Was World War I
an avoidable debacle ?
The failure of the Schlieffen Plan led to the outbreak of war on various fronts.
The German Army marched through Belgium and Luxembourg to invade France. Initial victories made the success of the Schlieffen Plan likely. The First Battle of the Marne in September 1914, however, was a setback for the German army, and the Central troops were forced to retreat without having captured Paris.
The ensuing Race to the Sea set the stage for prolonged and calamitous trench warfare. Both sides dug trenches that stretched from the North Sea to the French-Swiss border. The battles fought on the Western Front including the Battle of the Marne, the Battles of Ypres, the Battle of the Somme, the Battle of Verdun, and the Battle of Passchendale claimed millions of lives and caused great damage to both sides.
The Central Powers faced stiff resistance from Russia and Serbia on the Eastern Front. War commenced on this front with Russia’s invasion of East Prussia on August 17, 1914. Unlike the Western Front, mobility was high and much territory was gained and lost by both sides.
Important battles fought along the Eastern Front include the Battle of Tannenberg, the battles of Masurian Lakes, and the Battle of Riga. The war cost Russia great losses in terms of life and property. The Russian economy lay in shambles. The outbreak of the Russian Revolution ended fighting on this front. Russia signed an armistice with Germany on December 16, 1917.
Despite having signed the Triple Alliance with Germany and Austria-Hungary, Italy entered World War I on the side of the Allied Powers. A number of battles were fought between 1915 and 1918 on the northern frontiers of Italy. Popularly referred to as the Italian Front, these battles were fought primarily between Italy and Austria-Hungary.
Italy’s hope of a quick victory and territorial gains of Cisalpine Tyrol fizzled out as Austria-Hungary was quick to respond to the surprise attack. The twelve battles fought along the Isonzo River resulted in a significant number of casualties for Italy. Fighting ended in this front on November 4, 1918, with the signing of the Armistice of Villa Giusti.
The Allied operation in the Gallipoli Peninsula of Turkey lasted from April 25, 1915 to January 9, 1916. The British and French troops attempted to force a sea route to Russia, through the Dardanelles and to capture Constantinople, the capital of the Ottoman Empire.
Though the monarchy itself was in shambles and the empire reeling under the weight of the war losses, the Gallipoli Campaign was a significant moment of patriotic struggle for the Turks.
Australia and New Zealand, both British colonies, were involved in the campaign. This led to the rise of national consciousness in these territories, culminating in their demand for independence.
Long before the outbreak of World War I, Britain and Germany were engaged in a naval rivalry. World War I precipitated the naval warfare between the two nations. Germany primarily engaged in submarine warfare, deploying U-boats to isolate Britain and routinely sunk vessels carrying supplies to Britain.
On May 7, 1915, German submarines sunk the passenger liner, Lusitania, drowning nearly 1,200 passengers and bringing the United States into the war.
The largest naval battle of World War I was fought between the Imperial German Navy's High Seas Fleet, commanded by Vice-Admiral Reinhard Scheer, and the British Royal Navy's Grand Fleet commanded by Admiral Sir John Jellicoe. Known as the Battle of Jutland, this naval battle was fought on May 31, 1916, and June 1, 1916, and ended inconclusively.
With the fall of Russia, the focus of war shifted back to the Western Front and the urgency to end the stalemate of trench warfare mounted. Fighting on the Western Front ended with the armistice on November 11, 1918.