First World War Overview

This page gives a very brief overview of the First World War from the British perspective.

Western Front By 1914, through a series of alliances, Europe had formed itself into two huge opposing camps. On 28th June 1914 the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, was assassinated in Sarajevo by a young Bosnian named Gavrilo Princip. This led, on 28th July 1914, to war between Austria-Hungary and Serbia. Russia mobilized in support of Serbia. Germany declared war on Russia and then France. On 4th August 1914 when German troops crossed the Belgian frontier on their way to Paris, Britain declared war on Germany.

The Germans were stopped about 30 miles from Paris and dug-in to form what would become known as the Western Front. A series of trenches ran from the Belgian coast to the Swiss mountains. There was no opportunity for either side to out-flank the other and the Allies were therefore forced into frontal assaults in their attempt to break through the German lines. The Allies attacked on the Somme (1916), Arras and Artois (1917) and Ypres (1917) to name just a few of the costly battles. The Germans attacked at Ypres (1915) and Verdun (1916).

With the introduction of unrestricted U-boat attacks in the Atlantic, America declared war on Germany in April 1917. Meanwhile, the war on the Eastern Front had left Russia on the brink of collapse and in December they signed an armistice.

The Germans were now free to move their army from the Eastern Front to the Western Front and in an attempt to end the war before American troops could arrive in sufficient numbers they attacked on 21st March 1918. For several months the offensive pushed the Allies back but in July the Germans were stopped at the Second Battle of the Marne. The Allied counter-offensive began in August and in what became known as the Last Hundred Days, they pushed the Germans back in the greatest series of victories in the British Army's history. Germany sought an armistice which came into effect at 11 a.m. on 11th November 1918.

Although the Western Front was the main theatre of operations British troops fought at Gallipoli (1915), Macedonia (1915-1918) and Palestine (1915-1918) to name a few. Bulgaria, who joined the Central Powers in September 1915 sought an armistice in September 1918. Turkey, who had joined the Central Powers in November 1914 sought an armistice in October 1918. Austria-Hungary sought an armistice in November 1918.