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 December 31, 1914

War Diary World War One for Thursday, December 31, 1914: Western Front Kitchener breakfasts with Field Marshal French, he and Joffre must ‘break the German line’ in next 5 weeks or else the new Armies may not come to Western… learn more

Diary December 30, 1914

War Diary World War One for Wednesday, December 30, 1914: Western Front Flanders: Allies consolidate positions at Ypres. Champagne: French 33rd Division captures 300 yards (0.27 km) of German trenches, but 34th Division pinned by German artillery, weather worsening. Eastern… learn more

Diary December 29, 1914

War Diary World War One for Tuesday, December 29, 1914: Secret War Britain: Churchill in a letter to Asquith urges Royal Navy Baltic attack to land Russians for march on Berlin. And ‘are there not other alternatives than sending our… learn more

Diary December 28, 1914

War Diary World War One for Monday, December 28, 1914: Western Front Sir J French proposes amalgamation of BEF and Belgian Army. Flanders: Allies recapture St Georges on river Yser and repel recovery attempts at next day. Artois: Non-stop rain… learn more

Diary December 27, 1914

War Diary World War One for Sunday, December 27, 1914: Western Front Joffre and Field Marshall French confer at Chantilly. Artois: 10 Chasseurs de Alpins battalions capture 800 yards (0.73 km) of Bavarian trenches at La Targette after 2­ hours… learn more

Diary December 26, 1914

War Diary World War One for Saturday, December 26, 1914: Western Front Artois: Petain (XXXIII Corps) reports on deep mud delaying advance, Tenth Army attack postponed. Argonne: Italian Legion, 4th Regiment of the Legion, first in action (until January 9,… learn more

Diary December 25, 1914

War Diary World War One for Friday, December 25, 1914: Sea War North Sea – The Cuxhaven Raid: British seaplane carriers Empress, Engadine and Riviera launch 7 Short float planes against Nordholz Zeppelin sheds (not hit). Alternative targets bombed despite… learn more

Diary December 24, 1914

War Diary World War One for Thursday, December 24, 1914: Western Front Champagne: French 33rd Infantry Division clears Bois des Moutons with bayonet. Flanders: ­’CHRISTMAS TRUCE‘ (unofficial). Sniffily dismissed by British War Office as the ‘Fraternization episode’ Meuse: French gains… learn more

Diary December 23, 1914

War Diary World War One for Wednesday, December 23, 1914: Middle East Armenia: Istomin’s brigade of 8,000 men forced by 3 Turk divisions of X Corps to abandon Olta in frontier salient, loses 750 PoWs and 6 guns, retreats 12… learn more

Diary December 22, 1914

War Diary World War One for Tuesday, December 22, 1914: Western Front Flanders: British I Corps relieves Indian Corps and German pressure eases at Givenchy, lost trenches regained next day. Champagne: ­French I Corps gains ground near Beausejour Farm. African… learn more

Diary December 21, 1914

War Diary World War One for Monday, December 21, 1914: Western Front Flanders: British 1st Division bolsters Indian Corps defending Givenchy sector. Aisne: French XXV Corps (Sixth Army) attacks vainly (and on December 25), facing German grenade attacks Middle East… learn more

Diary December 20, 1914

War Diary World War One for Sunday, December 20, 1914: Secret War Western Front: 21 of 28 carrier pigeons sent from BEF GHQ to Belgium since November 2 have returned. Western Front Champagne – FIRST BATTLE OF CHAMPAGNE (‘Winter Battle… learn more

Diary December 19, 1914

War Diary World War One for Saturday, December 19, 1914: Western Front Flanders: Indian Corps (1,672 casualties) heavily engaged by German counter-attack with mining near Cuinchy and Givenchy until next day. Somme: French repulse attack near Lihons. Argonne: Sarrail‘s Third… learn more

Diary December 18, 1914

War Diary World War One for Friday, December 18, 1914: Western Front First German trench mortar unit formed (6 light mortars per pioneer company from January 1915). Flanders: British 7th and 8th divisions attack around Neuve Chapelle, Indian Corps at… learn more

Diary December 17, 1914

War Diary World War One for Thursday, December 17, 1914: Home Fronts Britain: Coast property war insurance rates raised after Hartlepool raid. Western Front Artois – First Battle of Artois (until December 28): series of French Tenth Army attacks on… learn more

Diary December 16, 1914

War Diary World War One for Wednesday, December 16, 1914: Sea War North Sea: 100 mines laid off by cruiser Kolberg near Scarborough. 20 of them swept on December 19, but 21 vessels sunk before field is cleared in April… learn more

Diary December 15, 1914

War Diary World War One for Tuesday, December 15, 1914: Southern Fronts Serbia: Serb patrols reoccupy Belgrade at 1000 hours and gunners hit Austrian pontoon bridge. END OF THIRD AUSTRIAN INVASION with loss of 41,000 PoWs and 133 guns. King… learn more

Diary December 14, 1914

War Diary World War One for Monday, December 14, 1914: Middle East Armenia: Enver Pasha arrives at Köprüköy, takes Third Army from Hasan Izzet. Tsar decorates 1,200 men from Front. Western Front Flanders: French 32nd and 16th Divisions attack near… learn more

Diary December 13, 1914

War Diary World War One for Sunday, December 13, 1914: Sea War Dardanelles – First battleship sunk by subma­rine: old Turk battleship Messudieh sunk at anchor in shoal water north of Kephez Point by RN submarine B11 (Holbrook) after passing… learn more

Diary December 12, 1914

War Diary World War One for Saturday, December 12, 1914: Eastern Front Carpathians: Austrians retake Dukla Pass and Nowy Sacz. Southern Fronts Serbia: Austrian Sixth Army recrosses Sava at Sabac until next day. Bosnia­: Montenegrins retake Visegrad. Western Front Artois:… learn more