First World War

28th June 1914 Francois-Ferdinand, archduke heir of Austria and his wife are assassinated in Sarajevo, capital of Bosnia. This country was annexed by the Austrian empire in 1908, but demanded back by the Serbian kingdom in the name of the "principle of nationalities". For Austria the Serbian government is responsible for this assassination and on purpose submits an unacceptable ultimatum. Since Russia is the protector of the small Slavic countries, Austria takes a big risk with its action but Vienna takes it, knowing that it has the support of Berlin. Serbia, which however gave in to the requirements, is attacked by the Austrian army on July 29th in Belgrade. The alliances trigger all at once and with them the war declarations; Europe participates from now on to a conflict, where The Entente faces the Central Empires. Germany invades the neutral countries Luxembourg and Belgium and declares war to France on August 3rd. Beforehand, on August 1st, Germany was in war against Russia, which was already in conflict with Austria-Hungary. England with Egypt at its side, enters the conflict. To them the disrespect of the rights of the neutral States and the gibberish from the signatories of the treaties is unacceptable. On August 2nd France takes action by concentrating its troops at the borders and passes to its offensive. Its two protectorates, Morocco and Tunisia provide soldiers against Germany. The African army (riflemen, cavalry, artillery etc) comes from Algeria to France as Senegalese contingent of the colonial army, while in Paris, Bordeaux, Lyon, Marseille, Toulon thousands of foreigners (Italians, Poles, Czechs, Swiss, Spanish, Luxembourg , Russian, etc) join up the Foreign Legion for the duration of the war.

  • The allied ships in Dardanelles, after the battle

    The allied ships in Dardanelles, after the battle

  • The landing in Dardanelles

    The landing in Dardanelles



The operations immediately begin on the soil, on sea and in the colonies, in Africa, Asia and in the Pacific. Japan joins the allies; later, Turkey will join the Central Empires. More fronts will be created, in the west, the east, and in the Balkans (which will become the eastern front in 1916), as well as in Caucasus (here the fights take place in Tifilis, Tabriz, Van, Erzeroum and in the mountains the 3rd Turkish army is completely shattered from the Russians); when the English land in Mesopotamia and the Turkish attack the Suez channel in 1915, even a Middle East front will be formed . The Holy war launched in Constantinople, will perturb the Moslem populations against the Christians and stir up the "Senoussins" in Sahara, the dissidents in Morocco, the Turkish against the Armenians and spread disorder in Persia, in Azerbaidjan, in Pakistan. Moreover this situation will maintain the troops in the western front. As far as the African front is concerned it is huge and immediately reactive: from August 8th 1914 the English ships shell Dar-es-Salam; in November, 6000 British land to invade the territory of Eastafrica, which belongs to the Germans. Here the war will last four years. In 1916 they will get the support of the Portuguese. French, English and Belgians invade Cameroon and the German Togo. The Afrikaans of the Transvaal attack the German colony in Namibia without hesitating. Far away from here in China the Japanese army besiege the Tsing Tao port, where the German garrison resists bravely, while the Australians take Guinea, a German possession. In eastern Europe the Russians invade the east of Poland but are beaten in Mazurie, in Tannenberg. Then the fight proceeds in Poland for Warsaw, Lodz. In 1915 the conflict takes place in Galicia, on the Vestula, Bug and Sereth lines. The Russians are weakened and on May 1915 move 250 Km backwards; the Central Empires move on with the offensives until constituting an uninterrupted front of 1000 Km length, stabilized from Latvia to Bukavine. The Russians lost three million men during this huge fight. However, with General Broussilov they will attack again during the summer 1916 and this time they will be successful. They will organise a memorable breakthrough and thus relieving the western front and Verdun, two threatened territories. In the Balkans, Serbia is completely occupied and suffers of the constant shelling of the Central Empires. General Sarrail's army of the East enters Macedonia but will withdraw along Vardar and hide behind Salonique in Greece in December 1915.

In all the seas of the world allied and enemy fleets are confronted. the English, after winning the fight of Cap Corel in Chile November 1st, are victorious also over Falklands in the south Atlantic on December 8th 1914. August 28th 1914 in the North Sea the Home Fleet crushes against the Hoch See Flotte which was given a rough time. From the beginning of the hostilities the submarines show their real effectiveness by audacious torpedoing, which sinks large boats. Thus on September 22nd the U-9 sinks three English cruisers near Holland. On October 29th the allied maritime blockade is set in motion against the Central Empires. In the Mediterranean, the Adriatic is blocked by the Allies and the Austrian fleet is blocked in its bases, but helped by the German submarines coming from the Straits of Gibraltar. They perform in Dardanelles where the Allies attack from the sea and the soil, sinking in 1915 the battleships Triumph, Majestic etc. From 1916 and in 1917 they also attack the sea traffic between Toulon and Salonique. In these intense moments of fights, the French national navy undergoes heavy losses: the battleship Bouvet, Suffren, Danton, Gaulois, the auxiliary cruiser Gallia, Brudigala, transport Provence II, the destroyer Cassini, patrol crafts, submarines. The merchant navy loses a lot of unities: steamers Athos, Sontay, Calvados etc. The absolute weapon is the 500mm German torpedo charged with 180kg of explosive. The French navy retorts by launching Guiraud depth charges and uses receivers to detect the propeller noises. The allies act in common against the U-Boote thanks to the Q ships; the Admiral Jellicoe will lead the anti submarine defence. May 1st 1915 the U-20 shells the steamship Lusitania in the Atlantic, which causes the anger and indignation of the United States. May 23rd 1915 Italy joined the Allies and will perform in the Mediterranean Sea. The British minister of war, Lord Kitchener, disappears on June 6th 1916 in the North Sea, on board of the cruiser Hampshire which explodes on a mine. July 31st 1916 the English and the German fleet collide in Jutland, facing an uninterrupted fight of more then five hours on a row and causing approximately 9000 victims from both sides. The English lose 5 cruisers and battleships and many other ships have been seriously damaged. February 6th 1917 the sea blockade against the Central Empires is very large and a barrage of floating mines against the Central Empires is established along 400 km, between the Orcades islands and Norway.

In the sky on October 5th 1914 the first aerial combat will take place and won by the French. Commander de Rose creates the fighter aircraft in 1916. The aces starts their exploits (Garros, Vedrines, Nungresser, Navarre, Brocard, Madon, Drome Boyau, Pégoud, Guynemer, Fonck, etc ). Commander de Goÿs creates the first bombardment group; May 26th 1915 he attacks, with 18 planes the factories of Ludwigshafen. From the other side the pilots Boelcke, Immelmann, Voss, Richthofen, etc will respond. From 1915 the airships of the navy and the Zeppelins attack the capitals London and Paris. As far as the English, Americans, Belgians are concerned other aces will achieve several exploits : Ball, Mannock, Bishop, Mac Cudden, Collishaw, Rickenbacker, Luke, Lufbery, Willy Coppens, Thieffry, etc. The French-British base of the aerial attacks against the Reich is situated in Malzéville-Nancy in Lorraine. In France after the victories of Marne and Grand Couronné of Nancy in September 1914, the front has been stabilized in order to ease the operations in Flandres and Artois. 1915 is the year of the apogee of the French attacks in Vosges, in Meuse, in Meurthe-et-Moselle, in Champagen, in Aisne, Oise, Somme, Pas-de-Calais where keen fights will take place. The commander-in-chief Joffre several times brings the different allied chiefs in his General Head Quarter of Chantilly together, in order to decide on the common actions, handicapping the II Reich which already has to fight on the two fronts. The year 1916 is dominated by Verdun and Somme during which a lot of troops and material were used.

The fights set out for a universal war. The role of the armament increases thanks to the industry. The first attack in the west, which uses chloral gas, compressed on bottles, takes place in Flandres on April 22nd 1915 against the allied troops in the Yser front. Also flamethrowers, shells with phosphorus, heavy and light tanks, heavy railway artillery, trench artillery , as well as observation balloons, anti-aircraft defence, sound location, wireless sets, trucks, track-laying tractors etc will be used. Every belligerent adopts from now on steel helmets, adapts his uniforms, improves his automatic weapons and artillery pieces. The gases are sophisticated with phosgene in 1916, with yperite in 1917 and with lewisite in 1918. Also tear-gases are created. As far as the equipment for the sea is concerned, underwater cruisers, minelayers submarines, high speed motorboats, planes and torpedo sea-plans, aircraft-carriers (the first landing is successfully executed on August 2nd 1917 by a Sopwith plane). The population of the Central Empires suffer from the blockade. Those of the besieged countries must deal with forced labour, deportation, requisitions and military tyrannies. Each camp must face the spying, the counter-spying and the propaganda. The English nurse Miss Edith Cavell, suspected of assistance to the allied soldiers in Belgium, is sentenced to death by the German military Government of Belgium, causing a public outcry among the Allies and the neutral countries. In 1917 the French shoot Mata-Hari for spying. This causes anger and the information are researched in each camp at all costs. The British admiralty intercepts the codex of the German secret messages, which gives them the possibility to decode the extremely important Zimmermann dispatch in 1917. The war industrialization develops with no limits. The women work as worker. The war loans are launched and every country drains its gold or borrows abroad. Inflations, scarcity, strikes suffocates the economy which exists henceforth only for the war and which is frenetically leaded by each government.The population is hungry, cold, scared and suffers from bereavement. The losses of combatants are immense and the belligerents require the total use of men resources. The Allies also call on their African and Asian contingents. Furthermore they engage Chinese workers for the war effort. Canada, Australia, New Zeeland, South Africa fight with the English who also use the Indian army since the beginning of the operations. Portugal, Greece, Rumania, the United States have join the Entente. Bulgaria becomes the Central Empire's ally. Swiss, Dutch, Spanish remain neutral like the Scandinavians, although the Swedish nearly joined Germany. Sweden wanted to involve Mexico in the fight (the famous Zimmermann dispatch), which determined the participation of the Americans to this conflict on April 2nd 1917. Later in December 1917 the United States declared war as well to Austria-Hungary. An important number of South American countries, for instance Brazil, influenced to follow America's wake, declares to be hostile against Germany.

In February on the same year the empire of the tsars collapses, Nicolas II abdicates on March and is replaced by the government of prince Lvov whom war minister is Kerenski who later on will become Prime Minister. The Bolshevik revolution breaks out on November 6th and 7th and Lenin with Trotski assumes power. February 1st 1917 Germany launches an unlimited submarine war which reached a record of sunk tonnage never attended before (not even during the second world war!) : 880 000 tonnages have exploded during the month of April. May 4th the American Marine participates to the anti-submarine battle, in order to protect the convoys of the ships travelling between America and Europe. Always on the year 1917 Baghdad is seized on March 11th by the British, who can now reinforce the Persian front where the Russian-Turkish armistice comes into force on December 7th. German reinforcements leave for the Middle East, where the English General Allenby wishes to conquer Palestine. With the Arabs Lawrence seizes Akaba July 5th. Alleby goes on the offensive, reaches Gaza on October 27th, Jaffa on November 16th, Jerusalem on December 9th. On this front also 6000 French soldiers of Colonel-lieutenant Piépape will participate. In the East, after the seizure of Monastir on 1916, General Sarrail give up his commandment to General Guillaumat on December 22nd 1917. In Italy, Germany intervenes directly: Ludendorff sends off the 14th German army launching a destructive offensive in the Caporetto location. 325 000 men will be imprisoned and 3 200 guns will be confiscated, moreover they will move 120 km forward. The Italians, helped by their Allies (General Fayolle with 120 000 men and General Plumer with his 7th division) take position behind Piave. Keen fights will unfold in Grappa; the French mountain light infantry take Monte Tomba back on December 30th.The small Rumanian army, assisted by the French military mission (General Berthelot) is eliminated by the Central Empires on the Moldavian front, the armistice is signed on December 9th.

France, exhausted from the battle on the Chemin des Dames, has her doubts, but on the 20th November Georges Clemenceau, the Council President and Minister for War, announces to MPs: "I am making war, nothing but war!" The head of his military cabinet is General Mordacq, nicknamed "The Bear" and Clemenceau is "The Tiger". Alongside them is a highly effective man: Louis Rothschild, known as Georges Mandel, head of the cabinet. At the Department of the Marines, Clemenceau has appointed Georges Leygues. In Berlin, Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg (in this position since 1909) is forced to resign on the 13th July, to be replaced by Michaëlis, whilst at the Reichstag, Erzberger insists on a compromised peace, to the displeasure of the Supreme military chiefs. The Emperor of Austria, Charles the First, shares the idea of rapid peace but, at the war department's supreme head office, Marshal von Hindenburg and his deputy Ludendorff want to secure peace through a victory of arms, a German peace that will guarantee the imperial aims of the war, such as the annexation of Belgium and Luxembourg, the colonisation of the East, etc. The Chancellor's plan of the 9th September 1914 (the creation of a German Europe, called Mitteleuropa, where France would be a servile state after losing the Nord, Pas-de-Calais, Meuse and Meurthe-et-Moselle regions etc.) remained in place, though subject to amendments. The treaty of Kiev had been signed with the Ukrainians on the 9th February, the treaty of Brest-Litovsk with Moscow on the 3rd March and that of Bucharest with the Romanians on the 7th May, allowing Germany to secure her takeover of the East and build upon her many projects there. The Imperial High Command is helping the Ukraine, setting up a puppet government in Kiev under the "collaborator" General Skoropadski, and sending troops who arrive in the Crimea, reaching the Donetz, the Don, the Kouban and Georgia (the latter gaining independence on the 26th May). An army of Tsarist Russians is assembled with Denikin, along with anti-Reds and anti-Germans, rallying around Admiral Koltchak assisted by the Allies, who will land at Vladivostok in Siberia, Murmansk and at Arkhangelsk. On the 17th July, the Tsar and his family are assassinated by the Bolsheviks at Ekaterinburg. These German unilateral acts bring about a second treaty of the East, that of the 28th August 1918, when Moscow accepts the worst conditions, losing Poland, Finland and the Baltic countries etc. The prime objective is the oil in Baku, a town taken by the Turks and threatened by the British. Where fuel is concerned, the treaty of Bucharest has already allowed the Germans the Romanian oil from Ploesti for a period of thirty years. Berlin demands 33% of all future Russian oil, promising to give back the Donetz and make the Turks leave Baku. The Turks and the Germans negotiate; the former want control over Armenia and Azerbaijan, leaving the vital Georgia to Berlin, who will protect the Baku-Batoum pipeline and the railway line that runs from the Caspian to the Black Sea via Tbilisi. In the middle of all this confusion, the French Military Commission (of General Niessel with more than 200 officers) in Russia takes action: France assists Moscow against the enemy takeover and her officers there organise the evacuation of equipment to Siberia, sabotaging factories and blowing up bridges and railway lines; Germany loses 500,000 tonnes of iron ore from freight cars there, vital for its wartime metal industry. To the north, in Finland, in April 1918, General Mannerheim comes to power, forms an alliance with Berlin, and it is the German army that arrives on the 16th May to seize back Helsinki from the "Reds".

During the year 1918 the terrestrial means will be very successful : tank and plane engines, special yperite shells also known as mustard gas. The engines allow the allied victory. Here already the importance of the petrol. The omnipresent aviation intervenes directly in the fights. The English creates the R.A.F. (Royal Air force) on April 1st; General Duval creates the 1st aerial division on May 16th (a tactic strength of fighters and bombardment); the German have their Kogenluft (commandment of their aerial forces) and for their reprisal raids against Paris and London they use the giant two-engine Gotha GV planes as well as the R.F.Z. with six engines. January 22nd the allied Navy Head Quarter will meet for the first time in London. Here English, French, Italian, American and Japanese Admirals coordinate their actions, in order to conclude the victory of the maritime war and ensure the arrival of the American forces in Europe, which equals to 10 000 soldiers every day, from the month of July. The American Navy of Admiral Sims puts itself in action 370 buildings and 80 000 seamen. On April 22nd the British Admiralty starts the audacious raid of Admiral Keyes against Zeebrugge, the Flandres base, nest of the submarines and water planes, with a landing of marine fusiliers and Royal Marines who will achieve to destruct and block the outgoing/output channel. Since springtime, the German field eastwards has lost battle over battle and its human and material losses are immense; even the offensive "for peace" of July 15th in Champagne failed pitifully. 14th August in Spa, Belgium the Council of Crown unfolds, where the two emperors of Germany and Austria will meet. Here Karl I says: "The populations are at the end of their forces, as well as the forces of his empire". The allied commander-in-chief Foch receives the dignity of Marshal of France on August 6th and two days later his offensive in Montdidier breaks through the German front of Somme. Ludendorff will define the day of August 8th like: "a day of bereavement for the German army". This one will face failure over failure, will have to move backwards, with its line broke though, without men reserves, completely weakened and hungry, constrained to constantly retreat, with in addition to all that a demoralized command.

In the East, General Franchet d'Esperey achieves the breakthrough of the Bulgarian line of Moglena on September 15th. This gap is exploit by the French cavalry which takes with drawn sward Uskub the 29th. The same day Bulgaria capitulates. October 16th the French besiege the Bulgarian capital Sofia and reach the Danube three days later. November 1st the Serbian army takes Belgrade back. Berthelot's French army of Danube intervenes against the Germans in Rumania. Turkey, devastated by the disaster in the Middle East, in Mesopotamia and in Thrace (loss of Naplouse, Nazareth, Damas, Beirut, Alep; Napelouse hase been conquered by the French cavalry of Africa) capitulates on October 30th. October 6th the French navy seizes Beirut, where General Hamelin takes the command of the Alexandrette area by virtue of the French- English Picot- Sykes agreements. Hungary breaks the agreement with Austria, the same day Italy is attacked in Piave on October 24th. Austria capitulates on November 3rd and the 12th the Republic is proclaimed in Vienna, then the 16th in Budapest. In Poland General Pilsudski assumes power in Warsaw. In October Germany, with a defeated army on the battlefield and undermined by the revolutionary movements, asks the President of the United States Wilson to enter into negotiations on the bases of his fourteen points plan. General Groener replaces Ludendorff (Ludendorff will be nazi deputy during the inter war period). With the help of chancellor Max von Baden makes Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicate on November 9th, who will flee to Holland. The Republic is proclaimed in Berlin. The German plenipotentiaries leaded by Erzberger are led to Rethondes in Oise, to listen to Marshal Foch, who announces the armistice conditions. After the signature, the armistice takes effect on November 11th, stopping the hostilities between Germany and the Allies at 11 a.m. After that Germany has to evacuate the besieged territories, except in ex-Russia (article 12) until a convenient decision of the Allies who for the moment prefer the German military presence instead of the general chaos. The armistice will be renewed several times before, the peace conference in Paris, leads to the final peace, concretised by the treaty of Versailles on June 28th 1919, which includes 435 articles. It comes into effect on January 11th 1920 and is adopted in the majority by the French deputies the next October 20th. Other treaties are signed afterwards . Sait-Germain-en-Laye (September 10th 1919) with Turkey;Neuilly (September 27th 1919) with Bulgaria; Grand Trianon (June 4th 1920) with Hungary; Sèvres (10th August 1920) with Turkey. Some Countries grow larger : France (which get Alsace and Lorraine back), Belgium, Denmark, Italy, Greece and Rumania. Other are constituted/are born: Poland, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Estonia etc. The Company of Nations I (S.D.N.) is created in order to regulate the future international disputes. The United States refuse to ratify the treaty of Versailles and do not participate to the S.D.N. However this peace carries with it the seeds of the war, which will lead the exhausted populations to start the Second World war.

MINDEF/SGA/DMPA Pierre Hervet 21/11/2002