Brief Chronology of the First World War

This material was contributed by Heather Berringer, Ross Gartley, Trilby Leach, Ashley Roberts, Elizabeth Stokes.

World War 1 began after the Archduke of the decaying Austro-Hungarian empire was assassinated in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914 by a group of Serbian nationalists. This event began the struggle between Serbia and the Austro-Hungarian government.

On July 26, 1914, the Austro-Hungarian officials issued an ultimatum to the Serbian government containing five major concessions. Once the time limit on the ultimatum had expired, Austro-Hungary declared war on Serbia. Germany supported Austro-Hungary in the war effort while Russia supported Serbia. Germany therefore declared war on Russia on August 1, 1914 and on their ally, France, on August 3, 1914.

On August 4, 1914, German troops were sent into Belgium, defying the neutrality that Belgium was promised. Great Britain declared war against Germany that same day.

The First World War was the time of first usage of many war technologies; the machine gun, airplane, submarine, poison gas, powerful explosives, flame throwers, hand grenades, accurate long-range artillery and tanks all made their debut. Canada played a particularly significant role in the air, having more than 25,000 Canadians serving with the British Air Force.

The First World War was a "trench war". Trenches protected troops from artillery and machine gun fire. These trenches were between six and eight feet deep and were separated from enemy trenches by no man's land. Off duty troops lived in dugouts in support trenches and supplies, food and fresh troops were moved to the front through a network of reserve and communication trenches. Firing trenches were backed by cover trenches which acted as the second line of defence in case the first were overrun by the enemy. This war was also the first to be fought by drafted civilians.

The major battles of World War I included the battles of the Marne, Ypres, Verdun, the Somme and Cambrai.

The battles of the Marne were fought in 1914 and in 1918. In 1914, rapid advances were made by the German soldiers into Belgium and northern France. French soldiers were rushed to the site in taxis to stop the advance and the Germans were halted. The German troops did not approach the Marne river again until May, 1918.

The battles of Ypres were fought in 1914, 1915 and 1917. In 1914, the battle was an attempt by the British Expeditionary Forces (BEF) to halt a rapid German advance and the battle in 1915 was the first use of poison gas by the German side. Canadian troops were sent to the front line in this battle. The battle in Ypres on July 31, 1917 was a battle of over-ambitious aims during appalling weather conditions. The misguided persistence of the generals resulted in casualties of over 250 000, many of whom drowned in liquid mud. The town of Passchendale, which often lends its name to this battle was taken by the Canadians on November 6, 1917. At Ypres, their first appearance on the European battlefield, the Canadians established a reputation as a formidable fighting force.

The battle of Verdun began on February 21, 1916 with a German artillery bombardment. As the Germans advanced, the French troops fell back and Fort Douamont fell to the Germans on February 25, 1916. The attacks continued and in April, 1916, the French air force gained control of the skies. However, in June, 1916 a new German drive succeeded in capturing Forts Vaux and Thianmont. On September 4, 1916 the French advanced on a four mile front, recapturing Forts Douaumont and Thiaumont. These attacks persisted through October and the Germans soon evacuated Fort Vaux.

The battle at The Somme began on July 1, 1916. With the French army hard-pressed to the south of Verdun, the British intended to break through the German defences. In late August, the Canadians took over a section of the front line. Britain's initial artillery bombardment failed to dislodge much of the German wire or destroy their machine-gun posts and the Germans managed to destroy many of the oncoming waves of British infantry. On the first day, the British suffered 57 470 casualties. The battle persisted until November 19, 1916 and when the offensive was called off, the British were still three miles short of Baptaume and Serre, part of their first day objectives.

The Canadian share of the British assault was the seizure of Vimy Ridge. The attack began on April 9, 1917, when the Canadians moved forward together and took command of the whole crest of the Ridge from the Germans. Three days later the attack was complete when the other two sections of the Ridge were also taken by the Canadians.

The battle of Cambrai began on November 20, 1917 and was the first full-scale offensive that was designed exclusively to accommodate the British secret weapon: the tank. The British managed to breach the impregnable Hindenburg line by four to five miles. Cambrai is important in Canadian battle records for the Cavalry Brigade and the Newfoundland Regiment fought with distinction with the British formations.

Several peace attempts (including the failed Fourteen Points) were facilitated by United States President Woodrow Wilson but were all refused by Great Britain. Eventually because of the Zimmerman telegram and the sinking of the Lusitania the United States entered the war on the side of the Allies on April 6, 1917.

The Armistice was signed at 5:00 a.m. in a railway carriage in the Forest of Compiegne, France on November 11, 1918. The war was ended at 11:00 a.m. the same day.



History of the First World War

The Clock: A history

Major Battles of World War I

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