- Title: WWI file footage commemorating centenary of Battle of Passchendaele
- Date: 22nd July 2017
- Summary: GRAPHIC (FILE) (ORIGINALLY 4:3) (REUTERS) MAP SHOWING GERMAN ADVANCE THROUGH LUXEMBOURG, BELGIUM AND FRANCE IN 1914
- Embargoed: 5th August 2017 13:38
- Keywords: Battle of Passchendaele Europe U.S. entry First World War anniversary WW1 commemorations Great War Western Front
- Location: SEE SCRIPT BODY FOR LOCATIONS
- City: SEE SCRIPT BODY FOR LOCATIONS
- Country: Various
- Topics: Conflicts/War/Peace
- Reuters ID: LVA0056QTPBNR
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: EDITORS PLEASE NOTE: SHOTS INCLUDE THOSE WHERE SOUND HAS BEEN DUBBED AFTER THE RECORDING AND IS NOT NATURAL SOUND
July 31 marks the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Passchendaele, the last great battle of attrition on the Western Front in World War One.
Also known as the third battle of Ypres, the campaign was hit by heavy rain and turned the Flanders lowlands into a mud-churned swamp rendering tanks immobile and virtually paralysed the infantry.
The battle finally ended in appalling weather and with demoralised and tired troops after Passchendaele village was seized by British and Canadian infantry in November 1917.
Around 310,000 Allied soldiers and around 260,000 German soldiers were killed or wounded during the battles.
Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, who commanded the British Expeditionary Force from December 1915, came under intense criticism both in 1917, and since, for persisting with the offensive after it became clear that a breakthrough was unlikely.
World War One, also known as the Great War, began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918.
It originated in Europe but became a global military conflict that killed more than 16 million people and changed the nature of warfare.
In the run-up to 1914, Europe was unstable and volatile. Germany had formed numerous, often conflicting alliances with its neighbours, for fear of another war with France. Its ally, the Turkish Ottoman empire was in decline, after having much of its territory taken by France, Italy, Britain and Russia. And the Austro-Hungarian empire was also crumbling, with rising independence movements in satellite states such as Serbia, against the central powers - the Allies, led by France, Great Britain and Russia, but also in many other smaller countries.
On June 28, 1914 the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and his wife were shot dead as they toured the streets of Bosnia's Sarajevo in an open topped car.
Many Bosnians resented the Empire, which occupied the territory in 1878 and annexed it 20 years later. Gavrilo Princip, a Bosnian-Serb student radical, was a member of "Young Bosnia", a movement which advocated the creation of an independent state for the Slavs of southern Europe. The two bullets he fired triggered World War One.
Austria's attempts to use the assassinations to take action against Serbia enraged Russia, and while some German leaders were not enthusiastic at the prospect of a widespread war, the country supported its Austrian ally.
Fear, ultimatum, bluff, and a general belief that any conflict would be short anyway, escalated the conflict. When Russia and France made it clear that they would not tolerate the attacks on Belgrade, Germany declared war on both countries. It launched a pre-emptive strike on Luxembourg and then Belgium, drawing Great Britain into the fight.
Both the Germans and the Allied forces were then rushed into the war, with Britain declaring war on Germany on August 4, 1914.
Old battle plans were used, and the generals, even the older ones, had no experience of a large-scale European conflict.
The German army swept in a giant counter clockwise wheel through Belgium and northern France, coming within 50 kilometres of Paris.
A million and a half German soldiers were in action on the western front, forcing the allies into retreat. After fierce fighting, the German army was eventually checked, first at the Battle of the Marne, then at Ypres.
The retreating Germans decided to stand their ground by fighting from hastily-dug holes. Trench warfare had begun. The war of movement which had lasted for just a few months, descended into four years of stalemate, mud, disease and death.
Colonial soldiers from countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa and India fought in their tens of thousands for the British and Allied cause.
Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) forces landed at Gallipoli in April 1915 as part of a British-led allied force, including French and Indian units who were trying to open up a sea route for World War One ally Russia.
After a failed naval bombardment, the troops were sent ashore at Gallipoli, outgunned and facing an almost hopeless strategic position. The well-entrenched Turks had the Allies pinned on the beaches, with heat and disease adding to the toll.
The eight-month campaign was a disaster. Allied and Turkish forces suffered more than 300,000 casualties, and the Allies retreated.
While the Turks would ultimately lose their empire in Mesopotamia, Palestine and Syria, Gallipoli ensured the Ottoman Empire's survival - at least for another three years. The Allies' failure at Gallipoli probably extended the war, and heightened feelings among the colonials that they were poorly led - being used as little more than cannon-fodder by their British military masters.
On land, sea and in the air, 1914-18 was a war of new and experimental technology - technology that would increase casualty figures beyond the worst nightmares of previous conflicts.
Overhead, the first dogfights took place over France, Belgium and Britain - romantic and spectacular, but of little long-term significance to the outcome of the war. However, in a portent of what was to happen in the next great conflagration, homes in Britain were bombed by German Zeppelins, and those on the continent by the fledgling Royal Flying Corps, later to become the RAF.
At sea, the latest deadly technology was invisible - submarines and mines. The most fierce sea battle of the war was the battle of Jutland, where British and German craft fought for control of the sea lanes. While there were successes on both sides, such as the allies sinking the German Cruiser the Blucher, the battle was indecisive.
What the allies had no initial defence for, were the German submarines and mines. German U-boats were used sparingly at the start of the war for fear of angering the United States. But with the Western Front campaign bogged down, the submarines started ravaging commercial shipping.
At one point, 25 percent of all merchant ships leaving British ports were sunk by mines and U-boats. Amongst them were neutral American ships - prompting the United States to finally join the war in 1917.
An angry British Prime Minister, Lloyd George, ordered his reluctant military leaders to start protected convoys. This tactic alone reduced losses to about one percent, and reduced the importance of the naval campaign.
But the campaigns at sea, in the Middle East, and in Africa and the Pacific, remained dwarfed by those in Europe. Back on the Western Front, the slaughter continued.
Between 1914 and 1918, 400-million artillery rounds were fired in the narrow battlefield straddling France and Belgium.
Casualties from individual battles were measured in the hundreds of thousands at The Somme, Verdun and Passchendaele - with gains of only a few hundred metres, often lost again later.
The Germans were mainly defensive. The British and French - operating independently - were committed to the traditional strategy of repeated offensives, often at the strongest point of enemy concentration. The German armies simply mowed down the attacking forces with machine-guns - a new weapon the allied generals repeatedly dismissed as a purely "defensive" instrument.
Allied cavalry charges were rare. But when they did occur, such as in the Somme in 1916, they were simply obliterated by German machine-guns. Again, the impact of technology was to blame.
Any gains were bound to be slow - the ground was so churned up by the bombardments, that men and the newly invented tank, simply became swallowed by mud. With such conditions, the advantage was usually on the defensive side. It was easier to reinforce, than it was to supply an army moving forward.
While the Western Front was bogged down, the East was more fluid.
Germany, propping up a weakening Austria, was staging crushing victories against Russia. While Russia had almost unlimited manpower, her soldiers were badly supplied and were rolled back through Poland and Ukraine. The collapse of the Russian monarchy and the Bolshevik revolution led to Russia pulling out of the war, to the anger of the allied powers.
No longer forced to fight on two fronts, Germany turned all its attention to the Western Front. Despite knowing that an outright victory was unlikely, German forces launched a huge offensive in 1918. They hoped that a decisive push might force a negotiated peace from the allies before American forces arrived in great number.
It was not to be. After initial success, the German army faced exactly the same problems as the Allies had earlier in the war and overstepped their abilities. The central powers quickly collapsed - the Ottoman Empire crumbled in the Middle East, and the Austro-Hungarian empire disintegrated into separate states after Italian victories in 1918.
On the Western Front, an allied counter-attack, including the Americans, prompted the Germans to ask American President Wilson for an armistice. The German government itself disintegrated and an armistice was signed.
As London and Paris celebrated on November 11, Germany stood defeated, even though its forces still occupied much of Europe. After the treaty of Versailles, Germany remained a sovereign nation but with her navy impounded, much of her weaponry handed over, the Rhineland seized, and facing an enormous reparations bill.
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