World War I
World War I
the Homefront

World War I
the War

When Austria declared War on Serbia on July 28th 1914 and Russia mobilized, the German OHL (Oberste Heeres-Leitung, Army High Command) had little doubt that the long anticipated situation had come, and the Schlieffen Plan immediately was put into action. Violating Belgian neutrality, German forces crossed Belgium and penetrated into northern France. Meanwhile, the Russians made more progress than expected in the east. Some forces had to be removed from the west to the east which might have made the difference. The German advance now was halted 40 km off Paris, and the French, aided by the British, made some ground until the frontline stabilized in what was called the TRENCH WAR.
German disregard of the neutrality of smaller countries had added to the numbers of German enemies (Belgium, later Portugal) and alienated others, which also chose sides against Germany (Britain, later the USA). The new strategy was to have the enemy bleed to death in BATTLES OF MATERIEL. It worked against the Russians in the BATTLE OF TANNENBERG, where 40.000 Germans faced 160.000 Russians, of whom 60.000 fell, another 90.000 were taken prisoner; the Russian commander committed suicide. It did not work on the western front in the BATTLE OF VERDUN, where both the Germans and French lost about 340.000 men each (the numbers include both wounded and killed); the BATTLES AT THE SOMME, AT YPRES and LANGEMARCK were similarly bloody. Because the Germans failed to exhaust their French opponents, the battle was regarded lost.

Meanwhile, the British navy imposed a BLOCKADE on Germany, which made little use of it's cherished fleet. A few vessels scattered over the world's oceans were hunted down by the British, the colonies, regarded indefensible, quickly lost (with the exception of German East Africa, where commander LETTOW-VORBECK did not surrender until 1918). Germany responded by declaring U-BOAT WARFARE, which strained Britain's imports, as the country lost considerable ship tonnage due to German submarines.
Germany's allies, especially Austria-Hungary, were a mixed blessing. With German aid they managed to hold out, the Ottoman army, with German advisors, being able to repel a number of allied invasions.

In 1915 Russia's weakness became evident, and the OHL now hoped for a quick victory in the east, so that the eastern forces could be utilized in a last effort to force victory in the west. The strategy was to wear out the Russian forces; German forces advanced only reluctantly into Russian territory. In 1917 Germany helped LENIN cross from Switzerland to neutral Sweden (from where he proceeded to St. Petersburg) and secretly financed the Bolsheviks with a credit of 40 million Gold Marks. Germany and Lenin agreed that peace should be signed quickly; the PEACE OF BREST LITOVSK was signed on March 3rd 1918. Now Germany's forces were transferred to the west and the SPRING OFFENSIVE was launched, which failed to achieve it's goal to break through. Germany, running out of options, surrendered.

Das Deutsche Reich und der Erste Weltkrieg 1914-1918, by Hubertus Ochsler, in German
DOCUMENTS The Peace of Brest Litovsk and associated Documents, from Avalon Project at Yale Law School, Documents from 1917 and 1918
Treaty of Alliance between Germany and the Ottoman Empire, 2. 8. 1914, from Avalon Project at Yale Law School
Erlebnisbericht aus dem Ersten Weltkrieg, Der Infanterist Wolfgang Boehm (1896-1960) in der bayerischen Armee 1915-1919, from M. Beimler, a report of the experience of a Bavarian soldier in WW I, in German, also from this site
VIDEOS All Quiet on the Western Front, 1979, based on a novel by Erich Maria Remarque, portraits Trench Warfare from the perspective of a group of German soldiers

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted in 2000, last revised on November 12th 2004

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