What was the part played by Britain in the defeat of Germany in the First World War?

AQA GCSE Modern World History revision cards based on the syllabus.

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The British Expeditionary Force (BEF)

  • The British Expeditionary Force were the first troops sent over from Britain to slow down the German advance.
  • At Mons, the BEF rifle-fire was so fast and accurate, that the Germans thought that they were being machine-gunned.
  • The BEF was called 'a contemptible little army' by the German Kaiser.
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Trench Warfare

  • Trenches were dug by both sides after they 'dashed to the sea' after the battle of the Marne.
  • No one was used to trench warfare, so this resulted in a stalemate on the Western Front.
  • Defence was more effective than attack because of the new weapons such as the aeroplane, grenades and the machine gun.
  • Both sides kept sending troops 'over the top'. This meant that the Generals tried to break the deadlock by sending thousands of men across No Man's Land. The result was a huge slaughter of infantry.
  • Trenches had zig-zag patterns in order to stop mass killings.
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Britain's contribution to the Western Front

  • The Somme was one of the key battles of the war which ended in disaster.
  • Under the command of Sir Douglas Haig, British soldiers were sent 'over the top' to charge the German Trenches.
  • They were ordered to advance slowly, not run; which gave the Germans time to get ready for the attack.
  • The slow-moving British soldiers were an easy target: 57,000 Britons were wounded or killed on the first day.
  • The battle carried on until November, but the British only gained about 15km of land in some places.
  • Sir Douglas Haig was labelled the 'Butcher of the Somme'.
  • Haig believed that the key objects of the war had been achieved (opposition soldiers were killed).
  • However, Haig could have waited for more tanks and changed his tactics after the first day.
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New Weapons

  • Poison gas had never been used before 1915.
  • There had been no tanks before 1915. At first these were very slow and were not very effective, however, their design improved and they became faster, more efficient and bullet-proof.
  • Aeroplanes were very unreliable and dangerous if used for combat, so their main job was for reconnaissance. In 1915, planes were fitted with machine guns for the first time and the rickety early planes were replaced by sleek fighter-jets.
  • The machine gun had been developed.
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The War at Sea 1

  • The Navy had 4 important jobs: 1) to protect trade-ships 2) to blockade ports 3) to carry troops 4) to protect overseas British colonies.
  • Major battles were too risky because neither side wanted to risk the expensive Dreadnoughts.
  • The only major between the Dreadnought fleets was the Battle of Jutland in May 1916.
  • Both sides said they won the battle: the British lost 14 ships, and the Germans 11, but the German fleet left the battle first.
  • The U-Boat was a German submarine which could attack ships without being detected.
  • From 1915, thousands of tons of merchant shipping were attacked and sunk.
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The War at Sea 2

  • At first, the Germans were careful not to attack ships from neutral countries or passenger liners, so the British started to send supplies on passenger liners.
  • In May 1915, U-boats sank the liner Lusitania, killing 1000 passengers, including 100 Americans. This increased tension between the USA and Germany, and was one factor in the USA joining the war.
  • In 1915, U-Boat attacks became unrestricted - over 500,000 tons of shipping was lost by June 1917.
  • To tackle this problem, Lloyd George introduced the Convoy System. This was where merchant ships travelled together in groups protected by warships.
  • However, the British Navy also blockade German ports - 300,000 died because of malnutrition and the supplies of nitrate were cut off, meaning that no explosives could be constructed in Germany.
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The Contribution of British Empire Troops

  • Canada: 418,000 troops on the Western Front. Lloyd George commented on the bravery of Canadian troops at the Somme. Vimy Ridge was captured by the Canadians after the British and French attacks failed.
  • Australia and New Zealand (ANZACS): in 1915/16, the ANZACS were in Gallipoli against Turkey. In 1916, the troops moved to the Western Front. The Australian Navy sent ships to join the War at Sea.
  • India: Over 138,000 Indian troops fought in Belgium and France in WW1.
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The End of the War

  • The Russians pulled out of the war in 1917.
  • In April 1917, the USA joins the war because of two main reasons - the effects of the U-Boat campaign, and a German attempt to encourage Mexico to attack the USA.
  • The German Ludendorff offensive tried to capture Paris in March 1918.
  • At first, it looked as if it would work, but the Germans advanced too far too fast, and their supplies had not kept up with them.
  • They were beyond their lines in a kind of a bulge, so the Allies attacked them from the flanks.
  • Thousands of American troops soon joined the Allied forces on the Western Front, and helped to push the Germans back.
  • Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated and the new government signed an armistice on November 11th 1918.
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