Race to the Sea, 15 September-14 October 1914

Race to the Sea, 15 September-14 October 1914

The Race to the Sea developed out of the first battle of the Aisne (13-28 September 1914). This saw the Germans retreat from the line of the Marne to the line of the Aisne, which would become their front line until 1918. The battle of the Aisne began with a series of attempts to break through the German lines. When these attacks failed, Joffre and Falkenhayn both began to plan to turn each other's northern flank.

Joffre made the first move, using Maunoury’s Sixth Army in an advance up the Oise, at the western end of the Aisne battlefield. Joffre ordered Maunoury to advance on the right bank of the river, giving him more space to move around the German flank (Kluck’s First Army). Instead, the French Sixth Army moved up the left bank, nearer the Germans, and did not cross over to the north until 17 September. By that point Kluck had already moved his own right wing across the river, and the French advance stalled.

Having attempted to turn each others flanks with troops already on the Aisne, both Joffre and Falkenhayn now brought in new armies from Lorraine. The French Second Army (Castelnau) formed up south of Amiens, the German Sixth (Crown Prince Rupprecht) around St. Quentin. The Germans also used their Seventh Army (Heeringhen), which had earlier been used to plug a gap on the Aisne.

Castelnau began to advance on 22 September, with support from the Sixth Army from 23 September (first battle of Picardy, 22-26 September). On 24 September a full scale battle developed along the entire line from the Oise to the Somme. The Germans concentrated their attack at Roye, half way between the two rivers, hoping to cut off the French armies advancing to the north. Their attack failed, but did force Castelnau to abandon his offensive plans.

The fighting now began to move north of the Somme. On 25 September the Germans attacked Albert, just north of the river (battle of Albert, 25-29 September), but were held off by Castelnau’s Second Army. At the same time both sides continued to move north.

The focus of the fighting now reached Arras (first battle of Artois, 27 September-10 October). There two corps from Castelnau’s army, under the command of Maud’huy, were advancing north east along the Scarpe, towards Vimy. Their southern flank was guarded by a thin line of territorials. On 28 September Prince Rupprecht was ordered to attack Arras. He planned to pin Maud’huy in place, and then outflank him to the north. His plan came close to success.

By the end of 4 October German troops were north and south of Arras and Maud’huy was beginning to plan for a retreat. Joffre responded by reorganising the northern armies. Maud’huy’s command was split from the Second Army, and became a new Tenth Army. Both Maud’huy and Castelnau were firmly ordered not to retreat. Finally, Foch was appointed to overall command of the northern armies, including both the Second and Tenth. Foch was able to reinvigorate the French and Allied commanders in the north,

The focus of attention now swung even further north, to Flanders. The BEF began to arrive at Abbeville by train on 8-9 October, and at St. Omer on 10 October. Further north IV corps had been shipped to Ostend and Zeebrugge, to either help defend Antwerp or to help the Belgian army retreat. It was hoped that the British would be able to advance north east of Lille and outflank the German Sixth Army, fighting around Arras. Instead the advancing British ran into another new German army, the Fourth, under the Duke of Württemberg. The result was a series of encounter battles, beginning at Le Bassée on 10 October and continuing north to Messines (12 October) and Armentieres (13 October). Meanwhile the Belgian army had left Antwerp and was heading west towards the Yser, while the British IV Corps was heading towards Ypres from the east.

On 14 October the Race to the Sea effectively ended when the British Cavalry Corps, advancing from the west, met the 3rd Cavalry Division, moving south west around Ypres. There was now a continuous allied from the North Sea to the Swiss border. On 18 October fighting began on the Yser (18 October-30 November). The British continued to believe that there was a gap in the German line, this time around Ypres, and began to plan for another advance. Instead, on 19 October the British and French troops around Ypres came under German attack. The first battle of Ypres was underway.

The Race to the Sea now became the Battle of Flanders. The Germans made repeated attempts to break through the new Allied line, without success. The line of the Western Front would remain almost entirely static for the next two years, only changing in early 1917 when the Germans voluntarily withdrew from the Somme battlefield to the Hindenburg Line. The period of mobile warfare was over, and the period of trench warfare had begun.

The Race to the Sea is perhaps not the best name for this series of events. It implied that the troops involved all came from the Aisne, and were dashing north to extend the line. This was not true on either side. Some of the troops involved had been transferred Lorraine, while others were coming in from Antwerp (Belgian and German) or from the channel coast (British and French). New troops were thrown into the fight as quickly as they became available. The name also implies that one or the other side wanted to reach the coast. When the race began neither side wanted it to end on the coast. Both sides were aimed to get around their opponents exposed northern flank, the Germans with the hope of winning the decisive final battle, or at least of capturing all of the channel ports, the French in the hope of getting behind the German armies that had advanced to the Marne. The Race to the Sea ended in a failure for both side.

Books on the First World War |Subject Index: First World War

The Race to the Sea (September and October 1914)

The expression "race to the sea" was in fact coined some time after the events it describes took place. It refers to the confused struggle between the German and Franco-British Armies in the months of September and October 1914 on the plains of Northern France after the defeat of the German Army on the river Marne and its subsequent withdrawal to the river Aisne. Each side attempted to attack the rear of the other's northern wing in order to envelop it and this resulted in a series of movements which took the belligerents north towards the Belgian frontier and the shores of the North Sea. The race came to a halt in October when the war of movement became one of position. During the two months it lasted, the Germans almost always had the initiative, forcing the Allies to fill the breaches which threatened the Channel Ports and their vital communications with Great Britain.

Many of the events of this unexpected war of movement, itself punctuated with innovative tactics which heralded the coming trench warfare, took place around the city of Arras in the region of Artois. Much of the fighting saw exhausted and poorly-equipped French soldiers confronted with elite German troops but, despite the considerable losses, the Allied lines held and Arras never fell into enemy hands.

At Bapaume between 28 September and 11 October it fell to territorial units, sometimes supported by cavalry, to confront the German advance from Picardy which was directly threatening Arras. The main body of the French comprised the soldiers of the 14th Territorial Infantry Regiment and they attempted to hold the defence line north-west of Bapaume with nothing but rifles and a meagre reserve of munitions.

On 27 September the cavalry corps under the command of General Louis Conneau were sent to the west of Bapaume to fill a breach after several territorial units dislocated under pressure from German infantry. More indecisive confrontations took place at Irles and Courcelles-le-Comte where French dragoons were brought in to shore up the Territorials. Once the Germans were contained on the line stretching from Bapaume to Arras, the cavalry units headed north to take part in the operations to block attacks on Arras and Lens and outflank the German right wing. French reinforcements flooded in between 29 September and 2 October, transported by bus from the railway stations around Amiens. On 2 October the French were buffeted by a powerful assault at Monchy-le-Preux, to the north of Arras, but endeavoured to contain the German forces as they advanced on Lens. Meanwhile, fighting was raging to the west of Bapaume between the Prussian Guard and French units made up of Territorials, cavalry and the 37th Infantry Regiment. Savage mêlées were fought in several villages, the belligerents erecting makeshift fortifications as best they could. The Germans took Gommecourt on 5 October but failed the next day in their attempt to gain possession of Hébuterne where they suffered 350 soldiers killed and 297 taken prisoner. However try as they might over the next couple of days, the soldiers of the French 69th Infantry Regiment were unable to retake Gommecourt which the Prussian Guard had heavily fortified with deep trenches, barbed wire entanglements, machine-gun nests and field artillery. On 10 October the Germans took Monchy-au-Bois, Hannescamps and part of Foncquevillers. The following day began a bloody mêlée which saw the French retake control of Foncquevillers from the Prussian Guard and a Bavarian regiment. The occupiers had to be flushed out, house by house, using in some instances flat trajectory fire from 75 mm field guns.

Fighting between Arras and Bapaume died down after 14 October. The Germans entrenched themselves along a line which ran north to south and set up defensive positions on high ground and in the ruins of villages: the trench warfare of World War I had begun.

Yves Le Maner
Director of La Coupole
History and Remembrance Centre of Northern France


Strategic developments

Eastern Front

On 9 October, the First German offensive against Warsaw began with the battles of Warsaw (9–19 October) and Ivangorod (9–20 October). Four days later, Przemyśl was relieved by the advancing Austro-Hungarians and the Battle of Chyrow 13 October – 2 November) began in Galicia. Czernowitz in Bukovina was re-occupied by the Austro-Hungarian army on 22 August and then lost again to the Russian army on 28 October. On 29 October, the Ottoman Empire commenced hostilities against Russia, when Turkish warships bombarded Odessa, Sevastopol and Theodosia. Next day Stanislau in Galicia was taken by Russian forces and the Serbian army began a retreat from the line of the Drina. On 4 November, the Russian army crossed the frontier of Turkey-in-Asia and seized Azap. [1]

Britain and France declared war on Turkey on 5 November and next day, Keupri-Keni in Armenia was captured, during the Bergmann Offensive (2–16 November) by the Russian army. On 10 October, Przemysl was surrounded again by the Russian army, beginning the Second Siege Memel in East Prussia was occupied by the Russians a day later. Keupri-Keni was recaptured by the Ottoman army on 14 November, the Sultan proclaimed Jihad, next day the Battle of Cracow (15 November – 2 December) began and the Second Russian Invasion of North Hungary (15 November – 12 December) commenced. The Second German Offensive against Warsaw opened with the Battle of Łódź (16 November – 15 December). [2]

Great Retreat

The Great Retreat was a long withdrawal by the Franco-British armies to the Marne, from 24 August – 28 September 1914, after the success of the German armies in the Battle of the Frontiers (7 August – 13 September). After the defeat of the French Fifth Army at the Battle of Charleroi (21 August) and the BEF in the Battle of Mons (23 August), both armies made a rapid retreat to avoid envelopment. [b] A counter-offensive by the French and the BEF at the First Battle of Guise (29–30 August), failed to end the German advance and the Franco-British retreat continued beyond the Marne. From 5–12 September, the First Battle of the Marne ended the retreat and forced the German armies to retire towards the Aisne river, where the First Battle of the Aisne was fought from 13–28 September. [3]

Tactical developments


After the retreat of the French Fifth Army and the BEF, local operations took place from August–October. General Fournier was ordered on 25 August to defend the fortress at Maubeuge, which was surrounded two days later by the German VII Reserve Corps. Maubeuge was defended by fourteen forts, a garrison of 30,000 French territorials and c. 10,000 French, British and Belgian stragglers. The fortress blocked the main Cologne–Paris rail line, leaving only the line from Trier to Liège, Brussels, Valenciennes and Cambrai open to the Germans, which was needed to carry supplies southward to the armies on the Aisne and transport troops of the 6th Army northwards from Lorraine to Flanders. [4] On 7 September, the garrison surrendered, after super-heavy artillery from the Siege of Namur demolished the forts. The Germans took 32,692 prisoners and captured 450 guns. [5] [4] Small detachments of the Belgian, French and British armies conducted operations in Belgium and northern France, against German cavalry and Jäger. [6]

On 27 August, a squadron of the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) flew to Ostend, for reconnaissance sorties between Bruges, Ghent and Ypres. [7] Royal Marines landed at Dunkirk on the night of 19/20 September and on 28 September, a battalion occupied Lille. The rest of the brigade occupied Cassel on 30 September and scouted the country in motor cars an RNAS Armoured Car Section was created, by fitting vehicles with bullet-proof steel. [8] [9] On 2 October, the Marine Brigade was sent to Antwerp, followed by the rest of the 63rd (Royal Naval) Division on 6 October, having landed at Dunkirk on the night of 4/5 October. From 6–7 October, the 7th Division and the 3rd Cavalry Division landed at Zeebrugge. [10] Naval forces collected at Dover were formed into a separate unit, which became the Dover Patrol, to operate in the Channel and off the French-Belgian coast. [11]

In late September, Marshal Joseph Joffre and Field Marshal John French discussed the transfer of the BEF from the Aisne to Flanders, to unify British forces on the Continent, shorten the British lines of communication from England and to defend Antwerp and the Channel Ports. Despite the inconvenience of British troops crossing French lines of communication, when French forces were moving north after the Battle of the Aisne, Joffre agreed subject to a proviso, that French would make individual British units available for operations as soon as they arrived. On the night of 1/2 October, the transfer of the BEF from the Aisne front began in great secrecy. Marches were made at night and billeted troops were forbidden to venture outside in daylight. On 3 October, a German wireless message was intercepted, which showed that the BEF was still believed to be on the Aisne. [12]

II Corps moved from the night of 3/4 October and III Corps followed from 6 October, leaving a brigade behind with I Corps, which stayed until the night of 13/14 October. II Corps arrived around Abbeville from 8–9 October and concentrated to the north-east around Gennes-Ivergny, Gueschart, Le Boisle and Raye, preparatory to an advance on Béthune. The 2nd Cavalry Division arrived at St Pol and Hesdin on 9 October and the 1st Cavalry Division arrived a day later. GHQ left Fère-en-Tardenois and arrived at Saint-Omer on 13 October. III Corps began to assemble around Saint-Omer and Hazebrouck on 11 October, then moved behind the left flank of II Corps, to advance on Bailleul and Armentières. I Corps arrived at Hazebrouck on 19 October and moved eastwards to Ypres. [13]

Race to the Sea

After a tour of the front on 15 September, the new chief of the German General Staff (Oberste Heeresleitung, OHL), General Erich von Falkenhayn planned to continue the withdrawal of the right flank of the German armies in France from the Aisne, to gain time for a strategic regrouping, by moving the 6th Army from Lorraine. A decisive result (Schlachtentscheidung), was intended to come from the offensive of the 6th Army but on 18 September, French attacks endangered the German northern flank instead and the 6th Army used the first units from Lorraine to repulse the French as a preliminary. [14] [c] The French used undamaged rail and communications networks, to move troops faster than the Germans but neither side could begin a decisive attack, having to send units forward piecemeal, against reciprocal attacks of the opponent, in the Race to the Sea (The name is a misnomer, because neither side raced to the sea but tried to outflank their opponent before they reached it and ran out of room.) [21]

A German attack on 24 September, forced the French onto the defensive and Joffre reinforced the northern flank of the Second Army. As BEF units arrived, operations began piecemeal on the northern flank the Belgian army refused a request by Joffre to leave the National redoubt of Belgium and sortie against German communications. A Franco-British offensive was substituted towards Lille and Antwerp. The allied troops managed to advance towards Lille and the Lys river but were stopped by German attacks in the opposite direction on 20 October. [23] The "race" ended on the Belgian coast around 17 October, when the last open area from Diksmuide to the North Sea, was occupied by Belgian troops withdrawing from Antwerp after the Siege of Antwerp (28 September – 10 October). The outflanking attempts resulted in indecisive encounter battles through Artois and Flanders, at the Battle of La Bassée (10 October – 2 November), the Battle of Messines (12 October – 2 November) and the Battle of Armentières (13 October – 2 November). [24] [25] [d]


North-east France and the south-west Belgium are known as Flanders. West of a line between Arras and Calais in the north-west are chalk downlands, covered with soil sufficient for arable farming. East of the line, the land declines in a series of spurs into the Flanders plain, bounded by canals linking Douai, Béthune, St Omer and Calais. To the south-east, canals run between Lens, Lille, Roubaix and Courtrai, the Lys river from Courtrai to Ghent and to the north-west lies the sea. The plain is almost flat, apart from a line of low hills from Cassel, eastwards to Mont des Cats, Mont Noir, Mont Rouge, Scherpenberg and Mont Kemmel. From Kemmel, a low ridge lies to the north-east, declining in elevation past Ypres through Wytschaete (Wijtschate), Gheluvelt and Passchendaele (Passendale), curving north then north-west to Diksmuide where it merges with the plain. A coastal strip is about 10 mi (16 km) wide, near sea level and fringed by sand dunes. Inland the ground is mainly meadow, cut by canals, dykes, drainage ditches and roads built up on causeways. The Lys, Yser and upper Scheldt are canalised and between them the water level underground is close to the surface, rises further in the autumn and fills any dip, the sides of which then collapse. The ground surface quickly turns to a consistency of cream cheese and on the coast movement is confined to roads, except during frosts. [28]

In the rest of the Flanders Plain were woods and small fields, divided by hedgerows planted with trees and fields cultivated from small villages and farms. The terrain was difficult for infantry operations because of the lack of observation, impossible for mounted action because of the many obstructions and awkward for artillery because of the limited view. South of La Bassée Canal around Lens and Béthune was a coal-mining district full of slag heaps, pit-heads (fosses) and miners' houses (corons). North of the canal, the city of Lille, Tourcoing and Roubaix formed a manufacturing complex, with outlying industries at Armentières, Comines, Halluin and Menin (Menen), along the Lys river, with isolated sugar beet and alcohol refineries and a steel works near Aire-sur-la-Lys. Intervening areas were agricultural, with wide roads, which in France were built on shallow foundations or were unpaved mud tracks. Narrow pavé roads ran along the frontier and inside Belgium. In France, the roads were closed by the local authorities during thaws to preserve the surface and marked by Barrières fermėes signs, which were ignored by British lorry drivers. The difficulty of movement after the end of summer absorbed much of the labour available on road maintenance, leaving field defences to be built by front-line soldiers. [29]


In October, Herbert Kitchener, the British Secretary of State for War, forecast a long war and placed orders for the manufacture of a large number of field, medium and heavy guns and howitzers, sufficient to equip a 24-division army. The order was soon increased by the War Office but the rate of shell manufacture had an immediate effect on operations. While the BEF was still on the Aisne front, ammunition production for field guns and howitzers was 10,000 shells a month and only 100 shells per month were being manufactured for 60-pounder guns the War Office sent another 101 heavy guns to France during October. As the contending armies moved north into Flanders, the flat terrain and obstructed view, caused by the number of buildings, industrial concerns, tree foliage and field boundaries, forced changes in British artillery methods. Lack of observation was remedied in part by decentralising artillery to infantry brigades and by locating the guns in the front line but this made them more vulnerable and several batteries were overrun in the fighting between Arras and Ypres. Devolving control of the guns made concentrated artillery-fire difficult to arrange, because of a lack of field telephones and the obscuring of signal flags by mists and fog. [30]

Co-operation with French forces to share the British heavy artillery was implemented and discussions with French gunners led to a synthesis of the French practice of firing a field artillery rafale (squall) before infantry moved to the attack and then ceasing fire, with the British preference for direct fire at observed targets, which was the beginning of the development of creeping barrages. During the advance of the III Corps and an attack on Méteren, the 4th Division issued divisional artillery orders, which stressed the concentration of the fire of the artillery, although during the battle the gunners fired on targets of opportunity, since German positions were so well camouflaged. As the fighting moved north into Belgian Flanders, the artillery found that Shrapnel shells had little effect on buildings and called for high explosive ammunition. During a general attack on 18 October, the German defenders achieved a defensive success, due to the disorganised nature of the British attacks, which only succeeded where close artillery support was available. The unexpected strength of the German 4th Army opposite, compounded British failings, although the partly trained, poorly led and badly equipped German reserve corps suffered high casualties. [31]

German tactics developed during the battles around Ypres, with cavalry still effective during the early maneuvering, although just as hampered by hedges and fenced fields, railway lines and urban growth as the Allied cavalry, which made the ground far better suited to defensive battle. German accounts stress the accuracy of Allied sniper fire, which led troops to remove the spike from Pickelhaube helmets and for officers to carry rifles to be less conspicuous. Artillery remained the main infantry-killer, particularly French 75 mm field guns, firing shrapnel at ranges lower than 1,000 yd (910 m). Artillery in German reserve units was far less efficient due to lack of training and fire often fell short. [32] In the lower ground between Ypres and the higher ground to the south-east and east, the ground was drained by many streams and ditches, divided into small fields with high hedges and ditches, roads were unpaved and the area was dotted with houses and farmsteads. Observation was limited by trees and open spaces could be commanded from covered positions and made untenable by small-arms and artillery fire. As winter approached the views became more open as woods and copses were cut down by artillery bombardments and the ground became much softer, particularly in the lower-lying areas. [33]


The French, Belgian and British forces in Flanders had no organisation for unified command but General Foch had been appointed commandant le groupe des Armées du Nord on 4 October by Joffre. The Belgian army managed to save 80,000 men from Antwerp and retire to the Yser and although not formally in command of British and Belgian forces, Foch obtained co-operation from both contingents. [22] On 10 October, Foch and French agreed to combine French, British and Belgian forces north and east of Lille, from the Lys to the Scheldt. [34] Foch planned a joint advance from Ypres to Nieuwpoort, towards a line from Roeselare (Roulers), Thourout and Gistel, just south of Ostend. Foch intended to isolate the German III Reserve Corps, which was advancing from Antwerp, from the main German force in Flanders. French and Belgian forces were to push the Germans back against the sea, as French and British forces turned south-east and closed up to the Lys river from Menin to Ghent, to cross the river and attack the northern flank of the German armies. [35]

Falkenhayn sent the 4th Army headquarters to Flanders, to take over the III Reserve Corps and its heavy artillery, twenty batteries of heavy field howitzers, twelve batteries of 210 mm howitzers and six batteries of 100 mm guns, after the Siege of Antwerp (28 September – 10 October). The XXII, XXIII, XXVI and XXVII Reserve corps, of the six new reserve corps formed from volunteers after the outbreak of the war, were ordered from Germany to join the III Reserve Corps on 8 October. The German reserve corps infantry were poorly trained and ill-equipped but on 10 October, Falkenhayn issued a directive that the 4th Army was to cross the Yser, advance regardless of losses and isolate Dunkirk and Calais, then turn south towards Saint-Omer. With the 6th Army to the south, which was to deny the Allies an opportunity to establish a secure front and transfer troops to the north, the 4th Army was to inflict an annihilating blow on the French, Belgian and BEF forces in French and Belgian Flanders. [36]

Battle of the Yser

French, British and Belgian troops covered the Belgian and British withdrawal from Antwerp towards Ypres and the Yser from Diksmuide to Nieuwpoort, on a 35 km (22 mi) front. The new German 4th Army was ordered to capture Dunkirk and Calais, by attacking from the coast to the junction with the 6th Army. [36] German attacks began on 18 October, coincident with the battles around Ypres and gained a foothold over the Yser at Tervaete. The French 42nd Division at Nieuwpoort detached a brigade to reinforce the Belgians and German heavy artillery was countered on the coast, by Allied ships under British command, which bombarded German artillery positions and forced the Germans to attack further inland. [37] On 24 October, the Germans attacked fifteen times and managed to cross the Yser on a 5 km (3.1 mi) front. The French sent the rest of the 42nd Division to the centre but on 26 October, the Belgian Commander Félix Wielemans, ordered the Belgian army to retreat, until over-ruled by the Belgian king. Next day sluice gates on the coast at Nieuwpoort were opened, which flooded the area between the Yser and the railway embankment, running north from Diksmuide. On 30 October, German troops crossed the embankment at Ramscapelle (Ramskapelle) but as the waters rose, were forced back the following evening. The floods reduced the fighting to local operations, which diminished until the end of the battle on 30 November. [38]

Battle of Langemarck

Further north, French cavalry was pushed back to the Yser by the XXIII Reserve Corps and by nightfall was dug in from the junction with the British at Steenstraat to the vicinity of Diksmuide, the boundary with the Belgian army. [39] The British closed the gap with a small number of reinforcements and on 23 October, the French IX Corps took over the north end of the Ypres salient, relieving I Corps with the 17th Division. Kortekeer Cabaret was recaptured by the 1st Division and the 2nd Division was relieved. Next day, I Corps had been relieved and the 7th Division lost Polygon Wood temporarily. The left flank of the 7th Division was taken over by the 2nd Division, which joined in the counter-attack of the French IX Corps on the northern flank towards Roeselare and Torhout, as the fighting further north on the Yser impeded German attacks around Ypres. [40] German attacks were made on the right flank of the 7th Division at Gheluvelt. [41] The British sent the remains of I Corps to reinforce IV Corps. German attacks from 25 to 26 October were made further south, against the 7th Division on the Menin Road and on 26 October part of the line crumbled until reserves were scraped up to block the gap and avoid a rout. [42]

Battle of Gheluvelt

On 28 October, as the 4th Army attacks bogged down, Falkenhayn responded to the costly failures of the 4th and 6th armies by ordering the armies to conduct holding attacks while a new force, Armeegruppe Fabeck (General Max von Fabeck) was assembled from XV Corps and the II Bavarian Corps, the 26th Division and the 6th Bavarian Reserve Division, under the XIII Corps headquarters. [e] The Armeegruppe was rushed up to Deûlémont and Werviq (Wervik), the boundary between the 6th and 4th armies, to attack towards Ypres and Poperinge. Strict economies were imposed on the 6th Army formations further south, to provide artillery ammunition for 250 heavy guns allotted to support an attack to the north-west, between Gheluvelt and Messines. The XV Corps was to attack on the right flank, south of the Menin–Ypres road to the Comines–Ypres canal and the main effort was to come from there to Garde Dieu by the II Bavarian Corps, flanked by the 26th Division. [43]

On 29 October, attacks by the XXVII Reserve Corps began against I Corps north of the Menin Road, at dawn, in thick fog. By nightfall, the Gheluvelt crossroads had been lost and 600 British prisoners taken. French attacks further north, by the 17th Division, 18th Division and 31st Division recaptured Bixschoote and Kortekeer Cabaret. Advances by Armeegruppe Fabeck to the south-west against I Corps and the dismounted Cavalry Corps further south, came to within 1.9 mi (3 km) of Ypres along the Menin road and brought the town into range of German artillery. [44] On 30 October, German attacks by the 54th Reserve Division and the 30th Division, on the left flank of the BEF at Gheluvelt, were repulsed but the British were pushed out of Zandvoorde, Hollebeke and Hollebeke Château as German attacks on a line from Messines to Wytschaete and St. Yves were repulsed. The British rallied opposite Zandvoorde with French reinforcements and "Bulfin's Force" a command improvised for the motley of troops. The BEF had many casualties and used all its reserves but the French IX Corps sent its last three battalions and retrieved the situation in the I Corps sector. On 31 October, German attacks near Gheluvelt broke through until a counter-attack by the 2nd Worcestershire restored the situation. [45]

Battle of Nonne Bosschen

On 11 November, the Germans attacked from Messines to Herenthage, Veldhoek woods, Nonne Bosschen and Polygon Wood. Massed small-arms fire repulsed German attacks between Polygon Wood and Veldhoek. The German 3rd Division and 26th Division broke through to St Eloi and advanced to Zwarteleen, some 3,000 yd (2,700 m) east of Ypres, where they were checked by the British 7th Cavalry Brigade. The remains of II Corps from La Bassée, held a 3,500 yd (3,200 m) front, with 7,800 men and 2,000 reserves against 25 German battalions with 17,500 men. The British were forced back by the German 4th Division and British counter-attacks were repulsed. [46] Next day, an unprecedented bombardment fell on British positions in the south of the salient between Polygon Wood and Messines. German troops broke through along the Menin road but could not be supported and the advance was contained by 13 November. [47] Both sides were exhausted by these efforts German casualties around Ypres had reached about 80,000 men and BEF losses, August – 30 November, were 89,964 (54,105 at Ypres). The Belgian army had been reduced by half and the French had lost 385,000 men by September, 265,000 men having been killed by the end of the year. [48]

Local operations, 12–22 November

The weather became much colder, with rain from 12–14 November and a little snow on 15 November. Night frosts followed and on 20 November, the ground was covered by snow. Frostbite cases appeared and the physical strain increased, among troops occupying trenches half-full of freezing water, falling asleep standing up and being sniped at and bombed from opposing trenches 100 yd (91 m) away. [49] On 12 November, a German attack surprised the French IX Corps and the British 8th Division arrived at the front on 13 November and more attacks were made on the II Corps front from 14 November. Between 15–22 November, I Corps was relieved by the French IX and XVI corps and the British line was reorganised. [50] On 16 November, Foch agreed with French to take over the line from Zonnebeke to the Ypres–Comines canal. The new British line ran 21 mi (34 km) from Wytschaete to the La Bassée Canal at Givenchy. The Belgians held 15 mi (24 km) and the French defended some 430 mi (690 km) of the new Western front. On 17 November, Albrecht ordered the 4th Army to cease its attacks the III Reserve Corps and XIII Corps were ordered to move the Eastern Front, which was discovered by the Allies on 20 November. [51]


Both sides had tried to advance after the "open" northern flank had disappeared, the Franco-British towards Lille in October, followed by attacks by the BEF, Belgians and a new French Eighth Army in Belgium. The German 4th and 6th armies took small amounts of ground at great cost to both sides, at the Battle of the Yser (16–31 October) and further south at the Battles of Ypres. Falkenhayn then tried a limited goal of capturing Ypres and Mont Kemmel, from 19 October to 22 November. By 8 November, Falkenhayn had accepted that the coastal advance had failed and that taking Ypres was impossible. Neither side had moved forces to Flanders fast enough to obtain a decisive victory and both were exhausted, short of ammunition and suffering from collapses in morale, some infantry units refusing orders. The autumn battles in Flanders had quickly become static, attrition operations, unlike the battles of manoeuvre in the summer. French, British and Belgian troops in improvised field defences repulsed German attacks for four weeks in mutually costly attacks and counter-attacks. From 21 to 23 October, German reservists had made mass attacks at Langemarck, with losses of up to seventy per cent. [52]

Industrial warfare between mass armies had been indecisive troops could only move forward over heaps of dead. Field fortifications had neutralised many classes of offensive weapon and the defensive firepower of artillery and machine-guns had dominated the battlefield the ability of the armies to supply themselves and replace casualties kept battles going for weeks. The German armies engaged 34 divisions in the Flanders battles, the French twelve, the British nine and the Belgians six, along with marines and dismounted cavalry. [53] Falkenhayn reconsidered German strategy Vernichtungsstrategie and a dictated peace against France and Russia had been shown to be beyond German resources. Falkenhayn intended to detach Russia or France from the Allied coalition, by diplomatic as well as military action. A strategy of attrition (Ermattungsstrategie), would make the cost of the war was too great for the Allies to bear, until one enemy negotiated an end to the war. The remaining belligerents would have to come to terms or face the German army concentrated on the remaining front and capable of obtaining a decisive victory. [54]

Mad minute

In 2010, Jack Sheldon wrote that a "mad minute" of accurate rapid rifle-fire, was held to have persuaded German troops that they were opposed by machine-guns. This was a false notion, picked out of a translation of Die Schlacht an der Yser und bei Ypern im Herbst 1914 (1918), which the official historians used, in lieu of authoritative sources, during the writing of the 1914 volumes of the British History of the Great War, the first editions of which were published in 1922 and 1925,

The British and French artillery fired as rapidly as they knew how and over every bush, hedge and fragment of wall floated a thin film of smoke, betraying a machine-gun rattling out bullets.

Sheldon wrote that the translation was inaccurate and ignored many references to the combined fire of rifles and machine-guns,

The British, most of whom had experience gained through long years of campaigning against cunning opponents in close country, let the attackers get to close range then, from hedges, houses and trees, opened up with withering rifle and machine-gun fire from point blank range. [56]

typical of German regimental histories. The British fired short bursts at close range, to conserve ammunition. Sheldon also wrote that German troops knew the firing characteristics of machine-guns and kept still until French Hotchkiss M1909 and Hotchkiss M1914 machine-guns, which had ammunition in 24- and 30-round strips, were reloading. [57]


BEF casualties
August–December 1914 [58]
Month No.
August 14,409
September 15,189
October 30,192
November 24,785
December 11,079
Total 95,654

Sheldon wrote that a German description of the fate of the new reserve corps as a Kindermord (massacre of the innocents), in a communiqué of 11 November 1914, was misleading. Claims that up to 75 percent of the manpower of the reserve corps were student volunteers, who attacked while singing Deutschland über alles began a myth. After the war, most regiments which had fought in Flanders, referred to the singing of songs on the battlefield, a practice only plausible when used to identify units at night. [59] In 1986, Unruh, wrote that 40,761 students had been enrolled in six reserve corps, four of which had been sent to Flanders, leaving a maximum of 30 percent of the reserve corps operating in Flanders made up of volunteers. Only 30 percent of German casualties at Ypres were young and inexperienced student reservists, others being active soldiers, older members of the Landwehr and army reservists. Reserve Infantry Regiment 211 had 166 men in active service, 299 members of the reserve, which was composed of former soldiers from 23–28 years old, 970 volunteers who were inexperienced and probably 18–20 years old, 1,499 Landwehr (former soldiers from 28–39 years old, released from the reserve) and one Ersatzreservist (enrolled but inexperienced). [60]


In 1925, Edmonds recorded that the Belgians had suffered a great number of casualties from 15–25 October, including 10,145 wounded. British casualties from 14 October – 30 November were 58,155, French losses were 86,237 men and of 134,315 German casualties in Belgium and northern France, from 15 October – 24 November, 46,765 losses were incurred on the front from the Lys to Gheluvelt, from 30 October – 24 November. [61] In 2003, Beckett recorded 50,000–85,000 French casualties, 21,562 Belgian casualties, 55,395 British losses and 134,315 German casualties. [62] In 2010, Sheldon recorded 54,000 British casualties, c. 80,000 German casualties, that the French had many losses and that the Belgian army had been reduced to a shadow. [63] Sheldon also noted that Colonel Fritz von Lossberg had recorded that up to 3 November, casualties in the 4th Army were 62,000 men and that the 6th Army had lost 27,000 men, 17,250 losses of which had occurred in Armeegruppe Fabeck from 30 October – 3 November. [64]

Subsequent operations

Winter operations from November 1914 to February 1915 in the Ypres area, took place in the Attack on Wytschaete (14 December). [65] A reorganisation of the defence of Flanders had been carried out by the Franco-British from 15–22 November, which left the BEF holding a homogeneous front from Givenchy to Wytschaete 21 mi (34 km) to the north. [66] Joffre arranged for a series of attacks on the Western Front, after receiving information that German divisions were moving to the Russian Front. The Eighth Army was ordered to attack in Flanders and French was asked to participate with the BEF on 14 December. Joffre wanted the British to attack along all of the BEF front and especially from Warneton to Messines, as the French attacked from Wytschaete to Hollebeke. French gave orders to attack from the Lys to Warneton and Hollebeke with II and III Corps, as IV and Indian corps conducted local operations, to fix the Germans to their front. [67]

French emphasised that the attack would begin on the left flank, next to the French and that units must not move ahead of each other. The French and the 3rd Division were to capture Wytschaete and Petit Bois, then Spanbroekmolen was to be taken by II Corps attacking from the west and III Corps from the south, only the 3rd Division making a maximum effort. On the right the 5th Division was only to pretend to attack and III Corps was to make demonstrations, as the corps was holding a 10 mi (16 km) front and could do no more. [67] On the left, the French XVI Corps failed to reach its objectives and the 3rd Division got to within 50 yd (46 m) of the German line and found uncut wire. One battalion took 200 yd (180 m) of the German front trench and took 42 prisoners. The failure of the attack on Wytschaete resulted in the attack further south being cancelled but German artillery retaliation was much heavier than the British bombardment. [68]

Desultory attacks were made from 15 to 16 December which, against intact German defences and deep mud, made no impression. On 17 December, XVI and II corps did not attack, the French IX Corps sapped forward a short distance down the Menin road and small gains were made at Klein Zillebeke and Bixschoote. Joffre ended attacks in the north, except for operations at Arras and requested support from French who ordered attacks on 18 December along the British front, then restricted the attacks to support of XVI Corps by II Corps and demonstrations by II Corps and the Indian Corps. Fog impeded the Arras attack and a German counter-attack against XVI Corps led II Corps to cancel its supporting attack. Six small attacks were made by the 8th, 7th, 4th and Indian divisions, which captured little ground, all of which was found to be untenable due to mud and water-logging Franco-British attacks in Flanders ended. [68]


Armenians in the Ottoman Empire

The presence of Armenians in Anatolia has been documented since the sixth century BCE, more than a millennium before Turkish incursion and presence. [6] [7] The Kingdom of Armenia adopted Christianity as its national religion in the fourth century CE, establishing the Armenian Apostolic Church. [8] Following the Byzantine Empire's fall in 1453, two Islamic empires—the Ottoman Empire and the Iranian Safavid Empire—contested Western Armenia, which was permanently separated from Eastern Armenia (held by the Safavid Empire) by the 1639 Treaty of Zuhab. [9] Sharia law encoded Islamic supremacy but guaranteed property rights and freedom of worship to non-Muslims (dhimmis) in exchange for a special tax. [10] Most Armenians were grouped together into a semi-autonomous community (millet), led by the Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople. [11] The millet system institutionalized the inferiority of non-Muslims, but granted the Armenians significant autonomy. [12]

Around two million Armenians lived in the Ottoman Empire on the eve of World War I. [13] According to the Armenian Patriarchate's 1913–1914 estimates, there were 2,925 Armenian towns and villages in the empire, of which 2,084 were in the Armenian Highlands in the vilayets of Bitlis, Diyarbekir, Erzerum, Harput, and Van. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians lived elsewhere, scattered throughout central and western Anatolia. The Armenian population was mostly rural, especially in the Armenian Highlands, where 90 percent were peasant farmers. [14] Armenians were a minority in most parts of the empire, living alongside their Turkish, Kurdish, and Greek Orthodox neighbors. [13] [14] According to the Patriarchate's figure, 215,131 Armenians lived in urban areas, especially Constantinople, Smyrna, and Eastern Thrace. [14] In the nineteenth century, a few urban Armenians became extremely wealthy through their connections to Europe. [15]

Land conflict and reforms

Armenians in the eastern provinces lived in semi-feudal conditions and commonly encountered forced labor, illegal taxation, and unpunished crimes against them including robberies, murders, and sexual assaults. [16] [17] Until 1908, non-Muslims in the empire were forbidden to carry arms, leaving them unable to defend themselves. [18] In the mid-nineteenth century, the Ottoman government instituted the Tanzimat, a series of reforms to equalize the status of Ottoman subjects regardless of confession, a goal strongly opposed by Islamic clergy and Muslims in general. [19] [20] The Tanzimat failed to improve the condition of Armenian peasantry in the eastern provinces, which regressed from 1860 onwards. [21] The Ottoman Land Code of 1858 disadvantaged Armenians and many now had to pay double taxation both to Kurdish landlords and the Ottoman government. [22]

From the mid-nineteenth century, Armenians faced large-scale land usurpation as a consequence of the sedentarization of Kurdish tribes and the arrival of Muslim refugees and immigrants (mainly Circassians) following the Caucasus War. [23] [24] [25] In 1876, when Abdul Hamid II came to power, the state began to confiscate Armenian-owned land in the eastern provinces and give it to Muslim immigrants, as part of a systematic policy to reduce the Armenian population of these areas. [26] These conditions led to a substantial decline in the Armenian Highlands' population 300,000 Armenians emigrated in the decades leading up to World War I, while others moved to towns. [27] [28] To achieve improved conditions, a few Armenians joined revolutionary political parties, of which the most influential was the Dashnaktsutyun (Armenian Revolutionary Federation), founded in 1890. [29]

Abdul Hamid suspended the 1876 Constitution of the Ottoman Empire the following year after parliamentarians criticized his handling of the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–1878. [30] Russia's decisive victory forced the Ottoman Empire to cede parts of eastern Anatolia, the Balkans, and Cyprus. [31] At the 1878 Congress of Berlin, the Ottoman government agreed to carry out reforms and guarantee the physical safety of its Armenian subjects, but there was no enforcement mechanism [32] conditions continued to worsen. [33] [34] This marked the emergence of the Armenian question in international diplomacy as Armenians were for the first time used to interfere in Ottoman politics. [35] Although Armenians had been called the "loyal millet" in contrast to Greeks and others who had previously challenged Ottoman rule, Armenians became perceived as subversive and ungrateful after 1878. [36]

In 1891, Abdul Hamid created the Hamidiye regiments from Kurdish tribes, allowing them to act with impunity against Armenians. [37] [33] From 1895 to 1896 the empire saw widespread massacres at least 100,000 Armenians were killed [38] [39] by Ottoman soldiers, crowds incited to violence, and Kurdish tribes. [40] Many Armenian villages were forcibly converted to Islam. [27] The Ottoman state bore ultimate responsibility for the killings, [41] whose purpose was violently restoring the previous social order in which Christians would unquestioningly accept Muslim supremacy, [42] [43] and forcing Armenians to emigrate, thereby decreasing their numbers. [44]

Young Turk Revolution

Abdul Hamid's despotism prompted the formation of an opposition movement, the Young Turks, who sought to overthrow him and restore the constitution. [45] One faction of the Young Turks was the secret and revolutionary Committee of Union and Progress (CUP), based in Salonica, from which the charismatic conspirator Mehmed Talaat (later Talaat Pasha) emerged as a leading member. [46] Although skeptical of a growing, exclusionary Turkish nationalism in the Young Turk movement, the Dashnaktsutyun decided to ally with the CUP in December 1907. [47] [48] In 1908, the Young Turk Revolution began with a string of CUP assassinations of leading Hamidian officials in Macedonia. [49] [50] Abdul Hamid failed to quell the rebellion, and the capitol was threatened by invasion by military units controlled by CUP-supporting officers in Macedonia. He was forced to reinstate the 1876 constitution and restore parliament, which was celebrated by Ottomans of all ethnicities and religions. [51] [52] Although security improved in the eastern provinces after 1908, [53] the CUP did not reverse the land usurpation of the previous decades, contrary to Armenian hopes. [54]

Abdul Hamid attempted an unsuccessful countercoup in early 1909, supported by conservatives and some liberals who opposed the CUP's increasingly repressive governance. [55] When news of the countercoup reached Adana, armed Muslims attacked the Armenian quarter and Armenians returned fire. Ottoman soldiers did not protect Armenians and instead armed the rioters. [56] Between 20,000 and 25,000 people, mostly Armenians, were killed in Adana and nearby towns. [57] Unlike the Hamidian massacres, the events were not organized by the central government but instigated by local officials, intellectuals, and Islamic clerics, including CUP supporters in Adana. [58] Although the massacres went unpunished, the Dashnaktsutyun continued to hope that reforms to improve security and restore lands were forthcoming, until late 1912, when they broke with the CUP and appealed to the European powers. [59] [60] [61] On 8 February 1914, the CUP reluctantly agreed to the 1914 Armenian reforms brokered by Germany. The reforms, never implemented due to World War I, stipulated the appointment of two European inspectors for the entire Ottoman east and putting the Hamidiye in reserve. CUP leaders feared these reforms would lead to partition and cited them as a reason for the elimination of the Armenian population in 1915. [62] [63] [64]

Balkan Wars

The 1912 First Balkan War resulted in the loss of almost all of the empire's European territory [65] and the mass expulsion of Muslims from the Balkans. [66] Ottoman Muslim society was incensed by the atrocities committed against Balkan Muslims, intensifying anti-Christian sentiment and leading to a desire for revenge. [67] [68] In January 1913, the CUP launched another coup, installed a one-party state, and strictly repressed all real or perceived internal enemies. [69] [70] Although the Young Turk movement included a number of factions, by 1914 its most influential ideologues had rejected Ottoman multiculturalism in favor of pan-Turanism or pan-Islamism, aiming to consolidate the empire by reducing the number of Christians and increasing the Muslim population. [71] CUP leaders such as Talaat and Enver Pasha came to blame non-Muslim population concentrations in strategic areas for many of the empire's problems, concluding by mid-1914 that they were "internal tumors" to be excised. [72] Armenians were considered most dangerous, because their homeland in Anatolia was claimed as the last refuge of the Turkish nation. [73] [74]

After the 1913 coup, the CUP pursued a policy of changing the demographic balance of border areas by resettling Muslim immigrants while coercing Christians to leave [75] immigrants were promised property that had belonged to Christians. [76] When parts of Eastern Thrace were reoccupied by the Ottoman Empire during the Second Balkan War in mid-1913, local Greeks, and Armenians—who had not fought against the empire—were subjected to looting and intimidation. [77] Around 150,000 Greek Orthodox from the Aegean littoral were forcibly deported in May and June 1914 by Muslim bandits secretly backed by the CUP and sometimes joined by the regular army. [78] [79] [80] This ethnic cleansing campaign has been described by historian Taner Akçam as "a trial run for the Armenian genocide". [81] [82]

A few days after the outbreak of World War I, the CUP concluded an alliance with Germany on 2 August 1914. [83] The same month, CUP representatives went to a Dashnak conference demanding that, in the event of war with Russia, the Dashnaktsutyun incite Russian Armenians to intervene on the Ottoman side. Instead, the delegates resolved that Armenians should fight for the countries of their citizenships. [84] During its war preparations, the Ottoman government recruited thousands of prisoners to join the paramilitary Special Organization, [85] which initially focused on stirring up revolts among Muslims behind Russian lines beginning in mid-1914. [86] On 29 October 1914, the Ottoman Empire entered World War I on the side of the Central Powers by launching a surprise attack on Russian ports in the Black Sea. [87]

Wartime requisitions, often corrupt and arbitrary, were used to target Greeks and Armenians in particular. [88] Armenian leaders urged young men to accept conscription into the army, but many soldiers, of all ethnicities and religions, deserted due to difficult conditions and concern for their families. [89] During the Ottoman invasion of Russian and Persian territory, the Special Organization massacred local Armenians and Syriac Christians. [90] [91] Beginning in November 1914, provincial governors of Van, Bitlis, and Erzerum sent many telegrams to the central government pressing for more severe measures against the Armenians, both regionally and throughout the empire. [92] These pressures played a key role in the intensification of anti-Armenian persecution and met a favorable response already before 1915. [93] Armenian civil servants were dismissed from their posts in late 1914 and early 1915. [94] On 25 February 1915, Enver Pasha ordered the removal of all non-Muslims serving in Ottoman forces from their posts they were to be disarmed and transferred to labor battalions. [95] Beginning in early 1915, the Armenian soldiers in labor battalions were systematically executed, although many skilled workers were spared until 1916. [96]

Minister of War Enver Pasha took over command of the Ottoman armies for the invasion of Russian territory, and tried to encircle the Russian Caucasus Army at the Battle of Sarikamish, fought from December 1914 to January 1915. Unprepared for the harsh winter conditions, [97] his forces were routed, losing more than 60,000 men. [98] The retreating Ottoman army indiscriminately destroyed dozens of Ottoman Armenian villages in Bitlis Vilayet, massacring their inhabitants. [94] Returning to Constantinople, Enver Pasha publicly blamed his defeat on Armenians in the region, saying they had actively sided with the Russians, which became a consensus among CUP leaders. [99] [100] Claims of Armenian revolts deflected blame for the Ottoman military's failures, especially Sarikamish. [101] Any local incident or discovery of arms in the possession of Armenians was cited as evidence for a coordinated conspiracy against the empire. [95] Akçam concludes that "the allegations of an Armenian revolt in the documents . have no basis in reality but were deliberately fabricated". [102] [103]

Most historians date the final decision to exterminate the Armenian population to the end of March or early April 1915. [104] Historian Ronald Grigor Suny states, "Deportations ostensibly taken for military reasons rapidly radicalized monstrously into an opportunity to rid Anatolia once and for all of those peoples perceived to be an imminent existential threat to the future of the empire." [105]

The province of Van descended into lawlessness by the end of 1914, [106] and massacres of Armenian men were occurring in the Başkale area from December. [107] Dashnak leaders attempted to keep the situation calm, urging Armenians to tolerate localized massacres because even justifiable self-defense could lead to a generalized massacre. [108] The governor, Djevdet Bey, ordered the Armenians of Van to hand over their arms on 18 April, creating a dilemma for the Armenians: If they obeyed, they expected to be killed, but if they refused, it would provide a pretext for massacres elsewhere. Other Dashnak leaders having been killed, Aram Manukian organized the fortification of the Armenian quarter of Van and defended it from the Ottoman attack that began on 20 April. [109] [110]

During the siege, Armenians in surrounding villages were massacred at Djevdet's orders. Russian forces captured Van on 18 May, finding 55,000 corpses in the province—about half its prewar Armenian population. [111] Djevdet's forces proceeded to Bitlis and attacked Armenian and Syriac villages men were killed immediately, women and children kidnapped by local Kurds, and others marched away to be killed later. By the end of June, there were only a dozen Armenians in the vilayet. Around Mush, 141,000 Armenians in more than 200 villages were ethnically cleansed during the second week of July. [112]

During the night of 23–24 April 1915, at the orders of Talaat Pasha, hundreds of Armenian political activists, intellectuals, and community leaders—including many of Talaat's former political allies—were rounded up in Constantinople and across the empire. This order, intended to eliminate the Armenian leadership and anyone capable of organizing resistance, resulted in the torture and eventually murder of most of those arrested, who were forced to confess to a nonexistent Armenian conspiracy against the empire. [113] [114] [115] The same day, Talaat ordered the shuttering of all Armenian political organizations [116] and diverted the Armenians who had previously been removed from Alexandretta, Dörtyol, Adana, Hadjin, Zeytun, and Sis to the Syrian Desert, instead of the previously planned destination of central Anatolia, where they would likely have survived. [117] [118]

In an interview published in Berliner Tageblatt on 4 May 1915, Talaat Pasha acknowledged that when Armenians were deported, no distinction was made between "guilty" and "innocent" Armenians, because "one who was still innocent today could be guilty tomorrow". [119] On 23 May, he ordered the deportation of the entire Armenian millet to Deir ez-Zor, beginning with the northeastern provinces. [120] On 29 May, the CUP Central Committee passed the Temporary Law of Deportation ("Tehcir Law"), authorizing the Ottoman government and military to deport anyone deemed to be a threat to national security. [121] [122] Deportation amounted to a death sentence the authorities planned for and intended the death of the deportees. [123] [124] [125] Deportation was only carried out behind the front lines, where no active rebellion existed, and was only possible in the absence of widespread resistance. Armenians who lived in the war zone were instead killed in massacres. [126]

Although ostensibly undertaken for military reasons, [127] the deportation and murder of Armenians did not grant the empire any military advantage and actually undermined the Ottoman war effort. [128] The empire faced a dilemma between its goal of eliminating Armenians and its practical need for their labor those Armenians retained for their skills, in particular for manufacturing in war industries, were indispensable to the logistics of the Ottoman Army. [129] [130] Ottoman records show the government aimed to reduce the population of Armenians to no more than 5 percent in the sources of deportation and 10 percent in the destination areas. This goal could not be accomplished without mass murder. [131] [132] [133] The CUP hoped to permanently eliminate any possibility that Armenians could achieve autonomy or independence in the empire's eastern provinces by annihilating the concentrated Armenian population of these areas. [134] In Talaat's words, the purpose of the deportations was the "definitive solution to the Armenian Question". [4] By late 1915, the CUP had extinguished Armenian existence from eastern Anatolia. [135] In August 1915, deportation was extended to western Anatolia and European Turkey these deportees were often allowed to travel by rail. Some areas with a very low Armenian population and some cities were partially spared from deportation. [136]

Overall, national, regional, and local levels of governance, as well as power-brokers in the party, government, and army, cooperated willingly in the perpetration of genocide. [137] [138] The initiation and organization was primarily carried out by civilian officials under the Ministry of the Interior rather than the Ministry of War. [138] The killings near the front lines were carried out by the Special Organization, and those farther away also involved local militias, bandits, gendarmes, or Kurdish tribes depending on the area. [139] Many perpetrators came from the Caucasus (Chechens and Circassians), who identified the Armenians with their Russian oppressors. Nomadic Kurds committed many atrocities during the genocide, but settled Kurds only rarely did so. [140] Perpetrators had a variety of motives, including ideology, revenge, desire for Armenian property, and careerism. [141] Some Ottoman politicians opposed the genocide they faced dismissal or assassination. [137] [142] The government decreed that any Muslim who harbored an Armenian against the will of the authorities would be executed. [143] [144]

Death marches

Although the majority of able-bodied men had been conscripted into the army, others remained if they were too old or young, had deserted, or had paid the exemption tax. Unlike in the Hamidian massacres or Adana events, massacres were usually not committed in the Armenian villages, to avoid destruction of property or unauthorized looting. Instead, the men were usually separated from the rest of the deportees during the first few days and executed. Few resisted, believing it would put their families in greater danger. [139] Boys above the age of twelve (sometimes fifteen) were treated as adult men. [146] Execution sites were chosen for proximity to major roads and for rugged terrain, lakes, wells, or cisterns to facilitate the concealment or disposal of corpses. [147] [145] The convoys would stop at a nearby transit camp and the escorts would demand a ransom from the Armenians those who were unable to pay were murdered. [139]

At least 150,000 deportees—the majority of those deported from Erzerum and Trebizond, as well as many from Sivas—passed through Erzindjan from June 1915, where a series of transit camps were set up to control the flow of victims to the killing site at the nearby Kemah gorge. [148] Thousands of Armenians were killed near Lake Hazar, pushed by paramilitary units off the cliffs into valleys from which the only escape was into the lake. [145] More than 500,000 Armenians passed through the Firincilar plain south of Malatya. Arriving convoys, having passed through the plain and approaching the Kahta highlands, would have found gorges already filled with corpses from previous convoys, in one of the deadliest areas during the genocide. [149] [147] Many others were trapped in valleys of tributaries of the Tigris, Euphrates, or Murat River by members of the Special Organization their bodies were thrown into the river. These corpses arrived in Upper Mesopotamia before the first of the living deportees. [150] Armenian men were often drowned by being tied together back-to-back before being thrown in the water, a method that was not used on women. [151]

Authorities viewed disposal of bodies through rivers as a cheap and efficient method, but it caused widespread pollution downstream. So many bodies floated down the Tigris and Euphrates rivers that they sometimes blocked the rivers and needed to be cleared with explosives. Other rotting corpses became stuck to the riverbanks, while some traveled as far as the Persian Gulf. The rivers remained polluted long after the massacres, and Arab populations downstream were affected by epidemics. [152] Tens of thousands of Armenians died along the roads and their bodies were buried hastily or, more often, simply left beside the roads. Key roads threatened to become impassible due to the contamination of corpses, and typhus epidemics spread in nearby villages the Ottoman government also wanted the corpses cleared to prevent photographic documentation. The Ottoman government ordered the corpses to be cleared as soon as possible, which was not uniformly followed. [153] [154]

Women and children, who made up the great majority of deportees, were usually not executed immediately, but subjected to hard marches through mountainous terrain without food and water. Those who could not keep up were left to die or shot. [155] During 1915, some were forced to walk as far as 1,000 kilometres (620 mi) in the summer heat. [125] In order to preserve families, older women would give away their food to younger family members. Mothers would surrender their daughters before their sons and give their lives to protect at least one male descendant. [136] There was a distinction between the convoys from eastern Anatolia, which were eliminated almost in their entirety, and those from farther west, who made up most of those surviving to reach Syria. [156]


Islamization of Armenians was carried out as a systematic state policy involving the bureaucracy, police, judiciary, and clergy and was as integral to genocide as killing. [157] [158] An estimated 100,000 to 200,000 Armenians were Islamized. [159] Some Armenians were allowed to convert to Islam and evade deportation, but where their numbers exceeded the 5 to 10 percent threshold, or where there was a risk of their being able to preserve their nationality and culture, the regime insisted on their physical destruction. [160] Talaat Pasha personally authorized conversion of Armenians and carefully tracked the loyalty of converted Armenians until the end of the war. [161] Although the first and most important step was conversion to Islam, the process also required the eradication of Armenian names, language, and culture, and for women, immediate marriage to a Muslim man. [162] Although Islamization was the most feasible opportunity for survival, it also transgressed Armenian moral and social norms. [161]

The CUP permitted marriage of Armenian females into Muslim households, as these women were forced to convert to Islam and would lose their Armenian identity. [147] Young women and girls were often appropriated as house servants or sex slaves. Some boys were abducted to work as unfree laborers for individual Muslims. [147] [163] Some children were forcibly seized, but others were sold or given up by their parents to save their lives. [164] [165] Special state-run orphanages were also set up with strict procedures intending to deprive their charges of an Armenian identity. [166] Most Armenian children who survived the genocide endured exploitation, hard labor without pay, forced conversion to Islam, and physical and sexual abuse. [163]

Women and children who fell into Muslim hands during the journey typically ended up in Turkish or Kurdish hands, in contrast with those captured in Syria by Arabs and Bedouins. [167] Military commanders told their men to "do to [the women] whatever you wish", resulting in widespread rapes. [168] Although Armenian women tried various means of avoiding sexual violence, often suicide was the only available means of escape. [169] Deportees were displayed naked in Damascus and sold as sex slaves in some areas, constituting an important source of income for accompanying gendarmes. [170] Some were sold in Arabian slave markets to Muslim Hajj pilgrims and ended up as far away as Tunisia or Algeria. [171]

The first arrivals in mid-1915 were accommodated in Aleppo. From mid-November, the convoys were denied access to the city and redirected along the Baghdad Railway or the Euphrates towards Mosul. The first transit camp was established at Sibil, east of Aleppo one convoy would arrive each day while another would depart for Meskene or Deir ez-Zor. [172] Dozens of concentration camps were set up in Syria and Upper Mesopotamia. [173] By October 1915, some 870,000 deportees had reached Syria and Upper Mesopotamia. Most were repeatedly transferred between camps, being held in each camp for a few weeks, until there were very few survivors. [174] This strategy physically weakened the Armenians and spread disease, so much that some camps were shut down in late 1915 due to the threat of disease spreading to the Ottoman military. [175] [176] In late 1915, the camps around Aleppo were liquidated and the survivors were forced to march to Ras al-Ayn the camps around Ras al-Ayn were closed in early 1916 and the survivors sent to Deir ez-Zor. [177]

In general, Armenians were denied food and water during and after their forced march to the Syrian desert [175] [178] many died of starvation, exhaustion, or disease, especially dysentery, typhus, and pneumonia. [175] [179] Some local officials gave Armenians food, while others took bribes to provide food and water. [175] Aid organizations were officially barred from providing food to the deportees, although some circumvented these prohibitions. [180] Survivors testified that some Armenians refused aid as they believed it would only prolong their suffering. [181] The guards raped female prisoners and also allowed Bedouins to raid the camps at night for looting and rape some women were forced into marriage. [182] [178] Childless Turks, Arabs, and Jews would come to the camps to buy Armenian children from their parents thousands of children were sold in this manner. [174] In the territory of the Ottoman Fourth Army, commanded by Djemal Pasha, there were no concentration camps or large-scale massacres, rather Armenians were resettled and recruited to work for the war effort. They had to convert to Islam or face deportation to another area. [183]

Armenian ability to adapt and survive was greater than the perpetrators expected. [123] A loosely organized, Armenian-led resistance network based in Aleppo succeeded in helping many deportees, saving Armenian lives. [184] At the beginning of 1916 some 500,000 deportees were alive. [156] After hearing from Matthias Erzberger that Germany expected surviving Armenians to be allowed to return home after the war, Talaat Pasha ordered a second wave of massacres in early 1916. [185] More than 200,000 Armenians were killed between March and October 1916, often in remote areas near Deir ez-Zor and on parts of the Khabur valley, where their bodies would not create a public health hazard. [186] [187] The massacres killed most of the Armenians who had survived the camp system. [177] Intentional, state-sponsored killing of Armenians mostly ceased by the end of January 1917, although sporadic massacres and starvation continued to kill. [188]

A secondary motivation for genocide was the destruction of the Armenian middle class to make room for a Turkish and Muslim bourgeoisie. [134] The campaign to Turkify the economy began in June 1914 with a law that obliged many ethnic minority merchants to hire Muslims. The businesses of deported Armenians were taken over by Muslims who were often incompetent, leading to economic difficulties. [190] On 13 September 1915, the Ottoman parliament passed the "Temporary Law of Expropriation and Confiscation," formalizing commissions to redistribute property confiscated from Armenians [191] and excluding any possibility of their return. [192] Confiscated property was often used to fund the deportation of Armenians and resettlement of Muslims, as well as for army, militia, and other government spending. [193] The genocide had catastrophic effects on the Ottoman economy Muslims were disadvantaged by the deportation of skilled professionals and entire districts fell into famine following their farmers' deportation. [194]

Confiscated Armenian properties formed much of the basis of the Republic of Turkey's economy, endowing it with capital. The dispossession and exile of Armenian competitors enabled many lower-class Turks (i.e. peasantry, soldiers, and laborers) to rise to the middle class. [195] The expropriation was part of a drive to build a statist "national economy" controlled by Muslim Turks. [196] [140] [197] All traces of Armenian existence, including churches and monasteries, libraries, archaeological sites, khachkars, and animal and place names, were systematically erased. [196] [198] [199] Confiscation of Armenian assets continued into the second half of the twentieth century. [200]

The genocide reduced the Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire by 90 percent. [201] The exact number of Armenians who died is not known and is impossible to determine. [2] Both contemporaries and later historians have estimated that around 1 million Armenians perished in the genocidal campaign during World War I, [3] [202] [203] with figures ranging from 600,000 to 1.5 million deaths. [2] [3] Between 800,000 to 1.2 million Armenians were deported. [204] [205] Talaat Pasha's estimates, published in 2007, gave an incomplete total of 924,158 Armenians deported officials' notes suggest increasing this number by 30 percent. The resulting estimate of 1.2 million deported is in line with estimates by Johannes Lepsius and Arnold J. Toynbee. [206] Based on contemporary estimates, Akçam estimated that by late 1916, only 200,000 deported Armenians were still alive. [204] Death rates varied widely by province. While in Bitlis and Trabizond 99% of the Armenian population vanished from the statistical record between 1915 and 1917, in Adana 38% were missing and the others survived in another province, or were not deported at all. [207]

On 24 May 1915, the Triple Entente (Russia, Britain, and France) formally condemned the Ottoman massacres of Armenians and threatened to "hold personally responsible for those crimes all members of the Ottoman government, as well as those of its agents who will be found implicated in similar massacres". [208] This declaration was the first use of the phrase "crimes against humanity" in international diplomacy [209] it later became a category of international criminal law after World War II. [210]

The Ottoman Empire tried to prevent journalists from reporting on the atrocities [211] and threatened foreigners who photographed the atrocities. [212] Nevertheless, substantiated reports of mass killings were widely covered in Western newspapers. [213] [214] Witness testimony was published in books such as The Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire (1916) and Ambassador Morgenthau's Story (1918), which raised public awareness about the genocide. [215] The genocide was condemned by world leaders such as Woodrow Wilson, David Lloyd George, and Winston Churchill. [214] [216]

The German Empire was a military ally of the Ottoman Empire during World War I. Germany was well aware of the genocide while it was ongoing, and its failure to intervene has been a source of controversy. [217] [218]

Relief efforts were organized in dozens of countries to raise money for Armenian survivors. By 1925, people in 49 countries were organizing "Golden Rule Sundays" during which they consumed the diet of Armenian refugees, to raise money for humanitarian efforts. [219] Between 1915 and 1930, Near East Relief raised $110 million ($1.7 billion adjusted for inflation) for refugees from the Ottoman Empire. [220]

As the British Army advanced in 1917 and 1918 northwards through the Levant, they liberated around 100,000 to 150,000 Armenians working for the Ottoman military under abysmal conditions, not including those forcibly converted and held captive by Arab tribes. [221] Following the genocide, remaining Armenians organized a coordinated effort known as vorpahavak (lit. 'the gathering of orphans') to reclaim kidnapped Armenian women and children. [222] Armenian leaders abandoned traditional patrilineality to classify these children as Armenian. [223]

An orphanage in Alexandropol held 25,000 orphans, the largest number in the world. [224] In 1920, the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople reported it was caring for 100,000 orphans, estimating that another 100,000 remained captive. [225] Although the postwar Ottoman government passed laws mandating the return of stolen Armenian property, in practice, 90 percent of Armenians were barred from returning to their homes, especially in eastern Anatolia. [226]

The 1920 Treaty of Sèvres awarded Armenia a large area in eastern Anatolia, but was not ratified. [227]


Following the armistice, Allied governments championed the prosecution of war criminals. [228] Grand Vizier Damat Ferid Pasha publicly recognized that 800,000 Ottoman citizens of Armenian origin had died as a result of state policy [229] and was a key figure and initiator of the Ottoman Special Military Tribunal. [230] The courts-martial relied almost entirely on documentary evidence and sworn testimony from Muslims. [231] [232] Indictments focused on the crimes of "deportation and murder", which implicated all cabinet ministers, the army, and the CUP. [232] The court ruled that "the crime of mass murder" of Armenians was "organized and carried out by the top leaders of CUP". [233] Eighteen perpetrators were sentenced to death, of whom only three were ultimately executed as the remainder had fled and were tried in absentia. [232] [234] Prosecution was hampered by a widespread belief among Turkish Muslims that the actions against the Armenians were not punishable crimes. [140] Increasingly, the crimes were considered necessary and justified to establish a Turkish nation-state. [235]

On 31 March 1923, the nationalist movement passed a law granting immunity to CUP war criminals. [236] The treaty of Sèvres was annulled by the Treaty of Lausanne later that year, which established Turkey's current borders and provided for the Greek population's expulsion. Its minority protection provisions had no enforcement mechanism and were disregarded in practice. Historian Hans-Lukas Kieser concludes that by agreeing to the treaty, the international community implicitly sanctioned the Armenian genocide. [237] [238] On 15 March 1921, Talaat Pasha was assassinated in Berlin as part of Operation Nemesis, the 1920s covert operation of the Dashnaktsutyun to kill the perpetrators of the Armenian genocide. [239] [240] [241] The trial of his admitted killer, Soghomon Tehlirian, focused on Talaat's responsibility for genocide and became "one of the most spectacular trials of the twentieth century", according to historian Stefan Ihrig. Tehlirian was acquitted. [242] [243]

Quasi War with France

Ironically, it was revolutionary France, America’s former ally a few short years earlier, that posed the first test for the new Federal navy. While the democratic American public initially approved of the reforms taking place in Paris, opinion turned when reports filtered back of wholesale killings of men, women, and children simply because they belonged to the clergy or aristocracy, or were supporters of those classes.

In March 1794, Congress by a narrow vote authorized the country’s first naval act, directing the construction of six frigates, four 44-gun, 24 pounder frigates and two smaller 36-gun frigates for the then-colossal sum of $688,888, an amount equal to nearly 8% of government revenues. But a Republican Party-sponsored codicil in the act required that construction be halted in the event of peace with Algiers, the most militant of the Barbary States.

By 1797, President John Adams faced an intolerable situation with Revolutionary France. French warships and privateers were preying on British and American merchantman and by mid year, had taken 300 American ships. Congress, under pressure from Adams, finally voted to finish three of the six frigates closest to completion, and then established a Navy Department. By 1798, the final bill to complete the six frigates totaled $2.5 million, but the savings in insurance costs to American merchants that year was estimated at $8.6 million—a strong financial argument for the new navy! Adams, always a shrewd judge of character, appointed Benjamin Stoddert, a Revolutionary cavalry major, as the first Secretary of the Navy. Stoddert proved to be an able Secretary who quickly increased the navy to a fleet of 54 ships that within three years captured 94 French ships. During this so-called Quasi War, the frigate Constellation under Thomas Truxtun earned the first laurels of the Federal navy by defeating two French National frigates.

Digitized 1914 Passenger Lists

  • Steamship Line: Fabre Line
  • Class of Passengers: First Class
  • Date of Departure: 16 April 1914
  • Route: Special Winter Voyage from New York to the Mediterranean calling at Algiers, Naples, Villefranche and Marseilles
  • Commander: Captain Victor Bouleuc
  • Steamship Line: Atlantic Transport Line
  • Class of Passengers: First Class
  • Date of Departure: 23 May 1914
  • Route: New York to London
  • Commander: Captain E. G. Cannons
  • Steamship Line: American Line
  • Class of Passengers: Second Class
  • Date of Departure: 27 May 1914
  • Route: Southampton and Cherbourg to New York via Queenstown (Cobh)
  • Commander: Captain F. M. Passow
  • Steamship Line: Lamport & Holt Line
  • Class of Passengers: First Class
  • Date of Departure: 9 July 1914
  • Route: Buenos Aires to New York via Montevideo, Santos, Rio de Janeiro, Bahia (Salvador), Trinidad (Port of Spain), and Barbados (Bridgetown)
  • Commander: Captain A. Codogan.
  • Steamship Line: Cunard Line
  • Class of Passengers: Second Cabin
  • Date of Departure: 11 July 1914
  • Route: Liverpool to New York
  • Commander: Captain W. T. Turner, R.N.R.
  • Steamship Line: Cunard Line
  • Class of Passengers: Saloon
  • Date of Departure: 29 July 1914
  • Route: New York to Liverpool via Queenstown (Cobh) and Fishguard
  • Commander: Captain James Clayton Barr
  • Steamship Line: Lloyd Sabaudo
  • Class of Passengers: All
  • Date of Departure: 12 August 1914
  • Route: Genoa to New York
  • Commander: Captain Tiscornia
  • Steamship Line: Scandinavian America Line / Skandinavien-Amerika Linie
  • Class of Passengers: First and Second Cabin
  • Date of Departure: 13 August 1914
  • Route: Copenhagen to New York
  • Commander: Captain J. Hempel
  • Steamship Line: Cunard Line
  • Class of Passengers: Second Cabin
  • Date of Departure: 22 August 1914
  • Route: Liverpool to Boston
  • Commander: Captain D. S. Miller, R.D., R.N.R.
  • Steamship Line: Donaldson Line
  • Class of Passengers: Cabin
  • Date of Departure: 29 August 1914
  • Route: Glasgow to Quebec and Montreal
  • Commander: Captain Robert C. Brown
  • Steamship Line: Atlantic Transport Line
  • Class of Passengers: First Class
  • Date of Departure: 29 August 1914
  • Route: London to New York
  • Commander: Captain E. O. Cannons
  • Steamship Line: Cunard Line
  • Class of Passengers: Second Cabin
  • Date of Departure: 1 September 1914
  • Route: Liverpool to Boston
  • Commander: W. R. D. Irvine, R.D., R.N.R.
  • Steamship Line: Hamburg Amerika Linie / Hamburg American Line (HAPAG)
  • Class of Passengers: Surgeons and Nurses of the American Red Cross
  • Date of Departure: 13 September 1914
  • Route: New York to Falmouth, England
  • Commander: Captain Armistead Rust, U.S.N. (Retired)
  • Steamship Line: Holland-America Line
  • Class of Passengers: Cabin
  • Date of Departure: 15 October 1914
  • Route: Rotterdam to New York
  • Commander: Commodore G. Stenger
  • Steamship Line: American Line
  • Class of Passengers: Cabin
  • Date of Departure: 17 October 1914
  • Route: Liverpool to New York
  • Commander: Captain A. R. Mills
  • Steamship Line: Red Star Line
  • Class of Passengers: Second Class
  • Date of Departure: 29 October 1914
  • Route: Liverpool to New York via Queenstown (Cobh)
  • Commander: Captain J. Bradshaw
  • Steamship Line: Holland-America Line
  • Class of Passengers: First and Second Cabin
  • Date of Departure: 31 October 1914
  • Route: Rotterdam to New York
  • Commander: Captain P. Van Den Heuvel

Get A Copy

British Relief Force Sent to Antwerp

A few days earlier the British Marine Brigade (four battalions of about 2,000 men in total) and the Oxfordshire Yeomanry had arrived at the port of Dunkirk (between 19-22 September). A detachment of British armoured cars and aeroplanes already in Flanders under Commander C R Samson, RN, with cars and 50 motor buses with drivers enlisted as Marines joined this small British force. This force was intended to give the Germans the impression that they were advanced units of a larger British force heading for Antwerp to support the Belgian Field Army. On 28 September one battalion of the Marine Brigade had gone to Lille to cover the withdrawal of French Territorial units from the area as the German advance pushed westwards during the so-called “Race to the Sea”. The remainder of the British Marine Brigade (three battalions of about 1,500 men in total) had first gone to Cassel. From there they worked with French troops clearing away German advance cavalry patrols which were scouting in the area.

On 3 October the siege and bombardment of Antwerp was in its sixth day the two forts of Waelhem and Ste Catherine were in German hands, a gap in the south sector of the outer defensive ring had been forced, and the decision had been made to evacuate the Royal Court and the Belgian government. The three battalions of the British Marine Brigade began to move to Antwerp. On the same day Mr Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty, made a day visit from London to Antwerp by special train, meeting with Baron de Broqueville and King Albert. It was agreed at the meeting that:

  1. The Belgians would endeavour to defend the city for at least ten days.
  2. Within three days the British government would confirm if it would be able to send a relieving force and, if it could, when it would arrive.
  3. If the British could not offer this assurance, the Belgian government would be free to abandon the defence of Antwerp.
  4. If the Belgian Field Army was to be withdrawn the British would send troops to Ghent to cover the retirement.

On 4 October approval was given by the British government to put together a British and French force totalling about 53,000 men. The British force would comprise:

  • two naval brigades to join the British Marine Brigade already in Belgium (forming the new Royal Naval Division)
  • two newly formed divisions: 7th Division and 3rd Cavalry Division.

A French Relief Force

General Joffre, the French Commander in Chief, could not offer a force of Regular troops which were not already engaged in holding up the flanking attacks by the German Armies in their attempt to advance towards the coast. Instead the following troops were offered but they could not arrive for another 7-10 days:

It was crucial to keep a corridor open for the possible retirement of the Belgian Field Army either to the coast or south to Ghent. It was necessary to prevent it being cut off by the German advances into the southern defences of Antwerp and between Ghent and Antwerp. On 4 October the Germans made attempts to cross the Schelde River at Schoonaerde. At this same time the German Armies were gaining ground at Arras, with the capture of the important mining town of Lens on 5 October. German Cavalry units were advancing from Lille in the direction of Ypres. They already had cavalry patrols on the high ground south of Ypres on the Mont Noir and Mont des Cats. The British Expeditionary Force was beginning to leave the Aisne sector to move north but could not arrive in Belgium for another few days.

On 6 October the two naval brigades of the newly formed British Royal Naval Division, which had landed at Dunkirk on 3/4 October, did arrive in Antwerp within the three day limit to support the troops already there: the Belgian garrison, the Belgian Field Army and the British Marine Brigade.

One of the two British divisions offered by the British, the 7th Division, was, however, still underway on transport ships from Southampton. It would not arrive at Zeebrugge until 6/7 October. The 3rd Cavalry Division was not due to land at Ostend until 8 October. As per the agreement of 3 October, although more British troops were indeed on their way, the British government was not able to provide the full relief force to Antwerp city within the three days. On 6 October Lieut-General Sir Henry Rawlinson arrived in Antwerp from the Aisne by motor car to take command of the British relieving force as and when it should all be assembled in the area.

The situation at Antwerp and south of Antwerp for the Belgian Field Army was precarious. On 6 October King Albert and the Council of National Defence made a decision at 16.00 hours to withdraw immediately the greater part of the Field Army across the Schelde River to its west bank. That night the 8 forts of the inner line were occupied by Belgian fortress troops. The trenches between Forts 2 to 7 were occupied by the two British naval brigades. Three Belgian divisions crossed the Schelde to the west bank to join the two divisions already there.

In the early hours of 7 October two German battalions successfully crossed the Schelde River in boats at Schoonaerde under cover of a thick fog. Later in the day more German units followed them using a constructed pontoon bridge. The Belgian 6th Division could not defeat them. It was decided at this time to make a retreat by the Field Army to a position behind the Terneuzen Canal. King Albert moved his headquarters from Antwerp to Selzaete. The Belgian Chief of Staff requested Lieut-Gen Sir Henry Rawlinson to send any available British troops to support the Belgian brigade at Ghent. German cavalry had been reported in the area about 12 miles south of Ghent.

On 7 October the Germans captured the evacuated fort of Broechem and the Massenhoven Redoubt. German artillery was then brought forward over the Nethe River. That night at 23.25 hours the Germans gave notice that the city would be bombarded from the morning of 8 October. The German commander, General von Beseler, was under pressure from the German Supreme Command to take Antwerp and free the German units there so they could move on to assist the German advancing right wing which was now in the area of Ypres.


  1. ↑ For more see Simon House’s work on the Battle of the Ardennes, in: Krause, Jonathan (ed.): The Greater War. Other Combatants and Other Fronts, 1914-1918, Basingstoke 2014.
  2. ↑ Greenhalgh, Elizabeth: The French Army and the First World War, Cambridge 2014, p. 48.
  3. ↑ Ibid., pp. 50-51.
  4. ↑ Stevenson, David: 1914-1918. The History of the First World War, London 2012, p.76.
  5. ↑ Palat, Barthèlemy Edmond: La grande guerre sur le front occidental, Paris 1927, p. 98.
  6. ↑ Cailleteau, François: Gagner la Grande Guerre, Paris 2008, p. 102.
  7. ↑ Genevoix, Maurice: 1915. “Année Terrible”, in: Revue Historique des Armées, 21/1 (1965), p. 5.
  8. ↑ Sheffield, Gary: Forgotten Victory. The First World War. Myths and Realities, Chatham 2001, p. 125.
  9. ↑ Stevenson, David: 1914-1918, London 2012, p. 100.
  10. ↑ Krause, Jonathan: Early Trench Tactics in the French Army. The Second Battle of Artois, May-June 1915, Farnham 2013, p. 82.
  11. ↑ Doughty, Robert: Pyrrhic Victory. French Strategy and Operations in the Great War, Cambridge 2005, pp. 194-195.
  12. ↑ Von Falkenhayn, General Erich: General Headquarters 1914-1916 and its Critical Decisions, London 1919, pp. 210-211.
  13. ↑ Ousby, Ian: The Road to Verdun. France, Nationalism, and the First World War, London 2002, p. 40.
  14. ↑ For more see: Lielivicius, Vejas: War Land on the Eastern Front. Culture, National Identity, and German Occupation in World War I, Cambridge 2000 Sanborn, Joshua: Imperial Apocalypse. The Great War and the Destruction of the Russian Empire, Oxford 2014.
  15. ↑ This, at least, is the traditional explanation for Falkenhayn’s thinking behind the attack on Verdun. Recently, Paul Jankowski has argued that Falkenhayn’s concept of an “attritional battle” was invented after the fact as an excuse for operational failure. He notes that the famous Christmas memorandum in which Falkenhayn told the Kaiser of his plan to “bleed France white” has never actually been found and is thus perhaps falsified by Falkenhayn in his memoirs. For more see: Foley, Robert T.: German Strategy and the Path to Verdun. Erich von Falkenhayn and the Development of Attrition, 1870-1916, Cambridge 2005 Jankowski, Paul: Verdun. The Longest Battle of the Great War, Oxford 2013.
  16. ↑ Horne, Alistair: The Price of Glory. Verdun 1916, London 1962, p. 229.
  17. ↑ Denizot, Alain: Verdun 1914-1918, Paris 1996, p. 85.
  18. ↑ Sheffield, Forgotten Victory 2001, pp. 161-2.
  19. ↑ Bourne, John/Sheffield, Gary: Douglas Haig War Diaries and Letters 1914-1918, London 2005, p. 187.
  20. ↑ Philpott, William: Bloody Victory. The Sacrifice on the Somme and the Making of the Twentieth Century, London 2009, p. 80.
  21. ↑ Ibid., p. 106.
  22. ↑ Prior, Robin/Wilson, Trevor: Command on the Western Front. The Military Career of Sir Henry Rawlinson 1914-1918, Barnsley 2004, p. 146.
  23. ↑ Bourne/Sheffield, Douglas Haig War Diaries and Letters 2005, p. 184.
  24. ↑ Philpott, Bloody Victory 2009, p. 175.
  25. ↑ Ibid., p. 191.
  26. ↑ Ibid., p. 192.
  27. ↑ Ibid., p. 196.
  28. ↑ Cailleteau, Gagner la Grande Guerre 2008, p. 108.
  29. ↑ Sheffield, Forgotten Victory 2001, pp. 188-9.
  30. ↑ Cailleteau, Gagner la Grande Guerre 2008, p. 102.
  31. ↑ Foley, Robert T., German Strategy and the Path to Verdun: Erich von Falkenhayn and the Development of Attrition, 1870-1916, Cambridge 2005, p. 185.
  32. ↑ Doughty, Pyrrhic Victory 2005, pp. 299.
  33. ↑ Gale, Tim: The French Army’s Tank Force and Armoured Warfare in the Great War. The Artillerie Spéciale, Farnham 2013, p. 37.
  34. ↑ Ibid., p. 38.
  35. ↑ Doughty, Pyrrhic Victory 2005, p. 345.
  36. ↑ Pedroncini, Guy: Les Mutineries de 1917, Paris 1967, p. 57.
  37. ↑ Rolland, Denis: Le Grève des Tranchées. Les mutineries de 1917, Paris 2005, p. 365.
  38. ↑ Carré, Lt.-Colonel Henri: Les Grandes Heures du Général Pétain 1917 et la Crise du Morale, Le Mans 1952, p. 133.
  39. ↑ Rolland, Le Grève des Tranchées 2005, p. 363.
  40. ↑ Marble, Sanders: British Artillery on the Western Front in the First World War, Farnham 2013, p. 183.
  41. ↑ Sheffield, Forgotten Victory 2001, pp. 204-5.
  42. ↑ Hammond, Bryn: Cambrai 1917. The Myth of the First Great Tank Battle, London 2008, p. 429.
  43. ↑ Zabecki, David T.: The German 1918 Offensives. A Case Study in the Operational Level of War, London 2006, pp. 77-79.
  44. ↑ Ibid., pp. 138-140.
  45. ↑ Bruce, Robert B.: Pétain. Verdun to Vichy, Washington D.C. 2008, p. 60.
  46. ↑ Zabecki, The German 1918 Offensives 2006, p. 233.
  47. ↑ Bruce, Robert B.: A Fraternity of Arms. America and France in the Great War, Lawrence, Kansas 2003, p. 189.
  48. ↑ Ibid., p. 192.
  49. ↑ Greenhalgh, Elizabeth: Foch in Command. The Forging of a First World War General, Cambridge 2011, pp. 214-217.
  50. ↑ Bruce, A Fraternity of Arms 2003, p. 222.
  51. ↑ Lloyd, Nick: Hundred Days. The End of the Great War, London 2013, p. 75.
  52. ↑ Greenhalgh, Foch in Command 2011, p. 396.
  53. ↑ Bruce, Pétain 2008, p. 66.
  54. ↑ Neiberg, Michael: The Second Battle of the Marne, Indianapolis 2008, p. 117.
  55. ↑ Boff, Jonathan: Winning and Losing on the Western Front. The British Third Army and the Defeat of Germany in 1918, Cambridge 2012, p. 24.
  56. ↑ Ibid.
  57. ↑ For more see: Watson, Alexander: Enduring the Great War. Combat, Morale, and Collapse in the German and British Armies, 1914-1918, Cambridge 2008.
  58. ↑ Lloyd, Hundred Days 2013, pp. 256-259.

Watch the video: First Battle of Ypres in the Great War (January 2022).