Chronology

The chronology sets out, year by year, the principal events of the First World War. It focuses on the key military developments including the main battles and strategic movements. While the international nature of the conflict is intimated, the emphasis is on the war in Europe, in particular the Western Front. The introductions to the events that unfold during each year provide an indication of the wider political, social and artistic context.

The chronology is taken from the exhibition catalogue for The Great War in Portraits. Find out more and buy online here

1914

1915

1916

1917

1918


1914

The suffrage movement gains momentum as Mary Richardson attacks Velázquez’s painting The Rokeby Venus at the National Gallery, London (March). Four years of political and labour unrest lead to two million British workers going on strike (June). Following the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo that same month, the Home Rule Bill is deferred due to the escalating crisis (July). In August, the major European powers are drawn into war. Income tax for British workers is doubled to pay for the conflict, which by the end of the year is running at £1 million per day (17 November). Also in August, British explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton sets out on a major expedition to Antarctica and the newly completed Panama Canal opens to traffic. Cyprus is annexed to Britain (November) and in New York construction of the Beaux-Arts style Municipal Building, the first to incorporate a subway station into its base, is completed. In the arts, London’s Whitechapel Gallery stages a survey exhibition of modern art (May – June) and at the Berlin Secession the Austrian Expressionist painter Oskar Kokoschka exhibits one of his greatest works, The Bride of the Wind, inspired by his relationship with Gustav Mahler’s widow, Alma. In Britain the army bandmaster Lieutenant F.J. Ricketts (later Director of Music, Royal Marines) composes the hugely popular ‘Colonel Bogey March’.

June

 

28   Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, by Gavrilo Princip, a Serb nationalist, in Sarajevo, Bosnia.

July

 

5     Austria-Hungary seeks German support for a war against Serbia. Germany gives this assurance.
23  
Austria-Hungary sends an ultimatum to Serbia.
28  
Austria-Hungary declares war on Serbia. Russia commences mobilisation.
31  
Germany warns Russia to cease mobilisation. When the Russians refuse, Germany declares war.

August

 

3     Germany declares war on Russia’s ally, France. As part of the long-standing Schlieffen Plan (which prepared Germany to defeat France quickly before turning its forces to Russia in the east), Germany invades Belgium as a preliminary to an attack on France.
4
     Britain, bound by a treaty of 1839 to protect Belgian neutrality, protests. Germany is undeterred and Britain declares war on Germany.
7    
In Britain, Lord Kitchener, Secretary of State for War, calls for 100,000 men to join the British army. The British Expeditionary Force (BEF) is despatched to France.
11  
France declares war on Austria-Hungary.
12
   Britain declares war on Austria-Hungary.
14–24
   Battles of the Frontiers between Anglo-French and German armies. The French Plan XVII, which concentrates a line of resistance between Belgium and Switzerland, ends in ruins.
15–23
   The Russian army invades East Prussia.
23
   Battle of Mons commences. The BEF inflicts heavy casualties but is forced to retreat. Subsequently, at Le Cateau, the retreating British army is embroiled in its worst battle for one hundred years. After suffering 7,800 casualties, the withdrawal continues.
26–30
   Battle of Tannenberg. The Germans achieve an overwhelming victory over the Russian army. As a result, the German commanders Hindenburg and Ludendorff become household names.

September

 

5–10    Battle of the Marne. A million Anglo-French and 900,000 German troops are involved. The German advance on Paris is halted.
13–28
  Battle of the Aisne. The ‘Race to the Sea’ commences with Anglo-French and German armies moving northwards, each attempting to swing around the other’s exposed flank.

October

 

16–31  Battle of the Yser. The Belgians flood a large area between Nieport and Dixmude, rendering it impassible for the entire war.
19
    First Battle of Ypres commences (ends 22 November). The Germans are prevented from capturing Calais and Dunkirk, but with 75,000 casualties the BEF is decimated.

November

 

6     Britain commences a naval blockade against Germany.

December

 

24–25  Unofficial truce in some sectors between British and German troops.

1915

‘The Great War’, as it becomes known, intensifies with growing losses on all sides. In Britain the Munitions of War Act forbids strikes in key industries without Government approval, passport photographs are made obligatory (February) and anti-alcohol restrictions result in widespread resentment (May). In July the cost of the war in Britain reaches £2 million per day. Welsh miners strike for higher wages, returning to work on 31 August. Meanwhile, the historical monument Stonehenge is auctioned for £6,600 and bought by a Mr Clubb as a present for his wife (21 September). The sporting world pays tribute to the cricketer W.G. Grace (dies 23 October). In the literary arena The Thirty Nine Steps by John Buchan, The Rainbow by D.H. Lawrence and The Voyage Out by Virginia Woolf are published while, in Europe, Jean Sibelius completes his Symphony No. 5 and the French artist Marcel Duchamp commences work on The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even (also known as The Large Glass), an avant-garde piece that occupies him for the next eight years. In Britain, the song ‘Pack Up your Troubles in your Old Kit Bag’ achieves great popularity.

January  

1     The Military Cross is introduced and awarded for the first time.
19   First Zeppelin raid by Germany on Britain. Nineteen missions follow in 1915, with twenty-two in 1916, seven in 1917 and four in 1918. Eventually, more than 5,750 bombs are dropped.
24   Battle of Dogger Bank between Britain’s Grand Fleet and Germany’s High Seas Fleet. The Blücher is sunk and the Kaiser orders his fleet to avoid future risks.

February  

4     Germany begins submarine warfare against merchant vessels.
7–22 
Second Battle of the Masurian Lakes. The Germans achieve a notable victory over the Russian army which loses 200,000 soldiers, including 90,000 taken prisoner.

March  

10–13  Battle of Neuve Chapelle. After initial success, the British offensive stalls.

April  

22     Second Battle of Ypres commences (ends 25 May). The Germans use chlorine gas for the first time and capture two-thirds of the salient. Despite inflicting 60,000 casualties on the British and 10,000 on the French, the German army is itself exhausted and unable to continue the offensive. Ypres is methodically razed.
25    
Allied forces land at Gallipoli, aiming to capture Constantinople. Following a number of naval attacks, the campaign goes badly with heavy losses.

May  

7     The British liner Lusitania is sunk by a German submarine.
9–18
  Second Battle of Artois. The French-led attack on the German trenches between Arras and Lens follows a bombardment of 690,000 shells from 1,000 guns. After an initial advance, further gains are limited and the French sustain 100,000 casualties.
23
   Italy declares war on Austria-Hungary.

June  

15   The artist Henri Gaudier-Brzeska is killed on the Western Front.
23   First of four Battles of the Isonzo, the river frontier between Italy and Austria-Hungary, begins (the fourth ends 2 December). Lacking modern equipment, ammunition, artillery and transport, the Italian offensives are largely unsuccessful.

July  

9   Surrender of German forces in South-West Africa.

August  

6–29  Battle of Sari Bair, the last unsuccessful Allied attempt to seize the Gallipoli peninsula. Total withdrawal is recommended and follows in December.

September  

1     Germany suspends unrestricted submarine warfare.
8
     Tsar Nicholas II replaces Grand Duke Nicholas as Commander-in-Chief of the Russian army.
25   Battle of Loos commences (ends 16 October). This major British offensive captures Loos in northeastern France but, short of reserves and supplies, the BEF is forced back by German counter-attacks, resulting in heavy losses for little gain.

October  

6     Serbia is invaded by Germany, Austria-Hungary and Bulgaria.
12  
Nurse Edith Cavell is executed by a German firing squad.

November  

27   Serbian resistance collapses after suffering half a million casualties.

December  

19   Sir Douglas Haig replaces Sir John French as Commander-in-Chief of the BEF.

1916

In the absence of a decisive breakthrough, the war settles into a pattern of attrition. Huge losses for the French and Germans are sustained on the Western Front and naval offensives end in stalemate. British casualties are the worst in the country’s military history. On the home front Irish rebels stage the Easter Rising against the United Kingdom (23 April) and fourteen of the leaders are later executed. The House of Commons supports the Daylight Saving Plan to put clocks forward one hour in summer (8 May). The Irish nationalist Sir Roger Casement is hanged in London for treason (3 August). The novelist Henry James dies in Rye, Sussex (28 February). After their ship Endurance is crushed by ice in the Antarctic, Sir Ernest Shackleton and his crew leave the ice flow and take to the sea in small boats (9 April). Haydn Wood composes ‘Roses of Picardy’, which becomes one of the most popular wartime songs. Engineer Eugéne Freyssinet, who served in the French army, designs the first large-scale buildings to use reinforced concrete – the aircraft hangars at Orly. The artist Mark Gertler paints The Merry-Go-Round after seeing a fair for wounded soldiers on Hampstead Heath. Gustav Holst completes The Planets suite, whose first movement ‘Mars’ evokes war, and the anarchic Dada movement flourishes in Zurich. One of the classic films of the silent era, Intolerance, directed by D.W. Griffith, is released in Britain (September). In St Petersburg the mystic Rasputin is murdered by aristocratics opposing his influence on the Russian imperial family (30 December).

January  

8–16  Austro-Hungarian offensive against Macedonia results in the latter’s capitulation.
9    
The Dardanelles Campaign ends in defeat for the Allies and an Ottoman victory.
27  
The Military Services Act introduces conscription in the United Kingdom.

February  

21   Battle of Verdun commences (ends 18 December). German strategy focuses on a battle of attrition at the fortress town of Verdun on the River Meuse. Stalemate ensues followed by French counterattacks that finally repel the German troops. French casualties total 542,000 and German casualties 434,000, during the longest battle of the war.

March  

1     Germany resumes unrestricted submarine warfare.
1–15
  Fifth Battle of the Isonzo.

May  

10   Germany suspends unrestricted submarine warfare.
31   Battle of Jutland commences (ends 1 June). During the only major action between the German High Seas Fleet and the British Grand Fleet, the British lose fourteen warships and the Germans eleven smaller and older vessels. While these losses do not incapacitate the British, the German fleet is cautious about future engagements and remains at anchor for the remainder of the war.

June

 

4     Brusilov Offensive commences (ends late September). The highpoint of Russia’s involvement in the war, the advance by Russian troops against five mainly Austro-Hungarian armies on a broad front is almost entirely successful. In two weeks 200,000 prisoners are taken; the Austro-Hungarian army suffers one million casualties in total. This ensures Brusilov’s reputation as the finest Russian general of the war.
5    
Lord Kitchener drowns when HMS Hampshire is sunk off Orkney.

July  

1     Battle of the Somme commences (ends 14 November). Following an eight-day bombardment of the German trenches, which proves largely ineffectual, the British advance is decimated by machine-gun fire, with 57,470 casualties by the end of the first day. German casualties totalled 4,000.

August  

3–17  Sixth Battle of the Isonzo.
29   Field Marshal Hindenburg replaces von Falkenhayn as German Chief of the General Staff.

September

 

15   First use of tanks by the British army at Flers-Courcelette during the ongoing Battle of the Somme.

November  

14   With the ending of the Battle of the Somme, the total number of casualties on both sides reaches 1.3 million, including 400,000 British. The Germans have lost 650,000 men. In 140 days of fighting, Anglo-French troops advanced six miles.

December  

6     Lloyd George becomes British Prime Minister.
12  
Marshal Joffre is replaced by General Nivelle as French Commander-in-Chief on the Western Front.

1917

An end to the war continues to prove elusive. Major Allied attacks result in enormous losses for both sides. With the collapse of the Russian army Germany turns her attention to the Western Front and America declares war on Germany. In Britain, Prime Minister Lloyd George announces a plan to give married women aged over thirty the vote (29 March). The British royal family drop their German titles and change the family name from Saxe-Coburg to Windsor (June). The Balfour Declaration gives official British support for the founding of a Jewish state (8 November). Following revolutions, rioting and chaos in Russia earlier in the year, the Bolsheviks secure a majority and a new Government under Lenin is formed (November). In July the cost of the war in Britain is reported as running at £7 million per day. Sergei Prokofiev completes his Symphony No. 1, titled the ‘Classical Symphony’, Prufrock and Other Observations by T.S. Eliot is published, in the United States. The Original Dixieland Jazz Band issues the first jazz record and Isham Jones’s song ‘You’re in the Army Now’ achieves popularity. Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, the first woman doctor, dies (17 December).

January  

16   The German Foreign Secretary, Arthur Zimmermann, sends a telegram to the German ambassador in Mexico instructing him to propose to the Mexican government an alliance between Germany and Mexico against the United States.

February  

1     Germany resumes unrestricted submarine warfare.

March  

1     General Arz von Straussenberg replaces Field Marshal Conrad von Hotzendorf as Austro-Hungarian Chief of Staff.
15  
Tsar Nicholas II abdicates. A provisional government is put in place in Russia.

April  

6     The United States of America declares war on Germany.
9
     Battle of Arras commences (ends 15 May). The French attack is a disaster and Australian troops suffer their worst ever losses on the Western Front. Canadian troops capture the reputedly impregnable Vimy Ridge but are then stopped at the Hindenburg Line.
16 
The Nivelle Offensive commences (ends 29 May). The major French attack stalls after incurring high losses. This failure results in General Nivelle’s replacement by General Pétain as Commander-in-Chief.
29
  Morale shattered by the disastrous Nivelle Offensive, the French army is torn apart by mutinies, disabling it until the autumn.

May  

12   Tenth Battle of the Isonzo commences (ends 6 June).

June  

7–14  Battle of Messines. With the French army in disarray, the BEF is the principal Allied army on the Western Front. General Plumer leads an offensive against the German-held Messines Ridge. This is preceded by the detonation of nineteen underground mines which inflicts heavy casualties on the enemy and results, unusually, in lower losses for the attacking forces. The outcome is a decisive victory for the BEF.
25
   The first American troops arrive on the Western Front.

July  

31   Battle of Passchendaele commences (ends 10 November). The British offensive east of Ypres encounters nightmarish conditions caused by heavy rainfall and incessant shelling. After the attack stalls, General Plumer is given overall command. Recognising that a breakthrough is impossible, Plumer opts for a battle of attrition. The BEF recaptures territory held by the Germans since 1914–15 but at a cost of 300,000 casualties.

August  

18–28  Eleventh Battle of the Isonzo.

September  

20–5  Battle of the Menin Road Ridge precedes the First and Second Battles of Passchendaele.

October  

24   Battle of Caporetto commences (ends 12 November). Austro-Hungarian losses of 55,000 men in the Eleventh Battle of the Isonzo leads to a request for German support. A new army attacks the Italian troops at Caporetto, resulting in huge losses for the defending forces, with 275,000 men taken prisoner.

November  

7     October Revolution in Russia. The Bolsheviks seize power.

December  

7     The United States of America declares war on Austria-Hungary.
16   Russia agrees a ceasefire with Germany.

1918

Germany’s spring offensives aim for a breakthrough but their failure drains Germany’s manpower. Strengthened by the arrival of American troops, the Allied counteroffensives lead to a sudden German collapse. Alongside the horrors of war, a worldwide influenza epidemic spreads across Asia, Europe and North America, claiming over 21 million lives, with 3,000 mortalities per week in London alone. In Britain the Representation of the People Act gives men over twenty-one and women over thirty the right to vote (6 February). In Britain conscription is raised to the age of fifty and extended to Ireland (18 April). The House of Commons votes in favour of allowing women to become MPs (23 October). Eminent Victorians by Lytton Strachey and Married Love by Marie Stopes are published and the pioneer of Suprematism, the abstract artist Kazimir Malevich, paints White on White. The popular song ‘I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles’ debuts in the Broadway musical The Passing Show of 1918. Stonehenge is restored to the British nation (15 September). The war poet Wilfred Owen is killed in action (4 November). On 11 November, the long-awaited Armistice is greeted with widespread celebrations in Britain.

January  

8     President Woodrow Wilson makes a speech outlining his Fourteen Points, an explicit statement of post-war aims for discussion at the anticipated peace conference.

February  

17   Fighting resumes on the Eastern Front when Germany launches a new offensive in order to bring the Russians to the negotiating table.

March  

3     Treaty of Brest-Litovsk is signed. Russia concedes huge territorial losses, including the Baltic States, Finland, Poland and the Ukraine.
7
     Bonar Law, Chancellor of the Exchequer, asks the House of Commons for a war loan of £600 million.
21  
First phase of the Spring Offensive: Operation Michael (ends 5 April). The German attack strikes at the 60-mile section between Arras and La Fère that connects the British and French forces. Superior Allied air power helps to deny the Germans a decisive victory.

April  

1     Royal Air Force is formed by combining the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service.
3    
The Allied Supreme War Council appoints General Ferdinand Foch Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Forces. The United States accepts Foch’s authority even though, technically, it is not an ally but an Associated Power.
4    
Second phase of the Spring Offensive: Operation Georgette (ends 29 April). Following the near victory of Operation Michael, a second German attack strikes at the British between Ypres and La Bassée. A prohibition on withdrawal by Haig stiffens resistance and the German advance is halted after it establishes a ten-mile salient.

May  

27   The Aisne Offensive commences (ends 4 June). The German attack on the French along the Chemin des Dames creates a salient 30 miles wide and 20 miles deep, but there is no breakthrough.

June  

9–13  Final phase of the Spring Offensive: Operation Gneisenau. Forewarned by deserters, the French strengthen their defences and halt the German advance.

July  

18  Second Battle of the Marne commences (ends 5 August). A German attack to the west of Reims is unsuccessful. The French launch a major counterattack that eradicates the German-held Soisson- Reims salient.

August  

6     Foch, the victor of the Marne, is created Marshal of France.
8–11
  Battle of Amiens: the first phase of the Allies’ Hundred Days Offensive. Combining infantry, tanks, artillery and aircraft, the Anglo-French offensive shatters the German line with 15,000 prisoners taken on the first day alone.

September  

26   Meuse-Argonne Offensive commences (ends 11 November). Continuing the Hundred Days Offensive, the Allied attack involves 600,000 troops, 5,000 guns, 500 tanks and 500 aircraft. The US First Army breaks through the enemy’s first two lines of defences. Their inexperience incurs 117,000 casualties.
29  
Battle of St Quentin Canal commences (ends 10 October). The last critical engagement of the war in which Allied troops attack and breach the most heavily defended section of the Hindenburg line.

October  

24   Battle of Vittorio Veneto commences (ends 4 November). The Austro-Hungarian forces fall apart with 300,000 prisoners taken.

November  

4     Austria-Hungary signs an armistice with Italy.
11   Germany signs the Armistice, effective from 11.00.