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The Great War

The Great War, The War to End All Wars, and then finally World War One was arguably one of the most influential wars fought in the last century. With such a tremendous loss of life as well as a huge impact on modern warfare it's a wonder we don't study it more. Let's not sit and let this war be forgotten and skipped over. There is so much this time period has to offer and I want everyone to get excited about learning something about this war. If you're curious at all about anything please ask.
Aug 22 '14
imperialismus-taeglich:

Today, a hundred years ago…

imperialismus-taeglich:

Today, a hundred years ago…

Aug 21 '14
scrapironflotilla:

German prisoners, some of them wounded, and British infantrymen resting on the roadside in Bouzincourt, 26 March 1918.

scrapironflotilla:

German prisoners, some of them wounded, and British infantrymen resting on the roadside in Bouzincourt, 26 March 1918.

Aug 20 '14
scrapironflotilla:

12-inch gun (named “Bunty”) of the Royal Garrison Artillery after firing at Louez, 19 May 1918.

scrapironflotilla:

12-inch gun (named “Bunty”) of the Royal Garrison Artillery after firing at Louez, 19 May 1918.

Aug 16 '14
greatwar-1914:

August 16th, 1914 - Final Liège Forts Surrender
Pictured - Germans in the Ruins of Fort Loncin
The press of Allied and neutral countries still regarded Liège as an impervious position, but by the 16th only one fort still held out.  This was Fort Loncin, where Belgian commander Leman made his headquarters. 
The Germans sent out emissaries to Leman to request his surrender; he refused.  The bombardment of Fort Loncin commenced and a shell hit and destroyed the fort’s magazine, causing a tremendous explosion from within.  The Germans strolled up to the ruins of the fort that littered the ground, meeting no resistance, and finding the unconscious body of Leman on the ground. 
Revived and taken to General von Emmich, Leman surrendered his sword.  “I was taken unconscious.” said Leman, “Be sure to put that in your dispatches.”
"Military honour has not been violated by your sword," replied Emmich and handed it back.  "Keep it."
The defiance of the Liège forts was over.  The Germans had been held up at Liège for weeks, but as their march through Belgium was not scheduled to begin until the 15th, they had lost only two days. 

greatwar-1914:

August 16th, 1914 - Final Liège Forts Surrender

Pictured - Germans in the Ruins of Fort Loncin

The press of Allied and neutral countries still regarded Liège as an impervious position, but by the 16th only one fort still held out.  This was Fort Loncin, where Belgian commander Leman made his headquarters. 

The Germans sent out emissaries to Leman to request his surrender; he refused.  The bombardment of Fort Loncin commenced and a shell hit and destroyed the fort’s magazine, causing a tremendous explosion from within.  The Germans strolled up to the ruins of the fort that littered the ground, meeting no resistance, and finding the unconscious body of Leman on the ground. 

Revived and taken to General von Emmich, Leman surrendered his sword.  “I was taken unconscious.” said Leman, “Be sure to put that in your dispatches.”

"Military honour has not been violated by your sword," replied Emmich and handed it back.  "Keep it."

The defiance of the Liège forts was over.  The Germans had been held up at Liège for weeks, but as their march through Belgium was not scheduled to begin until the 15th, they had lost only two days. 

Aug 16 '14

scrapironflotilla:

Three French soldiers take a break in front of a heavily damaged building with their small truck, 1917.

Four firemen with their equipment, 1917.

From Slate.

Aug 16 '14

scrapironflotilla:

Two French soldiers heat up a meal on an outdoor fireplace made from brick, 1917.

An Algerian guard on a bridge, 1917.

From Slate.

Aug 15 '14
scrapironflotilla:

Soldier of the 2nd Australian Division by a gas alarm in the trenches at Croix du Bac, near Armentieres, 18 May 1916.

scrapironflotilla:

Soldier of the 2nd Australian Division by a gas alarm in the trenches at Croix du Bac, near Armentieres, 18 May 1916.

Aug 15 '14
letter1418:


Dear Tommy,
I know not if that is your real name, but just that like my Grandfather, Walter, you joined up and enlisted in the British Army. You may know of him as you shared a long ago photograph before you embarked for France nearly 100 years ago. Perhaps you were his friend or work colleague?
I know not what you did whilst serving your country, but I note from your uniform, you were a signaller and Corporal. But you look so young, so innocent, almost scared. What were you really thinking and feeling behind those youthful eyes?
I know not if you came back to these shores like my Grandfather, Walter, whether you were wounded, traumatised or even killed. Perhaps just a name forever lost to me on some faraway war grave or memorial plaque.
What I do know is that you fought for my future all those years ago, and for that I will always remember you, my Grandfather, Walter and all of your comrades, whatever their end.
Lest we forget. James Robertson, Droitwich Spa

James Robertson’s Letter to an Unknown Soldier | Submit Yours (last day to submit!)

letter1418:

Dear Tommy,

I know not if that is your real name, but just that like my Grandfather, Walter, you joined up and enlisted in the British Army. You may know of him as you shared a long ago photograph before you embarked for France nearly 100 years ago. Perhaps you were his friend or work colleague?

I know not what you did whilst serving your country, but I note from your uniform, you were a signaller and Corporal. But you look so young, so innocent, almost scared. What were you really thinking and feeling behind those youthful eyes?

I know not if you came back to these shores like my Grandfather, Walter, whether you were wounded, traumatised or even killed. Perhaps just a name forever lost to me on some faraway war grave or memorial plaque.

What I do know is that you fought for my future all those years ago, and for that I will always remember you, my Grandfather, Walter and all of your comrades, whatever their end.

Lest we forget.
James Robertson, Droitwich Spa

James Robertson’s Letter to an Unknown Soldier | Submit Yours (last day to submit!)

Aug 15 '14
georgy-konstantinovich-zhukov:

The German 42cm M-Gerät 14 howitzer, known as “Big Bertha”. Developed in secret prior to World War I, the two prototypes were rushed to the front to assist in the reduction of the Belgian fortifications blocking the German advance. The success of the gun would lead to ten more being built.
(Collection of M. Romanych)

georgy-konstantinovich-zhukov:

The German 42cm M-Gerät 14 howitzer, known as “Big Bertha”. Developed in secret prior to World War I, the two prototypes were rushed to the front to assist in the reduction of the Belgian fortifications blocking the German advance. The success of the gun would lead to ten more being built.

(Collection of M. Romanych)

Aug 15 '14

historicalfirearms:

The British Army Mobilises

British mobilisation began in earnest on the 5th August, unlike its European counterparts who fielded massive conscript armies the British Army was made up of long-serving professional soldiers who volunteered to join the army.  The result was an extremely professional, well trained and disciplined force. The regular army in 1914, amounted to some 247,500 soldiers, of which approximately half were posted to overseas garrisons across the British Empire from India to South Africa. It is fair to describe Britain’s army in 1914 as a colonial one, best suited to campaigns in far flung corners of the Empire where lightly equipped, small, mobile forces were needed.  It was dwarfed in comparison to the massive continental armies of France, Germany, Russia and Austria. 

In addition to the regular army the British Army could call upon an additional ~470,000 reservists who made up the Territorial Force and the Special Reserve.  The average infantryman enlisted for seven years and if he decided not to stay with the colours at the end of his enlistment he would spend another five years as a reservist.  In 1907, these reserve forces had been reorganised by the Territorial and Reserve Forces Act.   By 1914, the Special Reserve was made up of 101 infantry battalions, 33 artillery regiments and two engineer regiments numbering some 64,000 men by August 1914.  Members of the Special Reserve spent an initial six months training full time following which they would train for a month each year.

These reserves were coupled with Regular Army units to whom in time of war they would supply drafts of replacements in time of war.  On paper the Territorial Force consisted of some 269,000 men making up 207 battalions of infantry and 55 regiments of yeomanry (cavalry) with a further 190 batteries of volunteer artillerymen with various branches of the artillery.  These units were grouped into 14 regional infantry divisions and a further 14 regional yeomanry brigades. Every Territorial Force battalion was attached to a regular army regiment and the men trained in the evenings and one weekend a month.This gave the average British Army regiment a theoretical establishment of two regular battalions (on paper numbering 970 men - one of which was invariably deployed on active colonial service), a Special Reserve battalion and one or more Territorial Force battalions.

When the general mobilisation was called on the 5th each reservist was responsible for making his own way to his regiment’s barracks.  His reporting instructions were printed inside his army identity papers, instructing him to make his way to his regimental depot to be issued with uniform and equipment.  He would then make his way with a railway warrant to his mustering battalion.  If the reservist did not have enough money to reach his regiment’s depot he could report to the nearest post office and request a subsistence allowance of five shillings.  This system proved surprisingly well organised with the first reservists reaching their battalions on the 6th August, just two days after the declaration of war.

On the 7th August, third day of the mobilisation, the first British troops arrived in France.  These soldiers were support troops who would prepare the way, readying lines of communication and camps. The British Expeditionary Force’s main force began crossing the Channel on the 12th, but they would not reach Belgium and be ready for action until the 20th.

The majority of the British troops joining the expeditionary force were transported south for at least part of their march by train with 1,800 trains dedicated to the task in the first five days of the mobilisation.
Two railway lines terminated in Southampton, the main embarkation port, with another was built in just three days connecting Southampton Station to the harbour terminus.   Approximately 20,000 tons a day were moved to the ships at the docks.  At the peak of the mobilisation 90 trains a day arrived at the port’s terminus to off load troops. It took just ten days to transport the BEF across the Channel but all of Britain’s ports would continue to be busy throughout the war transporting men, equipment and supplies back and forth.

The British Expeditionary Force had originally been intended to sail for Europe with six infantry divisions, however fearing a surprise invasion of Britain by German forces the sixth division was held in reserve.   As such the BEF arrived in France with five infantry divisions, one division of cavalry and 430 guns including 13-pounders of the Royal Horse Artillery and 18-pounders, 4.5 inch howitzers and several heavy 60-pounders of the Royal Artillery brigaded with the infantry.  On paper each division should have been equipped with 24 machine guns with each battalion fielding two this gave the BEF a total of just over 140 Vickers Machine Guns in the field, far short of the massive number fielded by the German Army.  

On paper the BEF numbered ~110,000 men in reality the infantry numbered some 66,000 while the cavalry had a sabre strength of 7,600 the rest of the men were support and logistical troops.  Each infantry division was made up of three brigades with each brigade numbering approximately twelve battalions of infantry. The cavalry division was made up of twelve regiments grouped in four brigades.  Almost every regiment in the British Army which had a battalion based in the British Isles was represented in the expeditionary force.  The BEF was commanded by Field Marshall Sir John French who had broad instructions to assist the French and Belgian armies in resisting the German invasion.  The expeditionary force was split into two corps, one commanded by General Sir Douglas Haig and the other by General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien while the independent cavalry division was commanded by Major General Edmund Allenby

By the 18th August, the BEF was advancing into Belgium, communications with their French allies on their right flank were poor and after a short meeting between Field Marshal French and General Charles Lanrezac commanding the French Fifth Army it was decided the two armies would advance in tandem.  The 23rd August found the British army holding a line along the Mons–Condé Canal.  It was at Mons that the British army first engaged the enemy holding them off but eventually being forced to fall back when their flank was exposed by Lanrezac’s retreating Fifth Army which had failed to inform the BEF that they were retiring.  The retreat from Mons saw the British begin a 175 mile, two week long fighting retreat before falling back on the River Marne with the French.  

By November 1914, approximately 90% of the original British Expeditionary Force had been killed or wounded with the official number of casualties standing at 89,864, most of them infantry.  The cream of the professional British Army of 1914 had been killed in just four months fighting.  Their places were filled by a new army of volunteers stirred by patriotism and an eagerness to fight in late 1914 and early 1915.  Between September 1914 and December 1915, millions of volunteers answered the call but the toll of war was too great and by January 1916, the British government was forced to introduce conscription.  The men of the BEF who embarked for France in the first weeks of August 1914, would have hardly recognised the British Army of 1918.

Image Sources:

Image One Source - 1st Battalion, Irish Guards fill their webbing with their 150 rounds of ammunition and prepare to leave Wellington Barracks, Westminster on, 6th August 1914. The Battalion arrived in France as part of the British Expeditionary Force on 13th August 1914. (IWM)

Image Three Source - The 1st Life Guards prepare to leave Hyde Park Barracks and head to war, on 15th August 1914 (IWM)

Image Four Source - A dismounted cavalry draft of the 1st Life Guards (IWM)

Image Two Source - Reservists of the Grenadier Guards re-enlisting on the outbreak of War, queue for a medical inspection at Wellington Barracks, Chelsea, London. Picture by Mrs Broom, dated as 5th August 1914. (IWM)

Image Five Source - A mounted cavalry draft of the 1st Life Guards with Captain Gerrard Leigh in the foreground (IWM)

Image Six Source - The Harrogate Territorials marching to the station en route to York on 5th August, 1914

Image Seven Source - Men of The 1st Battalion, Monmouthshire Regiment march down Stow Hill Newport on being mobilised at the outbreak of War

Image Eight Source - British Infantry at Birmingham New Street Station

Image Nine Source - King George taking the salute of the 2nd Battalion, Grenadier Guards as they passed Buckingham Palace returning from a route march in August 1914

Image Ten Source - Crowds watch as troops of the Queen’s Royal Regiment board a train at Dorking station, 5th August 1914

Sources:

1914: Fight the Good Fight, A. Mallinson, (2013)

Tommy, R. Holmes, (2004)

Britain & Her Army, C. Barnett, (1970)

The Making of the British Army, A. Mallinson, (2009)

The Old Contemptibles: The British Expeditionary Force, 1914, R. Neillands, (2004)

Aug 14 '14

historicalfirearms:

1914: Europe Mobilises

By the first week in August the political back and forths between Europe’s great powers were coming to an end, as their armies began to mobilise.  By the end of 1914, over 70 million men from 20 countries would be mobilised in the largest conflict had ever seen.

Germany had begun a general mobilisation on 1st August with just under 2 million regulars and reservists called up and moving to staging and transit posts.  The following day 2,150 trains, some of them up to 54 carriages long were moving troops west. The German Grosser-Generalstab (general staff) had organised the requisition of 30,000 locomotives and over 900,000 goods wagons and carriages for the Westfaumarsch - the great wheeling manoeuvre of the Schlieffen Plan’s invasion of France through Belgium.  While the men knew who their country’s enemies were many of them didn’t know if they would be heading east or west.  As it turned out four fifths of them headed west across the Rhine towards the Belgian and Luxembourg borders.  

The peacetime strength of the Imperial German Army or Deutsches Heer was 612,000 men, with the ranks filled by conscripts who served for three years followed by six years as a reservist.  When reserves and the third line Landwehr numbering 27 brigades were mobilised Germany could place approximately 1,900,000 men in the field.

The dual monarchy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire made for a complex makeup of the Empire’s military with their being eleven national languages.  It was made up of a number of elements, the first of these was the Gemeinsame Armee or Common Army which recruited from every region of the Empire.  All of the armed forces of Austria-Hungary were filled by conscripts with men liable for conscription between the ages of 21 and 32, they would serve three years before spending a further seven in the reserves.   In 1914, the Common Army’s standing strength equaled about 450,000 men. This was made up of 16 army corps consisting of 49 infantry divisions and 8 cavalry divisions as well as artillery and supporting troops. 
In addition to this there were the Landwehr corps (territorial armies) responsible for defence of the Empire’s two crowns; Austria and Hungary.  The Austrian 
territorial army, the Imperial-Royal Landwehr, made up of regular units numbering 40 infantry regiments and 6 cavalry regiments with 16 artillery battalions.  And the Royal Hungarian Honvéd which mustered six infantry divisions with a further dozen independent brigades and six cavalry divisions.  In addition to these regular forces there was also the Austro-Hungarian Landsturm, a third line force made up of men aged over 34, forming over 70 regiments of infantry.  The Austrian General Staff put Plans B & R into action moving a holding force to the Russian border while the main force invaded Serbia. By early 1915 Austria-Hungary had mobilised 3.35 million men.  

France began her mobilisation on the 2nd, with five field armies made up of 595,000 men forming 172 infantry regiments and 89 cavalry regiments moving north west along France’s extensive rail network. France’s reserve forces on paper were larger than Germany’s due to the fact that France relied on conscripts serving two years.  On paper the French Army Reserve numbered 201 Regiments with a further 145 Territorial Regiments.  French troops began their military service at 20 serving with the regular army for up to three years before transitioning through the reserve of the regular army between the ages of 24 and 34, joining the Territorial Army lists at 35 before being transferred to the Reserve of the Territorial Army at 42 until they reached 50.  In August 1914, this gave France 1,290,000 men available for service.  By late 1914, France had mobilised 2.9 million men.

The French like the German Army had a grand overarching war plan, Plan XVII directed that five French field armies would advance through Alsace-Lorraine and into western Germany.  This saw four of the five French armies concentrated along the Franco-German border with the Fifth Army operating in Ardennes and south east of Belgium.

On the same day as France began to mobilise so to did Belgium. Calling up reserves and mobilising some 130,000 men including the regular army forming approximately 120 battalions into 7 divisions as well as the less well equipped Garde Civique (militia).  Albert, King of the Belgians declared "I rule a nation, not a road" and barred German access through Belgium on the 3rd August.  The following day German forces began to invade Belgium.  

The Belgian strategy was to rely on the country’s extensive fortifications defending Liege, Namur and the National Redoubt - a belt of dense fortifications 95 miles in length ringing Antwerp.  While the Belgian field army massed in the centre of the country behind the Gete River.  You can read more about the Belgian Army and its defence of Belgium here.  By the end of 1914, despite valiant efforts and holding the German army back for several weeks the Belgian Army was forced to retreat to the eastern tip of the country where with allied help it held out for the next four years.

Meanwhile in Britain mobilisation began in earnest on a much smaller scale with 200,000 reservists being called up.  The British Army, unlike its European counterparts who relied upon conscription, was a professional force made up entirely of volunteers.  The result was a extremely professional, well trained and disciplined force.  In addition to the regular army the Territorial Force and the Special Reserve maintained a force of part time troops who could be called upon.  The Special Reserve was made up of 101 infantry battalions, 33 artillery regiments and two engineer regiments, which were coupled with Regular Army units to whom in time of war they would supply drafts of replacements.  You can read more about the British Army’s mobilisation here.
This surprisingly well organised system saw the first troops arriving on the 7th August, the third day of Britain’s mobilisation.  These were the support troops who would prepare the way, readying lines of communication and camps.  The British Expeditionary Forece’s main body began crossing the Channel on the 12th although they would not be ready for action until the 21st. As the war continued into the autumn and winter of 1914 the regular divisions which had been held back in Britain were deployed and so too were the Territorial Force battalions, by early 1915 Britain was mobilising civilian volunteers and forming a ‘New Army’ of service battalions.

On the Eastern front Russia began a partial mobilisation on the 29th July, concentrating forces on the Austro-Hungarian border.  Two days later with the diplomatic situation steadily deteriorating the Tsar authorised full mobilisation of Russia’s huge standing army.  In response Germany declared war on the 1st August.  Russia mobilised 1,400,000 men forming 102 divisions.  However, the Imperial Russian Army was undergoing a massive modernisation program partly funded by the French.  There were widespread shortages of rifles, uniform and equipment modern artillery. 
Despite the shortcomings of the Russian railway network the Stavka (Russian General Staff) were able to mobilise far quicker than the German Grosser-Generalstab had anticipated and mounted Plan 19, the invasion of East Prussia on the 17th August drawing vital troops from the Western Front.  Further Russian forces made gains in the Austro-Hungarian province of Galicia which forced the Grosser-Generalstab to form the 9th Army, a new scratch force to alleviate pressure on the Austro-Hungarians.  The Russian advance into Eastern Prussia however was smashed at the end of August at the Battle of Tannenberg where Paul von Hindenburg’s 8th Army encircled the Russian Army causing 80,000 casualties and capturing nearly 100,000 prisoners.

Serbia, had been the focus of initial aggression when Austro-Hungary declared war on the 28th July.  In comparison to the major European army’s Serbia had a minute standing army of just 190,000 men.  With a population of just 5 million they would eventually manage to mobilise 658,000 men suffering huge casualties throughout the war, losing 27% of its overall population.  In 1914, the Serbian Army was poorly equipped suffering from a shortage of rifles and equipment however, they managed to keep Austro-Hungarian advanced at bay winning the first allied victory of the war at the Battle of Cer and launching a limited offensive.  By December 1914, the small Serbian Army recaptured Belgrade and pushed overstretched Austro-Hungarian forces back across the border.

Naturally the mobilisation of each country’s army was covered heavily by the national presses and many contemporary newsreels also recorded the mobilisation.  Some filmed by British Pathe featuring British, Canadian, Serbian, French and Russian forces can be found here.

While for most European nations mobilisation did not necessarily mean certain war.  Countries such as France, Russia and Austria could mobilise and hold their forces in readiness.  However, the great danger of the successive mobilisations of the European powers was that for Germany, unlike her neighbours, to mobilise was to go to war.  The German general staff following the Schlieffen Plan had organised the mobilisation such that once formations formed and began to move they were tasked with directly engaging the enemy, in this case the invasion of Belgium.   

Sources:

Image One Source - Belgian reservists exit Gare de l’Ouest train station to report for duty.   August 1, 1914

Image Two Source - Near the Front, enthusiastic French troops exit their trains prior to marching off to thwart the German invaders.

Image Three Source - Reservists being called up in St. Petersburg as Russia’s first world war army was assembled.

Image Four Source - German reservists going home to say goodbye to their families, before leaving to go to the front. The children with them are wearing their father’s helmets.

Image Five Source - French Cavalry resting on the march 

Image Six Source - 1st Battalion, Irish Guards prepare to leave Wellington Barracks, Westminster, London on 6th August 1914. The Battalion arrived in France as part of the BEF on 13th August 1914.

Image Seven Source - Austrian troops mobilising by train in 1914

Image Eight Source - Reservists of the Grenadier Guards re-enlisting on the 5th August 1914. queue for a medical inspection at Wellington Barracks, London. (IWM)

Image Nine Source - Russian troops mobilising by Railway, August 1914

Image Ten Source10th Battalion (Territorial Force) King’s Liverpool Regiment ‘Liverpool Scottish’, October, 1914 awaiting deployment to France. Armed with older charger-loading Lee-Enfield MkI* rifles. 

Aug 10 '14
old-faces:

World war one trench (called Petrograd) at Kaaskerke, Belgium, 1917

old-faces:

World war one trench (called Petrograd) at Kaaskerke, Belgium, 1917

Aug 10 '14

scrapironflotilla:

An Australian soldier and a man of the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade make friends with two little children on Lemnos.

Aug 10 '14
scrapironflotilla:

ANZAC back at rest after taking of Pozieres, by the 1st ANZAC Division, 23 July 1916. Australian soldier having a shave while wearing a captured German pickelhaube.
The German pickelhaube helmets were one of the most popular items to be taken by soldiers as souvenirs. Attacking troops would often pause briefly to loot prisoners and the bodies of dead and wounded Germans for valuables.

scrapironflotilla:

ANZAC back at rest after taking of Pozieres, by the 1st ANZAC Division, 23 July 1916. Australian soldier having a shave while wearing a captured German pickelhaube.

The German pickelhaube helmets were one of the most popular items to be taken by soldiers as souvenirs. Attacking troops would often pause briefly to loot prisoners and the bodies of dead and wounded Germans for valuables.

Aug 10 '14
scrapironflotilla:

ANZAC back at rest after taking of Pozieres, by the 1st ANZAC Division, 23 July 1916. Australian soldier having a shave while wearing a captured German pickelhaube.
The German pickelhaube helmets were one of the most popular items to be taken by soldiers as souvenirs. Attacking troops would often pause briefly to loot prisoners and the bodies of dead and wounded Germans for valuables.

scrapironflotilla:

ANZAC back at rest after taking of Pozieres, by the 1st ANZAC Division, 23 July 1916. Australian soldier having a shave while wearing a captured German pickelhaube.

The German pickelhaube helmets were one of the most popular items to be taken by soldiers as souvenirs. Attacking troops would often pause briefly to loot prisoners and the bodies of dead and wounded Germans for valuables.