Year 1916

The situation at the fronts in 1916:

Verdun

German infantry attack at Verdun.

The overrunning of Serbia by Central Powers forces (in­cluding Bulgarians), the evacuation of Gallipoli and the siege of Kut in Mesopotamia blighted many of the pet schemes of the ‘Easterners’. Once again, Allied plans for ‘decisive offensives’ on the Western Front received top priority. Massive Anglo-French combined operations were scheduled for spring 1916. But Falkenhayn struck first at Verdun on a quiet sector of the front.

The war’s longest battle began on 21 February and lasted until December. The German preliminary bombardment was the heaviest yet seen in war. The most sanguinary fighting took place for possession of Forts Douaumont (February) and Vaux (June); at Hill 30; and on a hill called Le Mort Homme (‘Dead Man’s Hill’). Douaumont was levelled to the ground and the very earth around it reduced to the consistency of fine talcum powder. The defenders were led by General (later Marshal) Philippe Petain, under the watchwords Ils ne passeront pas ! (They shall not pass!). And they did not pass !
A round-the-clock, week-in week-out shuttle service of motor trucks kept the garrison constantly supplied. The prolongation and ferocity of the fighting soon bore little or no relation to the intrinsic importance of the German objective; 66 French and 42 German divisions were deci­mated. The German Chief of Staff, Falkenhayn, intended to ‘bleed the French Army white’. If the successful French counterattacks of August-September 1917 are included, casualties at Verdun totalled a round million (550,000 French, 450,000 German).

The Allied reply to the Verdun onslaught came in the Somme valley during July-November. But Haig’s unimagi­native frontal attacks and the lamentable performance of the British artillery (despite adequate supplies of shells) brought no decisive result for the toll of 420,000 British and 195,000 French casualties during the Battle of the Somme. The battlefield debut of the tank (15 September) was on too small a scale to affect it. Dis­agreements over the Western Front stalemate and the fall of Rumania helped bring down the Asquith Government; David Lloyd George was appointed Prime Minister by King George V in December 1916.

Russian General Alexey Brusilov

Russian General Alexey Brusilov. He later claimed that if his fantastically successful offensive had been properly exploited, Russia could have won the war for the Allies. Even if he had not won the war he probably prevented the Allies losing it.

On the Eastern Front the now better-equipped and trained Russians under Brusilov had already launched the surprise Brusilov offensive that, in June, made spectacular gains between the Pripet marshes and the Carpathians.

Between 4 June and 15 August 1916, the Austro-Germans suffered 700,000 casualties (including 360,000 PoWs); Russian losses stood at 550,000. In near-desperation, the Central Powers were forced to transfer no fewer than 44 divisions from all fronts to meet Brusilov’s deadly threat. But Rumania’s entry into the war at the end of August, and the disasters which soon befell the cocksure Rumanians’ really brought Brusilov’s offensive to an end, by radically changing his mission, from the destruc­tion of the Austro-Hungarian armies to the preservation of Rumania, about a quarter of the Russian army had been drawn into the task of preventing a total Rumanian col­lapse. It was an ignominious end to an undertaking that had promised so well. By the end of the offensive, Brusi­lov’s armies had lost 1,412,000 men. Brusilov’s offensive was the last flourish of Imperial Russia.

The British force besieged at Kut in Mesopotamia, had to surrender to the Turks in April 1916 (the largest such capitulation since Kabul in 1842). But this was the Ottomans’ only success. Late in the previous winter (February 1916), the Russians under Yudenich had captured the strongly fortified city of Erzerum in Turkish Armenia. A second Turkish attack on the Suez Canal failed in August, while the Arab Sherif of Mecca pro­claimed a revolt and received the assistance of a British mission, which included the extraordinary Captain T E Lawrence. Lawrence helped organize the Arab army and, during 1916-18, gave invaluable assistance to the British forces in Palestine by forming and securing their right flank.

In East Africa, a prolonged British and Belgian offensive directed by Smuts overran most of Germany’s last colony but at heavy cost from disease and without ever decisively defeating Lettow-Vorbeck’s resilient defenders.

battle-cruiser Seydlitz on fire during the Battle of Jutland

The German battle-cruiser Seydlitz on fire during the Battle of Jutland. Although she was heavily damaged by a torpedo and by shellfire, she was not put out of action.

Germany had begun unrestricted submarine warfare in February 1915, but repeated American protests since the sinking of the liner Lusitania and other atrocities forced Berlin to suspend the campaign in April 1916. When Scheer, new commander of the German High Seas Fleet, attempted to repeat the bombardment of English coastal towns earlier carried out by his predecessor, he provoked the one and only general fleet action of the war – Battle of Jutland, or Skagerak as the Germans called it. British losses were heavier but the German fleet never ventured out again with serious intent. In an attempt to force the British to their knees, the all-out U-boat campaign was resumed in February 1917.

The venerable Austrian emperor, Francis Joseph II, died on 21 November 1916, aged 86. He was succeeded by his grand-nephew, the Archduke Charles. Although not previously suspected of having any interest in or aptitude for anything beyond soldiering and devotion to his glamor­ous wife Zita and infant son, Charles was soon making earnest endeavours to save his gravely threatened inheri­tance and conclude peace. Renewing his efforts the follow­ing spring, he employed his brother-in-law, Prince Sixtus of Bourbon-Parma, to act as intermediary between the Aus­trian and French governments. However, neither this initiative nor a ‘peace note’ from Pope Benedict XV (August 1917) bore fruit. Other (less august) ‘peacemakers’ were the British peer, Lord Lansdowne, the German Baron von der Lancken and millionaire American industrialist Henry Ford.

Related Reports:

Diary December 31, 1916

Rasputin

World War One Diary for Sunday, December 31, 1916: Home Fronts Russia: Rasputin murdered (night December 30-31). By now 14,648,000 men mobilized including 47.4% of the male peasants. Austria: Nearly 5 million men mobilized (800,000 killed, 1 million wounded and… learn more

Diary December 30, 1916

Emperor Charles at the Coronation as Hungarian King

World War One Diary for Saturday, December 30, 1916: Home Fronts Hungary: Emperor Charles crowned King Charles IV at Budapest. Germany: War Ministry dismounts 16 cavalry regiments. Russia: Tsar tells British Ambassador ‘In the event of revolution, only a small… learn more

Diary December 29, 1916

Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig

World War One Diary for Friday, December 29, 1916: Western Front Somme: Haig’s Battle of the Somme Dispatch published, covers BEF operations from May 15 to November 18, 1916. He divides battle into four phases, lists capture of 38,000 PoWs… learn more

Diary December 28, 1916

Dead in front of a shattered dugout

World War One Diary for Thursday, December 28, 1916: Western Front Verdun: Fierce German counter-attack at Mort Homme. Secret War Salonika: Serb Colonel Dimitrievic (codename Apis) of Black Hand secret society arrested at Serb Third Army Headquarter on charges of… learn more

Diary December 27, 1916

battleship 'Gaulois'

World War One Diary for Wednesday, December 27, 1916: Sea War Aegean: ­Escorted French battleship Gaulois sunk by coastal submarine UB-47 (Steinbauer) 30 miles east of Cerigo between Crete and Peloponnese. Eastern Mediterranean: RNAS seaplanes damage Baghdad Railway‘s Chikaldir Bridge… learn more

Diary December 26, 1941

Assault of British commandos

WW2 War Diary for Friday, December 26, 1941: Sea War Norwegian Sea: British naval commando raid on Lofoten Islands. Black Sea: Russian landings on Kerch Peninsula, to assist garrison of Sebastopol (December 26-30). learn more

Diary December 26, 1916

Joffre

World War One Diary for Tuesday, December 26, 1916: Western Front France: JOFFRE RESIGNS as C-in-C French Armies, is CREATED MARSHAL OF FRANCE, first since 1870. Eastern Front Rumania: Russian 124th Division holds Vizural against Bulgars until December 28 mainly… learn more

Diary December 24, 1916

British cavalry charging

World War One Diary for Sunday, December 24, 1916: Middle East Mesopotamia: British cavalry blow up Arab Fort Gusab 18 miles southeast of Kut. Eastern Front Dobruja: Bulgars attack Sakharov Macin bridgehead east of Braila, fails again on December 31.… learn more

Diary December 23, 1916

German soldiers in East Africa are attacking British troops.

World War One Diary for Saturday, December 23, 1916: African Fronts East Africa: NRFF (1,900 soldiers with 6 guns) advances from Lupembe against Captain Langenn to Mkapira (­arriving January 16, 1917) without trapping foe. Eastern Front Rumania – Battle of… learn more

Diary December 22, 1916

French poster appeals for economy

World War One Diary for Friday, December 22, 1916: Western Front France: Mangin in command of French Sixth Army, Micheler to head Reserve Army Group for 1917 spring offensive, Duchene takes over latter’s Tenth Army. Eastern Front Rumania – Battle… learn more

Diary December 20, 1916

Reich Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg

World War One Diary for Wednesday, December 20, 1916: Home Fronts Germany: Chancellor Bethmann comes under sustained pressure from German Army and Navy for unlimited U-boat warfare without delay (December 20-26). Ludendorff urges immediate unrestricted U-boat war in view of… learn more

Diary December 19, 1916

Lloyd George (center) with Marshal Foch and Aristide Briand

World War One Diary for Tuesday, December 19, 1916: Politics Britain: Lloyd George’s first speech as Prime Minister rejects peace talks without definite proposals ‘… we shall put our trust rather in an unbroken army than in broken faith’. British… learn more

Diary December 18, 1916

French colonial Zouaves troops

World War One Diary for Monday, December 18, 1916: Western Front Verdun:- First offensive Battle of Verdun ends; 4th (French 126th Division) Zouaves recapture Les Chambrettes Farm. Mangin thanks his XI Corps ‘We have the method and we have the… learn more

Diary December 17, 1916

French greeting card World War One

World War One Diary for Sunday, December 17, 1916: Western Front Artois: Marwitz takes over German Second Army from Gallwitz (until September 22, 1918) who goes to Fifth Army at Verdun. Eastern Front Dobruja: Bulgars break through, causing chaos; 1… learn more

Diary December 16, 1941

Russian artillery enters the re-captured Klin

WW2 War Diary for Tuesday, December 16, 1941: Eastern Front Russians recapture Klin northwest of Moscow. Sea War Pacific: Dutch submarine O.16 torpedoes 4 Japanese transports in Gulf of Siam (O.16 later destroyed in British minefield off Singapore). Japanese land… learn more

Diary December 16, 1916

commander of the German Fifth Army at Verdun, Crown Prince Wilhelm

World War One Diary for Saturday, December 16, 1916: Western Front Verdun: French 133rd Division (Passaga) recaptures Bezon­vaux and Hardaumont. German counter-attack regains Les Chambrettes Farm on December 17. Eastern Front Pripet: Russian positions between Kovel and Lutsk captured (restored… learn more

Diary December 15, 1916

Germans captured at Verdun

World War One Diary for Friday, December 15, 1916: Western Front Verdun – GREAT FRENCH ATTACK (north of Fort Douaumont): 2-mile penetration at 1000 hours recaptures Vacherauville, Hill 342 (Poivre Hill), Louvemont and Les Chambrettes with 3,500 PoWs. Mangin employs… learn more

Diary December 14, 1916

War in cinema

World War One Diary for Thursday, December 14, 1916: Eastern Front Rumania: Falkenhayn enters Buzeu in push for Braila and Galatz (Danube towns); all Wallachia in German hands, military government established at Bucharest. Air War Turkey: RNAS bomb Kuleli­-Burgas rail… learn more

Diary December 13, 1916

British gunboat on the Tigris

World War One Diary for Wednesday, December 13, 1916: Middle East Mesopotamia: Maude begins Tigris offensive with 48,500 men; 174 guns and 24 planes against 20,600 Turks with 70 guns: Sannaiyat shelled and Shalt-el-Hai Canal bridged (6 pontoon bridges by… learn more

Diary December 12, 1916

Nivelle

World War One Diary for Tuesday, December 12, 1916: Western Front GERMANY MAKES PEACE PROPOSALS. France: Foch removed by Joffre from command of Northern Army Group (d’Esperey succeeds on December 27); JOFFRE SUCCEEDED BY HIS CHOICE, NIVELLE (announced December 16,… learn more