Great Britain & Empire

Great Britain in World War One

Great Britain entered the First World War due to the German’s violation of the Treaty of London (1839) in defense of Belgium Neutrality.

The tension between Great Britain and Germany had been rising for some time due to the determination of the Germans to rival the United Kingdom’s dominance in its Navy.

The Germans invaded Belgium on the way through to France in 1914 with the British protesting against Germany regarding their obligations of the treaty.

German Foreign Minister Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg

referred to the treaty as a ” Mere scrap of paper” and could not believe Britain was entering the War.

With the treaty being almost 100 years old the Germans did not expect the British to stand by their pledge.

The British Army had sustained substantial losses in the Horror and July 1st, 1916 in The Battle of the Somme and regarded as the worst disaster in the History of the British Army.

But as the war unfolded this paved a new way for a new type of warfare and an inspiration for new technology and weapons in a modern war that led to victory which was finally achieved in 1918.

The Royal Navy

The Royal Flying Corps

The British Army

 

Entente Powers

Field Marshal Douglas Haig

Field Marshal Douglas Haig

Field Marshal Douglas Haig was born on the 19th June 1861 and commanded the British forces through to the end of the First World War to 1918

Douglas Haig has come under heavy criticism due to the number of casualties during the First World War with many suggesting his lack to grasp of modern technology and new tactics at the time.

Douglas Haig was generally fairly popular during the War and received praise from many World War one Veterans but some had labeled him “Butcher Haig” due to the high number of British casualties, with the Battle of the Somme being recorded as one of the highest numbers of lives lost in military history.

Lord Haig died on 29 January 1928 due to a heart attack.

Field Marshal Douglas Haig, 1st Earl Haig, KT, GCB, OM, GCVO, KCIE (/heɪɡ/; 19 June 1861 – 29 January 1928) was a senior officer of the British Army.
During the First World War, he commanded the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) on the Western Front from late 1915 until the end of the war.

He was commander during the Battle of the Somme, the Battle of Arras, the Third Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele), the German Spring Offensive, and the final Hundred Days Offensive.

Although he had gained a favorable reputation during the immediate post-war years, with his funeral becoming a day of national mourning, Haig has, since the 1960s, become an object of criticism for his leadership during the First World War.

He was nicknamed “Butcher Haig” for the two million British casualties endured under his command.

The Canadian War Museum comments, “His epic but costly offensives at the Somme (1916) and Passchendaele (1917) have become nearly synonymous with the carnage and futility of First World War battles.”

On the other hand, some historians consider the Hundred Days Offensive of 1918 – the joint allied effort led by Foch that ended the war – and more particularly the British contribution to it, to be one of the greatest victories ever achieved in British military history.

Major-General Sir John Davidson, one of Haig’s biographers, praised Haig’s leadership, and since the 1980s many historians have argued that the public hatred in which Haig’s name had come to be held was not fully deserved.

The commander’s detractors failed to recognise the adoption of new tactics and technologies by forces under his command, the important role played by British forces in the allied victory of 1918, and that high casualties were a consequence of the tactical and strategic realities of the time.

Royal Flying Corps

The Royal Flying Corps of World War 1

During the early part of the war, the RFC supported the British Army by artillery co-operation and photographic reconnaissance.

This work gradually led RFC pilots into aerial battles with German pilots and later in the war included the strafing of enemy infantry and emplacements, the bombing of German military airfields, and later the strategic bombing of German industrial and transport facilities.

At the start of World War I the RFC, commanded by Brigadier-General Sir David Henderson, consisted of five squadrons – one observation balloon squadron (RFC No 1 Squadron) and four airplane squadrons.

These were first used for aerial spotting on 13 September 1914 but only became efficient when they perfected the use of wireless communication at Aubers Ridge on 9 May 1915.

Aerial photography was attempted during 1914, but again only became effective the next year. By 1918, photographic images could be taken from 15,000 feet and were interpreted by over 3,000 personnel.

Parachutes were not available to pilots of heavier-than-air craft in the RFC – nor were they used by the RAF during the First World War – although the Calthrop Guardian Angel parachute (1916 model) was officially adopted just as the war ended.

By this time parachutes had been used by balloonists for three years.

On 17 August 1917, South African General Jan Smuts presented a report to the War Council on the future of airpower.

Because of its potential for the ‘devastation of enemy lands and the destruction of industrial and populous centers on a vast scale’, he recommended a new air service be formed that would be on a level with the Army and Royal Navy.

The formation of the new service would also make the under-used men and machines of the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) available for action on the Western Front and end the inter-service rivalries that at times had adversely affected aircraft procurement.

On 1 April 1918, the RFC and the RNAS were amalgamated to form a new service, the Royal Air Force (RAF), under the control of the new Air Ministry.

After starting in 1914 with some 2,073 personnel, by the start of 1919, the RAF had 4,000 combat aircraft and 114,000 personnel in some 150 squadrons.

Entente Powers

The British Army

The British Army during World War 1

The British Army The British Army during World War I fought the largest and most costly war in its long history.

Unlike the French and German Armies, the British Army was made up exclusively of volunteers—as opposed to conscripts—at the beginning of the conflict.

Furthermore, the British Army was considerably smaller than its French and German counterparts.

Men of the Wiltshire Regiment attacking near Thiepval, 7 August 1916, during the Battle of the Somme.

During World War I, there were four distinct British armies.

The first comprised approximately 247,000 soldiers of the regular army, over half of which were posted overseas to garrison the British Empire, supported by some 210,000 reserves and a potential 60,000 additional reserves.

This component formed the backbone of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), which was formed for service in France and became known as the Old Contemptibles.

The second army was provided by the approximately 246,000-strong Territorial Force, initially allocated to home defence but used to reinforce the BEF after the regular army suffered heavy losses in the opening battles of the war.

The third army was Kitchener’s Army, comprising men who answered Lord Kitchener’s call for volunteers in 1914–1915 and which went into action at the Battle of the Somme in 1916.

The fourth army was the reinforcement of existing formations with conscripts after the introduction of compulsory service in January 1916.

By the end of 1918, the British Army had reached its maximum strength of 3,820,000 men and could field over 70 divisions.

The vast majority of the British Army fought in the main theatre of war on the Western Front in France and Belgium against the German Empire.

Some units were engaged in Italy and Salonika against Austria-Hungary and the Bulgarian Army, while other units fought in the Middle East,

Africa and Mesopotamia—mainly against the Ottoman Empire—and one battalion fought alongside the Japanese Army in China during the Siege of Tsingtao.

The war also posed problems for the army commanders, given that, prior to 1914, the largest formation any serving General in the BEF had commanded on operations was a division.

The expansion of the British Army saw some officers promoted from brigade to corps commander in less than a year.

Army commanders also had to cope with the new tactics and weapons that were developed. With the move from manoeuvre to trench warfare, both the infantry and the artillery had to learn how to work together.

During an offensive, and when in defence, they learned how to combine forces to defend the front line. Later in the war, when the Machine Gun Corps and the Tank Corps were added to the order of battle, they were also included in the new tactical doctrine.

The men at the front had to struggle with supply problems–there was a shortage of food; and disease was rife in the damp, rat-infested conditions.

Along with enemy action, many soldiers had to contend with new diseases: trench foot, trench fever and trench nephritis.

When the war ended in November 1918, British Army casualties, as the result of enemy action and disease, were recorded as 673,375 killed and missing, with another 1,643,469 wounded. The rush to demobilise at the end of the conflict substantially decreased the strength of the British Army, from its peak strength of 3,820,000 men in 1918 to 370,000 men by 1920.

The Royal Navy

The Royal Navy during World War 1

During the First World War, the Royal Navy’s strength was mostly deployed at home in the Grand Fleet, confronting the German High Seas Fleet across the North Sea.

Several inconclusive clashes took place between them, chiefly the Battle of Jutland in 1916.

The British numerical advantage proved insurmountable, leading the High Seas Fleet to abandon any attempt to challenge British dominance.

Elsewhere in the world, the Navy hunted down the handful of German surface raiders at large.

During the Dardanelles Campaign against the Ottoman Empire in 1915, it suffered heavy losses during a failed attempt to break through the system of minefields and shore batteries defending the straits.

Upon entering the war, the Navy had immediately established a blockade of Germany.

The Navy’s Northern Patrol closed off access to the North Sea, while the Dover Patrol closed off access to the English Channel.

The Navy also mined the North Sea.

As well as closing off the Imperial German Navy’s access to the Atlantic, the blockade largely blocked neutral merchant shipping heading to or from Germany.

The blockade was maintained during the eight months after the armistice was agreed to force Germany to end the war and sign the Treaty of Versailles.

The most serious menace faced by the Navy came from the attacks on merchant shipping mounted by German U-boats.

For much of the war this submarine campaign was restricted by prize rules requiring merchant ships to be warned and evacuated before sinking. 

In 1915, the Germans renounced these restrictions and began to sink merchant ships on sight, but later returned to the previous rules of engagement to placate neutral opinion.

A resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare in 1917 raised the prospect of Britain and its allies being starved into submission.

The Navy’s response to this new form of warfare had proved inadequate due to its refusal to adopt a convoy system for merchant shipping, despite the demonstrated effectiveness of the technique in protecting troop ships. 

The belated introduction of convoys sharply reduced losses and brought the U-boat threat under control.