The horrors of Western Front through photographs, 1914-1918

During the summer of 1914, train stations across Europe erupted with the sound of leather boots and the rumble of weapons, mobilizing millions of enthusiastic young soldiers for the most spectacular struggle since the Napoleonic Wars.

In the eyes of many men, pride and honor shone in competition with the zeal of a wonderful adventure and the knowledge to correct some perceived infringement on the interests of their respective nation.

However, within a few weeks, the euphoria and glory gave way to horror and anonymous death, brought on by the dreaded new machines of war, which took control of the old fields of honor and left them in desolate moons littered with corpses and rubble. changed into

This new world war, called World War I, began as a local unrest in southern Europe, but eventually escalated into a worldwide conflict that produced the two largest bloodsheds in history; Battle of the Somme and Verdun.

The western part of the conflict took place mostly in Belgium and France, and began as a war of "grand maneuvers", as had been theorized before the fighting began.

But as more and more troops were poured into an increasingly tight area, there came a time when adversaries could no longer maneuver against each other in any operational sense.

When this happened, the forces involved began to encounter more and more lethal concentrations of firepower, and a war of machines and trenches had begun.

The main theater of fighting in World War I was the Western Front, a curved line that ran from the Swiss border in the south to the North Sea.

Most of the 700 km length of the Western Front extends to the north-east of France, ending in Belgium and southern Germany. The largest battles of the war - Marne, Ypres, Verdun, Somme, Passchendaele and others - were fought on the Western Front.

Although the exact number of casualties in the battles on the Western Front is not known, at least 4 million people were killed there. Despite the size, frequency and speed of attempts to break through the line or push the enemy back, the Western Front remained relatively stable until 1918.

Many aspects of the Western Front have become symbols of World War I: mud-filled trenches, artillery bombardments, horrific tactical blunders, pointless charges at enemy positions, periods of stalemate, high mortality rates, and brutal conditions.

The Western Front began to take shape in the autumn of 1914, after the German advance through northern France was halted at the Battle of the Marne.

The Germans then retreated to the Aisne River, where they dug a network of trenches to reinforce and hold their position. The Allies, believing the Germans were waiting for reinforcements and preparing another attack on French territory, reciprocated by building their own trench system.

Over the next few weeks the two sides extended their trench systems northward, racing to overtake each other and reach the North Sea coast. Their purpose was to stop the enemy from advancing, secure supply lines, and control major ports and French industrial areas.

As the Allies and the Germans carried out this 'race to the sea', a major battle broke out in Ypres, Belgium. On the personal orders of the Kaiser, the German generals, using their most experienced infantry and cavalry divisions, attacked the Allied line extensively – but the attack was repulsed at the cost of more than 40,000 men. By the end of 1914 the trenchline of the Western Front had exceeded two-thirds of its final length.

Commanders on both sides developed grand plans to overtake the enemy and advance or break the front. But as the weeks went by, the home-front enlistment pumped hundreds of thousands of reinforcements into the area.

By the beginning of 1915, many parts of the Western Front were filled with soldiers on both sides of 'No Man's Land'. This weight of numbers contributed to the impenetrability of the front and the stalemate that developed through 1915.

Germany's early defeat in northern France also shaped its strategic approach. German military strategists adopted defensive positions, determined not to be outdone by France.

He insisted that victory would go to the side that could better withstand the attacks and lose fewer men. German military planners abandoned the Schlieffen plan and adopted a strategy of casualty, with the aim of causing death and injury to as many Allied men as possible. (The German Chief of Staff, Erich von Falkenhayn, famously declared that his goal was to "whitewash France").

This resulted in some major attacks by Germany in 1915; Instead they relied on weapons such as artillery and poison gas to undermine and undermine Allied personnel.

In contrast, British and French generals were more committed to attacking the battlefield and attempting to break the front. In the autumn of 1915 he tried to penetrate the German line at Champagne and Loos, but this proved nearly impossible against positions fortified with artillery and machine-guns.

Falkenhayn changed his moves in early 1916, hoping to lure the French army into a massive battle that it could not retreat or retreat; His aim was to inflict maximum casualties and demoralize the French.

For this showdown, the German commander chose the city of Verdun, near a heavily fortified part of the Franco-German border. The Battle of Verdun, which began in February 1916, was the longest and second deadliest battle of World War I, claiming between 750,000 and 100,000 lives.

It ended without a decisive victory: neither army was able to achieve its objective. The Battle of the Somme was even more deadly from July to November 1916. With the capture of several French generals at Verdun, the Somme attack was planned and led by the British, notably General Sir Douglas High.

It was to be part of a simultaneous three-pronged offensive: with the Russians attacking the eastern front and the Italians from the south. But the choice of location, the Somme River, was problematic.

There the German stronghold sat on an elevated position; They had seen minimal action from the end of 1914 so were able to build an extensive system of trenches and bunkers.

The Somme's attack began with an artillery barrage that lasted seven days and used over a million shells. The attack did not wipe out or repel the Germans, who buried it in deep bunkers; It also failed to destroy the mass of barbed wire strewn in front of the German trenches.

At 7.30 a.m. on 1 July 1916, over 120,000 British soldiers jumped from their trenches and advanced on the German line. Hoping to find destroyed trenches and dead Germans, they were met with machine-gun fire, artillery shells, mortars and grenades.

In the ensuing massacre, more than 50,000 soldiers were killed in a span of just 24 hours - the deadliest single day in British military history.

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