Posts Tagged ‘the great war’
Calling all History teachers! Don’t let this week go by without talking to your students about World War I. This Thursday, April 6, marks the 100th anniversary of the United States’ declaration of war on Germany. On April 2nd, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson had asked Congress for the declaration, stating that it would be a “war to end all wars” and that it would “make the world safe for democracy.” All-out war had been raging in Europe since August 1914. Wilson had kept America out of the fighting, even after the sinking of the Lusitania in May 1915, which had 128 Americans on board. Germany had resumed unrestricted submarine (U-Boat) warfare on all commercial ships heading toward Britain. In addition, British Intelligence intercepted a secret German diplomatic communication, called the Zimmermann Telegram, which proposed a military alliance between Germany and Mexico. These events, plus the fact that the United States had loaned massive amounts of money to the allies and feared it would not get that money back if the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria) won, tipped the scales in favor of war.
The Selective Service Act was signed May 18, 1917. In the United States, over 9-and-a half million men, ages 21 to 31, signed up at their local draft boards. One of those men was my grandfather, Thomas Young Mason. Tom was a 30-year-old farmer from Logan County, Kentucky, when he signed his draft card on June 5, 1917. The reason I know this is because I found a copy of his draft card while searching AncestryLibrary.com, available via ProQuest. I was surprised at how easy it was to find information about my grandfather. I can’t say that I know a lot about his time during the Great War. He died years before I was born, and my family never was much for telling war stories. I do, however, have some nice photographs of him in his WWI uniform. I also have, at home in my basement, the very hat he was wearing in those photos.
My grandfather was one of the lucky ones who made it home from the War. Europeans bore the brunt of the casualties with 9 million military men killed and over 30 million wounded. World War I was one of the most tragic events in modern world history, and the “peace” that was reached at its end led directly to the Second World War.
eLibrary has many resources teachers can use to explain this momentous time in world History. A really good high school lesson plan called “Wilson & American Entry into World War I” can be found at EDSITEment!, a National Endowment for the Humanities website. While you and your students are conducting research on this topic, don’t forget to check out ProQuest’s awesome Trench Journals and Unit Magazines of the First World War, a digital collection of writings produced near the trenches and on the home front. During this 100th anniversary of the United States’ entry into World War I, it might be a good idea to take some time out from your regular class assignments and get your students involved in a discussion on this timely topic. One idea would be to have your class watch the American Experience documentary “The Great War,” which premieres on PBS April 10.
While Woodrow Wilson often gets credit for the phrase “the war to end all wars,” delivered during his April 1917 speech before Congress, many historians assume that he got the idea from a 1914 book by H.G. Wells entitled “The War That Will End War.”
The United States officially declared war on Austria-Hungary on December 7, 1917. Twenty-four years later, on December 7, 1941, FDR asked Congress for a declaration of war against the Empire of Japan, marking America’s entry into World War II.
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One could say that the World War I Battle of Jutland (May 31-June 1, 1916) actually began way back in 1906. In that year, the British Royal Navy launched the HMS Dreadnought, a battleship so awesome that it revolutionized naval warfare and sea power overnight. Germany, not wanting to be outdone by Great Britain, began rolling out its own Dreadnoughts, intensifying a naval arms race between the two countries. They had to wait 10 years before they would encounter each other in an actual naval battle. The First World War was already into its second year when Sir John Jellicoe of the Royal Navy’s Grand Fleet received intelligence that the German High Seas Fleet, under command of Admiral Reinhard von Scheer, was steaming into the North Sea.
The two opposing fleets met near the coast of Denmark’s Jutland Peninsula on May 31, 1916. The British had superiority in numbers with 151 warships against 99 German vessels. Germany, however, took the early advantage. In quick succession, both the Royal Navy’s Queen Mary and the Indefatigable were destroyed. Out of a 1,275-man crew, only 9 sailors survived the sinking of the Queen Mary, while only 2 sailors from the 1,019-man crew of the Indefatigable were rescued. Later on, the tide of the battle turned, and Germany was on the defensive. As day broke on June 1, the German fleet had slipped past Jellicoe and the battle was over. Both sides claimed victory, but the Royal Navy still maintained naval superiority with 24 battleships ready to sail, while Germany only had 10 that were seaworthy. In all, England lost 6,094 sailors while Germany lost 2,551. In the wake of Jutland, Scheer pressed for the resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare against the British blockade.
No tale of the Battle of Jutland would be complete without mentioning “Jutland” Jack Cornwell. He was posthumously awarded Britain’s highest medal for outstanding bravery. Jack was a 16-year-old seaman aboard the HMS Chester. On the first day of the battle, his ship came under intense fire from four German cruisers. Cornwell was mortally wounded by exploding shells, but remained with his gun crew. Later, medics arrived on deck to find Jack the sole survivor at his gun, shards of steel embedded in his chest, looking through the gun sights and still waiting for orders. He died the next day. Jack’s mother received his Victoria Cross for heroism personally from King George V.
Don’t forget to check out ProQuest’s Trench Journals and Unit Magazines of the First World War, an unprecedented digital collection of a vast body of writing, by and for the serving men and women of every combatant nation, that has lain hidden in libraries and archives around the world, until now.
February 21, 2016, marked the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the bloodiest battle in world history. After the First Battle of the Marne, where Kaiser Wilhelm’s armies almost reached the gates of Paris before being repulsed, Germany remained on the defensive behind an almost impregnable line of trenches while the French and British threw themselves in vain against it at a staggering cost in lives. Only once did the Germans deviate from this strategy, and that was at Verdun. In terms of the armies involved, the Battle of Verdun began as a relatively “small affair,” but quickly turned into an epic “Blutbad.” This “grimmest battle in all that grim war” is now considered to be the longest battle of all time (303 days) and gained the reputation of being the battlefield with the highest density of dead per square yard that has ever been known. Before this battle, Germany had a chance of winning the war. When it was over, neither the French nor the German armies were the same. The battle, midway between the beginning of the Great War in 1914 and the Armistice in 1918, marked a turning point.
Compared to the casualties in our modern wars (Vietnam and both Iraq wars, for instance), the numbers of injuries and deaths from just this one battle are almost unimaginable. Estimates from after the war found a total of over 700,000 casualties (377,000 French and 337,000 German), an average of 70,000 casualties for each month of the battle. More recent estimates place the overall casualty number at 976,000. Verdun, located near the Meuse in France, was of great historical and military significance to the French. German commander Erich von Falkenhayn’s aim of the campaign (code-named “Judgement”) was to bleed the French army dry at Verdun and capture Fort Douaumont and Fort Vaux. French Commander-in-Chief Joseph Joffre issued a statement noting that any commander who gave ground to the advancing Germans would be court-martialed. Pledging to Joffre that the Germans “shall not pass,” General Henri Philippe Petain took personal control of the defense. He also created an effective supply route, designing a 50-mile road that ferried troops and ammunition to the Verdun battlefield. This became known to the French as the “la Voie Sacree,” the Sacred Road.
The casualties from Verdun and the impact of the battle on the French army was the primary reason the British initiated the Battle of the Somme in July 1916. By the end of October 1916, the French had re-captured the two forts at Vaux and Douaumont, but the surrounding countryside where the battle had been fought since February was a wasteland. The only real effect of the battle (which ended December 18, 1916) was the depletion of both armies. After the loss of nearly 1 million men, no tactical or strategic advantage was gained by either side.
This February, use the many resources in eLibrary to research this grim but fascinating period in world history.
Teaching Tip: In conjunction with eLibrary resources, teachers could also use the great WWI film “Paths of Glory“ (1957). Directed by Stanley Kubrick and starring Kirk Douglas, this film more than even “All Quiet on the Western Front” shows the senseless brutality witnessed on the Western Front.
When the Great War erupted in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson pledged neutrality for the United States. As a result, many in the German high command jokingly referred to Wilson as “The Great Neutral.” In February 1915, Germany declared a submarine blockade of Great Britain. Any ship approaching England would be considered a legitimate military target. Britain was one of America’s closest trading partners, so tension soon arose between the U.S. and Germany over the blockade.
In early May 1915, several New York newspapers published a warning that Americans traveling on British or Allied ships in war zones did so at their own risk. The announcement coincided with an advertisement of the sailing of the RMS Lusitania from New York back to Liverpool. The British Admiralty warned the Lusitania to avoid the south coast of Ireland and to take evasive action in the area. Apparently, the captain of the Lusitania, William Turner, ignored those warnings.
At 2:10 p.m. on May 7, 1915, Kapitanleutnant Walther Schwieger, commander of the German U-20, was patrolling off the coast of Queenstown, Ireland when he spotted a huge “four-stacker” in his sites. The 32,000-ton Lusitania was hit by one exploding torpedo on its starboard side. The blast was followed by a larger explosion (maybe one of the ship’s boilers), and the ship sank in less than 20 minutes. Of the more than 1,900 passengers and crew aboard, more than 1,190 died, including 123 Americans.
The sinking of the Lusitania played a significant role in turning public opinion in the U.S. against Germany. It also marked the end of any delusions that so-called “civilized warfare” would survive into the 20th Century. It would be almost another two years before Wilson allowed America to formally enter the war.
Historic Ships (Topic Search)
Journal of Military History (Scholarly Journal)
Military History (Magazine)
The Reader’s Companion to Military History (Reference Book)
U.S. History (Anthology)
World War I: A History in Documents (Reference Book)
By December of 1914, World War I had already turned into a horrific war of attrition. French, Belgian and British forces faced off against German soldiers along the Western front. The stalemate led to both sides digging a maze-like network of trenches that stretched for hundreds of miles across the French and Belgian countryside.
On Christmas Eve, 1914, the guns along many areas of the front fell silent. Stories differ as to how the truces began, but many witnesses said that French soldiers saw lighted trees from the German trenches. Then they began to hear songs, particularly “Stille Nacht.” British & French troops replied with their own versions of “Silent Night.”
Eventually, unarmed German soldiers walked out into the area between the trenches known as “No-Man’s Land.” Seeing that it was not a trap, French, British and Belgian soldiers began to do the same. Both sides met out in No-Man’s Land and shook hands, exchanged gifts of tobacco, food and personal mementos. There are stories of impromptu soccer games being played. Both sides also took this time to bury their dead, and joint burial services were held.
The truce lasted all night and throughout Christmas Day and in some places until New Year’s Day. After a week, the shooting resumed with 6,000 deaths each day for the next 46 months. There were no more Christmas Truces for the rest of the war. Generals on both sides issued strict orders to prevent them.
Find out more about the Christmas Truce of 1914 and other World War I topics in eLibrary.
In August 1914, Germany invaded Belgium and the northern part of France. According to its Schlieffen Plan, Germany would sweep down through Belgium into France, delivering a knock-out blow to France in only six weeks. Then Germany planned to turn its attention to Russia in the East.
The German army stormed within 30 miles of Paris. As the Germans neared the city, Paris prepared for a siege. French Commander-in-Chief Joseph Joffre ordered a counter-offensive strike beginning on the morning of September 6. The counter-attack, along France’s Marne River, created a 30-mile-wide gap in the German lines. The Allies sent troops from the British Expeditionary Force to join the French Army in pouring through the gap. On September 7, over 6,000 French reserve infantry troops were driven from Paris to the front lines in streams of taxi cabs.
On September 9, the German armies began a retreat. Casualties were heavy. The outcome of the battle was that Paris was saved and the German advance was brought to a halt, but a tactical deadlock and trench warfare ensued, which would take more than 4 years and millions of lives to break.
The legacy of the battle was perhaps best summed up by Barbara W. Tuchman in her Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “The Guns of August”:
“The Battle of the Marne was one of the decisive battles of the world not because it determined that Germany would ultimately lose or the Allies ultimately win the war but because it determined that the war would go on. There was no looking back, Joffre told the soldiers on the eve. Afterward, there was no turning back.”
You can learn more about the Battle of the Marne and other World War I topics during this 100th anniversary of the beginning of the “Great War” by searching the many eLibrary resources that are available.
Sir Edward Grey, Foreign Secretary for Great Britain, was very nearly right when he made this apocalyptic comment in 1914.
On June 28, 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, and his wife Sophie were on their way to the Austrian governor’s residence in Sarajevo, Bosnia, when a grenade was thrown at the Archduke’s car. The bomb exploded under a trailing automobile, killing two army officers. 45 minutes later, Ferdinand and Sophie left to visit an officer injured by the bomb. On their way to the hospital, their car took a wrong turn. Gavrilo Princip, a member of the Black Hand Society, stepped out of a crowd and shot Sophie in the stomach, killing her almost instantly. He then shot Ferdinand in the neck. The Archduke died 10 minutes later.
Bosnia had been part of Austria–Hungary since 1908, but it was claimed by neighboring Serbia. Austria-Hungary blamed Serbia for the assassination, and declared war on July 28. This Balkan war quickly escalated into a European war: Russia supported Serbia; Germany supported Austria-Hungary; France supported Russia; Germany invaded Belgium, causing Great Britain to enter the war in support of Belgium. The “Great War” had begun.
What was to be the “War to End All Wars” ended up leading to the Second World War. The harsh terms dictated to Germany in the Treaty of Versailles led to the rise of Adolph Hitler and the Nazi Party in Germany in the 1930s.
eLibrary has a wealth of resources about the causes of World War I and its aftermath. You can search eLibrary’s Research Topics for information relating to World War One, as well as other resources, such as World War I: A History in Documents and articles relating to the Great War in Military History magazine. The 100th anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and the beginning of World War One would be a great time to introduce students to this transformative period in world history.