Western Front Phases
Blue at 30 Nov 1914, Red at 31 Dec 1917 & Green at 11 Nov 1918

WWI Western Front...

The hostilities and diplomatic crisis from the Austria-Hungary assassination, brought a cogent alignment with Germany as the Empire looked to Germany to cover its northern flank! The German Empire had other ideas and directed the Austria-Hungary leaders to apply themselves to dealing with Serbia and Russia [Germany wanted this to be only Russia]; leaving it to tackle France.

The Eastern Front is covered on a separate page but it is worth briefly stating the above view crystallised into a battle plan and the Austrians went against the Serbian Army and over several weeks had heavy losses as they were pushed back. The Battles of Cer and Kolubara [12th August 1914 onwards], required heavy forces to remain and caused issues including an early victory for the Allies.

Germany mounted its plans [Aufmarsch I and II West], and mobilised its seven field armies against France. Its plan was essentially a flanking battle order and promptly set forth on a march through Belgium. The flanking positions being Verdun, Paris and the Marne River. Early ground was secured and won. The German Empire won the Battle of the Frontiers [14 August 1914 to 24 August 1914]. Then the Germans hit the British at the Battle of the Marne [5 September 1914 to 12 September 1914] and the German advance to Paris was halted; in fact pushed back 50 km. This was to be a turning point in this mobile marching plan as it signified the end of this western assault.

The French battle plan to address South Alsace forces [20 August 1914] with the Battle of Mulhouse had limited success. The strategy from the German Empire was to be swift and clinical, but the early victories caused a decisive strategy shift that was to cause the War to lengthen but strategically to cause both France and Britain to suffer on the supply routes. Germany ordered its reserve forces by rail to underpin Austria-Hungary forces in East Prussia - leading to the Central Powers first significant victory at the Battle of Tannenberg [17 August 1914 to 2 September 1914]. Germany now had strong defensive positions in France and Belgium and this squeeze on supply routes halved France's supply of coal!

The losses though were considerable - this was now over 230,000 more British and French troops killed or out of action. Technologically, communications and other command decisions prevented this from being far more deadly and decisive thankfully. The youngest British Soldier, who served for six weeks before his mother informed the War Office of his [real] age, was 12 years old when he joined the East Surrey Regiment - Private Sidney Lewis. He was fighting on Somme at the early age of 13 for some six weeks before being sent home and discharged from the Army. In WW2 he went on to be involved in Bomb Disposal and also out lived that War until he was 63 in 1969. He received the British War Medal and Victory Medal for his service in WW1.

Trench warfare begins.... dug in, the technology and strategies at the time was to set up barriers of barbed wire to hinder advancement and provide effective containment for the technologies of the day for the field gunners and artillery. Just after the Battle of the Marne [5 September 1914 - 12 September 1914], a northern advanced [later called the 'Race to the Sea', saw flanking advancement. Germany took a defensive position and built much better trenches and the Allies viewed the need for such 'embattlements' as temporary. Conditions were shocking - but despite views and perceptions to the contrary the losses in the trenches were more like one in ten. It is also sobering to think that 12 million letters were delivered to the front line each and every week.

Gas Warfare and Tanks were to come of age, and, in direct contravention of the Hague Convention, Chlorine gas was used by the Germans at the second Battle of Ypres on 22nd April 1915. This was the start of the development of several types of Chemical Weapon which became widely used by both sides. Tanks were first used by the British on the Battlefield on 15th September 1916 during the Battle of Flers-Courcelette on the Somme Offensive. German use of tanks was limited to captured Allied tanks and a collection of their own. Tank warfare and effectiveness would be advanced during WW1. Later on, the Allies used 324 tanks in the Battle of Cambrai on 20th November 1917 in various modes including engineering solutions for crossing ditches and trenches.

The trench warfare of the Western Front centred on a long line dominated by Ypres Salient and Somme. French determination was displayed during the Battle of Verdun, the human cost of that not just for the Allies and Germany was nearly a million, showing Germany they were willing to take this level of Self-Sacrifice. [February 1916 to December 1916]. The French were brought very close to their knees.

In parallel to this was the Battle of the Somme which was 1 July 1916 to November 1916 and was a combined British and French offensive. With sadness, this first day of the Somme was the bloodiest day in battle for the British Army ever in history - suffering 19,240 dead and 57,470 casualties. The Somme went on to see casualty rates of well over a million in total [German 500,000, French 200,000 and British 420,000]. Further Verdun action led to widespread mutinies in the French Army.

Nivelle Offensive [April 1917 to May 1917], Battle of Arras saw the capture of Vimy Ridge by the Canadians and the culminating Battle of Passchendaele [July 1917 to November 1917]. Many historians chalk much of the Western Front as a stalemate without meaning disrespect nor besmirching the huge cost to all sides. This is not true; the tactics, strategy, resolve showed all sides that ground would never be given until this War was won. Vimy Ridge would be the defining military and geo-political birth of the Canadian national identity.

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We have added a number of further pages and Picture Galleries to our website for you of The National Memorial Arboretum, the Ypres Salient, Flanders & The Menin Gate, Nord Pas de Calais, Somme, Vimy Ridge, Verdun and:

Western Front 1917

Western Front 1918 Allied final

AREA17:  So that we may all remember those that served, those injured and those that fell for the peace and security of all...