Western Front History

Western Front History

The Beginnings of a world at war

June 28th 1914 the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and his wife Sophie are shot dead in Sarajevo. The assassinations are the work of Serbian nationalists who want to bring the empire’s Slav territory into a greater Serbia.

July 23rd 1914 Austria-Hungary’s reacts to the killings of the Archduke when it sends an ultimatum to Serbia with 48 hours to comply to its strict terms. A day later Germany declares it’s support to Austria-Hungary.

By July 25th 1914 Serbia orders its troops to mobilise while Russia, bound by treaty to Serbia, arranges for soldiers to be stationed on the Austrian frontier.

On July 28th Austria-Hungary declares war on Serbia.

Britain warns Germany that it cannot remain neutral in a European conflict. Germany prepares for war and sends an ultimatum to Russia demanding that military preparations are stopped within 12 hours. Britain asks France and Germany to declare their support for the ongoing neutrality of Belgium – but while France agrees, Germany does not respond.

By the 3rd of August Germany declares war on France. Britain than is compelled to give the order for its troops to mobilise. That same day Britain gives Austria-Hungary an ultimatum to stand down from hostilities.

Germany sends a message to Belgium that it will “treat her as an enemy” if the country does not allow free passage of German troops across Belgium land to fight the French.

Finally on the 4th August 1914 with Britain having failed to receive reply from Germany assuring the neutrality of Belgium, and citing a “moral obligation” to defend France and Belgium, declares war on Germany.

Being a dominion of the British Empire Prime Minister Joseph Cook and Opposition Leader Andrew Fisher, who were in the midst of an election campaign, pledged full support for Britain. If Britain was at war so to was Australia.

The outbreak of war was greeted in Australia with great enthusiasm with thousands rushing to volunteer in what was to become the first AIF.

Australia entered the war in Turkey and fought a hard, bitter and long campaign against the Turks at Gallipoli suffering many losses on both sides.

By early stages of 1916, recruiting in Australia for reinforcements for the AIF had raised sufficient number to replace the losses in the AIF at Gallipoli. The AIF was expanded to 4 divisions before being transferred to the Western Front in France. A 5th division was being raised and trained in Australia at the same time.

1916 on the Western Front

During April of 1916 the first units of the AIF (Australian Imperial Force) arrive in France bound for the battlefields of the Western front.

This all volunteer force assembled and where launched in the war in time for what is now known as the Battle of the Somme from July 1 until the 13th November 1916.

The Battle of Fromelles with AIF involvement took place during 19-20th July 1916.

The Battles of Pozieres and Mouquet Farm also saw AIF take part during 23rd July to the 4th September. This 6 week offensive saw the Australian divisions suffered approximately 28 000 casualties.

With the Somme campaign ending in November of 1916 the AIF consolidating the forward positions near Bapaume in the bitter french winter.

1917 on the Western Front

During 1917, the Australians were again heavily engaged: in March at Bapaume, April at Arras, in May and June at Bullecourt and Messines, while in September to November, in the battle of the Ypres offensive – including Menin Road, Polygon Wood, Broodseinde, Poelcapelle and Passchendaele.

Australian miners where involved in constructing tunnels under enemy position and packing them with massive charges of the explosives destroy enemy defences. One of the main Australian efforts was at Hill 60 where Companies of miners worked for months building large mines in the area. Hill 60 was a German strong hold position and capturing this position would open up a passage to Berlin.

Over several months the underground tunnels was kept in tact by the Capt Woodward and his Tunneling Company until the allied attack was ready to be launched. This caused the men a huge amount of tension which was not surpassed anywhere on the Allied front.

On  the 7th June 7, 1917 this and 18 other mines were exploded, with a thunderous shock, similar to that of an earthquake and being felt as far away as London. 10000 Germans died instantly and the German position which had held strong for two and a half years was taken in six hours.

1918 on the Western Front

During 1918, the Germans launched their offensive in reply to the allied pressure. The AIF featured a prominent part in the defences of Amiens, Hazebrouck and Villers-Bretonneux during what became known as the German spring offensive.

Battle of Hamel on the 4th of July signified the allied counter offensive as the Somme offensive in August saw a subsequent list of AIF involved battles.

The battles that followed for the AIF where the Battle of Amiens, Capture of Mont St Quentin and Peronne, Hindenberg Une offensive, Battle of St Quentin Canal, Battle of Montbrehain – after this battle the AIF was withdrawn from action.

The AIF divisions had been involved in heavy fighting almost continually since March 1918, was being held in reserve while they new recruits arrived to reinforce for the next AIF involved offensive when the Armistice signalling the conclusion of the war was signed on 11 November 1918.