How Did France and Germany Approach World War One by the End of 1914?

Peter Curry

3 mins

03 Mar 2019

Although they had initially hoped for a quick war the French had abandoned such hopes by 1915. December 1914 saw a commitment on the part of the French and British to total victory.

This conviction arose for a few reasons. Firstly the German army had come so close to Paris at the First Battle of the Marne there was no option for commander-in-chief Joffre but to keep attacking in the hope of removing the Germans from French soil.

This was not only a practical concern but one of pride. Secondly there were concerns that if not comprehensively defeated Germany may launch another war.

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New French offensives

In line with this new outlook on the war the French began two new offensives. The First Battle of Artois began on 17 December and attempted unsuccessfully to break the stalemate on the Western Front.

This was one of a number of battles which would be fought for control of the strategic heights of Vimy Ridge. A further 250,000 troops were deployed in the Champagne offensive also intended to break the deadlock and take the Mézières railway junction.

The Battle of Vimy Ridge (1917), a painting by Richard Jack.

German leaders cannot cooperate

Unlike the French high command the Germans were not united in their goals. The German high command had been riven by infighting for some time but as the war progressed this worsened.

Some like Ludendorff advocated focusing on the Eastern Front. This party attracted a lot of public support. Commander-in-chief Falkenhayn in contrast desired more emphasis on the Western Front and even speculated about a possible conquest of France.

This divide between the giants of German command continued into 1915.

Erich von Falkenhayn, who desired more emphasis on the Western Front and even speculated about a possible conquest of France.

Terrorist action on the British Coast

The British sustained their first civilian casualties on home soil since 1669 when, on 16 December, a German fleet under Admiral von Hipper attacked Scarborough, Hartlepool and Whitley.

The attack had no military objectives and was meant only to terrorise the British. Even von Hipper was sceptical of its value as he felt there were more strategically important uses for his fleet.

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This attack nearly led to a much bigger naval engagement when a small British force approached the much larger fleet of admiral von Ingenohl who was escorting von Hipper.

Some destroyers fired on one another but von Ingenohl, unsure of the British strength and unwilling to risk a major engagement, pulled his ships back into German waters. Neither fleet lost any ships in the skirmish.

The attack on Scarborough became part of a British propaganda campaign. ‘Remember Scarborough’, to drive recruitment.

Germany and Portugal clash in Africa

After some earlier small scale fighting German forces invaded Portuguese controlled Angola on 18 December. They took the town of Naulila where a previous breakdown of negotiations had led to the deaths of 3 German officers.

The two countries were officially not yet at war and in spite of this invasion it would be 1916 before war broke out between them.