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The Great War
Prologue Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Timeline Maps and Battles The Shaping of the 21st Century Historians
OverviewExplosionStalemateTrench WarfareWilhelm II / MeidnerJaures / Gibbs
German soldiers crossing from Belgium into France, 1914'Whenever they had the chance they shot down German soldiers... There was little defense against this sort of warfare because the streets were full of civilians...' --Fritz Nagel, German Lieutenant passing through Belgium


Stalemate
Poison gas attack, Flanders, Belgium
Poison gas attack, Flanders, Belgium
From the very beginning, the war grew rapidly out of control. New styles of warfare, like the use of gas and heavy artillery, produced new kinds of horror and unprecedented levels of suffering and death. As a Germans army crossed into Belgium, heading for Paris, the Russian Army - moving faster than the German generals had anticipated -- was already pushing into East Prussia. The German forces on the Eastern Front, however, quickly defeated the Tsar's army at the Battle of Tannenberg.
 
In the west, as the German army invaded Belgium, rumors and stories quickly spread of the atrocities the German soldiers inflicted upon Belgium civilians.

Archival Footage (Silent): German Generals Hindenburg and Schlieffen

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The French, believing the German thrust into Belgium to be a fake, launched their own offensive on the eastern border between France and Germany the operations were disastrous, with the French army losing 27,000 soldiers in a single day.
 
When the German invasion of France failed to take Paris or destroy French and British resistance on the river Marne, stalemate quickly followed, and a line of trenches soon stretched along the war's Western Front from the Swiss Alps to the English Channel. Christmas Eve of 1914 saw an extraordinary truce between the men fighting in the trenches that had been called "the last twitch of the 19th century."
 

The Trenches: Symbol of the Stalemate
Soldiers dug in on the Western Front, used dark humor to lighten the strain of living in a trench.

I've a Little Wet Home in a Trench
 
I've a little wet home in a trench
Where the rainstorms continually drench,
There's a dead cow close by
With her feet in towards the sky
And she gives off a terrible stench.
 
Underneath, in the place of a floor,
There's a mass of wet mud and some straw,
But with shells dropping there,
There's no place to compare,
With my little wet home in the trench.

Folklore song which originated from life in the trenches. Sung to the tune of My Little Grey Home in the West.

More on Trench Warfare *

 
Top Photo: German soldiers crossing from Belgium into France, 1914

Historian Commentary French Bravery and German Fire Power
Trevor Wilson, Historian

French soldiers advancing
French soldiers advancing
The [French] infantry, bearing their bayonets, their rifles with bayonets, are really intended to terrify the enemy by the sight of cold steel. It is believed that an attacking force will look so ferocious and will behave so ferociously that an enemy will quail before the sheer valor and bravery of this oncoming force. They were devastated. The French were slaughtered. Many of them were still wearing the brightly colored uniforms that armies used to wear in the past.


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Timeline Maps & Battles Shaping of the 21st Century Historians War Index Resources About the Show
Unofficial Christmas truce declared First trenches dug Battle of Tannenberg Germany invades Belgium 1919 1918 1917 1916 1915 1914