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 October 11, 1914

War Diary of World War One for Sunday, October 11, 1914: Eastern Front Poland: Germans take Sochaczew on river Bzura 30 miles (ca. 48 km) west of Warsaw. Russian Fourth, Ninth and Fifth Armies begin bloody attempts to cross river… learn more

Diary October 10, 1914

War Diary of World War One for Saturday, October 10, 1914: Western Front FORMAL CAPITULATION OF ANTWERP TO GERMANS: Deguise offers his sword at Fort Ste Marie (Belgian garrison having decamped). Belgians stem German pursuit near Ghent. Flanders: Germans bombard… learn more

Diary October 9, 1914

War Diary of World War One for Friday, October 9, 1914: Eastern Front Poland: Austro-Germans approach Ivangorod fortress (Schwarz) on river Vistula. Galicia: Austrians relieve Przemysl. Western Front Antwerp: 1,560 men of British 1st Naval Brigade cut off and interned… learn more

Diary October 8, 1914

War Diary of World War One for Thursday, October 8, 1914: Western Front Flanders: Foch takes supreme command as Joffre’s assistant of Allied armies between Lille and the coast. Sir J French opens GHO at Abbeville after meeting him at… learn more

Diary October 7, 1914

War Diary of World War One for Wednesday, October 7, 1914: Western Front Belgium: Evacuation of Allied forces begins. 4 German brigades cross river Scheldt and threaten their line of retreat but Belgians hold vital Lokeren railway junction until next… learn more

Diary October 6, 1914

War Diary of World War One for Tuesday, October 6, 1914: Eastern Front Poland and Galicia: General Russian retreat, having lost 8,000 men and 9 guns to Germans since September 28. Western Front Antwerp: Germans take Lierre. Belgian Army begins… learn more

Diary October 5, 1914

War Diary of World War One for Monday, October 5, 1914: Air War Western Front: First air combat victory by an machine-gun-armed Allied plane: Sergeant Frantz and Corporal Quenault (French) in Voisin III of Escadrille VB24 destroy Aviatik with 47… learn more

Diary October 4, 1914

War Diary of World War One for Sunday, October 4, 1914: Eastern Front Tsar arrives at STAVKA, visits Osovyets on October 8. Poland: ­AUSTRO-GERMAN OFFEN­SIVE TOWARDS WARSAW BEGINS. Austrian First Army takes Opatow, but Guard Cavalry Brigade (Mannerheim) covers Russian… learn more

Diary October 3, 1914

War Diary of World War One for Saturday, October 3, 1914: Western Front Flanders: Germans briefly occupy Ypres. Landwehr enters Tournai. Belgium: Antwerp outer defenses now in German hands. Foreign legations leave. Churchill arrives from London with promise of ‘possibility… learn more

Diary October 2, 1914

War Diary of World War One for Friday, October 2, 1914: Western Front Near Arras Maud’huy is under heavy pressure from 3 German corps until October 6. Sir J French reports to King George ‘.. the spade will be as… learn more

Diary October 1, 1914

War Diary of World War One for Thursday, October 1, 1914: Western Front TRANSFER OF BEF FROM THE AISNE TO FLANDERS BEGINS (until October 20) with the cavalry. BEF will occupy positions from Bethune to Hazebrouck south of Ypres. Bavarian… learn more

Diary September 30, 1914

War Diary of World War One for Wednesday, September 30, 1914: Western Front Belgium: Belgians appeal to Allies for help at Antwerp. Artois: ­French troops re-enter Arras. General Maud’huy given 4 divisions and I Cavalry Corps of Second Army to… learn more

Diary September 29, 1914

War Diary of World War One for Tuesday, September 29, 1914: Western Front St Mihiel: Salient solidifies. France: French repulsed near Roye, Lassigny and Chaulny. French XXI Corps checked before Thiepval (Somme). Antwerp: Bombardment intensifies: Forts Koningshoycht, Lierre and Kessel… learn more

Diary September 28, 1914

War Diary of World War One for Monday, September 28, 1914: Western Front Belgium: Germans take Malines. German super-heavy howitzers bombard Forts Waelhem and Wavre-Ste Catherine, outer ring of Antwerp, both suffer magazine explosions. Eastern Front Poland: New German Ninth… learn more

Diary September 27, 1914

War Diary of World War One for Sunday, September 27, 1914: Western Front FIRST BATTLE OF ARTOIS (­until October 12) begins. Antwerp­: Beseler deploys 125,000 troops including siege train of 173 guns and technical troops from Maubeuge. Germans re-enter Malines.… learn more

Diary September 26, 1914

War Diary of World War One for Saturday, September 26, 1914: Western Front Somme: First Battle of Picardy ends. Castelnau halted at line Ribecourt-Roye-Chaulnes­-Bray-sur-Somme to await formation of new Tenth Army on his left. German XIV Corps takes Bapaume. British… learn more

Diary September 25, 1914

War Diary of World War One for Friday, September 25, 1914: Western Front Meuse: Bavarians enter St Mihiel; after storming French Camp-des-Romains. Dubail soon drives them back to outskirts. Aisne: ­German II Corps recaptures Noyon. Somme: Battle of Albert begins:… learn more

Diary September 24, 1914

War Diary of World War One for September 24, 1914: Western Front Germans retake and then lose again Peronne on river Somme. Joffre orders shell economies, reduces daily issue to 3 rounds per gun. Aisne: BEF’s first 6-inch howitzers (4… learn more

Diary September 23, 1914

War Diary of World War One for Wednesday, September 23, 1914: Western Front Rupprecht’s Sixth Army completes transfer from Lorraine to Artois, which was begun on September 16. Aisne: Battlefront extending north along river Oise, fighting near Lassigny. Home Fronts… learn more

Diary September 22, 1914

War Diary of World War One for Tuesday, September 22, 1914: Sea War North Sea: 3 old British cruisers Aboukir, Cressy and Hogue torpedoed and sunk within an hour by U9 (Weddi­gen). 1459 dead, 837 rescued by trawlers and Harwich… learn more