the western front

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  • Created by: Ellie
  • Created on: 17-05-14 12:03

causes and course of WW1

  • rivalry between great powers: arms race developed between brit and germany over armarmaments and germany, france and russia over army size
  • the alliance system: france, brit + russia = triple entente, germany, austria-hungary and italy = triple alliance - Germany developed Schlieffen Plan (russia wouldn't be ready for 6 weeks if war occured which would give them time to fight france so they didn't have to fight them both together)
  • problems in the Balkans: power struggles - ottomans losing grip and austria-hungary annexed bosnia, serbia asserting independence
  • the murder of Franz Ferdinand:austria hungary blamed serbia because a serb nationalist murdered heir to the throne - austrians backed by ally germany invaded serbia

course of the war:

  • race for sea - 1914: both sides raced to control nearby North Sea coastline
  • static trench warfare - 1915-17: front line through belgium and northern france - war primarily in a situation of stalemate
  • movement - 1918: germany decided to launch one final push with initial success but were defeated by November
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trench warfare

poor conditions: rats, trench foot, lice causing trench fever

dangerous: 31% of army killed compared to 3 or 4% of navy or air force


  • going over the top into no mans land
  • bombarding enemy with shells and shrapnel
  • creeping barrage (advancing infantry protected by arc of artillery fire in front of them) 
  • underground mines
  • tanks used to break through enemy lines and movement across difficult terrain
  • chemical warfare such as mustard gas deployed in 1915


  • lee enfield rifle: very efficient and used by infantry soldiers
  • vickers machine gun: could fire 450-550 rounds a minute and fire 30,000 yards - good for trench
  • lewis gun: light machine gun effective for trench warfare - germans inititally had nothing similar
  • stokes mortar: a small mortar which could fire 22 shells per min
  • grenades and shells: initial shortages but by 1916-17 were widely available
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battle of the somme - july-nov 1916

  • General Haig - british commander on the western front
  • german trenches bombarded for week prior to battle to destroy barbed wire guarding trenches and destroy much of trench system
  • 1st july 1916 - british soldiers advanced at walking pace to prevent panic and would be protected by creeping barrage - didn't go to plan and turned out to be the worsr day in british military history in terms of casualties - 57,000 casualties and 19,000 deaths on 1st day

problems that occured:

  • many explosives were duds
  • german trenches deep and well constructed so most weren't destroyed - used as shelter 
  • much of barbed wire remained intact
  • creeping barrage had some success but lacked precision

rest of battle:

  • germans withdrew from area but no major breakthrough achieved at battle
  • 1.2 million casualties - historians say it was twice that of the germans
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Haig - butcher or hero?



  • horrendous losses at Somme and Pachendaele
  • only fought in 2 battles - rarely saw the land his soldiers were fighting on
  • lived 40 miles behind front line - communication was poor
  • inability to accept and pass on info that didn't fit the plan
  • persistant use of unachievable objectives for attacks
  • carried on battles despite massive losses
  • allowed personal grudges and ambition influence military decisions
  • insisted on using the pro-type tank
  • oversaw advance of what was named 'Hundred Days Offensive'
  • his armies won greatest series of victories in military history
  • soldiers said they 'had been well instructed and informed'
  • casualties bound to be heavy in that sort of warfare and generals did as best they could in the new type of war
  • ready to take responsibility for failings
  • coped with interferring politicians
  • victory on western front
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British Expeditionary Force (BEF) 1917-1918

  • 80,000 men in 1914 // 3.9 million in 1917
  • as Germans concentrated on use of unrestricted submarine warfare to starve brits into defeat, brits launched major attack on germans near ypres in Belgian Flanders

Passchendaele/third ypres - june-dec 1917:

  • main attack involved skillful creeping barrage
  • initial success but poor weather and poor drainage rendered battlefield a swamp
  • advanced slowly and at great cost but established dominance by october
  • passchendaele captured in december: took 4 months to advance 7 miles
  • 200,000 german losses and 250,000 brit losses - contributed in exhausting germ army

BEF 1918:

  • defeated german spring offensive - germans weak and overextended - they surrendered
  • took over 180,000 prisoners and over 2800 guns from germans in 1918
  • they were skilled and experienced by 1918
  • accuracy of guns and creeping barrage improved since 1916
  • sufficient artillery, growing tank division and large air force - military prod organised by churchill
  • british could use tanks, infantry and creeping barage to advance 100 yards every 3 mins
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morale in the british army

post: regular and efficient postal service - 1916 11 million letters handled

food: reasonable rations throughout war - french army had more cals but worse nutritional value as mainly consisted of bread and wine

tobacco: often issued for free to soldiers by the Brit Army

leave: by 1918 all soldiers returned home on leave after 6 months

time away from front line: soldiers in trenches for 10 days per month, 2 of these days were at the front line, received an average of 70 days leave per year, rotation kept morale up but meant that soldiers not always familiar with trench area as much as troops of other armies

entertainment: concerts and sporting acitivities were arranged such as football and athletics

pay: worst paid people still got more than they would in peacetime, lowest wage was 1 shilling a day but average wage was 50% higher than this, soldiers didn't have to pay for their food or clothing

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discipline in the british army

  • strictness varied between units and divisions
  • over 5,000 officers and nearly 300,000 other ranks were court martialled during war and 89% of these were convicted - most common offence was absence without leave


  • execution: 306 executed for cowardice or desertion - however it is thought that many did this due to shellshock - e.g. Private Harry Farr - use of execution has been controversial
  • field punishment no.1: designed to humiliate - they were restrained and tied to a field gun for up to 2 hours per day
  • other punishments that could be given by court martials included: imprisonment, fines and demotion, commanding officers could impose extra duties or confine soldiers to barracks for minor offences
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  • organised by Royal Army Medical Corps - generally good with 1 hosp ship and 1 hosp train for each division - ambulances, field dressing stations and hospitals were quickly established
  • there was a shortage of doctors - however large numbers of volunteer doctors from US deployed
  • 23,000 nurses from British forces plus 38,000 of the Voluntary Aid Detachment who took roles of nurses, cooks and ambulance drivers
  • pain relief such as morphine more available
  • stomach disorders such as typhoid and dysentery much less common
  • inoculation against typhoid and improved hygeine reduced incidences of the disease to only 2% of that of the Boer War
  • for the first time - more soldiers died from battle wounds than from disease (740,000 to 84,000)


  • lack on antibiotics led to septic wounds - gangrene frequently set in and was a big killer
  • shrapnel, shell fragments and bullets often remained in body and sometimes created septicaemia
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medical continued

  • british soldiers experienced: 40,000 amputations, 270,000 additional injuries to arms and legs, 60,000 wounds to head or eyes, 90,000 other serious wounds to body

medical developments:

  • psychiatry and shellshock: first conflict in which psychological impact was seriously considered, it was inititally thought to be caused by a physiological reaction to exploding shells but was gradually recognised as the psychological toll of war - by end of war 80,000 cases of shell shock diagnosed
  • blood transfusions: developed in field hospitals, innovative treatment so most who suffered major haemorrhages died
  • skin grafts: Harold Gillies developed use of plastic surgery to treat facial injuries - one of the 1st surgeons to consider the impact of his work on a patients appearance
  • brain surgery: improvements in treatment for brain injury enhanced survival rates
  • prosthetics or orthapaedics: artificial limbs improved in response to high numbers of soldiers who needed them
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