Here are 10 facts on the major battles of World War One. Fought on several fronts, and often representing the accumulation of hundreds of skirmishes, these 10 clashes stand out for their scale and strategic importance.
On both the Eastern and Western Fronts initial German successes were tempered by fierce resistance and counterattacks, and on the Western Front a stalemate set in. Millions of lives were committed to breaking the deadlock, as can be seen below in some of the centrepiece battle of the war.
1. The Battle of the Frontiers (August-September 1914) was a series of 5 bloody battles in Lorraine, the Ardennes and southern Belgium
These early exchanges saw the French Plan XVII and German Schlieffen Plan collide. The offensive was a spectacular failure for the French army, with over 300,000 casualties.
2. The Battle of Tannenburg (August 1914) saw the Russian 2nd Army routed by the German 8th, a defeat from which they never truly recovered
Russian casualties at Tannenburg are estimated at 170,000 to Germany’s 13,873.
3. The Battle of Marne (September 1914) initiated trench warfare
The Battle of Marne brought an end to the first mobile phase of the war. After a communication breakdown, Helmuth von Moltke the Younger’s army dug in at the River Aisne.
4. At the Masurian Lakes (September 1914) Russian casualties numbered 125,000 to Germanys 40,000
In a second catastrophically heavy defeat Russian forces were outnumbered 3:1 and routed as they attempted a retreat.
5. The Battle of Verdun (February-December 1916) was the longest battle of the war, lasting over 300 days
6. Verdun put such strain on French forces that they diverted many of their divisions intended for the Somme back to the fortress
A French infantryman described the German artillery bombardment – “Men were squashed. Cut in two or divided top to bottom. Blown into showers, bellies turned inside out.” As a result, the Somme Offensive became an attack spearheaded by British troops.
7. The Gallipoli campaign (April 1915 – January 1916) was a costly failure for the Allies
The landing at ANZAC Cove is infamous for the appalling conditions in which approximately 35,000 ANZAC soldiers became casualties. In total, the allies lost around 27,000 French and 115,000 British and dominion troops
8. The Somme (July – November 1916) was the bloodiest battle of the war
In total, Britain lost 460,000 men, the French 200,000 and Germans nearly 500,000 Britain lost nearly 20,000 men on the first day alone.
9. The Spring Offensive (March – July 1918) saw German storm-troopers make huge advances into France
Having defeated Russia, Germany moved vast numbers of troops to the Western Front. However, the offensive was undermined by supply issues – they could not keep up with the rate of advance.
10. The Hundred Days Offensive (August-November 1918) was a rapid series of Allied victories
Beginning at the Battle of Amiens the German forces were gradually expelled from France and then back past the Hindenburg line. Widespread German surrender led to armistice in November.