“Over by Christmas”. It’s what everybody thought when the war broke out in August 1914. It was not to be. Unexpectedly, the armies came to a stalemate on the fields of Flanders. Unexpectedly, the war turned into the destruction of lives, towns, landscapes, wildlife on an industrial scale. Unexpectedly, it was going to be four hard, terrible years before it was over.Unexpected (The Great War #AtoZChallenge 2021) "Over by Christmas". It's what everybody thought when the war broke out in August 1914. It was not to be. Unexpectedly, the armies came to a stalemate on the fields of Flanders. #WWI… Click To Tweet
German Schlieffen Plan rested on the idea that it was paramount to avoid a two-front war. Therefore German should first attack the western front (France and Belgium), secure it, and then turn to the eastern front (Russia).
The plan started off right too. By 20 August, German troops had occupied large parts of Belgium, including the capital Brussels, and were ready to head for Paris. On the eastern front, they had already inflicted a crushing defeat on the advancing Russians at the Battle of Tennenberg (26-31 August).
It really seemed that the plan would work out fine, and the war would be over well before Christmas.
Then the Battle of the Marne happened.
The retreating Anglo-French forces at the Marne mounted a staunch rearguard action in early September 1914. The battle on the Western Front descended into a bloody stalemate that would not be broken for four more years.
The war ended up engulfing an unthinkably huge number of soldiers. It employed unthinkably destructive technology. And it lasted unthinkably long – to the point that it was perceived as potentially endless. Nobody could foresee such a thing to happen before it actually took place.
In hindsight, we can see the signs. But very few saw them back then. Nobody believed – or wanted to believe – that the unthinkable could happen.
Probably the single most important reason why this happened was the great advancement in technology in the decades right before the Great War. This changed the way battles occurred on the ground, leaving apparently unsolvable problems to the army tacticians, who were unable to bring their strategy up to date with the new technology, and persisted in employing outdated tactics in modern warfare.
Explosives, rifles, machine guns, everything became faster and more effective and made the old tactics not just useless but downright dangerous.
The first kind of total war first manifested at the beginning of the 19th century: the Napoleonic Wars. All of the European chancelleries saw the danger. Therefore they devised a diplomatic system that would allow avoiding such kind of destructive war. The system worked for the subsequent century, during which many other things happened. When diplomacy failed in August 1914, the world where the new war broke out was very different from the world that had seen the rise of that system.
The war opposed the Triple Entente of Britain, France and Russia to the Central Powers of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Turkey. These were all nations that could count on vast empires that had been growing over the previous century and from where they could draw resources of every kind, both human and material.
Troops converged on the European theatre of war from all over the world. Some were allied with these empires, such as India, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Mesopotamia, North Africa, China. Others had different dealings with them. Goods and raw materials came from places as far away as Mexico, India, again Africa. These resources fuelled a war that wouldn’t have lasted as long if it had needed to stand only on the European resorts.
This is why this was indeed a ‘world’ war, even if the battles only happened on European soil.
Europeana – Progress in War Making
BBC – How Did WW1 Change the World?
Again you summarise things the interest and Understanding… in some ways, this A-Z is permitting the Unrelenting nature of that war to come across! YAM xx
(who is thrilled at now seeing every post &*>)
Thanks so much for that comment, Yamini. It means so much for me.
I’m no historian, but I do love history. I do believe it has such meanignful gifts to give us, when we are willing to listen. I’m trying my tiny bit to awake interest in history, because I think it’s so important.
Gail M Baugniet
Indeed, unexpected and unimaginable – four years of confrontation. Yet the lessons of extended battle bring us no closer to universal peace, justifying your efforts to educate and remind future generations of the deadly costs.
Thanks Gail. I so appreciate your comment.
Indeed, the Lost Geneartions thought – hoped – that war would have put an end to all wars, so horrifying it had been. What does it tell abotu ourselves that we are still witnessing horrible wars around the world today?
It seems like everyone predicts every war will be over by Christmas, and it very rarely, if ever, turns out that way. If only someday they’ll give a war and nobody will come, like it says in the powerful Monkees’ song “Zor and Zam.”
It looks like we are so skillful at deceiving ourselves.
I just finished reading a series of books that take place in Scotland between the wars. Such shock and lose and a horrible feeling of doom on my part for the young men growing up who I know will be marching off to a war they don’t see coming.
That sounds so interesting, Kristin. What’s the title of the book?
If only nations could mobilize this well for peace… Or learn from the past wars at least.
The Multicolored Diary
I know. I’m always surrised at our own stupidity… How is it even possible that we never learn?