World War One was, according to the commonly held wisdom, unavoidable. The complex web of alliance and counter-alliance that bound the European powers to each other did make declarations of war on the part of each nation more or less inevitable once an inciting incident occurred.
That incident turned out to be the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand on June 28, 1914. Over the next thirty days, declarations of war started one after another, in two opposed chains of political allies. On one side: Austria-Hungary, Germany and the Ottoman Empire. On the other side, the United Kingdom and its Commonwealth, France, Russia, Italy, Japan, and eventually, the USA as well.
It was the first truly worldwide war, fought in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia and the Atlantic Ocean. World War One lasted for four years and a little under four months. It killed 16.5 million people, the greatest single toll of any conflict to that date, and despite the propaganda of the following years, it did not end wars.
The Battle of Lone Pine – or, if you’re Turkish, the Battle of Kanli Sirt – was a five day long engagement between the ANZAC forces and the Turkish defenders during the Gallipoli campaign of 1915. Part of a larger Allied Assault called the August Offensive, it was about the only successful one, where Australian forces captured their objectives, reinforced them and held them against the Turkish counter-attack. Unfortunately, after August 10, 1915, conditions returned to the stalemate that had previously obtained on the Dardanelles front, and the assault would be abandoned entirely in December of that year.
But in August, 2200 Australians and 5000-6000 Turks were killed or wounded in action, and all for a few square miles of mud that had little impact on the wider conduct of the war. Seven Australians were awarded the Victoria Cross for their actions in the battle, for what it’s worth. Today, Lone Pine military cemetery is the site of commemorative services every ANZAC Day.
Sir Roger Casement was still a young man when he toured colonial Africa and South America in the early years of the 20th century. His first hand experience of the evils of imperialism and racism radicalized him, and upon his return to his native Ireland, he broke his ties with the British establishment, becoming a founder of the Irish Volunteers, a revolutionary group dedicated to Irish independence.
Upon the outbreak of World War One, Casement attempted to bring his forces in on the German side (with the understanding that Ireland would be granted independence after the British were defeated) but negotiations foundered, although the Germans did agree to supply the Irish rebels with 20,000 rifles. However, the attempt to deliver them was intercepted by the British, and Casement was arrested three days before the Easter Rebellion of 1916, convicted of treason and stripped of his title. He was executed later that year, and his body was not returned to Ireland until 1966, where he was buried in a state funeral with full honours in the Republican section of Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin.
By <a rel=”nofollow” class=”external text” href=”https://www.flickr.com/people/47290943@N03″>National Library of Ireland on The Commons</a> – <a rel=”nofollow” class=”external text” href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/nlireland/6188264610/”>Sir Roger Casement</a>, No restrictions, Link
As mentioned in:
Banna Strand — Wolfe Tones
Manfred von Richtofen won his first aerial combat with Jasta 2 in the skies over Cambrai, France, on 17 September, 1916. Between that day and his death in 1918, he shot down another 79 aircraft – and that figure includes only confirmed kills. If unconfirmed kills are included, his tally may have exceeded 100 kills.
Nor was von Richtofen merely a force to be reckoned with on his own – as leader of the Flying Circus, he and his men killed a total of a total of 644 enemy aircraft. It was at this time that he became known as the Red Baron.
He was eventually shot down himself on April 21, 1918, although who fired the fatal shots has never been confirmed.
Also known as the third Battle of Ypres, the Battle of Passchendaele was an attempt to capture the strategically important village of that name in Belgium. Entente forces led by the British attacked on July 11, 1917, in what would become a long and drawn out struggle. Over the next five months, the battle would become synonymous with the mud in which it was so often fought. It would also be one of the first major land engagements to involve tanks (although only on the Entente side – the first tank vs tank battle did not occur until April the following year).
The battle swung both ways at different times, and some historians even classify it as two battles in a single campaign, with a comparative lull between them. Like many battles in World War One, it has become emblematic of the pointlessness and brutality of war. The battle finally ended on November 10, 1917, with the fall of Passchendaele to Canadian forces. More than 560,000 soldiers were killed in total, with the German losses exceeding the Entente losses by only 40,000. Although the battle was won, if not for the entry of the Americans into World War One that year, it might have proved a Pyrrhic victory, especially in light of the Russian surrender on the Eastern front, which had freed up German forces there to fight in the west.
Passchendaele did teach valuable tactical lessons to the victors, mostly at the unit level and mostly applicable only to trench warfare. Interestingly, Adolf Hitler was a veteran of Passchendaele, and considering the difference between the German invasions of Belgium in 1914 and 1940, one cannot help but wonder what lessons in strategy and tactics he drew from the experience.
By 1917, British and Commonwealth forces under General Allenby were slowly progressing northward through Turkish-occupied Palestine, but stalled when they came to Gaza. In October 1917, the third battle of Gaza – the third attempt to wrest it from the Ottoman Empire – began.
The battle at Beersheba (or Birüssebi, as it was then known) was only one facet of this larger battle, but it was here that the critical breakthrough of the battle took place. The decisive moment came with the charge of the Australian 4th Light Horse Brigade, who covered six miles to smash through the Turkish lines and capture the town and its strategically important wells more or less intact (15 of the 17 wells remained usable). This victory also marked the last successful horse cavalry charge in modern warfare.
Nearly a year after the guns fell silent – and five years to the day since the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand – the Treaty of Versailles marked the formal ending of hostilities between Germany and the Allies, Germany’s allies having been dealt with in separate treaties. The Treaty of Versailles was hailed as a great triumph almost everywhere except in Germany, which had been forced to take the blame for the war, forced to disarm and saddled with ruinous war reparations to pay – in addition to surrendering territory to Poland in the east and France in the west, and being stripped of all its colonial possessions.
As such, the treaty imposed a burden upon Germany that was certain to foster resentment and to cripple the German economy. When the Depression hit, a decade later, Germany was one of the places it hit hardest, since the government had to pay reparations ahead of any attempt to alleviate the economic effects. Come the hour, come the man – unfortunately for everyone, the man for that hour would be an Austrian named Adolf Hitler.
At the time of Harry Patch’s death, he was aged 111 years and 38 days. The last surviving World War One veteran to have fought in the trenches of the Western Front, he was nicknamed “the Last Fighting Tommy.”. His great age made Patch the third-oldest man in the world, the oldest man in Europe and the 69th oldest man in history (at least, history since reliable records were kept).
In his later years, Harry Patch was deeply cynical about his experience of war, and the politicians who start but never fight in these wars. Patch was a passionate opponent of war for most of his life, and did not hate his former enemies; rather, he pitied enemy and ally alike. As he put it:
“Irrespective of the uniforms we wore, we were all victims.“