Battles Abroad

Amiens,1918. APC and soldiersspacer

The Players

However, the near stagnation of movement on the Western Front between the end of 1914 and the German breakthrough in March 1918 was not reflected elsewhere. The 1914-1918 War eventually involved over twenty nations as belligerence and fighting took place in many distant corners of the earth--in Macedonia, Mesopotamia and East Africa, for example. By far the most ambitious of these so-called 'sideshows' was in the Dardanelles, Turkey.

The amphibious landing by British (with a battalion from Newfoundland), French, Anzac and Indian troops took place on the Gallipoli Peninsula in April 1915. Although ostensibly aimed at capturing Constantinople (now Istanbul) it was partly a response to Russia's appeal for some action to distract a new enemy--Turkey--and gain an ice-free access to Russia. The Allied landings were made with great gallantry, the Lancashire Fusiliers earning 'six VC's before breakfast'; the Australian and New Zealand troops in particular made their mark at Gallipoli, where so many of them were to fight and die half a world away from their homelands.

Troops move to attackspacer

The First Battles

Trapped on narrow beaches below cliffs that commanded the entire landing area and unable to move inland, the Allied force held on desperately throughout the entire summer. The fierce Turks were able to bring batteries of guns and machine guns to bear on the invaders below, who fought with their backs to the sea, burrowing as best they could into the rocks and sand. The Gallipoli Peninsula Campaign ended, its objects unattained, with the evacuation of the Anzacs in December 1915 and the British in January 1916.

The French and British also landed at Salonika, Greece, to support Serbia and counter Bulgaria. Despite much bitter fighting, very little strategic gain was made by opening this new front and it tied up over half a million troops (they were nicknamed the 'Gardeners of Salonika' by Clemenceau) who might have been better employed elsewhere.

There was perhaps more understandable logic in military operations aimed at defeating Turkey in Mesopotamia (now Iraq) and in Palestine (now Israel). While Colonel T. E. Lawrence ('Lawrence of Arabia') united and led the desert Arabs in a guerrilla war against the Turks, a conventional British and Australian army pushed north from the Suez Canal eventually to free Palestine.

Troops resting in a trench spacer

Things did not go so well at first in Mesopotamia where a British and Indian force surrendered after months of siege at Kut-al-Amara; its men died in great numbers as prisoners of war. However, by late 1917 Britain had taken Baghdad and driven the Ottoman forces out of Mesopotamia, which led to the eventual total defeat of Turkey and freedom for Middle East people from centuries of despotic rule.

British troops were also sent to northern Italy to help bolster the Italian fight against Austria, though these were men who could be ill-spared from the Western Front. The widespread French Army mutinies of 1917 had caused British and Commonwealth troops to take on an even heavier burden of fighting there, and during the year they had fought great battles, including those of Arras (which included the capture of Vimy Ridge), Messines and Third Ypres. It was these troops who eventually halted the spectacular German advance which started in March 1918 and drove the German forces back to the line which they held when the Armistice was signed on 11th November 1918. On that day the Emperor of Austria-Hungary abdicated, as had Kaiser Wilhelm a few days before.

Dead German soldier spacer

A Glimpse at the End

By then revolution had broken out in Germany and the High Seas Fleet mutinied at Kiel. However, later stories about the collapse of German civilian morale 'stabbing Germany's soldiers in the back' simply do not bear close examination. The principal reason for the defeat of Germany was the tenacity and dogged courage of the British and Commonwealth troops and their astonishing advance in the last 100 days of the war. The USA declared war on Germany in April 1917 but did not have an effective army in France until over a year later. In time, US General John J. Pershing commanded over one and a half million troops whose presence was of enormous help to Allied morale. When their opportunity finally came Americans were able to demonstrate their valour in battle in the Meuse-Argonne, where they suffered 100,000 casualties during four weeks' fighting. Other battles were ahead for the Americans during the closing three months of the war, in which they lost a total of over 50,000 either killed or who died of wounds.

spacer The text on this page has been taken from Courage Remembered, by Kingsley Ward and Major Edwin Gibson.

World War I--A Brief History | World War II--A Brief History

spacer IndexHistoryWar Graves CommissionVeteransCredits