The First World War was a conflict like no other, unprecedented in the history of warfare
to that point. From 1914-1918, Europes largest empires fought a new kind of war with
modern weapons, masses of troops and huge death tolls.
There were many, many important battles, big and small, during the great war, but today
were going to give you IWM's top 10.
So without any further ado, in no particular order, here are the top 10 most important
battles of the First World War. Were not going to rank them, but you can in the comments
First up we have the First Battle of the Marne.
This came right at the start of the First World War. Germany was hoping to avoid fighting
on two fronts by knocking France out of the war first and then turning to Russia.
After initial German offensive success, the British and French then withdrew to the river
Marne in what is now known as the Great Retreat. They were able to hold the Germans there,
who didnt have enough reinforcements to continue the push. Then, in early September,
the French and British launched a counter-offensive and after several days of bitter fighting,
the Germans were forced to retreat.
That German failure to quickly defeat the Allies scuppered their plans. Though the Battle
of Tannenberg in the east against the Russians had been a success, the combination meant
that the war would not be over anytime soon.
The battle also marked the end of mobile warfare on theWestern Front.
The terrible casualties sustained out in the open meant that soldiers began to dig trenches,
which would come to dominate theWestern Frontuntil 1918.
Next up is Gallipoli. Now, this was the land-based part of a larger strategy to allow Allied
ships to capture Constantinople and knock Ottoman Turkey out of the war. But those lofty
goals would not be met.
The first Allied landings were easily contained by Ottoman troops with a stalemate quickly
setting in, most famously at Anzac Cove where Australian and New Zealand troops were based.
In the summer heat casualties mounted heavily. Sickness was rampant, food quickly became
inedible and there were vast swarms of black flies everywhere. Later a new assault was
launched at Sulva bay, but this too failed and stalemate quickly returned. In December,
it was finally decided to evacuate.
Gallipoli would become a defining moment in the history of both Australia and New Zealand,
revealing traits that both countries have used to define themselves ever since. For
the Ottomans, it was a brief respite in the decline of their empire. But through the emergence
ofAtatrk who lead the Ottoman defence, it also laid the foundations of modern Turkey.
Next up we have The Battle of Jutland, the largest naval battle of the First World War.
It was also the only time that the British and German fleets dreadnoughts actually came
The German High Seas Fleet hoped to ambush the Royal Navy in the North Sea. But the British
were warned by their codebreakers and put their forces to sea early.
Jutlandwas a confused and bloody action involving 250 ships and around 100,000 men.
The Germans damaged one flagship, HMSLion, and sank HMSIndefatigable, HMSQueen Mary
and HMS Invincible when shells hit their ammunition magazines.When the main British fleet arrived
though, the outgunned Germans turned for home.
The British lost 14 ships and over 6,000 men but were ready for action the next day. The
Germans had lost just 11 ships but would never again seriously challenged British control
of the North Sea and that allowed Britain to implement theblockadethat would contribute
to German defeat in 1918.
Next up we have the longest battle of theFirst World War: The Battle of Verdun.
It began with a ten-hour German bombardment of the fortifications around the town, with
the largest fort at Douaumont falling to the German within five days, but casualties quickly
mounted after that.
In the summer, the Germans troops were moved away to cope with British and Russians offensives
elsewhere, allowing France to retake the lost ground. Through the careful management of
their army, and the resilience of their troops, France secured a defensive victory before
the years end.
430,000 German and 550,000 French were killed or wounded in the battle. The trauma of this
loss not only affected French decision-making, but it had a lasting effect on the French
The attack at Verdun had drastically reduced the number of French troops available. Meaning
Britain and its Empire would have to lead the 'Big Push' on theWestern Front.
Next is one you knew would be on this list, The Battle of the Somme. For many in Britain,
it's one of the most painful and infamous episodes of theFirst World War.
The pressure on the French at Verdun throughout
1916 made action on the Somme increasingly urgent, but despite a seven-day bombardment
before the attack on 1 July, the British did not achieve the quick breakthrough they were
aiming for and the Somme quickly became a deadlocked battle of attrition.
Over the next 141 days, the British advanced
a maximum of seven miles. British casualties on the first day alone numbering over
57,000 make itthe bloodiest dayin British military history.
The Somme, like Verdun for the French, has
a prominent place in British history coming to represent the loss and apparent futility
of the war. But the Allied offensive on the Somme was a strategic necessity fought to
meet the needs of an international alliance. It also, as the first outing of the Tank,
taught British commanders important lessons that would contribute to eventual Allied victory
Next we're heading to Russia for The Brusilov Offensive. This would be the most successful
Russian operation and one of the most successful breakthrough offensives of
theFirst World War.
Named after the Russian commanderwho led it, the attack used short, sharp artillery
bombardments and shock troops to exploit weak points, which helped return an element of
surprise to the attack.
The Russian attack drew Austro-Hungarian forces away from the Italian Front and put increased
pressure on the already strained and increasingly demoralised Austro-Hungarian Army.That meant
Germany was forced to redirect troops to the Eastern Front in support of its ally. Austria-Hungary
would only become more dependant on Germany as the war went on.
For the Russians, they were never able to
duplicate Brusilov's success. It was their last major offensive of the war and actually
led to an overall weakening both militarily and politically of the country. Leading
to revolution and eventually the total collapse of the Russian Army.
Next, we have a battle that has come to symbolise the horrors associated with thewar on the
Western Front. It is frequently known by the name of the village where it culminated Passchendaele.
By 1917 British troops were suffering steady
casualties there, holding a salient surrounded by higher ground.Theyplanned to break
out of this poor position and, by capturing an important railway junction , undermine
the whole German position in Flanders.
A preliminary operation to seize the Messines Ridge was a dramatic success, but the Germans
had reinforced their position by the time the main battle was launched on 31 July. Initial
attacks failed due to over-ambitious plans and unseasonal rain that created incredibly
Although the Canadians finally captured Passchendaele ridge on 10 November, the vital railway still
lay five miles away and the offensive was called off.
Many soldiers felt utterly demoralised and the government's confidence in Haig hit a
low point. Both sides had suffered heavy casualties, but the British Expeditionary Force (BEF)
had made no strategic gain.
Next up we have the German Spring Offensives, a calculated gamble for Germany trying to
tip the balance on theWestern Frontonce and for all.
After the defeat of Russia, Germany had concentrated
all of its resources on the Western Front, while facing them were weary Allied forces
that had been on the offensive for 3 years. They were met with a huge concentration of
German artillery,gas, smoke and infantry who achieved unprecedented gains measured
in miles rather than yards.
But in the face of the onslaught, the Allied line bent but did not break. The fighting
became uncharacteristically open as isolated pockets of defenders attempted to slow the
German advance. In fact, Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig issued a special order of the
day using the phrase 'Backs to the Wall' to sum up the desperate but determined fighting.
Whilstthe German offensiveswere tactical
successes, they were astrategic failures. The advances had no decisive goal other than
to punch a hole in the Allied line, primarily targeting the British. German casualties were
high, particularly amongst their best units and when the Allies appointedMarshal Ferdinand
Fochto co-ordinate the defence, the tide began to turn and by early summer the German
offensives had ground to a halt.
9. BATTLE OF AMIENS The Battle of Amiens heralded the start of
the Hundred Days campaign. After surviving the German Spring Offensives, Allied forces
launched a counter-punch of their own and from the summer of 1918 onwards, they were
constantly on the advance.
Through the harsh experiences of the past the Allies had developed new tactics, combining
scientific artillery methods and flexible infantry firepower with the use of tanks and
aircraft. These combined arms methods were to form a blueprint for wars of future.
The Battle of Amiens opened on 8 August and on that first day the British made gains of
seven miles. German General Erich Ludendorff described it as the 'black day' of the German
Army. But unlike offensives of the past, the Allies knew when to stop. After four days
of fighting atAmiensthe battle was halted, with a fresh offensive launched elsewhere.
Although casualties were high, the gains were
decisive. By November the German Army could fight no longer. The Hundred Days was an impressive
feat of arms thatled to Allied victory.
And finally, we have the Battle of Megiddo which marked the beginning of the final offensive
in theSinai and Palestine Campaign.
The offensive opened with an intense but brief artillery bombardment. British and Commonwealth
forces quickly broke through the battered Ottoman lines with an advance of over 30km
on the first day. The Desert Mounted Corps then quickly pushed through gaps and managed
to encircle the Ottoman troops. The 7th and 8th Armies collapsed under the pressure of
the attack, surrendering in their tens of thousands.
Victory at Megiddo opened the way to Damascus,
which Australian troops entered on 1 October. In the weeks that followed, the Allies captured
more strategically important towns. Finally forcing the OTtomans to sue for peace on the
30th of October.
So there you have it, thats our top 10 most important battles of the First World
War. Lets us know whats your ranking? Which was the most important? Or did we miss one
that you think really matters? Let us know in the comments below!
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