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WAR ON THE WESTERN FRONTS

Stalemate: a deadlock from which neither side can progress


Total war: a governments mobilisation of all its resources to support the effort of its own troops and
undermine those of its opponents
People through war would be over by Christmas in 1914 and civilians thought war would bring some
changes to their daily lives but both of these views were unrealistic.

THE REASONS FOR STALEMATE ON THE WESTERN FRONT

Schlieffen plan: Aim to capture France in 6 weeks and avoid fighting a war on two fronts
Stalemate emerged largely from failure of the schlieffen plan
The German commander Helmuth Von Moltke
The german commander was worried that strict implementation of Schlieffen plan might not
be successful against Russia on the eastern front and also on Germanys border with Alsace
and Lorraine so he changed from the plan by ordering additional troops to go on Eastern Front
and Germanys border.
The absence of soldiers weakened the impact of German armies in France and created
communication difficulties between the armies that remained.
In the beginning of the war, the French implemented plan 17 and advanced into their former
territory in Alsace and Lorraine.
20 AUGUST 1914 French retreat due to Germanys sixth and seventh armies artillery and
machine gun fire.
French prepared to defend Paris against German troops advancing from the east.
Changes to the implementation of the Schlieffen plan which made it ineffective:
5 German armies to advance through Belgium and Luxembourg to attack France from
the north and 1st German armies to move east to encircle paris but Von Kluck sent
solderis west instead of east. This meant they would not be able to encircle city as
originally planned. It also left the German weak to attack from the French army retreating
from the eastern Front and from the BEF soldiers
Belgian resistance and British intervention slow down the German advance, preventing
Germany achieving a six week victory over France
Some German troops are diverted to Russia and Alsace Lorraine
Distance creates communication difficulties between invading armies
Von Kluck deviates from the Schlieffen plan and sends troops east instead of west of paris
German troops become vulnerable to attack from both French and British forces
Exhausted and malnourished, German troops retreat from the battle of Marne and begin
to build trenches from which to defend the territory they have gained.

B & F went on the offensive, trying to move around the side of German to attack
from behind in a race to secure territory on the way to the English channel.

German began to build trenches to defend the territory they already had gained, this
meant German gave up the involvement in movement of war

B & F built temporary trenches to protect their men while they fought to try and
force the Germans to retreat.

The development of trench warfare ended the war of movement.

By late 1914, war on the western Front had developed into a stalemate.

REASONS FOR THE CONTINUATION OF THE STALEMATE

The allied and central powers all attempted to break the stalemate in 1915
French attempted this through an unsuccessful campaign in Champagne, the British in March at Neuve
Chapelle, where they had heavy losses for only short term gain, the Germans unsuccessfully at Ypres
in April, where they used poison gas for the first time and the British at Loos in September
In 1916, the Germans attempted to destroy the French at the battle of Verdun and the British
responded at the Battle of the Somme. These battles once again focused more on attrition (wearing
down) than on achieving a breakthrough and the continuation of a war of movement.
War of attrition: a war in which competing sides attempt to achieve victory through the tactic of
wearing down their opponents armies, fighting power, morale and economies to the point of collapse.
The stalemate continued until 1918 because:
The mechanisms of trench warfare barbed wire, artillery and machine guin fire were
more suited to defence and a war of attrition than to offence
The continuation of trench warfare made the cavalry charges of previous eras impractical

The reconnaissance of enemy positions was poor


Opposing armies had equivalent access to reinforcements and supplies through railway
networks
Neither side developed either a method or weapon of warfare that would force the
resumption of a war of movement.

THE NATURE OF TRENCH WARFARE

Trench warfare: a form of military conflict in which opposing sides fight one another from trenches facing one
another
Trench Warfare:
-

Defensive
Main form of warfare
Formed kind of zigzag line. This minimised the impact of a shell landing in the trench and
it prevented attackers from having a clear line of fire down the whole length of the
trench.
Sometimes trench line formed a salient meaning it led forward into a territory

The Trench System:


The trench system generally comprised three parallel lines of trenches:
-

The front line for attack and defence


The support line to which front line soldiers could retreat during bombardment
The reserve line to where troops waited for their leaders call to battle

Dugouts: a shelter dug into the sides of the trenches


The rear wall of support line also contained dugouts
No mans land: the area separating opposing armies in trench warfare
The condition of any trench system depended on :
-

How long and how quickly it had been established


Whether the generals viewed it as temporary or permanent
The nature of the ground where it was located
Local weather conditions
Specific military goals at different times
The extent to which enemy bombardment has affected the trenches

German trenches were generally stronger, more complex and better equipped than the Allied one as the
General viewed it as a long term proposition
German dugouts made of reinforced concrete
Hindenburg Line: the German trench system, devised by General Paul Von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendroff
and constructed in northern France between 1916 and 1917. The system shortened the front line and enabled
the Germans to transfer men to reserve trenches. It is incorporated concrete pillboxes armed with machine
guns. The goal was to maximise the effectiveness of men and munitions at a time when both were in short
supply.
British commander put most of their men in the front line trenches. This had advantage of they could be well
defended against enemy advances. The disadvantage was that many men could be injured or killed in the initial
bombardment of enemy.
French commanders heavily manned some sections of the front line. They left other sections with small number
of soldiers and reinforced the barbed wire in front of them. If the enemy attacked one of these weaker sections,
the barbed wire slowed the advance and gave them time to send in troops from the more heavily defended
sections.
In 1916, the General commanders, General Paul Von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendroff began development of
Hindenburg line, a trench system that they believed would be successful.

put into practice in 1917, it had between five and seven lines of trenches and kept two thirds of the troops
behind the front line.
METHODS OF TRENCH WARFARE
Infantry: soldiers that fight on foot, generally with bayonets, machine and mortars
Bayonets: a knife blade which soldiers attached to their rifles and used in close combat with the enemy
New weapons of warfare- machine guns, poison gas, tanks were either more effective for defence than attack
Technological improvements to tanks and improved use of them in 1918 enabled armies to breakthrough trench
lines, engage in offensive tactics and reinstate a war of movement.
For most of the war, commanders continued to rely on:
-

Massive artillery bombardment of enemy position


Use of infantry to defend existing entrenched positions
Infantry advances over the top armed mainly with rifles, bayonets and grenades, against
their entrenched opponents.
These resulted in massive casualties and failed to achieve a significant breakthrough

LIFE IN THE TRENCHES: EXPERIENCES OF ALLIED AND GERMAN SOLDEIRS


Soldiers had to live in all weather conditions
Soldiers had to endure poor health, inadequate sanitary conditions, poor washing
facilities and often unreliable access to food and drinking water.
Experiences of trench life differed according to nationality, rank, role and the nature of
the fighting at any given time.
THE ROUTINE OF TRENCH LIFE
Trench life combined feelings of boredom, comradeship, extreme discomfort, endurance and fear.
Also experienced dangerous physical labour, hunger, thirst, disease, poor sanitary conditions, mental
breakdown and self sacrifice.
Soldiers had to maintain trench security repairing barbed wires or duckboards, reinforcing sandbags, being on
guard duty, carrying out reconnaissance of enemy positions and activity, obtaining new supplies and carrying
bodies out from no mans land
Soldiers with special skills acted as snipers or in constructing new trenches
Sniper: marksmen who waited in hiding for opportunities to shoot soldiers in the opposing trenches
DANGERS

The noise of shellfire was deafening and sniperfire an ongoing threat


Soldiers sometimes tried to cop a blighty so that they could at least temporarily escape danger and stress of
front line action
Cop a blighty: obtain a wound which was serious enough to require the victim to be sent back to England.
Shell shock: a physiological disorder with physical symptoms ranging from irritability and poor concentration to
inability to move in a coordinated manner.

Soldiers suffered shellshock from the very early months of the war, this time military commanders instead of
taking care of soldiers they view soldiers as cowards to escape military service.
Shell shock soldiers who wouldnt or couldnt obey orders sometimes deserted and even suicided.

Many received punishments like front line duty, court martial and even execution
Gas warfare was another source of danger and fear
Phosgene gas caused death within 48 hours and mustard gas had effect until hours later when they developed
blisters and began feeling pain caused by damage to the lungs and eyes
Over time, more sophisticated gas masks came in use.
TRENCH RATIONS

By 1916, the impact of blockade meant that both allied and German commanders struggled to provide soldiers
with good diets in terms of both meat and calorie intake
British soldiers survived on daily rations of corned beef, days old bread and stale biscuits.
Food arrived cold which led to more dissatisfaction
Soldiers complained that the officers seemed to be dining very well by comparisons
HEALTH AND SANITATION ISSUES

Trench foot: a problem caused by long term exposure to conditions where feet could not be kept dry.
Untreated, it would result in amputation.
Rats ate dead bodies and became as big as cats so their attacks on bodies horrified soldiers
Trench foot resulted from feet, sock and boots all underwater and in unsanitary conditions.
Unless they dried their feet and changed their socks frequently, soldiers might not realise they had a problem
until it was too late to treat it. Their feet would go numb, the skin turn blue and once gangrene had set in
amputation would become necessary.
Supplying soldiers with multiple pairs of socks and a protective cream made of whale oil and making them use
them became essential to maintaining their health.
Trench fever: a disease, caused by lice, affecting up to 15 per cent of any army. It kept men out of battle but
wasnt fatal.
Soldiers were constantly scratching to relieve the terrible itching that resulted. Lice also caused the intense
pain and high temperatures associated with trench fever.
Dysentery: an illness related to the inflammation of the lining of the arge intestine. Symptoms include stomach
pains and diarrhoea and perhaps also vomiting.
Dysentery was another experience common to trench life. It resulted from, the poor sanitation f the latrines.
The demands of fighting often didnt leave time for new ones to be dug and soldiers made do by using shell
holes instead.
When water supplies were inadequate, soldiers drank the often contaminated water from shell holes. The
danger of dysentery was that soldiers could die as a result of becoming dehydrated.
TACTICS AND STRATEGIES TO BREAK THE STALMATE
Tactics: action taken to deal with specific problems and achieve the goal of a particular military strategy.
The allies and the German used a variety of tactics including artillery barrages followed by infantry assault,
bite and hold, leapfrogging and infiltration in their attempt to break the stalemate. They also used new
technology such as machine guns, gas and tanks.
VERDUN 1916 : THE ATTEMPT TO BLEED THE FRENCH WHITE

Lasted from 21 February to 18 December 1916

Longest battle of the war


Goal of the German commander, General Erich FAlkenhayn, to bleed the French white
He believed that he would be able to use this attrition tactic so successfully that the
battle would break the stalemate and allow Germany to win the war or at least be able to
begin peace negotiation
Fortified French garrison French national pride, provided little military value for French
military commander
Huge blow to French morale to have Verdun fall into German hands
Falkenhayn was determined to exploit Verduns huge symbolic value for the French and
force them to fight a lengthy battle there which, through a campaign of attrition would
destroy Frances ability to continue fighting.
German had advantage of being able to approach Verdun from three sides
February 1916 30000 soldiers
Prince Wilhelm directed German attack on 21 February, nearly 1 million troops
Attack began on 21 Feb 1916 with a massive German artillery bombardment
Then came flame throwers and attacks from three army corps
End of their day of fighting French retreated to within 8 km of Verdun itself
French still controlled the forts at Douaumont and Vaux.
24 feb General Henri Philippe Petain reversed the policy of withdrawal and ordered
reinforcement to come from all over the Western Front.
78% French infantry regiments known as mincing machine of the French army
Petain organised work teams to keep open and maintain La Voie Sacree.
Trucks carrying men, munitions and supplies became crucial to Frances ability to hold
Verdun
End of February 1916 French troops had stopped German advance even though they
lost Fort Douaumont on 25 February.
German troops were advancing faster than the artillery that French needed to protect
them and consequently suffered high casualties for any gains they made
Despite the major German offensive in April and May, the French continued defend very
well
Petain gained promotion and on 1 may, General Robert Nivelle took his place
Verdun motto they shall not pass became inspirational quote in propaganda
campaign to boost French morale
Diphosgene gas: used in artillery shells, its vapours could penetrate gas masks
May 1916: German introduced diphosgene gas, a new weapon of chemical warfare
After 3 month gained control of Fort Vaux on 7 June
French despite their success were near breaking point and greatly in need of the hoped
for diversion of German troops to Somme
From July 1916 onwards, Germany faced more difficulties at Verdun due to sending 15
German divisions to counter a Russian offensive on the Eastern Front and to counter the
British led offensive on the Somme
In August, General Paul Von Hindenburg and his co- commander, General Erich
Ludendroff replaced General Falkenhayn
French General Nivelle favoured offensive tactics and this suited General Charles Mangin,
the commander of Frances Third army at Verdun
From October onwards, with new guns at their disposal, the French moved on to the
counter offensive
Mangin recaptured Fort Douaumont and Vaux and by mid December 1916, had
recaptured most of the land the Germans had captured in the previous 10 months.
The battle ended on 18 December 1916
Neither side having made any military gains and both having sustained a very high cost
in casualties

The Somme 1916: the issue of leadership


-

Fought between July and November 1916


British led attempt to break through German defences, partly as attrition, partly in the
quest of decisive victory
Remembered for huge numbers of death and wounded that resulted from this battle also
the role of generals who planned it General Sir Douglas Haig, commander in chief of the
British Expeditionary Force
The French commander in chief, General Joseph Joffre, nick named Papa Joffre, planned
attack in Somme area as a French offensive with British support
Part of strategy that allied agreed to at a conference at Chantilly in December 1915 the
strategy of engaging the Central Powers in virtually simultaneous battles on all fronts in
mid 1916
General Haig and his deputy, General Henry Rawlinson took over the planning and
manning the battle, with French troops in a comparatively minor role

In addition to British forces, the Allied forces at the Somme included French troops and
troops from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Newfoundland and South Africa.
Aim of the campaign : to create a reason to force the Germans to withdraw troops from
Verdun
Tactics: mixture of frontal assaults aimed at achieving a breakthrough and attrition
German noted the beginning of Allied preparations on 7 April 1916, these were not taken
seriously due to the Germans poor opinion of British fighting ability
Falkenhayn sent four divisions and some heavy artillery to reinforce the German position.
This gave them up to 16 divisions divided between front line and reserve line trenches.
The German troops were well positioned. They had located their trenches on high ground
and built their concrete lined dug outs up to nine meters below ground level.
On 24 June 1916, prior to sending troops over the top, Allied troops began what was to be
a five day massive artillery bombardment of German barbed wire and dugouts
Due to bad weather, the bombardment went on across a seven day period.
On 1 July 1916, 13 British infantry divisions and 11 divisions of French infantry went over
the top on the first day of the battle of the Somme.
Many soldiers carried packs weighing between 32 and 40 kilograms laden with the trench
repair equipment. This would enable them to successfully defend the German trenches
they captured and hold off German attempts to regain lost territory.
General Haig ordered the soldiers to advance at walking pace in wave formation along a
40 kilometre front towards the supposedly destroyed German trenches.
Commanders were free to develop their own individual responses within this general
framework and could order cavalry regiments to move in as required to take up gaps in
the German lines.
Artillery bombardment failed to achieve its goal. While it had launched 1.5 million shells
at the German lines, the bombardment failed to destroy the barbed wire protecting the
German trenches.
With many poor quality shells failing to explode the German defences remained
unaffected in many places
The German heavily fortified dugouts protected their soldiers during the artillery
bombardment.
German artillery remained undamaged and ready to fire on advancing Allied troops
When Allied soldiers advanced into no mans land, they advanced into a not stop barrage
of German fire. They became easy targets as their attempts to pass though the German
barbed wire only made them become more entangled in it.
The allied troops didnt have the machine gun power needed to respond effectively
Battlefield communication was poor and it was hours before leaders learned of the scale
of the disaster they had created.
The first day of July 1916 came to be remembered as the worst day in the history of the
British led forces
The attack failed to achieve a large scale breakthrough, although French divisions had
some success.
Creeping Barrage: the use of a wall of artillery fire immediately in front of the advancing
infantry. As the artillery gunners moved forward to destroy enemy trenches, the infantry,
following behind, was ready to take control of a trench once the artillery fire has ceased.