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World War I - The Major Battles - 1914 to 1916

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There were ten major conflicts during the almost four years of fighting. Though there were many smaller areas of fighting, they were usually connected, either preceding or succeeding, one of the major battles. this page will discuss five of them.

The Battle of Galicia (Lemberg)

23 August to 11 September 1914: The initial conflicts were based around Austria-Hungary invading Serbia and involving Russia. The Battle of Galicia, also known as the Battle of Lemberg, was a majo battle between Russia and Austria-Hungary during the early stages in 1914. The battle raged for twenty days.

In the course of the battle, the Austro-Hungarian armies were severely defeated and forced out of Galicia, while the Russians captured Lemberg and, for approximately nine months, ruled Eastern Galicia until their defeat at Gorlice and Tarnów.

The battles of Gorlice and Tarnow were originally planned by Germany to take pressure off the Austro-Hungarian troops on the Eastern Front after their defeat at Galicia. It was planned as a minor offensive, but soon escalated into a major battle. The Russian forces were defeated and forced back into Russian territory.

The Battle of the Marne

6 July through 12 July 1914: The first battle of the Marne raged for seven days.

When the Germans invaded Belgium there was little or no resistance and they breezed through entering northern France very quickly. They advanced to less than 30 miles north of Paris. The Germans had planned to have a complete victory on the Western Front, expecting to take Paris almost immediately thereby forcing the French to capitulate.

While the Germans had expected little resistance, the French and British had other plans. Their counterattacked along the Marne River was extensive and well-coordinated. The counterattack was so strong it drove the Germans Wehrmacht back to the Aisne River, 40 miles north and west of the Marne.

Gorlice-Tarnów Offensive

May through October 1915: Russia was putting great pressure on the Austro-Hungarian forces on the Eastern Front. The Gorlice-Tarnów Offensive was intended only to relieve that pressure. It was to be a minor offensive Instead, it lasted for six months, creating a complete route of Russian troops, forcing them deep into Russia.

The Russian army was no match for the Germans and a major route ensued. The campaign ended when Russian troops received help from an ally, Mother Nature. October was the start of the severe Russian winter. This was the same ally that defeated Napoleon a century earlier.

The Battle of Verdun

21 February to 18 December 1916: The battle was the longest battle of the war; 9 months, 3 weeks, and 6 days long. Estimates of casualties set the French losses at approximately 377,000, while the Germans lost 337, 000. The average monthly loss of lives was estimated at 71,000

Verdun, because of its strategic location on the Meuse River, was an important target for the Germans.

The French Second Army, under the leadership of General Phillippe Petain, was situated on the east bank of the Meuse. General Petain ordered that there would be no retreat. All German attacks would be repulsed, and counter attacked. Even though the French fought hard, a major fort in the area, Fort Douaumont, and a smaller fort, Fort Vaux, were captured by the Germans very early in the campaign. Because the fort was on top of a hill, it gave the German artillery an advantage in shelling the French positions.

The French also had artillery. Firing across the river, they bombarded the German lines causing massive casualties and destruction of equipment. Their counter attacks against Fort Douaumont and Fort Vaux were successful.

The Germans advanced toward the town of Fleury-devant-Douaumont, capturing the town in June. The town changed hands sixteen times over the next month.

Brusilov Offensive

4 June to September 1916: This offensive, also called the ‚ÄúJune Advance‚ÄĚ was perhaps Russia‚Äôs greatest victory during the war. The Russians attacked Germany and her ally Austria-Hungary on the Eastern Front. It was a defeat from which Austria-Hungary never recovered.

The Russians was led by General Aleksei Brusilov, who led his troops through territory that is now the Ukraine, near the towns of Lviv, Kovel and Lutsk. Though not considered a great military strategist, Brusilov was a man of common sense with the ability to learn from the past.

He also had troops who were experienced fighters and who had recovered quickly from the battles of Gorlice-Tarnów. Many of the Russian generals felt that there was futility in an offensive at that time, Brusilov prevailed. He felt that proper preparation and surprise would bring success.

To prepare his men, they were trained in terrain the was identical to the positions they were to attack. Brusilov also used intelligence acquired by reconnaissance from the air. Maintaining strict secrecy, the Russians were able to surprise and defeat the German army.

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