Bitesize has changed! We're updating subjects as fast as we can. Visit our new site to find Bitesize guides and clips - and tell us what you think!

Home > History > The 20th century > The First World War


The First World War


The Course of the War, 1914−1918

The War had five phases:

  1. The War of Movement (August‒September 1914)

    • The Germans invaded France, but were stopped at the Battle of the Marne (September 1914).

    • The British Expeditionary Force (BEF) helped to stop the Germans at the Battle of Mons (23 August 1914)

    • The Russians invaded Germany but were destroyed at the Battle of Tannenberg (August 1914)

  2. The Race to the Sea (September‒November 1914)

    • On the Western Front, both sides dug a 400-mile line of trenches from Switzerland to the English Channel.

  3. Stalemate (1915)

    • There was a stalemate (neither side could defeat the other).

    • On the Western Front, attacks on the German trenches led to huge casualties.

    • Britain's attempt to open up a 'Second Front' at Gallipoli in Turkey was a failure.

  4. The War of Attrition (1916‒1918)

    The two sides simply tried to wear each other down:

    • Huge battles, eg Verdun and the Somme in 1916, Passchendaele in 1917, lasted many months. Millions of men died or were wounded.

    • New weapons, eg poison gas, tanks and aeroplanes, failed to make much effect.

    • Terrible conditions in the trenches. Casualties from machine gun and artillery fire.

    • The British blockaded German ports to try to starve the Germans into surrender. In October 1918 there was a revolution in Germany.

    • German U-boats tried to starve the British by sinking merchant ships – but this angered the Americans.

    • German Zeppelins [zeppelins: Cigar-shaped German airships. and Gotha planes bombed London.

  5. The End of the War

    • America entered the war in 1917.

    • In March 1918 the Germans launched Operation Michael – a huge last-ditch attack.

    • On 8 August 1918, the German Army's 'Black Day', their attack was defeated.

    • The Allies, with the Americans, began to push back the Germans. The Allies and Germany signed a ceasefire, or 'armistice [armistice: An agreement by both sides in a war to stop fighting.', at 11am on 11 November 1918.

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.