Nouvel équipement de tir
sur laSomme en 1916
source : ECPAD
Une unité de volontaires
de la Cavalerie
au cours d'un bivouac,
devant Damas, Syrie, en 1918
World War Museum
World War I : 1914-1918
First World War, from 1914 to 1918, was first of all a European
conflict, which subsequently became internationalized, with
Germany and her ally, Austria–Hungary, joined by Turkey
and Bulgaria, on the one hand and :
• France, Great Britain and her Dominions, Russia, Belgium, joined
by Japan, Italy, Portugal and Romania, as well as the United
States, Greece, China and various South American States
on the other.
The German Assault
The war began in France by an offensive of German divisions,
who, after having invaded Belgium, and backed by powerful
artillery, thronged the northern provinces with the aim of « bleeding »the
French army in just a few weeks, in a blitz.
This was calculating without taking into consideration
General Foch’s might and the fierce courage of the
« They mustn’t penetrate! »
Foch, with the assistance of General Joffre and General
Gallieni, backed by British and Belgian troops,
successfully stopped the German offensive on the Aisne
and the Marne.
An immense 750-kilometre long front, stretching from Switzerland
to the North Sea was then established. Attempts of counter
attacks were made in Champagne and Artois, which only inflicted
heavy casualties on the French troops.
The face of the war changed into one of attrition:
with enthusiasm, the soldiers left for a "fresh and
joyful" war but before long were digging trenches to
bury themselves one after the other. In mud and cold they
lived the daily horrible scenes of war. French and British
counter attacks were once again launched in various areas:
on the Somme, at Ypres and Cambrai. Breaking through turned
out to be impossible and every attempt ended up in great
loss in human lives. Several American divisions came in to
back up the French-British operation.
The German army,
of international conventions,
used suffocating chlorine
and mustard gases to bomb cities
like Reims, causing
many civilian casualties.
get them! »
During the Verdun battle, tens of thousands
of shells poured down on the soldiers, creating several square
kilometres of crater area, where life was completely exterminated.
Just this apocalyptic battle ground alone claimed 500 000
French and German lives…
A night shelling scene...
While various campaigns of
this global conflict were going on in different regions of
the world, in France, names like Douaumont, Fort de Vaux,
Chemin des Dames, Tranchée des Baïonnettes, Hartmannwillerskopf,
Somme, Hazebrouck, Argonne, Flandres, and many others, represented
meccas, where the death knell for a whole generation of young
Frenchmen was sounded, where shells scattered them into pieces,
where bullets mowed them down, and symbolized the sacrifice
of young American, Canadian, English and Anzac volunteers
as well as many others worldwide, who all came to France
never to return alive..
A courageous officer (volunteer,
commanding his reluctant troops
Fort de Douaumont trenches
However, the areas above equally marked
the end of the German expansionist scheme to the East, the « Drang
nach Osten », as the brave resistance put up against
their troops made them to concentrate most of their forces
on the West front.
Finally, she had to be fighting and retreating. The war
ended up with the victory of French-allied forces and the
liberation of Alsace and Lorraine, which had been under German
occupation since 1871. The French flag was once more flying
in Metz and Strasbourg.
Loss in human lives
Figures of human casualties of the war were horrific. Having
mobilized over 60 000 000 men, this conflict wiped out 8
000 000 of them in Europe. Germany lost 1 800 000 men, Russia
same number, Austria-Hungary 1 100 000, the United Kingdom
750 000, Italy 650 000.
Considering her less than
40 000 000 population, France paid the highest price for
victory: she alone lost 1 400 000 men, had 2 800 000 injured
including 1 000 000 disabled persons, war cripples, gas victims
and persons with ‘’severe facial injuries’’.
If on the whole, France mobilized over 8 000 000 men, just
5 000 000 were her combatants. This means that 28 % of them
were killed and over 50% wounded, half of them, twice….
With respect to population, it took France over 30 years
to recover from this massive loss of life. Morally, no one
can reasonably deny that twenty years later, at the beginning
of World War II, she was still considerably battered and
haunted by the previous dreadful conflict.
must this happen again »
This conflict was supposed to be the « war
to end all wars ».
It was at the end of the 1914-1918 war that the Croix du
Combattant Volontaire (the volunteer combatant cross) was
instituted to honour volunteers who, without having been
subjected to any service-related obligation, opted to enter
an extremely bloody war, which ended up with just a minute
fraction of them returning
The number of victims was so high that it took several months
and sometimes years for survivors to regain the psychological
equilibrium of free civilians, able to afford a smile and
live normally. They will forever live to remember their long
Survivors used to draw some solace from the
idea that this war would serve as a lesson to the entire
world and that consequently it would be the very last, ''the
war to end all wars'' according to a famous expression of
that time («never must this happen again »...).
Little could they imagine that
in the fold of the army, which was fighting and retreating
towards Germany, was a certain Adolf Hitler, an obscure
thirty-year old ‘’gefreiter’’,
or let alone think that just twenty years later, this
vengeful caporal, having become the Great Chancellor
of Reich, would cause yet another war in which their
children like them would take up arms to defend their
Fatherland, once more invaded….