Reasons for war
By 1914 Britons in the Foreign Office, parliament and elsewhere had come to believe that Germany was bidding for Europen domination:
- If France was defeated, Germany would accomplish European domination and British interests would suffer.
- Germany had been building a large navy even though it already had the strongest army in Europe.
- Schlieffen Plan by Germans dictated that they should first march through neutral Belgium, which meant the British could be said to be helping 'Gallant little Belgium' in standing up to the bullying Germany.
4th August - Britain declared war on Germany.
'Race to the sea'
- German Commander-in-Chief, Field Marshal Von Moltke, ordered his armies to pull back to a defensive line to the north of the River Aisne.
- BEF now began to advance after retreating Germans but neither they nor Frencg could push them back from their new position on Aisne; trench warfare began.
- Decision taken to move BEF by rail northwards to Belgian city of Ypres, where it could assist Belgian army to cling on to a corner of their country and could be closer to channel ports.
- Reinforcements had been sent to France and the year ended with a struggle around city of Ypres; German high command decided to throw everything into last ditch push.
- 20th October 1914 - Germans launched first battle of Ypres - bloodbath with 50,000 BEF casualties.
- By the end of the year much of northern France and most of Belgium was occupied by Germans.
- A line of trenches stretched from the Channel just north-east of Dunkirk in the north to the Swiss border in the south.
- BEF expanded - 245,197 men by the end of 1914
Second Battle of Ypres
BEF continued to expand steadily through 1915 but shortages of shells and heavy guns.
- Territorial divisions and Canadian division arrived in France.
- Poisoned gas almost allowed Germans to break through but line held.
- British assisted French in costly assaults on German trenches.
- By January 1916 - 60 infantry divisions overseas, 12 regular, 17 Territorial, 30 New Army and a Royal Naval Division.