First World War

Christmas Football match

The Christmas Truce and Britain vs. Germany football match

The Horrible Histories account of the Christmas Truce and a fictional account of a football match in No Man’s Land.  For ideas on how to teach the Christmas Truce and the idea of WW1 football, please see this comprehension lesson outline and set of resource.

Winter in the trenches and trench food

RMS Lusitania newspaper front page

The sinking of the Lusitania and its role in the First World War

The British ship RMS Lusitania sank after being attacked by the German U-boat U-20 off the coast of Ireland on  7 May 1915.

The Lusitania was launched by the Cunard Line in 1906 and was one of the largest ocean liners of its time. It undertook its first voyage in 1907 and went on to win the Blue Riband, the unofficial award for the fastest transatlantic crossing.

The outbreak of the First World War saw Britain impose a blockade on German ports, which prompted the German Navy to attempt the same on the British Isles. However, the Royal Navy limited the impact of Germany’s blockade so the Lusitania was able to continue its journeys between Liverpool and New York City.

On 4 February 1915 the commander of the German High Seas Fleet announced that German submarines would begin unrestricted warfare and sink allied ships in the waters around the British Isles. Prior to the Lusitania’s scheduled voyage from the USA on 1 May, the German Embassy in Washington took out newspaper adverts warning that passengers undertook the voyage at their own risk.

1,962 people and around 173 tons of war munitions were on board the Lusitania when it left New York under Captain William Thomas Turner. Having crossed the Atlantic, the ship was hit on its starboard side at 2.10pm by a torpedo fired by U-20. The Lusitania sank in just 18 minutes and 1,198 people lost their lives.

The German government attempted to justify the sinking, but it was met with outrage in the Allied countries. Despite the deaths of American civilians, President Wilson chose to remain neutral in the war. Germany abandoned unrestricted submarine warfare in August, but resumed it in early 1917. This, and the discovery of the Zimmermann Telegram, led to Wilson’s decision to declare war.

The Battle of the Somme

First World War – “The Killing Fields”

People’s Century was an excellent television series which focused on major events in the Twentieth Century.  In this episode, soldiers from all sides of World War I remember the trenches, the tactics, and the terrible nature and scale of the slaughter that shattered the old world order.  They remember recruitment, machine guns and mustard gas, aerial bombing, the trenches, Battles of Verdun and the Somme, conscientious objectors, military justice, American participation, and armistice.

PART 1

PART 2

PART 3

PART 4

Arab Revolt

The Battle of Mecca and the start of the Arab Revolt

The Arab Revolt began fully on June 10th 1916 when Grand Sharif Hussein bin Ali, the guardian of the holy city of Mecca, ordered his troops to attack the Ottoman Caliphate’s garrison in the city.

Hussein’s troops, drawn from his tribe, significantly outnumbered the Ottoman soldiers but were considerably less well equipped. Consequently, despite impressive initial gains, Hussein’s troops were unable to win the battle until Egyptian troops sent by the British arrived to provide artillery support.

Through correspondence with Sir Henry McMahon, the British High Commissioner of Egypt at the time, Hussein had become convinced that the Revolt would be rewarded with an independent Arabian empire stretching through the Middle East. The British supported the Revolt as it distracted tens of thousands of Ottoman troops from joining other fronts in the First World War.

Captain T. E. Lawrence, known as Lawrence of Arabia for his involvement in the Revolt, did not join with the Arab forces until October 1916. Although he was just one of many British and French officers who worked closely with the Arabs during the Revolt, newspaper reports of his guerrilla tactics and close relationship with Hussein’s sons Faisal and Abdullah earned him fame.

The Revolt was an enormous success, but the outcome was not what was agreed in the Hussein-McMahon Correspondence. The British and French instead divided the land according to the secret Sykes-Picot Agreement that they had negotiated between themselves in 1916. Hussein was given the Hejaz region in the Arabian Peninsula, but was defeated in 1925 by Ibn Saud.

Overview of the Arab Revolt

Lawrence of Arabia and the Arab Revolt

This video has subtitles to aid note-taking.

Battle of the Somme

The end of the Battle of the Somme

On the 18th November 1916, the Battle of the Somme ended when German troops retired from the final large British attack at the Battle of the Ancre amid worsening weather. Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig called a halt to the operation, claiming the Somme offensive to have been successful.

By the end of the battle the Allies had advanced more than 6 miles into German-held territory, and as well as refining their use of aircraft had also introduced the tank for the first time. In his dispatch from the front, Haig stated at the end of the battle that “Verdun had been relieved; the main German forces had been held on the Western front; and the enemy’s strength had been very considerably worn down.” He then went on to say that “any one of these three results is in itself sufficient to justify the Somme battle.”

However, the Somme offensive and its enormous number of casualties that totalled more than a million men on both sides has drawn criticism ever since. For example Lloyd George, a fierce critic of Haig, wrote in his War Diaries that “over 400,000 of our men fell in this bullheaded fight and the slaughter amongst our young officers was appalling.”

German losses were also significant, however, and some historians have since claimed that the battle left Germany unable to replace its casualties like-for-like, which contributed to their ultimate defeat through a war of attrition. However it was to be another two years before the war finally ended, after Germany signed the Armistice of Compiègne on the 11th November 1918.

Clemenceau - The Tiger

Why was Clemenceau appointed PM of France in 1917?

On the 15th November 1917, Georges Clemenceau was appointed Prime Minister of France for the second time.

His appointment was something of a surprise, especially as it was made by President Raymond Poincare with whom he had a particularly frosty relationship. Clemenceau had previously held the position until 1909, after which he spent much of his time criticising the government in his own radical newspaper. However, within the first three years of the war three separate Prime Ministers had served and Poincare recognised that Clemenceau’s desire to defeat Germany made him the best replacement.

As 1917 wore on, the French government had become increasingly divided over whether to negotiate peace with Germany. Clemenceau was a fierce critic of this approach, having held a deep-seated hatred of Germany since France’s loss of Alsace-Lorraine in the Franco-Prussian War five years before he was first elected to parliament. His appointment therefore heralded a marked change in government as he sought to consolidate French support behind its troops.

In a speech three days after his appointment, Clemenceau declared, “Nothing but the war. Our armies will not be caught between fire from two sides. Justice will be done. The country will know that it is defended.” This coincided with a clampdown on pacifist opponents and suspected traitors, and he continued to speak in favour of ‘war until the end’ until Germany’s surrender in November 1918. Victory was a double-edged sword: he now needed to negotiate the terms of the peace treaty with Wilson and Lloyd-George, which he described a like being “between Jesus Christ on the one hand, and Napoleon Bonaparte on the other.”