1915 — Allied forces land at ANZAC Cove in Gallipoli

The idea was simple enough: to reinforce their Russian allies, the British forces needed a sea port, and those on the Black Sea were much less well defended than those on the Baltic Sea. So it was decided by the British high command, prominent among them the First Lord of the Admiralty, one Winston Churchill, that it would be necessary to invade and hold the Dardanelles – the narrow straits between the Black Sea and the greater Mediterranean. Unfortunately, this mean invading Turkey, the seat of the Ottoman Empire, whose capital of Istanbul sat at the far end of the straits.

The invasion was seen primarily as a naval engagement, with British naval forces blockading the straits and its ports. A few land invasions were planned to capture key strategic points – forts and watchtowers – after initial resistance to the British navy proved stronger than intended.

The Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) was at this point largely encamped in Egypt, making them conveniently close at hand to serve as an invasion force. On the morning of April 25, 1915, the ANZAC forces landed at what is now called Anzac Cove. Ottoman resistance again proved stronger than anticipated (it’s almost like the British high command was composed entirely of arrogant racists incapable of learning from experience or something), and although some land was held, it was eventually evacuated in January the following year, and the idea of capturing the Dardanelles was abandoned. Of course, before that point was reached, approximately 250,000 men on each side lost their lives in what was ultimately one of the most pointless military campaigns of the entire Twentieth Century.

As the first major engagement to be fought in by Australian forces, it is still commemorated today as Australia’s national day of remembrance, Anzac Day.

Referenced in:
And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda — Eric Bogle

1916 – the Battle of the Somme begins

The Somme river derives its name from a Celtic word meaning ‘tranquil’. Which just goes to show that the Celts were crap at predicting the future. It was at the mouth of the Somme that William the Conqueror’s forces assembled to invade England in 1066; the battles of Agincourt in 1415 and Crécy in 1346 were both connected to crossings of the river; and the valley was the site of some of the most important battles that halted the German Spring Offensive in 1918.

But the largest battle ever fought there was the Battle of the Somme, which began on July 1, 1916 and November 18 the same year. It was an offensive mounted by British Empire and French combined forces against German emplacements in France. The Somme would be a landmark in many ways: it was the first battle to demonstrate the importance of air power in modern warfare; it saw the first battlefield deployment of a tank; and finally, it was the single bloodiest battle of the entire First World War, claiming upwards of a million lives in total. While it ended in victory for the Allied forces, the heavy cost in lives has made it a contentious issue in history ever since.

Referenced in:
Broken Heroes — Saxon
For King and Country — Eric Bogle

1919 – The Treaty of Versailles is signed

Nearly a year after the guns fell silent – and five years to the day since the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand – the Treaty of Versailles marked the formal ending of hostilities between Germany and the Allies, Germany’s allies having been dealt with in separate treaties. The Treaty of Versailles was hailed as a great triumph almost everywhere except in Germany, which had been forced to take the blame for the war, forced to disarm and saddled with ruinous war reparations to pay – in addition to surrendering territory to Poland in the east and France in the west, and being stripped of all its colonial possessions.

As such, the treaty imposed a burden upon Germany that was certain to foster resentment and to cripple the German economy. When the Depression hit, a decade later, Germany was one of the places it hit hardest, since the government had to pay reparations ahead of any attempt to alleviate the economic effects. Come the hour, come the man – unfortunately for everyone, the man for that hour would be an Austrian named Adolf Hitler.

Referenced in:
I’ll Meet You in Poland Baby — Scraping Foetus Off the Wheel

1914 – The first Battle of Ypres begins

The First Battle of Ypres began with the first major assault by German forces in the vicinity. Until then, although there had been fighting in the area, it had mostly been limited to skirmishing, as each side attempted to capture ground in what became known as the Race to the Sea. But on October 19, 1914, the German Chief of General Staff, Erich von Falkenhayn, ordered an assault. The dying began in earnest the next day.

The battle marks one of the first instances of truly modern warfare – and shows how ill-prepared for it both sides were. Poor communications and a failure to understand just how mobile armies could now be occurred in each command. More than two hundred thousand men were killed, wounded or declared missing in action in the course of this battle, which lasted until November 22, 1914, and ended with both sides entrenching across the front. Indeed, the First Battle of Ypres marksed the last major mobile operations on the Western Front until 1918, and began the stalemate that would last another four years, and encompass four more battles at Ypres, including the bloodiest day of the entire war.

Referenced in:

All the Fine Young Men — Eric Bogle

1915 – The Battle of Lone Pine begins

The Battle of Lone Pine – or, if you’re Turkish, the Battle of Kanli Sirt – was a five day long engagement betwen the ANZAC forces and the Turkish defenders during the Gallipoli campaign of 1915. Part of a larger Allied Assault called the August Offensive, it was about the only successful one, where Australian forces captured their objectives, reinforced them and held them against the Turkish counter-attack. Unfortunately, after August 10, 1915, conditions returned to the stalemate that had previously obtained on the Dardanelles front, and the assault would be abandoned entirely in December of that year.

But in August, 2200 Australians and 5000-6000 Turks were killed or wounded in action, and all for a few square miles of mud that had little impact on the wider conduct of the war. Seven Australians were awarded the Victoria Cross for their actions in the battle, for what it’s worth. Today, Lone Pine military cemetary is the site of commemorative services every ANZAC Day.

Referenced in:

All the Fine Young Men — Eric Bogle

2009 – Harry Patch, the last veteran of the Trenches of World War One, dies

At the time of Harry Patch’s death, he was aged 111 years and 38 days. The last surviving World War One veteran to have fought in the trenches of the Western Front, he was nicknamed “the Last Fighting Tommy.”. His great age made Patch the third-oldest man in the world, the oldest man in Europe and the 69th oldest man in history (at least, history since reliable records were kept).

In his later years, Harry Patch was deeply cynical about his experience of war, and the politicians who start but never fight in these wars. Patch was a passionate opponent of war for most of his life, and did not hate his former enemies; rather, he pitied enemy and ally alike. As he put it:
Irrespective of the uniforms we wore, we were all victims.

Referenced in:

Harry Patch (In Memory Of) — Radiohead

1917 – Turkish lines are broken at Beersheba

By 1917, British and Commonwealth forces under General Allenby were slowly progressing northward through Turkish-occupied Palestine, but stalled when they came to Gaza. In October 1917, the third battle of Gaza – the third attempt to wrest it from the Ottoman Empire – began.

The battle at Beersheba (or Birüssebi, as it was then known) was only one facet of this larger battle, but it was here that the critical breakthrough of the battle took place. The decisive moment came with the charge of the Australian 4th Light Horse Brigade, who covered six miles to smash through the Turkish lines and capture the town and its strategically important wells more or less intact (15 of the 17 wells remained usable). This victory also marked the last successful horse cavalry charge in modern warfare.

Referenced in:

All the Fine Young Men — Eric Bogle

1916 – Roger Casement is sentenced to death for treason

Sir Roger Casement was still a young man when he toured colonial Africa and South America in the early years of the 20th century. His first hand experience of the evils of imperialism and racism radicalized him, and upon his return to his native Ireland, he broke his ties with the British establishment, becoming a founder of the Irish Volunteers, a revolutionary group dedicated to Irish independence.

Upon the outbreak of World War One, Casement attempted to bring his forces in on the German side (with the understanding that Ireland would be granted independence after the British were defeated) but negotiations foundered, although the Germans did agree to supply the Irish rebels with 20,000 rifles. However, the attempt to deliver them was intercepted by the British, and Casement was arrested three days before the Easter Rebellion of 1916, convicted of treason and stripped of his title. He was executed later that year, and his body was not returned to Ireland until 1966, where he was buried in a state funeral with full honours in the Republican section of Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin.

Referenced in:

Banna Strand — Wolfe Tones

1914 – Archduke Franz Ferdinand is assassinated

It’s one of those things: the wrong man at the wrong place at the wrong time.

Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was that man, Sarajevo was that place and July 28, 1914, was definitely the wrong time. While on a motorcade with his wife, Sophie Hollenburg, the Archduke narrowly dodged an assassination attempt by bomber Muhamed Mehmedbaši.

Muhamed’s failure led to the man who had placed him there, Danilo Ili, to send another of his team, Gavrilo Princip, to complete the job. Princip fired two shots, fatally wounding the Archduke and his wife with one shot each.

And in doing so, he set in motion a chain of events that would lead, inexorably, to the outbreak of World War One.

Referenced in:

Manuscript – Al Stewart
All For You, Sophia – Franz Ferdinand

1916 — Manfred von Richthofen makes his first kill as a pilot

Manfred von Richtofen won his first aerial combat with Jasta 2 in the skies over Cambrai, France, on 17 September, 1916. Between that day and his death in 1918, he shot down another 79 aircraft – and that figure includes only confirmed kills. If unconfirmed kills are included, his tally may have exceeded 100 kills.

Nor was von Richtofen merely a force to be reckoned with on his own – as leader of the Flying Circus, he and his men killed a total of a total of 644 enemy aircraft. It was at this time that he became known as the Red Baron.

He was eventually shot down himself on April 21, 1918, although who fired the fatal shots has never been confirmed.

Referenced in:
Red Baron/Blue Max — Iced Earth

1914 — World War One begins

World War One was, according to the commonly held wisdom, unavoidable. The complex web of alliance and counter-alliance that bound the European powers to each other did make declarations of war on the part of each nation more or less inevitable once an inciting incident occurred.

That incident turned out to be the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand on June 28, 1914. Over the next thirty days, declarations of war started one after another, in two opposed chains of political allies. On one side: Austria-Hungary, Germany and the Ottoman Empire. On the other side, the United Kingdom and its Commonwealth, France, Russia, Italy, Japan, and eventually, the USA as well.

It was the first truly worldwide war, fought in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia and the Atlantic Ocean. World War One lasted for four years and a little under four months. It killed 16.5 million people, the greatest single toll of any conflict to that date, and despite the propaganda of the following years, it did not end wars.

Referenced in:

Children’s Crusade — Sting
No Man’s Land – Eric Bogle

1917 – The Battle of Passchendaele commences

Also known as the third Battle of Ypres, the Battle of Passchendaele was an attempt to capture the strategically important village of that name in Belgium. Entente forces led by the British attacked on July 11, 1917, in what would become a long and drawn out struggle. Over the next five months, the battle would become synonymous with the mud in which it was so often fought. It would also be one of the first major land engagements to involve tanks (although only on the Entente side – the first tank vs tank battle did not occur until April the following year).

The battle swung both ways at different times, and some historians even classify it as two battles in a single campaign, with a comparative lull between them. Like many battles in World War One, it has become emblematic of the pointlessness and brutality of war. The battle finally ended on November 10, 1917, with the fall of Passchendaele to Canadian forces. More than 560,000 soldiers were killed in total, with the German losses exceeding the Entente losses by only 40,000. Although the battle was won, if not for the entry of the Americans into World War One that year, it might have proved a Pyrrhic victory, especially in light of the Russian surrender on the Eastern front, which had freed up German forces there to fight in the west.

Passchendaele did teach valuable tactical lessons to the victors, mostly at the unit level and mostly applicable only to trench warfare. Interestingly, Adolf Hitler was a veteran of Passchendaele, and considering the difference between the German invasions of Belgium in 1914 and 1940, one cannot help but wonder what lessons in strategy and tactics he drew from the experience.

Referenced in:

Paschendale – Iron Maiden