Year 1914

The Fronts in 1914: Battle of the Marne and Tannenberg

The final prewar crisis was caused by the fatal shooting of Archduke Francis Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian throne, at Sarajevo (Bosnia) on 28 June 1914. The assassin, Gavrilo Princip, was a Bosnian not a Serb – although he had at­tended Belgrade University. His accomplice, Cabrinovic, was undeniably Serbian. Both were arrested and sentenced to 20 years’ penal servitude. The repercussions of their crime would cost the lives of at least 9,700,000 combatants and perhaps 10 million civilians (including deaths from genocide, starvation and influenza).

Austria declared war on Serbia on 28 July 1914. When Russia mobilized, as a demonstration of solidarity with fellow Slavs, Germany declared war on Russia and France. German armies invaded neutral Belgium to outflank France’s border fortresses. This flouting of a solemn treaty (Treaty of London 1839) and international law obliged Britain to declare war on Germany (4 August 1914). She made preparations to dispatch a small (two corps), but highly professional, expeditionary force to France.

People welcome the outbreak of the war

People everywhere welcomed the outbreak of the war. These young Berliners have been called up to serve in the German Army.

France was determined to pursue her long-cherished war of revenge against Germany and her army was wedded to a philosophy of l’ offensive a l’ outrance (all-out offensive). C-in-­C Joffre’s ‘Plan XVII‘ envisaged an invasion of Alsace-­Lorraine followed by an advance to the Rhine. It almost entirely neglected to take prudent steps to meet any other contingency than a sweeping French victory. The result was that, when the German Chief of Staff, Moltke, implemented the so-called ‘Schlieffen Plan’ (that of his 1891-1905 prede­cessor) for a vast scything advance through Belgium and northern France, designed to trap the French armies, it came close to success. Only the mistakes and moral inade­quacy of Moltke (a sick man) paralleled by the iron nerve, adaptability and organizational genius of Joffre and the Paris garrison commandant, Gallieni, saved France and the Allied cause in the First Battle of the Marne (September 1914).

Schlieffen Plan

The original operation map of the Schlieffen Plan.

The Belgian Army, belatedly joined by British rein­forcements, made a defiant stand at Antwerp. In early October, the Belgians retreated down the Channel coast. By 15 October 1914, the continuous entrenched Western Front had been established from the sea to Switzerland. Furious German attempts to break through at Arras and Ypres were conspicuously unsuccessful.

Hindenburg and Ludendorff at Tannenberg

Hindenburg and Ludendorff at Tannenberg, while in the back Russian PoWs marching in captivity.

Two big Russian armies – gallantly but very ineptly lead and poorly equipped – immediately lurched into East Prussia. Although ultimately disastrous, their misguided onslaught did serve to force the Germans to withdraw forces from the West at a critical time. Hindenburg crushed the Russians at Tannenberg (late August 1914). A Russian invasion of Galicia (Austrian-ruled Poland) proved less easy to contain, being blocked a few miles east of-Cracow.

Despite the massive potential threat posed to Britain’s traditional naval supremacy by the German Navy, the latter remained in harbour. Commerce raiders, U-boats and minelayers made some mischief but the formidable German Pacific Squadron (von Spee) was bloody annihilated off the Falklands by British battlecruisers in early December 1914. Shortly afterwards came that strange interlude, the ‘Christmas Truce’ on the Western Front, when spontaneous outbreaks of fraternization took place between British and German (particularly Bavarian) troops. For a ‘brief shining moment’ (to use one later and borrowed phrase but per­haps apposite here), a hell-bent, war-crazed continent teetered on the edge of the sulphurous abyss.

Diary November 24, 1914

War Diary for Tuesday, November 24, 1914: Air War East Africa: Flt Sub-Lt Cutter, RNAS piloting dilapidated Curtiss flying boat, spots German cruiser Königsberg at secret anchorage 12 miles (ca. 19 km) up Rufiji Delta (see also December 6, 1914).… learn more

Diary November 23, 1914

War Diary for Monday, November 23, 1914: Eastern Front Poland: Isolated Germans launch breakout against Russian line Rzgov-Koliuszki southeast of Lodz. Night temperature 10 °F. Lechitski’s Russian Ninth Army (14 divisions) only 93,000 men strong instead of 196,000. Western Front Ypres:… learn more

Diary November 22, 1914

War Diary for Sunday, November 22, 1914: Air War Western Front: Lieutenant A Strange and F G Small of No 5 Squadron return from a reconnaissance mission in an Avro 504 (Lewis gun on jury-rigged rope tackle above observer’s seat)… learn more

Diary November 21, 1914

War Diary of World War One for Saturday, November 21, 1914: Air War Germany – First British long-range bombing raid: 3 Avro 504s of RNAS (Sqn Cdr Featherstone-Briggs, Flt Cdr Babington and Flt Lt Sippe) starting from temporary base at… learn more

Diary November 20, 1914

War Diary of World War One for Friday, November 20, 1914: Eastern Front Captured documents tell Russians Germans reading their cipher so key changed, but Austrian Captain Pokorny solves again two days later. Poland: ­Mackensen attacks Russian line, Lowicz-Skiernievitse, southwest… learn more

Diary November 19, 1914

War Diary of World War One for Thursday, November 19, 1914: Eastern Front South Poland: Austrian Second Army storms Mykanow and Klekoty but blocked by Russian Fourth Army. Conrad complains ‘We…have been holding the door against half Asia’. Plehve‘s Fifth… learn more

Diary November 18, 1914

War Diary of World War One for Wednesday, November 18, 1914: Eastern Front East Prussia: Russians beaten at Soldau. Poland: Russians retreat on Lowicz, 150,000 men near Lodz encircled on 3 sides by 250,000 Germans; Grand Duke Nicholas countermands retreat… learn more

Diary November 17, 1914

War Diary of World War One for Tuesday, November 17, 1914: Western Front Falkenhayn begins transferring 9 divisions to Eastern Front, ‘low fighting strength … and bad autumn weather’ ends German Fourth Army attacks. Eastern Front Poland: Fighting around Plotsk… learn more

Diary November 16, 1914

War Diary of World War One for Monday, November 16, 1914: Eastern Front Poland: Russian rear guards beaten at Vlotslavek and Kutno. Russian I Corps marches 70 miles (ca. 113 km) along bad roads until next day to cover Lodz.… learn more

Diary November 15, 1914

War Diary of World War One for Sunday, November 15, 1914: Western Front French General Staff issues studies and plans on resumption of offensive, assuming a German retreat after their setbacks at Ypres and on the Eastern Front. Ypres­: Relief… learn more

Diary November 14, 1914

War Diary of World War One for Saturday, November 14, 1914: Neutrals Italy­: Mussolini launches and edits Popolo d’italia newspaper. USA: ‘Christmas ship’ Jason sails from New York with $ 3 million gifts for war victims. Western Front France: Field… learn more

Diary November 13, 1914

War Diary of World War One for Friday, November 13, 1914: Eastern Front East Prussia: Russians threaten fortress Thorn, are checked on November 14 but levy taxes on November 15. Galicia: Russians occupy Dunayetz and threaten Cracow. Western Front Ypres:… learn more

Diary November 12, 1914

War Diary of World War One for Thursday, November 12, 1914: Western Front Flanders: German official communiqué for November 11 claims: ‘In the neighborhood east of Ypres our troops advanced further. A total of more than 700 French were taken… learn more

Diary November 11, 1914

War Diary of World War One for Wednesday, November 11, 1914: Middle East SULTAN PROCLAIMS JIHAD (HOLY WAR) AGAINST ALLIES at Fatih Mosque, Constantinople. Armenia: 4 Turk divisions counter-attack Russian flanks, force their retreat on next day. Western Front FIRST… learn more

Diary November 10, 1914

War Diary for Tuesday, November 10, 1914: Western Front Flanders: Battle of the Yser ends. German 43rd Reserve Division storms Dixmude (but French demolish bridge) and St Eloi. Over 20 German divisions attack around Ypres until November 11. Eastern Front… learn more

Diary November 9, 1914

War Diary of World War One for Monday, November 9, 1914: Sea War Indian Ocean: German light cruiser Emden driven ashore and destroyed (206 dead, but 50 crew ashore escape) on Direction Island, Keeling, Cocos Islands by cruiser HMAS Sydney… learn more

Diary November 8, 1914

War Diary of World War One for Sunday, November 8, 1914: Southern Fronts Serbia: Austrian Fifth Army advances to within mile of Serb Second Army aided by heavy artillery and river monitor fire. Other Serb armies fall back under pressure;… learn more

Diary November 7, 1914

War Diary of World War One for Saturday, November 7, 1914: Far East Tsingtao: Fall of the city. ­Ceasefire after Japanese storm redoubts before Forts Bismarck and Moltke. 4 German gunboats and sloop Cormoran scuttled. Western Front Flanders: Fierce attack… learn more

Diary November 6, 1914

War Diary of World War One for Friday, November 6, 1914: Southern Fronts Serbia: Third Austrian offensive begins. Potiorek masses 119 battalions against 72 Serb battalions in Loznica­-Ljubovija sector of Drina front, promising ‘annihilation of exhausted’ enemy. Eastern Front East… learn more

Diary November 5, 1914

War Diary for Thursday, November 5, 1914: Western Front Somme: German attack at Le Ouesnoy-en-Santerre fails. Flanders: BEF 7th Division withdrawn from line only 2,380 men strong. Foch tells Sir J French that Kitchener had offered him on November 1… learn more