Year 1916

The situation at the fronts in 1916:


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.

Diary December 11, 1916

Italian battleship 'Regina Margherita'

World War One Diary for Monday, December 11, 1916: Sea War Adriatic: Italian bat­tleship Regina Margherita (many casualties including Captain) sunk by two mines from UC-14 off Valona, Albania, returning to Taranto for refit. Italy only announces the loss on… learn more

Diary December 10, 1916

Serbian artillery on the winter move

World War One Diary for Sunday, December 10, 1916: Southern Fronts Serbia: Russo-Serb attacks against Hill 1050 fail (until December 11) against German Guard-Schuetzen Battalion. Sea War North Sea: Merchant U-boat Deutschland returns to river Weser. Neutrals Greece: Allies demand… learn more

Diary December 9, 1916

Hindenburg with Grand Cross of the Iron Cross.

World War One Diary for Saturday, December 9, 1916: Home Fronts Germany: ­Hindenburg given the first 1914 Grand Cross of the Iron Cross. Raw Materials Office merger/closure agreement on non­essential industries to save transport. Britain: New War Cabinet first meets.… learn more

Diary December 8, 1916

Romanian infantry in their trenches.

World War One Diary for Friday, December 8, 1916: Eastern Front Rumania – Battle of river Cricov (until December 12) as Rumanians retreat northeast on Rimnicu Sarat. Germans claim 70,000 PoWs, 184 guns, 115 MGs between December 1 and 9… learn more

Diary December 7, 1916

David Lloyd George

World War One Diary for Thursday, December 7, 1916: Home Fronts Britain: LLOYD GEORGE BECOMES PRIME MINISTER. Call up of non-skilled munition workers agreed. Turkey: Interior Ministry reports to Grand Vizir 702,900 Armenians ‘relocated’ by October 31. France: Government wins… learn more

Diary December 6, 1916

Mackensen captured Bucharest

World War One Diary for Wednesday, December 6, 1916: Eastern Front Rumania – FALL OF BUCHAREST: Mackensen rides in on a white charger, on his 67th birthday. Kaiser celebrates with champagne. 8,000 survivors of Rumanian 1st Division with 26 guns… learn more

Diary December 5, 1916

Portuguese observation post

World War One Diary for Tuesday, December 5, 1916: African Fronts East Africa: Portugese invested at Newala, Marumba and Majembi but escape over river Rovuma to Nangedi which Germans occupy between December 8-20. Eastern Front Rumania: Colonel Norton­-Griffiths, Military Police,… learn more

Diary December 4, 1916

Turk field officers

World War One Diary for (day), (Datum): Southern Fronts Salonika: Turk XX Corps HQ arrives east of Struma, rest of formation by January 11, 1917. Sea War Britain: Jellicoe succeeds Admiral Sir H Jackson as First Sea Lord (post offered… learn more

Diary December 3, 1916

General von Falkenhayn

World War One Diary for (day), (Datum): Eastern Front Rumania: Falkenhayn signs 3-day armistice allowing Bucharest‘s evacuation (arsenal and forts blown up on December 4). Southern Front Serbia: Serb Drina Division captures Gruniste east of Crna, then Staravina on December… learn more

Diary December 2, 1916

Massai warriors in British service in East Africa drinking blood

World War One Diary for Saturday, December 2, 1916: African Fronts East Africa: British Kilwa Force occupies Ngarambi, 30 miles northwest of Fort Kibata. Neutrals Greece: Allies declare blockade and embargo all Greek vessels. Venizelists fight Royalists, Athens (former massacred… learn more

Diary December 1, 1916

victim of a German U-boat sinks

World War One Diary for Friday, December 1, 1916: Sea War Atlantic, North Sea, Mediterranean: During December U-boats sink 167 ships (39 British worth 109,936t; 58 Allied; 70 neutral) worth 276,400t. Adriatic: In December British Monitor Earl of Peterborough arrives… learn more

Diary November 30, 1916

Royal Navy Lanchester armoured cars in Russia

World War One Diary for Thursday, November 30, 1916: Eastern Front Dobruja: ­Russian and RNAS armoured cars (left Odessa November 13, arriving Hirsova on Danube November 27), lead attack (until December 1 with 7 armoured cars damaged) at Topalul aiding… learn more

Diary November 29, 1916

German supply column crosses a ford in Romania

World War One Diary for Wednesday, November 29, 1916: Eastern Front Rumania: BATTLE OF BUCHAREST (until December 3). Falkenhayn captures Ploesti. Rumanian First and Second Armies retreat behind river Arges west of capital at night November 29-30. Sea War North… learn more

Diary November 28, 1916

LVG C biplane

World War One Diary for Tuesday, November 28, 1916: Air War Britain – First daylight aircraft raid on London: at 1150 hours LVG CIV (llges and Brandt) drops 6 x 22lb bombs between Brompton Road and Victoria Station (10 civilians… learn more

Diary November 27, 1916

Two Zeppelins destrroyed

World War One Diary for Monday, November 27, 1916: Air War Britain: 7 of 10 Zeppelins raid Northern England, drop 206 bombs (41 civilian casualties), but 2 Zeppelins lost to 40 defence sorties (record so far). Second Lieutenant V Pyott… learn more

Diary November 26, 1941

Panzer and infantry officers at Klin

World War One Diary for Wednesday, November 26, 1941: Eastern Front Operation Barbarossa: German troops capture Klin 85 km northwest of Moscow. Sea War Pacific: Japanese ‘Carrier Striking Force’ leaves secret anchorage in north Japan and heads for North Pacific,… learn more

Diary November 26, 1916

Hindenburg Line

World War One Diary for Sunday, November 26, 1916: Western Front Germany: OHL issues equivocal instruction on role of forthcom­ing Siegfried Stellung (Hindenburg Line): ‘Just as in times of peace, we build fortresses, so we are now building rearward defences.… learn more

Diary November 25, 1916

French Pre-dreadnought 'Suffren'

World War One Diary for Saturday, November 25, 1916: Sea War Eastern Atlantic:Unescorted French old battleship Suffren (making only 9 kts) sunk with all hands by U-52 off Lisbon. Eastern Front Rumania: Falkenhayn‘s Group Kraftt occupies Rimnik south of Rotenturm… learn more

Diary November 24, 1916

Maxim machine-gun

World War One Diary for Friday, November 24, 1916: Home Fronts Britain: Death of Sir Hiram Maxim, 1889 inventor of modern machine gun, aged 76, London. Air War Germany: 9 RNAS bombers raid Dillingen air works and shoot down a… learn more

Diary November 23, 1916

Major Lanoe G Hawker

World War One Diary for Thursdday, November 23, 1916: Air War Western Front: Richthofen kills Major Lanoe Hawker (Victoria Cross, 9 victories), RFC after epic 35­-minutes duel near Bapaume; the ‘Red Baron’s’ 11th victory. RFC ranges 163 targets. No 25… learn more