How were some great wars avoided?

The course of the war from 1914 to 1916

1914: The world war begins

The German troops invaded neutral Belgium and Luxembourg, from there to France. Thereupon Great Britain entered the war against Germany. The world war began.

For years, the military of the German Reich had expected that a war in Europe would become a two-front war for them: against France in the west and against Russia in the east.

They had developed the Schlieffen Plan for this, named after Alfred Graf von Schlieffen, Chief of the Army General Staff until 1905. This plan was based on the assumption that the Russian troops would take significantly longer than the Germans to be ready for combat.

It was precisely this delay on the Russian side that should be used to overrun France.

For this purpose, the German troops were to penetrate via Belgium into northern France and encompass and destroy the French army from behind in a rapid war of movement. A blitzkrieg against France was planned, even if the term was not used at the time.

Then the German troops victorious in France should be brought quickly to Russia and win there again. So the two-front war had become a two-stage war in the planning, which was intended to compensate for the numerical superiority of the opponents.

In reality, however, the plan did not work out. Because the German troops were stopped by massive counter offensives in the west and lost the "Battle of the Marne" in September 1914.

And in the east, too, things went differently: the Russian troops invaded East Prussia in August, so they were already on the offensive at a time when, according to the German plan, they were still in preparation.

Even if the original plan had failed: The German Reich had occupied Belgium and Luxembourg in the west by October 1914 and had invaded northern France.

In Alsace and Lorraine - both parts of the German Empire at the time - the German troops had stopped the French advance. Now the front in the west began to freeze, the war here turned into a "positional war".

In the east, on the other hand, the front continued to move, and it was to remain so during the war. Soon it reached over 2000 kilometers from the coast of the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea.

Despite their successes, such as the Battle of Tannenberg in August 1914, in which 90,000 Russian soldiers were taken prisoner by Germany, the German army was unable to overcome the Russian troops.

By the end of 1914 - when Germany had wanted to celebrate victory for a long time - a difficult situation had arisen for Germany. Even if the troops of the Central Powers were deep in the countries of the enemy, the situation for the Entente was more favorable in the long run.

Because Germany was severely cut off from deliveries by sea by the British naval blockade, and soon there was a shortage of raw materials and also of food. At the same time, the Entente states received supplies, including from the USA. The balance of power, which from the beginning was to the disadvantage of the Central Powers, shifted further in favor of the Entente.

1915: The trenches stretch across Europe

In the west the troops dug themselves in more and more, on both sides of the front. The trenches stretched over a length of 700 kilometers - from the Swiss border to the Belgian Channel coast. Often they were only a few dozen meters apart.

The front, however, did not consist solely of trenches and positions. The supply facilities such as field kitchens, bakeries, horse stables and vehicle fleets, ammunition depots and weapons arsenals extended far into the hinterland.

The wounded also had to be taken care of: first aid stations were around three and field hospitals around 20 kilometers from the front. In addition, on the German side, the railroad ran to the foremost lines.

In April 1915, in the second Battle of Ypres in Belgium, the Germans used poison gas for the first time. In trench warfare this was the attempt to kill the enemy without having to send soldiers of his own into the barrage.

Soon the Entente was also using poison gas. By the end of the war, a total of 70,000 soldiers had died from poison gas and half a million had become seriously ill, many of them forever, for example in the eyes or lungs.

In the east, German troops were able to drive the Russian army out of East Prussia in early 1915.

In the summer they advanced far into what was then the Russian Empire, taking Warsaw and Brest-Litovsk. But that was only a small part of the huge empire that was ultimately impregnable just because of its size. A "southern front" had now also been added.

Italy entered the war on the side of the Entente in 1915 and hoped to gain territories. On the Isonzo, north of Trieste, another, very loss-making front of the trench war was formed. Here the Italian troops faced those of Austria-Hungary.

1916: the year of the greatest battles in the war

1916 was the year of the greatest battles of the war, the "material battles". The Battle of Verdun and the Battle of the Somme have gone down in history as the most terrible and costly battles of the First World War.

The fortress of Verdun was one of the pillars of the French front. Here the Germans wanted to "bleed out" the enemy, inflicting such heavy losses on them that the German advance would then succeed. But the plan did not work, because not only did the French bleed to death, but also the Germans.

At the end of the Battle of Verdun in July 1916, a total of 700,000 men were dead or wounded. Shortly before, another battle had begun on the Somme river in northern France, the largest of the war.

One of the Entente's aims here was to relieve the front at Verdun by tying up large German troops on the Somme.

The battle of materials on the Somme proceeded according to the pattern typical of the time: the artillery bombarded the enemy positions for days in order to wear them down.

Then the soldiers stormed out of the trenches, tried to break through the front, but failed in the enemy fire, in the barbed wire entanglement and also in the clouds of poison gas. Sometimes they won a few hundred meters, but soon lost them again. This process was repeated over and over again.

The Battle of the Somme was the material battle with the greatest losses. Two and a half million soldiers fought, over a million were killed or wounded.

The gain in terrain for the Allies was about ten kilometers in depth and 40 kilometers in width. The war in the East in 1916 was marked by several major Russian offensives, which pushed Austro-Hungarian troops in particular far back.

But these offensives cost the Russian army a million dead and wounded, weakened it decisively and demoralized the troops. The Central Powers succeeded in conquering Romania and thus controlling the oil reserves there.