers.
Russia gives up vast amounts of territory in exchange for peace.
Half a million German troops can now be redeployed from the East to the Western Front, where German General Erich Ludendorff plans an all-out, last-ditch offensive to win the war.
Ludendorff’s Spring Offensive catches the Allies off-guard.
German stormtroopers, using new infiltration tactics, help to overwhelm the British 5th Army, which is soon in full retreat.
The German advance threatens to split the British and French armies, with disastrous consequences.
So French General Ferdinand Foch is appointed Supreme Commander of Allied Forces, to coordinate strategy.
Outside Amiens, British and Australian troops improvise a defence and finally halt the German advance.
The German offensive switches to the north, targeting the Channel ports. But the British inflict heavy losses on the Germans and prevent a breakthrough.
Above the trenches, the first air war continues to escalate. Each side now has more than 3,000 aircraft in service on the Western Front.
But by 1918 the Allies have won air superiority, thanks to greater resources.
On 21st April, Germany’s most famous pilot, Manfred von Richthofen, the ‘Red Baron’, is shot down and killed near Amiens. With 80 victories, he’s the war’s highest-scoring ace and is buried by the Allies with full military honours.
Britain’s new ‘Independent Bombing Force’, launches a daylight raid against Cologne.
It marks the beginning of Britain’s own strategic bombing campaign.
On the ground, Ludendorff’s offensive switches south, targeting the French.
German troops advance 30 miles but are halted at the River Marne, just as fresh American divisions enter the line.
The US 1st Division is the first to see combat, at the Battle of Cantigny.
Three days later the US 2nd Division wins a victory at the Battle of Belleau Wood.
By now there are nearly a million American soldiers in France, with 10,000 more arriving every day.
The fourth phase of the German Offensive leads to a 9-mile advance but is finally halted by a French counterattack.
In Italy, Austria-Hungary launches an attack at Asiago and the Piave River, to support Ludendorff’s offensive in France.
But it’s repulsed with heavy losses, and morale amongst the Austro-Hungarian army collapses.
British and French troops land at Murmansk in northern Russia.
It’s the beginning of Allied intervention in Russia’s Civil War, on the side of so-called ‘White’, or anti-Bolshevik, forces.
On the Western Front, the Germans’ final attack is defeated in the Second Battle of the Marne.
Ludendorff’s Offensive has cost the Germans more than 600,000 casualties and has failed to make a decisive breakthrough.
Germany’s final gamble has failed.
The Allies now go on the attack. At the Battle of Amiens, British, Australian, Canadian, and French troops, supported by tanks and aircraft, advance 7 miles in a single day.
General Ludendorff calls 8th August ‘the Black Day of the German army’.
German troops are exhausted, hungry and demoralised, and begin to surrender in their thousands.
The Battle of Amiens begins the Allies’ ‘Hundred Days Offensive’: trench warfare is over; the Germans are in full retreat.
In the Balkans, a new Allied offensive at Dobro Pole breaks through Bulgarian positions.
The overstretched Bulgarian army collapses, and two weeks later Bulgaria signs an armistice.
In the Middle East, British-led forces defeat the Turks at the Battle of Megiddo, taking 25,000 prisoners.
Allied troops soon occupy Damascus and Aleppo.
On the Western Front, Marshal Foch orders a general attack.
British, French, and American armies reach the Hindenburg Line, a line of reinforced German defences, and breakthrough.
Ludendorff informs the Kaiser that the military situation is hopeless and that Germany must seek an armistice.
Germany sends a request to US President Woodrow Wilson, who, in return, demands German withdrawal from all occupied territory, and the Kaiser’s abdication.
On the Italian Front, the Allies deliver the final blow to Austria-Hungary at the Battle of Vittorio Veneto.
The Austro-Hungarian army disintegrates, and 300,000 prisoners are taken.
With the Central Powers facing collapse, the Ottoman Empire signs an armistice with the Allies at Mudros.
Four days later, Austria-Hungary signs an armistice with the Allies at Villa Giusti.
At Kiel, the German High Seas Fleet is ordered to make a suicidal attack on the British navy, but instead, it mutinies.
Revolution spreads through Germany. The Kaiser abdicates and a German republic is proclaimed.
On 11th November 1918, a German delegation signs an armistice with the Allies, inside Marshal Foch’s railway carriage at Compiègne.
It comes into force at 11am, but fighting continues until the last moment.
American private Henry Gunther is killed charging a German machinegun at 10.59. He is thought to be the last soldier killed during World War One.
Three days later, in East Africa, German General Von Lettow-Vorbeck surrenders his army on the Chambezi River.
For four years he has tied down huge numbers of Allied troops, remaining undefeated, while cut-off from home.
He is still considered one of history’s greatest guerrilla leaders.
The Paris Peace Conference opens at the Palace of Versailles, just outside the French capital.
Delegates accept a proposal to create a ‘League of Nations’, to settle future international disputes.
The Versailles Treaty, signed in June, imposes harsh terms on Germany:
its military is restricted in size, it must pay war reparations to the Allies, it loses territory to its neighbours, and its colonies are seized by the victors.
Germany must also accept responsibility for the war in a ‘war guilt’ clause – a source of lasting resentment in Germany.
The boundaries of Europe are redrawn: Poland re-emerges after a hundred years of foreign rule.
While Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, and an enlarged Romania emerge from the ashes of the Austro-Hungarian empire.
The Ottoman Empire is dismantled. New states, most under European control, are created in the Middle East.
Here, as in Europe, the seeds of future conflict are sown.
While in the Far East, former German possessions in China are handed to Japan, to China’s outrage.
World War One claimed the lives of nine and a half million soldiers, 1 in 8 of those who fought.
21 million more were wounded. 7 million civilians also lost their lives.
Huge areas of Europe were left devastated.
Old empires vanished; new states were born; lives across the world were transformed.
The world was never the same again.