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An insight into the First World War


By Sakhal

The 21st February 1916, the 5th German Army started with a salvo of two thousands gunshots over a front of only 10 kilometers in width the attack to the fortress in Verdun. The French,commanded by General Petain, replied to the German artillery fire with their very heavy fixed artillery pieces, and the barrage rumbled almost uninterrumpedly over the battlefield. Verdun is protected by a rim of forts built in rock, reinforced concrete and iron, disposed in shape of stars in the tops and the slopes of the hills. The rumbling thunder from the cannons is so potent that the western wind carries it as a constant rumor very deeply inside Germany. An incredible storm of steel, ecrasite and sparkling lightnings falls upon the battlefield. The trench warfare in France reaches a summit that exceeds anything ever seen. Half million of soldiers engage each other under the hellish artillery fire and they fight with rifles, bayonets, hand grenades, mine launchers, machine guns and flamethrowers. Hills and fields have been turned into a spectral lunar landscape. Since time ago all the entrenchments have been flattened and the barriers of thorns shattered. The "field grey" and the "blue horizon" are lying, confronted, in inundated craters and fighting for every span of land. The wounded drown in the scrambled mud and above the cruel scene raises the black-blue cloud from the constant impacts, the bursts of mud and the columns of smoke. The explosions from howitzer projectiles imposes itself over the rat-tat-tat from the machine guns and the explosions from hand grenades.

An insight into the First World War

The hell of the combats in Verdun in 1916. This battle was one of the bloodiest ones in History, where more than half million of soldiers of both sides lost their lives.

From the whistling sky fall such powerful grenades that, for example, in the fort Douaumont a complete company of French soldiers formed for attack is buried by a sole explosion, in such way that the bayonets that protrude from the ground in rows become the memorial of the fallen still standing. The fort Vaux is already no more than a star recognizable by a surface of reinforced concrete whose contour is traced by its half blinded moats. In this hell torn by tens of thousands of craters breathe, fight, sleep and die soldiers who, already only distinguishable by the color of their uniforms and their different languages, all of them covered in mud, with half-hollow eyes and half crazy, have been reduced to material for the war reports. The rain falls heavily, smashing trenches, inundating craters, softening uniforms. Every second in Verdun means ten days for the soldiers that live in such hell; each hour is an eternity. But the storm over the fortress, starting in February, lasts for weeks and months until it finally drowns in mud and blood the 3rd July. And everything in vain: the fortress has not fallen and the fronts are again inlaid in the terrain. Already exert pressure on the 2350000 Germans in the Western Front 3470000 British and French; one year later will be added the first million of Americans. The youth of the nations kills itself in the mud of the battlefields.

An insight into the First World War

Little more than a decade after the first motorized flight, the aircraft had already an important role in warfare.

An insight into the First World War

As a silent testimony of the havoc of the war and the large quantity of casualties among fighter pilots, the remainings of a French aircraft lie within the wasted woods of Houthulst.

From 14th May to 4th June 1916 wriggles in Italy the offensive in Asiago and Arsiero; the 1st July it starts the Battle of the Somme, lasting until 26th November. Romania takes side against the central powers, tying the last reserves of these. From 31st May until well into December it is introduced in the weak frontlines in the Eastern Front the Russian roller of the Offensive Brusilov. In the same year 1916 it is declared the "intensified submarine war" in every sea, a desperate attempt of breaking the British blockade and besiege the island through hunger. The ocean is full of tragedies of sunken ships and flaming torches. The 31st May meet each other the war fleets of Britain and Germany in the Skagerrak to participate in one of the largest naval battles in History, the Battle of Jutland. Politicians and military, possessed by the madness of mutual destruction, carry the fierce fighting to the colonies, to foreign continents and far oceans. They mobilize the negroid peoples and teach them to kill the "white men"; they attract to the battlefields exotic nations promising them, in return, their freedom, richness or renaissance. With all the logic of History, it will start after the First World War a period of fights for liberation in the colonies, endless riots and turmoils, which deliver to the suicidal Europe the bill from the black world, from the abused peoples and the opressed masses.

The First World War starts the 1st August 1914 because of the assassination in Sarajevo, committed by Serbian nationalists, of the couple of heirs of the Austrian throne. In the beginning the event has all the characteristics of a classical European "cabinet war", as the diplomats, the royal houses and the nationalistic parties seeking prestige use to start them; the complex alliances in use lead the nations to fall in the vortex one by one, more or less by pure chance; the rearmament carried in excess wants to demonstrate its usefulness. But ultimately, this world wide war is nothing more than the continuation of a situation existing since time ago and a world wide crisis of the highly industrial era, manifested in small and marginal wars, diplomatic unrest, commercial envy, mentality of retribution and great power. Such crisis is the result of the imperialism and the colonialism, marked by the increasingly sharp competitivity of the industrial powers: a legitimate son of the unrestrained capitalism with an insatiable thirst of markets, deposits of raw materials and increasingly wider influence zones.

An insight into the First World War

The British war fleet, constituted by a powerful core of Dreadnought battleships and cruisers, meeting in occasion of the coronation of George V in 1911.

An insight into the First World War

The powerful fleet of the Kaiser was reinforced in its southern flank by the Austro-Hungarian Fleet. Here it can be seen this relatively strong force, under the command in 1912 of the new flagship Viribus Unitis, the first of four Dreadnought battleships that introduced for the first time superimposed triple turrets.

But the powers that had been formed to destroy the competition or to become more powerful only stirred stormy winds in the already glowing embers of the now emerging world wide revolution and they had as only effect the destruction of the undermined bourgeois age. Germany, in the heart of Europe, had been completely isolated by the insensate politics carried by Emperor Wilhelm II and his counselors. He could not rely in anything else than the dubious Triple Alliance with the Danubian monarchy, undermined by the nationalism of its peoples, and the weak and fickle Italy. The Triple Entente between France and Britain from 1904 and the military alliance between France and Russia were, conversely, perfectly capable of working. When the Germans started their march with chants, flowers and true enthusiasm to throw themselves to the struggle for life or death, they were really convinced of having to defend the existence of their country. The German armies advanced during the first six weeks, taking impulse accross the neutral Belgium, to the gates of Paris, to the Marne, where they lost the decisive battle. Almost simultaneously, Hindenburg completely defeated the Russian armies in Tannenberg and then in the Masurian lakes. In Germany waved the flags and chimed the bells on the churches: Victory!

An insight into the First World War

Field Marshal Hindenburg and his deputy officer Ludendorff in Tannenberg, where the German Army defeated the Russian Army in the late August 1914.

An insight into the First World War

British naval squadron with Dreadnought battleships in 1914.

But then the armies on the Western Front entrenched themselves and fought terrible battles for few kilometers of territorial advance; it started the trench warfare, the slow bleeding. Impulsed by the propaganda or the economic pressure from the allies, a nation after another positioned itself in the side of those wanting to bring down Germany. Also its allied Italy saw better protected its "sacred egoism" in the other side and turned against its former confederates. The war then stirred in West Africa, in East Africa, in the Suez Canal, in Mesopotamia, in the Sunda Strait and in every sea on the world. The submarines hunted under the waters when the German battleships no longer dared to go outside the North Sea; Zeppelin dirigibles bombed London and the aircraft crossed the skies over Flanders. The German armies on the east started their march and advanced; while the recently started Russian Revolution of 1917 paralized and brought down the Tsarist empire, the German army corps reached the Black Sea and the Caucasus. But in the west the battlefront stagnated: British and French - supported by their colonial troops -, Brazilian and Portuguese and a dozen of nations more, resisted any attack from the German armies.

An insight into the First World War

The crew of an artillery piece fitted with gas masks as defense against the toxic and irritating gases, one of the most brutal weapons used in the trench warfare in the Western Front. Fitted with their gas masks, the soldiers seem finally deprived from their human condition, resembling unrecognizable specters.

An insight into the First World War

British sanitarian personnel extracts a wounded from the battlefield accross the mud that reaches their knees, in Boezinge, in August 1917. The bag in their chests contains a gas mask.

Since the "winter of the kohlrabi" of 1916-17 it was increasingly clearer that the German industry could not resist, due to the lack of raw materials and the insufficiency of foods, the assault of a world that had at its disposal all the riches of five continents. Which was the use of the German inventiveness that produced nitrogen extracting it from the air, gasoline from the coal and fabric for uniforms from nettle fibers? It changed something that women and children were "burnt" in the factories? In the spring 1917, United States entered the war in the side of the western powers, which put Germany fighting against 27 countries. Ludendorff proclaimed the "total war". The German leadership had enough lack of realism to not realize that everything was sealed and lost and allowed that the peoples continued bleeding in the battlefield. After the failure of the last spring offensive, the battles reached the Siegfried Line. Here finally - barely without supplies, without expectatives of survival and pressed by powerful enemies - the Supreme Command of the German Army recognized the defeat and requested to start conversations for the armistice. Its allies in the Balkans, Austria-Hungary and Turkey resigned. The 3rd-4th October 1918, the German government requested the armistice around the base of the 14 points proclaimed by American president Wilson: without annexations, under the prevailing of the rights and the maintaining of freedom.

An insight into the First World War

Near Ypern, in Flanders, the combats caused great losses as well. In the autumn 1917, the landscape had this phantasmagoric appearance.

But the events overwhelmed the formerly powerful. The 28th October a large part of the German overseas war fleet rebelled, to avoid its departure and the continuation of a war without sense. The 3rd November the revolution was in Kiel, the 7th it was in Munich and the 9th in Berlin. The 10th November, Emperor Wilhelm II escaped to Holland, leaving the new republic alone with the catastrophe. Red flags waved, everywhere were formed commissions according to the example from the Soviet Union. The Spartacist Party of Berlin turned into the Communist Party of Germany. However, in Germany prevailed the moderate element. The national assembly constituted in Weimar the 11th February 1919 only gave the far-left party USPD 22 seats (along with 163 social democrat, 74 democrats and 89 centrist). Hence the social democrat Friedrich Ebert was elected first president of the German Empire. A new chapter of the German History could have started with great hopes if French Prime Minister Clemenceau could not have managed to impose his very harsh ideas for Germany. The victors immediately demanded the delivery of almost all the weapons, the bomber and fighter aircraft, the submarines and the totality of the war fleet, and later also all the large merchant ships. But even more: the defeated nation had to deliver 100000 milch-cows, tens of thousands of locomotives and freight cars; they had to evacuate all the territories west of the Rhine, even a strip of 10 kilometers from its eastern bank, within 14 days. All of that had to be done while the blockade by hunger was kept on a bled, lifeless country, whose children died of hunger and whose working women had been turned, meanwhile, in ghosts.

Barely were mentioned the 14 points from Wilson. The hatred from Clemenceau did not manage to be totally imposed, but above all Wilson conceded too much, mainly to manage to impose his spiritual creature, the League of Nations (to which later would not adhere United States nor the Soviet Union). In Versailles it was acted excessively according to the traditional way of thinking that only recognized victors and defeated. Provinces were cut, new states were arbitrarily constituted, colonies were seized, private properties were sequestered and the payment of "reparations" was imposed, one that would have formed a column of 20-mark golden coins so tall as 9240 kilometers. The large German rivers were internationalized, aerial navigation was prohibited, naval construction was limited, and all of these impositions were burdened with severe punishments; and to justify the whole "treaty", of 428 pages, it was forced the German signature under the false affirmation of the "exclusive guilt of the war". The allies of Germany received similar "peace treaties": the Danubian monarchy was dissolved in independent states, Turkey was reduced to its metropolitan territory of Anatolia and "gifted" with a Greek occupation, while Bulgaria had its territory cut. Even one of the "great four", Italian Prime Minister Orlando, was deceived in the treaties because of the disgrace of representing a weaker nation. For example, the western allies had promised to the Arabs, in the Kitchener Treaty from 1912, the refundation of a national kingdom and the delivery of Palestine if they fought against Turks and Germans. In 1917, the same powers promised Palestine to the Jews because they needed the economic support from their large banks. But meanwhile they had closed in 1916 the Sykes-Picot Treaty, according to which Palestine, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan belonged to themselves as mandates, for that part of the world possessed rich oil deposits. This way it was made a peace that provoked more nationalisms, revolutions and hatreds among the peoples. Kemal Ataturk, Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler were also a consequence of Versailles.

Categories: Events - World War One - 20th Century - [General] - [General]

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Website: Military History

Article submitted: 2015-02-04


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